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It’s Not Funny; This Business is Getting Funny

Mon, 4 Oct 2010 Source: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi

Even in the lead to this rather short (in fact, shortened) report, it is advisable and strategic not to mention the subject of discussion. It scares people away. It is like opening the Pandora’s Box and finding baked beans, or indeed cracking the Alabaster to smell a foul spikenard. Yet, we have to stick it out and say that the newspaper business is now getting very funny: Get the likes of Andrew Rawnsley, Christiane Amanpour and Earl Spitzer to do the popular columns. Repackage the papers with free DVDs, and pay voluptuous beauty queens to distribute them for free. Nobody wants them. Suddenly, people find it a chore to read anything these days. And let’s not blame it all on the internet. It sucks.

Here, in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, commuters have to be coaxed, pampered and literally begged to accept free copies of the city’s popular newspapers: The Sun and the Ottawa Citizen. On a normal day, The Sun sells for $25 Cents (a quarter) and the Citizen, a very quality broadsheet, goes for just $1. The Metro and another daily called News 24, are always free. Enthusiastic sales people usually dressed in branded company attire stand at vantage points on busy city streets to do the free distribution: “Free copy, please, Free Citizen, please.” They wear an infectious smile as they pour forth a healthy ‘Thank You’ when a commuter grudgingly accepts the free newspaper. How charitable!

Now, there is a new trick: Very young and sexy-looking girls are engaged to share the free newspapers to the public. They dress colourfully and sing modern Justin Beiber and Beyonce’s All The Single Ladies songs, to attract shoppers. Sex sells. The suspicion is that sex consumed-men and women would be ‘titillated’ to look at them and go to claim their free newspaper. They hold a little bag in their hands, in which you could drop whatever pleases you. Still, folks are not persuaded enough to accept the free papers.

Of course, reading is another thing. You would usually find the newspapers on the floors of commercial buses or tucked between two seats. Sometimes, they are just ruffled up and dumped in rubbish bins. Even when commuters appear to be reading anything, they have to share their attention between the Ipod in their ears and the paper in their hands.

Yet the modern newspaper is always undergoing high quality improvements-both aesthetically and editorially. Those who say The Daily Graphic lacks editorial scholarship are right only because they want it to meet the higher standards of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Otherwise, they would notice a fine newspaper that is well written and also better packaged than years gone by. The private dailies are also doing well in a competitive environment. At least, now they know that they have no excuses for bad reporting and poor cartoons. We are a lot better than many in the region.

If folks do not want to read, what can we do? We have to cut down on content and make it less stressful to consume. Kwaku Sakyi-Addo welcomes articles for publication on his personal website, but he is emphatic: “No more than one page, please.” I have hidden under my favourite aliases to publish a few of my writings on the site. With not so much as a silent cue from Kwaku, I have recently limited myself to just a page. Not more than a page. Has it changed anything? Oh Journalism-Ahoy!, good old Abugri would say.

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, Ottawa, Canada

quesiquesi@hotmail.co.uk bigfrintiers@ymail.com

Columnist: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi