Jamaica Gleaner

RJR-Gleaner merger: IN­DE­PEN­DENCE BLUES?

- Ian Boyne Ian Boyne is a vet­eran jour­nal­ist work­ing with the Ja­maica In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and ian­boyne1@ya­hoo.com. Business · Social Media · Belgium · Iceland · Belarus · Gary · Austria · Facebook · Twitter · United States of America · Ebay · Triumph · New York County, NY · Nationwide Independent Financial Services Limited · John C. Maxwell · City Point, Virginia

THE STUN­NING news of the RJR-Gleaner merger on the eve of In­de­pen­dence Day could be seen as for­tu­itous or bril­liant tim­ing, sug­gest­ing that this $1.5-bil­lion deal ac­tu­ally strength­ens in­de­pen­dence. Lester Spauld­ing, RJR chair­man and soon-to-be­head hon­cho of the su­per-media en­tity, said as much.

RJR News Online said: “Chair­man Spauld­ing said that in the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment, it is im­por­tant that there is a strong, in­de­pen­dent Ja­maican media com­pany.” Spauld­ing said the cur­rent mar­ket was sat­u­rated. “When added to the re­cent moves by lo­cal tele­coms to en­ter the media space, height­ened com­pe­ti­tion is sure to put in­creased pres­sure on the in­dus­try. It is, there­fore, very im­por­tant that Ja­maican media look also to shore up their re­sources in or­der to en­gage in the fast-chang­ing land­scape, as well as pre­serve the in­de­pen­dence re­quired for our media to do its work on be­half of the Ja­maican peo­ple.”

So this merger is to pro­tect in­de­pen­dence and safe­guard the in­ter­ests of the Ja­maican peo­ple – media be­ing a bul­wark of democ­racy? But the media busi­ness is just that – busi­ness. It is about profit (which is okay). Just that cap­i­tal­ists find it nec­es­sary to cloak their profit mo­tive with nice-sound­ing, noble words about the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple, democ­racy and free speech.

The in­ter­ests of the peo­ple can co­in­cide with profit mak­ing. But don’t you be­lieve that busi­ness peo­ple in­vest their money sim­ply as a democ­racy-pro­mo­tion ven­ture. The media busi­ness is about busi­ness. And this RJRGleaner merger is an ex­cel­lent busi­ness deal. As to whether it is nec­es­sar­ily in the in­ter­est of the public, we will have to wait and see. No a pri­ori con­clu­sion can be drawn.

“This is the most ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ment for media in 50 years,” Gary Allen, RJR Group man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and soon-tobe-CEO of the merged en­tity, gushed. But most ex­cit­ing for whom? Not for all the re­porters at The Gleaner and the RJR Group, and cer­tainly not for all the pre­sen­ters and pro­duc­ers at Power 106, Mu­sic 99 and the RJR elec­tronic media en­ti­ties. It is not the most “ex­cit­ing” de­vel­op­ment for Cliff Hughes and the Na­tion­wide Group or for the other smaller media en­ti­ties strug­gling to get their slice of the advertisin­g pie. They did not have a worry-free In­de­pen­dence Day at all.

DEEP ANX­I­ETIES

It might turn out to ben­e­fit some who are wor­ried to­day, but right now there are deep anx­i­eties. Butch Stewart might dig deeper into his very deep pock­ets in a bring-it-on show of strength, and the Ob­server staff might have to re­dou­ble their ef­forts to de­liver an even stronger prod­uct. Butch might have to seek an al­liance with the strug­gling CVM, which pro­duces a top-class news prod­uct. It’s “ex­cit­ing” times for all these peo­ple, but I am cer­tain the mean­ing of that word takes on a dif­fer­ent nu­ance from Gary Allen’s. We are, in­deed, liv­ing in in­ter­est­ing times.

One se­nior jour­nal­ist wrote me on hear­ing the bomb­shell an­nounce­ment on Wed­nes­day: “It is not good to have so much power con­cen­trated in so few hands. RJR will trum­pet big deals for ad­ver­tis­ers ... . Is the RJR model of the late 1970s with a broad-based own­er­ship struc­ture still in­tact? Do trade unions have any real in­put on the board any­more?” My col­league be­moaned: “Look at what TV has be­come or is be­com­ing, bit by bit more like THE STAR ... ‘Dancin’ Dy­na­mites’, ‘Ris­ing Stars’, etc. Yes, there is ‘All An­gles’, but think back to the days of JBC-TV and Brian Meeks- and John Maxwell-type dis­cus­sion pro­grammes that fo­cused on public aware­ness. Of course, there was much to dis­agree with, but it was in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing.” In­tel­lec­tual stim­u­la­tion does not mar­ket well, though. Ad­ver­tis­ers are not go­ing to be fall­ing over them­selves to spon­sor in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing shows or to get spots in them. The mar­ket rules.

The Daily Ver­i­tas blog was quick off the blocks with a com­men­tary on the very af­ter­noon the seis­mic an­nounce­ment was made. Corve DaCosta, in that piece, says: “This is the gen­er­a­tion we are grap­pling with. Those who won’t run to pick up a news­pa­per or sit be­fore a tele­vi­sion set for the news. The Face­book timeline and Twit­ter news feed has re­placed old print and old ra­dio. The syn­er­gies needed to ex­ist in an econ­omy that is con­stantly be­ing dis­rupted by dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies do not rest in merger.”

