The Nigeria media: Evolution, trends and projections for 2018 – Part 1

Nigeria’s minister of Information Lai Mohammed AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Introduction
In the year 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. In 1605, Johan Carolus adopted the printing press in creating the world’s first newspaper. A trend started, as the news media adopted the printing press and, with it, developed a manual distribution model. The world accepted this as the model for news production and distribution, and for centuries to come, media professionals, delighted at the invention and its acceptance, went to sleep. Not even the invention of the radio and television could force a rethink of an age-old business model that served centuries of newshounds and news consumers – until the arrival of the digital age on the heels of the invention of the internet.

With the advent of the digital age, the word ‘media’ suddenly acquired a different meaning – confusing the media professional and opening the eye of the news consumer, as digital technologies suddenly transformed the way information and news content are distributed and consumed around the world.

Since the advent of the internet in the early 1990’s, the media space has been gravely altered with huge consequence for media practitioners and consumers of traditional news media – what with the altering of media consumption habits, the reinvention of old professional practices, the altering of agenda setting platforms and status-conferral processes, the bursting of old media conventions and the creation of new traditions.

In this era of disruption, brought on board by new technologies which are circumventing traditional news media and contesting its once celebrated advantaged position as gatekeepers of news, information and popular ideas, the traditional media is struggling, not just to defend its old position, but to reinvent itself.

Clearly, the swift information and communication technology inventions that came with the internet eclipsed the basis and process of news gathering and reporting and introduced an unusual paradigm shifts which shook the foundations of the news media industry. Similar to the reality on the global scene, digital technologies are also fundamentally altering the nature and function of media in Nigeria.
Today in Nigeria, there are clear signs of the eclipse of the traditional media as once vibrant traditional news-media organisations today struggle to fund their operations, given dwindling circulation numbers brought on board by expensive news-prints and difficult to manage printing presses as well as shrinking advertising patronage, given the hot contest from nibble, cost effective, smart and widely accessible digital news platforms.

Today, the digital landscape has reinvented how news-consumers access news, share news and push news among communities. The digital landscape has also changed the way agenda is set and opinions are shaped. This dynamic landscape has occasioned massive shifts in the way news consumers see the world and the role of the media in it.
As the Nigerian media continues to evolve, it is pertinent to look at critical issues on the path to its evolution over the last 100 years – starting with the colonial era, the era of independence, military interregnums and end with the last 20 years of active changes – with the military freeing up the space for popular participation in government, the return of democracy, the mainstreaming of the internet, the liberalisation of Telecommunications, the introduction of social media, the development of the Blogosphere and the entry of platforms agnostic news sites and wire-media aided by new and disruptive technologies.

ORIGIN OF THE NIGERIAN MEDIA.
Nigerian news media grew out of a need to inform and enlighten the people. The first mass-media platform to arrive was a native language publications – Iwe Iroyin in 1859, a Yoruba language publication championed by Reverend Henry Townsend a British Missionary. This newspaper though secular, had a religious bent given the fact that it had its foundation in the then Church Mission Society (CMS).

The Pioneering Twenties
Over time, with the development of a new crop of elite in the Lagos of the 1920’s who had travelled abroad and had returned home, the need to rally the people against colonial authorities became a key consideration for the next epoch of the Nigerian news media with the likes of Herbert Macaulay, Henry Carr, Adeyemo Alakija and host of others deploying the news-media in pursuit of political interests. Starting with the Lagos Daily News , the first daily Newspaper in British West Africa which was acquired by Herbert Macaulay and John Akilade Caulcrick in 1927. The Lagos Daily News help fanned the embers of nationalism in the Nigerian elite who were opposed to British colonial rule. The Newspaper was later rechristened “Nigeria Daily News” in order to widen its sphere of influence. Aside from the Lagos Daily News, there was also the Daily Times, founded in 1925 by Adeyemo Alakija and Richard Barrow, with interest from the Mirror Group in the United Kingdom. The paper’s first Editor was Ernest Ikoli – a political firebrand and an anti-colonialism exponent. While the Lagos Daily News championed the interest of the then Nigeria National Democratic Party, the Daily Times championed the interest of the Lagos Youth Movement (later called Nigerian Youth Movement).

