‘How technology, fallen standards, others affect media output’
• Scholars canvass synergy in newsroom, classroom
In the world over, there is a growing narrative around the culture of reading. For many, good reading culture appears to have disappeared or whittled down considerably. This, perhaps, has contributed, albeit, partially, to a drop in print run of newspaper and magazine publications.
For many others, people are still reading very actively. They, however, added the caveat: what is being read has been altered in form, content and format.
This trend, no doubt, is not peculiar to Nigeria. A critical look at the media industry whether in Africa or Europe shows that a lot of newspapers have dropped their print editions for online versions.
Citing video platforms like YouTube, proponents of the argument that reading culture has only been altered, said developments in information technology make the platforms readily available for people who want their contents to go viral. In other words, for these people, video appears to be the news copy.
Be that as it may, while the developments in communications technology may have admittedly affected print copy sales in favour of digital copies, the democratisation of news content creation and lowering of entry barrier to content ownership appears to have brought poor gatekeeping in the news generation, production and publication processes.
The Editor of ThisDay Newspaper, Mr. Bolaji Adebiyi, feels differently. He told The Guardian that the print output had not diminished, as the mainstream media still work hard to keep pace with providing information on important developments. “However, the major constraints have been poor corporate governance and poor funding. The latter arose largely from the former.”
He added, “in a number of media houses, there are no more sub-desks. This has affected quality control. I think bringing back the desk would eliminate the lapses.”
On how citizen journalism and media democratisation have worsened the quality of output, Adebiyi said there is nothing like citizen journalism, but social media, which is just a social means of communication. He told The Guardian, “journalism is a formal discipline with its professional ethics and standards. So, social media is incapable of meeting the standards and could, therefore, not be equated with journalism. Please note that blogging is not journalism and there is a difference between blogging and online journalism. There are online newspapers, no doubt, but blogs are not that.”
The very first consequence of this democratisation of media is poorly edited news material, most of which are hurriedly cobbled in the race to be first on the search engine.
The fact that the field has also been democratised also means that poorly qualified players have invaded the media space and with nobody to help clean up their copies, the news space has become an all comers, and with it, very badly written copies.
Years before, people paraded their knowledge through what they learned from the media. “I read it in the newspapers” was a major bragging right that conferred respect.
A lot of people relied on the news media to improve their grammar and knowledge of trends in the political, social and economic aspects of their lives.
The story cannot be the same today. The quality of material published as news in the thousands of today’s news platforms is questionable. It is either the grammar is appalling or the material is fraught with fake, unverified news. It has also become increasingly difficult to differentiate news from opinion.
Cases have been recorded where content owners’ copy posts from the social media and pass same off as news without fact checking. What this means is that, while people may be reading a lot more, especially using the online and social media channels, the quality of content available to the readers have been grossly toxified.
In the words of former Editor of The Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo, though technology is aiding journalism practice, the output quality is taking a slide due to lack of self-application. He said: “Technology would give you the application, but it is not going to give you the depth, it gives information and not knowledge. So, you would find out that the deeper knowledge to interpret stories and make them organic to bring out elegance is lacking in reports.” Ogbodo said in the past, when there was little or no technology, people read for knowledge and better writers were produced.
According to him, “what reporters do these days is to cut information, paste and move on. Technology is supposed to help, but the attitude of reporters in applying it is wrong, there is no determination to become outstanding.”
Though many have blamed the gatekeeping processes for the low quality of reports, Ogbodo stressed that every system could not rise above its own desk. “What this means is that standards generally have fallen, now, we are talking of reporters as gatekeepers, and they are all products of the failed era. The painstaking approach to writing stories is no longer there. We rely on technology in most cases, for instance to proof read. The industry is famished and reporters cannot hold their heads high.
“This is not that all reporters are bad, but the fallen standard is affecting all reporters and the gatekeepers. And if an editor does not have good reporters to work with, he manages the materials available to him,” he said.
Ogbodo said that the way out is for the industry to reinvent itself. According to him, “everything goes back to conditions in the industry. What is the worth of the reporter? How many media houses currently pay their reporters? Those that manage to pay, don’t pay well. The owners of the media cannot insist on getting the best because, you cannot offer a first class brain N50, 000 a month. It is a vicious circle.”
The National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Chris Isiguzo, ONLY last Friday wrote a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, soliciting financial assistance for the media. In the letter titled, Convulsions in the media industry, NUJ appealed for Buhari’s urgent intervention to save the media industry from collapse.
The letter read in parts, “Sir, permit us to state that, the social duties of journalists in Nigeria include the advancement of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of the press, media independence, conflict transformation and peace building. These are prerequisites for open governance and development, the fight against corruption among others, which ultimately serve the public interest.
“Your Excellency, there can be no freedom of expression and freedom of the press where journalists work under precarious situations and are exposed to poverty and fear. Media organisations are daily being asphyxiated as a result of the economic downturn occasioned by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Today, the role of the media in National Development has become more elaborate and clearer, more than ever before, despite the little funds available to them because of shrinking advertisements, and high cost of operations, media houses can no longer comfortably pay these costs and offset staff salaries and emoluments. It is instructive to note that without the media, the COVID-19 crisis could have gone completely out of control by now.
“We appeal for financial bailout for the media industry through the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria for privately owned media organisations in the country.” NUJ stressed that the media was in a crisis situation of monumental proportion and in dire need of intervention to avert a catrostophe.
Ogbodo hopes for a paradigm shift in the industry that would bring fresh attraction, as it happened in the past after the era of Daily Times when Concord came on board, and later, The Guardian, setting a much higher standard.He said, “The Guardian insisted that its reporters must be First Class or Second Class Upper holders.”He however, said there was little Nigerian Guild of Editors could do to improve the situation, as it could only uphold ethics and protect members.
To this end, industry watchers have canvassed a more practical approach to teaching journalism that would enhance quality reporting. A mass communication teacher, Prof. Lai Oso told The Guardian, “it is just like accounting. You cannot see everybody with Ph.D without having some practical experience. We really need to go back to basics. We need to have a blend of the people who are from the industry who would teach the real professional courses of writing – feature writing, editorial writing, programme production, script writing for television and radio. You can’t teach these from a textbook.”
In January this year, communication scholars lauded the National Universities Commission (NUC) for unbundling Mass Communication as a discipline into seven others. They said the move would produce better communication graduates. Oso had said that the mass communication curriculum could not accommodate the new developments in the media trends particularly, the changing landscaping of politics and economy.
Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, said that there is a growing demand by professionals for specialisation. According to him, “lecturers to go into the newsroom to practice and journalists to go into the classroom and teach.”