The State of the Newspaper Industry – Progress, Challenges and Solutions Focus: Update on the Current State of the Newspaper Industry in Liberia
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PAL is the Publishers Association of Liberia with 15 print and online media institutions as 10 daily members and the rest weekly on approximately 45 newspapers nationwide.
We are appearing on newsstands daily at a time when the Liberian economy is in crisis, businesses are downsizing and workers are not being paid on time; getting a cost for the next production of your newspaper has become a nightmare, talk less about facing your overheads and paying staff in the absence of ads and big drop in sales as taxes and rent get closer from U.S.
Like all sectors of Liberian society, the media, especially the newspaper, are the first casualties and journalism has suffered a massive brain drain due to the exodus of people during the Liberian civil war, the recent Ebola and the COVID-19.
Most journalists working in the country at the time had little or no training or education programs available to them during the war years, which left them ill-prepared to work effectively.
Most of the media emerging from the civil conflict operated in confined and poorly organized spaces with few computers and other equipment. Only a few journalists were lucky enough to receive a regular salary.
In a country where there is a severe shortage of electricity for general public consumption, businesses (including newspapers and other news outlets) have had to buy electricity from private generator set owners or operate generators. generators. It was a very expensive undertaking, as these services were sometimes unreliable. Most generator set owners, such as the only large printing house operating in Liberia at the time, demanded payment in US dollars for their services, although news organizations’ revenues then and today are in decline. Liberian dollars, which are very low compared to the US dollar.
Therefore, to bring the Liberian media back to its pre-war level and to ensure progress, the need for training, education and provision of a printing press was high on the agenda of some donor partners.
“Training: Intensive short- and long-term training programs were needed to improve the professional skills of journalists and editors. Emphasis was placed on computer and information technology training.
The development of information technology is an integral part of the reconstruction process of the Liberian media. Improve the working conditions of journalists and the quality of what journalists publish and broadcast.
It is very urgent that the United Nations and the international community – especially organizations that support freedom of the press – assist the Liberian media by providing them with financial and material resources to improve training opportunities.
Education: Emphasis has been placed on adequately supporting the Department of Mass Communications at the University of Liberia in terms of manpower and educational resources to ensure that students who wish to graduate are well trained .
Printing facilities: More sophisticated printing facilities have been recommended to improve the print quality of newspapers and other publications and reduce the high cost and other printing burdens – the rest is now history ”- the Newman report
These findings and recommendations materialized, giving rise to quasi-media development organizations over the past two decades, attracting donors to the sector.
Thus, over the past two decades or more, foreign partners have spent millions of dollars in Liberia training journalists and editors without considering institutional capacity building and training programs, also, for those working in the field. the administrative, commercial and advertising sectors of the media, which are very key to having a dynamic media.
From UNMIL to various international development partners, including IREX and Internews, millions of US dollars have been spent on training and training, but when compared to the influx of funds administered by local and international organizations , the impact leaves a lot to be desired.
Training alone has not really helped to strengthen the media, as professionally trained staff leave media houses to seek greener pastures.
Independent media as a business do not operate in a vacuum. It relies on the economy to attract, maintain and increase advertisements for its survival. But with a devastating economy like the one we have in Liberia, coupled with low readership and declining coverage, the media are unable to recruit, retain and pay professional staff.
As if that weren’t enough, the impact of COVID-19 on media institutions has left many in a virtual collapse. Added to this is the direction of the necessary advertising on the Executive Mansions website, the website of the President of the Republic of Liberia.
In a dire economic environment, the media is left alone to survive, which is one of the main reasons professional journalism is relegated, giving way to mediocrity and favoritism.
Such a condition brings with it the overwhelming need for a paradigm shift in how international funds and support intended to help the Liberian media should be used.
We suggest that instead of conducting a two-week, one-week or three-day training or workshop for journalists, grants as well as logistical support should be provided to enable media houses to strengthen their operational capacities.
These grants and support should be accompanied by benchmarks that media officials, including publishers, should meet to qualify for future engagements. It’s a fact: for example, some media institutions simply cannot afford to buy newsprint and other growing operational costs on a day-to-day basis, let alone pay staff on a regular basis.
This situation is even worsened by delays in payment for advertising services rendered to customers, including the government, which remains the country’s main advertiser. The woes escalate when international non-governmental organizations and others direct their advertising to the Executive Mansion website – again, the website of the President of the Republic of Liberia deprives media institutions of much needed advertising revenue .
Yet such a payment, especially in the public sector, whenever it is ready, a condition for disbursement is the clearance of taxes. Where does a struggling media entity in an economy like ours get the money to be up to date with taxes? This argument is for another day.
But the truth is, the media in Liberia needs serious help. They do not have the operational capacity to provide the kind of services that the public needs. A soft subsidy from international partners would go a long way in strengthening the independence of the media to enable it to play its essential role in our democratic system.
This is an idea that media development partners should take into account as we work together to strengthen the press in Liberia. We have had a series of vocational training programs. But in the absence of vibrant institutions, journalists turn their backs on the newsroom to seek a better life.
If the media is to get back on track with appropriate standards to provide the kind of service the public deserves, they need help beyond training. The operational strength of the media houses must be strengthened through grants. Building the capacity of business leaders and new ideas to strengthen the online presence of newspapers to attract publicity could also be part of these revolving grants.