Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preparing Africa for New Media

By Aidan Prinsloo, the Newcomer

In Africa, at least, the advent of digital media does not pose a threat to traditional media, according Robert Kabushenga, CEO of The New Vision. In fact, it is only in developed countries that one sees digital media undermining traditional media. While Kabushenga concedes that the USA is witnessing the decline of printed media, he states that newspapers in Africa, India and China continue to expand. In these settings, he says, one should view traditional media and digital media as complimentary.
Kabushenga argues that digital media need not be for free. This is what is causing the financial collapse of media houses in the USA – while no expenses are spared in producing news and journalistic articles, newspapers and television stations are publishing stories free of charge online. This is supported by the notion that this news outlet can be supported by advertisers who would pay to have greater audiences.

He sees the porn industry as a good model to base online media on: that is, provide highly desirable content for a subscription fee. This fee, in turn, can go towards financing professional journalists.

Kabushenga also points out that reporters are not the primary concern when it comes to producing quality journalism. Reporters merely provide information to editors. Rather, the focus should be on professional journalistic editing, and this is precisely what people would be prepared to pay for. If one subscribed to a well edited online newspaper, one would no longer have to worry about whether or not the journalists are trained as such – the problems often accompanying civilian journalists would be taken care of by professional editing. However, there is a place for civilian journalism, says Kabushenga. Civilian journalism is not different from opinion pieces that one finds in printed media and should be regarded as such.

Africa’s situation is quite different from that of Europe and the USA. While printed media is well established in Europe and the USA, it has yet to reach its full potential in Africa. Broadcasted media, especially radio, still predominates as it is the easiest to distribute. Radio has a wide reach and, unlike newspaper, does not need to be physically distributed on a regular basis. Furthermore, FM radios are far more accessible than computers and even mobile phones in Africa. The ratio of such technological devices to people in African countries is so low (Kabushenga estimates there are about 2 million laptops in Uganda to a population of over 40 million) that digital media can hardly compete with traditional media.

Ultimately, considering the growth taking place in Africa, Kabushenga points out that Africans are at an advantage: digital media will eventually gain a prominent foothold in Africa, but we can learn from the developed world’s mistakes. Instead of seeing digital media as competing with traditional media, we should see the two platforms as complimentary and treat digital media as part of the business model which allows traditional media to survive.


straightedge said...

I perfectly agree with Kabushenga that the traditional media and the new/digital media are complementary. This fact should be the concern of media professionals today. But I am also concerned about bridging the digital divide in African. How do we do it?

-David Dankwa-Apawu, Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra

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