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.

From Analog to Digital: Mind the Gap

Why the gap between Jamaican media and latest technologies?

analogue clock cartoons, analogue clock cartoon, funny, analogue clock picture, analogue clock pictures, analogue clock image, analogue clock images, analogue clock illustration, analogue clock illustrations
Can’t afford the rights to this cartoon, but am carrying it with a link to the original site as free advertising…

Recently I heard Naomi Francis and Emily Crooks on Nationwide Radio exclaiming how Twitter has changed the way they consume content, especially television and other live streaming content, and how much they enjoyed watching The Voice while commenting simultaneously along with so many others on Twitter. A heartfelt Hallelujah. Our media has finally got it. Not a moment too soon for this is the end of 2013 and one day scholars and analysts will want to know why Jamaican media were such late adopters of new media in general; the first big-name journalist to start blogging here was Dionne Jackson-Miller in 2012.

There were several younger, lesser known journalists who started Twitter accounts in the early days and used social media tools (Laura Redpath was one of them), but there seems not to have been any recognition on the part of their media houses that what they were doing was valuable activity, that should have been taken up at the highest levels.

For those plebs like myself who started blogging in 2008, and tweeting in 2009, it remained a mystery why the media here seemed to be spurning the most revolutionary news and opinion-gathering tools to come along in decades. For us the Tessane Chin moment Ems and Nems were describing on Nationwide had happened in 2008 when we watched Obama’s historic win, while talking to each other on Twitter, not only regionally but globally.

I’d really love to know why it took Jamaica’s top media fraternity another five years to get clued in on the powers and pleasures of Twitter. I suggest it behooves them to take a good, long look at their own foot-dragging in this context and ask what it means. What does this hostility to change imply for Jamaica’s future? The world as we know it is irrevocably moving from analog to digital modes of communication. Abandon hope all ye who insist on ignoring this fact or who convinced themselves that social media was just a fad that would go away. If it might help let me quote from a post I wrote in January 2010, “Jamaica’s Twitter-shy Media: When will the would-be watchdogs of Jamaican democracy wake up?“:

I wonder if 2010 will prove to be the year when Jamaican journalists finally discover Twitter. Their silence on/in this increasingly crucial new medium is deafening. Where are @Boyne, @MartinHenry, @Wignall, @Hughes and @emilycrooks? Don’t you know that Twitter is how news is telegraphed nowadays and audiences created?

Ah well, i continue to scratch my head in perplexity at the lagging behind of those who claim to be our watchdogs. Their caginess and timidity would be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic. While the formal, English-speaking posse bury their heads in the sand the Patwa-speakers are off and running with the new technologies. I was able to get a blow-by-blow account of the rather uneventful Sting finale this year because the dancehall massive and crew were tweeting comments and photos, alternately transmitting their disgust at the lack of clashing and fear when shots were fired amongst a range of reactions which i wouldn’t have missed for the world.

May i recommend that our celebrated journalists…take a crash course in Twitter? The lagging behind in use of new technologies from the most literate segments of Jamaican society contradicts the ‘English is better than Patwa’ message that the English-speaking elites are constantly advancing, claiming that English is necessary to ‘move ahead’, converse with the rest of the world, keep up with new knowledge and so on. It would seem from the example that they’re setting that English is actually holding back the learned, speaky-spoky elites.
Even the latest Shebada play Serious Business, pivots on the plot-bending detail of ‘Facebook and Twidder’ for he plays a Revival preacher from New York, with 5000 Facebook friends and 3000 Twitter followers. Those are his qualifications for being hired to replace the crufty, corrupt old Preacher who is busy ripping off the Church at every opportunity he gets. It’s an amazing development when the less literate massive and crew get the new technologies before those who benefited from the highest education this country can offer. What can it portend for the future?
I’ve also tried, unsuccessfully so far, to interest my colleagues at the University of the West Indies in logging on to things digital, for Twitter and Facebook are prime hunting grounds for researching social opinion, commentary and discourse in general. With a few exceptions (Damien King, Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, Donna Hope, Julian Cresser, Marcia Forbes) most UWI academics have spurned these new modes of communication and research. While it may once have been possible to claim to be world-class without having to prove it, be warned that the lack of a significant digital footprint today in any enterprise that claims to be cutting edge, immediately betrays the falsity of such truth claims.
Meanwhile according to a Daily Beast article listing the 10 most popular journalists on Twitter: “MuckRack…reported that the New York Times has the most journalists on Twitter, with 502 tweeting reporters, editors, and photographers. Reuters was just shy of the lead with 496.”
What’s our excuse?

