New media poses a huge threat to traditional media, which some believe will simply fizzle out in due course.
But Sun Publishing Managing Director, Femi Adesina, argues in this interview with Senior Correspondent, GODDIE OFOSE, that new media only erodes the profit margin of old-type media and cannot drive it out of town.
Choice of journalism
I trace that back to my background, which is being born to two educationists. My father was a school principal at a time education was really something in the old Western Region.
He became the first African principal of St Charles Grammar School in Oshogbo, where he retired. St Charles was one of the best schools in the region then. My mother was also a teacher.
They would never let us travel during holidays, but rather they would buy books and get us to read. I hail from Ipetumodu, which is about nine kilometers to Ife. There are seven of us.
My father would take us all to the bookshop on the campus and buy us as many books as we wanted for a holiday. That was what we would read all through. So, we all grew up to be quite literary. We were brought up reading books.
In secondary school, I don’t know what my teachers saw in me; not one, not two, not three; they would say “you will either be a journalist or a lawyer” – and they kept saying it at different times. I didn’t know what they saw, but eventually I went to the university to study English and then graduated.
When it was time to serve [in the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC], fortuitously, I was posted to a media house, Lagos State Television. That was in 1986. That was how my journalism career also began. By next year I would be 30 years on the job.
I would say the journey began from being sequestered at home, being given books to read; since it is a very literary family.
My two elderly ones are professors. In fact, six of us are in the liberal arts; only one, the last born, took to science. He is a medical doctor.
Threat of new media
Definitely the margins in terms of profitability may be eroded, but it will not kill the traditional media. Let’s go back in time. When radio came, it was like a death knell for the printed word. People felt that with the advent of radio, the printed word was going to die, but we saw the printed word existing side by side with radio.
When television even came much later, the noise was louder that it was the final burial of the printed word, but several decades after television, the printed word is still there.
Now you have new media or digital media posing serious challenges to the printed word. Mark you, the challenges are serious. Between the time the digital media came and now, see what has happened to the printed word.
Where is Newsweek today? It’s no longer there, only in the digital form. Where is Readers’ Digest today? One of the staples we grew up with was Readers’ Digest, but it’s no longer there, because of digital media. I guess, it’s only published in digital form.
When I began journalism 29 years ago, if I needed to do a research before doing my story, I would go to the library. In National Concord then, you had the walls lined with encyclopedia, from A-Z, and you would look for the one you wanted and do your research and then go to write.
Where is Encyclopedia Britannica today? They no longer publish the hard copy, they are only online. It only shows you that digital media has done a lot of havoc to the printed word, but will the printed word die? No, it will not. It will only mean those who are professionals in that area must be more creative.
If you are creative, you will stay alive, you would still do good business. It may not be as flourishing as it used to be in the past, but you will still be able to hang in.
Over the years, by the grace of God, I have attended a lot of international conferences. At World Editors’ Forum, this issue has come up, the future of the printed word vis a vis challenges.
At the end of each conference, the consensus is that the printed word will continue to be there. The profit margins may be eroded, there may be more challenges, but the printed word will not die.
Media ownership in Nigeria
As the saying goes, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. It is very rare to see a medium where the owner does not have a say. There is what we call proprietorial influence and proprietorial interest. It will always be there. It’s only that it differs from place to place in terms of enormity.
When it is obtrusive and obstructive, it can only kill that medium, just as it happened to Daily Times. The paper was everywhere, it was such a big conglomerate until the federal government had controlling shares, I think that was in 1976, and about 10 years later the paper was almost in comatose, and by the 90s, it was dead.
Now it’s being revived by new owners, but the paper is no longer what it used to be.
Also look at government-owned stations, particularly the NTA [Nigerian Television Authority] and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria [FRCN], what kind of following do they have? Definitely not as massive as what Channels would have, as what AIT would have and all that.
When proprietorial influence becomes obtrusive, it can only injure that medium.
Even in private-owned media houses, when the owners begin to show their hands too much, the reading or viewing public is so discerning and they begin to see that this medium is not truly independent.
That is where I will pay tribute to the owner of this newspaper where I work, Orji Uzo Kalu, a former Governor of Abia State. He is the proprietor of the paper, but you hardly see his hands in this place. The onus is on us who run this place to exercise our liberty responsibly.
For instance, our publisher is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but you find many opinion articles that are anti-PDP in this paper. He does not say because he is a PDP member, the paper should not take anti-PDP opinions.
That is how a media should run. Everyone should be able to have a say. The media should be a marketplace of ideas. When you begin to stifle opinion, you begin to stifle other contributions that are contrary to your own conviction, that medium will shrivel and, in no time, it will die.
Assessment of the general elections
The media has done fairly well, but I have also noticed that a lot of us let down our guards, particularly in the advertorials we were publishing, both electronic and print.
Many things that ordinarily should never have seen the light of day were being published; and what I say to others I say to myself. It’s in all media houses, I see it. And I begin to ask myself that after these elections, are we not going to be entertaining so many libel suits because we have let down our guards and all sorts of things got published?
We should exercise more discretion. Yes, the financial reward is enticing because the media is going through dire straits and you find advertisers who are ready to pay cash upfront for all those things, it’s attractive. But then we should still not sacrifice ethics and decency on the altar of financial reward.
Journalism yesterday, and today
A whole lot has changed. Journalism was more of something driven by brawn when we began, but today it’s driven by technology. Then, if one needed to do research, one would go to the library and check the encyclopedia, but today, at the touch of a button, just google it and it gives you information more than you need.
Then, there was sparse information, you had to search for it; but today, information is at your fingertips.
For instance, in the late 90s, I worked in the Vanguard Newspapers and I used to cover the Trade Fair, in Kaduna, in Enugu, and I used to send my report by telex.
In Kaduna, there was Durbah Hotel, it’s the only place where you could get telex in Kaduna. I would write my report and go there and the telex man would have to send it to Lagos.
The last time I passed through where Durba Hotel used to be in Kaduna, it was in ruins, therefore it means the telex is long dead. Without this telex, I would have to bring my report physically to Lagos or phone and read it to them.
When we got to Concord, we had what they called the Radio Room, where in Lagos we took reports from all our correspondents nationwide. They would have to get on the wavelength of that radio and then dictate their stories.
Today, you have the internet, it never existed then. With the internet, you can file your report from anywhere. A lot has changed in journalism for good, but I would want to appeal to younger journalists that they should be a lot more patient. The patience that we had then was that we went from one rung of the ladder to the other, but it no longer exists today.