By Isaac Asabor
There is no denying the fact that when Reverend Henry Townsend, the founder of journalism in Nigeria, introduced the profession by publishing the first tabloid ‘Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba’ on November 23, 1859, that he unarguably had no hunch about how fast his idea would impact posterity. It is salient in this context to say that the newspaper was published at the interval of every 15 days with a circulation of 3000 copies and cost 120 cowries. It reportages mainly dwelt on activities that pertain to the church. With time, it began to publish classified advertisements.
He probably did not know that through decades that the profession will shed its weight of crudity and literarily embrace a world that is been driven by the internet. Thus, 162 years down the line, journalism has speedily evolved by figuratively shoving the vendor and his “papun-papun” sounding hand-held horn aside.
Now that the media is predominantly placed on the pedestal of electronic or digital, it is hard to visualize the fact that there was ever a time before print media was invented when earliest civilizations only had oral communication. If they had news to tell, they ran to the nearest person to spread the word to others, with each communicator at the time doing the same until everyone had heard the news. Then people began to write down their news pictorially, and then in crude languages where symbols stood for words and letters. It took the inventions of paper and the printing press for print media to come into regular use. Once it did, there was no turning back.
Explanatorily put, the print media is the printed version of telling the news, primarily through newspapers and magazines. Before the invention and widespread use of printing presses, printed materials had to be written by hand. It was a painstaking process that made mass distribution impossible. At first, news was chiseled in stone. Later, it was handwritten and posted in a public area much like today’s posters or read from a scroll by a town crier. As early as 131 B.C., the ancient Roman government produced daily news sheets and informed the public in this way. Through the years, print media evolved to include entertainment, educational topics and more, instead of only conveying news.
However, in 1440, Johannes Gutenberg introduced his invention of a movable type printing press with Type that was much easier to change, making the mass production of news pages possible. The invention spread throughout Europe, and printing and distributing sheets of news became popular.
Be that as it may, as countries all over the world began to experience conurbation, including Nigeria, Gutenberg’s invention of a movable Type printing press was adopted.
To cut the long story short, by the 1980s, businesses the desktop computers became the vogue in offices, and extended its influence to the newspaper industry.
On the trail of the desktop computers was the evolvement of the World Wide Web (WWW) which was introduced to the public in 1991 prior to the introduction of Google’s Search engine in 1998, which paved the way for people to have a way of gathering huge volume of information easily from the virtual space. With seeming information revolution kick-started by Google, generations of people became acquainted with the internet. Thus at their fingertips, they began to get their news and conduct their research online instead of in print, and the internet became a clear competitor to the print media as a way of spreading news and information. Without recourse to over-flogging the issue, it is expedient to say that the internet technology has since then been advancing for the benefits of mankind.
Alas! Despite the disruptive trajectory which social media has over the years assumed, and its potential threat to displace the traditional media, mass communication educators are still playing the ostrich as they seem to have adopted a lackadaisical position over the issue. For the sake of clarity, “Playing the Ostrich” as a phrase simply means to ignore something that is obvious. Ostriches are supposed to bury their heads in the sand as they are naturally try to escape from danger.
Without any iota of exaggeration, it is about time tertiary institutions that offer mass communication as course of study began to teach the curriculum of the future that meets the needs of digital age, and not that of the past analogue age. Why this view? Robots, artificial intelligence, automation among other products of technological advancement are no longer the exclusive preserve of science fiction movies as they are all leveraged to grow the social media. Most news web today have integrated video and audio to their platforms whereas newspapers still depend on just text format.
In fact, the extant curriculum been used to teach mass communication undergraduates today arguably lacks the content that would convince anyone with a discerning mindset that communication undergraduates are been prepared to thrive in today’s changing employment landscape. For instance, a student that begins primary school today will graduate from university in the mid-2030s and his career will last through 2060 or beyond. While it is difficult to predict exactly what future workforce’s needs will be for those that chose to become Journalists in the middle of the century, it is very obvious that what they need are changing, and will continue to change as long as technology continues to advance. Therefore, it is expedient for mass communication educators to by each passing day to be catching up with the technological advancement that journalism has literarily embraced in this digital age.
At this juncture, it is expedient to say that journalism curriculum of today no longer focuses on any course that is applicable to work environment that is basically analogue, but leveraged on courses that are designed to give a basic understanding of how to create web content as well as in-depth training in the art of being a Journalist that is skillful enough to supply news to the web at regular interval.
Therefore, in most educational institutions in other part of the world, priorities are laid on basic introduction to the web and consequently on the basics of writing for the web, with a web-centric viewpoint. Some law knowledge follows and then finally the specific and separate functions of the internet based writer which are covered with specific reference to how best to use social media.
For instance, an online Diploma in Internet Journalism will take the student through courses that cut across, Introduction to web writing, online journalism, Readers and markets, Citizen Journalism, blogs, vlogs and podcasts as well as Google and social media.
The foregoing course, Google and Social media is aimed at helping the student to have a more comprehensive idea about what is what in the world of social media and of how to make best use of it as a journalist. Before considering interactive social media Curriculum in the ongoing journalistic dispensation looks at Google and Wikipedia and then gives pen sketches of different social media options, suggesting how best to use them (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit and TikTok).
Added to the foregoing digital related courses is the Online editing which helps the student to understand the role of the online sub-editor and how it differs from that of the print sub-editor. It is also designed to help the student appreciate the processes involved in pasting, editing and projecting copy, how to write catchy headlines that are web-friendly as well as how to maximize search-engine optimization (SEO) and how to write captions.
In the same vein, online layout and design and successful web package are courses that have been added to traditional mass communication courses as a way of preparing today’s mass communicators for tomorrow job demand in the field of journalism. In as much as today’s mass communication curriculum focuses on how tomorrow Journalists can build up a web-based writing portfolio, it also aimed at identifying their strengths and weaknesses as web writers, and to build up a successful writing portfolio even as the training also recognizes the need to impart future Journalists with knowledge on how to avoid falling into the legal pitfalls involved in writing for the web as the future of Journalism is on virtual space.
Not only are mass communication educators playing the Ostrich, Journalists are equally in the shoes as not few of them are waving the realities of the advent of digital media aside, and thus ostensibly not looking at the possibility of upgrading to digital skills as online platform is unarguably the future of journalism.