Our journalists must change now or perish
By Oliver Mwenda
| October 4th 2019
The media industry has long enjoyed a stellar reputation of independence, professionalism, and integrity. No one can question the central role the industry has played in shaping the political, socio-economic landscape of the country.
We owe it to ourselves as professionals in the industry, whether plying our trade in the private sector, the NGO or in government, to critically introspect and evaluate the quality of students that are joining this profession.
We cannot simply sit back and fail to question the philosophy underpinning current training offered in our institutions of learning.
We cannot fail to critique or offer valid ideas on how we can better this noble profession that is currently under threat from technology and changing patterns of media consumption among consumers in a robust apolitical way.
The media industry model has changed and evolved in many different ways.
The evolving business models has compelled the industry to completely do away with the traditional notion of how we define a journalist or communication profession.
The implications from this go far and wide as journalists and communication practitioners are now required to be competent in delivering news on digital, print and electronic media.
Take for example the rise of vernacular TV and radio stations. The ability to articulate and write news in your mother tongue is now a marketable skill in today’s newsrooms. But has this been indoctrinated in the syllabus? Your guess is as good as mine.
Each and every day, media houses executives ponder on ways to launch new revenue-generating business models to sustain the industry.
Quite a large chunk of boardroom executives ask themselves just how their respective media houses can hold on to viewers, readers, and listeners in the face of debilitating competition from content creators and social media?
Journalism and communication, in my opinion, long ceased to be a civic duty-driven profession. Under the current business climate, one cannot afford to be singularly focused on solitary craft. The ability of a professional to be competent across multimedia platforms places a media house and by extension journalists at an advantage.
This is because advertisers, who generate the most revenue for media houses, are now exploring creative ways to get their messages to targeted demographics.
Sponsorships, online advertising, product placements, and online viral campaigns are increasingly important for media buys.
Sadly, this has ushered the death of specialisation within the profession as media houses and the corporate world now demand more from journalist and communication professionals.
No longer are you entirely a print media journalist focused on business or political stories; the field now requires you to be equally competent in delivering news either through radio, TV or social media channels.
We are in the age of content and information sharing. The audiences are now consuming information in so many different ways. You are more likely to come across breaking news first through the social media before it finds itself in the mainstream.
The consequence of this is that more and more people are turning to the Internet for news and entertainment.
For media houses to compete, they must evolve with the times by ensuring they provide rich content and employ the use of multimedia adequately.
There is merit in indoctrinating media and communication executives from the industry in the training and teaching of students.
I have absolute respect for the integrity and competence of my colleagues in academia.
While I do not seek to denigrate them in any way, the lessons that emanate from work experience, especially the ‘industry streets’ remain a vital ingredient in shaping a student for the marketplace as compared to theoretical knowledge.
The six or three months’ attachment in workplaces isn’t enough for students to develop the experience to meet the market expectation.
In my observation, there seems to be a haphazard dichotomy between academia and the media industry.
The media and communication industry is a world on its own; while the education institutions remain entirely on their own. There needs to be a proper conversation to find a solution to this.
I find it ideal to urge the industry to consider postgraduate professional training much like what lawyers go through at Kenya School of Law. It is time for a fundamental pivot.
Mr Mwenda is a lawyer and a communication specialist.
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