By Waheed Odusile
Media and surviving strategy; post COVID-19
Permit me dear colleagues to skip the greetings and associated protocols often adopted at gatherings like this in Nigeria which I believe are not necessary.
Maybe I am guilty of it even with the little I have just said.
But then I believe it is necessary to congratulate the organisers of this event, Journalists International Forum On Migration (JIFORM) not just for this virtual gathering, but also the idea behind the formation of JIFORM itself.
The Forum President, Abayomi Ajibola and his team deserve our commendations.
Sometime early last year, 2019, I was in Brussels, Belgium for a forum like this but on death penalty. It was the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, organised by a group like JIFORM with support from the European Union, the Belgian Government and other partners. I am saying this to encourage JIFORM to look into that direction and probably start with an All Africa Congress Against Migration and I’m sure you will get support not only from Africa but even internationally, especially in Europe, from such countries as Italy, Spain, France and even the United Kingdom.
Your work would make a great impact here in Africa and leave an indelible mark if you get governments across our continent, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, to stop what I consider to be second movement of Africans into slavery across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
While our forbears were forcefully taken away and sold into slavery in the first exercise in the 18th century, today their sons and daughters are willingly walking or should I say migrating into slavery under the guise of looking for greener pastures elsewhere outside our continent.
This migration is not even organised formally as you have in Asia for instance where the government is involved in shipping cheap workforce to say, the Middle East. Here it is crudely organised by shadowy groups who not only exploit, extort, but also assault, at times sexually, the voluntary emigrants.
Scenes across the Mediterranean on the shores of Italy, Spain, Malta et al of hungry, sickly and emancipated African emigrants arriving in rickety boats and being denied berthing by the authorities evoke memories of Vietnamese “Boat People” of the 80s. As a Foreign Affairs Correspondent then, I felt bad that human beings could be treated in such an inhuman manner by fellow human beings just because they were poor and looking for a better life than what they had in their home country. I felt it should never have happened and when it ended I thought it would never happened again. How wrong I was.
If what I have been saying sounds like a digression, I think it was deliberate because I want JIFORM and indeed the media to understand and appreciate the enormity of the problem we have at hand with irregular migration. The media has a huge role to play here, especially in this pandemic era when these mostly undocumented emigrants are left to fight for their lives all alone.
The media across the world must rise up and fight for them in the interest of humanity.
The regular migrants, those who have been taken away by the brain drain phenomenon that has been afflicting Africa for a long time now, do not suffer things like this even though they too have their peculiar problems deserving the attention of the media.
At the moment, the world is focused on the pandemic of the novel Coronavirus and its associated COVID-19 disease ravaging the universe. With the exception of a few countries, virtually all the nations of the world have felt the rapid expansion and infection of the virus; the Newsrooms across the globe are not even immune as a number of journalists, notable in India and even here in Nigeria have been stuck down by the virus. The Media workforce, journalists and non-journalists alike have come under the pangs of this virus and its associated disease. While the topic given to me by the organisers was specifically on the media post COVID-19 and as such restricts me from a foray into what as a unionist would like to discus, that is, welfare of journalist during and post COVID-19, I would like to state that the Nigeria Union of Journalists and all the other workers’ unions in the Media should use this COVID -19 experience to draw up and get a comprehensive insurance package for journalists and other media workers.
Like the frontline healthcare professionals/medics working to combat the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, journalists are also on the frontline fighting coronavirus/COVID-19, gathering information for the public from the theatre of operation. Whatever palliates or health insurance cover being given or planned for the frontline healthcare professionals, Journalists too deserve such.
Our unions (NUJ, RATTAWU, NUPROW) leaders must seize the opportunity, think ahead and protect not just the jobs of their members but their health and wellbeing as well.
My detour into the welfare of our members, workers in the media is deliberate. The most import resource in a workplace or an organisation is the Human Resources, the workers. But then there must be an organisation first before the workers can work there. Therefore, the health, good health of the organisation is equally important. As we are looking for the light at the end of COVID-19 dark tunnel, the media, including the owners, managers and workers must rethink their strategy as it will no longer be business as usual once the pandemic is over.
The post-COVID-19 media must draw a lesson from what is happening now that the pandemic is still with us and design the new normal for media business. The journalists, particularly their union, the NUJ, must do the same.
One issue this pandemic has thrown up is the possibility of working from home. Honestly I must confess, I’ve been enjoying working from home since the pandemic started, the distractions from the kids notwithstanding. The media must look seriously into this with a possibility of embracing it especially for field staff who don’t have to be in the office everyday. Such worker would include editorial, advertising and marketing who could do their work from the convenience of their homes.
To do this effectively will involve investment in ICT equipments and retraining of personnel. It may shock you to know that in this 21st century, some journalists are still ICT illetrates out of shear laziness and lack of desire for personal growth and development. They are still waiting for their employers to organize ICT training for them and also give the latest gadgets to work with. For such journalists or media workers, I say continue to wait for Godot! Some of them have enough money to buy the latest iPhones, Samsung and similar which they are not even using optimally, other than making and receiving calls, and sending text and WhatsApp messages. With your phone you can do a lot more, profitably too, working from home.
Most countries have introduced lockdowns as a way of slowing down the spread of the Coronavirus as they try to defeat the associated disease. This has also presented the media with another opportunity to tinker and innovate with its marketing strategies.
Since the lockdown here in Nigeria, media houses, especially the print media (newspapers and magazines) have resorted to publishing the e-paper and distributing and marketing it on line. This could ultimately become the new normal for newspaper circulation and marketing post-COVID-19. However, more work needs to be done on this to ensure that the media houses not only circulate their newspapers online to wider audiences, but also make additional money through subscriptions and other forms of payments.
The days of the newspaper vendor walking down the street nearby with piles of newspapers on his head or riding his bicycle with newspaper loads at the back, announcing his arrival blowing his beagle is gradually going extinct.
E-conferencing or virtual conferencing as we are having now looks to me to be part of that future for the media as we prepare for a list-COVID-19 media world. Everyone do not have to be in one place at the same time to meet and take decisions.
Daily editorial conferences in the Newsrooms could be virtual and decisions taken. Editorial meetings don’t necessarily have to disrupt other assignment, especially if participants have to travel across the town, city or state just to attend, albeit for few hours.
For the individual and the organisation, the post-COVID-19 media experience would involve significant investment in technology to succeed and I believe that the benefit would be worth all the efforts and investment at the end of the day. For the individual, it is an opportunity to make extra income working for different organisations at the same time, while exploring and developing your potentials.
The future for the media post-COVID-19 is not clear yet, yes, but we should be preparing for it now, even if we don’t know what it will look. But one thing is sure, the media won’t be the same after this pandemic. There must be an exit plan.
I thank you for your attention.