Home Opinion ‘Death’ of my vendor, By Steve Osuji

‘Death’ of my vendor, By Steve Osuji


MY LAST VENDOR: Ezekiel summoned courage one day and said to me: “Oga, I will soon stop coming out… I  want to change business,  this newspaper business is not working … people are not buying paper again,” Zikky said, very morose. He had been off and on for a while.
A few weeks after this conversation, my newspaper vendor in Lagos vanished – stall and all. It seems surreal still but since then, my regular supply of newspapers ceased. Ezekiel didn’t die. He just stopped selling newspapers.
Hitherto,  I  was a newspaper bug, in fact I  never thought the day would come that I wouldn’t go through the day’s papers. A habit one cultivated right from the university days, I had become addicted to not just daily reading but carrying the papers of the day about me.
In any city I stayed as much as two days, I would know the nearest vendors to my location. Almost all the vendors in Owerri knew me and I still have their phone numbers till date. At a point I became a pathetic customer and they would urge me to buy as many as I was wont and pay later.
Then in the last couple of years, their number began to shrink rapidly. Most of the newspaper vendors are gone today like Ezekiel… gone extinct. In Lagos, Abuja and Owerri, their numbers have thinned to near zero.

THE LAST NEWSPAPER: The vendors vanishing can only suggest there’s no more newspapers in the traditional hard copy format to sell because people are getting their information from  a nimbler platform. It also means that an entire epoch in human history and civilisation is dissolving before our eyes, unheralded,  unsung. Twenty first century tech disruption has gobbled up what may probably be its first major casualty, if not the most significant.
Vanishing with the good old newsprint art form is a vista of intellectual and technical exertions of man from the middle age till date. As we know,  the good old newspaper was a thing of high status and even higher symbol. In its hay days – it presented a heady enterprise for the great pen man and even more so for the upstart  publishers. The swaggering reporter had the readers/society by the scrotum while the imperious publisher had the powers of the day by the jugular. Together, journalist and publisher, they set agenda and ruled their worlds.
The newspaper was a sprawling open marketplace of ideas – literally, Ochanja or Dugbe where all shades of stuff (ideas) are sold and bought. Newspapers made and unmade the society. It is this now near extinct newsprint art form that yanked shifty Richard Nixon, from his high perch as the number one citizen on earth onto red earth terra firma. That was in 1974 when the Washington Post among other US newspapers harried Nixon the President of the United States out of office. That was the pinnacle of paper power; that was way before the world knew people power – when daily print run and circulation figures were in millions of copies daily among the best papers.
Today, my vendor ‘died’ because newspapers have died. Tens of line items in the newspaper value chain have died too – newsprint, ink, plate, distribution truck, and not the least, a sprawling community of presses among the last of which was the eponymously named Gus Community!

THE INDUSTRY DIED: A horde of the newspaper working community – in their hundreds- are also being dispersed by what seems like explosive mechanism of the ukpaka pod. Like my vendor, the regular journalist or traditional journalist as we like to be addressed, face extinction as the industry is in speedy atrophy. So also are photographers, printers, technicians,  typesetters, designers, suppliers, agents, etc.
New kids now occupy the media block. They call themselves mediapreneurs, content providers,  bloggers and all such. Even journalism may have become passé. A young drop out providing so-called ‘content’ to a blogger earns more than a wizened old journalist keeping an informed column in a newspaper space (if he’s gets paid at all).
The newspaper industry in Nigeria never rose to earn that brass button of  an industry. In other climes,  newspapering became big corporate giants quoted on the stock market but not so here. The few that ventured public (eg Daily Times) ran into a storm sooner. So, through these years, with the exception of one or two, (that manage to keep head above water though not yet scaled to sustainability), newspapering in Nigeria was an ill-run, unstructured exertion of a few egoistic people. Today, the landscape is chaotic. Nearly all displaced journalists are online publishers. A country in which every journalist is a publisher must be under some kind of spell.

GOING FORWARD: Newspapers in ordered climes had long built solid industries that stand them in good stead today. They are diversified businesses quoted on stock exchanges and running under strict corporate governance rules. They understand business projection, growth, earnings,  revenues, profits, diversification for scale and succession.
Way back, major newspapers in the US and Europe had affiliates,  radio, tv and cable outfits held in a conglomerate of diverse business portfolios. Here we have charlatan owners doing the same things for decades and paying slave wages when they pay at all.

NEWS IS NEWS IS NEWS: And till the end of time, news is a commodity that shall perpetually be on demand. Professor Ralph Akinfele told us this on the first day at the Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos. He said, know it ye greenhorns that your services, that which you are here to procure, are the only services that shall be in demand even on the last day for the people on one side of the divide shall be eager to know what’s happening on the other side. In other words, the fellow  in heaven would pay to know what’s happening in hell!
At the end of the day, it’s about gathering information properly and disseminating it profitably. To cut story short, it’s all about quality information gathering and dissemination services at some tidy profit – regardless of the platform. What we need in Nigeria today is a new beginning. We must wrench media ownership from wayward politicians. There’s need for scale, capacity, structure and professionalism, among others.

THE NAN MODEL, NEW MODEL: Why does NAN, for instance, continue to thrive even though it’s bugged down by bureaucratic inefficiencies? News business today is basically news agencyship: Mastering the art of gathering reliable/useful information at a bankable scale.
Imagine  a dozen editors/senior journalists converging to build a major online publishing conglomerate: audio, video and word  platform. That, of course,  would  be the go-to place  for readers, viewers, audiences and advertisers; not to mention other news outlets.
Cooperation and convergence seem the new trick.


Previous article
RULAAC writes IGP over false parade of Thaddeus Ojokoh by Imo Police Command as suspected cop killer
Next articleEkweremadu and the price of parts, By Lasisi Olagunju

Leave a Reply