The Turbulent Forties to Fifties
In the Lagos of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, other publications with political interests soon arrived on the scene – the most prominent of the titles been Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot, founded in 1937 which later developed local publications across Nigeria. The West African Pilot, though largely Pan-Nigerian in outlook, acted as the mouth-piece of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (later rechristened National Council of Nigerian Citizens), other news platforms also represented other political interests. For instance, while the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, whose main creed was an indivisible Nigeria, adopted the West African Pilot as it official mouthpiece, a break-away faction of National Council of Nigerian Citizens known as Action Group, which preached exclusion and the need for a negotiated federation, later set up the Lagos Daily Service. Other publications such as the Nigerian Tribune and the Daily Sketch were later to follow. Aside from these English language publications, there was also the Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, the first Hausa language newspaper, founded in 1939 with its base in Zaria. The paper was targeted at Northern Nigeria audiences who desired frequent information on the activities of the colonial government at the onset of the Second World War as rumours were rife in Northern Nigeria that Nigeria was to be ceded to Adolf Hitler, the tyrannical leader of Germany. The paper had as its first editor, the erudite scholar, Abubakar Imam. The paper later assumed some form of political underpinning, becoming a rallying platform for the followers of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC).

Beyond the print media, radio was a prominent media platform and helped to rally the people during the colonial era. Furthermore, Television as a news media arrived on the scene in 1959 with the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) founded by the Western Nigeria Government under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The Television House later became known as Nigeria Television (NTV) Ibadan and also morphed into what is today known as the Nigeria Television Authority Ibadan Station.

The Ambivalent Sixties and Seventies
The 1960’s saw a Nigeria emerging from the clutches of British Colonialism – a fledgling democracy with a delicate ethnic balance. At independence, it was obvious that Nigeria was grappling with the challenges of new nationhood, and so the media continued to play the role of the conscience of society with journalists such as the likes of Ernest Ikoli, Anthony Enahoro, Lateef Jakande, Bisi Onabanjo having become part of the new political elite, still continuing to push the frontiers of the new Nigerian nation using the conduit of print journalism.

However, following the two coups of 1966, the vibrancy of the Nigerian media received a huge bashing as a result of military decrees and restrictions in the Mid-1960’s to the late 70’s, climaxing in the acquisition of the flagship newspapers in the Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria – the New Nigeria and the Daily Times in 1975. The return of democracy in 1979 saw a easing of restrictions with titles such as Punch and Concord recording huge distribution figures and a rapid rise in advertising revenues.

Eighties and Nineties as Decades of Mixed Blessings

The 80’s was a time of mixed blessings as it saw the emergence of powerful titles like the Guardian in 1983 just before another military interregnum and the birth of Vanguard Daily Newspaper and Newswatch Weekly News Magazine. However, the return of the military also meant the return of restrictions. Hence such law as the Public Officers (Protection against False Accusation) Decree No. 4 of 1984, which was modelled after the libel and sedition laws under the colonial government, was promulgated. This decree indeed proved a hindrance to free speech and press freedom as it was later used as the basis for the trial of two Nigerian Journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor. The 1980’s also witnessed the assassination of one of Nigeria’s prominent journalist – Dele Giwa – an act whose perpetuators remain uncovered till this date.

The 1090’s saw the emergence of another hue of vibrant journalism similar to the brand of journalism that existed under the colonial government as weekly news titles such as Tell, The News and Tempo revved up advocacy and investigative journalism which uncovered the ills of the Military governments of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. This did not go uncontested as the Military did all within its powers to rein in these media outfits using a combination of arrests, harassments of journalists working for these media organisations, the closure of these media outfits and the seizure of publications that were considered seditious by the military. These organisations, following after the responses of earlier media outfits under colonial rule, became guerrilla outfits publishing and circulating underground in order to beat the security dragnets of the military. This state of affairs continued until the death of General Sanni Abacha on June 07, 1998.

The 1990’s also saw the liberalisation of the electronic media space after General Ibrahim Babagida promulgated Decree 32 of 1992 which gave private individuals access to own electronic media stations. The likes of Raypower Radio and African Independent Television as well as Minaj Systems Radio and Minaj Broadcast International came on stream. Other Television stations that got early licences include Clapperboard Television and Degue Broadcast Network (DBN). Niche platforms such as Channels News, a news broadcast outfit and Silverbird Television; an entertainment channel, also began to operate their licences in the 90’s.

