In the front flap of Francis Fukuyama seminal book, The End of History and the Last Man, the author asks somewhat rhetorical questions that have concerned what he calls “great philosophers of centuries past”. He ponders: “Is there a direction (original emphasis) to the history of humankind? And if it is directional, to what end is it moving? And where are we now concerning that “end of history?”
In the same flap, Fukuyama identifies two “powerful forces at work in human history”, namely: “the logic of modern science” and the “the struggle for recognition”. Similarly, the current situation in the Kenyan media landscape begs numerous questions from which we postulate the end of journalism in Kenya.
Modern journalism is characterised by disruption and uncertainty amid the Covid-19 pandemic and technological shifts. But that’s not all. The logic of existentialism of the individual journalist and individual media house in the competitive field of modern journalism is a significant challenge.
The other, similar to Fukuyama’s, is the struggle for legitimacy and recognition in an era where journalism and media are struggling to redefine their place and (re)construct a new social contract built on trust and appreciation that journalism is inevitable and invaluable in modern society. But therein lies the problem amidst the existential challenges and credibility crisis confronting journalists and the media in the face of financial and attendant pressures wrought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and other threats from within and without the current media political and economic environment.
End of journalism in Kenya?
Thus, I would like to pronounce that 2021 marks the end of journalism in Kenya. Such a conclusion is rather controversial, albeit one that has been mentioned before in different places, times and contexts. Employment and retention in the media sector are not a given. Job cuts and retrenchments have become commonplace.
Hundreds of journalists have recently lost their jobs as media companies face uncertainties based on fluid or unstable financial positions and performances, reduced (advertisements and other) revenues, declining ratings, etc. Those who did not lose their jobs had to take pay cuts. There is a reduced investment in content development and creation, capacity building and training. Investigative journalism is in terminal decline.
The coronavirus pandemic is often blamed for many of these consequences, but a close examination reveals that the genesis of the troubles dates back many years. Whatever the case, however, the Covid-19 has presented us with a perfect opportunity to interrogate the place, look and feel, obligations and responsibilities of journalism and the media within the context of the two logics mentioned above. It is not the end of storytelling, however. That still exists. 2020 is the year that journalism came to an end.
Media obituaries and epitaphs
Although various pronouncements have been made regarding journalism, some declaring that journalism is in terminal decline, 2020 has had seismic pressures on journalism, whose consequences have been felt far and wide. But the obituaries and epitaphs have been written before.
In 2008, Mark Briggs, the CEO of Serra Media, a Seattle-based digital innovation company, claimed in the Nieman Reports that “journalism’s brand is broken” and that “news organisations struggle not only with public perception of journalism but also with brand value”. He made the conclusion that this was “the end of journalism as usual’ stating that the business model for journalism (was) crumbling”.
Writing in the HuffPost, the former President and Founder of NY Times TV, Michael Rosenblum, said journalism “is in serious trouble”. Before Rosenblum’s article, Héctor Tobar, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, had argued in an opinion piece in The New York Times titled ‘Who’d Be a Journalist?‘ that journalism is a “profession that’s widely reviled, poorly compensated and often dangerous. To enter journalism these days, you have to be a true believer.” Of course, these viewpoints and concerns were predicated on trends that started many years ago. Nevertheless, the assertions and conclusions provide food for thought, especially on what ails journalism and what can be done to help it recover and reinvigorate it amid an existential, trust, credibility and reliability crisis.
Change or ‘fade away’
That journalism has to change is not in doubt. But what should this ‘new’ journalism look like? Should it depart from its professional ethos and acquire a new look just for the sake of looking new to mitigate the challenges? What should be retained, and what should it look for as it seeks to develop a new trajectory fit for purpose in the 21st century?
As we grapple with the questions and interrogate the place of journalists in modern journalism and media space, it is abundantly clear that journalism is still vital in an information society. Just like anything that has gone past, journalism is embedded in society’s history as a profession that has and continues to serve the public interest, contribute to change, and enhance society’s wellbeing as an agent of democracy, the rule of law, and defender of human rights.
It may be the end of journalism as we know it, but this presents journalists with the opportunity to reexamine their place, work, and performance to (re)transforming or (re)developing their future even in the era of disruptions, crises and uncertainties.
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