The market now determines the operation and content of a newspaper all over the world. Commercialization has diminished the importance of the public service in the news industry.
The primary force shaping the newspaper especially in Sierra Leone is the economic pressures. It is very clear that the responses of the increased number of newspapers in the country is affecting journalistic quality, and producing practices that diminish the social value of the content and divert the attention of newspaper personnel from journalism to activities primarily related to business interests of the press.
The conflict between the role of newspapers as servants of readers and the exploitation of readers to seek additional gains has promoted ‘self-interest’ behavior aimed at exploiting the market potential.
The public should not be surprised to see the press as just another business that is more concerned with its economic gains with broader interests of those it purports to serve.
This current environment in Sierra Leone is definitely affecting the market which has its percentage of literates being by far lower than the illiterates and also the market can only be found in the city, which I’m sure has been saturated and is stagnant.
The highest selling papers I’m sure sells about 2,500 copies a day whilst the lowest sales would be 50 to 100. The increased competition for readership, the smaller portions of the population and changes in advertiser media choices in the last decade have convinced publishers that newspapers must be managed differently to respond to the challenges because newspapers operate in a mature industry with little growth potential.
Because if these reasons, many Editors and publishers have adopted a range of positive and negative strategies that have further commercialized the industry, making commercial considerations equal to or in some cases more important than editorial quality or social concerns.
It is only in Sierra Leone that Advertising companies or others give advert to a newspaper whether it has a good circulation or not. Imagine a newspaper that sells 100 or 200 copies is given an advert with the same price with a newspaper that sells 2000. It is not correct and not economical.
The cost of advert in New York Times, which has the highest circulation, will not be the same as The Daily Star, New York Sun or The Villager. Even in Ghana and Nigeria the same operates their; the more widely circulated the papers the more costlier the advert and vise versa.
Some of these commercial and business changes of the newspaper industry in the last two decades in the developed countries were driven by the strategies of large newspaper chains and conglomerates. Others were instigated by projects sponsored by industry associations and organization.
Presently in Sierra Leone, because of the competition, some newspapers have sought to increase their competitiveness through vertical and horizontal integration, by diversification, printing colored pages and bringing in more reader friendly columns with increased pages, and also establishing online sites.
The editors and publishers have to think big how to overcome the market obstacles so these efforts are not harmful to the social service roles of newspapers, but instead have improved some them a lot. The rhetoric of these activities, however, has rarely focused on improving quality or service to readers, and the resources devoted to pursuing these initiatives have far exceeded those invested in editorial improvement. Many people believed that the initiatives were primarily designed to service the business interests of the newspaper.
Such decisions taken to promote the commercial aspects are not inherently immoral or harmful to the industry. Newspapers like other businesses have economic interests and can be expected to attend to them.
In the past, newspapers placed greater emphasis on their roles as promoters of public interests, becoming a trusted institution of society that represents the people. Thus, the devotion now on the economic interests by some newspapers especially the smaller ones in recent years is disconcerting to many people inside and outside of the industry.
Many media observers all over believe that the commercialization of the media has increased the business interests, and their structure and economic bases have altered contents by skewing or slanting toward commercial ends.
Presently, the public’s increased disaffection, loss of interest and trust have reduced the credibility in the press. Before I came to China, many people will visit our office to ask for some past copies only to check for a particular advert, because they don’t buy or read newspapers sighting the inaccuracies, smearing and the war within.
The economic pressures on newspaper managers are always there, because newspaper’s are operated all over the world in the market economy. This is an enterprise affected by the pressure to maximize profit and company value, by changes in business cycles. In Sierra Leone, the unstable foreign exchange, lack of printing facilities and the criminal libel law plus the inconsistent supply of printing materials have always affected the industry.
Newspapers in most countries are a good business with lots of assets and profit. They are private enterprises with the owners living very well and operated with public interests and community service orientation. But in Sierra Leone, it is the opposite with editors merely surviving. Infact most editors can’t even afford to buy printing materials, they credit everything until the newspaper is published the following day, or when the advertisements are paid for before they can settle their debts.
How can such institutions develop when every reporter want’s to be an editor and publisher. Some newspapers have been in existence for more than 10 years but they are still stagnant, no growth, and no development.
I hope for the day when business minded people will start investing in the news industry by buying four or five of these mushroom papers and making them into one big enterprise.
The revenue growth of the American newspaper industry grew from $54.9 billion in 2000 to $220.5 billion in 2007. In real terms, newspapers received 2.5 times as much income from advertising in 2007 as in 2000. This extraordinary growth in revenue increased the wealth of many newspaper owners dramatically.
Well in Sierra Leone there are no records to show, but within the same periods many newspaper owners made millions of Leones from adverts as it was during this period the mobile phone companies started operations.
Some of the owners invested more on the business by improving the quality and increasing the pages of their newspapers, others did not as their newspapers are either retrogressing or stagnant.
In America, a wave of newspaper deaths has been reported due to the closure of many competing newspapers. The demise of secondary papers reduced the number of American newspapers from 1,772 in 1950 to 1,480 in 2000. Today 98 percent of American daily newspapers are the only daily published in their city of origin.
In Sierra Leone with such a small market and a small percentage of literates we have increased the number of newspapers to I’m sure nearly 100 in the same period. Some newspapers don’t even have staff, only the editor, some can’t even publish once a week, they only publish when they have adverts. This is not good for the industry as it discredits and affects the growth because of their operations.
The increasing revenue and profitability of American newspaper enabled some owners to form newspaper groups that were larger than those seen previously and in doing so gain economies of scale and scope through shared content, preferential pricing in acquisition of resources and reductions in administrative costs.
Well Philip Neville of Standard Times started it by acquiring Weekend Spark and I’m sure both are still in operations and viable. I hope this will be a new trend in the country as the time is overdue now for Sierra Leone newspapers to be still doing the hand to mouth business.
Even in little Gambia the industry is developed than Sierra Leone. I do hope that business people and current publishers will think of developing the industry in the near future. To be contd.