On Saturday, August 31, I attended a workshop for Editors and Publishers of Nigerian dailies. This powwow had anchored by Eugene Ohu of Netorb Media Ltd, Lagos and the Nigerian Guild of Editors. We sat in the grandiose and neat syndicate room of the School of Media and Communication of the Pan African University, Victoria Island Campus, Lagos and listened to Antonio Olivie (Publisher of Que newspaper, Spain) and Simon Kolawale (Editor of ThisDay newspaper, Lagos). Olivie spoke about his experiences in running a free newspaper, while Kolawole allowed us to peer into the research he carried out at the Mo Ibrahim scholarship in the University of London. I reproduce a summaryof the session below. This transcript was prepared by Dr Chidi Nwagu.
Antonio Olivie’s Perspective on Free Dailies
In Africa, only about four countries have free papers. The African country with the highest relative circulation of free paper is Botswana where the government funds one.
In Spain, three of the top five papers (by circulation) are free. In fact the paper with the highest circulation is free. Over 50 percent of the readership of free newspapers (including Que) is female and this has to do with content. The content has less politics and economics and more of family, culture, entertainment, fashion, sports etc.
Que has ten different (regional) editions with different topics in the cover. It also employs more than 60 journalists in ten different cities. Free newspapers make their revenue from advertisements.
In the past two years, there has been a drop of 18% in circulation of free newspapers across Europe. This has also been mirrored by a similar drop in the circulation of paid newspapers. In fact most newspapers in Europe are running at a loss. This has been as a result of the decline in advertisement revenue. In response to another question from Azubuike Ishiekwene, he stated that the ratio of adverts to editorials was 40: 60.
Antonio pointed out that Que’s success has more to do with the closeness of the contents to reader’s interests than with the fact that it is free. In response to a question on how the paper is distributed he said that distribution is outsourced to an independent business which they pay. The metro transport system is a major hub of distribution.
Elaborating on content Antonio clearly stated that they had an agenda which was separate from politics. The paper’s content focused on items like domestic affairs, health, gas prices, family, relationships and other topics of interests to most people. Items like cinema, television and sports are on the cover. Salaries while competitive are often a little less than what is received in paid newspapers. This varies however from region to region.
Social causes like the ‘Plane of Life’ a campaign launched by Que to raise funds for Iraqi children who were in urgent need of sophisticated medical care have generated a lot of positive interest in the society. Other such programmes included a campaign to save a man from the death penalty.
Other things which have helped sustain interest amongst the readership have been an internet version of the newspaper. The internet site also allows readers create their own blogs on the internet. It has been found that while the internet and ‘new media’ have grown rapidly, internet advertising has lagged behind.
Among the latest trends among free newspapers has been an Italian free daily which has just introduced mobile news updates.
Simon Kolawale’s Donnish Insight on New Media
Mr. Kolawale, editor of ThisDay recently came back from a Mo Ibrahim scholarship at the University of London shared his impressions following the research he had done.
He pointed out that the new media was allowing citizens bypass the disconnect between themselves and ‘estranged politicians’. It was enabling them deal with their issues in a more direct way. It was also enabling them bypass the conventional/established media who the average citizen views as having been compromised. He concluded by saying
a. We (editors) can’t do without new media and
b. New media channels which will be most effective will be those who engage in constructive criticism/dialogue.
Mr. Kolawale’s comments generated a lot of interest and most agreed that there was a serious disconnect between the contents of mainstream papers and matters of interest to citizenry. Azubuike Ishiekwene suggested that there should be a deliberate effort on the part of editors to see themselves as being in the business of content creation.