The Return of Democracy
The year 1999 saw the return of democracy and the lifting of press censorship. This period heralded the proliferation of the print media as every political tendency and gladiator saw a need for the establishment of a news media outfit for the purpose of propagating their political views. Prominent news outfit that emerged in this regard include Daily Trust (which started as a weekly paper in 1998, but became a Daily in 2001), The Sun, The Nation, The Compass (now defunct), Leadership and a host of others.

It must be noted that the decade following the return of democracy saw a decline in the vibrancy and quality of output of the media as rapid proliferation continued. The decline in quality is largely attributable to a lack of focus on training and proper resourcing of media outfits given the failing economic model on which these news media organisations were built.

THE MAINSTREAMING OF THE INTERNET AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES
We live amid the quickest transformation of the media space ever before witnessed by mankind. The nature and magnitude of these changes are so huge that most media gate-holders, gate-keepers and journalists live in total denial of these changes, and those who recognise these changes mistake it as the creation of a fresh genre and sometimes as a practice different from journalism all together. This denial has continued till today; and so rather than responding to the total transformation of the landscape, the media in Nigeria is merely looking at ways of making the old model work – either by reducing or adding pages, creating new content as well as glossy inserts and adjusting traditional distribution models in order to raise appeal and create connection. These adjustments are however not working as more media houses continue to bleed and haemorrhage as a result of their poor response to the obvious disruption of their professional space. Given that new technologies and applications are emerging at dizzying speed, it is, most times, difficult to track trends and measure the impact of these technologies and applications on traditional news media. It is therefore not strange to note that the transformation of the landscape actually caught all in the traditional news-room – from the writers, the artists, the photographers, the sub-editors, the line editors and title editors by surprise.

Under this new reality, the internet and new technologies began to erode the credibility and authority of the media as new sources of authority started to emerge online that were more vibrant, more investigative and leveraged the opportunity offered by the internet to reach more people. Before this, the absence of an Audit Bureau that could authoritatively audit the reach and circulation of the traditional news media made the claims of mass reach and pass-on value of the traditional media untenable and given the glaring fall in reading habit by the generality of the population. Coupled with the economic shock of the last three years with the cost of news print and other operational costs sky-rocketing and media houses not being able to cope, it is now all too obvious that the traditional media influence is waning and it business model fast failing. As this decline continues, new sources of news and information on the internet are revving-up the contest of influence and advertising revenue with the traditional news-media.

Arrival of Digital News Media in Nigeria
The first news sources to arrive on the internet were the specialist blogs that catered to various segments seeking information from lifestyle to entertainment, gossip and technology. Next came the mainstreaming of social media as a news source and finally came the arrival of online News-sites fashioned after the traditional news media but packing more attributes such as convenience, interactivity and, most times, immediacy of feedback. The first of such news-site which gained traction and following was Elomobah.com, followed by Sahara Reporters. Other offline news-media which came to the party with strong online news offerings include The Guardian, Vanguard, Thisday and the defunct Next Newspaper. Overtime online news-sites became popular with the likes of Premium Times, Cable News and News-Guru pushing the bounds of incisive and investigative journalism.

Mainstreaming Digital News Delivery – The Role of Social Media
In this digital age, where virtually everything that is happening in the real world is being replicated on cyber-space, the concept of Social Networking came out of a need to replicate real-time interactions in a virtual world.
Because of its appeal to groups and communities, social networks became a global phenomenon as people rally to own a chunk of the cyberspace where they could share their identity, thoughts and feelings on particular subjects of interest and have others do same. Overtime social networks started to appeal to particular communities before opening up to others. A case in point is Facebook which was essentially a Stanford and Harvard Network before becoming an open network.

Today popular Social Networks command billions in terms of advertising spend and keep a huge data base of contacts and data for direct marketing and business networking. Given its potential for sharing information, digital news delivery off the back of social networks soon kicked-in and with this came the trending of digital news from major new sites on social media – creating a community of news-followers who access news mainly through their mobile phones, different from traditional news media circulation – and given the clearer evidence of those following the news through digital analytics, advertising buyers started to split their advertising spend between traditional news media and online news-sites with the online news-sites enjoying the advantage of having a lean operation and lean cost and so readily became a more sustainable model.

