The myth and the controversy generated by the alleged letter written by Iyabo Obasanjo, daughter of former president Olusegun Obasanjo suggested that it is in the interest of the media organization to acknowledge the source of the information. To date, no one can say with absolute certainty whether the letter was genuinely written by Iyabo, or whether it is a political fabrication.
The second observation regarding the letter from Obasanjo is the growing rivalry between traditional and new media. Online publications have one major advantage; they can easily break stories, and continue providing update within a 24 hour news circle, not all the traditional media enjoy the luxury of having separate editorial boards for the online and traditional outfits, each taking independent decisions in running its stories while at the same time complementing each other.
Recent trends in journalism suggest that for the traditional media to compete with online news media, they need more investment in building new media platforms. The Washington Post, New York Times, Daily Mail are typical examples of how they use online news platforms to break stories. They understand that the 21st century audience does not have the patience to wait for 24 hours before getting in-depth analysis and update on the story. They do that with an eye on other online news competitors such as BBC News online that is run by separate editorial teams.
The issue of positioning also comes to mind here, a lot of the emerging online news organizations do not have adequate journalistic training, compared to those in the traditional media, therefore some of them are quick to break stories in order to solidify their market positioning, and increase popularity but do not always pay attention to following a rigorous editorial procedure in order to ensure the accuracy of the story. The traditional media needs to make a decision between quickly jumping on the bandwagon to break a story, and ensuring the credibility of the information before making it public. I believe both the traditional and new media need to learn from each other.
The third observation the controversy generated is on ethics, originality and courtesy. There are a lot of ethical challenges faced by the media industry, some of which are universal and others peculiar to the Nigerian situation. This controversy has highlighted the inability of a section of the Nigerian media to live up to the basic standard of the journalism profession. There are a lot of factors responsible for this. First is journalism training itself. The institutions that train our journalists, from polytechnics to universities suffer from shortage of the basic infrastructure required to train future journalists.
Second, the imbalance between academics who teach journalism, and professionals from the industry who train the students on ‘the field experience’ is so wide, to the extent that when students graduate from the college or university, they are not ready to go into practice, rather, their new employers have to retrain them, before they could be ready to function as proper journalists.
Third, journalism is a profession that goes with passion, and you have so many people who joined simply because they could not get job elsewhere. Therefore whatever comes their way; they append their names on to it and send to their bureaus.
The Nigerian Union of Journalists has an important role to play here by revisiting the code of conduct of the Nigerian media, and devise ways to address the future confrontation between sister institutions. Media houses themselves, should create partnership among themselves which in practice even the global media industry pursues.
I do not see any reason why Premium Times will not establish partnership with the Daily Trust or Guardian or Blueprint newspapers, or Sahara Reporters with the Punch, Leadership or People’s Daily newspapers. Such partnership exists for instance between CNN and ABC News, with that kind of official partnership, if none exists already, the news organisations that publish purely on online platforms, and the traditional ones that produce both hard copies and publish online versions, can easily exchange stories, train staff, use the bylines of reporters, and even share offices in the areas where only one of the partners has a bureau. This could go a long way in solving the accusation and counter accusation of plagiarism, originality and ethics. What do you think?