Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Uncertain future for online journalism in Ghana

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Online journalism in Ghana does have a future, but that future is shaky. As more and more people surf the Internet for news and information, the opportunities are just unlimited.

Online news sources have become some form of reliable sources of news and information for Ghanaians both at home and abroad. Indeed, the online sources have become a source of news leads to radio and TV stations in the country, and some online news sources have found the radio and TV stations useful as sources of news.

Unlike the US and the UK where online media has thrived and often threatened newspapers, in Ghana both newspapers and online news sources are struggling. They are struggling for survival as advertising revenue goes round within a small cycle of news organisations.

While most online news sources in Ghana do not earn advertising revenue, online media in the US and UK generate income enough to sustain them as businesses.

In the US, online advertising revenue reached $12.1 billion for the first half of 2009, an increase of 11.3 per cent compared to the same period in 2008.

According to a report by The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC US, a division of PricewaterhouseCoopers, display-related advertising-which includes banner ads, rich media, digital video and sponsorships-totalled more than $4.4 billion in the first six months of 2010, showing a significant increase of close to 16 per cent over the same period in 2009.

Despite this increase in online advertising in the US, however, some popular online news sources are shutting down.

The latest casualty is the Seattle-based political news site PubliCola.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, despite its strong readership, the site has closed down because it was not making advertising revenue.

The Review cited founder Josh Feit saying in a post that the site is quite popular, with “more than 400,000 monthly page views during the election season and currently more than 10,000 Facebook and Twitter followers.” But that doesn’t always equal commensurate returns.

“We haven’t been successful as a business. Advertising revenue has been limited and inconsistent,” he writes.

The challenges that online journalism in Ghana is however  facing is on two fronts: it has an integrity crisis and there is no advertising revenue.

A couple of months ago, the Ghana version of South African football news site, Kickoff.com shut down because it wasn’t making advertising revenue in the country.

While a few websites in Ghana are raking in huge amounts of money in advertising revenue, they are largely lacking in professionalism.

These websites are run mostly by non-professional journalists whose main interest is to use the platform first as a business and therefore do not pursue the basic norms guiding journalism.  And journalists working for some of these online news sources do not have the independence to practice according to the tenets of the profession.

And while most of these websites claim to be aggregators, they continuously engage in plagiarism. They generate very little original content and they don’t always acknowledge the sources from where they copy news and publish on these sites. While they would sometimes credit sources for the news, they often attribute incorrectly.

Additionally, they publish libellous, defamatory and unverified information. They also do not take the sensibilities of their visitors into consideration, by publishing offending graphic images without warning.

These situations, lack of advertising revenue and integrity endanger the future of online journalism in Ghana, and that is notwithstanding the fact that a number of practicing Ghanaian journalists are beneficiaries of the prestigious International Institute of Journalism (IJJ) in Germany and the Radio Netherlands Training Centre in Holland. These international institutions select applicants every year to undergo periods of training in online journalism.

But these journalists do not seem to influence online journalism the way they should, leaving the field to non-professionals. They are not even blogging effectively! Could it be that the selection teams for these programmes select the wrong candidates?

It is however, hard to say at this point what will save the future of Ghana’s online journalism, which in its present form is very distressing.

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