Why East Africans are giving up on newspapers

Posted on July 14, 2015 12:04 am

Contador Harrison is a dinosaur when it comes to consuming news.I prefer hard copies of any publication and religiously buys newspapers and magazines on weekly basis.Reading DNA is a habit inherited from my parents.The comforting thud of newspapers landing in our small room(I used to call it R&B meaning Reading and Books) acted as a solace for me during childhood for many years.Until now,I consumed one paper a day and at times two whenever necessary.Two weekly magazines await me at my place every weekend. My consumer profile has always been atypical. I admit an addiction to newspapers is next to none and those close to me knows it well. Being in existence for over three decades means that a good broadsheet is not just food for my aging brain but it’s an olfactory, tactile and auditory experience that cannot be replaced with beer, women or coffin nails as the youngsters of today believe.I do however every now and then check out the global newspapers online before going to work each morning. It is an Internet love affair that began last century and I conducted it mostly via keyboard and modem.In East African countries of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya,research has shown that desktop computers, laptops, Phablets, Smartphones and Tablets like iPad deliver the bulk of reading whenever and wherever they want it.

If East Africans want live updates, they use a Twitter feed.However, some things don’t change. Radio remains the main source of news in the whole region and even has the lion share of advertisement according to statistics in my possessions. In Kenya, the big five namely NTV Kenya, Citizen Tv, KTN, KBC and K24 news and current affairs have been a staple ingredient of the daily commute to and from work for as long as Kenyans are concerned.The who, what, when and where of journalism are best provided by the immediacy of disembodied voices. For example, KTN has been credited for its ability to paint word pictures that envelop the mind earn my highest respect.However, what has changed is what East Africans are prepared to pay for. In Kampala, Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, the kind of consumer expects news and information for free.There are those believe all the nonsense about citizen journalism, blogs and other social media as a substitute for professional news gathering. However, for this Afro-Aboriginal bloke who has keen interest in the region, he can’t gather the news he want and need. Someone I trust has to do that which is credible journalism and it’s worth paying for and thats why if in Tanzania I buy The Citizen Newspaper,Daily News and The Guardian.But that doesn’t stop me from browsing Jamii Forum and Michuuzi Blog or Millard Ayo site. I’m also a tabloid reader so let’s forget the others for now.With the main newspapers in the region, The East Africa, Daily Monitor, The Standard and Daily Nation,I took advantage of the trial offers for their digital editions.

When these expired, I did nothing because there was nothing worth subscribing. Interestingly, neither of the aforementioned newspapers made any attempt to persuade me to subscribe. They just let me go.Thats why very few East African news consumers want nothing to do with newspapers.I know we all complain about corporate sales tactics but this was just lazy. Call me old-fashioned but I like to be wooed just like I will have to do incase I want a girl.The fact is that two European Newspapers and one Magazine seduced me after the trial ended. But the truth is that no wooing was necessary for I was already in love. Sunday Nation, arguably the best selling newspaper in East African region always has a quality relationship, never dull, consistently stimulating, a value-added experience for the several times I’ve been lucky to obtain a copy.In Uganda, it would be bittersweet parting of the ways with the local alternatives like Daily Monitor, the best newspaper in the country by far.When it comes to The Independent Magazine which is partly owned by Andrew Mwenda, one of the best journalists in the region, my relationship hasn’t been completely broken despite the fact that some editions are not worthy. They’re not that bad at all but with deep appetite for reading, i find some articles unappetizing.Wherever I am, the relationship often flares up again on weekends when a weighty Saturday and Sunday edition invites my attention to the limit. There’s still much thoughtful and interesting reading in East Africa and there are some beautiful writers working on newspapers like Timothy Kalyegira of Sunday Monitor, Philip Ochieng’ of Saturday Nation, Jenerali Ulimwengu of The East African and Karl Lyimo of The Citizen among others who have a habit of luring me into a regular purchase.

On the whole, though, the newspapers in the region have lost me and many other people. They’re drab now. The quality is uneven and quality has deteriorated.Most East Africans practical reasons for buying a newspaper by mainly finding jobs, selling and buying car or house, checking the TV and theater guide, doing the crossword is no more and overall has fallen away as the digital alternatives multiply.In Kenya, the latest data shows newspapers sales numbers have declined and advertising revenue has bled away, and newspapers like The People Daily, Daily Nation, The Standard and The Star have struggled to maintain a clear sense of identity.Every new re-design of free The People Daily seems to produce bigger headings, more pictures, fewer words and more lift-outs. By contrast, Standard Media Group’s The Standard has maintained a serious demeanor but is increasingly characterized by bizarre preoccupations that cast doubt on its news values.Aside from newspapers across the region transposing their printed content onto a website, there is little indication that the traditional media outlets in the region have any idea of how to utilize digital media.Newspaper websites in East African region are a grubby experience. The Sunday Nation was once the grand dames of East African region newspapers but it lost the direction when it went down the cheap road of Internet schlock, lifestyle and celebrity features.Perhaps I’m old fashioned,naïve and perhaps I’m a minority of one, but I’m in the market for a news organization print, digital, or some combination of both that will do a number of things and keep me spending on such.

It will curate news and information broadly and deeply. It won’t be excessively parochial and that’s why there are television channels.In Tanzania, Television channels like ITV, Star Tv and Capital Television are know for their efforts in gate-keeping and filtering the dross.In Kenya, KTN, NTV Kenya and Citizen Tv are known to have original reporting and always investigate.Most newspapers though have good writing and interesting columnists as I’d mentioned a few of them.No single newspaper in this world can claim to be perfect but there’s a reason why likes of Contador Harrison would want to go online each night to read them when I merely flick through the local papers.I know I can rely on international newspapers to put it in context for me events and I’m going to get reporting on education and science, on books and films, on technology and all manner of interesting subjects. I know it’s going to be beautifully written. Yes, it can either be Australian, British, German or US newspaper but their perspectives are broader than that. I do save my money and rely on global outstanding publications. Ultimately it’s a matter of Contador Harrison’s taste. My abiding interest in Formula one drives me to British newspapers.Of course, the East African countries situation is about to change.Clearly, the commercial imperatives of the Print media must ultimately come up against the social and political forces washing through society like social media platforms.Time will come when Contador Harrison types will no longer buy newspapers and the money i’d be prepared to spend on journalism is going to a selected few who can guarantee me quality. No one should blame my age for it and best thing would be to give me a reason to come back!

Contador Harrison