Will the Gleaner RJR deal restrict consumer choice?

I was part of a panel discussion at the Mona School of Business today on the Gleaner RJR merger…this is what i said…

qqxsgMedia mergers

No, I don’t think it will. In the first place this isn’t the merger of two businesses offering the same services. It is a merger between two entities representing the oldest legacy media in the country: the country’s first and most dominant newspaper and its first and largest broadcasting service. Legacy media is just a more popular term for traditional media and is used as a counterpart to new media, the new technologies that have forced a global paradigm shift in the way news is produced and consumed.

The new entity, which I refer to as the Gleanajer, is still going to put out a newspaper and will continue to provide TV and radio services. So there is no loss of choice there. In fact what I think we need to realize is that this merger has been forced by the entry of new players into the field who are offering consumers more, not less, choice.

Flow and Lime have merged and will offer TVJ stiff competition. If you notice Flow provided coverage of the two Reggae Boyz games with Nicaragua. Digicel, Sportsmax and Telstar are merging and they will also offer a range of new options, especially in the arena of sports. Digicel’s Loop is a mobile app news platform that is already giving the Gleaner a run for its money in the provision of news; they claim downloads of their news stories outdo Gleaner news downloads by a ratio of 5 to 1. Even if this is an exaggerated claim it shows you how rapidly the media landscape in Jamaica is changing.

Then there is Greenfield Media Productions, owned by Grace Kennedy, a joint venture which has just bought the media rights to all Inter Secondary Schools’ Sporting Association (ISSA) events for the next 15 years.

“The joint venture aims to increase the development of media content for traditional and non-traditional sports and expand distribution in the local and international markets,” said a statement from GK Capital. “There will also be human-interest content generated on athletes and institutions which will promote Brand Jamaica’s sporting accomplishments and prowess to the diaspora and the world.”

While the Grace Kennedy group of companies has been a long-time supporter of sports at the secondary level spending around US$1 million a year sponsoring Boys and Girls Athletics Championship (Champs) alone – the joint venture with ISSA marks the food and financial conglomerate’s entry into media, through its investment arm, GK Capital.

So, far from occupying the choice position of a monopoly our legacy media are running scared from these nimble and disruptive new business models and we should welcome their merger as a sample of the radical new strategies they will need to adopt to stay alive. Disruption as it is called is very much part of the 21st century. The new business models generally disrupt from below, attracting clienteles that the legacy media weren’t servicing or were servicing inadequately.

How do you shift from being the creme de la creme of legacy media, with audiences you could take for granted, to nimble new media platforms that respond to the wishes of the consumer? Legacy media is used to dealing with passive consumers who take whatever is dished out without being able to contribute or interact with the content. Now they have to respond to younger, savvier customers who are used to talking back, commenting, trolling what they don’t like and demanding what they do like. Feedback is instantaneous and can’t be ignored without damage to the bottom line.

According to the cofounder, and editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune, Evan Smith, “The future of news is personalized. The future of news is digitized. The future of news is the consumer controls the conversation, not the provider.”

The new changes mean drastically redesigning the roles of news providers. Active citizenship is the order of the day (a genuflection to Okwui Enwezor here) and the media can help in a big way. The model developed by Smith and his team for the Tribune offers a very good template for the newly constituted Gleaner RJR entity:

“We describe ourselves as a news organization but we’re really much more than that. We report the news, but we also build community around common interests. We go into big cities and small towns with elected officials, pull together hundreds of people, have a conversation about water, transportation, all that stuff. We’re creating more discussion, conversation—civil, important, bipartisan, nonpartisan around issues. To say that we’re reporting the news is, to borrow an old phrase, true but not accurate. Because it’s not all we’re doing, it doesn’t tell the full story. We’re providing information, knowledge to people in various formats, to give them things to think about, talk about with their neighbors, around the dinner table, the gym locker room, the watercooler at the office. We want people to know, here is the state of public education, higher education, immigration, healthcare, down the list. With that knowledge you decide what needs to be done.“

The Gleanajer in a recent q and a made statements that suggest that it may be on the right track.

“The aim of the merged company is to use the combined strengths of each company’s respective credible and award-winning journalism and other content to better inform, educate and entertain the Jamaican public on things relative to Jamaicans everywhere. The opportunities resulting from this coming together are many, however we are excited at the prospect of expanding advertising options and packages for our clients as well leveraging our content for wider distribution on established and new platforms.”

My advice to the Gleanajer is that it focus less on expanding advertising options and packages and more on developing compelling news and information products that the public will buy into. That should be their primary focus for once they develop high quality products that consumers want and can’t get elsewhere the advertisers will follow.

They should also include a few digital natives in the top tier of management, only they know how to navigate the new terrain.

The current practice of an “embedded media” has to go, it is no part of the media to cater to the needs of the power elite by covering up or withholding rather than exposing information. Journalists such as Zahra Burton of 18 degrees North and Mattathias Schwartz of New Yorker fame (both of whom provided the painstaking, in-depth reporting the rape of Tivoli Gardens demands when little or none was forthcoming from the local media) have shown what is possible and the audience response to their stellar investigative journalism signposts the way forward. There is a glaring need for solid investigative journalism that no one is better equipped to provide than the Gleanajer newsroom. This will mean investing more money and resources in this area but there is no other option. The new disruptors are at a disadvantage in not having newsrooms per se. The new entity should capitalize on this.

Patwa has to be part of the new media landscape…this is a bilingual society yet the legacy media continues to ignore this crucial fact.

Not even the most laurelled of all runners in the world–Usain Bolt–can afford to rest on his laurels. The moment he does someone else will come and beat him, he has to remain in training, honing his muscles, covering all the possible bases for improvement even though he’s at the top of his game. The moment he stops his punishing routines he will lose his place at the pinnacle. The same goes for legacy media.

PS: Thanks to Marcia Forbes for filling me in on some of the local media movements involved and to Corve DaCosta for tweeting the link to the interview with the editor of the Texas Tribune.

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

6 thoughts on “Will the Gleaner RJR deal restrict consumer choice?”

  1. I think on the whole the merger is good for the industry though I am (still) wary of its impact on editorial independence, especially with an already fearful and complacent crop of reporters and few journalists. I agree that this new entity is in a good position to do some really solid investigative journalism; the new company certainly has the resources that kind of work needs, but will the journalists be empowered to go looking AND will they be allowed to report? Yet, as to the embrace and use of new media and energetic use of the many available social media platforms, I remain skeptical as I still haven’t quite gotten over the lackluster way in which the announcement of the merger was handled. There was no live tweeting of the associated presser (which was apparently only carried live on Power 106, a terrestrial radio station…Periscope anyone?); graphics were not readily available on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook about how the new company would look; no short but well-produced video on YouTube to explain the merger…altogether, it didn’t “look good.”

    1. you said it–that’s all quite true–and as I said they need some digital natives front and centre…the new entity needs to focus much less on Society events, entertainment, fashion etc and do the hardcore investigative stuff. they can leave the fluff to the disruptors…but will they? I’m not t all sure. only time will tell.

  2. The thing that annoys me about these mergers is the “in reporting” of their own stories. Anything relating to the competitors is popped up as relevant news in order to put the competitors in a bad light. You could see it will the track and field coverage court cases. Its masturbatory.

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