The media has a great role to play in development, but in today’s environment of crass materialism and pursuit of profit, good journalism done through obscure channels is not well-supported. This is hurting democracy in less developed countries, and the media’s ability to report society.
Take The Guardian, one of the most widely read newspapers in Nigeria, for example. Its articles are well-researched, and the columnists provide great insight into national and international affairs. Its articles and news stories have formed the opinion of millions of Nigerians, and the paper is well patronized. As a journalist, I read the paper almost every day to get the latest news and information.
But a lot of times, I wonder if a mainstream newspaper can get alternative messages across to readers.
Take Sahara Reporters.com, a radical blog, as another example. This platform reports often controversial political stories, and its depth of research is well above the trash Nigerians are fed by mainstream press. It has reported on corruption, electoral malpractices, shenanigans in the banking sector, etc. But who reads it? It’s an online newspaper, and many are yet to explore the treasures of this medium.
Other Nigerian blogs are also daring. Packed with news absent from mainstream newspapers, they have audience both within and outside the country. The audience is engaged with news and information not fed readers by the popular press. Week after week, they give inside information about politics, sports and entertainment. And this is exactly what the public craves for: news behind the news, the trashy details and lurid stories. But they are not well-supported because they are not in the mainstream.
I don’t think journalism ethics should be disregarded by the new media. It is important stories are true. But the concept of revealing information mainstream newspapers cannot publish is genius. People read the news because the stories can be over the top and astonishing.
The role the social media played during the recent Nigerian elections illustrates the importance of this need. They brought readers in through engaging discussion, and kept them coming back through news, video, photo and election results. The video and photos showed the election right to the polling booths. The people behind the exercise did not sacrifice truth. It is a unique development in a complex country like Nigeria, and it deterred the snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral malpractice. Unfortunately, social media has limited audience, and the work of practitioners and others is not well-supported.
I feel this medium has the right to promote, preserve and defend freedom of expression. Ultimately, as we continue to develop communication for development purposes, we will see the importance of supporting often overlooked platforms that rise up and tell the truth. Through social media, society may be able to have a better pulse on news. It can publish what mainstream dare not transmit to the public: information that does not conform to the norm, independent stories free from government control and radical insight to social and political issues. Society can do without mistakes, but it also wants to know the truth.