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Beyond those fallacies bandied about newspapers

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Recently, I found myself in a forum of inquisitive mass communication undergraduates from one of the polytechnics in Anambra State. One of the students on excursion in our newspaper asked after spending a while to behold a brand-promotion billboard in our corporation: “Sir, what is so special about ‘National Light’ being promoted as “Nigeria’s longest-thriving State-owned newspaper”, and why should anyone be eager to read a newspaper when he can read every news online?” That rattled me but I replied. Excerpt:

PONDERING the popularity or relevance of newspapers amid the onslaught of competitions from the internet, the advancements of cable television and rave of social media is an endeavour that would, most likely, yield negative conclusions.

  The notion that the era of newspapers is over is not only upheld by common people who would gleefully tout the existence of ‘all information’ online, even the educated and expectedly, media-savvy persons would vocally assert that ‘newspapers are dead ‘. But facts do not buttress the increasing negative views on survival of newspapers even if the fame and rave of social media and audio visual communication is rising.

What facts have established, instead, is that the online, radio and television have no capacity to satisfy the information appetite of the core newspaper audience. The stories online or in broadcast do not give all the information and tell enough tales as those in newspapers do. The way newspapers organise the news makes them set agenda and play conscious roles in governance as well as social reformation.

Newspaper reports establish authority on their subjects of report which social media do not often do. Readers are addicted to their newspapers seldom look elsewhere which make them easily amenable to the directions of the publication. Similarly, newspaper readers seldom find any news medium more romantic than turning the pages of their dailies.

  However, those who argue against the prints would cite the promptness of online reports with breaking news in real time even as supporters of newspapers would argue that the haste to go public with information without due process of fact check and circumspect has led to more fake news and ‘garbage in, garbage out’.

  Nevertheless, truth is that many newspapers around the world are experiencing severe downturn in their business. Sales and distribution have plunged. Their traditional spheres of printing out news in papers have become increasingly expensive as the production costs as well as other bills have soared. Inks, paper, machines, transportation and promotional services have shot up to the level of putting newspaper houses out of profit realms.

  Indeed, on the grounds of profit and loss being made from selling papers, the media houses are in hard times but on other fronts newspapers are gaining more than ever. Notable among these areas are: influencing political directions, and undergoing printing services. This is very understandable because a newspaper house is basically an idea house; an agenda-setting platform; a trend framer and an elaborate printing press.

  As an ideas projector, a newspaper serves as bearer and preserver (documenter) of the messenger’s (often the publisher’s) message in a clearly accessible form.

  This is why, despite the downturn in the merchandising aspect of the newspaper business, faith-based organisations, political organisations, governments across the world strive to set up or maintain newspapers in the best way they will be appreciated by contemporary generation.

Far more strongly than social media, newspapers through their mode of presentation, prioritise, frame and project news in a manner that makes their readers reason with them on what is important or lesser important. They set agenda and smartly push vital interests in a manner that gets unforced buy-in from society.

Through ever-improving layouts, seductive graphic designs and free-flowing story-telling narratives newspapers establish trends and sustain individual and social habits in a very rare manner.

  Newspapers that operate as elaborate printing press never run out of profit. A newspaper house is basically a printer. If well-equipped with modern press and good hands, the same press in which the firm prints it’s newspaper titles can do print impressions for other newspapers.

The same machines can offer printing services for books, calendars, posters, and memorabilia among others in sharp image resolutions. So, just the way a printing press is a life-long lucrative investment, a newspaper that is well equipped is a big profit-maker. Among printers, they have a maxim that setting up a good press is a century-long good business.

Those machines do not die. This is why experts have faulted cynics who mislead many that newspapers are dead. If that would ever happen, not in this age. Just like photography did not kill the art of portraiture among artists and the emergence of television neither extinguished photography nor radio, and cinema never ended TV, social media or digitisation of any form never poses any harm to the print media.

When printing came in the 14th and 15th centuries in China and Germany skeptics, comprising the most erudite scholars and clerics of the time such as Martin Luther claimed that soon, handwriting or letter writing would be extinct. Here we are, in 21st century still handwriting, still doing letters.

  That notwithstanding, it is not enough to have an active newspaper with good press. It is about the attitude and business approach. Experts in media enterprise management studies adduce media divergence.

  By this, researchers such as L. Morgan Mahoney, Tang Tang, Zvezdan Vukanovic, Ester Appelgren, reason that content is the biggest raw material, property and item of sale of media houses such as in newspaper firms which no other industry has as much as they do, and ideas rule the world. The scholars  advocate that media organisations can maximise their advantage by spreading (selling) their contents in as many platforms – traditional, digital, through word of mouth, forms of distribution, adjustment of orientation in consumption etc.

  Ester Appelgren of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden in her easy, ‘Convergence and Divergence in Media: Different Perspectives’, notes that the concept is a creative response to the media appetite of modern consumers of media products. She reasons that through convergence, traditional media firms can also play effectively in the digital space and reap wider brand recognition while also elevating their productivity.

Media convergence hints of merging different types of mass media such as traditional media, print media, broadcast media, new media among others. What it emphasises mostly is that, for survival, the media organisation must do better to publicise its services and potential through every available means of communication while not staying on one comfort zone. Therefore, it behoves newspapers to project their edges in content, get competitively computerised and communicate whatever they have vastly.

  This explains why some dynamic newspaper firms currently have online, podcast, blog, website and broadcast platforms. All help to push their major brand, the newspaper.

  So newspaper firms that wish to keep their footing should mark up their play in both new and traditional media space whilst also telling everyone what they can do through legitimate communication formats.

  Hence, print media firms should speak up more and tell the world that their industry is not dying yet, irrespective of what cynics, including those who know nothing about the sector but may pose as knowledgeable on media matters, say. Informed newspaper men may have themselves to blame, if they fail to say the much they know on the matter.

  One other lie is scaring government faith-based organisations, clubs and not-for-profit organisations from funding newspapers because of poor and cash results of current era. The truth is that cash is the least profit or loss in media venture.

 If it is for cash return, Citizen Hearst; Kennedy Snr; Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden; Pulitzer, Rupport Murdoch; Ted Turner; M.K.O. Abiola; Alex Ibru; Hola Tinubu; Raymond Dokpesi; Nduka Obaigbena among others may not devout to media enterprise. Media, particularly newspapers, help attract affection, power and public interest. Media help govern and check resistance.

Media give the owner, voice and scare those who would aspire to drown promoters’ opinion. There is no media owner that does not have a loud voice, power and authority, even when he is not a moneybag. Hence when opinion holders tout the cliché, “government has no business in business.” It does not apply to media business.

In fact, of necessity, government must strive to have strong foothold in the media, not through surrogates but directly because the Igbo maxim, ‘Onye na-arachaghi onu ya, uguru arachara ya’ (nobody blows your trumpet better than you) applies harshly in the media industry. No hireline will give you his or her space to shine brighter than his pay master.

  What the contemporary era of democracy has shown is that media presence directs the wheels of governance. How then would a government without a media section it controls ‘run things’? How would faiths and parties win followers without media?

  Media is, therefore, one place active states, and political parties and faith-based organisations should play actively even if with welfarist tendencies.

  This is what makes me proud to hail from Anambra, the state that owns ‘the longest-thriving state-owned newspaper’.

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