Over time, print journalism has always shown resilience by getting over whatever challenge or phenomenon thrown up by technological advancement. Today, the revolution brought about by the Internet has opened the journalism gateway, making room for different people to practice the profession.
This revolution is coming at a time the global newspapers industry is battling with challenges of staying afloat over declining advertising revenue and intense competition, even from the online space. Many journalists today are exploring opportunities in the online ecosystem to eke out additional revenue, by putting up a website or a blog to disseminate news.
The online space is characterised by low level of entry and ability to leverage on new contents or aggregated contents. It has provided privileges to people from all works of life to dabble into the journalism profession unprofessionally.
Indeed, while some employed journalists practice this by the side, majority of those, who had lost their jobs as a result of various media outfits downsizing exercises triggered by the current economic recession, are latching on the Internet to establish their own mini media outfits.
But the questions in the mind of market observers have been that what are the surviving strategies for these platforms to stay afloat at a time such as this, asserting that majority of them has become parasitic on the traditional media.
Today, in Nigeria, there are close to 50 online media platforms currently competing for attention. These include Premium Times, The Will, TheCable, Sahara Reporter, The Citizens, The News Guru, Authentic Platform News (APNews), NaIJ.com, among others. Most of these platforms are owned by veteran journalists who have decided to remain relevant, even after leaving the traditional media space.
Surviving a tough terrain
Speaking with The Guardian, the Online editor of The Nation, Lekan Otufodurin, said the online platform remains an opportunity for journalists to continue to practice their profession, saying some people lost their jobs not because they are not good but because of some certain economic challenges encountered by the individual organization and the need to cut down on staff strength.
Otufodurin said going online is a good development and an opportunity for the veteran journalists to continue to practice what they have known to do.
He was however, quick to say that floating an online media platform as an individual could be tasking because of the various processes, but Otufodurin canvassed a joint effort, which will make the platform strong and reliable.
"There is need to find the right collaboration so that the cost of floating and running can be pruned down. Working as a team will make the platform more impactful, everybody brings his or her idea into the project. Doing it alone could be very tough and energy sapping, especially when it comes to sourcing for adverts and other logistics. It is also important for people going online to understand the revenue channels of getting things done," he stressed.
From his standpoint, Fisayo Soyombo, former Editor of TheCable, the truth is that this offline-online migration was always going to happen, and it will increase in the coming years, saying it is a testament to the sanity and professionalism that online newspapers like TheCable and Premium Times have brought to the digital space in recent years.
Soyombo pointed out that a lot of traditional journalists are now seeing the possibilities that exist online; they see that it is possible that they can operate online with the same level of professionalism by which traditional newspapers are run.
Soyombo bluntly said that he does not think the survival of any online newspaper depends on what the traditional newspaper does or fails to do. "For dozens of Internet portals springing up every now and then, of course there is no future. The news industry is a truly limited space. If these portals will busy themselves with reporting routine stories and re-posting already-published news reports, as the case is at the moment, then they can be sure of no survival."
He, however, disclosed that even in this congested space, there are opportunities that have not yet been harnessed, stressing that as limiting as this space is, "we've still seen very little of niche journalism. As we speak, there's no wholly investigative reporting online newspaper in Nigeria. Just investigative journalism and nothing more! There's only one formidable wholly business portal, and that's Ventures Africa. A very serious project exploring any of these two opportunities, for example, stands a very high survival chance."
Soyombo said he has heard all the time that the three leading online newspapers are Sahara Reporters, Premium Times and TheCable -- in no particular order, according to him, these three all have their unique styles.
"Now, if I sent you an MS Word version of a Sahara Reporters story, you should be able to tell its source if you're a frequent consumer of online news. If I sent you five headlines from these three outfits, you're likely to know how many of them are from TheCable. So, if we were to have a fourth, painstakingly-conceptualised online newspaper, it will survive so long it can define its own identity. It will thrive if it can answer the questions of what reporting gaps in online newspapering are there to fill, and what green revenue streams can be tapped into."
The former editor of TheCable posited that the hurriedly-assembled Internet portals are destined to die or at best exist in a state of stagnation, meanwhile, the well-thought-out online projects will survive because first-class quality always finds a way of carving out space for itself even in the most constrictive environments.
