Juan Senor, President, Innovation Media Consulting Group, has told news media owners and newsroom managers in Nigeria to consider digitising their operations, particularly now that the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on an hitherto fragile sector.
“Many newspapers have gone from dailies to weeklies,” he said during a Google Meet hosted in May by The Journalism Clinic and attended by publishers and senior editors. “Many newspapers (elsewhere) are cutting sections in their papers, sports and entertainment for instance. But the big one: they are making the transition to digital papers.”
He added that aside from reducing pagination, newspapers are also cutting down on circulation. Publishers in Nigeria can have a collaborative approach and share printing and logistics cost, rather than go it alone, as has been the model for decades. One of the attendees was Nduka Obaigbena, president of the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN)
Big crises in the past, he said, have been known to accelerate trends and Covid-19 is proving no different.
“Things that we weren’t expecting to happen in the next five-ten years are happening sooner. A decade has happened in a week,” Senor explained. “Consumer habits are changing…. We are also realising that social media is toxic. People peddle falsehood.”
As a consequence, more readers than ever are looking to credible news organisations for reliable sources of information online, and this is where the traditional news outlets become more relevant than ever.
“Listen to your market. The market is telling you certain things – you need to listen,” Senor said, adding: “You have to begin to engage your readers to let them see that news should be paid for, either independently or collectively.
“You need to bring back reader revenue. This is your chance to introduce a digital-only publication in Nigeria. Launch a digital-revenue business. Transform your newsroom. Embrace these changes – don’t waste a good crisis.”
How to do this? Senor said there is no better time than now for publishers to communicate the value of what they do to readers, either though a purposely designed landing page or newsletters. It is okay to engage in a public communications campaign, he said.
“You have to make your websites a destination. Without it, there is no business,” he advised, saying that it is no longer sensible to share original content on the top social media platforms. A link to lead readers back to the website is the preferred norm. “You need to rethink your website as a premium site. While breaking news should be free, other useful news should be paid for. You are not in the business of millions of clicks. You are in the business of getting paid.”
To let his point sink in, Senor told his audience that commentators are already describing the current situation as a Netflix moment, one which newspaper managers have to explore immediately.
“You have to get data for the knowledge you are giving out. Going forward, you must have a registration page, where readers can input their names and emails, if possible their profession. And when you have data, you can begin what we call in the industry ‘On-boarding’. If people know that they are getting reliable information from your site, they will give you their data.”
And he landed perhaps the most shocking charge of the meeting: “Stop selling advertising – sell journalism. You are in the business of selling journalism. We are in the business of holding power to account, of doing investigative journalism and serving the people with good journalism.
“Only journalism will save journalism. Journalism will not be saved by events, e-commerce but by people who are willing to invest in it. And, in my opinion, only specialist newspapers will survive, not generalised papers. The sooner you specialise the better. Choose your specialisation and build your business.”
Finally, Senor encouraged the participating media houses to henceforth dictate the trend and not be mere followers of it.
“Unless you’re a brand leading the conversation, you have no business in journalism,” he said. “You have to determine the trend. You’re not going to be in business if you follow consumer trends.”
Senor, had last August been the keynoter at the Media Leaders’ Summit, also organised by The Journalism Clinic. The organisation’s Founder/Director Taiwo Obe expressed satisfaction on the quality of attendance of, and participation at, the online interaction.