CMQ Weekly 02: Why can’t African tech journalism move beyond fundraising stories?

That’s if it was ever stuck on fundraising stories in the first place.

My favourite podcast is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. In each episode, Peter invites guests from various industries onto his show to talk about media, entertainment, and technology. Some of them are journalists and creators. Some are media operators. Others are businesspeople.

If you listen to the podcast often enough, you will notice that most of his guests have been working in the media and technology industries for several years. Peter himself has been in the business since 1997, which means he has cultivated an army of sources, harnessed a plethora of story perspectives, and, most importantly, gained high-level credibility that gives him access to the most prominent industry figures.

I’ve chosen to begin today’s newsletter with this illustration because it’s crucial for anyone criticising or commenting on tech media or journalism in Africa to do so with a proper appreciation for context. The ecosystem is only just coming of age, and so is the journalism that dissects it.

I started my journalism career in 2015 as a reporter with TechCabal. At the time, there weren’t many of us. The ecosystem we covered was fringe, and not many people took it seriously. Outside our small tech communities in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Egypt, etc., we got minimal traction.

Most of our stories revolved around startup and founder profiles (we wrote about any and every startup we could find), explainers (we were ecosystem evangelists, explaining the industry to whoever cared to listen), and growth resources (we tried to translate business lessons from more mature industries into startup lingo). Anyone aware enough at the time would’ve criticised us for writing about every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who had a startup idea. But we did what we did because that was all we had to work with.

Fast forward to many years later. The ecosystem is growing fast and attracting far more attention than it used to. Now, there is more money from investors, and with that comes big publicity pushes from startups. Every time a startup raises money, no matter the size, they make a PR play (because it sends strong signals that they have arrived). Even minor partnerships or feature updates are fodder for press release campaigns. Everyone wants to be noticed.

Due to the size of the funding rounds and the signal they send to the ecosystem, these are the stories that often generate the most buzz. First, because they make the startups look good, and then because they validate the ecosystem. (It feels good to talk about how much African startups have raised in the past 12 months, doesn’t it?) But even with that, this doesn’t mean that fundraising is all there is to tech journalism in Africa. Those are just the stories that get the most attention.

What we see with the nature of tech’s most prominent stories reflects the industry’s evolution and what people pay the most attention to (whether they admit it or not, data doesn’t lie). But this is just one side of the story.

The other side has to do with talent and human resources. It is as tech analyst (and former journalist) Osarumen Osamuyi explains on this podcast:

  • There aren’t enough reporters who have been around long enough to become peers with the people they are covering.

  • The ecosystem is still relatively small, and so is the size of the media covering it. This makes it all the more difficult for media companies to retain their best talent.

  • Because of the ecosystem’s allure coupled with the media’s limited financial capacity, the journalists who stick around long enough eventually become knowledgeable to the point where they can migrate to the industry. (Osarumen is himself an example.)

  • Essentially, tech media companies don’t have the financial muscle to hire ready-made subject matter experts who can churn out high-level analysis from day one. They also might not be able to afford trained journalists who will consistently provide high-quality investigative stories.

  • All these factors affect the quality of editorial work.

With all this said, it’s still paramount to point out that there are so many good examples of tech journalism and media extending beyond fundraising.

Here are a few good examples

I’m sure several other examples exist that I haven’t mentioned, all of which constitute solid options for anyone genuinely curious about tech coverage outside fundraising. If you’d like to point out some others, please do so in the comment section. Thank you!