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THE FUTURE OF NEWSPAPERS

THE FUTURE OF NEWSPAPERS

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by Harold Hoyte 23.MAY.08

The feature address delivered at the official opening of SVG Publishers Inc. on Tuesday, May 20th, 2008.

IT IS a hugely proud moment for me to be associated with this opening ceremony, and to be here in St Vincent among friends this evening.

This launch event is the culmination of a cherished dream of the directors of SVG Publishers Inc. I knew when this was merely a heart’s desire, a bright idea, a wishful thought, an ambitious hope. Shakespeare would have termed it “A consummation devoutly to be wished.”{{more}}

It is most gratifying to see it blossom into living reality. The blood, sweat and tears should, however, not at all be forgotten or discounted in the spendour of our merry-making this evening. Great effort and firm commitment has seen it to fruition.

I warmly congratulate you, Chairperson, and your board of directors, for your bold prevision and tenacity of purpose.

Those historiographers on whom will fall the responsibility accurately to chronicle this period of development in St Vincent and the Grenadines will have reason to look back on this date, Tuesday, May 20, 2008, and this place, Campden Park Industrial Estate, as representing an epoch-making advance in the maturing of an independent nation, the certifying of freedom of expression for the people, with its concomitant strengthening of that mightiest of protection for a culture: Knowledge.

Perhaps we are all too close to this event fully to perceive its long-term significance for the uplifting of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

This achievement milestone, the day of the official opening of this web offset printing press and plant in this island, is a landmark communications occasion. For by communications, we bridge the gap between nothingness and plenty.

This facility is destined to make a lasting imprint on the cultural ethos of St Vincent and the Grenadines. And through its enduring overprint, it will lend new buoyancy to the spirit of your effervescent population.

We owe a big debt of gratitude to the newspaper pioneers of St. Vincent, the stalwarts who toiled with little recognition and less reward to ensure that the media in this country is recognised as having fully played its enlightenment role. I, therefore, hail with truly loving recollection the unselfish efforts of the late Edgie Richards and Nora Peacock, both of fond memory, among those whom I knew personally and who paved the way, through unstinting personal sacrifice, to create a platform for citizens of this land of robust hills and winding rivers, freely to speak their views on the affairs that guide all citizens’ destiny. I also count among the Vincentian trail-blazers the respected Shelly Clarke of the News, and Norma Keizer, a woman of more recent vintage than the Richardses and Peacocks, but someone whom I regard as the caring mother of modern journalism enterprise in this country.

For it was no less than their sustained appreciation of the educational value of the printed word, allied with their understanding of the key role of the media in a democracy, which for St Vincent and the Grenadines has secured a reading public that grows from strength to strength with due appreciation for the efforts made by publishing and newspapers in this region.

They toiled unbidden with an inadequacy of tools but no lack of talent, to engage thinking Vincentians in dialogue over matters of import. It is indeed their legacy which has assured this country of a thriving and empowered publishing industry today, and that has heralded the establishment of these premises.

I am sure my friends at Searchlight and The News will forgive me if I pause to laud the sterling contribution of The Vincentian, now 101 years old, for its sustained role in media affairs. That paper is among the top five oldest newspapers of the Caribbean, and, therefore, has a proud legacy. We thank the Richards family, first of all, and the others like Nora who so faithfully served through some most difficult years and trying circumstances.

I think those who have passed would be proud of all that has led to this evening’s event.

The achievement impetus for the launch of SVG Publishers Inc. makes it a red letter day for your country, for it is a significant leap into a better future, conceived out of the confidence in the people of these islands as readers, your advertisers as sponsors, and indeed your government, which is a signatory to the Treaty of Chapultepec and is clearly committed to the high ideals of a free press. All of this is bolstered by feelings of national pride and dignity in functional independence, enthusiasm for business enterprises and interest in the cultivation of communications and printing skills here.

This advance in people-service follows many years of dependence and sacrifice by the shareholder newspapers which once were all printed overseas.

