The State of the Media: Moan and Mourn

Jackie Sam
Editorial Board member, The Journalist

Two words sum up the situation of the media industry in the US: Moan. Mourn.

The situation is so dire that government funding is no longer considered inimical to freedom of the press. Or even to democracy itself.

The search for a new economic model seems to be verging on desperation. There has been no lack of ideas; many “solutions” have been offered by journalism schools, research organizations, media personalities, political figures.

These ideas can be boiled down to the following: creating endowments for newspapers; direct financial support from government; exempting the media from paying any taxes; changing the laws, especially anti-trust laws, to allow the media to agree upon and co-ordinate prices, strengthen laws against “lifting” news materials from the print medium and outlawing linkages on the internet.    

No prize for correctly guessing what sort of people are putting up all these ideas: The big corporations and folks, in and out of the print media, who are beholden to these corporations. Indirectly, or sometimes directly, they are linked to the big banks which have brought the world to its knees and which are in the process of destroying the middle class in the United States. These people and organizations include colleges of journalism, activist and media organizations. Foremost amongst them, of course, is Rupert Murdoch who needs no introduction when it comes to shafting press freedom, democracy, etc. etc.

Other than financing, there is almost no debate or discussion about journalists and journalism, maintaining press freedom or freedom of expression. It is as if these were incidental to the existence of the printed media.

None of these proffered “solutions” are likely to save the printed newspapers in the long term. Not as long as the big corporations are involved.

Future Look of Hong Kong Newspaper

None of the people involved in the prolonged discussion have looked at the problem from the average reader’s perspective. Why is the common folk walking away from the newspaper? Because there’s the internet?

Then why are they lining up for the free newspaper? Just because it’s free?

Why just compare costs? A free copy against one that costs $5 or $6? What about the bulk?

Most people don’t read every page of a newspaper. Invariably he or she asks: Why am I paying for all these pages that I drop into the trash bin straight away?

Because the people who run newspapers no longer care about the readers. They keep on creating pages to cater to advertisers who pour huge sums into newspaper coffers in order to keep shareholders happy. Shareholders and their banks come first, second and last. Newspaper readers don’t matter at all in any equation.

Don’t, for a single moment, believe Hong Kong will not be affected. We are already feeling some of the pains, though for somewhat different reasons.

As in the US newspaper owners and corporate editors feel their first loyalty is to shareholders. The reader is regarded as an idiot who will accept whatever is thrown at him or her. As in the west, the reader is now biting back. By not buying newspapers.

My own feeling is that the printed newspaper will survive. But not in its present bulky form. To get an idea of the future, take a stroll through Victoria Park on a Sunday afternoon and peer over the shoulders of those Filipino or Indonesian maids reading their tabloids. Not such crudely produced ones, of course.

For an idea of what’s happening in Hong Kong now, see the following pages.