The new year has a lot in store for journalists in Africa. From changing political environments to the emergence of new technologies, media professionals should be prepared to adjust to the quick-changing environment on the continent.
Here are three predictions for what the year has in store for African media:
(1) New ways to counter mis/disinformation will emerge.
Misinformation and disinformation, especially during elections, is common and usually takes the form of extreme speech that incites violence or spreads harmful messages that target individuals or communities on religious or ethnic grounds. Misinformation is often on mobile phone platforms such as WhatsApp or other social media platforms. More than 20 countries — including Nigeria and South Africa — are scheduled to hold elections in 2019. With this in mind, journalists and media organizations will have to contend with finding new and innovative ways to deal with the scourge of “fake news,” despite being understaffed, under-resourced and at the mercy of the big internet platforms, including Google and Facebook. In Nigeria, 16 newsrooms have formed a coalition called CrossCheck Nigeria to overcome these limitations and to collaborate on fact-checking and debunking fake news ahead of the February elections.
(2) Media professionals will search for sustainable and responsive business models.
Media sustainability has been on the decline in Africa, according to the International Research and Exchanges Board’s (IREX) Media Sustainability Index. Political pressures, threats, intimidation and journalists’ imprisonment will continue to be a challenge for journalists and newsrooms in Africa in 2019. There is even the possibility that some of the countries facing elections next year might impose similar social media censorship laws as those currently in force in Tanzania and Uganda. The biggest challenge that l foresee in the coming year is keeping the media sustainable and providing journalists with the independence they need to do quality journalism driven by public interest. Collapsing business models and faltering advertiser markets makes the media particularly vulnerable to manipulations by political elites, unethical practices and journalism that is motivated more by political and business interests than public interests. It will be a challenge to create models that are relevant for African media, responsive to local audiences and maintain the core values of journalism rather than chasing profits as an end in itself.
(3) Digital technologies will be used as a method for increasing audience engagement.
With the decline of print media, digital platforms will become increasingly important for providing information and engaging citizens. In 2019, I foresee newsrooms and journalists engaging new ways of storytelling to provide avenues for citizen participation and information sharing. Data-driven forensic or evidence-based investigative journalism will become more than just a buzzword as journalists and newsroom leaders identify the possibility of introducing new citizen and audience engagement techniques through data-driven reporting.
Catherine Gicheru is an ICFJ Knight Fellow. She is a veteran Kenyan editor who works alongside Code for Kenya, and was named one of the 100 Most Influential Africans of 2018 by New African magazine.