Revving up community newspapers in Lagos
Long before the advent of new media, community media had been the voice of established and developing cities in information dissemination. The nationalists in the pre-Independence era used community media (Lagos Weekly Record, Lagos Standard etc) to struggle for recognition and inclusion of the Nigerian educated elite in the government of their fatherland. The inception of regional governments, which set up regional newspapers led to the shift of patronage and resources to region-wide reporting.
There and then, their dwindling fate today after a hardnosed brush with national newspapers was long in coming. Of the lot still struggling to survive in a nail-biting and competitive industry, Oriwu Sun, based in Ikorodu and managed by Alhaji Monsor Olowosago since inception in 1985, stands apart as a success story, after managing to be in business for 30 years.
This disturbing fate of this all important grassroots medium is about to change with the decision of the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode to empower community media as a critical partner in mobilising the communities for development and democracy.
The first major initiative was a maiden conference with media organisations active in community reporting hosted by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Communication and Communities, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, last month. It was attended by print media such as Oriwu Sun, Ikorodu Times, Epe Times, Our Community, The Grassroot and The Commoners.
This was followed up at the weekend by workshop on community media organised by the Office of Special Adviser, Communities & Communications and the Growth & Employment in States (GEMS3) with the theme ‘Tool for vibrant democratic governance,’ held in Lagos, where over 20 community newspapers represented.
Bamigbetan said the capacity building workshop was to sensitize grassroots media practitioners on how to make them successful and how they can partner with government to drive development at the grassroots.
“We want to bring back the good old days. In 1920, there were about 25 community newspapers in Lagos alone. We all know all politics is local and that is the only way to deepen democracy, when the grassroots have a voice through a community media.
“Our role as government is to empower practitioners. For example, next year, the state government will be launching an empowerment programme of over N25 billion across four years and the first tranche will be N6 billion in the first six months, which will provide credit for small businesses and struggling enterprises like many of the community media.”
The workshop was a forum for the publisher of Oriwu Sun to espouse his secrets of sustaining a grassroots newspaper in a hostile environment, where an edition of the paper once produced about 120 pages of advert.
“It is a paper that carries news about Ikorodu and it does not circulate beyond Ikorodu, except for our clienteles and subscribers across the state. So, it services the people in the community. Everyone who has a naming ceremony will buy the paper, anybody who has any event in that community will buy the paper, so they read stories of Ikorodu, which they cannot read elsewhere. Anybody in Ikorodu will always patronize Oriwu Sun.”
Speaking on the challenges facing rural community newspapers, Olowosago highlighted funding as a huge problem. “Like any other paper, community newspapers go through what is called ‘Gestation Period’. Gestation period is when a newspaper just emerges and the readership of the paper is still persisting and has not affected it financially. Within that period, it has to fund itself and it requires a lot of money to do that. So you still have to find your feet and also write to the interest of the readers, and it takes money to do that. A lot of people don’t have that kind of money.
“Secondly, a lot of people also don’t understand publishing. Some people that I have come across will say they want to publish a rural community newspaper, they will say ‘well, let me just start up, after three months, I will get money that will begin to reproduce more money.’ No! It doesn’t happen that way. They are quarks, they are not communicators,” he said.
Rising from the workshop, the participants, led by Japheth Odesanya, produced a communiqué, some of the contents including: that the Lagos State Government patronize the community media in its marketing and publicity programmes, forming an association of community media organisations to develop the genre to provide regular intelligence to the people, encourage better relations with local governments and win the confidence of the community stakeholders, participants resolve to make better use of the FOI Act, and that information units at the Local Government Level be strengthened for better community/media relations.
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