News will remain vital despite changes in media

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

“ Clearly, the statistics are not in favour of traditional media" 

There is so much happening in the world of journalism and the media is changing each day. There are always new concerns of viability and even sustainability of journalism.
 Recently, Prof Franz Krugar, adjunct professor of Journalism and Director of the Wits Radio Academy, University of the Witwatersrand invited me to discuss a paper that he wrote on journalism schools in Africa. 
The paper, titled, ‘Disrupted media-disrupted academy’, was written for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Centre on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

 Prof Krugar is the Winter 2022 Joan Shorenstein Fellow, and provocatively asks how to rethink African journalism schools. 
His paper marks the changes in the media and how they have affected the academy. He notes that, ‘for more than a century, journalism education prepared young people for the role of full-time professionals employed by sizeable news organisations’.

The paper also notes that the educational model too must change to accommodate the new realities we see, especially that the ‘demand for journalism graduates is shrinking, while non-professionals play an increasing role in supplying society with information’. 
The solution, he believes lies in journalism schools reorientating their courses to new kinds of students and adjust the curriculum for the new post-professional world of journalism.

While discussing his paper, I had pointed out that these challenges were clearly beyond the academy,  and that the extent to which the academy responded would still not solve the dilemma. This is because many of the journalism students we train, for various reasons, do not end up in the newsrooms instead  they are in international organisations or non-governmental organisations doing communication, or let us say, public relations. 

Problematic as this trend is, it remains the defining realities of our time. These realities, also include the fact that journalists do not in any way hold the monopoly over information gathering and sharing anymore. Yet, as Prof Krugar rightly noted, ‘today’s journalism students are less likely to find full-time jobs as professional journalists.’
The prediction for many scholars has been, that what we know as traditional media, in particular print, is ‘dying’. Audiences are apparently moving online and revenue streams follow them to platform giants like Google and Facebook. 

Clearly, the statistics are not in favour of traditional media. But digital media may not be taken for granted yet, at least, not as the enduring forms of consumption, because they continue to evolve very fast.
With all disruption in both media and the academy where journalism schools reside, joining the board of Monitor Publications Limited (MPL) is perhaps the most exciting thing for me. I am happy to be given an opportunity to participate in the governance of the Nation Media Group entities in Uganda. It is a rare chance, at this time, to stand between scholarship and practice, and to appreciate the role of regulation in all this. 
This board will be responsible for oversight of all the NMG subsidiaries in Uganda. Given the challenges, this will not be easy. Yet, it is an exciting prospect to learn, to appreciate the industry and to examine the changes that are driven by technology, and make decisions on the direction of the company. It is a  journey that I am keen on committing time to.
The other exciting thing  is that for this season, a conscious decision was made to find women to join the board. 

The  board chairman did say the decision to appoint all female directors in order to fill the three existing slots on the MPL Board was deliberate in a move they saw would start the gender equality journey at MPL. 
I really appreciate this. For a long time, I have from a scholarly perspective, argued that it is not possible to see substantive changes in who makes news if media management is not something women are also involved in. It is a positive challenge for me.

Some people have asked me how it is possible that for the life of the MPL Board, there has never been a female director. That is not for me to answer, but I do know one thing, it is commendable, that the decision was made to find competent women to fill the slots. 
Being deliberate about women on boards, women in leadership and women in media, is what we need. It means, progress is being made. 

It has to be pointed out these things of inclusion are slow in a lot of areas. Even getting female editors is a really recent thing. And some do not stay long, they sizzle out. Part of our goal should be to create a safe space for women to get attracted to journalism and stay, like other professions. 
While there are clearly threats to the media as we know it, the need for information is even greater. How news media organisations respond to these threats, will define them. I always take comfort in the fact that, migration of platforms, happen but often, the fundamental of news and its needs remain. 
Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.