Who’s running the show at newspapers?

Blogging the African Leadership Conference in Kenya, Nairobi

Dr Peter Mwesige, Acting Head, Mass Communication Department, Makerere University and Former Executive Editor Monitor Publications in Uganda delivered an interesting speech on “African quality journalism”. He emphasised that if we treat the media “like any other business”, we distort the principles of journalism. He noted that there obviously needs to be a healthy mix with regards to the drive for profitability and good journalism, but that the drive for profitability seems to be affecting the craft of journalism. He’s right.

Mwesige noted that product development at media houses is often driven by advertising and marketing departments rather than journalists themselves – journalists have merely become the implementers in many cases. For example, new sections or areas created by newspapers are more a response to an advertisers need than the value of the content itself. This obviously holds true for the special advertising supplements/features and surveys that papers often do, but obviously not for the core news and analysis and comment sections, which I believe are not influenced by advertisers on most serious media.

He is right… but I don’t think journalists have merely become implementers. I think new product development ideas come from BOTH the editorial departments and marketing/advertising departments from my experience, because interest from the readers in a content genre/new editorial product decided by an editorial department and a desire for an advertiser for a particular content genre to be covered so they can advertise in it mostly intersect. Readers are also consumers; consumers are also readers too.

I don’t mind who develops a new product at a media house, as long as it has editorial value. I don’t care who drives it.