Rural journalism is the coverage and presentation of news about specific rural community. It is a specialized branch of journalism which consists of locally-oriented, professional news coverage that primarily focuses on rural communities, individual suburbs or villages in the hinterland, rather than metropolitan, state, national or world news. Rural journalism could cover issues beyond a specific rural community but in such instance it concentrates on the effect the reports have on local readers. This branch of journalism which is essential to rural development is facing challenges which militate against its growth in Nigeria. Why is rural journalism not growing in Nigeria? Let’s take a look at the key factors that militate against growth of rural journalism in Nigeria.
Lack of Specialized training on rural journalism: A number of journalists do not have specialized training in rural journalism. Reporting rural areas requires specialized skills, patience and doggedness. You need to identify with the rural area, get acquainted with story-rich areas in the community and how to get news from relevant sources. But in most journalism and mass communication schools in Nigeria, rural news journalism is taught as a topic in journalism courses or mentioned while teaching development communication. Journalists do not develop the zeal to go into this area of the profession. They also lack the orientation to desire a career in rural journalism. Rural news journalism ought to be taught as a full course in journalism and mass communication schools. This is to give it the theoretical priority and attention it requires. In fact, a number of people who work in media houses as journalists do not have basic journalism training; and this is a problem to quality and professionalism in the profession.
Media poverty: Some media houses do not have money to run the establishment and this affects allowances made available to journalists for doing their work. Transport allowance is often absent so journalists find it difficult to be shuttling from cities to rural areas (though a serious rural journalist should reside in the community he or she covers). This problem of finance also limits the number of staff employed by a media house invariably affecting the deployment of journalists to rural areas as rural news reporters. Lack of incentives from media owners such as meaningful transport allowance to reporters affects growth of rural news journalism in Nigeria.
Priorities of media houses: Some media houses are interested in news that will increase traffic to their online news platforms or audience base. They just focus on urban news – crime, sports, politics, entertainment etc.- and do little to cover the rural areas except serious bad news breaks in the villages. This affects rural news journalism in Nigeria. Rural news is not always negative but oftentimes negative news about rural areas sells more among urban news media. A rural news reporter must be interested in every kind of rural news, especially positive ones; and this is not the priority of city-based media houses. There is lack of specific orientation of the press to give priority to rural journalism.
Poor remuneration: This is related to the point on media poverty. This affects growth of rural news journalism in Nigeria. Journalists are not well paid. Some media houses owe salaries for months. This discourages journalists in Nigeria from going to live in rural areas to practice rural journalism. Always travelling from the city to villages for news coverage is out of it because of poor pay and lack of incentives.
Brown envelope syndrome: The practice of accepting tips or gratifications from news sources is referred to as brown envelope syndrome. This has affected the profession negatively. A good number of journalists would likely want beats where brown envelop is completely scarce; and one of such beats is the rural news beat. Getting tips from news sources in rural areas is unlikely because most people there are poor or simply struggle to survive.
Poor infrastructures and social amenities in rural areas: A serious rural journalist or rural news reporter should reside in the rural area he or she is covering. Most journalists wouldn’t want to live in rural areas where there is no regular electric power, pipe borne water, good school for children, among others.
Laziness on the part of journalists: Some journalists are just very lazy. They are not ready to tread the rough, rugged path of the profession. They would prefer to be writing stories from press releases sent to their office, doing one-on-one interview with high-profile personalities in the society in their cozy office, or attending press conference where there is a bit of comfort for journalists. They don’t want the skin pain sometimes associated with the profession.
Lack clear cut editorial policy on rural news coverage: Related to the point on priority of media houses is the fact that some news organisations in Nigeria are not serious with rural news reporting. Even when they state in their editorial policy that they would give attention to rural news, they end up paying lip service to this. Nothing serious is done in this regard.
Lack of Advert Revenue: A newspaper that does not get advertisements of any sort is bound to pack up. This factor is related to media poverty. Advertising is very essential to the existence of newspapers. Rural news journalism cannot be encouraged by media organizations in Nigeria that don’t get advertising revenue. Journalists cannot be given transport allowances for trips to rural communities to cover stories. This discourages rural news journalism in Nigeria.
Gender issues in Nigerian society: Female journalists in Nigeria are constrained by cultural convictions in the line of duty. One of such convictions is that a woman is expected to stay at home to take care of her husband and children. Any woman practicing journalism would like to safely combine this profession and her ‘duty’ at home such that her marriage would not be affected. This factor discourages female journalists from traveling as often as possible to rural areas in search of news. Even where a female journalist wants to practice rural journalism which might require staying the rural area for some time, this factor discourages that dream.