Nigerian media: Balancing professionalism, advocacy and business (II)

I’m aware that many editors wear two caps – publisher and editor (or even editor-in-chief). I’m also aware that a number of editors are still employees, while not a few are kings and queens of the side hustle. In whichever camp we fi nd ourselves, we often play the egg and chicken game, asking ourselves, why not good business fi rst and, then, good journalism second? What’s the use of good journalism and bad business anyway? I will not concede that singleminded focus on honest, ethical journalism is unhealthy for business, especially if we keep a long-term view. But let me share with you a number of practices/situations that I believe have been inimical to the business of journalism:

• Wastage (internally generated): For newspapers, for example, think about the cost of maintaining printing machines (cost of spare parts, competence of operators, etc.) and other printing-related infrastructure, not to mention the obsession to be “national” newspapers, when we have yet to become provincial titles; for those in broadcasting, the wastage could be in form of investments in massive transmitters that quickly become obsolete. Another big headache is the sheer size of the buildings of some of the more established brands and the cost of maintaining the buildings, not to mention the cost of managing branch offi ces, relative to newer, nimbler competitors, rising costs and falling income.

• Lack of transparency: Th e West African Pilotof Th ursday, May 19, 1938, Vol. 1, No 148, had on its front left ear the net circulation fi gure for the previous week: 8,264 copies. Seventynine years later, in 2017, newspapers are hiding their print fi gures under the table. Without audited fi gures, the print media will continue to grope in the dark. Th e ownership structure of most media houses (print and broadcast) and weak regulation by the appropriate offi cial authorities allow a number of owners to get away with poor governance practices to the detriment of the business • Poor adoption of technology: I don’t know how many industries are left without self-service. Technology has made self-service possible and effi cient for nearly all forms of businesses. How many media houses have self-service advert departments, for example?

• Data: Th is is getting better, largely because of competition and demand for value. Open source analytic tools have made access to data easier and less contentious, especially for online platforms. But are we letting data guide our business and editorial decisions and helping us innovate or are we still steeped in the practice of rewarding what we cannot measure? Th ere is a serious lack of the capacity to harvest and commoditise data; and editors who take this area seriously will do better y Concluded than the laggards.

• Ethics: I’m not so bothered about what media owners do as I am about what editors that run the media do on the job. Owners will have interests – partisan, economic, religious or philanthropic. But editors are supposed to be the professional backbone, providing balance, context, direction and leadership. Can we look ourselves straight in the eye and say that is the case today? How can unethical media be taken seriously as advocates, except, of course, as advocates of vested interests!

• Training (especially in economic literacy):Editors are leaders; that is, as long as they continue to invest themselves perpetually in learning, especially in the economics of the business, and also maintain lifestyles that will enhance their productivity

• Environmental factors (externally generated): Apart from owning their own newsgathering, processing and distribution infrastructure, most media houses also have to provide their own electricity, construct their roads, provide their own water and contend with multiple taxes or levies. I don’t know about the ease of doing business; but I could write a book on the unease, the hostile and extremely unstable business environment in which we all operate. To survive in this ecosystem, there’s need to share and compare notes, a rare but necessary thing for growth and survival. For the benefi t of the Nigeria Guild of Editors as a group, I would like to make a few suggestions, because I know they have a tenure and need money to do a few things for which they will be remembered for good.

I was a member of the Board of the World Editors Forum, before a few of us renegades branched out to start the Global Editors Network (GEN), which today – just six years later – is the largest cross platform of editors in the world – and quite profi table, too! I’m not suggesting for one minute that we should adopt, wholesale, everything that GEN is doing. But if we want to be more professional, if we want to be worthy advocates, if we want to build a successful professional and business brand, if WE want to be taken seriously, then we must take immediate and urgent steps to free ourselves from the apron strings of political patrons. I’m concerned that there’s currently too much reliance on political patronage than is healthy for our integrity and long-term survival. We can be free, if we choose. Here are a few steps I will recommend:

• Hire a proven executive director (call him/her whatever) that will have specifi c, measurable business targets. • Get sponsorships from any of the global media giants, with interest in media in developing countries (but you need house-cleaning to succeed in that!) • Create open, periodic valuedriven conversations that will suffi ciently interest partnership with corporates • Start periodic research-driven solutions for media and allied industries • De-emphasise physical structures, think network and people • Create and maintain website/ social-media platforms befi tting a 21st century professional group • Build networks with other professional groups, especially in more developed, open media environments • Rejuvenate the Ethics & Disciplinary Committee and let the public know how they may approach it, if they have any complaints.

• Publish audited accounts As you may have noticed, I have deviated – that’s the price that you sometimes pay when speaking on a wide-ranging subject. I will, however, at this point return to the subject matter: focus. We must, as editors, raise our game. Single-minded focus on journalism is the strongest form of advocacy I can think about. And focus is not detrimental to business. In my few years and limited experience in business, when the going got tough and the fl ood waters threatened, I asked myself what we needed to do to stay afl oat, only one answer kept coming back to me repeatedly: journalism, damn good journalism.

(Show the video made by journalists in Russia’s 4th largest city). Th is video, I think, is a good example of damn good journalism: I recommend it to you today. Th ank you • Note: List of defunct newspapers/ magazines in the last 20 years* – Diet – National Interest – Tempo – Fame – Financial Standard – Hints – Concord – Sketch – Newswatch – Compass – NEXT – Triumph – Herald – New Nigerian – Th ird Eye – Tide – Metropole – Monitor – National Life – New Age – Examiner – Union – Comet – Post Exp



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