Cut & Paste Journalism?

Is it even ‘journalism’ anymore?

Recently I’ve criticised the state of journalism in Bermuda, which I see as currently demoralised, under-resourced and overwhelmed by PR personnel.

One particular problem resulting from this is that the journalists we still have just simply do not have the time to do their due diligence and actually indulge in journalism itself.

Just say no to cut-and-paste 'journalism'.

Just say no to cut-and-paste ‘journalism’.

And by this I mean they just aren’t able to be investigating stories, asking questions and keeping key stakeholders, particularly the Government accountable, primarily by actually asking informed questions and being tenacious in chasing the answers.

To me this is exemplified by the rise of a ‘cut and paste’ journalism, where press releases are printed almost in their entirety, perhaps somewhat re-arranged, and this constitutes the whole of the article.

To me, that’s not journalism – it’s ‘churnalism’.  

At best it’s a slightly creative re-ordering of something a PR person has prepared.

While that can be useful in itself for juxtaposing contradictions within a body of text, more often than not it’s just sloppy on the part of those claiming to be journalists.

An article in today’s RG illustrates this…

Bernews, which is more a platform for press releases and allows for online media generation through the comments, tends to provide the entire press releases or statements in question, fully credited.  It doesn’t claim to do otherwise, unlike the RG, now our only newspaper, which is supposed to have a different model, including journalism.

By comparing stories carried between Bernews – which makes it clear it’s simply posting the press releases and allow users to comment – and the RG, which is supposed to provide a journalistic approach, one can see how much RG is relying on a ‘cut and paste’ approach to ‘journalism’.

The RG’s article in question doesn’t delve deeper into the issue in question; it doesn’t ask questions, it doesn’t answer questions.  Indeed, one wonders if it can ethically be considered a novel article by the reporter due to it basically being re-organised plagiarism.

I need to stress here, I’m not attacking the reporter in question.

I’m attacking the institutional failure of journalism here, the lack of direction and maintenance of journalistic integrity, largely arising from being under-resourced and demoralised, partly arising out of the editorial and organisational instability at the RG today.

This increasing reliance on ‘cut and paste’ is a symptom of the problems of journalism today.

Due to the crucial importance of journalism in informing the people within a democracy, even ‘equal opportunity’ cut and paste journalism serves to undermine our democracy by failing to stimulate critical though or reveal new facts about the story.

This article is just one example, I need to stress that too.

With less and less media choice available to Bermudians, the increasing non-journalism should concern us all.

We need:

  • A national conversation about replacing the failing economic model of journalism in Bermuda, including the potential for the public subsidising of journalism as a public good.
  • The journalists at the RG need to take a stand and force management to provide them resources and support they need to actually do journalism.
  • The ‘consulting editor’ needs to take a stand FOR better journalism.  The buck should stop with the editor.  I understand that as a ‘consulting editor’ he is in a weak position.  However, failure to act is doing more harm to his credibility, and the credibility of journalism in Bermuda as a whole.
  • The RG needs to make clear what their policy is regarding online comments.  It’s approach so far has been arbitrary.
  • The Media Council, as impotent and unstable as it is rapidly becoming, needs to take a stand against ‘cut and paste’ journalism and the decline of journalistic standards in Bermuda as a whole.

Speaking of the Media Council, it’s Code of Conduct is useful here.

Section 3(g) states:

“Media outlets must clearly distinguish for the audience the difference between advertising, advertorial  and news.”

A cut and paste job of a PR statement – is that news, advertising or advertorial?

Trash Problems in Bermuda – Bernews OpEd

Bermuda’s having some issues with trash collections, due to various reasons. Trash container

I can’t speak to the particular causes of the latest problems, but I thought the situation made for a useful segue to highlight some policies that I’ve put forward concerning residential trash, both in the 2012 General Election and in my submission to the SAGE Commission last year.

You can read over the policies in my OpEd over at Bernews.

Of course, they’re only an outline.

There’s only so much information (and words) one can fit in an OpEd without boring people with the minutiae of policy details and technical specs.  The aim is more to convey some ideas that can be developed.

All of the suggestions are already done elsewhere.  As much as I’d like to take credit for creating wholly new ideas, in this case I’ve looked at what works elsewhere and put forward those which I think would also work in Bermuda.

Quite frankly, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, and we can learn from how these ideas work elsewhere.

