On Wednesday, 9 July, most of the world’s newspapers covered Brazil’s humiliating 1-7 loss to Germany in the first World Cup 2014 semi-final prominently.
Not our newspapers. They had moved on (or so, you would think) to the second semi-final game that would feature Argentina and Holland later that evening.
Then on Thursday morning, after we had watched the 120-minute stalemate of the second semis settled on spot kicks, our newspapers treated us to mostly stale news about the Brazil-Germany game.
What’s wrong with our newspapers?
Insiders will be quick to argue that our newsrooms have tight deadlines; that a game that ends at 1:00 a.m. cannot be covered in that morning’s edition because the papers have to be transported all over the country starting as early as midnight.
I don’t buy this.
First, we are not asking that our newspapers push their daily deadlines to the odd hours when World Cup games end; we are talking about special events or exceptions, in this case key World Cup games.
Second, the newspapers don’t have to delay their upcountry editions; they can do special editions for Greater Kampala, Mukono, and Wakiso where most of their readers live.
Third, our major newspapers should have the capacity to print at least 10,000 copies of a cover set (front and back as well as their corresponding inside pages).
In April 2010, The New Vision reported that it had switched on a $9 million ultra-modern printing press, which, at optimum speed, had a capacity to print 40,000 copies per hour with 64 pages of full colour in one run.
My friend Robert Kabushenga, the chief executive officer, described the new press as a milestone in Uganda’s media industry.
We were told the new printing press would “enable extension of deadlines to include breaking news”.
Later that month, I wrote a letter to the editor wondering why they had not reported in their Wednesday edition a Tuesday Champions League semi-final game between Inter Milan and Barcelona.
My letter was published without a response.
Editors, circulation and marketing managers should rethink their strategy, particularly in these times when newspaper circulation is going down or stagnating in the face of competition from the Internet and digital media.
Otherwise, they risk losing relevance in the eyes of key sections of their readers.
Take this, for instance. Twitter has reported that the Brazil-Germany semi-final had become its most discussed sports game ever, with 35.6 million tweets.
That game also broke Facebook records, with the social network reporting that fan activity during the game reached 200 million “with some 66 million users liking, commenting, sharing and posting”. This made it “the highest level of conversation on Facebook for any single World Cup match to-date”.
Now, a growing number of Ugandans are getting their news from Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.
Many Ugandan sports fans with the purchasing power to buy a newspaper had watched the Brazil-Germany game and spent the following day reading up on this BIG story on the Internet and social media.
They had seen and exchanged with friends pictures of crying Brazilian fans, including the one of the guy who attempted to eat his yellow T-shirt, a hapless coach Felipe Scolari whose gestures to his squad inadvertently suggested the number 7, and a rich menu of jokes, including star Neymar’s 7-Up ad. They had also read the apologies of the Brazilian coach and captain, and the reaction of their fans as well as Germany supporters. They had similarly read stories that attempted to explain what had gone wrong, what the loss meant for Brazil, and where the win had left Germany.
Imagine the disappointment of these Ugandan readers when the Thursday newspapers treated them to these same storylines and pictures.
We can do better.
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Written by Peter G. Mwesige