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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Daily Newspapers In Big Trouble As Circulation Falls Like A Stone

My recent investigations indicate that executives at the leading daily newspapers in the country are extremely worried over the recent behavior of newspaper circulation.

Let me give you a little background. Usually in election years, newspapers tend to report huge windfall profits as election fever grips the country. This has not happened this time round. If anything both the two leading daily newspapers have been struggling to sell a respectable number of newspapers daily.

What is really worrying is that the editorial costs of covering the elections usually run into millions and the newspapers have never had any problems covering it because of the usual windfall circulation profits that start pouring in early in the year.

And falling circulation is not entirely their fault. The dwindling purchasing power of ordinary Kenyans that has now made a newspaper a luxury that most cannot afford, is the main culprit. Then technology has wrecked havoc. Lifestyles have actually been turned upside down by technology. For example in the 80s the first thing I would do when I got up in the morning was to turn on the radio. Why? To make sure that everything was OK and loved ones are OK. If I was not buying a newspaper on my way to work that day, I would at least stop at the vendors and scrutinize the headlines. Now technology has wiped out that need. When most people get up in the morning these days, the first thing they do is pick up their cell phones and switch them on if they were off. Once my dad was sick and I received an SMS within minutes although I was thousands of miles away. Apparently all my brothers switch off their phones at night and I was the only one whose phone was on at 4:30 am.

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So the culture of purchasing newspapers even for election news is rapidly fading.

The newspapers themselves cannot be absolved from blame entirely. The truth is that our Kenyan newspapers have never really adapted to a more analytical role which is necessary with all the TV news from a handful of TV stations available for free the evening before. You do not want to read the same thing you heard in the TV news the next morning, but you surely want your questions answered in some deep analysis explaining the news you saw. Only half-hearted attempts have been made in that direction.

Part of the problem is that the editorial decision makers still polluting our newspapers have been there a long time and naturally making changes is too hard for them.

The falling circulation explains the reason why ODM must feature in the headline daily for newspapers to sell. It also explains the mergence of the design department that now plays a much more prominent role in the design of the front page.


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1 comment:

bloggeratti said...

Nice observation Chris.

But also consider this - the main stream newspapers have taken a 'gutter press' angle. Ironical coz its the same 'mainstream' press that vilified the gutter press out of business.

The gutter press may have been 70% hype and 30% fact. But one thing they were never short of is ideas.

Wish I could say the same for the 'distinguised' members of the fourth estate!
My advice? Get rid of those empty suits in their boardrooms and get street-smart journalists with their ears to the streets.

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