For newspapers, 2013 will be another year to reckon with
Posted Tuesday, January 8 2013 at 02:00
Looking back at many of the Ugandan newspapers, it is apparent that 2013 is going to be a very challenging year. Not because of an intolerant political environment that is capable of reining in media houses and closing them down, but because of the general mode of gathering news and most of what ends up being printed.
Most of the stories that made the headlines and endured for days and a few weeks as is the wont with Ugandan news stories, were not the type that are independently investigated and originated by journalists. They were either sourced from reports authored by one government agency or another like the Auditor General or by international organisations such as the World Bank, the UN reports on the state of the world’s health, population, war, crime etc.
There is a particularly popular form of journalism which I will call ‘press conference journalism’ where anyone, especially politicians, call the media in a room and tell them what they think. The next day most certainly the politician will be on the front page.
The bad side to this is that it has become easy for most people to make it into the newspaper and keep themselves relevant even when what they are saying or doing is irrelevant.
Secondly, it has made politics the main issue in our newspapers even when the type of politics is of little or no significance to society like the ranting and petty clashes between rivaling politicians. As a consequence, we have neglected the social aspects of society that challenge the majority of the people.
From concerns of agriculture and commerce to healthcare and nutrition, to education and housing plus transport and communication, there is so much failure that needs attention but does not find space or prominent space in the press. It is important at this point to commend The Daily Monitor’s photo story of the non-functional ambulances rotting away at health centers and other locations countrywide which was one of the brilliant reports of the last year in an otherwise lackluster media atmosphere. Yet the stale political debates endure and overshadow all else.
The greatest trouble that lies ahead is that the media appear to be a consumer of news that it simply dilutes, spices up and regurgitates to suit what is thought to be the needs of the readers.
In this vein, newspapers will cease to be authoritative leaders and agenda setters on issues that affect society and seem to be just another part of the crowd that is moving with the flow.
If things continue in the same way, then it will be even harder for newspapers to sale in 2013 as social media taps from the very sources that newspapers quire their stories.
Granted, good journalism is very expensive and that is very important to note at a time when the economy both domestically and internationally is not doing well. It takes a lot of good money and facilitation to do research and travel the length and breadth of the country and the world looking for well corroborated stories, especially about real people who may apparently not have good faces to grace the front pages.
But that is the business journalists have chosen and the calling that they have answered to. Most of the journalists you meet are very smart people who have insight and fore knowledge on most of the issues that affect society. They risk wasting away if this trend of seemingly lazy journalism that is ever alert waiting for the next politician to open his mouth, does not come to an end.
If 2013 will be better than the last few years, the challenge will be for journalists to convince owners who are looking at the bottom line, that it pays to invest in, especially research and deep investigations, where journalists are facilitated to lead the news agenda.
Anything short of this will turn newspapers into glorified social media. And if that does not hurt, then the next thing will be for the cherished advertisers to seek other alternatives because fewer people will be buying and reading newspapers at this rate.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator
on political and social issues.