U Soe Myint, founder of Mizzima Media
U Soe Myint, founder of Mizzima Media
In a statement issued on January 28, Mizzima Media Group editor-in-chief and managing director U Soe Myint announced the closure of MizzimaDaily newspaper from the end of this month and its replacement by a digital edition. The newspaper was among 16 dailies launched after the government began issuing daily licences in April 2013, of which four have since closed in what is a challenging market. The launch of MizzimaDaily followed the return to Myanmar in 2012 of U Soe Myint and his team from New Delhi, where Mizzima began as an “exile media” organisation in 1998, with websites in Myanmar and English. U Soe Myint spoke to MizzimaWeekly's Tim McLaughlin.
You have said one of the main reasons you started Mizzima Media was because international media coverage of Myanmar was lacking. Do you think that is still true today?
After the opening, with more and more access, especially when the journalists are given more freedom in terms of visas and access to conflict areas, I think there is now better coverage in terms of reporting on the complexities of the country. If you look at 1997-1996 the international coverage, especially from wires, it was black and white. It was like Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta. Myanmar is much more than this. They are very important, they represented the community, the democracy movement and the military junta, but still it was much more than that. The international coverage is much better than in the past, because they get much more access than in the past.
Was it a big challenge to make the transition from donor-funded organisation based outside the country to being in Myanmar and needing to generate revenue?
It was very tough. I would say that we knew these challenges before we moved, though we did not know what the specifics would be, we knew that it would be very tough and very challenging. It was very tough because I think we know how to produce good content, generally speaking, with professionalism, but media business is much more than that. You have to look at the advertisers, especially for print. You have to look at the distribution, you have to look at the network. All this is much more than writing a good story. I still believe and I will always believe, that good content is the king. But we needed a queen, which was the marketing and sales.
When I came back here I was so surprised, people were very familiar only with the weekly paper. They were not sure about how they would do marketing and sales of a daily paper, let alone other media outlets.
Good content always is sellable despite the limitations of what the market is. I know that journalism in many places of this world is struggling, because it is challenging. Print and digital, everyone expects free information online and social media is even challenging the traditional broadcast sector. But if you have good professionalism, if you are independent, you can sell it.
Training was also a challenge. It was a big challenge building up these young people. If you look at Myanmar journalists, when they say reporter, it is like, 6 months after they started in the newsroom. If they say editor it is between 25 or 27 years old. It is a very young and inexperienced and untrained workforce.
You say that ‘content is king,’ but some people in Myanmar would argue that price is king and if you can price your newspaper low enough it will become popular.
There is a big issue of people buying the newspaper with the cheapest price and there is one newspaper today that is very cheap, this kind of price war is there. I don't know if that is actually going to last long. I don't think that it is realistic. There has to be something more than money to be able to do that. It has to be a political project or there is an agenda be-