Newspapers in Africa are dying out

Posted on November 12, 2016 12:31 am

When Nation Media Group installed the most modern printing press in Africa Print Newspaper publishing industry, couple of commentators argued that it was a bad business idea while others lauded the Nairobi based media company for putting faith in newspaper business.Unlike the Western countries, Africa publishing industry is still growing and newspapers are not an exception.To this day, despite decline in readership, newspapers still attract the largest advertising budgets in the continent although mobile and web based adverts are quickly eating into that market.At their best, the newspapers should be disturbers of the status quo.But it was those very newspapers which in recent times had seen their status quo disturbed by the digital transformation of the journalism industry. I have noted that around 1,000 journalists had lost their jobs in Africa in the last four years, many of them at Newspapers and Magazine sector as the old business model of print journalism has imploded.A friend of mine sent me a picture which showed a copy of a South Africa newspaper classified weekend supplement of three years ago. It comprised some 29 pages of adverts and another one showing a last week edition of the same newspaper, where only 12 pages had ads. The rest had gone to the internet. How could any business, I asked, sustain such a hit to its core revenue stream and as advertising migrate online, so had the readers, damaging the press’ other key income stream which is circulation revenue. A vicious spiral downwards has set in.The Africa press, a friend conceded, had experienced this economic double whammy later and to a lesser extent than their counterparts in many countries, but it is now catching up, as those 1,000 job losses starkly indicated. Once secure media organisations, luxuriating in super profits from decades of secure advertising and circulation revenue, now have to adapt to the online world or face extinction.

Digital was not the future but the now, and denial of that reality is not an option.For the record, am one man who genuinely love print journalism, and who has found managing its decline hard to bear.But i remain optimistic too. If print was dying in Africa and it is by now hard to dispute that trend, news and journalism were in an expansionary mode. If the internet was closing down one model of news provision, it was opening up many more. The future for journalism in Africa and journalists is bright, if the right strategies and decisions are taken now.The key to survival in the emerging digital landscape is through enhancement of the brand like what Nation Media Group did with the acquisition of highly publicised new printing press. And indeed, this is what I see happening. Those print mastheads which have transferred most successfully to the internet are those which signify quality and distinction of one kind or another.Africa Journalists in the digital era must also play to their uniqueness and individuality as creators of content which will attract multitudes of choice rich users. More than ever, the journalist becomes a brand, competing not just with a hundred others in the local print sector, but thousands and millions of others online, all of whom now have access to a global internet audience.The growing importance of entrepreneurial and business management skills means that those studying journalism will still have an opportunity out there in Africa. However, the value of core generic journalism skills such as the ability to write well will be key. Good writing is transferable across all media platforms, including the internet. Journalism in Africa is not heading for extinction, but is evolving its modes of production and consumption. The capacity to adapt to the digital environment will be crucial to the survival of both individual journalists and news media organisations, but the rewards for those who succeed in that process will be considerable.Newspapers may be dying out, but journalism becomes ever more central to the everyday lives of millions in Africa, striving as they do to make sense of a continent constantly growing in complexity.In the end, newspapers will go but journalism will remain.

Contador Harrison