Journalism and the challenge of the bug called blog


Published on January 21 2007 ,Page 17



L IKE a wayward spinster worried over the cessation of her monthly period, some media executives are down with a blog fever. The harder they try to wish it away, the more the reality dawns on them. Last week, the managing director of a Lagos-based information and communication technology company sent me and, perhaps, some other journalists, a laughable e-mail. The man’s message was to introduce me to an online writing platform called blog (a personal or group website.) According to him, his company will provide 100 per cent free domain name and 100 per cent free hosting. I only need to pay a token for installation service. And it takes just 48 hours to start using the website.

Ordinarily, this is a serious message from an MD of a company. But I called it laughable because in Cardiff and other Western countries, setting up a blog is one of the simplest things to do. I was made to set up mine,, a few days after I started my online journalism module at the Cardiff University. Not only did I pay nothing, I didn’t have to wait for 48 hours to start using it. It started, as our rulers are wont to say, with immediate effect.

A US-based search engine, Technorati, was reported to have put the number of new blogs that springs up everyday at 175, 000. The total number as at November last year was said to be 60m. Eighteen updates are made on these online diaries every second. Some blog-hosting platforms include WordPress,, MySpace and MSN Spaces.

My concern here is not just the upsurge in blogs, but the effect it is having on my profession – journalism. Today, almost everybody can publish news. After the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, many people took pictures of the tragedy with their mobile phones. They posted them on the web even before the traditional media.

Similarly, it was a weblog that first published the remarks of the former chief news executive of the CNN, Eason Jordan, that American forces had deliberately targeted and killed journalists during the war in Iraq. Jordan, who reportedly made the statement in an off-the-record briefing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, consequently resigned.

Blogs were also credited with the revelation that a Kryptonite bicycle lock could be unlocked with a Bic pen. There are many more instances. And more will follow especially now that people walk about with information devices like videophones in their pockets.

Some of these bloggers also challenge the mainstream media in terms of generating adverts. THE INDEPENDENT of London reported in November last year that bloggers, especially those offering tidbits about scandals in high places, boasted more readers than many British national publications. This, the paper said, meant more attention from advertisers.

The result of this is that newspapers and magazines are increasingly losing their hold on their readers. Media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington in 2005 said, “What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.”

Expectedly, some media practitioners are a bit worried about this trend. And they are looking for solutions. Today, many media organisations have gone online. Some also offer blogs or pseudo-blogs. A publication like The Guardian of London has a web first policy. This, it explains, means it will publish foreign and business stories on the website prior to them going in the paper.

In this new trend of publishing, speed matters. Most newspapers and magazines no longer wait till the following day or week as the case may be to publish their stories. They regularly update their news because the more time they waste, the more the information becomes stale and the more such publications fall into irrelevance.

The first place I read the full breaking news of the last pipeline fire in Lagos was in the British online publications. A few Nigerian newspapers followed up with a headline, promising to give details later. The rest, apparently, had gone to bed.

Sometimes, there is nothing “breaking” about what some of these Nigerian media offer as breaking news on their websites. It is either that the stories are stale or they do not carry any weight to merit the tag, breaking news.

Besides speed, some media outlets in the UK offer diversity of delivery techniques. For instance, readers of the London Guardian publications could download latest stories on a 10-page pdf, updated every 15 minutes both during the day and in the night. This pdf comes in five forms: Top stories, World, Media, Business and Sport. All these come free.

So far, the mainstream media is not recouping much of its investment on the Internet. At present, a few are making little money from small adverts. Some others such as The Economist charge non-subscribers who wish to access their archives.

But the major concern now is to attract and control traffic on the web. That is why The Guardian of London could afford to employ about 60 editorial staff for its website alone. Its hope, perhaps, is in the reported statement of the Microsoft President, Bill Gates, that within the next few years, the Internet would attract $30 billion in advertising revenue annually.

Hence, newspapers now give their readers more platforms to air their views and stay connected. Hitherto, a few readers got published on the letters page. The privileged few had their opinions published on the opinion page. Today, some publications encourage their readers to send in their own news, picture stories and comments on political, cultural, environmental and sundry issues.

Some news outlets have also introduced RSS feeds, desktop alerts and news delivered to people’s e-mails and mobile phones. They also offer relevant links where readers could visit for more insight into particular news of interest.

Some of the media organisations have also gone beyond just posting news on the web. They are now podcasting as well. The challenge for journalists is that in no distant time, they may have to move about not only with pen, paper and mini recorders, but also with still and video cameras.

Murdoch sums up the issue thus, “Some newspapers will invest sufficient resources to continuously update the news, because digital natives don’t just check the news in the morning.  They check it throughout the day. If my child played a little league baseball game in the morning, it would be great to be able to access the paper’s website in the afternoon to get a summary of her game, maybe even accompanied by video highlights.”

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