Time For Evolution & Revolution
Below is an edited speech delivered by Douglas Orane at the Press Association of Jamaica awards dinner and ceremony on November 28.
I WOULD like to explore three segments – the individual in journalism, the entities in journalism, and the structure of the media industry in Jamaica. In preparing for this speech, I sought the views of participants in media and members of the public. There was a virtual consensus that the key to effective journalism rested on two facets: credibility and accuracy.
What we the public are looking for are individual journalists who can cut through the noise of an exponentially increasing avalanche of information and provide us with added value by analysing for us, educating us, and hopefully entertaining us, all at the same time.
We the public trust that you do the necessary stress testing so that when statements are shared with us, we can be certain that they are completely truthful. We want you to stick with stories through to conclusion, reflecting effective investigative journalism.
For young people entering this industry, I would comment that we are looking, not for stars, but for credible messengers. We build our trust in you as journalists over time by your display of honesty, integrity and courage in the face of adversity. The second segment relates to the entities functioning in the media space. The stark reality today is that the digital era has ushered in a wave of disruptive innovation across the entire media landscape worldwide. The quest ion facing every media house is, “How do I survive and thrive in this new world?”
CUTTING THROUGH CLUTTER
I reflected on my own personal choices and there is one that struck me as particularly significant. I subscribe to the Economist magazine online and pay about US$13 per month for the weekly edition. I look forward to spending Saturday mornings reading it on my iPad. On reflecting on why I am so enthused about this weekly activity, I had this insight. There is very little news in the Economist that I have not already heard about before, with the possible exception of the science and technology section. What I find most interesting are the “aha” moments.
I, as a consumer of information, am searching for a way to absorb what is happening around me, cutting through the vast clutter of noise that surrounds me every day and to present it in a form that is useful and practical. Most important, for the media entity, I am willing to pay for it, and I believe others will, too, provided they feel they are getting value for money.
The third segment has to do with the structure of the media industry in Jamaica. For you, as professional journalists, to function effectively, you need to do so from a sound financial and economic base. Based on publicly available financials and anecdotal sources, it seems that there are probably only two or three media entities that are profitable in Jamaica today, out of the dozens that exist. What does the future hold, and what can we do about it?
As in other industries with these characteristics, it is almost inevitable that there will be some form of consolidation in the future, as the financial structure of each entity becomes increasingly unsustainable. An economic reality that is inescapable is that one cannot deliver credible journalism for free indefinitely. Therefore, new business models will emerge of consumers paying for credible news. For example, we see the innovations of paywalls taking place globally, and we can expect this trend to increase in the future. Other sources of funding are likely to surface.
In developed countries, we see the emergence of significant amounts of money going into the industry to promote special interests. Many may be political, but it is interesting to note other interests such as climate change and renewable energy as reasons for funding by wealthy individuals. National public radio in North America delivers high-quality programming through private grants and individual donations. We also see overseas the recent innovation of crowd-funding for raising capital.
It’s an expectation that the media will cause our society to have better governance, particularly in the public sector. James Wolfensohn echoed these sentiments when he was president of the World Bank: “A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people; if they do not have the right to expression; if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.” I’ll share my personal experience with corporate governance in business. Our company, GraceKennedy, embraced corporate governance, not only because of the company’s ethical framework, but also because it made good business sense. I was often asked, “Does corporate governance create value for shareholders?” My answer was definitely yes.
A survey by McKinsey and company, a global management consultancy, several years ago, indicated that three-quarters of investors said that board practices are at least as important to their evaluation of a company as is financial performance. More than 80 per cent said they would pay a premium for well-governed companies. Premiums ranged from 18 per cent in the United Kingdom and United States to a high of 28 per cent in Venezuela. The conclusions we drew from McKinsey’s research were, first, that it made good business sense to be transparent and, therefore, supportive of an environment of public disclosure.
Second, McKinsey’s survey indicated that the more corrupt a society was, the more investors were willing to pay a premium for the benefits of good governance and transparency.
Harvard professor, Orlando Patterson, a Jamaican, has done recent work on why former British colonies that have been independent for decades have displayed divergent trajectories in terms of their economic development. “It is not just institutions, but playing the institutional game the right way.” Professor Patterson compares Jamaica and Barbados and comes to the conclusion that the main reason why Barbados now has a GDP per capita threefold greater than Jamaica’s is because there is a difference between knowing the rules of the institutional game and knowing how to play the game. Barbados is better at playing the game than we are.
Here is a crucial role for the Fourth Estate to highlight what we need to do to close this gap.
Put as much information as possible into the public domain to improve transparency. There is a saying: ‘Sunshine is the best disinfectant’. I encourage you to continue your indispensable roles as watchdogs, as creators of civic forums for public discourse, and as agenda setters for our society. Your role in helping to tackle corruption and advocating change for the benefit of all is crucial.
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