Tuesday, 03 Jun 2014

Can Kenya print media defy grim prognosis

An assortment of NairobiNews past issues. Photo: courtesy

By James Ratemo and Cyrus Kinyungu

Across the world newspaper circulation is dipping as more and more readers migrate online for news as opposed to reading hard copy newspapers.

In Kenya, when the Standard Media Group unveiled its Nairobian newspaper and Nation Media Group followed with Nairobi News, it seemed like the industry was defying the grim prognosis.

Read Kenyan print media defies grim prognosis

However, six months after Nairobi News was born, it is no more. The paper officially folded on May 21.
This comes a month after, The Counties, a weekly publication by the Standard Group, targeting counties ceased publication and months after Nation Media Group quietly ceased publication of its sports publication, SportOn.

The last issue of The Counties was published on March 17. The weekly newspaper, which targeted readers from the various counties, was published for about three years before it ceased publication. At one time, it published twice a week.

As a consolation to readers, The Standard Group introduced a new ‘sexpanded and refined counties’s section in The Standard.

“The counties section takes over from our Xtra pullout which now takes a rest,” said a promo on The Standard page one a week later on March 24.

It seems the bug that bit The Counties and SportOn, also infected NairobiNews which has been competing for readers with the Standard Group’s Nairobian newspaper which was launched in March 2013.

“Good ideas are driven by inspiration, but their ultimate survival is determined by business. Our brave efforts at breaking new ground in Kenyan journalism have foundered on the rocks of crippling economic times. Little advertising and slow sales growth at a time of rising costs made NairobiNews’ survival impossible,” read a message from the Nation Media Group management.

Despite this admission the big question is whether the Nation Media Group and The Standard Media group got their strategy wrong or whether the Kenyan market, just like it is in Europe and America is no longer thirsty for more newspapers in this era of digital revolution.

The Nairobian, a weekly paper, is still in the news stands but for how long it will  survive since its pages do not carry as many adverts as the other long serving papers like the Standard and the Daily Nation is hard to tell.

Other relatively smaller papers like the Business Daily, The People, The Star have been struggling to survive and compete for market share. The situation has been made worse by the growth of Internet.

When launching NairobiNews, Nation Media Group CEO Mr Linus Gitahi said the paper was a response to the growth of the news market created by devolution and sought to develop from the capital’s robust economy, which produces nearly 60 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Watch video below to see pomp and colour that followed NairobiNews Launch in November 2013:

“This newspaper will not be driven by the politics of who said what or which VIP did what, but, rather will capture the drama and significance of life in Kenya‘s capital. Politics will be covered with the aim of keeping readers informed of decisions and plans which affect residents’ lives,” The Daily Nation quoted Gitahi saying.

The ‘death’ of SportOn, The Counties and now NairobiNews has generated a very lively and informative debate among journalists on the social media about the trend of dying publications.

“As a business student I support the folding of  NairobiNews. It’s business. Bottom line matters However NMG should rethink overall Strategy,” said Joe Gidi on Twitter.

“Why do I think that maybe NairobiNews would have faired better as an online magazine. Less overheads & get bloggers to contribute,” said another tweep, Njeri Wangari.

“In my years in the trade, I have witnessed The Daily Metro, Kenya Times, SportOn and now The Counties ‘take a brake’. Has this happened before? The rate of ‘brakes’...,” noted Jay Bonyo on a Facebook post provoking a debate among his colleagues.

“I think this one of telling readers bye is a novel idea. Others just disappear from the newsstands like the Malaysian plane. Consoling news: last year Newsweek bid its readers bye and citing onslaught of digital media said they would only be online. However, last month they resurrected the paper and are in fact looking for stringers worldwide,” noted Tom Osanjo.

Jim Onyango, another journalist, brought in a new twist after The Counties folded: “It appears the pockets of consumers of newspapers in Kenya are not deep after all. Advertisers have also not bought the idea of added value in the new papers. I’m waiting to see how the Nairobian (Standard) and Nairobi News (Nation) will build up.  In the UK, news corporations do not add new newspapers like we do here. Only The Independent newspapers launched a tabloid called I (eye)...and it survived. It’s still going strong...this is where the Nation’s Nairobi News tried to borrow from...read it here.”

John Kamau dug out the history of publications that have died in Kenya and brought in the social media perspective to it.

How the Standard launched the Nairobian newspaper in February 2013

“The graveyard of newspapers is full. We might need a new cemetery, thanks to the social media. If you go to the archives you see publications that died...Sunday Post, Baraza, Asian Weekly, Colonial Times, Mombasa Times, Sauti ya Mwafrika, Muiguithania, Nyanza Times, Wathiomo Mukinyu etc. As long as we continue feeding Kenyans with yesterday news, the industry will be on life support (of advertisers),” Kamau observed.

“The latest wave of newspaper deaths is a child of knee-jerk, me too ape-manship where products are launched simply because one wants to be first-to-market or because it is fashionable. Good marketing is coming up with a product that the market needs and is ready to exchange value for. Marketing is NOT creating a product first and then trying to ram it down the throats of consumers. Ask Parents,” Washington Akumu observed.

It is apparent that the trend of dying publications is worrying the media community and as Mwangi Sammy put it, “We need to grow leisure reading in Kenya. A fixation with most of us is that news will only come from Daily Nation and The Standard and past 1pm, not many will want to read the newspaper.”

The coming up of new media products was good news for the ever increasing number of journalists. It meant more journalists would be absorbed in the media houses but with NairobiNews gone, it is expected more journalists would be jobless.

It could be time, the media houses treaded carefully before launching new products that wither at the smell of ‘economic drought’.

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