The idea of “national newspapers”

October 6, 2011

Newspaper Columns

Tola Adenle

[Since the recent exit of NEXT newspapers from the stable of Nigeria’s readable dailies, online LinkedIn  journalism group has been having a lively discourse on the whys of the sad event in "NEXT takes a dignified Exit".  I’ve been privy to the discussions and discarding a few that are – not unexpectedly – personal, many offer templates that could be useful not just for NEXT’s next(!) evolution but for others who may wish to venture into the murky waters of Nigerian daily newspaper publishing.


I’ve pulled out an addition to essays on this Blog from my weekly newspaper contribution to rested THE COMET ON SUNDAY and THE NATION ON SUNDAY that eerily resembles the discourse on Linked In Journalism Group.

TOLA, Akure, October 6, 2011.]


The idea of national newspapers in a country where reading can be ranked with Nigerians’ love for their (s)elected leaders is preposterous.  Among other minuses is the major fact that it is a practice that is very expensive even for rich Western nations.  In all things, Nigeria takes the high (not moral) road, so to say, and then suddenly discovers that small units are easier to manage.  Rather than retrace steps, it plods on with various ventures taking naturally wrong turns that designers fail to see and/or acknowledge.

All banks must have several branches even if all they do to have government-dictated capital base and money to carry on business is use young girls to solicit deposits and bribe government top brasses for deposits.  In addition, all must have Abuja headquarters.  The so-called new-generation banks all came up by way of government largesse – one way or another – and this babysitting by government became so comfortable that banks saw no need (and I cannot blame them) to pursue traditional ways in which banks make money in civilized societies: they earn it by lending money out as a main source of making money.  For far too long, government gave out public money (I cannot find any more appropriate words) to a few by way of the absurd foreign exchange market and the bank owners were generous enough to share in these government handouts with their workers. Result/consequence?  Bank jobs became the Holy Grail for fresh graduates.

There are scores of banks all over the land with glittering headquarter buildings at Abuja but absurdly, the country’s manufacturing/industrial sector has not benefited from this surge in the growth of banks.  Neither has small businesses that in non-“kalokalo” economies, to borrow Professor Aluko’s old description of Nigeria’s economy, should be direct beneficiaries of this surge in financial establishments.  No, the economy of Nigeria is not structured to benefit beyond a few, and growth in banks cannot but reflect this hybrid set-up. Government, through the CBN, handed out millions of dollars weekly to banks which managers and owners see as their shares of the “national cake” and which they promptly took to the so-called black market to make money.

I have not gone off track.  There is a common thread in banks with “national spread” and newspapers with offices all over the country without being able to fulfill their primary role of gathering and disseminating news.  In an earlier essay, “Ponzi schemes and other Nigerian banking innovations” this year on banks, I mentioned the fact that as huge as the United States’ economy is, there is room for one-branch financial institutions and the fact that such also do prosper.

I believe that all banks being made to have headquarters at Abuja is as unnecessary as newspapers having to operate state offices in all states of the federation.  It not only places unnecessary and heavy financial burden on Nigerian newspapers but I believe it is directly responsible for the terrible state of newspapers in the country today.  Looking at two different “national” newspapers as I am typing this (first week of September), the effect of news publications spreading their human resources thin, show.  The Comet and another newspapers are both well respected but there is hardly any difference in their cover pages.  One has five stories as lead, four of them possibly emanating from government press releases while the other has its four cover stories bearing same seeming government imprimatur.  I went further and counted thenews stories, as distinct from features.  There was not much difference because one has a whopping eighteen news stories (not counting foreign news items) whose sources are state and federal press releases.  It is difficult to blame newspaper houses for this kind of “news”-gathering because their resources are spread so thin that it is difficult to have enough staff for real news gathering.

In a place like Great Britain which most Nigerian readers of a paper like this are familiar with to some or a great extent, there is nothing resembling Nigerian-type “national” newspapers even though a paper like The Times of London or The Guardian can be read as far north as Aberdeen in Scotland and as far west as Dublin in Ireland the same day of publication.  Meanwhile, these cities in two different countries as well as other major cities of the U.K. have their own daily papers.

It is even more so in the United States where a town with a population of four thousand (and even less) has its own daily newspaper.  Three thousand miles from New York in Western United States, you can read the Washington Post or New York Times or any papers from other major U.S. cities but you will not get to read them the same day most of the time and you will definitely have to pay more.  I used to buy theSunday Washington Post the Tuesday after publication date for double the cover price [in Las Vegas, Nevada].

