Based on an academic research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, this stimulating work published by Visual Image, Lagos, in March his year and which covers 108 pages comprising five chapters, critically interrogates the impact of the phenomenal expansion in the mediums and use of social media platforms on the state, society and in particular the media profession in Nigeria. This offering combines the rigour of scholarly research with the accessibility of lucid prose.
What has been the implication for the practice of journalism in Nigeria of the emergence of such on-line mediums as Facebook, Twitter, text messages, You Tube that provide opportunities for millions of Nigerians to become ‘Citizen Journalists’ reporting and disseminating news, images and ideas about themselves as well as issues and events around them to a mass audience? Has this development broken what can be describes as the professional authoritarianism/dictatorship of the traditional, mainstream media, which once enjoyed the monopoly of determining what constitutes news and in what form it is disseminated? What are the implications of Citizen Journalism for the democratic process and how has it empowered the weak or impacted governance? These are some of the questions that Dare seeks answers to through an exhaustive study of the operations of the path-breaking and unorthodox on-line medium, Sahara Reporters.
After examining the research questions and objectives of the study in the first chapter, the author goes in the second to undertake a racy but informative overview of the origin and trajectory of the Nigerian media from the colonial period through the various post-independence civilian and military regimes to the present dispensation.
Examining the implications within the Nigerian context of such electronic modes as mobile phones, Facebook, blogs, Wikipedia, Twitter and You Tube, he compares the present scenario to the previous one in which newspapers, magazines, periodicals, radio and television were the sole and dominant sources of news and opinions.
In the preceding era, letters to the editor, opinion pieces published at the pleasure of the editor as right of reply as well as revenue-driven advert placements and commercials were the major avenues for audience participation in the media process.
Dare defines Citizen Journalism as “the kind of journalism in which the users or audience create content online rather than wait to be fed by the traditional media outlets”. It is a process whereby an individual plays “an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information”. As a result of this development, he argues, millions of citizen journalists no longer constitute a passive and receptive audience.
Rather, they are defining and writing ‘the first drafts of history by themselves’. Nigerians are thus part of a global process through which millions of ordinary citizens are being empowered by revolutionary technological innovations to set and communicate the news agenda.
In chapter three, Dare X-rays the evolution of social media in Nigeria from the age of emails and emailing lists to discussion fora through social media networks. He notes that from an internet penetration level of just 0.1 per cent in the late 1990s, internet usage in Nigeria had exploded to 16.1 per cent of the population. Quoting figures from the International Telecommunication Union, the author put internet figures in Nigeria at 43, 982, 200 or 28.9% as at 2010. Similarly mobile technology has become the seventh mass information medium after film, television, radio, print and sound recording. From this general overview of the growth of citizen journalism in Nigeria, Dare moves on in the next chapter to the main focus of the book, which is a detailed case study of the rise and consolidation of Sahara Reporters as posing the pioneering challenge to the hegemonic dominance of the mainstream, traditional media
The book offers a detailed study of the conceptualisation, editorial structure, modus operandi, agenda, funding as well as business model of Sahara Reporters and its journey since inception. The medium was established in 2006 and modelled fully as a citizen journalism site. It describes as a unique organisation made up of ordinary citizens rather than professional journalists but who are committed “to seek truth and publish it without fear or favour”. One of its main aims is to aggressively seek to expose corruption through ordinary citizens who act as its reporters and foot soldiers.
Seventy per cent of Sahara Reporter’s content is news, 10 per cent opinion and 20% User Generated Content.
Dare interrogates to what extent Sahara Reporters has set the agenda for political and social discourse in Nigeria and how effectively it has achieved its objective of exposing corruption and subjecting power wielders to closer scrutiny. One of its dramatic achievements was Sahara Reporter’s role in putting the Governor James Ibori corruption saga on the front burner and contributing significantly to his extradition, trial and eventual conviction in the United Kingdom. Between 2006 and 2010, Sahara Reporters produced 104 news items and investigative reports on the Ibori corruption scandal.
The last chapter in which Dare interrogates the relationship between citizen journalism and the traditional media is easily the most insightful and thought provoking. Some of the advantages of citizen journalism he points out include immediacy of reporting, speed, minimal start- up capital and its greater vigour and audacity in investigative reporting. Indeed, Sahara Reporters claims it emerged to fill an investigative void created by the conservatism of the traditional media, which OmoyeleSowore claims had itself become a power bloc. Due to citizen journalism, the world including Nigeria can now benefit from the flow of news without boundaries or frontiers.
However, the flipside Dare notes is that citizen journalism is faced with serious professional gate keeping issues including deciding news fit or unfit to publish, little concern for ethical constraints and scant regard for objectivity, fairness and accuracy in news gathering and information dissemination. In the final analysis he argues, the relationship between citizen journalism and the traditional media can be complementary rather than antagonistic.
While citizen journalism can challenge the mainstream media to be more transparent, innovative and investigative, the former can learn from the traditional media’s better gatekeeping, factual checking and more matured news presentation. He submits that collaboration between the mainstream media and citizen journalism can lead to better journalism in the interest of the public good.