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Online publishing can liberate Nigerian journalists – Umunna

Online publishing can liberate Nigerian journalists – Umunna
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Isaac Umunna, Publisher of three online newspapers, News Express Nigeria (www.newsexpressngr.com), Daily Sports  (www.dailysportsng.com) and Economy Watch in this interview  with Adeyinka Akintunde speaks on his experience as an online newspapers  his experience so far  and the future of the media industry.

 

How did you start the business of online publishing, seeing that you were with the print industry?You are very right. All along, for over twenty years (since 1995), I have heard that passion to be a publisher and from 1999, I started trying my hands on print publishing. But one thing is that Print publishing is capital intensive. You need a lot of money; people have to invest a lot in you to achieve success in print. I was not fortunate to get people invest in me to be able to do print publication. So I started doing a lot of things on my one, some worked and some did not. Some had issues too.

And then, the era of online publications came, and I saw it as a golden opportunity of actualizing my dreams of being a publisher. As at that time, I was already publishing a magazine that kept changing name; from Transport Express to Transport and Business Express, and then to Business Express, just to survive.

Then, sometimes in August 2015, I was on duty in Abuja, and I was deliberating, and a thought came to me: why don’t you just go fully online? So I decided to split the magazine, then known as Transport and Business Express into two: News Express online daily, and a magazine; Business Express magazine, which eventually with the changes in time, has also gone online. So we fully operate online. We initially had the print and online papers running side-by-side, but now we operate online only.

What are some challenges you face as an online publisher?

Like any other branch of journalism, online publishing comes with a lot of challenges. It is a very serious business: I liken it to something like the radio, or television. You know in the radio you do not print, but you have your office, you have equipments, you have your staffs and you run cost. These things apply online too. If you are serious in the business, you must have your office, equipment, staffs and you must run cost. This means that you cannot succeed as an online publisher if you don’t have some reasonable amount of money.

Again, you need to be on the internet consistently. Where you do not have reliable internet options, it becomes a problem. For example, if you want to upload a story immediately it breaks, and you don’t have internet, you cannot work.  Another challenge is power supply. If you want to run a 24-hours publication, then you must make provisions for regular power supply, and we all know how challenging the issue of power supply can be in Nigeria today.

Another challenge is the issue of man-power, both for journalists and marketers. Many journalists in Nigeria still have a strong belief in print newspapers, despite the obvious challenges in print. They still prefer to work with print, so it is difficult getting good journalists to work with you on online newspapers. The same thing for marketers too, they only know how to market the print papers, and not online. So the challenges majorly are funding, reliable internet services, reliable power supply and man-power.

Umunna, first right, during a courtesy call on the General Manager External Relations, NLNG Limited, Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke.

On the issue of funding, how then do online newspapers like your own survive if funding is low?

That is a good question. I have encountered it a lot of times, and I reply by asking them: how does the radio survive? How does television survive? The truth is that they do not sell any copies. People get to their radio sets, tune to whatever station they want to listen to, and they listen without paying any money. The same thing for television too (except pay TV). So, how do they survive?

Basically it is through advertising. The advertiser is not so much interested in the medium that you are running. They have options, they can advertise outdoor, on billboards, print, radio and television. The interest of the advertiser is only where he can find the mass market that he is looking for, and he gives his advert to any medium he finds mass followership. It is not about whether you are on print or online, it is about your relevance and how you are able to stand very well in the market.

From what you’ve said, it means News Express has a lot of traffic

Well, it’s a miracle. When we started in August 2012 (and we are currently preparing for our fifth anniversary lecture which will take place on 28th September, 2017 at Ikeja Lagos), we started very modestly, but it kind of exploded and became popular. As we speak, it is one of the most popular, and influential newspapers in Nigeria. Right now, we have about one hundred million visits to our website annually, and that is quite massive. We have close to three hundred thousand people that read News Express all over the world. So, you can be right to say that we have a lot of traffic.

We are a clean paper, we are not a tabloid. It is a serious paper for decision makers. Again, we do not publish junk, we don’t publish nude photos, and we don’t publish dead bodies. These are things that other newspapers can do to get traffic, but we don’t so that everybody can be able to read the paper, both young and old. So for us to get the amount of traffic we are currently having can only be a miracle.

So we can safely say that is part of your success stories?

