Theoretical considerations

Niche theory

The development of niche theory is traced to sociological inquisitions into the survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom, where cannibalism reigns. In the world of predatory animals, small animals of all kinds become food and endangered species, finding it difficult to compete for available resources in the jungle where they co-exist with predators. The theory sees two possibilities from this ensuing competitive relationship: the extinction of lesser or weaker species as a result of the dangerous activities of the powerful animals, or the co-existence with these powerful predators (Dimmick, Kline, and Stafford 2000; Randle 2003).

Sociologists have identified the amount of available food, pyramid of numbers, animal niches, food chains and food cycles as factors needed for studying a community of animals. The size of food determines the degree or extent of competition among animals, as well as the food chains and food cycles. Whereas an animal’s relation to food and enemies is its niche, the pyramid of numbers explains the real competition that plays out, where big animals become predators turning smaller animals to food, and other smaller animals also turn those below them in the chain to food. To survive this onslaught, weaker animals need effective skills and defensive strategies as a form of adaptation to counter the inordinate quest of their predators. In the media world, the niche theory' finds relevance with the stiff competition between the production and consumption of hard copies (offline) and digital versions of newspapers on the one hand, and the annihilating tendencies of English language newspapers against the survival of the indigenous language newspapers on the other (Newell, Pilotta, and Thomas 2008; Kayany and Yelsma 2000).

Scholars have borrowed the phrase ‘ecological niche’ from animal research to explain the struggle for survival in media practice in the age of modernization and globalization. Dimmick, Kline and Stafford (2000) and Kayany and Yelsma (2000) explain this as the ingenuity' of a medium to apply scarce resources as it seeks to battle the competition, and the existential survival struggle posed by another medium. The theatre of competition is the media industry, and consumers or media audiences or readers (in the case of newspapers) are the scarce resources that many media outlets compete for. The kind of treatment given to media consumers determines the ability of each medium to survive and attract the resources to itself. Furthermore, the degree of overlap that exists between two media outlets also determines the level of competition and rate of survival. Where media outlets are complements of one another, the survival battle is keener because they offer almost the same benefits to the audiences. The last is niche superiority, which explains the ability of a larger media outlet competing with smaller outlets for audiences’ attention to provide a greater level of gratification to consumers, thereby tilting available media resources or newspaper readers to the bigger outlet (Newell, Pilotta, and Thomas 2008; Dimmick, Kline, and Stafford 2000).

This theory aptly captures the tension between indigenous language newspapers and giant English language newspapers in Nigeria. There is an assumption that the endangered indigenous system in the age of globalization has led to the cannibalization of indigenous newspapers, as newspapers published in English hold sway among readers. This development makes it difficult for indigenous language newspapers to favourably compete in the murky waters of newspaper production and consumption in Nigeria. To confront this calculated (or perhaps inadvertent) onslaught of big newspapers as predators, smaller indigenous language newspapers (such Alaroye and Akede Agbaye) have devised survival strategies. Where, then, does the survival game lead?

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