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Are Kenyans ready to pay for good journalism as they do for Uber and Netflix?

By Leon Lidigu | June 1st 2019

The evolution of this beautiful thing called journalism with regards to digital platforms continues to present a myriad of challenges and hopes that will dictate the future. 

In India, for example, subscriptions are the leading priority for publishers this year, with 52 per cent saying it’s their main revenue focus, according to a Reuters Institute report which also insists that as publishers roll out more paywalls and exclusive content, they’re likely to face considerable resistance and backlash. They are sure to see growing adoption of paywall blockers to skirt around metered paywalls. Incase you are wondering why this is so important for journalism, always remember that good journalism is expensive and someone has to pay for it. 

A people-funded newspaper model ensures that the sacred role of journalism, which is to inform, is not tampered with by powers that be or corporates that wish to promote their own interests at the expense of factual story-telling. 

A ballsy move as such to rethink models by re-inventing cash flow systems in media is the only sure way of guaranteed media freedom. The conflict, however, remains: is the public ready to pay for good quality journalism? The reality on ground is that we have moved from a world where media controlled both content and channels, thanks to electronic media that has now seemingly made millions fall head over heels in love with user-generated content.  

We now are in a world increasingly characterised by “distributed discovery”, where media still create content, but people access it through platform channels like search engines, social media and news aggregators.

The cardinal principle of journalism is to inform. Our constitution insists that access to information is a basic right. How exactly are we going to make the public understand that it is in their best interest to pay for journalism the same way they willingly part with a few coins for Uber and Netflix? 

The report further breaks down all types of payment for online news over time. What’s interesting is that in most of the countries that have been tracked for several years, there has been little significant change in the top-level figures. The clear exception to this rule is the USA, where the figure leapt from nine per cent in 2016 to 16 per cent in 2017. Evidently, there has been an increase. But just where has it come from? Who is paying now that wasn’t a year ago?

There is evidence of growth from two sections of society: younger people and those on the political left.

Subscription barriers such as paywalls could end up annoying consumers further and giving people another reason to turn away from news.

Why? Our mindset has forever been addicted to free things so much so that we are too ‘mean’ to appreciate the dedication, danger and services our journalism offers, to part with a few coins and genuinely support journalism. This is why media houses in Kenya will forever depend on government advertising as a source of revenue because we view paywalls the same way we view terrorism.

Without doubt, journalism has surely experienced a fascinating revolution for the first draft of history.

Moving forward, independent professional journalism will now be more important than ever in helping people understand the major challenges and opportunities facing us, from day-to-day local events to global issues. As the business of news changes, journalism also risks becoming less robust, and ultimately incapable of helping the public make sense of our times or holding power to account.

This challenge is compounded by increasingly open political hostility towards independent professional journalism, in the worst cases a veritable war on journalism.

In the absence of independent professional reporting, the public will increasingly rely on self-interested sources and rumours circulating online and offline, a shift that will hurt the political process, civil society and private enterprise.

Independent professional journalism is essential for both the public good, politics and private enterprise – and as it adapts to the digital media people all over the world are embracing, it can help ensure that this communications revolution results not in chaos, but in change for the better. [Leon Lidigu] 

-The writer is a student of journalism at Pacific University, India  

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