Transformation finally has taken place! With the establishment of this enterprise, the founders of SVG Publishers Inc., have now bequeathed to you and your following generations a rich legacy of home-grown information-sharing which is at base a crucial pillar for any democracy.

For with unimpeded access to state-of-the-art equipment that provides immediate printing and the mass distribution of information, this new establishment is taking a stand alongside the free nations of the world where unimpeded access to mass media affords a people the opportunity fully to participate in how their state is governed.

The lease of this building, coupled with the commissioning of the presses here, of themselves do not as such constitute the fulfilment of the communications and information needs of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. They are catalysts. Facilitators. Pathways to progress.

The crucial satisfying of these needs is up to you, the people of these islands, with your owners and publishers, journalists and editors, news correspondents and the columnists, who must recognise their key role in making fullest use of the technology to keep each other informed, and hold Government fully accountable for proper care of the people at large.

For make no mistake, a high-speed printing press can be used for good or evil. Opportunities exist for this equipment to be put to negative use. For the perils of the pornographic market and the wastage inherent in the gossip market – activities encouraged by those who thrive on the salacious and malicious – as financially viable options for printing presses. There are persons here and elsewhere who may well see this facility as their opportunity rapidly to generate masses of degenerate, anti-social material with which to sully and corrupt precious innocence among us, in particular among the very young.

I am acquainted with the shining standards of leadership of SVG Publishers, and so it is with confidence that I anticipate the very opposite to those heinous, negative traits.

I anticipate material which is wholesome and inspiring and beneficial to roll off these presses in the years, indeed the decades ahead, for the edification and moral elevation of all Vincentians.

The business model which led to the creation of SVG Publishers is be upheld as a fine example of co-operation. The coming together of three competitors in a joint venture to establish this company speaks to the great potential we have as a people to find workable solutions among ourselves.

While it is not by any means novel in the history of the printing industry, yet for Caribbean people, it is a most pleasing first of its kind and I wish them and you God Speed in this project.

Oscar Wilde once said: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what you want, and the other is getting it.”

Having got what it wanted, SVG Publishers must now go on to secure itself by maximising its printing capacity through expansion of editions and the creative marketing of the under-utilised capacity of these presses.

I am aware of a cynical view that SVG Publishers Inc. may have come on board with a high-speed printing press just when newspapers world-wide are said to be on their death bed!

While it is being mooted by nay-sayers and those with vested interests in the videocrarcy that there will be dwindling support for newspapers in coming decades, I nevertheless suggest that newspapering as an industry will outlive us all!

The world as we know it is completely being re-made and re-made over again. But such change is neither as rapid nor as fearsome as some technobuffs would have us fear.

Newspapers are due for a face-lift to make them more attractive to a fast-changing, instant messaging world, but the visual change in newspapers and for newspaper presses, will be cosmetic, and I am sanguine that the historic informational service they provide will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.

WHY you may wonder!?.

SEVERAL good reasons lead me to that conclusion: The fine reputation of newspapers for the reliability of their information, their time-honoured and proven consistency while adequately preparing us for the constant cycle of daily living, the intrinsic worth of a convenient and inexpensive meeting point for law-makers and citizens in which to exchange ideas within confines defined space, as well as the great value placed on newspaper brands, tested and supported by a well-served public over many years.

As long as publishers do not become arrogant or fall asleep on the job, newspapers will take their due place an essential part of the “new media”, said to be just around the corner.

Even as I speak, the World Association of Newspapers is preparing for its June Congress in Goteborg, Sweden, where the theme is: “Newspapers: A multi-media growth business.”

In its preamble, the Congress notes: “Print publications remain the core activity of press companies, generating most of their profits and proving remarkably resilient against the onslaught of other information channels. At the same time, the Internet is allowing newspapers to significantly extend their audiences and reach and dominate their markets as never before. How to best exploit multi-media opportunities now open to newspapers will be at the heart of the Congress discussions.”

Change is constant in every sphere of life. The infomedia revolution provides a handy framework for understanding contemporary change, and utilising it. Not turning tail from it, which would be tantamount to ignorance, rather than joining forces with new knowledge!