AVERSE TO SE­RI­OUS READ­ING

But a prob­lem I find with many com­men­ta­tors – young and old – is that they rely on hunches, in­tu­itions, and per­cep­tions rather than em­pir­i­cal re­search. They are so Twit­terised and Wikipedi­arised that they are averse to se­ri­ous read­ing. The fact is that the re­ports of old media’s death have been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated. In his piece, DaCosta bigs up dig­i­tal media and sings its praises. I sug­gest he and oth­ers con­sult the au­thor­i­ta­tive Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s State of the News Media Re­port 2015, pub­lished at the end of April. There he will find that in that most dy­namic Amer­i­can media mar­ket, “Even as mo­bile and so­cial news habits evolve, legacy plat­forms have by no means been aban­doned. Lo­cal TV con­tin­ues to cap­ture broad­cast view­ers.” Tele­vi­sion ad rev­enues have ac­tu­ally been in­creas­ing in the US. And dig­i­tal media have not been dong well, to put it mildly.

First Look Media, which was launched in Jan­uary last year with a US$50-mil­lion in­fu­sion from its eBay founder closed a sig­na­ture prod­uct, The Racket, be­fore pub­lish­ing a sin­gle story, re­ports the Pew Cen­ter re­port. The tech jour­nal­ism out­let Gi­gaom founded with more than US$20 mil­lion in ven­ture cap­i­tal shut down March this year. Buz­zFeed is over­rated. Though print news­pa­per read­er­ship and ad rev­enues have been fall­ing, “de­spite wide­spread talk of a shift to dig­i­tal, most news­pa­per read­er­ship con­tin­ues to be in print”. Read that again. “Online, more traf­fic to the top news­pa­per web­sites and as­so­ci­ated apps comes from mo­bile than from desk­top users and the av­er­age visi­tor only stays on the site for three min­utes per visit,” says The State of the News Media Re­port 2015.

But if you want a re­ally coun­ter­in­tu­itive, dis­rup­tive read about the ex­ag­ger­ated im­pact of dig­i­tal media vis-à-vis old media, you have to read the re­cently re­leased (June 2015) book by Michael Wolff, Tele­vi­sion is the New Tele­vi­sion: The Un­ex­pected Tri­umph of Old Media in the Dig­i­tal Age. Mr DaCosta should get a hold of it (It’s avail­able on Kin­dle if you don’t like the an­ti­quated form of books). Wolff de­clares boldly: “The closer the new media fu­ture gets, the far­ther away vic­tory ap­pears.” He shows, for ex­am­ple, that even the ven­er­a­ble New York Times had pre­dicted it­self out of print ex­is­tence, mov­ing to dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing. Yet up to last year, 80 per cent of its rev­enues came from print. Dig­i­tal media has been a rev­enue dis­as­ter.

Wolff tells us the the­sis of his book: “This is a book about what hap­pens when the smartest peo­ple in the room de­cide some­thing is in­evitable and yet it does not come to pass. Omens have been mis­read, tea leaves mis­in­ter­preted. Not only has the Web not de­stroyed TV, but the source of new media’s strength – at­tract­ing ever more traf­fic, truly phe­nom­e­nal traf­fic – may, in fact, be­come its great­est threat.” Get the book.

The RJR-Gleaner merger makes ab­so­lutely good busi­ness sense. It will prove a sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit to ad­ver­tis­ers and hence to share­hold­ers. Tele­vi­sion’s im­pact par­tic­u­larly is phe­nom­e­nal. The deals the RJR Group will be able to de­liver to ad­ver­tis­ers will be im­pos­si­ble to beat. This merger deal is a mar­ket­ing per­son’s dream. What no one can suc­cess­fully con­test is the enor­mous cred­i­bil­ity, im­par­tial­ity and bal­ance which the RJR Group brings. Nor can any­one ac­cuse The Gleaner to­day of be­ing par­ti­san, prej­u­diced or un­pro­fes­sional in its prac­tice of jour­nal­ism.

The ed­i­to­rial lead­er­ship of both The Gleaner and the RJR Group is highly re­spectable. Gary Allen – whose re­mark­able rise in media has to be pro­filed – was ab­so­lutely cor­rect when he said on Wed­nes­day: “The com­bi­na­tion of RJR’s and The Gleaner’s lead­er­ship in print and elec­tronic media, our track record of cred­i­bil­ity, our com­mit­ment to high jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards ... are out­stand­ing pos­i­tives ... .” They are not per­fect media or­gan­i­sa­tions, but there is a com­mit­ment to fair­ness, bal­ance and the pur­suit of truth.

Media con­cen­tra­tion has its se­ri­ous prob­lems, but the re­al­ity is that mar­ket con­di­tions drive it, not con­spir­acy. Many media com­pa­nies would sim­ply go out of busi­ness any­way if they did not merge or were taken over. Jour­nal­ists, rather than wor­ry­ing about their jobs, had bet­ter equip them­selves to do those jobs bet­ter and more rig­or­ously. Don’t let jour­nal­ism be just another job. It is not. You have to be at the top of your game. It’s the sur­vival of the fittest. Get used to it – or get ex­tinct.

 ?? RI­CARDO MAKYN /STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER ?? Media mag­nates J. Lester Spauld­ing (left) and Oliver Clarke shake on a deal for the merger of RJR and The Gleaner Com­pany at The Ja­maica Pe­ga­sus last Wed­nes­day. The amal­ga­ma­tion would cre­ate one of the big­gest media con­glom­er­ates in the Caribbean.
RI­CARDO MAKYN /STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER Media mag­nates J. Lester Spauld­ing (left) and Oliver Clarke shake on a deal for the merger of RJR and The Gleaner Com­pany at The Ja­maica Pe­ga­sus last Wed­nes­day. The amal­ga­ma­tion would cre­ate one of the big­gest media con­glom­er­ates in the Caribbean.
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