Demonic Jetski kills 6-year old girl in Jamaica!

Another chapter in the ‘What Ails Jamaican Journalism?’ series…

This story is typical of the farcical reporting that passes for journalism in Jamaica. It focuses completely on the victims and says nothing about the perpetrator of this killing. Instead it makes it sound as if a rogue jet ski emerged from the water and struck this poor family down. Jet skis do not propel themselves. Tell us who was riding it and at exactly what beach this ‘accident’ happened. As usual Jamaican media is more interested in protecting the name and reputation of the wealthy (the owner of the jet ski, its rider, the beach in question). Nowhere in this story is there a sense of the outrage this unnecessary death represents. Disgusted.

 

Here’s the view of writer Marlon James, who posted the article on Facebook with the following comment:
So you’ve been looking around for an example of Yellow Journalism. Look no further. How do you report on a act of manslaughter without implicating the possibly rich, influential or foreign person responsible? You recast it as a Stephen King Horror story (minus the talent) of a rogue jetski becoming suddenly animated with freak power then charging on its own into an unsuspecting family, killing a kid in the process. Who was the skier? Which beach? Who owned the jet skis? Private or a company? It’s called Journalism, Gleaner. You’re here to give us the news, not protect the interests of whoever’s reputation might be damaged because they slaughtered a child.

Yes, yes I know all about the supposedly draconian libel laws in Jamaica but honestly isn’t this just a case of a senior journalist from the newspaper of record willfully gagging himself? Does the Gleaner realize how ridiculous these stories sound?

And its not just the Gleaner either. A few days ago, reporting on tensions in West Kingston the Observer carried this masterpiece of evasive, or is it defensive, reporting:

“Police intelligence suggests that since the arrest and subsequent extradition of Christopher Coke, individuals said to be related to a prominent family that claimed to rule the community from the nineties to 2010, and others claiming to be relatives of a late well-known resident, who claimed to be a ‘Don’, and was said to be the leader of the community in the1980s have become involved in a deadly battle for control,” a police statement Monday said.

What is this — a suss column?? These families and Dons have no names? In the 21st century is this what passes for reportage? What’s the deal here? Why is it so hard to just say that the descendants of Claudie Massop, the Don who ruled Tivoli Gardens once and those of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, are locked in a deadly power struggle?

 

Just what we need when the country seems to be going down the tube…a media that won’t call a spade a spade.

Why Twitter is essential for Journalists

An attempt (once again) to rally our top journalists to start using Twitter, the definitive newsgathering tool, before its too late.

investigativetweeting

2012 was the year a handful of name-brand Jamaican journalists decided it was time to start using Twitter. That was pretty late in the day already. The majority however are still holding back, perhaps signalling their impending mortality or the end of their shelf lives as journalists to take seriously? We still have no @ianboyne, @markwignall, @cliffhughes, @MartinHenry (perhaps the only local science writer!) and many others who straddle traditional media like local giants.

This post is dedicated to all the non-tweeting local giants of Jamaican journalism: The following quote from How to break into science writing using your blog and social media (#sci4hels), a Scientific American article should clue you in on why you’re shortchanging your audiences by continuing to spurn the latest newsgathering technologies such as Twitter. In addition this useful but long article provides a lot of great information for journalists in general on how to use social media to find new audiences and outlets.

“Let’s focus on Twitter now. It is essential for a journalist. Not having – and using – a Twitter account today is like not having an email address ten years ago (and yes, some cutting-edge people are completely abandoning email and doing all of their communications over social media).

Big companies have suffered losses because their old-timey PR teams were unaware of the backlash on social media, and then incapable of responding correctly on social media. Businesses can lose money if they are missing key information that appears only on social media. Academia is especially horribly insulated and way behind the times. But nowhere is use of social media as important as in journalism. Don’t be this guy who was completely oblivious that his newspaper was in the center of national maelstrom of harsh criticism, because “I only deal with what’s on paper”.

When an airplane skidded off the runway in Denver, I knew it, along with 100,000s of other people, 12 minutes before everyone else. A passenger tweeted about it, and it spread like wildfire, including his updates, blurry photos, etc. CNN had a brief piece 12 minutes later. The accidental “citizen journalist” scooped them. Sometimes, for some news, these 12 minutes may be crucial for you.

