Sabella Abidde wrote an interesting and thought-provoking article on the Guardian newspaper, its state of performance and Dr. Abati. In place of commenting on Sabella’s article point-by-point, I have chosen to build on his analysis and to add my line of thought.
The Guardian has been consistent in news reporting over the years. At this time, simply said, it is comfortable. To most people, the newspaper has reached a plateau and is at comfort zone. It is no longer a bestseller because it lacks the qualities of a hi-selling newspaper. People read newspapers, magazines, and novels for personal reasons. To capture their interest, there must be some essential news or intrinsic values to the readers. For instance, it must be captivating and exciting; it must possess ease of comprehension, reading, and logic. It must be engaging and non-cumbersome to the eyes. Finally, it must be noted for its willingness to take a stand. The Guardian only has a few of these qualities.
Dr. Abati is a notable writer. However, as stated by Sabella, he truly does “vacillates, hedging his position and making ambiguous statements; he shuffles as if afraid to throw the decisive punch.” This is truly a weak journalistic characteristic but it is his style. He is not at the level of the likes of Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu and those that took opinion and investigative journalism novelty to a new level. He may never rise to that level of achieving journalistic “dignitaten.” He strives to stay balanced rather than define his resolute stand on issues. Personally, I have read several of his writings but continue to see a vacuum as it relates to intriguing, empowering and contentious news or analysis broached by Dr. Abati. As a noted and intelligent journalist that he truly is, his analysis or marginality of reporting is not highly engaging as I view it.
There is a difficult line in journalism. There is the temptation to compromise integrity. There is the fear of consequences and other “skunk” issues that often gets writers to stay contrite in their spins. Yet, to excel, one cannot practice the conundrum of the ordinary. A great journalist must be willing to get ostracized or be elevated to a level above others. This is what re-constructs the growth and success of a newspaper and/or a person in the new media. Dr. Abati can single-handedly reconstruct the Guardian newspaper to being the best in the country as it relates to sales and influence. This won’t happen because his analyses, though thoughtful and in-depth in content, remain weak and highly palliative. To excel above others, feathers may have to be ruffled sometimes. I don’t believe he is willing to do that.
The issues with the Guardian in all fairness are many. It may well be fundamentally ordinary in nature. Though it obviously needs a transformational change in view of its current stabilized doom loop, it may be best for it to re-section its paper and reengineer itself. The paper is unbearably bulky. It lacks an appeal. It needs a repository of fine, challenging writers rather than a well-noted label-based writer. Like Thisday and the tabloid Sun, that have gained market share extensively because of their delineation of expertise and identification of special projects engagement, the Guardian needs to adopt a system that recognizes new talents with expertise in varied areas.
Dr. Abati does not need to write on foreign affairs. He can’t be the Billy Graham of news reporting or analytical writings on all subjects. We expect him to have a far above awareness of global events recognizing his position as the head of the editorial board. But, he does not have to write or hold an expertise in international affairs. Reality is, the onus is on him because he is perhaps the only notable person with the Guardian. He needs to project his experts in divergent areas to portray and present a rich and balanced newspaper with a list of journalistic hunters. The KISS rule of journalism has not changed. The Guardian no longer follows this rule. Thisday and the Sun continue to “keep it short and simple” in its segmented major areas of focus in effort to maintain their market shares.
Maybe the Guardian is simply tired as an entity and plays along to remain viable. Maybe the focus of the founder, Chief Ibru, has changed. If this is the case, then something is wrong. The Ibru families are industrious and often focused while involved in any chosen business field. I know this first hand growing up in Apapa. As a kid, one of the Ibrus with the fishing conglomerate was well known. My classmate that literarily shared table with me for years was an Ibru kid named Gloria Ibru. Her younger sibling Helen tagged along with my sibling (Tops) a grade lower. At Ladi-Lak Primary School on Randle Road, Apapa, we were friends and on occasions, I met the well-guarded Ibru daddy and got to know them fairly as a kid. Even in the seventies, the Ibrus were known to be power investors that didn’t believe in margin
al operations. Regardless of the Ibru that owns the Guardian, I am sure the complacency and stagnation of the growth of the Guardian is not a reflection of the drive of the founder. I certainly hope not.
In all, I agree the Guardian can do better. I agree that its website remains “B” rated and needs extensive overhaul. I however believe the quintessential focus of the newspaper is the balanced reporting of the news for its audience where it matters the most, Nigeria, Africa and the Diaspora team. It is losing ground. In agreement with Sabella “the Guardian needs a makeover.” Its problems are no longer symptomatic of minor issues, they are real major issues that must be addressed. We speak because we care.