The Guardian at 39… Refreshing the brand for better impact
Its birth, on February 22, 1983 as a weekly publication and thereafter a daily publication on July 4, created a radical change in the practice of journalism in Nigeria. No wonder, not long after The Guardian came into the Nigeria media space, it became known as the flagship, as it daily improves to deliver on its motto: ‘Truthful, Trustworthy, Yesterday and Tomorrow as “Conscience” continues to be “Nurtured by Truth”.’
Although the media industry is generally challenged, especially the print media where The Guardian started out from, its forward-looking ideals has gradually seen it expanded into a media group, establishing digital platforms that included The Guardian Television as well as having presence on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
Over the years, what has kept the paper going is the ability of its managers to refresh the brand to continually endear it to the market. For instance, in 1988 at its fifth anniversary, an annual lecture was inaugurated to provide insight for some of the challenges the country was grappling with, as a way of intervening strategically in the course of our nation building.
The maiden edition’s topic was around issues in the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced by the then military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Notably, the title was The Debt Trap, Structural Adjustment and the Future of the Third World, with former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr. Michael Manley, then the leader of opposition of the Jamaican Parliament, as guest speaker.
The fifth anniversary celebration was a week-long package that included public presentation of the book, Perspectives on Nigerian Literature: 1700 to the present Vols I & II, a compilation of excerpts from The Guardian Literary Series, the lecture stood out.
In the The Guardian mix was its human resources where many that were employed as full time in the newsroom or part-time in the editorial board were cerebral persons who constantly added colour through their writing and reporting to the brand. The team was largely responsible for what a revered expert on press history, the late Prof. Fred Omu, described as the “dynamic influence” The Guardian brought to bear on Nigerian journalism.
In his scholarly article titled “Journalism in Nigeria: A Historical Overview” and published in 1996 in “Journalism in Nigeria: Issues and Perspectives”, Prof. Omu wrote further: “The Guardian calls itself the flagship of the Nigerian press and so it really is. It has been indisputably the best newspaper ever produced in Nigeria and its brand of journalism has had a profound and provocative impact on Nigerian journalism.
“The principles, which it exposes and the standards which it represents, set it out as a national institution. In the poise and polish of its language, in its cultivated and intellectual approach to argument and controversy, in its penetrating and persuasive analysis and interpretation, in its promotion of ideological pluralism and in its endeavour to place events in their historical perspective, The Guardian has achieved great esteem in and outside Nigeria as one of the most authoritative newspapers in Africa. Its journalistic achievements are bound to influence the newspaper industry for a long time.”
Though the media industry, over the years, has gone through turbulent times, with so many publications going down before and after the birth of The Guardian, the publication has continued to be on the newsstand, providing scintillating reports for Nigerians and non-Nigerians.
The publication started as a 16-page paper, but later published, on the average, 64 pages and sometimes, over 100 pages with increased advert sales. In the last three years however, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has imposed a 32-page publication by virtually all the print media outlets with occasional pagination increment above 32 pages, especially when there is a sizeable number of adverts flow to support the increase.
Over the years, The Guardian has provided the refreshing pattern for the practice of journalism in Nigeria, which has been attested to by media stakeholders and reward systems such as the Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME); the Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA); and many others. The publication has won awards locally and internationally.
In its 39 years of existence, The Guardian has been edited by six great journalists; Lade Bonuola, Femi Kusa, Emeka Izeze, Debo Adesina, Martins Oloja and Abraham Ogbodo. The seventh editor, Mr. Alabi Williams assumed duty on June 8, 2020 alongside other professionals who were also elevated to man different posts. They are Martins Oloja (Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief); Kabir Alabi Garba (Editor, The Guardian on Sunday); and Francis Chuks Nwanne (Editor, The Guardian on Saturday). Two insiders had also served as Acting Editor for the newspaper: Jewell Dafinone (January to June 2016) and Dr. Paul Onomuakpokpo (July 1, 2019 to June 4, 2020).
Despite its accomplishments as celebrated by its admirers, The Guardian has had, also, its fair share of travails. In 1976 when the newspaper was being incubated, the military was in power. But by the time the newspaper was launched on July 4, 1983 as a daily publication, the civilian administration led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari, which was sworn-in on October 1, 1979, had only six months left before the government was toppled on December 31, 1983 with General Muhammadu Buhari as the Head of State.
Thus, in 1984, two journalists working for the newspaper company – Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor – were tried and jailed under Decree No.4 of 1984 – Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation).
So, in the last 39 years, The Guardian has continued to weather the storms, remaining alive to its philosophy of “an independent newspaper, established for the purpose of presenting balanced coverage of events, and of promoting the best interest of Nigeria.”
It was conceived as a well planned and carefully thought-out enterprise, which would present a balanced coverage and projection of news and views, uphold political neutrality and independence and elevate the tone of public discourse.
As a liberal newspaper, committed to the best traditions and ideals of republican democracy, The Guardian believes it is the responsibility of the State not only to protect and defend the citizens but also to create the political, social, economic and cultural conditions in which all citizens may achieve their highest potential as human beings. And as the “flagship of the Nigerian press”, The Guardian directed successive governments and reading public on how best to live.
In the last six years, The Guardian has been responding, significantly, to the challenges brought about by innovations in the global media industry dictated by digital technology. The re-engineering process saw the newspaper company consolidating its profile as a multi-media establishment in addition to preserving the company’s cherished value of being the best and most authoritative newspaper available to readers from diverse platforms.
Indeed, the creation of diverse platforms has been part of the brand since inception as it established, in 1986, The Guardian family of publications comprising the fast-paced news-complete-but-in-capsule afternoon paper, Guardian Express; the racy but restrained and classy week-end paper, Lagos Life; The Guardian Financial Weekly which was then called a “Broad Street handbook”, and The African Guardian, a comprehensive weekly magazine of news and analysis. Each of these publications was animated by The Guardian spirit and operated within its philosophy.
The sad impact of the proscription of the newspaper on August 14, 1994 by General Sani Abacha-led military government was the resting of these publications when it was reopened in the mid-1995. The Guardian returned to the newsstand on October 1, 1995 as one publication subsuming all these other subtitles.
Efforts in refreshing the brand in the last two years have led to the infusion of the digital platform and the print unit, just as new sections as LagosLife in The Guardian on Sunday and BigStory, which features every Friday in the daily edition, have been created. Also, some of the paper’s sections were tinkered with as what used to be Cover pages in the weekend titles are now SpecialFeature pages. All these are geared towards consolidating its grip on the market.