What does Nigeria gain by this anomaly?  Rather, I think the question should be ‘what do Nigerians lose by this anomaly?  First of all, newspaper publication business is so expensive that most daily newspapers that I am aware of in Nigeria are more expensive than the daily Washington Post if bought in Washington, D.C.  At eighty naira which is the price for each of the papers that I buy, the D.C. paper is almost twenty naira cheaper for the daily than The Comet, Punch, or Tribune. At close to a dollar a day, The Guardian is not affordable for  nearly all except those who get free copies at their jobs or those who purchase to check out the ads.  The number of newspaper readers is considerably reduced because the percentage of Nigerians that can afford about twenty-five hundred naira monthly (i.e. one per day) for newspapers is negligible.  As mentioned earlier, newspaper houses cannot afford the staff  to gather the kind of material that make newspaper reading a pleasure.

Even though one can read most newspapers from around the world these days on the web, nothing beats reading newspapers done on newsprint!  This is why I always ask friends or families to bring me Sunday newspapers from around the world and it is the same reason that I load up on such whenever I am out because of the wide and varied reading material.  A London Times on Sunday or Sunday Washington Post can be read for weeks just as the Book Review section of the Sunday New York Times can be spread over days for maximum enjoyment.  The newspaper situation in Nigeria makes it difficult for readers who read for pleasure to build loyalty to papers but to specific columnists.  I know people who read three papers; no, not every day: they know the writers they love to read in various papers and buy specific papers on specific days since the idea of syndicated columnists are still light years from these shores.

For instance, if Nigerian newspapers are not hamstrung by the peculiar problem of maintaining expensive network of offices and should divert such resources to paying columnists, readers would be able to read Fasure, Abati, etcetera in a single newspaper even though it could be in a newspaper in a small town in Eastern Nigeria.  I read American funny man, Dave Barry in the Sunday Washington Post; others read him in the Miami Herald. Ditto Art Buchwald whom I started reading in the daily Postback in the 70’s and I also enjoyed in the 90’s in Nevada, and I still read now, although no longer on the front page in the Post again.

Nigerians have risen tremendously to the challenges posed by publishing daily newspapers and I believe the time has come that those already established in the business should look at diversifying into regionalizing, for a start, news-gathering and publication.  The ultimate goal must be to publish newspapers meant for, at most, a metropolitan area which would see Lagos or Ibadan or Abuja, Enugu or Kaduna having their own dailies.  Now, a daily for Akure would not mean that ALL news would concern Akure and environs.  Just as “national” newspapers do these days for foreign news, there would be pages for “national” news and foreign news but most of the real news would come from the area.  “All the news fit to print” ( NY Times) in the locality will be inside, good or bad as well as celebrations, including high school celebrations, market days, etcetera.

Columnists and features?  These would be purchased from news agencies that would be in the business of gathering news a la Reuters (England), AFP (France), Associated Press and United Press International (U.S.A.).  And advertisements?  Of course local papers would not be able to charge the way “national” papers charge right now but the bounty may lie in increased volume by local businesses and event planners.  In addition, low cover prices of such newspapers would guarantee substantial sales.  Cost, in these days of the web, would be considerably less than for “national” daily. To advertise a car for sale in the Las Vegas Journal on Sundays some years ago cost me about twenty dollars which, considering the earning standard there, was very reasonable.  There were therefore not only cars advertised for sale but tons of household used items daily, but especially on Sundays.

There is hardly any state capital or fair-sized town that cannot support a daily newspaper in Nigeria.

The Comet on Sunday, September 2004



Nigerian newspapers and online news sources
  • 234 Next News site
  • Bella Naija Magazine
  • Business Day Newspaper
  • Daily Champion Newspaper
  • Daily Independent Newspaper
  • Daily Trust Newspaper
  • Elendu Reports News site
  • Emotan Blog
  • Huhu online News site
  • jhova blog Blog
  • Leadership News site
  • Linda Ikeji Blog
  • National Daily Newspaper
  • Nigeria Plus News site
  • Nigeria Village Square News site
  • Nigerian Observer News site
  • Osun Defender News site
  • PM News Newspaper
  • Punch Newspaper
  • Sahara Reporters News site
  • Sun Newspaper
  • The Guardian Newspaper
  • This Day Newspaper
  • Tribune Newspaper
  • Vanguard Newspaper

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