Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Last week Kenyan capital Nairobi played host to the 20th edition of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalist Awards 2015.

The event which has become the continent’s premiere journalism award saw Burkinabe Hyacinthe Sanou win the journalist of the year award with his story on the failed bid by former president Blaise Campaore to ram a constitutional amendment to allow him run for a third term.

During the last two decades of the competition Kenyans have hogged the accolades roping in eight top winners followed by South Africa with five  and Nigeria, three. Uganda has managed a solitary overall victory in 2007.

“The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. For to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves - and the better the teacher, the better the student body,” US billionaire investor Warren Buffett has said in the past...

That statement need no qualification, which brings into sharp relief of the awards – probably the most sustained effort at awarding African journalists ever.

But there are new changes in the journalism landscape that, prompted by changes in technology primarily and global economics.

For one the press, which include broadcast platforms, no longer have a monopoly over information dissemination.

A discussion hosted for journalists during the three days of events surrounding the award ceremony came to the conclusion --- in not so many words, that social media driven by the growing proliferation of smart phones is muscling traditional media out of the way.

The future of media may very well be that current media powerhouses will be reduced to vetting news from citizen journalists for consumption by their audiences. Consumers may be drawn to them for their credibility. The media houses may fall by the way side if they cannot hold their target markets captive.

Essentially, more than now media houses we live or die by their reputation. The fickleness of the digital crowd means that one mistake will mean herd movements away from one media house to another in case of mistakes or shift in content away from the taste of the consuming public.

Out of necessity the business models of media houses will have to change. They will be leaner, flatter and quicker.

One media owner suggested that the newsroom of the future will have an overabundance of techies, outnumbering regular journalists four-to-one.

This has far reaching ramifications for information dissemination especially in countries in which digital technology is not as developed or is being curtailed.

In the beginning the strongest man was the most powerful; then it was the richest man who could finance armies and project his will beyond his outstretched fist but now and into the future it is the man with the control of information --- its generation and dissemination who rules.

The basis of all wealth is information or knowledge. Any attempt to compromise the gathering and dissemination will put the potential benefactors at a disadvantage.

Which brings us neatly to Buffett --- who says a society is better depending on the quality of its journalists and the CNN/Multichoice awards.

"Behaviour that is celebrated is repeated. Awarding good journalism means good journalism will be repeated....

People may frown at what is celebrated – mostly stories of doom and gloom around the continent, but this does not take away from the rigour and skill required, which can be replicate in other stories that may reflect a more positive outlook.

Improving the business environment is not only restricted to improvements infrastructure and social services but also in the free flow of information, which will allow people to make rational economic decisions.

In fact the asymmetries in access to information between peoples and countries is what accounts for wealth disparities.

In short it’s in the business community’s interest to support good journalism, even if they are not media houses, especially in an environment where governments in their inability to control the message see journalists more as a nuisance than an enabler of development.

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