Special Report:

Cult following gives Nigeria’s young opinion makers the last word

Bloggers have carved out a lucrative niche with advertisers

Japheth Omojuwa started blogging in 2009 with a simple goal: to make his opinions heard by the senators and governors that make up the top echelons of powers in Nigeria.

Six years later, he has secured their attention, and that of many others. More than a quarter of a million people follow Mr Omojuwa on Twitter and more than 43,000 people like his Facebook page. When he cannot be on his laptop, he runs his one-man-media empire from two iPhones.

“There’s no newspaper that sells over 100,000 copies,” says Mr Omojuwa. “I reach over one million people per day on my various channels.”

Nigerians still read newspapers, listen to the radio and watch television to find out what is going on. But a new breed of online publications that mix news with liberal servings of sex, gossip and football are changing the media landscape in Africa’s largest economy.

Their rise has come as Nigerians have grown increasingly connected. Internet penetration rose to about 43 per cent in 2014, up from just over five per cent in 2006, according to the World Bank. Buoying the industry further is advertising revenue and money from foreign investors.

“I wouldn’t start a newspaper today,” says Seyi Taylor, co-founder of Big Cabal Media, a company that runs a tech news website and recently started a BuzzFeed-esque outlet carrying humorous listicles and quizzes. His websites, Tech Cabal and Zikoko rely on banner ads and sponsored articles to pay the bills, an approach common across the industry.

Website Pulse.ng, owned by Swiss media group Ringier AG, does the same. But it goes one step further, sponsoring, and filming, flashy Lagos social events.

“Having an actual presence is how we drive traffic,” says Richard Tanksley, Pulse’s head. Individuals such as Mr Omojuwa have relied on their personalities for advertising clout. He spends about eight hours a day tweeting, placing a premium on interacting with whoever gets in touch on the platform.

He and his fellow Twitterati attract an audience because it is far easier for the public to challenge their views than those of a newspaper’s editorial board, says Ayeni Adekunle, a former newspaper columnist who now runs blogs and a public relations company.

Mr Omojuwa’s large following works. Companies such as Guinness and First Bank of Nigeria pay him in exchange for tweeting in support of their products.

While all of these websites get traffic from Nigeria’s significant diaspora in countries such as the US and Britain, most of the traffic comes from smartphone-wielding Nigerians at home. GSMA Intelligence, the global telco association, estimates that smartphone penetration in Nigeria is at 10-15 per cent. Pyramid Research, the telecommunications consultancy, expects the number of mobile data subscribers to rise by 16 per cent a year until 2019.

Linda Ikeji publishes dozens of posts a day from her simple, eponymous blog hosted on Google’s Blogspot platform. Her page features everything from the latest news on a Nigerian charged with murder in Britain, to the family photo of a Nigerian movie star — all surrounded by advertisements for Nigerian and foreign companies.

This approach to news however is not without its critics. Ms Ikeji, Pulse and many of Nigeria’s media outlets aggregate material from each other and from foreign media outlets. Pulse, Mr Tanksley says, obtains about 80 per cent of its content from other websites; the rest comes from journalists they employ.

That does not sit well with some newspapers. The traditional media still employ droves of reporters to stake out courtrooms and legislatures. Ademola Oni, online editor of Punch newspaper, says the paper does not make money when aggregators post their content online. “The majority of them . . . just steal the story; no link, no attribution, nothing,” he says, although many websites do credit the newspapers they took the article from. Bloggers and online media have forced Punch to change its ways. The paper now tries to put big breaking stories online immediately and software has been installed to track where the articles are used.

Mr Oni denies that the proliferation of aggregated content has hurt Punch’s revenue. He says the newspaper gets about 80m page views every month, but he could not say how many copies are published a day — a number that is hard to find for any newspaper in a country without an active auditing authority for newspaper circulation.

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