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REGIONAL JOURNALISM, GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE.

Opinion
Media

All the news we can afford to print

Keeping the media strong serves the interests of voters and politicians alike
Opinion
An ally of the people and the pols (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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iAbout Press releases

As part of our continuing efforts to bring you as much information about our region as possible we offer readers a press release service that allows private firms, public agencies, non-governmental organisations and other groups to submit relevant press releases on our website.

All press releases in this section are published in their full length and have not been edited.

If you have a press release or other announcement you would like to have published, please send it to arcticjournal-editor@arcticjournal.com.

We reserve the right to reject press releases we deem irrelevant or inappropriate. 

All material submitted to The Arctic Journal, including pictures and videos, will be assumed to be available for publication by The Arctic Journal and its related entities.

In 2014, Greenland’s government eliminated a national media subsidy that cost SermitsiaqAG, the country’s largest media outlet, and the owner of this website, 2.5 million kroner ($360,000). At the end of 2016, the subsidy was partially reinstated, and SermitisaqAG received 1.5 million kroner.

This sort of political flip-flopping makes it hard for media outlets to make long-term plans, which, in the end, could prove disastrous for independent media.

This is true in big countries as well as small. But, in Greenland it only adds to the hurdles faced by privately owned media outlets, particularly those that publish news both in print and on-line.

SEE RELATED: The high cost of Northern journalism

At election time, for example, candidates are eager to appear in the media so they can get their message out to more potential voters than they can using official or party-sponsored sites. But, once the election is over and it is time to pass on important information to the public, the official sites and press releases are enough all of a sudden. The media become unnecessary.

The most recent example of this was in 2016, when Inatsisartut, Greenland’s national assembly, stopped requiring that local councils publicise information about coming elections in newspapers. While the change proved costly for Greenland’s newspapers, the trend is not unique to us: the same thing is happening in other countries.

The media must also deal with the rise of social media, which is now preferred by most advertisers over traditional media, and free publications, which have undermined our business model, making it hard for us to keep our newsrooms staffed.

At the same time, we see the public sector and private firms ramping up their own communications activities, hiring their own journalists and public-relations staff. And for those that don’t have their own communications department, there is an ever-increasing number of communications agencies that can, for a fee, advise them how they can make sure the right message makes it into the media.

SEE RELATED: Reporting live from around the circle

The rise of fly-by-night on-line news outlets also poses a challenge when it comes to media ethics. Many of the new websites are unaware of the importance of the media, and they often don’t care about journalistic codes of conduct that spell out the guidelines for how we write about people accused of crimes or which pictures from an accident scene we show.

These are all pressures that make it increasingly harder to operate as an independent news outlet. The effect is that we become ever more dependent on relationships with clients who have a message they want to get out, and who would like to use our distribution channels to do so.

The immediate victim of all this is independent, investigative journalism. The ultimate victim is the public, who are robbed of the news and information they need.

One could foresee this leading to a situation in which journalists, rather than receiving a salary, are paid based on the number of people who read their articles – or the number of clicks they get. For the individual journalist, this would mean writing to readers’ preferences, instead of informing them about a broad range of topics that were important to society as a whole.

SEE RELATED: Putting Greenland on the map

In order to make money, the journalist would need to deliver original content that they reader couldn’t find elsewhere. This would require more time to be spent writing and researching articles. Unfortunately, with the explosion in the number of free, on-line news outlets, original content is quickly copied and re-published without respect for the original outlet’s copyright. Readers, being economically rational, will choose the free version, rather than the one they have to pay for. But this short-term gain has a long-term cost in the form of the loss of credible sources of news.

Nowhere is this problem more apparent than in Greenland. With just 57,000 people, it’s nearly impossible to earn enough money to support a distribution network connecting an area the size of western Europe. This, despite our organisation having proportionally more readers than news outlets in many other countries.

Part of the reason for this is because Greenland’s economy is heavily influenced by the activities of a few, big nationally controlled enterprises. Because of their high level of recognition and lack of competition, they have no motivation to make use of the media as an advertising channel.

Yet, even as our economic and journalistic challenges mount, so too do the requirements we need to live up to in order to adequately serve our community. Greenlandic is the national language in Greenland, and all news outlets must carry content in Greenlandic and Danish. Most of our on-line readers are bi-lingual. But while our Danish site is more active than on our Greenlandic site, when it comes to social media in Greenland, most people communicate in Greenlandic.

SEE RELATED: Operation: Barneo

Our challenge is to make sure that we reach the portion of the population in Greenland that prefers to speak Greenlandic (including most young people), or who only speak Greenlandic.

Getting a handle on these issues is vital, especially in a country like Greenland where a small population and an out-sized public sector makes people generally hesitant to speak out against the powers that be, lest they wind up crossing a powerful public official. What this leads to, though, is people or companies keeping their mouths shut when they might have been able to contribute something that would have helped inform decision-makers.

As can be imagined, a lack of proper information has resulted in poor political decisions. The almost endless list, spanning from a failing school system to an unclear mining policy that has resulted in the economy not living up to its potential, is inversely proportional to the decline of independent, critical media outlets. This is a situation that will only grow worse as financial and community support journalists to carry out their work continues to decline.

The media make up part of the foundation that helps keep democracies sturdy. Keeping the media strong, then, serves not just the national interest, it also serves politicians’ interests as well.

The author served as managing director of Mediehuset SermitsiaqAG, Greenland’s largest privately owned media outlet, from 1990 to 2017. He is the editor-in-chief of Sermitsiaq and Nuuk Ugeavis newspapers, as well as The Arctic Journal.