Journalism experts across West African countries, on Tuesday and Wednesday, converged in Abuja to discuss the issues at the intersection of journalism and technological innovation models in the region.
The participants also highlighted the various concerns in media growth and development in West Africa and solutions that could enhance sustainability in the media ecosystem.
The experts spoke at the inaugural West Africa Journalism Innovation Conference (WAJIC) organised by the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
The conference, themed “Accountability Journalism: Innovation for a sustainable future,“ was attended by over 300 journalists, tech experts, media professionals, academics, entrepreneurs and policymakers across West Africa.
The gathering also exposed media practitioners to business models they can adopt without compromising the core ethics of journalism amidst the rapidly evolving trends of news dissemination in the digital age.
According to the organisers, WAJIC’23 was also put together to highlight the importance of accountability journalism and foster collaboration between journalists, media organisations, tech companies/professionals and academics. It was also designed to promote journalism innovation, ethical reporting, media literacy and capacity-building opportunities for journalists within the West African region.
In his remarks, PREMIUM TIMES Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of CJID, Dapo Olorunyomi, hinted that the conference was organised against the urgent need to innovate and address sustainability issues in the media amid revenue challenges.
“Our historical duty today is to reinvent journalism to better serve the purpose of our democracy and the liberty of citizens,” he said.
But Mr Olorunyomi noted that journalism is troubled in the region because its business model is in crisis, and there is an erosion of trust on the part of the audience. He said the conference is a perfect ground for innovation on how the media outlets produce and distribute content and how it finances journalism.
“Innovation is a pathway to the challenges of renewal we seek, and if we ever make West Africa a space and zone of good governance, tolerance and livable, our journalism must wake up to the test of an effective response to realities of fragile states, the epidemic of corruption, information and climate crises, complexities of technology and the absence of sub-national mechanisms of accountability like professional media at state and local council levels,” Mr Olorunyomi said.
In his keynote address, Richard Gingras, Vice President of News at Google, urged journalists to be more constructive and creative while reporting to sustain the relevance of the media.
“The Reuters Institute tells us that less than 10 per cent of our society regularly consume what we call serious news. Google tells us that less than 2 per cent of search curves are about matters of serious news,” he said.
Mr Gingras emphasised that there is a great opportunity and business value in enriching the fabric of a community by addressing the overall needs of that community through reporting.
“I fear we don’t use such approaches. If we don’t use such approaches, the bridge, the divides in our societies, the important accountability journalism we do produce will not be heard beyond the depth of our own silos,” he added.
In his remarks, the Africa Director of the MacArthur Foundation, Kole Shettima, said the organisation supported the conference because it believes in the initiative of the organisers, adding that many media houses collapsed due to dwindling resources and revenue.
“We know that money from some sources is very corrupt, so the media needs multiple sources of revenue to keep afloat. We support accountability journalism, which must be financed by multiple sources of revenue. Independent media is critical for democracy to survive; the reason is also why we support independent media,” he said.
“Technology and innovation are critical to catching up with what is happening around the world. I am hoping it will be a yearly event, and we would always be there to give support because independent media is in our interest, else we may find it difficult to operate.”
Challenges & recommendations
A workshop moderated by Williette James from the Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone had the Vice Chancellor, Federal University Kashere, Umaru Pate; a professor from the University of Ghana, Audrey Gadzekpo; and Tunde Akanni from the Lagos State University as panellists.
During the session titled, ‘Innovative Trends in Journalism Practice- what are the Research Gaps?”, discussants emphasised that the emergence of innovative technologies over the years has led to the transformation of news formats, from print through to broadcast and digital media.
The emergence of Artificial Intelligence(AI) tools poses significant challenges to the media ecosystems as media practitioners are struggling to explore the benefits of these technologies to remain afloat.
In his intervention, Mr Pate said technology is central to the continuous evolution of media formats in the region and worldwide.
“Central to all of this is technology. This means technology is the enabler. As technology changes, many things will become, and many more formats of information dissemination will be coming,” he said.
The Vice-Chancellor said that newsrooms are far ahead of the classrooms, so graduates from schools are finding it difficult to be integrated into the mainstream media.
Having realised all the challenges brought by the emergence of the internet, Mr Pate said universities in Nigeria had discovered the need to change their curriculum and teaching approaches to enable them to train students who are abreast of developments in the media landscape.
He said the coming of the internet had raised significant concerns about funding, technology, content, credibility, press freedom and safety.
“What type of research do we need to do in our environment to ensure our media organisations survive?,” he queried, adding that the new curriculum in schools came up with the issue of media economics and monitoring.
On her part, Mrs Gadzekpo said media practitioners must think of audiences when conceptualising these innovations, adding that there is a need to consider the audience when talking about research agenda in the media.
While referring to local language news delivery in Ghana, she said research has shown that audiences thought about local language delivery differently from how they perceive news delivery in English.
In his intervention, Mr Akanni said the entire media system in Nigeria is undergoing many changes and that the government, in recent times, is working to see how it can regulate and censor the media space in the country.
While comparing Ghana’s usage of local languages in news dissemination with Nigeria, the Lagos State University scholar said Ghana is doing better. Most media houses in Nigeria would rather deploy more sophisticated tools to ensure adequate pronunciation of English words, limiting their reach to specific audiences.
The experts agreed that there is a need to conduct adequate research to show how media organisations can use technology to improve their work.
Mrs Gadzekpo said many media organisations don’t invest in their journalists to learn how to use technology effectively.
She hinted that there is a need to provide mentorship for students in tertiary institutions and empower them to research innovative ways to adopt technologies across media outlets.
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