Twitter and Facebook were key methods of communication not just between participants, but also to the outside world, during the Mumbai attacks and the Arab Spring.

People got jobs and gigs on Twitter that started their careers.

Journalists on deadline quickly find expert sources for their stories.

Journalists who observed the massive, instant, intense and scathing reactions of experts to #arseniclife or #Encode did not make the mistake of filing their positive stories and then having to backpedal later.

If all you see on Twitter is garbage, you are following the wrong people. You have to carefully choose who to follow, and then learn how to filter. Unfollowing is easy, and polite. You are not dissing your Mom, as if you would if you unfriended her on Facebook.”

And guess what the best thing about this most cutting-edge tool for journalists is? It’s free!

Doubletake: First Mattathias Schwartz, Now Dan Rather. What ails Jamaican media?

After Dan Rather’s in-depth coverage of the Lotto Scam in Jamaica might it be a good time to ask why local media doesn’t produce similarly aggressive, investigative reporting?


News outlets in Jamaica this week were inundated with coverage of  and responses to the US media’s unprecedented focus on the Lotto Scam, a locally generated con game, whose victims are elderly Americans. Former 60 Minutes stalwart Dan Rather visited Jamaica some weeks ago so his in-depth exposé of the scam, Just Hang Up, which aired on March 12, complete with heart-rending interviews with some of the victims didn’t come as a surprise. The documentary was timed to air in tandem with evidence presented to the US Senate’s Committee on Ageing yesterday. At least two  other major US channels also aired stories on the scam.

The US Embassy in Jamaica obligingly posted links on Facebook with the following note:

As you are aware, there has been a great deal of U.S. media attention focused on advanced-fee fraud (also known as “lotto scams”) recently. Below are the links to the Dan Rather, CBS and NBC stories.

I haven’t yet seen the entire documentary featuring Rather (its available free on iTunes though only in the US not in Jamaica) but the excerpts shown on TV here have been riveting. The American TV team even lured a scammer, tracked down by his IP address, to a meeting in Montego Bay, showing him live and direct for all to see. Naturally the impact has been sensational especially because this well-crafted documentary was shown on prime time TV in the United States. It suddenly came home to Jamaicans that ‘Brand Jamaica’, as local technocrats and the media in general have taken to calling it, was going to take a battering.

Relying on tourism and American visitors as much as Jamaica does this could be potentially devastating.

What does it mean that serious crimes like the Lotto Scam and the Tivoli genocide (the 2010 killing of 73 plus citizens by the State in its pursuit of fugitive don, Christopher Coke) are exposed by foreign not local media I asked on Twitter yesterday. For although the media here has carried any number of stories on the Lotto Scam, many of them bizarrely claiming that most of the scammers are gay, we’ve never been given a true idea of the scale of the problem, affecting enough Americans for their political representatives to start raising the alarm about it.

Several media folk I follow on Twitter reacted negatively to my question, interpreting it as a slight or a claim that there had been no local media attention to the scam. It s true that there have been many stories about the Lotto scam here. To my mind however there’s a qualitative difference in the way the story was investigated and reported on American TV and the way it’s been carried in the local media which mainly focused on the scam when police action brought it to the forefront. Piqued by public criticism Simon Crosskill played some of CVM’s previously aired coverage of the Lotto Scam last night. It did cover much of the same ground as Rather’s documentary but the audio was poor and too many of the people interviewed had their faces obscured and voices disguised, thus robbing it of the impact it could have had.

Are there some stories local media consider too dangerous to touch? or don’t have the resources to I wondered puzzling over this variance in the quality of media coverage. In the case of the 2010 Tivoli carnage also there had been nothing in local media to approach the in-depth investigative article by American journalist Mattathias Schwartz whose exposé provided evidence that the US had given Jamaica military assistance in the May 2010 incursion into Tivoli despite the Jamaican government’s claims to the contrary. In both cases it was the American media that brought these stories to international attention, and sustained interest in them, not local media.

Let it be noted that Jamaican media are perfectly capable of executing well-researched, hard-hitting, in-depth stories when they’re ready to. In 2004 Cliff Hughes’s TV programme Impact won an Emmy in the United States for its documentary on sniper Lee Boyd Malvo called ‘The Potter and the Clay’. It was so good it not only attracted the attention of the US media, it won one of the most coveted journalism awards there. Other journalists such as Earl Moxam, Simon Crosskill, Dionne Jackson-Miller and Emily Crooks are as good as or better than their American peers.

