As a result of modernisation, a lot of values that bind people together and ensure communal relationships among people are under the threat of going extinct. Among these values are the conventional media industries, especially the print media. In this discourse, the managing director of Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation (ANPC), publisher of National Light Newspaper, Ka O Di Taa and Sportslight XTRA, Sir Chuka Nnabuife, reveals the threats imposed on print media and their efforts to protect the continuity of newspapers in the state. He spoke to CHUKWUBUIKEM ORANYE. Excerpts:
SIR, how long have you been working in the media industry?
I started working in the mass media in 1987, and that was in television as an intern in NTA, Enugu. Then, I became a contributor in Weekly Star Publication, precisely in April 16, 1988. So for now, it is 32 years.
So, how long have you worked with the print media and which organisations have you worked with?
I contributed not as a staff but as a contributor in Weekly Star Publication, that is Star Printing and Publishing Corporation, Enugu. Then, I worked in Osun Voice Newspaper, where I was a contributing columnist and contributing illustrator and cartoonist. I was the one in charge of the art column in Osun Voice Newspaper.
I worked in the Ministry of Information, Osun State as an information officer and then, I worked in Diet Newspaper as a contributor from 1997 – 1998. I also worked in Grapevine Magazine as the Acting Editor in 1998.
Then, I moved on to Eminent People Magazine where I was the Associate Editor and the one in charge of videos, films, reporting and entertainment, from which I moved on in that same organisation to be an Editorial Page member. I left that organisation as the Associate Editor. I then moved on to Star Watch Magazine in 1998, where I worked from 1998 to 1999.
There, I was the C.O.O (Chief Operation Officer). I set up the Star Watch Magazine and I employed people. As at the time we ended publications in 1999, I was the Deputy Editor-in-Chief. I moved on to contribute for a short stint, with News Watch Magazine towards the last quarter of 1999.
Then, in December, 1999, I moved on after the short stint I had with News Watch Magazine. I moved on to the Guardian Newspaper. There, I worked for nine years and a couple of months, almost 10 years. I moved to Guardian Newspaper in December, 1999, and then I left in 2007.
In February, 2008, I moved on to become a foundation staff and the founding Editor of Arts and Entertainment in the Nigerian Compass Newspaper, where I rose to become the Saturday Editor, later the Weekend Editor and then, the General Editor of the entire publications. I left there in July, 2014, and resumed same month as the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation (ANPC) and in March, 2018, I evolved into Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, the office in which I operate as at the time of this interview.
Within these periods of your working experience, have you ever felt the possibility of a time when there wouldn’t be any newspaper on sale as a result of evolution and the presence of social media?
There have always been threats. No time have newspapers been as heavily challenged as now, by the surge of attention on social media.
Part of the things that seem to be challenging newspapers the use of blogs and e-publications and so, it makes it look like newspapers are being threatened, but from hind side, I don’t think newspaper is threatened that much. Rather, I see it as an exaggerated challenge because from the medieval times, from the 13th – 15th centuries or let’s say from the invention of printing press, right from the Chinese and Gutenberg in Germany, it has always been a threat that print will go extinct.
When other communications come, they look like they are going to overtake the ones that have been existing before them. When the motion picture came, it looked like it would eliminate photography. When typing came, it looked like it wouldl overcome letter writing. There was a time it looked like nobody would be writing anything, but they all survived and lived. From what I have seen, what is actually challenging the newspaper is not the presence of social media.
It is actually the absence of enough business to motivate advertisers to advertise on printing publications and newspapers; because advertising has been the key to newspapering, and so it looks like their absence is going to make newspapers die. It is not the presence of e-publications that is going to push newspapers out of business; rather, it is the absence of advertisers, because major companies that do have money have almost gone under.
We are living in an age where the major companies are electronic, digital and e-publishing. Companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Yahoo have taken over as conglomerates. They have taken over from general motors; they have taken over from general electrical companies; they have taken over from general manufacturing companies that do not have anything to do with mass media. Google does not need anybody as advertiser.
The organisation is its own advertiser. Facebook does not need to advertise anywhere; it is its own advertiser; Instagram is the same. So, most of the communication companies that took over as major financers of adverts are already doing their own in-house advertisement, so it looks like newspapers will die. It is actually the advertisers that are not having enough money, and being the life-wire of newspapers, newspapers are challenged.
The truth is that if newspapers will go under or stop publishing, we are not going to have the legal profession, because there will be nothing to file. If you think newspapers will die, do you also think the legal profession will die? How will the legal system do judgment based solely on electronics? Where will you be filing? Where will you have references?
And if newspapers are going to die, that means you are not going to have teaching and you wouldn’t have classrooms. An example is what has happened during these COVID-19 period where schools engaged in e-learning processes. Where will you do the exams? Where do you put your marks for the record?
How will somebody, maybe in 20 years time refer to those records or his documents? Or will you tell an organisation to go to the cloud to get your vital information? And if that happens, there will not be any government, because government is about files and bureaucracy. Another factor that is challenging newspaper that people misrepresent is that young people tend to tell people that they read on-line. What do they read on-line?
It may not be newspapers. They read headlines and short notes, news that is less than 20 per cent of what is contained in a newspaper. They may tell you that they read books electronically. Yes, because they read for entertainment. But the ones that are marked for their exams, they go and buy them in their printed form. Studies have shown that young people who read books electronically read from their phones, but most often, what they read is not even news. Young people are apathetic to news.