Copy and Paste syndrome
"Are blogs a 'parasitic' medium?" While the question may seem simplistic and rhetorical, many traditional newspaper journalists do share that feeling to an extent.
According to the Associate Professor and Director of Digital Technology in Education at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, USA, Rich Gordon, people who say blogs are 'parasitic' "are referring, really, to only a subset of blogs -- those that refer to, and comment on, matters of public interest that are typically covered by mainstream media." He posited that many blogs cover all-new specific topics, and many bloggers do their own original reporting, sometimes even more in-depth than professional journalists.
Gordon said categorising blogs as an ensemble is a mistake, as their array ranges from amateur collecting of online information to rigorous first-hand reporting.
To Otufodurin, there is room for aggregation in online reporting, but it must be done with sensibilities. "Plagiarism is another issue. I was at a workshop recently, where someone said it has even become difficult for someone to sue anybody. The way it works online is that if I published something online, if anyone comes there to take the material, Google will know that it was pulled from my website, for such, there is need to give credit to where you picked the stuff from. There is what we call premium content, you need to think of how to get a story and not just do copy and paste. For example, a site like TheCable doesn't mass produce stories, they take their time to do a story and when this is done, people take their time to digest it. It is not in the number of stories that you do but in the quality of stories that emanate from your site. For every story there are other difficult angles that can really take the shine off the earlier printed ones. A copy and paste platform will not survive. To survive, you must go extra mile to get good content."
From Soyombo's perspective, plagiarism is a very serious, terrible offence. According to him, at the Social Media Week last month, he brought to the attention of participants that a recent research in the US portrayed the digital media as a parasite on traditional media, taking 70 per cent of newspapers' revenues yet stealing 80 per cent of their content. "So, yes, it's a serious challenge, and I think everyone understands that we have a real problem on our hands."
However, he said bloggers and small online newspapers are feeding off the more established online newspapers, and newspapers are themselves stealing content from the established online newspapers!
Soyombo revealed that during his time as the editor of TheCable, two newspapers with circulation strength in South-South and South East were "our number-one plagiarists. And it was so shamefully done they would just alter a sentence or two and publish the rest word for word."
According to the Publisher, APNews, Nahima Ajikanle, the copy and paste syndrome exists because some traditional media themselves lack professionalism in their practice. She noted that the publishers of most of these online media are colleagues to journalists from the traditional media covering same beats.
"Even if an online news portal engages in copy and paste a story from a traditional media and such story comes from an event, press statement or an open source, it may be difficult for a media organization be it traditional media or online platform to claim exclusivity of such and make case for plagiarism.
"What if I claim that the traditional media copied mine. It is only an exclusive content that any medium can talk about plagiarism which most smart and professional online news portals avoid anyway," she stated.
Arguments over fictitious adverts on platforms
Soyombo said he could only speak for TheCable, saying "all adverts on TheCable were paid for during my time; and knowing my boss, I'm sure it hasn't changed. We never ran free adverts just because we wanted to draw major adverts. No."
Ajikanle claimed that some of the adverts are paid for, why some are complimentary in a bid to solicit for other adverts from such organisations.
How ICT revolution is fueling upsurge
At the launch of Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN) in 2015, the Country Manager, Google, Mrs. Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor, believed the digital space afforded online publishers more opportunities than challenges, talking on 'creativity in a digital age'.
She identified the fact that through the online space, civic participation in Nigeria has increased remarkably, citing the 2015 general elections example.
Chiazor however, made a bold statement stating, "Any publisher that does not have an online presence, risks losing relevance."
From the Google side, the Nigerian Country Manager hinted that its "AdSense" tool offered online publishers an opportunity to monetise their work.
Corroborating the influence of the digital technology in the upsurge in online media proliferations, Otufodurin said, "Of course, we are in the digital age. There are so many things we used to do on analogue, hitherto newspapers were not available online but today, with ICT you can get them on phone. Digital revolution has changed the whole scenarios for publishing. Every day, people are going online. But my belief is that some of us need to collaborate to be able to do quality stuff."