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How poor economy turns journalists into PR consultants

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Some journalist at a workshop

No doubt, in the last two decades, journalism practice in the country has faced critical challenges and setbacks. The poor economy these past four years has not helped matter, as every sector has been compelled to devise other means of survival.

The media has not fared in any way near good these past years, as advert spaces have shrunk considerably, making it difficult to pay staff salaries as at when due. Some even owe their staff up to 12 months salaries.  A way out of this ugly situation for some media owners to reduce their workforce, while others have had to change the contract terms of their staff, offering some of them freelancing deals.

With journalists left to fend for themselves, the noble profession has been exposed to all sorts of unethical practice.

Many believe that the Nigerian media has lost its vigour and has weakened under democratic rule. Some industry watchers say the poor economy has made the media to be as corrupt as some of the public and private institutions they are watching over.

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In fact, many have alleged that some proprietors have openly wondered why any journalist will bother about salaries when they have meal tickets in the form of their identity cards; meaning that what concerns them is the stories and not how the journalists get them or how they survive.

“Journalists working on fulltime, and as freelancers, are poorly remunerated. They do not enjoy health and safety protection and rarely are covered by insurance. They are not even provided with the necessary equipment to help them protect themselves when there is conflict or civil unrest,” said a media practitioner, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Media proprietors explain that the economic climate is harsh and inflationary, increasing production cost. Poor electricity supply causes over-reliance and excessive spending on generators; imported newsprint is expensive. Proprietors want waiver on duties for newsprints and other materials arguing that media inputs should be categorised as educational materials. They also complain that low circulation figures, partly arising from stiff online and social media competition affect their economic fortunes.

However, industry players have kicked against the act, as it puts the profession credibility at stake.

Publisher, BRANDish, a Marketing magazine, Ikem Okuhu, said non-payment of journalists salaries means the profession is no longer attracting quality writers and researchers who would add value to the news business.

He said, “journalism has deteriorated like teaching that attracts the leftovers of the huge unemployment in the country. We now have people who embrace the job because they cannot compete in the mainstream where career is rewarded.

“Even when there are good writers joining the team, the tendency is usually to use journalism as stepping stone to corporate communications jobs or PR agency practice. What we now have is a profession that is progressively losing its best and having fewer people that would mentor and teach future practitioners.”

Managing Director, Indigo, Mr. Bolaji Abimbola, said, “non payment of journalists salaries is very appalling and a major setback for the development of the profession in Nigeria. The problem has to do with ownership and management. Most media organisations are not running a profitable business, hence they owe workers salary and even the few that are profitable, and the management usually prioritise other things above staff salary.”

He stressed that no nation could develop without a vibrant, ethical and responsible press, adding, “if you owe journalists salaries, you are exposing them to be corrupt by compromising and looking for alternative sources at the detriment of the ethics of their profession and invariably at the expense of the society. You find journalists turning PR practitioners or taking PR brief, I think this is an aberration because you cannot be a watchdog and also be PR specialists.”

Abimbola, however, said the only aspect of PR that a journalist could undertake is media relation, which just one out of many areas of public relations. “In as much as journalists may want to offer PR services, they are limited to only media relations, which is even more often than not carried out at variance to strategy.

“For instance, at the core of PR is Advisory, unless you are a thoroughbred professional, you cannot provide strategic PR Advisory service to a client not to even talk about managing crisis.”

Also, a journalist with a print medium further lamented that the extent of journalistic skills is buried in the lack of payment of salaries. He said, “this is the reason why most newspapers content are syndicated stories, though ownership influence also comes to play here.

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“The way out is for media houses to be consolidated to curb the dearth of true professionals. If Nigeria has just five newspapers, they will be commercially viable, salaries would be paid and journalism will not be an all comers affair anymore. Journalists would not have the time to seek PR briefs if the working environment is made conducive.”

A journalist told The Guardian that non-payment of journalists’ salaries denies them of being objective. “In most cases, journalists are seen to be compromised. It weakens their chance of working selflessly. For instance, a month before the time of oil spillage in Abule Egba, Lagos, a police officer invited me secretly and said he knew of some senior police officers that go to scoop fuel at 1am. He wanted me to do the investigative story, but at that time, I had not been paid for six months and I needed money to carry out that assignment.

“If I had written that story, all the houses and shops that were later lost to the fire could have been avoided.

“When we fail to do our work, we allow abnormalities and bad things happen in our society. We can easily be bought over.”

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