They don’t like boredom or things that will give them stress. But when the ones that they will use for reference purposes come, they will go for the hard copy. And all over the world, from even the times when newspapers were holding sway, the young people don’t like reading newspapers.
It is the trend of the age and not something that is peculiar to now alone. Even in the 1920s, in the time of people like Citizen Herst, in the times that people were turning newspapers in America into conglomerates (major newspapers), young people didn’t like the news and didn’t read it.
So, the history of newspaper and social media is like the same story we have seen between every emerging trend in communication and the previous trend. Just like when motion pictures, television and others emerged in the middle of the 20th century and it looked like they are going to overtake photography and when they came, photography remained and television remained, and they are all doing well.
Also, the same way when photography came in the early 20th century, it looked like it is going to chase the artists out of portraiture, but they remained and the artists still paint portraits and make big amounts of money from it. Studious are still booming, and the photographers are still doing their business. So will the social media come, thrive, hold its space and the newspapers will continue doing their business.
I have no fear, no doubt about the newspaper. The challenge of now is that, the managements of news organisations, particularly newspapers have to be more ingenious, more creative so that they retain some funding and clientele; so that they wouldn’t be pushed out of business until they stabilise. But anybody who tells you that newspapers will die doesn’t know the history of communication.
Communication is like the air we breathe. Even if we have one zillion people on earth, we will still have enough air to breath. It shows that we have not done enough to exploit the space that communication has. When social media came, remember it came for documentation, signals for war, now it moved from signals, to war, to personal communications, from personal communication to platforms for dates like Facebook, Whatsapp and others.
And those mediums, themselves, would continue to evolve, and all of them have remained so the newspaper’s own will not be different. Newspapers and magazines will remain because if they go, a lot of things about how humans live will go. And those things cannot go; legal professions cannot go. They must always file. Governance cannot go, they must always file. Exams and lectures in schools will not go, they must always have printed materials that they will use. Papers cannot go, papers will remain.
Sir, do you think that newspapers should embrace the idea of going on-line as a means of helping them in communication, just like in ANPC, where they often publish on-line?
Definitely, stagnant water smells. What we have learnt from the history of communication and mass communication in particular, is that if you don’t adapt to the innovations that any new trend of communications brings; if an organisation does not adapt, it will lose market, because every new communication captures or influences the consumption appetite of the people of that generation. For example, there was a time when we can accept blurring photographs (unclear photographs), faulty prints; both on radio and television.
But now, people of this generation buy messages by how sharp and clear the photograph is. But there was a time our appetite could accept any manner of quality of photograph. There was a time for example, where the voice quality; maybe recording, even if it is faint, it is good to go.
But now, there are technologies that even if the voice is low, can enhance it to explode a whole area; it is the test of this time. So, every technology that comes, you should adapt to it. Newspapers should evolve to inculcate on-line publications and also, learn to beat their competitors in that. Just like dresses, when it was sweeping trousers and puffed up shoulders, people wore it.
When it evolved to tiny fitting trousers and slim fit shirts, you wear it and if you don’t, you look awkward. That is how it is. Newspapers must learn to adapt to the trends of the time. And that is what it is; current affairs. You must be current because if you don’t live with current affairs, you can’t lead in a current affairs industry. And newspaper is a current affairs industry.
What upper hand do newspapers have above social media that can help them stand the test of time?
The upper hand is integrity and credibility, because people consume news based on how they rate the person who is giving the news. Take for example, in a village, you know a drunkard / an alcoholic or somebody who is flippant and he may go around telling people stories. He may tell them what is true but they will not believe him but if you have acquired a reputation or credibility, you will be listened to. So, newspaper has upper hand, especially established newspapers.
Also, documentation; of course internet will tell you that they document in the cloud, but newspapers have hand-contactable and fellable reference points because they publish and print in block letters, in black and white.
Their provable documentation is an edge. Also, newspapers are traditionally bigger industries. They have checks and balances, and that is why before a material goes through a newspaper, it would have passed through some layers of checks and balances which most operators in the social media and new media don’t have.
And as they say, old brooms sweep better; can you compare the information containing broad sheet newspapers to that of a handset? Because most people who have vision challenges can’t read, but when you bring it in a newspaper, they see it and there, you can still get all your information at one go. But, if you read in soft version, you can only access the one you want at the time you want it.
Are there organisations that hold newspapers or print media together?
The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) encompasses both the people in the print media and non-print media, even the social media. But there are direct associations that are for people in the print media like Nigerian Newspaper Council (NPC), Newspaper Council of Nigeria (NPA), Newspaper Association of Nigeria (NPAN). There are also Guild of Editors which includes editors of both newspapers and e-publications. So, Newspaper Association of Nigeria and Nigerian Newspaper Council oversee newspapers directly.
The Newspaper Council of Nigeria is about how to operate in newspapers and NPAN is about newspaper organisations meeting and discussing their welfare.
What do you have to say to those people, especially the youths who feel that newspapers are not of any use; that they can easily get news from social media and other places?
They should wake up and smell the coffee, dig into their history books and then look clearly. You will find out that there are distinct opportunities for the distinct areas they are referring to. So ultimately, newspaper will survive the current challenge. I have no fear about that.
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