I will note, after reviewing some of the comments on the Bernews OpEd, some points:

  • I would change the wording on the compost bit to simply ‘food waste’, as in including meat.  I don’t think it would make that big a problem, and it’s all compostable.
  • In addition to the curb-side composting, a focus should be on encouraging households to compost at home.  This isn’t going to be possible for everyone, but for many it will be.
  • Curb-side composting, yes, it has to be picked up pretty quickly otherwise it’ll stink.  However, it’ll no more stink than trash currently does containing food waste.
  • The ‘free’ container would already be paid for by the land tax.  Paying extra for extra trash space makes it so that those who produce more trash (or choose not to separate out recyclables, etc) pay more, helping to recuperate the added costs involved.  Right now, those who produce more, or don’t separate, increases the overall cost of trash collection for us all; the PAYT model seeks to remedy that.
  • Each container can be personally marked, including a serial number, for each residential unit involved, reducing the risk of theft to a degree.
  • These trash containers are used elsewhere; there’s risk of vandalism, but we can see from how they operate elsewhere how to deal with that.  I’d imagine their omnipresence, combined with fines, would be an effective way to minimise such risks.
  • In multi-unit complexes, a larger dumpster, with a 32-gallon container per capita equivalent can be introduced.
  • A bottle bill would work here (it works everywhere it’s in place, so no reason it wouldn’t work here), although the deposit value will have to be figured out to be effective in the Bermuda context.  I’d imagine that the 5 cent or 10 cent deposit value we see in the US would be too small for Bermuda; 25 cents is probably closer to what would work in Bermuda.  A policy analysis would be able to get the general figure, to be fine tuned as the policy is implemented and evaluated.

As I’ve said, these policies exist elsewhere.

Bottle bills exist in the Caribbean and North America (and elsewhere).

PAYT exists elsewhere, including North America and Europe.

Curbside composting exists throughout North America and Europe, including cities with roughly comparable climates to Bermuda, like San Francisco or north east Florida.

The trash containers I based the policy outline on is that I saw being used in Fife, Scotland, which now uses a four-bin waste collection system for trash, food and garden waste, paper and cardboard and plastics.

Quite frankly, these systems already exist elsewhere, and from all the evidence I’ve reviewed, it leads to a more efficient waste management system, including overall cost savings.

They exist, they work, and we can adapt them for the Bermuda context.

All it takes is the political will to actually act on them.

The Media Council – Missing in Action?

Silent Night?

Amid the shock of the Bermuda Sun suddenly going under, and the general crisis of Bermudian journalism that this has both highlighted and exacerbated, there’s been one voice which has been conspicuous in its absence – the Media Council.

Born out of concerns about problematic journalism – and hostility from the then PLP Government led by Dr Brown towards the Royal Gazette (at least in perception) – and threatened statutory regulation of the media, complete with the proposed Media Council Act 2010, the Media Council was established as a voluntary organisation for the self-regulation of Bermuda’s media. newspaper-273525-m

While many may consider the role of the Media Council as handling and resolving complaints concerning the media, this is actually just one of its two main goals:

“We have two main goals – to help resolve complaints against the media and to protect freedom of expression.” [My emphasis.]

Missing in Action?

Despite this crucial guiding animating goal of the Media Council, it has been silent while threats to freedom of expression have been steadily growing in Bermuda.