Yes and why is it so? A number of factors. One is our content. We are reliable. We don’t mislead our readers.  Another factor is that in the industry today, with all modesty, News Express has the most extensive circulation network. We have an aggressive circulation of our work. Whatever we publish, we viral it through Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Yahoo communities, Instagram, etc. We also do bulk SMS, and bulk e-mail. We do this aggressively for every story we publish, and this has helped us a lot.

Which will you say is thriving currently; the print newspaper or online?

There is a global trend. Print unfortunately is dying, both locally and internationally. The world is changing to the internet age. There was a popular magazine called Village voice in the US, that is migrating to online publication now. In Nigeria today, everybody is gradually going online, The Week Magazine, and PM News is going online, because print cannot cope

Why can’t they cope? Because readership has dropped drastically. Things that you want to deliver to people the next day have already been served to them online, free of charge, wherever they are. So when you come the next day, you become obsolete. Another factor is that adverts are shrinking because of the economic recession. So you find that newspapers are getting less patronage in terms of sale of copies, and in terms of patronage. The truth is that online newspapers have come to stay, and will keep getting bigger.

But Print will survive.  My argument is that at first we had print in journalism. After sometime, radio came, and it did not kill print. The two of them co-existed. As time went on, the television came. It did not kill print and radio.  The three of them survived together. Now online newspapers has cone, it will not kill print, and it will not kill the radio and television. The four of them will survive.

However, in all of these, only those who are very serious, dedicated and creative are going to survive. In Nigeria, few will survive, maybe in the next two or three decades, and the rest will die. That is natural, because they are failing to react to the changes of the times.

What are the future plans you have for the online newspapers that you run?

Well, our major challenge has been funding, but we are hoping that soon, we will get some serious funding, because, for now we have three main production time-belts every day. Each morning, at around 6AM, we send out a news broadcast, we do so again in the afternoon, and in the evening, but we want to run full 24-hours, whenever the breaking news comes, we don’t want to wait for any particular time, we just publish it.

We also see ourselves expanding more. As we speak now, we have reporters in Abuja, Kaduna, Enugu, Umuahia, Benin City and Akwa that we pay. We want to have in more places.

We are about to subscribe to NAN bulletin. That means we are talking about beefing up the content, expand our coverage, and more importantly, we are looking at how to catch more of young people who have interest in soft things, so we are looking at beefing up our coverage of entertainment, (soft things) that can catch young people.

We also want to expand our circulation. We hope to improve more in our bulk SMS. Our target is that wherever you are, you cannot escape News Express, and our other publications. It’s either you go to our website directly, or we reach you through e-mail, or we reach you through social media, or through SMS (your phone). Nobody should be able to escape from News Express. That is our goal and mission.

For now, have you achieved the purposes you had before now, concerning the paper?

I will say that I have reasons to thank God, because when I started News Express in 2012, I never imagined that it was going to grow to what it is today. It actually became accepted very fast, and right now, decision makers in politics, business and economy rely on News Express. The masses also rely on News Express. It is quite humbling. We are taken seriously, from the people in the streets, to government and presidency, everywhere you go to, people believe in News Express. It is a burden, a trust that we are happy to carry. So I will say that we have exceeded our expectations, and what we can do now is to build on what we have achieved, because people rely on us a lot.

 

Any advice for journalists, and online publishers?

I see online publishing as something that has come to liberate Nigerian journalists. If any journalist in Nigeria today is hard-working and prepared to suffer, he/she has no reason to work in a place where he/she is owed for one or two years, and will just sit there grumbling and complaining. Online publishing is just like an SME, that one can go into if you are prepared to work hard and suffer, you can actually start it.

So instead of complaining of being owed salary for one or two years, and working your head off for somebody else, you can try it. It is just about going into an area that nobody has gone into before, and if you work hard at it, luck can be on your side, and you become successful.

 

But when you advice people to try online journalism, in this situation where there is no money in the country, and you said…

(Cuts in) It’s not true, there is money in the country, it depends on how you operate. The truth is that as we speak now, people are going for summer holidays, people are going abroad in troops for medical tourism, people are going abroad for schooling, people are buying big mansions in Nigeria, people are buying big vehicles today, and people are doing business that is money. There is never a good time to go into business. At odd times, people complain, but some still go into the business and they make it. It depends on your mindset. Of you believe you can make it, you will make it, and if you believe otherwise, it will happen to you. It is more about the person, and what he wants from the business, not the system. The person is not to look at the constraints, but the prize of success, work hard at it, and he will turn out successful.

 

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