1.1 Background of the study
Universally, and overtime, newspapers have continued to play indispensable roles in modern society. By conveying local, regional, national and international news to readers, newspapers are vehicles of information and channels of communication across societal strata (Bankole & Babalola, 2011). They help in forming, developing and shaping public opinion as well as act as mirror of society (John, 2013, paras. 2, 61).
Besides acting as a medium of education and entertainment to readers as well as promotion of businesses, newspapers also spearhead the fight for socio- political justice. From mounting irrepressible opposition against colonialism in the 1920s-1960s to exposing the Watergate Scandal in the United States that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 (Rodman, 2006, p. 86,88); from reporting the economic fraud that led to the conviction of Tafa Balogun as Inspector General of Nigeria Police in 2005, to exposing the house refurbishment scam that led to the resignation of Mrs. Patricia Eteh as Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives in 2007 (Alawode, 2008), and unmasking the $6.8billion fuel subsidy scam in 2012, it is obvious that across the world, newspapers act as the watchdog of the society (Adisa, 2009, p.13). Indeed, the mass media fulfills the vital role of the fourth estate of the realm and defender of public interest (Underwood, 2008, p. 1).
Given these central roles of newspapers in modern societies, there have been unprecedented investments in the print media industry in Nigeria. Thus, from the publication of the first newspaper- Iwe Orihon- in 1859 at Abeokuta by Reverend Henry Townsend to the emergence of a strong and vibrant indigenous press in Nigeria from 1914 to 1960 and beyond, both government and private individuals have invested in newspaper publication in Nigeria. Sobowale (1985, p. 30) notes that one of the factors that spurred the rapid growth of the press in Nigeria included not only increased literacy levels among Nigerians, but also the consciousness of intellectuals whose interest in socio-political and economic matters fuelled the quest to contribute to national discourse through the mass media.
Owolabi and O’neil (2013, p. 250) found that between 1880 and 1937 there were 51 newspapers; between 1937 and 1960, 39 newspapers were established and between 1960 and 2008, 168 newspapers and 48 magazines were in circulation in Nigeria. The period between 1971 and 1984 saw the expansion of government and private press such that more licences were granted to private individuals: The Punch (1973), ThisDay (1975); The National Concord (1980), The Guardian (1983), and Vanguard (1984) (Maringues, 2001).
New printing technologies also encouraged a surge in production. As times went by, these newspapers posted large profit margins and wide daily national circulation going into hundreds of thousands of copies. In fact, The Tide which was established in 1971 recorded a circulation of thousands of copies per day while Daily Times in 1980 had a daily circulation of 500,000. But since then, times have changed.
Since the turn of the 21s tcentury, newspapers across the country have recorded a sharp decline in revenue and drop in production and circulation. According to a 2010 study by the Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), the daily sales figures of all the newspapers in Nigeria were less than 300,000 copies. This meant that only one out of 470 Nigerians buy newspapers daily, and according to Popoola (2010) this implies that all the newspapers in Nigeria combined had a daily circulation less than Daily Times’ 500,000 in 1980 when Nigeria’s population was far less than what it is today. Abdulraheem et al (2012, p.2) opines that the foregoing is supported by mounting stockpiles of unsold copies of newspapers in the circulation departments of print media organisations in Nigeria. Ige (2013) even urged Nigerian newspapers to go into “total newspapering” which goes beyond the traditional functions of the print media as a survival strategy, while James (2013) recommended “entrepreneurial strategies” to remain in business.
While scholars and practitioners in the print media industry point to global economic crises in recent times (which reduced the purchasing powers of readers) as one of the reasons behind the universal decline in newspaper circulation across the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, they however unanimously agree that the availability of the news on the internet in recent times is the primary cause of the decline (Norris, 2000; Domingo & Heinonem, 2008; Barthelemey et al, 2011; Nnagbo, 2011; Samman et al, 2011).
The availability of news on the Internet has engineered online readership of newspapers across Nigeria with print media organisations responding by lowering production, reducing the number of hard copies that goes into daily circulation and going online to remain relevant in the scheme of things. This is because of the numerous features and benefits of online newspapers over the print editions: it is cheap, convenient, portable, interactive, spontaneous and on-the-go (Quandt et al, 2006; Talabi, 2011). Online newspaper readership has affected the newspaper revenue in terms of revenue from advertising and sale of print copies (Kirchhoff, 2010) as well as impacted on all stages of the newspaper production routines and processes (Rogel et al., 2015).
In pursuance of the foregoing therefore, this study seeks to examine the impact of online newspaper readership on newspaper production process in Nigeria, with particular emphasis on The Tide Newspaper of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
1. 2 Statement of the problem:
In a remarkable statistics, Ekeng (2010) informs us that while The Punch, the most popular Nigerian newspaper, sells merely 34, 264 copies per day, Daily Sun and The Guardian sell 25, 632 and 25, 222 copies respectively per day. In sharp contrast however, Oseni and Ehis (2013) disclosed that online newspapers in Nigeria record large readership with Nigeria Newsdesk and DailyPost garnering a whooping 443,923 and 182,480 online readers respectively per day. This undoubtedly has had its tolls on newspaper production in Nigeria. One is however left wondering what the position is in relation to The Tide Newspaper, Port Harcourt.
While Usen (2010) studied the impact of internet browsing on journalism practice in The Tide Newspaper, there is however no publicly-available scholarly work that has directly studied the impact of online newspaper readership on newspaper production process in Nigeria, with The Tide Newspaper as a focal point. This work therefore seeks to fill that scholarly void by examining how online newspaper readership impacts on newspaper production process in Nigeria, with The Tide Newspaper as a case study.
1. 3 Objectives of the study
The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of online newspaper readership on newspaper production process in Nigeria with The Tide as a case study. In specific terms, the study aims to:
1. Determine the impact of online newspaper readership on newsgathering and editing in The Tide;
2. Examine the impact of online newspaper readership on the number of hard copies of The Tide printed daily; and
3. Determine the impact of online newspaper readership on operating revenue in The Tide.
1. 4 Research questions
This study will be undertaken to answer the following research questions:
1. Does online newspaper readership impact newsgathering and editing in The Tide?
2. Does online newspaper readership impact the number of print copies in The Tide? and
3. Does online newspaper readership impact operating revenue in The Tide?
1.5 Significance of the study
The study will be useful to the management of The Tide Newspaper in accessing the readership base of their production. The Rivers State Government that has controlling interest in The Tide Newspaper as well as investors in the print media industry will also find it valuable. And, given the fact that the work adds to a stock of materials on the subject while bringing a new perspective to the subject, it will be vital to media scholars and researchers.
1.6 Scope of the study
This study is specifically designed to examine the impact of online newspaper readership on newspaper production in Nigeria with The Tide as a reference point. It therefore excludes such other variables as human resources, business environment, government policies and competition that do have impacts on newspaper production generally.
1.7 Limitations of the study
The time earmarked for the study is relatively short as the researcher has to jumble it with tedious final year academic works. Also, since this topic is novel, the research will be faced with challenges in accessing publicly-available materials that directly deal with the subject of study.
1.8 Definition of terms
Within the context of this study, the following terms are defined thus:
Online Newspaper: a newspaper that exists on the Internet either separately, or as an online version of a printed periodical.
Newspaper Readership: the number of people who read or are thought to read a particular newspaper.
Online Newspaper Readership: the number of people who read or are thought to read a particular newspaper on the internet.
Newspaper Production: a collection of processes leading to the printing and or publication of a newspaper.
The Tide Newspaper: a Port Harcourt-based daily tabloid established in 1971 and owned by the Rivers State Government.