READERS PERCEPTION VIEW ON BUHARI’S ELECTION ON VANGUARD NEWSPAPER WEBSITE

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READERS PERCEPTION VIEW ON BUHARI’S ELECTION ON VANGUARD NEWSPAPER WEBSITE

ABSTRACT

This study analysed comments posted by readers on Vanguard newspaper website relating to news reports of President Muhammadu Buhari‘s election victory and whether such comments are positive, neutral or negative. It also examined if readers used appropriately or abused the comments section of Vanguard newspaper website as provided to serve as a feedback mechanism between the news medium and the public. The study was guided by research questions which bothered on what the connotations expressed by readers indicate about their understanding of news reports on the election of Buhari in relation to the way they used the comments section of Vanguard newspaper website. The reception theory was used to explain how readers receive media reports and how such content of the reports make them to post positive, neutral or negative comments on any media content related to Buhari‘s election based on individual differences and preferences. The theory is concerned with the effect a text has on its readers and how such readers behave after assessing its content. The research method used in this study is content analysis and the duration of the research is from March to June, 2015. The population consisted of 1,135 reports published in 122 online editions of Vanguard newspaper between March to June, 2015. The study used simple random sampling method to select 20% of the population; this resulted to 227 news stories which were coded under the following units of analysis: straight news, feature article, column, opinion and editorial. Also, various content categories were derived and analysed by four coders using established criteria, including the four most frequently used keywords and phrases used by readers to describe Muhammadu Buhari which were purposively sampled from the 14,934 comments attached to the 227 news stories. The collated data was quantitatively and qualitatively presented and analysed using tables. The findings of the study indicate the following: that majority of the comments, keywords and phrases posted by readers on news reports related to Muhammadu Buhari on Vanguard website had negative connotations. This suggests that the comments section is misused as a feedback platform; the comments section was dominated by readers who did not react to issues in the news as presented but used the platform for their own motives regardless of whether or not their comments will cause division or even scare away other readers from the website; the level of tolerance among readers of Vanguard newspaper website is extremely low especially considering Nigeria‘s multi-ethnic/religious society and if left un-moderated, commenters on newspaper websites like this can resort to use of injurious words and phrases that could spark crises in the country; and that despite its abuses, the comments section of newspaper websites remains a veritable tool for free speech, feedback, sharing of ideas, posting eyewitness pictures or videos and providing more facts on news items. Therefore, the study recommended that despite the poor finances of most media outfits in Nigeria, Vanguard and other newspaper websites should consider the use of moderators that should review comments, not in a censorship format, before they are posted on their platforms or else they risk losing readers and potential visitors thereby affecting their online traffic and advertisements. Such moderators should edit comments that do not promote national unity or morality by prohibiting the posting of comments with abusive, ethno-religious, pornographic or foul language by readers.

CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study

 
This study examined readers reaction to published news reports through their views posted on the comments section of newspaper websites. The introduction of online news publishing by many newspapers have led to citizens across the globe reacting to such news content with immediacy on the Internet via websites and blogs. These reactions often come in many forms such as correction, commendation, confrontation, abuse, displeasure, division, anger, explanation and advertising. These forms of reactions often led to a better understanding of the news item in focus or a denunciation of the report as false, public relations (PR) or biased item. (Harper, 2010)
Most online newspaper readers are those in their late teens and mid-forties and several studies have established facts that the most conspicuous users of the Internet are adolescents and undergraduates. (Kausar & Zobia, 2006). Reading (online or offline) has often been an interesting phenomenon across all ages and generations and serves as a vehicle for assimilation of knowledge whether in form of information, ideas or culture. Generally, reading enlightens the mind, makes the intellect sharper and makes an individual to travel far without any motion. Reading has been accepted as an interactive process, a communication process, an active process and a meaning- induced process. (Braunger & Lewis, 2006)
Reading is not just about printed matter but also about the ability to interpret anything that is intended to convey a message so as to facilitate communication. Thus, online reading of published news content differs a bit from printed (offline) matter in the sense that the former is device-based through a computer, smartphone, tablet or other micro-devices while the latter is presented in scrolls, books, slates or other hard surface. Reading and commenting in digital formats have been made easier with Web
2.0 tools that allow for note-taking, highlighting, editing of comments or formatting while reading online materials such as the type of news content presented on newspaper websites.
Okonofua (2012) states that Nigeria has a vibrant newspaper industry with a number of active print outlets, and that as at 2004, there were about 95 reasonably regular newspapers: 20 national dailies, 23 national weeklies, 10 regional dailies, 19 regional weeklies, 6 provincial or local dailies, and 17 provincial or local weeklies. As at 2012, the number had almost doubled with Ayankunbi (2012) positing that the total number of newspapers in the country is presently within the neighbourhood of 150. Majority of these newspapers now have websites where they post their news content or post breaking news as it breaks.
The print media is very agile in the transformation process to serve new readers who feed on its content via the Internet due to either the lack of their physical presence in Nigeria to purchase a hard copy of the newspaper or who prefer reading the papers online in a digital format. Most newspapers in Nigeria now have an online presence and have gradually been placing about two-third of their daily content for their online readers who although do not purchase a copy but serve as traffic flow from which marketers of the medium often use to attract advertisers to the website.
When the Internet got a foothold in Nigeria, most publishers were initially weary and jittery as they felt it would take a sizeable portion of the reading public. Gradually, most publishing companies embraced the medium half-heartedly, placing only headlines and lead-ins for their online readers. But over time for example, Punch
 