Is it that there’s a lack of political will from the big media houses to provide the best journalists with the required resources and time to follow up the really important stories? Or are there more sinister reasons why Jamaica doesn’t have aggressive, exposé-driven investigative news outlets such as 60 Minutes and ABC’s 20/20?

The closest thing Jamaica has had in recent times to similar hard-hitting TV newsmagazines, was Doubletake, produced by Anthony Miller and CARIMAC lecturer Yvette Rowe for TVJ in 2000-2001. Despite winning awards the programme was phased out after only 8 or 9 episodes because it was considered too hard hitting and perhaps too close to the truth for comfort. It was felt that the broadcasters’ relentless focus on corruption and calling out politicans and others without fear or fanfare was ‘mashing too many corns’. This was the perception of the hosts of the programme; the station apparently discontinued it for lack of sponsorship although it was extremely popular and well-received by the public. Why a popular, well-made documentary programme would have difficulty finding sponsors is anybody’s guess. But it reinforces the point I’m making about the lack of will on the part of those with the means to enable and sustain high quality, hard-hitting journalism.

Among other subjects Doubletake covered, were the death and funeral of Grants Pen area leader Andrew Phang in Death of a Don, colour and race issues in The Browning Syndrome, the politics of the 100 Lane Massacre and other such matters. Whatever was the issue of the day was grist for their mill and with a miller like Anthony, no holds were barred. We desperately need a show like Doubletake again.

Yesterday a man…

While Jamaica seems to be experiencing a crime wave its media is busy censoring itself…

Yesterday a man named Ed Gallimore went to an ATM in New Kingston to withdraw money and fell victim to a robber who shot and killed him. He was a prominent figure in the tourist industry. According to a report in the Jamaica Observer:

Gallimore was shot at an automated banking machine on Knutsford Boulevard about 3:30 pm. Police report that Gallimore had withdrawn an undetermined sum of cash from the machine when he was pounced upon by a gunman upon leaving the booth. Gallimore was shot and the gunman escaped on a motorcycle.

In Jamaica gunmen always ‘pounce’ on their victims. Don’t ask why. A question I will ask is why Jamaican media seems to be conspiring with the bank concerned to keep the exact location of the ATM a secret. All we know is that it’s somewhere on Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston. Such an omission raises serious questions about the media and exactly whose watchdogs they are…
In a sinister twist Ed Gallimore’s mother and other mourners were held up and robbed at his house today:

The Observer learnt that friends of the former tourism industry executive were at his house offering condolences to his mother when one of the gunmen, pretending to be a friend, walked in, hugged Gallimore’s mother, then pulled a gun and demanded money.

Something has changed about the calibre of crime we’re experiencing now. Only last week there was a brazen carjacking not very far from the unnamed ATM.

A Kingston mother was subjected to one of the most frightening ordeals of her life yesterday when an armed man forced himself into her car in heavy drive-time traffic, fought with her, and eventually drove away with her baby who was strapped into a car seat in the back. “I am still in shock,” Judy-Ann Hinds told the Observer about an hour after the ordeal ended when the thief crashed her car on Oxford Road and bolted up Belmont Road, leaving the baby unharmed.

Notice that the media wasn’t bashful about identifying the exact location in this instance; it gives you the precise address where the carjacker lost control of the car. No prizes for guessing why. There was no powerful business, political or social  entity located there. As the crime wave continues the media needs to be reminded that they are supposed to be serving the public, not just those who advertise in their pages or buy their airtime. Their model ought not to be the dog in the HMV ads listening to His Master’s Voice…their job is to be the canary in the coal mine singing its heart out to alert us of the danger surrounding us. Your job is to inform not to withhold information.

This is a direct message to the media: The public needs information in order to minimize its risks. Kindly provide it. That’s your mandate.

Patrick Powell finally charged!

Patrick Powell finally charged with murder and a battery of other charges…

The man charged with Khajeel Mais's murder, Patrick Powell, beside his precious X6

Finally! Patrick Powell, first mentioned by the Sunday Herald, as the man who owned the X6 involved in Khajeel Mais’s killing, has been charged by the police. Now could the mainstream media provide us with the full 100? This case will go down in history as the one that completely exposed the fecklessness of Jamaican media. Fine watchdogs they are! Too fraid to bark! and toothless on top of it!

The Herald may barely be hobbling along but it has all its teeth and doesn’t hesitate to use them, which is why it’s forced to hobble…