Media need not big innovation to sustain robustness
One can hardly speak with confidence that the future of the media in Kenya is safe.
In a recent discussion with randomly selected over two dozen correspondent journalists, none had read a single newspaper in the previous week and probably longer.
None, also, had bought a book to read since the year began. Only a handful may have read a book, but even then, not from cover to cover.
Of course, this specific observation may not necessarily represent the mainstream media industry and one would hope that there was a strong reading culture among those not represented in this group of correspondents.
However, it is noteworthy, that in the restructuring that has been taking place in the media sector, the newsrooms are relying more on correspondents for the copies that they publish and air.
Indeed, some indications are that up to 75 per cent of the newsroom copy may be coming from correspondents most of who are not well compensated.
The newsrooms are very dependent on correspondents and one may not be able to understand the character of the Kenyan journalist, without appreciating the character of the Kenyan news correspondent.
Most people from the core group, that one would consider to rely on the media as a source of information for decision making also find the media content not only shallow but poorly presented.
They argue that it is easy to predict the content of the following day’s broadcast by simply following social media debates, and the editorial errors are growing.
Social media debates are not only shallow, much of it may not be true either.
It spoke volumes when prominent media houses were found recently to have relied on a clip circulating on social media as a source of their copy
This limited depth in content and changes in what the media delivers to their audience, could also be explained by the changes taking place in the newsrooms; where a younger crop of journalists is in charge – often with limited historical context on their stories.
These days, there is often little difference in terms of the size of the papers for which one has to pay and the free circulating one.
Indeed, in most cases, the free circulating newspaper provides greater value for one’s time than paid for newspapers.
When an average individual in the urban area spends way far less than Sh200 on lunch, or at most goes without lunch, it is understandable why the price model of the Kenyan newspaper is way above the reach of the average citizen.
The subscription cost, or the pricing model of the ePaper has not helped either.
The majority of the people who would access the newspaper online, are probably middle class readers seeking greater content and intellectual stimulation.
But it is not only that the local paper is limited in in-depth analysis, the subscription is priced incredibly high.
For the cost of an average annual subscription of a local newspaper, one could subscribe to both New York Times and Washington Post combined and still have some change to spare.
And in the later newspapers, a reader is assured of a more critical analysis of issues, and a greater range of articles, even if the papers cover largely the same regions, and a smoother means of subscription and renewal process.
Subscription to local publications is still erratic. While the ePaper is often delivered on time, the delivery could stop abruptly before the end of the subscription period, and it is a challenge following up, which still does not guarantee restoration.
The media sector does require serious innovation to sustain its robustness for indeed the media have an important function in society.
It is through the media that public’s right to be informed can be fulfilled and through which democracy can be protected and enhanced.
There could hardly be a better time for industry-wide introspection to restore pride and demand for Kenyan journalism. —The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University