Thursday, May 25, 2017 2:40 pm
In the past, if you wrote a story, you determined how it would be presented. If somebody wanted to react to it, they sent about 50 letters to the editor and he chose the one that best suited him and he published it. But today, as you write a story, it is being challenged right there as you post it. You have 50 comments at a go and all of the comments are not stupid. Not all of the comments are sponsored, some of them are actually written by sensible people who are challenging you; they are challenging your grammar, they are challenging your presentation, they are challenging your way of thinking right there and no matter how much you are thick-skinned, you have to respond to these comments in your next story.
• Omoyele Sowore, of Sahara Reporters, made these observations during an interaction with journalists of TheNEWS and P.M.News in December 2013 and it was published in TheNEWS, 20 January 2014 edition
By Omoyele Sowore
The media industry is being driven by technology and it is changing so fast that in the next few years, the only place where you will be able to read a good newspaper of today will be in the museum. I am humble enough to tell you that the media that we are used to that’s the media of newspapers, these physical newspapers as we know them – are no longer in existence. The newspapers as we know them today are heading to the museum, and in the next five years, the only place you can read a good newspaper is the place where you will read the newspaper that was produced five years ago, and that’s the museum.
People will be saying that this used to be the best newspaper then, and to just buttress my position on this, you will understand that one of the oldest and the most prolific magazines in the world closed down a few months ago, and does anybody know which one? It is Newsweek! And although they are recruiting again, what they are doing is that they have gone digital. The newspapers will come, the news magazines will come back, but they will not be as we used to know them because they have seen the future and have understood that the way we used to do things before has changed.
And so, what I am going to tell everybody here: “Just forget about the fact the you used to be the lord of the manor, you used to be the best writer, you used to be some of the best investigative reporters and just understand that you are now living in a different world in which you have absolutely no control.”
I mentioned today when we were reviewing newspapers that the number one newspaper in Nigeria today, as we found out online, is Vanguard, and the reason it is doing well today is the same reason Vanguard was not respected in the past. Vanguard used to write short stories; they were not verbose, they didn’t have time to do too much work, but because the world is now in the era of attention deficit disorder, people like Vanguard because it gives you short messages and you move on to their next story and next story and like that online. Same thing with Punch. The reason why people used to hate Punch in those days was because it didn’t write too long. We used to love The Guardian because you could sit and read The Guardian with a bowl of eba and finish it and you were still reading it. But today, nobody even remembers The Guardian anymore. So think of your work as being at risk, because people who are driving media today are non-media people, they are technologically driven people and our media is no longer paper, it is digital now.
So in the next few years, even as it is happening today, everybody is getting news in small pieces from mobile devices and most of you carry absolutely two of them minimum. So think of a country that has 100 million mobile phone users and think of your job as producing and circulating 100,000 newspapers. I doubt that you have up to 100,000 circulation on daily basis in PM News; I doubt it. Maybe maximum of 50,000. If you think about the number of rejections that come back to you, maybe 25,000, so how do you cater to the population of Lagos that has 20 million people if you are selling 20,000 papers? You are short-changing yourself and you are short-changing society. That means your information is not reaching the people who need them most. So lock your mind to the idea of newspaper as you know them; block your mind to the idea of working 9 to 5.
So think of this and say, when does news break? Where am I and how does it get published and not when am I getting home to beat the traffic. Think of yourself as the person who is able to publish your news from the trunk of your car or at the gas station, which I did when [President] Yar’Adua died. I drove into a petrol station, I ordered for petrol and on my computer there, I typed the story that Yar’Adua had died, posted it and then went and met with the editors, who then wrote a bigger story. But the most important thing is that nobody cared about the long story of how Yar’Adua died, they just wanted the news that the man had died, this was the time he died and this was where. That’s what they wanted. So by the time you came out with your newspaper mentality 24 hours later with your 5000-word stories of how the man was a teacher in Katsina, they didn’t care anymore, they already knew that Yar’Adua had died, and that as a dead man he is no longer a Katsina governor or President of Nigeria. So you were coming back late to the game.
This is where the world is, but more importantly, the idea of even closing from work doesn’t happen in the current business world, and also the idea of a journalist that has a journalistic position as a photographer or a video editor is no longer also in existence because every journalist must be able to produce or perish. And how do you produce?
