By Afedzi Abdullah
The media as an information delivery system has experienced tremendous changes and transformations in recent times. This transformation is largely fueled by the widespread and ubiquitous availability of new digital technologies. The situation has not been different in Ghana where there are several media outlets.
The Ghanaian newspaper industry
The print media in Ghana is one of the oldest forms of mass media and it has been trusted as a source for credible news for the educational, political, sports, entertainment and business sectors among others.
According to Jennifer Hasty’s history of the press in Ghana, the first newspaper, ‘The Gold Coast Gazette’ and ‘Commercial Intelligencer’, was published from 1822-25 by Sir Charles MacCarthy, governor of the British Gold Coast settlements.
As a semi-official organ of the colonial government, the central goal of this Cape Coast newspaper was to provide information to European merchants and civil servants in the colony. Recognising the growing number of mission-educated Africans in the Gold Coast, the paper also aimed to promote literacy, encouraging rural development, and quelling the political aspirations of this class of native elites by securing their loyalty and conformity with the colonial system.
The newspaper industry has for years not experienced any major growth in that there have not been new entrants to the market nor have existing ones undertaken any major expansion.
Newspapers in Ghana and the digital media
Currently, the newspaper industry is operating in an era of digitisation where the majority prefer to be online reading news on tablets, phones or computers, rather than buying newspapers.
Digital and electronic services such as online television, radio and encyclopedia have brought very intensive rivalry among the print and the electronic media.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research in 2010, the internet has surpassed newspapers in terms of popularity as a news platform and concluded that people’s relationship to news is becoming portable and participatory because people carry information on mobile devices and are able to give feedback and share comments about a topic of discussion. In other ways, news consumption has become a two-way affair as compared to the days of the newspaper.
The movement towards the establishment of radio or TV stations and online portals has been on the increase and received massive patronage.
Newspapers in Ghana have no other choice than to integrate with the internet. Approximately 80% of newspaper publishers in Ghana have integrated the web and print operations as well as radio and television broadcasts.
Practically in Ghana, almost all major newspapers have launched a website and have started publishing their content online.
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The emergence of digital media
As of June 2020, a total of 428 radio stations are currently operational out of 575 FM broadcasting stations in Ghana.
There are over 140 authorised TV stations as well. Most of these stations were set up in the last decade.
This new development, according to some analysts is likely to push newspapers to their early grave in no time.
Others have also argued that journalists and their newspapers carry some amount of weight in terms of credibility and authority, therefore unless a tangible replacement is found, newspapers are not going to die overnight.
A struggling newspaper industry.
Juliet Aguiar Dugbartey is a journalist with a private business newspaper, Business and Financial Times. She noted that over the last decade, subscriptions and sales of newspapers have declined.
“Newspaper used to be the simplest way of being informed on issues happening within the regions, the country and the world at large. Institutions and individuals also subscribe to the newspaper to be informed, educated and entertained on varied issues,” she said.
Dugbartey says during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, about 80% of her newspapers’ subscribers stopped and they have not been back since.
She says institutions and individuals gave reasons such as, “We do not know the source of the paper, so we will not take it”, “We can no longer subscribe because, we do not receive a lot of clients inside the (banking hall)”, “We will not have time to read” among others.
Most of the newspapers in Ghana are surviving on advertisements and those who do not receive many adverts eventually die out of the system, she added.
Another key contributor is the newspaper reviews on radio and TV. Because of newspaper reviews, some of the subscribers often refuse to buy the papers saying they have already heard or read about the news online so they would not buy the newspaper.
Mr Binney is a newspaper vender in Cape Coast. He said hitherto, he was taking over 1,000 copies of newspapers but the same could not be said of today as he takes less than 100 copies.
How newspapers can remain relevant
Newspapers are recognised as spotlights in a world of darkness bringing the news from all corners of the country.
As the world, including Ghana, transitions to the digital landscape and its deluge of information, newspapers will remain the bearers of truth — even without the paper itself.
As honesty requires us to acknowledge that in the long term newspapers will exist online.
Already, some of the newspapers had introduced the digital version to some of their subscribers. Daily Graphic, for example, has an app where it digitally sells the newspapers.
So, some of the newspaper companies have already taken advantage of technology to boost their sales but it is a slow process. Others are also not interested in the digital version, saying “they do not have data to access it.
According to Jerry Sam, journalist and project director at Penplusbytes, print media houses must take the approach of media convergence where content from the newspapers is merged or translated onto new media and internet assets as well as portable and highly interactive technologies through digital media platforms.
This, he said would require new ways of news generation where print media will need to deliver and monetise the news online. This again, he said would mean investing in online platforms and developing mobile apps that are able to deliver the news on demand.
“For newspapers to survive, they will need to build the capacity of their reporters to be able to write for both the traditional newspaper and also for the online audience who are traditionally impatient and do not spend a lot of time on long articles,” he said.
“The newsroom staff will now have to include online editors, social media moderators and animators, user-experience specialists working alongside traditional reporters,” he added.
Related to the above is to reassign reporters to report on local community news who will narrate changes and cover the economic, social and political implications in selected communities around the country. Each city is covered by locals, for locals and this is also featured on the app or the newspaper’s website.
This will tap into the traditional meaning of news – relevant and relatable. In this era of mistrust and misinformation, this will serve as a trusted source of news and serve all readers in a clinical, nonideological, helpful way.
With what most experts predict, Covid-19 is here to stay and with that also comes the adverse impact on newspaper production and distribution as many readers will rather opt to consume news on their handheld devices than to “touch” newspapers.
This means that print media houses will have to convert the traditional newspapers into newsletters and email subscriptions in order to still generate revenues for their operations.
Reporting for this story was supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab Africa.