People who want to avoid the risks inherent in the changing times must tap into new opportunities for success, not run from the technology, or curse it.

Instead of feeling helpless, adrift in the sea of change around us, it is yet possible for us to steer a course by our own principles, using this new technology to make us even more relevant and efficient.

I believe that papers will continue to provide snapshots in time. But the formula for the winning paper will change. By customising its product, it will offer greater depth of information on particular matters of interest. As an add-on, the newspaper will provide access to digital archives through the Internet. The newspaper product will remain the document you will want to hold, and walk with, and refer to, but it will be part of a package of options at your fingertips on keyboards, needed by future consumers in decision-making.

I anticipate that there will be a great advantage in being able to portray information in new forms and to make its access easy, while yet retaining some of the value-proven features of newspapers that make them attractive and compelling.

Newspapers have been with us for centuries. The first European paper, something of a trade paper, was published in England in the 1590s, but papers did not become mass media until the 1860s when American William Bullock produced the first rotary press.

Bullock’s marvellous machine was fed by the type of giant rolls of paper you have here, producing thousands of newspapers in a matter of hours.

Bullock has finally made it to Hiroona!

Let us celebrate the day.

For even people closest to the new media cannot reliably predict how this medium will evolve.

Indeed, Krishna Bharat, principal scientist with Google Inc., in India told a conference I attended two years ago: “We are in a very young industry that is evolving rapidly and we still do not understand fully how it is going to impact our business.”

Newspapers have historically been a superior medium for conveying thoughts and ideas. The flexibility of the product, with its role of reaching out to readers with a well ordered presentation of news, made it efficient to manage as a form of information distribution. This inevitably will undergo change.

Perhaps papers will evolve into new personal items, possibly available on your home computer. Before that happens, though, someone will have to come up with a method of making information-gathering, particular eye-witness, on-the-spot, continuing coverage of breaking events sufficiently inexpensive so that its packaging does not require big commercial endorsements as is now the case to bring this information to people.

A world that will be demanding more information and more reliable information, will have to pay for it. Cheap i-reports and idiosyncratic blogs will not cut it.

Media is now a highly expensive, sophisticated industry and its devotees will hardly settle for poorly written half-truths, or suspect information that is blatantly coloured by narrow interests.

All of society benefits from good journalism, and in time we will need to figure out not only the manner in which consumers will get their news in the future, but also, in what form will society at large will pay for production of good journalism.

If everybody is blogging and everybody is writing news, then there would be so much free speech that consumers would be confused and not know where to go for the genuine item.

Consumers will not only face a quantitative embarrassment of riches but also a qualitative problem of selecting the most trustworthy source.

Somebody will still methodically have to record the history of this planet in great detail, every day, and share it in a consistent manner all over the world.

Somebody will have to remind society of the promises made earlier by governments but since, apparently now forgotten; somebody will have to draw world attention to parallels and contradictions between say Bosnia and Dafur; between Iraq and Vietnam.

Eventually, consumers will seek refuge in a trusted brand, be it on a printed page, a TV screen or a computer. That secures journalism.

That brings us to the juncture where ownership and control of news dissemination raises its powerful head.

Traditionally news has to be “owned” to be believed. Hence attribution. Hence reliable sources. Hence publication brands, be they newspapers or magazines.

There are proprietary rights to news which have always resided in news organisations. These will continue to exist. How that information is parlayed constitutes the technological challenges which will ultimately give readers management capabilities over the information they want to access.

That’s where the battle for the future is engaged.

But newspaper people can be assured that there will always be a never-ending need for the work of current historians of the world-in-action to ferret out the news, to report and put it in context, in a form that is easily assimilated.

The rules are unchanged. Media that will listen, understand, promote values, hear nuances and raise issues will be the media of the human future, as it was in the beginning.

Media with a brain, and, hopefully, a heart, is what the world needs.

By creating this facility you’ve shown us your brain. Now let’s see your heart.

I trust you will take your responsibilities sincerely to heart.

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