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Challenged By Bleak Future, Nigerian Newspaper Owners, Stakeholders Deliberate On Ways Forward

The NPAN president emphasized on collaboration with government and the private sector.

Worried by the declining fortunes of newspapering in the country and its potentially bleak future, the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and other industry stakeholders, on Tuesday, at a Publishers’ Retreat in Victoria Island, Lagos, deliberated on some of the ways to salvage the future of the business.

Publisher of BusinessDay Newspaper, Frank Aigbogun, presented the lead paper, on the topic, “The Newspaper: Emerging Trends, Opportunities and Strategies for Survival and Sustainability, while subsequent discussions were led by the Founder/CEO of The Journalism Clinic Integrated Marketing Specialist, Taiwo Obe and a former editor of the defunct Next Newspaper and founder, Radio Now, Kadaria Ahmed.

Other prominent industry stakeholders at the event were the President of NPAN, Malam Kabiru Yusuf; Publisher of the Vanguard Newspaper, Mr. Sam Amuka; and a former governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba.

Also at the retreat were the Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY and Arise Groups and former NPAN president, Prince Nduka Obaigbena; Vice-Chairman of NPAN, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, as well as the managing directors, and editors of the various media organisations in the country, sufficiently represented.

The NPAN president, Yusuf, who laid the template for preliminary discussions, established the understanding that newspapering had turned out a success over the years and as such, owners and practitioners could not shy away from dealing with its new challenges.

According to him, the current and disturbing issues could not be said to be entirely new, but noted that it was one thing to moot ideas on ways forward as concerned bodies had always done and another to execute the suggestions therefrom.

He noted that, largely, the business owners had not succeeded in collaborating as expected, tracing this existential challenge to needless competition.

Yusuf suggested that the time had come to look outside the industry for help, including government and the private sector, without necessarily begging, but seeking help to sustain the business.

He, therefore, pleaded with stakeholders to ensure something enduring was taken away from the two-day retreat, ending on Wednesday.

Osoba made ample references to experience and cited examples that could be borrowed from the past and modulated to suit the present day challenges.

Specifically, the former Ogun governor said, industry stakeholders had been agonising about collaboration since 1975, and that with the current state of things, there was no choice but to embrace collaboration and pooling of human and material resources in collective interest for the survival of the newspaper.

Addressing phantom rivalry and distribution challenges, he urged stakeholders to start considering joint printing press in major cities of the country like Abuja, Port Harcourt and Enugu, among others.

Reiterating the need for cooperation on all fronts, he said newspaper owners must start to pool reporting and distribution, including photography to save cost and improve revenue, saying, “Like it or not, you all must go online.”

The THISDAY publisher, Obaigbena, who gave rather short but pungent introductory notes, equally alluded to the need for collaboration for survival, and added that his organisations had since embraced the initiative with Punch and Daily Trust newspapers.

Obaigbena, who contended that collaboration was though key and should go beyond printing, queried the imperative of newspaper houses having 36 offices across the states of the federation, for example, while suggesting a good use of the Nigeria News Agency (NAN) platform and the need to start making Google pay for stories as against offering grants, which is what obtains in some parts of the world.

The lead discussant, Aigbogun, gave a rather frank delivery of the topic, and left nothing to chance in his attempt to delve extensively into the problems with newspaper business in the country and what needed to be done to survive the imminent extinction, drawing examples from different parts of the world.

Starting with an African proverb on the Gazelle and the Lion, the Business Day Publisher, who said every individual and organisation must go to bed and wake up thinking survival and keep running everyday of their lives, made the need for diversification the core of his presentation.

“It’s important to think diversification,” he said, adding: “There must be something to hand over to our children,” even as he advised that, “Seeing opportunities and taking advantage” must not elude any business owner intending to grow their businesses.

He held that on some occasions, things might appear tight, but as managers, it wastheir responsibility to find ways and means to overcome them, stressing that business models must change through innovations and the structuring of costs.

Aigbogun, who was roundly commended for doing justice to the topic, said the world was moving and the market dynamics were changing too, and such, approach must change to reflect the current realities.

Arguing that newspapers could not be managed differently if the existential struggles must be properly acknowledged, he went further to say, “editors must become business managers of their newspaper organisations to meet the new challenges.”

He observed that the, “Time for doing things for free is done. Everything must have some path of revenue. Everything that generates value should generate revenue. Good journalism is valuable, don’t give it away for free.”

In conclusion, before the retreat went on lunch break and subsequently dissolved into technical groups, he addressed the imperative of audience engagement as a way of assessing the performance of each news story, as well as the imperatives of building well-off data bases, to boot.