Legacy media is currently caught between a rock and a hard place — the Covid pandemic and the rise and proliferation of social media has hit revenues hard. Some say this could signal the end of news as we used to know it. However, Ugandan decorated journalist Ernest Bazanye believes the industry will survive and thrive, but not without a fight.
In February 2020, just before the pandemic struck, the Audit Bureau of Circulation told us that all major newspapers in Uganda were losing sales. Ugbusiness.com reported that New Vision sales dropped by 5.1% in the last quarter of 2019, the Monitor, too, selling 0.8% less in the same period.
Although the pandemic is not solely to blame, it hastened the ongoing decline. However, the first lockdown was such a shock that even The New Vision had to cut salaries for the first time in its history.
Ironically, it seems like the consumption of news has never been higher. Information, as a commodity, is selling like hot cake during the pandemic. People who had no previous interest in the balance of payments, fiscal policy restructuring, development indices and such now crave instant news all day, all week, all year, all two blighted years long.
We wanted updates on the latest science on the coronavirus. Hence, we refreshed our Twitter feeds, forwarded links on our WhatsApp groups, and shared both information and misinformation prolifically. Then, when the ubiquity of Covid news became stifling, we needed respite, so we got Netflix passwords and subscribed to Spotify podcasts.
Same food, different menu
Even if the consumption of newspapers went down as social media rose, the actual consumption of news went up, especially during the pandemic. During Uganda’s Age of Pestilence, people listened more keenly to what was happening. That is probably why the plague of misinformation spread much faster than the plague of Covid. It found accessible avenues because we wanted to hear the news in real-time, quickly and sensationally. A scandalous tweet beats out a 1,500-word analysis of deep grey newsprint any day.
The evolution of the news cycle
It’s probably the media’s fault. Jon Stewart was an accidental journalist. He was the host of a parody news show that, incidentally, was aired by CNN. The Daily Show was an early harbinger of what would become a radical shift in a generation’s news consumption patterns. Though it set out to be a satire of news, parodying the po-faced earnestness, the anxiety and the agitation of 24-hour news, it soon became the leading news source for young urban Americans between the ages of 21-35.
Jon Stewart wrapped up the problem thus: “Look, we certainly were part of that ecosystem, but I don’t think that news became entertainment because they thought our show was a success.” According to Stewart, 24-hour news networks were built for one thing: the 9/11 terror attacks in the US.
“There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict,” said Stewart.
News had to ramp up the hype for 24-hour news to compete for attention. You were not just competing with other news; you were competing with leisure itself. You were competing with doing nothing. So you had always to make it look like what you were saying was vital enough to make sure that people were watching at every moment of the 24 hours of the day.
Such a news cycle most likely had the long-term effect of training viewers and readers to expect sensation, conditioning us to expect urgency and exclamation marks, to see the news in extreme superlatives. As a result, audiences laid aside circumspection and patience. We put away old-fashioned habits like hearing from both sides, informing your own opinion, weighing the facts and trusting expertise and research.
Perhaps the screaming banshee of fake news is more credible to us because we have learned to expect the truth to come in screaming: “They are lying to you!”, “Shocking revelations!”, “Conspiracy!”, “Shocking Details Uncovered!”, “Shocking this!”, “Shocking that!”
In this day and age: “Stay calm. The scientists are working on it. Just keep your mask on, spritz and don’t stand too close together,” sounds less like real news than “Vaccines Make Africans Impotent!”
News value depreciating
The pandemic and the growth spurt of new media injured mainstream media by undercutting the commercial imperative. No one can sell news now. It is not scarce, so it has no commercial value. We can find out what is going on for free, without waiting for the top of the hour or the evening edition to hit the streets. So we don’t pay for news anymore. Meanwhile, we are paying for more internet.
In 2016, 20,000 Uganda shillings (USh), approximately $6, got you 500MB, none of which you would waste on YouTube. However, 5,000 USh got you one hour at an internet cafe.
Now you have a whole GB on your phone for that same amount, and who needs internet cafes when we can access all the internet we need in our jeans pocket?
Credibility is rare and valued enough to command a price because news is one thing, but insight, understanding, and expertise are different. Within the mad storm of social media amateurs and scaremongers, they are painstakingly hard to discern. Ugandan netizens value the latest piece by Jimmy Spire Sentongo or Charles Onyango Obbo more than they do the front page. So having someone trustworthy, knowledgeable and honest go out, find out the truth, and bring it back to us? That is sorely needed and much-sought-after today.
And that is what will keep the news alive. That is what media companies need to know as we plough through the pandemic and survive it. This is what journalism education should be about as we move on.
Journalism is about to become an honourable vocation and a vital public service again. It is about to become, once again, what holds a crumbling world together.
Report by Aga Khan University’s Media Innovation Centre analyses the country’s millennials and digital natives’ media consumption habits.
For the media to flourish, and the society to have free flow of accurate and verifiable information, journalists, the drivers in the passing of information are expected to be well grounded in laws and the legal aspect pertaining to the job, writes Alfred Ganzo.
Pitching provides numerous opportunities for your new or existing business ideas to be discovered and realized; and as Simon Mtabazi writes, some startups have become billion-dollar companies due to efffevie pitches
The success you achieve with your media startup business will heavily rely on your reputation as a trustworthy company, and as Nandi Mwiyombella writes, it will also open a new window for customers and potential investors.
That’s why I think today is such a great space for us to sit back and reflect on the questions that could help us shape the kind of journalism that we want to see in our local and global community.
