The last of touch and feel readers

Just like dinosaurs such as myself are transitioning from physical newspapers to the digital world, the future of the traditional medium appears as uncertain as the old media. Early this year, the giant US online retailer Amazon ceased offering subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. The giant online retailer did not provide a reason for this sudden action, though it is evident that fewer and fewer individuals are subscribing to these services. Consequently, continuing to support subscribers for Amazon would have been a financially unwise decision.

The sale of news subscriptions has historically proven challenging for many medium-sized organizations, including those here in Kenya. Therefore, the question arises: Are people avoiding news? This is the million-dollar question preoccupying managers of numerous news organizations globally.

A significant number of middle-aged people in Kenya have fond memories of reading newspapers, a habit inherited from their parents. Slightly over a decade ago, the media industry in Kenya was thriving with big players such as the Nation Media Group (NMG) recording substantial profits. The tide has, however, turned and companies are struggling.

In 2022, NMG experienced a decline in net profit, which fell to Kes315.2 million compared to Kes491.8 million in the previous year. This year will mark the third consecutive year of decreasing profitability, attributed to shrinking revenues and increasing complexity in the media space for mainstream players. “Following review of the Company’s forecast performance for the current trading period, the Board of Directors has determined that the earnings for the financial year ending 31 December 2023 will be lower than the earnings for the previous year by at least 25 percent,” NMG announced in its latest filing at the Nairobi Securities Exchange in October.

Regrettably, newsrooms are now experiencing tough times as a digital onslaught siphons both revenue and talent away from mainstream media organizations. Journalists’ unions are calling on regulators to investigate the crisis at NMG rival, the Standard Media Group, where employees at Kenya’s oldest news organization have gone without salaries for over six months.

The Kenya Union of Journalists, the Association of Media Women in Kenya, and the Association of Freelance Journalists – Kenya have urged the Capital Markets Authority to initiate an inquiry into allegations of mismanagement that have led the company into a financial crisis.

A quick survey shows millennials and Generation Z hardly spare a moment to scan the top headlines at city newsstands these days. Most of the newspapers they read, if at all, are those obtained at their workplace or when a specific edition is referred to, such as for a job advert.

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Gen Z consuming news via social media

The industry is evolving rapidly, with younger generations like millennials and Generation Z consuming news through digital platforms and social media. Growing up in a digital era, they have different expectations and preferences compared to older generations. This shift in news consumption is further contributing to the decline in the readership of traditional newspapers.

So, is there a problem with the news today? On one hand, many people claim that bias is the issue with newspapers. The traditional news industry is facing a crisis of credibility and trust due to instances of false news, biased reporting, and outright disinformation. Some readers have turned to alternative sources or questioned the veracity of conventional news organizations as a result.

On the other hand, some media colleagues argue that the business model might be the main issue, as there is an abundance of bad content. News no longer inspires hope in a populace that is already worn out.

According to research from the Reuters Institute, every fourth American (42%) occasionally or frequently avoids the news. This percentage in the US is slightly higher than the 30 percent averaged across other nations. People now prefer consuming news online instead of in print newspapers, thanks to the internet and other forms of digital technology.

To adapt, many traditional newspapers are investing in digital platforms, implementing paywalls, and focusing on developing robust online presences to reach audiences in the digital world and stem the tide. However, the shift in readership patterns and the changing media landscape continue to pose significant obstacles for traditional newspaper businesses.

The convenience and immediacy of accessing news online, coupled with the availability of a wide range of sources, have significantly impacted the readership of traditional newspapers. The rise of online news outlets, including established organizations and independent bloggers, has intensified the competition for readership. Online news platforms often offer free or low-cost access to news, making it challenging for traditional newspapers that typically rely on subscription fees or print advertising revenue.

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