Upstaging the Traditional News Media – The Place of other New Technologies
Following the mainstreaming of Social Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, other new technologies aligned to the web began to surface. The first to arrive were online applications feeding-off the back of web and mobile technologies and creating ease of access. With the invention of smart phones off the IOS, Android and Microsoft operating systems, an ecosystem of smart applications which created an easier access for online news-sites also emerged, with major news-sites also developing mobile applications and obtaining downloads from news consumers who wanted real-time and on-the-go access to news and information. This further alienated traditional news media as they lost the power to break news and create the usual gatherings at major vendor spots which were the traditional bases for discussions of breaking news given the convenience which these new technologies brought onboard – creating a 24 hour news-cycle which could be readily followed with immediacy of feedback and user generated content unlike traditional media.
Aligned to mobile applications is the chat platform which also encouraged peer-to-peer news sharing and discussions with participation from news consumers as developing stories emerged from breaking news.

MEDIA CONVERGENCE – CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
From the foregoing, it is clear that new technologies are not only disrupting the operations of the media, but are driving a convergence of the media and creating platform agnostic news channels which are at once a big challenge to traditional and conservative news-media organisations and represent a major opportunity for news-media organisations ready to embrace change and run with it.

Readers are now tuned to a 24 Hour News Cycle
Well before the advent of new technologies, the competition for readers and news-consumers have driven news organisations to rethink traditional news-cycle, especially how it pertains to breaking news and developing stories. Once upon a time, newspapers were the best source of news but with the invention of the radio, television and the creation of 24hr news channels such as the Cable News Network in 1985, and competitive news websites that came with the internet, the way consumers get their news and what time of the day, has changed completely. With these developments, the newspaper, once seen as the best source of news and incisive news analysis, now has to struggle for the attention of readers and news-consumers. Three critical things drove this change:

Staying on Old News Presentation Model for over a Century
Traditional news-media were slow to reinvent its news presentation and news-cycle, keeping the traditional daily cycle for over a century and sinking into cold comfort without noting the changes that were soon to come with Michael Faraday’s invention of electricity, Thomas Edison’s invention of the light-bulb and Graham Bell’s invention of the Telephone.

Failure to Observe Changing Trends
On the back of these three inventions came the radio and television, yet the newspaper failed to reinvent itself until consumers started to adjust to the 24 hour on-the-go news-cycle with the establishment of cable news in the mid-1980.

Cable News and Internet as Albatross of Old Traditions
Even the establishment of cable news could not force a reinvention of the newspaper, until the internet arrived in the early 1990’s and the traditional newspaper started a race to the bottom given the huge potentials of the internet and how new technologies have leveraged this for the creation of interactive news, speed to market and ease of access.

Playing the Survival Game – The Need for the Reinvention of the Newspaper
Today, the Media industry has a different competitive landscape from the erstwhile analogue production and distribution model which thrived for centuries going bust. Digital technologies are lowering the barriers to entry and widening production and distribution options, creating a convergence of media, telecommunications, computer, and IT services all in one fell swoop. The fast-paced transformation from analogue to digital models together with an economic downturn is resulting in constant shocks and failures in the news media industry. Media convergence is now driving a platform agnostic approach to navigating complexities as a tradition print media business now has to compete with a television news media, radio broadcasting, newsprint business, film and video industries, blogs online news-sites, social media, chat platforms, news-wires and news applications – all at the same time. Suddenly the consumer has found his voice and is demanding the following:

News Consumers are demanding news on their own terms and not as delivered by the Content Owner
Today’s information junkies are no longer interested in visiting the vendor, or in waiting overnight to access news on current happening and events. News consumers are demanding news delivered to their personal space, either through mobile or other digital device and they want hot-news now and on-the-go.

Platform does not matter, All that matters is Convenience and Ease of Access
Today’s news consumers are not interested in platforms and format as they are about convenience and ease of access. So whether news comes in traditional print or news is delivered online and to mobile devices or TV, the news consumer just wants it fast and quick in sync with their fast-paced lifestyle.

Beyond Delivering Content, Consumers are telling Newspapers to come out of their Conservative Closet and Broaden the Reach and Value of their News Experience.

Today’s news consumer sees news more as experience than mere content, as the consumer desires to interact with the medium and obtain feedback on-the-go and not just through the age-old letters to the editor which takes a long time. They are asking the newspaper to bridge the length of the news-cycle and deliver news and consumer feedback by the second. The consumer is asking the news-media organization to dump the garb of platform purity and close the lines between news genres and just deliver an information experience which can be graphic, picturesque and audio visual while allowing the consumer to talk back and obtain feedback on-the-go.

• To be continued.

• Okusaga is the Managing Consultant of Precise, a reputation design company based in Lagos Nigeria

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