Can the international financial crisis benefit African journalists?


In his ‘Circling the Drain’ essay, Mark Loundy discusses the crisis that has hit the newspaper industry of the US. His main argument: that they’re compromising their editorial quality by cutting costs there in order to fund the high costs of printing.
“In case you haven’t noticed, printed newspapers became irrelevant to the average person years ago. Ironically, they are still the biggest originators of news content. They just aren’t directly benefiting from it. And as they go, they are tearing at the core values of the news business. Staff reductions have nearly destroyed local news in many markets. Visible, but impotent newspapers drag down the credibility of all news sources in the public’s mind… Content has been chopped, lightened and dumbed down repeatedly. Newspapers’ primary strength, local coverage, has been replaced by syndicated content that is available everywhere.”
(Nigerian people reading news paper)
Above: Nigerian youth stand beside a newspaper seller in a taxi rank reading sports newspapers at Lewu St Railway Station, Agege, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria on October 9, 2009. PHOTO: Mohamed Abdou/Twenty Ten
Loundy’s solution, proposed by others in this month’s very challenging issue of The Digital Journalist, is to close the printed editions and invest that money into good quality content distributed online. Dirck Halstead, the editor and publisher of The Digital Journalist, agrees: “The future, if there is one for those content providers, exists solely online. But as long as publishers continue to try to save their print product, they are unable to give their new online editions the financial support they need… Our concern is in trying to save journalism. We don’t care about what form that content comes in. Doctors, when confronted by mass casualties, realize the first thing they need to do is identify which ones stand a chance of survival and which don’t. The resources must go to those who may live. Unfortunately, we are facing that choice today in journalism. The choice must be made now.”
What does this mean for African journalists? And is there any good news here at all?
I believe so. First, it potentially means that international newspapers will look to other sources of content. Perhaps they will start to use good quality African journalists, now that they can’t afford to have their own staff covering Africa’s stories? And secondly, they will start to use different types of content – perhaps more personal, somewhat different in tone to conventional newswire reporting.
In the heady spendthrift past, publications could afford to have entire teams of journalists cover an event like the World Cup. Now projects like Twenty Ten can provide the information and stories – authentic and local – if those publications are willing to try a new, more cost-effective model. (By subscribing to Africa Media Online’s Twenty Ten offer, they can have access to the stream of more than 400 products – text, photographic, radio and multimedia – that are being produced. And these can be used across all of a publication’s media: both its print editions as well as its website.)
One thing should remain a constant, however: whether the world moves to publishing its news online rather than in print, our concern should be for good journalism: authoritative, transparent and well written.