  • The intimidation meted out at the Cabinet Office to Ayo Johnson (while particular to Mr Johnson, this can, and should, be seen as a message and threat to all media).  Additionally, the official statements from the Government explaining their actions provided inaccurate information regarding the Media Council itself.  The Media Council should have issued an emergency statement immediately after this incident came to light, followed up by correcting the Government’s misinformation
  • More recently we have seen the the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission release a statement that they were monitoring online comments, both on social media and in the comments sections of the news media.  While their statement, in itself, is rather innocent, to many it has overtones of Big Brother to it.  Furthermore, one wouldn’t be surprised if this also signals a more hands-on approach, possibly involving the HRC convening a meeting of media representatives – which itself may well serve as a prelude for some sort of formal (even statutory) regulation of online comments.  This would certainly appear to have consequences for ‘freedom of expression’.  The Media Council itself should have taken a pro-active position on this and responded to the press statement issued by the HRC, setting a few red lines – however over-reactive this may have been seen by some – concerning protecting freedom of expression in Bermuda.
  • Also on the issue of commenting on online media articles, the Media Council has more or less failed to address this issue.  While online commenting can be overly negative, they can also enhance articles, provide context otherwise missing from articles and even provide insights resulting in new leads for journalists to follow up.  The Media Council includes, as part of its remit, the creation of ‘Guides for Media Professionals’.  To date, it has only produced one, ‘Reporting on Race in Bermuda’.  It is disappointing that they have not sought to address the issue of online commenting.  It should also be noted here that the RG has increasingly restricted the number of stories where commenting is allowed.  While there may be good reasons for this, it has not made them clear, contributing to a growing fear of reduced freedom of expression – this is something the Media Council should be addressing.
  • It is shocking that the Media Council has not issued any statements on the state of the media in Bermuda in light of the closure of the Sun.  As I’ve touched on elsewhere, this has potentially grave consequences for the institution of journalism – and by extension, democracy – in Bermuda.  Even the sudden surplus of journalists creating a reserve army of labour (to use some Marxist phrasing) threatens editorial independence of journalism, with journalists at greater risk of being replaced, and so more open to be dominated by demands of bosses rather than good journalism.
  • It is also quite disappointing that the Media Council has not taken a pro-active position on editorial independence in a more general sense, specifically the ongoing editorial instability at the RG.  To date, the RG has not had an editor since Bill Zuill stepped down following the 2012 election.  We’ve had an ‘acting editor’ followed by, now, an ‘editorial consultant’.  With this editorial instability the concept of editorial independence at the RG, one of the key media institutions in Bermuda, is seriously in question – and with it freedom of expression.  And yet the Media Council has said nothing.
  • Increasingly we are seeing official press releases passing for media articles, with a near verbatim repetition in the articles, without being challenged by reporters or enhanced through questioning.  This does not constitute journalism; rather it renders the news media propaganda mouthpieces – and damages freedom of expression as a result.  The Media Council should be taking a stand on this, articulating the problems in the media which is allowing this to happen, and taking steps to improve journalism across the board.

Overlooked Consequences of the Sunset

In addition to these various issues, the loss of the Bermuda Sun has some very direct and immediate consequences for the Media Council.

For starters, the chair of the Media Working Group (MWG) is (or rather was) Tony McWilliam, the now former Editor of the Bermuda Sun.  As I understand it, the MWG was the part of the Media Council that actually did all the heavy lifting – the grunt work if you will.

Mr McWilliam was also the President of the Media Council Foundation, which had as its key function ‘to sustain the Media Council’.

With the demise of the Sun, it is likely that Mr McWilliam is no longer able to act in either of these key positions.

With the apparent loss of the Media Council’s key ‘champion’ one imagines they have been thrown into disarray.

Additionally, I understand that the Executive Officer of the Media Council, Meredith Ebbin, is due to retire soon, and the meeting to discuss her replacement was scheduled for the very day the sudden closure of the Sun was announced, further contributing to the organisational crisis of the Media Council.

Another factor that needs to be considered with the demise of the Sun is that, in as much as the Media Council is funded by its members, the loss of such a key paying member as the Bermuda Sun means the Council has even less resources than ever.

This makes it subsequently more dependent on its remaining members – and thus less likely to take pro-active positions regarding this or that member (such as the editorial independence issues at the RG).

A General Crisis & Collapse?

Journalism in Bermuda is in the midst of an institutional collapseit’s in freefall – and the Media Council, which is supposed to be the key representative of Bermudian journalism, has been missing in action for some time, at least for the last year and a half. first-news-1109654-m

And just as journalism in Bermuda in general is in the midst of a general crisis, it would seem that the Media Council itself has been plunged into crisis, both in terms of resources and organisational abilities.

The Media Council is failing to be pro-active to address this crisis in journalism, and now, with its own internal crises, it’s not clear they can even take pro-active steps to save themselves, let alone Bermudian journalism.

The biggest losers in this are the electorate, who are rapidly losing the ability to access the information that good journalism is supposed to provide as a public good.

And this vacuum being created by these crises may well lead to more worrying developments regarding censorship, such as more heavy handed statutory regulation of the media, going forward…

Cognitive Dissonance & Race in Bermuda

Emancipation Day & T-Shirts

It was extremely disappointing, when flicking through the Bernews photos of Cup Match, to see that some individuals have created t-shirts to mock the ‘White Mental Illness is Killing African Bermudians (Racism)'; what is more they decided to flaunt this on Emancipation Day of all days.

Photo credit to Bernews

Photo credit to Bernews

I’m overseas right now, and Scotland doesn’t celebrate Emancipation Day unfortunately; or ‘Somers Day’ either.

A curious juxtaposition those two holidays – celebrating emancipation from slavery (and a holiday that was made by the people, not gifted from above), followed by the start of colonialism in Bermuda…

To compensate for not being able to celebrate Cup Match in the traditional way, I thought re-reading Frantz Fanon’s A Dying Colonialism would cover both Emancipation and colonialism…

Black Skin, White Masks

Which brought to mind the first book by Frantz Fanon I ever read, Black Skin, White Masks, especially after the whole business with the sign and the subsequent t-shirts at Cup Match.