You must be complete in the multimedia and be able to multi task. That is, an average journalist must be able today not only to write the story, but also take a photograph that goes with it. He must know how to video, produce and make all these three components, put on the page of every online platform, which you cannot do with newspaper. Again, it is because the world has attention deficit disorder. So what is my best story today (30 December 2013)? It is not the story of how they are selling the refineries, which is the story that took most of my time in the last one week. Rather, it is a story in which they have a short video of somebody who went to Bayelsa State and drove past a hotel in Yenagoa that is being built by Mrs. Jonathan. The one minute and some seconds video is our most popular story today, but in your work, your most popular story in your mind is a story that you spend the whole time consulting and searching for, but the readers out there don’t care about how you form the opinion about what your best story is because of the time spent on it; the best story to them is the one that appeals to them the most. And how do you know these things? You are also in an era where you are a student now in the media world; where people are judging you as opposed to you judging public officers.
In the past, if you wrote a story, you determined how it would be presented. If somebody wanted to react to it, they sent about 50 letters to the editor and he chose the one that best suited him and he published it. But today, as you write a story, it is being challenged right there as you post it. You have 50 comments at a go and all of the comments are not stupid. Not all of the comments are sponsored, some of them are actually written by sensible people who are challenging you; they are challenging your grammar, they are challenging your presentation, they are challenging your way of thinking right there and no matter how much you are thick-skinned, you have to respond to these comments in your next story. So this is how the world is going.
But another thing to also think about is that, if you are a journalist that works from Monday to Friday, think of the world. Does the world stop on Friday? Does it stop on Saturday? Don’t planes crash on Saturdays or Sundays, don’t people go to the market on Saturdays or Sundays? So why would a journalist start working on Monday and end on Friday? For example, I’ve had some of our big stories broken on Sundays. The Stella Oduah story was broken on a public holiday, because we knew that if we broke it on a day that everybody was around, other stories would come upon it. It is a story that takes off like a plane, it starts to gain altitude, and then it stabilises and it cruises until maybe it crashes. But the conventional wisdom in the media world is to publish when everybody would read. But think about how many people are pushing their wares in front of the same person you are trying to write for.
But another thing to also think about is that, if you are a journalist that works from Monday to Friday, think of the world. Does the world stop on Friday? Does it stop on Saturday? Don’t planes crash on Saturdays or Sundays, don’t people go to the market on Saturdays or Sundays? So why would a journalist start working on Monday and end on Friday?
So how do you expect your own to be in the front of it? It is now a function of tactics, it is a function of technological development, so you must see yourself going forward as a journalist, you must begin to see yourself as a technologically inclined person who must make sure that this thing gets to the people in a way that it sticks with them. This is where we are. There would have to be an interface between you the journalist and the people who develop your website. I’ve seen a lot of that happen in newspapers.
In Nigeria, the people who run the website are different. The department running the website is different from the newsroom; that’s rubbish, nobody does that anymore. If it is your final product why should you leave it to the guy who doesn’t care about it? Who thinks that he is an ICT person? No, the number one ICT person in the company is the managing director of the company, followed by every other person. Anybody in this age and time that cannot post a story on the website is not supposed to be doing newspaper business.
And if you are worried about how the story might get compromised by somebody, you create a digital signature for everybody in the company so when you go on the website, it registers that it came from your own computer. But everybody should be able to post the story on the website, so start thinking about how to dismantle your ICT department because that’s another bogus name for bureaucracy. Because I’ve heard people say when the ICT guy is not around they can’t post stories, or they can post the story but they can’t post the picture. What kind of newspaper is that? What is your computer for? And again I’m not bragging, I’m an example of that and I learnt all of these things the hard way.
The next important thing is that your server has to be absolutely strong because you get people logging on to your website and they are very unforgiving. When they need stories the most and the website doesn’t work, you can lose almost half of your readership that way because people just can’t stand it these days that they look up to you as a big organisation. They can understand if someone hacks into the website and you announce it immediately; it happened to the New York Times recently where they shut down for almost two days, but you must also make sure that in creating your server you also create what they call mirrors where, if one server goes down another one will just kick in like that. You can have up to ten of that, which is something more complex. But you just have to understand that the way the world is moving now, it’s such that if you are not careful you will find your job in the hands of people that you used to underrate and they are people like us. You might then end up being hired by us!
You used to say, “Forget those guys, what do they know about journalism?” But journalism and the business of media are not driven by journalists anymore. Journalism is so important that it could not have been left in the hands of media people alone. It is not like medical training where only the doctor can operate on someone. Media is the oldest profession in the world. People used to say prostitution is the oldest. No, because it’s journalists that detected prostitutes and wrote about them, so media is the oldest profession in the world. So anybody who then feels like journalists of the days of the Bible or the Quran or whichever one, is just going to find out one day that he is a fish out of water. You’ve been swimming in this lake for a long time and suddenly the lake dries up and you are a fish inside of it. And what happens when there is no water for the fish? The fish dies.