newspaper started publishing full content on its website and shortly after asked readers to subscribe to it if they hope to read the full content of the news story. The online readers were asked to open an online account with the website after paying a subscription fee at a designated bank. (Mobilityng, 2009)
The infiltration of the Internet by online-based discussion platforms, citizen forums and e-newspapers like Sahara Reporters via www.saharareporters.com, Nigerian Village Square via: www.nigerianvillagesquare.com, Premium Times www.premiumtimesng.com, The Cable via www.thecableng.com, The Will via www.thewillnigeria.com and Nairaland via www.nairaland.com among others who continued to offer free news services and attracting more online advertising revenue through their readers later made Punch and other mainstream newspapers to dump the Financial Times of London (via www.ft.com) model for subscription-based online newspaper services. (Giwa, 2006)
The Punch experience made most mainstream newspaper websites to open up their portals freely without any surcharge and this has gradually returned traffic to the newspaper websites. A cursory observation shows that some of the popular mainstream newspaper websites in Nigeria as at 2016 are: www.vanguardngr.com, www.punchng.com,                               www.dailytrust.com,                                                     www.leadership.ng, www.thenationonlineng.net, www.thisdaylive.com, www.pmnewsnigeria.com among others.
Driven by user-friendly Internet applications and better connectivity, the introduction of Web 2.0 tools have led to an explosion and expansion of the use of the Internet. Web 2.0 tools now allow readers of a website not only to read but also to make comments, post pictures/audio/video‘s, blog and form communities openly or anonymously with other readers thereby making reading the news an interesting phenomena. This has made reading fun and is gradually increasing literacy levels across the globe. (Fernando, 2013)
The downside of online interaction however seems to be that some people who comment on the Internet and especially on the comments section of newspaper websites often use their anonymity to aggressively twist the news, commend, abuse others, engage in defamation of character or throw-up divisive issues for debate using religious, ethnic political or tribal sentiments thereby leading to members abusing themselves.

Statement of the Research Problem 

Commenting on news items posted on newspaper websites has grown in recent times due to the availability of web 2.0 tools that have made the Internet more interactive and user-friendly. Mainstream newspapers have embraced technological innovations over the years that now allow them to present news content in an interactive format using web 2.0 tools to create attached platforms for commentary, posting of pictures/videos, blogging, download of public reports/documents and job services among others.
Readers reaction to published reports on newspaper websites have however taken a new dimension in recent times. A cursory view of comments posted on Nigerian newspaper websites often shows sharp division among readers. They abuse or commend newsmakers who are the subject of published reports, cast aspersion on the journalists or news medium, post outrageous comments with ethno-religious sentiments meant to spark debates under an atmosphere of high tension or post comments with sexual and pornographic implications.
There are also hate speeches, use of swear-words, racist remarks and other forms of distortions such as illegal advertising by small business owners and illegal advertisements by the popular conmen known as 419. Some also advertise the sale of imported used cars at ridiculous prices allegedly as a result of custom auctions among many others who write provoking jargons in capital letters.
The increasing rate of abusive and antagonistic reactions or unprofessional adverts posted on the comments section of such websites by other readers have resulted in disillusioned online readers. Many perceive that there is misuse of the comments section of newspaper websites through postings that are not meant for that section thus derailing conversations there. (Brodesser-Akner, 2010).
Thus, this study assessed whether or not comments posted by readers of Vanguard newspaper website on published reports of Buhari‘s election are positive, neutral or negative especially on such news items that generated heated debate on the website. It also examined whether or not readers abused the comments section of Vanguard newspaper website as provided to give them a voice and serve as a feedback mechanism between the news medium and the public.

