Free newspaper and reading culture: a case study of the people daily
This study seeks to develop and understating of the influence of free newspapers on reading culture. The study is motivated by recent pioneering introduction of a free daily newspaper, a business model different from the traditional paid daily newspapers that have been in existence in Kenya. The study assumes that the business model of news content distribution influences reading culture. Therefore introduction of a free daily newspaper will affect the reading culture. Furthermore it is assumed that how people access and read news content depends on news distribution strategies adopted by content creators, which in turn affects the reading culture because more content is availed to readers. But these assumptions are balanced against the fact that reading culture is dependent on more than availability of free content. Indeed reading culture is composed of a complex set of relationships such as environmental factors, as well as qualities and activities of an individual and therefore reading culture is not static but rather a socialization process just like other cultures. Therefore reading culture needs cultivation for it to become a routine leisure time activity. This means reading culture develops over time, with deep roots in the traditions of a given society, as a system, a highly complex cultural system that involves a great many considerations beyond a free daily newspaper, even though the influence of such free daily newspapers on reading culture cannot be ignored. Additionally this study is wary of the traditional overemphasis of readership and inattention to reading culture by many media scholars. Consequently the purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the effect of free newspapers on reading culture of residents of Nairobi. Specifically the study attempted to find out how introduction of a free daily newspaper, the People Daily, is influencing reading culture and describe public perception of free newspapers in Kenya. The study also found out how free newspaper can be used as a channel for distribution of information. The study was guided by three theories, a grand sociological theory — socialization —, information processing theory and a specific mass media theory — uses and gratification. The study used qualitative research methodologies, in particular critical literature review, policy analysis and in-depth interviews. Data was collected through open-ended questions and dialogue with newspaper readers, key informants in the media industry, specifically editors, academicians, school librarians/teachers, and parents. Such in-depth interviews are suitable for the purposes of studying the reading culture because the interviews enabled the researcher to gather data through individual comprehensive description of effect of free newspapers on reading culture, descriptions from which universal meanings can be derived. The study found out that the People Daily is changing the reading culture in Kenya, even though mildly. These changes are through innovative newspaper distribution strategies that have increased readership, increased human interest stories and reader loyalty. However the study found that free newspapers are negatively perceived by readers. In addition the study found out various editorial strategies used by publishers to increase readership. Nevertheless the study discovered that efforts by the People Daily are not enough to change the reading culture in Kenya and suggests more deliberate reading promotion activities as the best approach to developing an appropriate reading culture.