Old School Journalism Vs New, By Mohammed Haruna




Yesterday, the number of publications in Nigeria’s blossoming online news industry increased by one with the launching at the Conference Hall of Bayelsa Guest House, Abuja, of Sundiata Post published by Max Amuchie, an alumnus of Champion, Thisday and Leadership. I delivered the keynote speech on the state of the country’s online journalism under the rather rhetorical theme, “Has online journalism come of age?”

Mohammed Haruna
Mohammed Haruna

A distinguished panel of five discussed my speech, moderated by Ms Toyin Oke, the publisher of Street Hawker, a business magazine. The panel included Azubuike Ishiekwene, one of the brightest columnists in the country whose way with the written word makes him a reader’s delight any day, Ima Niboro, the managing director of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) represented by Obiora Chukwumba, one of the agency’s deputy directors, Mrs Omobola Olatunde, one time spokesperson of a governor of Ekiti State, Chief Segun Oni, Reuben Muoka from the Nigerian Communications Commission and Professor Anthony Kila, director of the Centre for Advanced International Professional Studies, a Lagos based think tank.

Originally included on the panel was Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser of President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity. Adesina arrived at the venue of the event well ahead of time but had to leave because it started well behind schedule.

As was to be expected, opinions differed on the theme of the discussion among members of the panel and of the audience alike, arising from differences in opinion about how to judge the maturity of the industry and how to even define it. Should it be by its age or by the size of its readership? Should it be by its profitability or by its fidelity to the ethics of good old journalism as a profession? This last question raised the question about whether blogging – sharing ones opinion about issues on a website, especially one created by onesself – constitutes journalism.

As an industry based on the internet, a technology which is a late 20th century/early 21st century invention, online journalism, depending on how you define it, is obviously barely out of its diapers. But then as Ishiekwene pointed out in his discussion, the size of the Social Media alone – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc – is something that owners of the Old Media, both print and broadcast, would never have imagined even in their wildest thoughts.

The global figure of total internet users last year, Ishiekwene pointed out, was a mind boggling 3 billion, with 1.4 billion on Facebook and 288 million on Twitter. For Nigeria those on Facebook are said to number 11 millions. At the height of their glory in the ‘70s and 80s, all the Nigerian newspapers combined never sold up to two million copies per edition. The newspaper owners themselves won’t say but today it is unlikely that they sell more than half a million copies combined.

Obviously the Social Media, aka New Media, today reaches far more people than the Old Media could ever dream of. And on that score alone it can be argued that the Social Media as a source of news, the staple diet of journalism, is more mature than the Old Media. But then maturity is not just a matter of numbers. Most people would agree that it is more, much more, a matter of one’s ability to check oneself from temptations – in journalism, the temptation to publish before cross-checking for accuracy. Unfortunately because the internet has since made it possible to publish news in real time, all too often online journalism, depending on how you define it, publishes news with little or no regard to the contexts that give meaning to stories.

And as some interventions from the audience argued, the pressure to publish in real time at times tempts online journalists to even fabricate news. Of course, the old media too can be malicious. The big difference, however, is that the machinery for checking malicious intent is often weak or non-existent in the Social Media simply because the internet has made it possible for anyone to publish a story without the gate keeping role necessary for accuracy, fairness and objectivity.

This fundamental flaw in online journalism, again depending on how journalism is defined, makes journalists of the old school to look down on their online cousins who are sometimes referred to as citizen journalists.

Sir,

I am a little bit confusd as to what those who say Buhari is slow mean,less than 40days of his inaugration.This culture of “quick to praise & quick to blame”stil in operation among us has becom part of our leadership problem in d contry.It can create confusion in d head of an emergent leader & make him falter frm d start if he isnt strong-willed &focused.Agreed that wit criticism d president wuld be made to stand on his feet to perform beta,but this form of criticism is quite out of tune wit d reality on d ground.The damage inflicted on our economy ova d yrs is too enormous for any right-thinking Nigerian to expect such a turnaround on it even in 6months,let alone within such a brief space of time.Yes,Buhari can only rise to d spur of d moment but shuld by no means allow himself to be stampeded into taking any form of irrational decision or action that will turn counterproductive on us later.

Emmanuel Egwu,

Sir,

I stped reading ur column wen i cld no longer cope wt ur lack of objectivity. I resumed tday. You worked so hard for APC even than the umpire dat i expected u to be appointed  Buhari’s media aide.  So PMB does not req ministers to help hm clear d ‘mess’ wch d pass admn….Is he not finding it difficult to put off his sole admnistrator’s garb?

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