Aim and Objectives

The aim of the research is to understand website readers‘ comments on news content and how their connotations lead to use or misuse of the comments section of newspaper websites. In this case, the study examined online readers who reacted to news reports on the election of Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria as published on Vanguard newspaper website between March and June 2015.
The objectives of this study are as follows:

  1. To analyse readers comments on Buhari’s 2015 election news reports on Vanguard newspaper website and whether such comments were positive, neutral or
  2. To understand how the opinions expressed by readers lead to their understanding of news reports related to Buhari’s election on Vanguard newspaper
  3. To examine readers use or misuse of the comments section while reacting to published reports of Buhari’s 2015 election on Vanguard

Research Questions 

This research was guided by the following questions:
 

  1. What are the comments expressed by readers to reports of Buhari‘s 2015 election victory on Vanguard newspaper website?
  2. What do the comments expressed by readers on Vanguard newspaper website indicate about their understanding of news reports on the election of Buhari?
  3. How have readers comments reflected a use or misuse of the comments section of Vanguard newspaper website while reacting to news reports of Buhari’s 2015 election?

Significance of the Study

The gap this study aims to fill is the near-absence of research on the online reading habits and connotations of readers who comment on newspaper websites in Nigeria. Since the introduction of Web 2.0-enabled websites in Nigeria, many citizens have embraced the innovation of attaching comments section to such websites as can be seen by the huge numbers of commenters on such platforms (Giwa, 2006).  This online study becomes necessary in view of the fact that many Nigerians showed a huge interest on published reports by several newspaper websites on the campaigns of the two major contenders of the 2015 presidential election with emphasis on the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, who eventually won the election. The news of Buhari‘s victory generated both positive, neutral and negative connotations from his supporters and opponents alike, based on divisive interests.
Thus, the study focused on the benefits of access to newspaper websites and use of feedback platforms by readers with a view to bringing out their divergent views on the electoral victory of Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election. It also shows the nature of comments by readers and how such comments aid the understanding or misunderstanding of reports by fellow readers and whether the comments section of newspaper websites is a necessary tool for a better reading experience of news or not.
There is scanty research in this area, especially within the Nigerian socio-cultural context, hence the need for a study to document the nature of posted comments on newspaper websites; to investigate whether or not readers‘ comments are serving the purpose for the establishment of comments section in line with Harper (2010). Also, the study will determine whether new alternative needs are being served to readers through the feedback platform.
The study will be of benefit to communication scholars, news content researchers, Internet users, readers of newspaper websites among others on the motivating factors for readers‘ reaction to reports on newspaper websites and how such reactions, comments, observations, eyewitness accounts and criticism or commendation educate and boost the understanding of the news story or scare people away from newspaper websites.
It will contribute to policy formulation by those in government or private sector on how readers‘ feedback on reports published on Nigerian newspaper websites can help the dissemination of targeted communication messages to different segment of the society. It will also add to the existing body of knowledge and serve as a benchmark for future research on the use of the Internet as a news medium by Nigerians.

Scope of the Study 

This study limited itself only to online readers of news stories related to the electoral victory of Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria as duly announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which were specifically published on Vanguard newspaper website and not general comments by users of the social media, blogs, groups or the Internet as a whole.
The study covered four months from March 1st to June 30th 2015, which is before the election, during the election and after the swearing-in of Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria by INEC.
The study is limited to Vanguard newspaper website because it has consistently remained the most visited newspaper website in Nigeria for years, recording about
21.3 million visitors monthly (Alexa, 2016). A cursory survey among Nigerian newspaper  websites  shows  that  it  has  the  highest  number  of  comments  on news reports published on its website; has an effective online archiving system that promotes research unlike other websites that lose content in months; features breaking news; is interactive; uses latest information technology features; and has effective social media integration tools that help to annex comments to it.
Based on these huge advantages when compared with the fewer comments on other Nigerian newspaper websites and their lack of proper archiving of stories or easy retrieval for research, the study resorted to using only Vanguard newspaper because the outcome of the research could become heavily tilted or skewed against any other newspaper website picked for comparism which does not have same parameters for evaluation and content analyses like that of Vanguard newspaper.

1.7 Operational Definition of Key Terms

 
Use – In this context, the word refers to the positive aspect of posting comments that contribute to the debate and tolerating the views of others irrespective of ethnicity, race or nationality.
Misuse – Refers to the abuse or illegal use of the comments section of the newspaper website in such ways that may not have been intended by the medium such as posting abusive comments, illegal advertising materials or distorting other commenters through trolling.
Readers Comments – Refers to views or opinions of what is presented in the news as expressed by readers of Vanguard newspaper website in form of texts which are posted on the comments section of a news story.
Analysis – It refers to the detailed examination of the elements or structure of the
study in trying to research the variables used which are: reader‘s comments, Buhari‘s election and Vanguard newspaper website. It means separating the research subject into its constituent elements for a proper investigation, comparism and understanding.
Buhari’s Election – Refers to the presidential campaign period of Muhammadu Buhari between March to June 2015 where the candidate contested and won the general election under the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Vanguard Newspaper Website – As used in the study, this refers to all news stories related to Muhammadu Buhari‘s 2015 presidential campaign and published on the website of Vanguard newspaper. It does not mean all news stories published on the website.

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