The plights of journalists seeking self independence


by Justice Okamgba

There is an ongoing trend within the media. Journalists are quitting their jobs as members of the mainstream media to establish their own news websites and blogs. This trend isn’t entirely a new phenomenon, it’s has been happening for approximately 5 to 7 years. this has become especially prevalent in Nigeria.

For most journalists, the rationale behind setting up their new-websites usually stems from the desire to be independent. To escape the pressures associated with the Monday morning editorial meetings. The excruciating rush to make deadlines. The ability to create powerful exclusive stories. There are many other reasons also. The ability to quit working in the mainstream media and establish your personal news platform is not the easiest thing to do.

Changing from an employed journalist to an independent one requires strategic financial planning because you are not going to receive a guaranteed salary anymore. You are also going to subtly lose the reputation that goes along with being published in and having your bye line under the umbrella of a top-notch daily newspaper. When reaching for creative freedom you are relying on your personal reputation as a journalist and your own personal media organization. You are losing all the safe perks received as an employed journalist and you will now need to struggle to build the reputation of your own personal news website to standard. Not very many journalists are willing to make that bold move.

According to “Internetlivestats”, there are over 1.5 billion journalistic websites on the world wide web today. Of these, less than 200 million are active. This simply means that any journalist who is thinking of having his or her own website will compete for any potential advertising available with many other existing websites within the same niche.

Sadly, many journalists who were able to make this move are still struggling to build their brand. Some have been in the business for over 5 years and are yet to figure out how to reach the millions of readers that they need to become a trusted brand and to be able to monetize their website. It’s difficult to comprehend why they find it so difficult to understand the basics and do what is right to achieve a reputable and trusted brand.

Any journalist who is planning to venture in this should be aware that news-websites or blogs require a digital and financial investment. Without these investments, you will end up going around in circles. This is common amongst many Nigerian journalists. The Returns on Investment (RoI) are usually found within your online reputation and monetary gains. Not many journalists are ready to invest the money due to their limited income, digital ignorance and investment apathy.

Frankly, the majority of a journalist who operates news websites in Nigeria depend on honorariums from events, such as press conferences or product launches. Only well-known veterans from top traditional media houses get the opportunity to attend these events. It’s a big challenge for a media newbie who is still attempting to build a quality relationship with prospective clients. You can imagine what happens if a journalist didn’t get an invitation to an event. Mind you, not all events managers provide an honorarium for journalists.

More worrisome is the fact that a larger fraction of journalists does not have the appetite to invest. Therefore, it is imperative to first take time to rethink and unlearn what they have been told or learned about setting up a news website. It cannot be as easy as you think it should be when you work from the comfort of your home without planning a long term investment.

A serious-minded journalist should be able to own a reputable news website within a 5 year period. Investments on Search Engine Optimization, digital media, social media marketing, branding, etc commence after a news website has been set up. These investments are non-negotiable. That’s not the situation with many journalists. It can end up with their website not been indexed by Google. In other words, Google doesn’t recognize all websites. To them, it’s all about the writing content along with the ability to upload on the website.

It’s also unfortunate that some of them lack basic digital skills such as website management, digital advertising, digital design, Search Engine Optimization and amongst other skills they must be capable of making their news-websites top-notch. For any journalist to effectively run this venture, they must have a compendium of these skills. Even if you hired a skilled person to handle some of the website operations. You must at least understand the fundamentals and the rationale involved to be able to hire a skilled person.

Although digital advertisement revenue has been growing exponentially, a majority goes to Facebook and Google rather than to publishers. This is the sad truth because some clients prefer to advertise their products and services directly into Google and Facebook to be able to have their Ad banner displayed on a news website especially the ones that possess a reputation that is not well known. However, no matter the competition involved in obtaining advertising revenue, there are certain news websites that will never run out of Ads.

Importantly, the money is there for these individually owned news websites or blogs to attract. It’s left sitting there for these journalists to do what is needed to be able to be considered a viable candidate for these adds. You need to operate as a business entity by investing in the early stages of your venture. Once you are doing this, your role is more about to be guaranteed in the years ahead.

Justice Okamgba writes from Lagos. He is a journalist, SEO specialist, and a web designer.

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