Where People Still Love Newspapers


| 2/11/2010 12:20:44 PM


Tags: Media, international media, Kenya, newspapers, daily newspapers, Columbia Journalism Review, Danielle Maestretti,

Pile of newspapersWelcome to Kenya, where informed citizens still buy—and read—daily newspapers. Karen Rothmyer, a journalism professor at the University of Nairobi, chronicles Kenyans’ “seemingly unquenchable passion for print” in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review.

“Each newspaper in Kenya is typically read by fourteen people, and those who can’t afford to buy a paper sometimes ‘rent’ one,” Rothmyer writes. “My neighborhood news vendor charges the equivalent of thirteen cents for thirty minutes with one of the major dailies, all of which are in English. That compares with fifty cents to buy one, a significant sum even to office workers earning $20 a day, and out of reach for the far more numerous casual workers who generally earn no more than $2.”

Rothmyer admits that limited Internet access is a factor in the enduring popularity of print newspapers, but there are also cultural factors at play:

Patrick Quarcoo, a successful Ghanaian entrepreneur who started a new Kenyan newspaper, the Star, in 2007—yes, you read that right, a new daily newspaper—says it was his grandmother who taught him about the significance of print in an African context. “She had no real formal education, but she always used to say in Pidgin English ‘Book no lies,’” he recalls. “She completely believed in the power of print to shape our destiny.”

That belief continues to be widespread today all over the continent. “People want to see it to believe it,” says Joe Otin, the media research and monitoring director at the Kenyan affiliate of Synovate, a media research and watchdog firm.

Additionally, politics in Kenya is “all-consuming,” a prominent print advertiser tells Rothmyer, a nationwide passion that fuels the demand for newspapers. (She sees this firsthand when she travels to the small, rural town of Busia, where a group of citizens meets regularly to read and discuss recent papers.)