What you need to know:
- Technology has converged the products of journalism into one hand-held device, the smart mobile phone. The result is many media consumers no longer want the bother of picking up a newspaper and sitting to flip through pages or waiting to watch or listen to the evening or hourly news bulletins to know what is happening around them.
It is not a secret that the business of journalism everywhere in the world, like many other businesses, is facing unprecedented existential challenges occasioned by advances in technology as well as shifting market trends and reader or viewer preferences.
Technology has converged the products of journalism into one hand-held device, the smart mobile phone. The result is many media consumers no longer want the bother of picking up a newspaper and sitting to flip through pages or waiting to watch or listen to the evening or hourly news bulletins to know what is happening around them.
News – both fake and real – is all streaming to their smart phone in real-time; from online news platforms, from bloggers, vloggers, and from citizen journalists. To crown it all, they are getting it more or less for “free”, except for the cost of the handset and data from telecom companies.
This has imperiled journalism in more ways than many ordinary people realise. Falling revenues mean reduced investment in gathering, curating, and disseminating news. Journalism is not free as it appears on the smartphone! It costs money to produce and good journalism costs lots of money!
While there is a sea of information all over the internet and social media that can be accessed for “free”, it does not serve the same purpose journalism does because, without the editorial sieve, one is likely to be fed on misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, and fake news.
Have you seen the fake video of alleged Ugandan paratroopers falling into placards at a stadium purported to be in Nairobi circulating on social media? That is what you get for free!
Not that journalism is above reproach. Far from it. Yes, a lot of what passes off as “journalism” is at the level of social media which makes many people choose social media for free, rather than “journalism” at a cost.
But as they say, we should not throw away the baby with the birth water! Indeed discussions worldwide and locally continue on how media can be supported given its importance to the public.
One of the proposed interventions is that since journalism is a public good, the State should fund aspects of journalism from taxes directly appropriated by Parliament to minimise State capture. Denmark does have such a subsidy to media that meet certain requirements and subscribe to the Media Council of Denmark. The Ugandan government did so during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Interestingly, this approach is yet to gain popular support among journalists, governments, and the public, the stark reality of doomsday scenario notwithstanding.
The Reuters Institute recently conducted a study to gauge public popularity towards this approach in different parts of the world – North America, Northern Europe, Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Asia Pacific.
The study titled, “How do people think about the financing of the commercial news media?” was carried out by Dr Richard Fletcher and Prof Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. Its report was released in June 2021.
Curiously, Africa, South America, and the Middle East were not included. Their findings are important, nonetheless, and may perhaps reflect worldwide public views on the proposal.
Three questions were measured: 1) public concern about the dire state of journalism business, 2) public perception about the health of media business, and 3) whether governments should step in to help?
On question one (across all regions); up to 53 percent said that they are either ‘not at all concerned’ or ‘not very concerned’. Only 31 percent said they were either ‘quite concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ and the remaining 17 percent said they ‘don’t know’.
On question two, again across all regions; 33 percent thought media organisations are running profitably today, 31percent thought they are less profitable and 36 percent did not know – and did not care!
And the one big question three across all regions; just one-quarter (27 percent) thought that the governments should step in to help media business, compared to 44 percent that think they should not, and 29 percent that have no view on this.
So there we are! How do we get the public to understand the existential crisis of journalism business and what they could miss should it be left to go down?
First, house cleaning and second rekindling public affinity for journalism. Then the rest will follow.
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