The report specifically analysed eight major variables which include: newsroom structure and resources, media ownership and business models, organisational capacity, innovation culture, journalism culture, financial trends and results, content quality and COVID-19.
Mudi, in her role as Media Council of Kenya regional coordinator in charge of Mombasa(covering the entire coastal region), has found herself at the forefront in advocating and fighting to protect journalists’ rights, culminating in her being awarded for her peace efforts in the run-up and during the 2022 general elections in Kenya.
The 2022 general elections have been mentally draining for journalists, some of whom have had to stay on the campaign trail for over a year. Others have had to toy with the tough call of managing teams in the newsroom. East Site’s Isaac Swila and political writer Rawlings Otieno recount their experiences
What role did social media influencers play in the election? What voice did they give in political discourses during and around the election period? And to what extent did political candidates involve the influencers in marketing their manifestos to sway votes in their favour? East Site writer Steven Omondi unpacks the details
The media industry is experiencing enormous transformation as new digital trends emerge. With the vast opportunities that the digital space offers, media owners and content producers must deliberately adapt to how the audience consumes content.
With the increased Digital Technology at the palm of just anybody; there are a lot of information that distort whether deliberately or not highlighting the need of robust Fact0checking as Asha D. Abinallah explains
Is there a danger in media personalities having a vibrant social media presence? Assuming they have a massive media following, should they self-regulate and filter what they post? And when they engage with followers, should their opinions be taken as personal, or does it represent the journalist’s media house? East Site writer Isaac Swila explores
Media stakeholders are raising concerns over the lack of gender-inclusive reporting in East African newsrooms. They want concerted efforts to ensure more female journalists get equal opportunities like their male counterparts.
The partnership will also ensure that local content is curated and distributed to better optimize the product and meet the needs of Kenyan online users.
The news industry is constantly changing, and in the last few years, User Generated Content (UGC) has become a ubiquitous feature in news sourcing and packaging. However, media houses and journalists need to establish verification and credibility safeguards to avoid the misinformation trap.
Reporting on elections is, for many journalists, an opportunity to establish themselves as reliable political reporters. But the task comes with certain risks, particularly in the East African sub-region.
Stakeholders are now calling for concerted efforts, better planning and preparations for journalists before they are sent out on the field to cover Kenya’s high-stakes August 9 General Elections.
East Africa’s media grapples with a myriad of challenges whenever general elections approach. Not only do editors struggle with balancing the competing political interests, at times at the altar of professionalism, but individual journalists pay dearly, many suffering attacks in the course of their duties.
As Form One students settle into a new life in secondary school, this has also been a period of reflection. We have read tear-jerking and heart-warming stories of determined students who overcame many odds to get an education and how well-wishers came together in their aid.
There is renewed optimism in the Tanzanian media space following the ascension to power of President Samia Suluhu whose regime is keen to relax some of the laws deemed punitive to journalists and media houses
Uganda fell behind, whereas Kenya improved its press freedom ranking in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 Press Freedom Index. And after years of media freedom decline, Tanzania appears to be on the right track. But overall, media freedom activists say there is still work to be done.
A free and independent press is the cornerstone of any democracy and the foundation of economic success, mostly because through our free press, we’re able to hold the leadership to account.
To align with the changing times and stay relevant in the business, media houses are challenged to rethink their strategy and to adopt and understand obstacles and challenges they face towards rethinking and exploring alternative sources of revenue and on developing the digital strategy.
A team of young, Tanzanian tech-savvy communication professionals is dreaming big. It seeks to usher a new dawn in media business management in Tanzania by optimising employee output and offering consultancy to media businesses on how they can operate with a minimal budget but still attain their goals.
Bloggers and influencers have become an integral component of information sourcing across East Africa. The public uses blogs, privately run websites and social networks to crowdsource information from social networks, which they then publish and distribute. But it’s not all rosy for this group of content makers.
The chances of meeting a medical graduate practising journalism are usually very slim, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But two Tanzanian physicians have broken away from that norm by inventing a start-up called Afyatoon. It uses visual art technology to tell compelling medical stories. They narrate to the EAST Site their experience and share their vision for the future.
Did you know that in 2021 Kenyans watched less TV and spent more time on social media? Or that some Kenyans rely on family, friends, or even social media icons and bloggers as a source of news and information? These are some of the conclusions highlighted in the 2021 State of the Media Survey conducted by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).
The effects of the Covid pandemic continue to change the world in ways we had not imagined possible. The media is going through a painful transformation to keep up with changing production, distribution and consumption habits. In East Africa, Uganda’s Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) recently hosted a panel discussion on Media Viability comprising experienced journalists from Television, Radio, Print and Online/Digital media to address lessons learned from the pandemic. East Site’s Moses Mutente attended the panel and compiled this article.
In this commentary, Uganda-based journalist Caleb Okereke shares deep personal insights into why media schools in East Africa must rethink their curriculum. He stresses the need for trainers to begin teaching media ownership to better equip journalism students for the dynamic and cutthroat job market by taking us through his journey as a journalism student and media owner.
For the second year running, a survey commissioned by the Media Council of Kenya shows that the trust level in Kenyan media has nosedived, raising fundamental questions on how media will play its watchdog role more so with landmark elections set for August 9. EAST Site writer Isaac Swila explores.
Free media is often described as the fourth estate, the gatekeeper, the whistleblower, and many more. American singer Jim Morrison once said, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” No wonder governments worldwide try hard to control the press. But the media itself, particularly in Uganda, faces a severe identity crisis that requires urgent action, writes guest commentator Jimmy Spire Ssentongo.