Here’s an extract which I think is worth quoting in its entirety:

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong.  When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted.  It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance.  And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalist, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” 

Credit to Bernews

Credit to Bernews

It seems to me that this quote, some sixty odd years old, is still quite relevant.

It speaks to the central, provocative, argument of the sign, that racism is, or at least could be, understood as a mental illness.

It’s important to note here that this ‘racism as a mental illness’ is not necessarily the overt racism of the past, explicitly anti-Black ideology, explicit hate.

Nor is it restricted to Whites; it is a pathology based on Whiteness, and that helps maintain White privilege, but it affects both those that benefit and those that are the victims of it.

Or to quote again from Black Skin, White Masks:

“The Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his superiority alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation.”

Post-Racial Delusions

Whether you like the individual who raised the sign or not, to focus on her and not the point she raised is to deflect and engage in personal attacks.

It is also to fundamentally miss the point.

Far too many have only taken a superficial and limited reading of the sign, and reacted unthinkingly.

Whether this is due to ignorance or insecurities, I cannot say.

What I will say is that there is a distinct trend amongst significant segments of our people to adopt what I can only describe as a superficial, a-historical and delusional approach to race in the Bermuda context.

Essentially, this approach sees our island as post-racial, as in our race issues ended with the end of segregation.

In this world view the inequalities we see today are not due to historical consequences of slavery, and subsequently segregation; rather, it is due to personal responsibility.

Any attempt to point out the reality of racial inequality in Bermuda, and how this manifests itself in a number of forms (health inequalities, racial differences in life expectancy, imbalances in both the prison and the boardroom, etc), or to even discuss race itself, is branded as racist.

White Washed Racism

More than that, it’s answered by an avalanche of pictures of blacks and whites holding hands, or inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela, which betray both a superficial understanding of race and a selective understanding of the complex arguments of MLK or Mandiba.

To understand racism solely in terms of individual animosity is to misunderstand the complexity of racism, and to deflect from the issue of structural racism – which is the primary problem in Bermuda today (although we do have a significant reserve of explicit racism, more than I had initially thought).

On the sanitised ‘white-washed’ versions of MLK, for example, they ignore his arguments that his ‘I had a dream’ vision is only achievable through a full confrontation with racism in all its forms, especially in terms of inequalities that have been created by slavery, segregation and discrimination – a form of reparations and affirmative action.

Our racial inequalities exist.  To deny that is delusional.

To react to anyone pointing out these inequalities and theorising on how racism is multi-faceted as ‘racists’ is irrational.

To think of racism solely in terms of explicit racism is delusional.

To have (a) conceived of these shirts; and (b) to actually create and wear them, on Emancipation Day itself, just underlines the racial deformation of our society.

Some final (short) points:

  1. The younger generations are more susceptible to adopting, initially, an ahistorical and post-racial delusion.  This is primarily due to a steady diet of post-racial propaganda from US media, but also due to a loss of the collective memory of our segregated past.
  2. Expatriates, from largely White majority countries, also are susceptible to this ahistorical and post-racial delusion.
  3. This racial mystification affects primarily Whites, but also Blacks.
  4. Analysis of statistics and a critical reading of history (but also sociology and psychology) help to expose the reality.
  5. The reactions to this sign, including these shirts, is an example of cognitive dissonance, primarily from Whites.

One final quote from Black Skin, White Masks:

“The colonised is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards.”

Change ‘colonised’ to ‘Black’ and ‘mother country’s’ with ‘Whites, and you have Bermuda.

Alternatively, one could read it as ‘PLP’ and ‘OBA’…  PLPers (or, rather, non-OBAers) are regarded as ‘sheeple’, but once they accept OBA mantras, they’re ‘enlightened’.

Some thoughts in advance of Non-Mariners

I fully admit I have long held the Non-Mariners Race with suspicion.

I have seen it, at least in its modern construction, as a spectacle largely by and for White Bermuda.

I recognise that this is largely due to, in my perception, only having truly grown into the cultural phenomenon it is today in the first decade of this century, within the PLP’s tenure.

It featured on a regular (if not always) ‘non-boats’ with explicitly (or as a distinct sub-text) anti-PLP or anti-union sentiments in my opinion.

From the 2012 event

From the 2012 event

I can appreciate satire, and there has been some deserved satire there.  All the same, I have seen it as a carnival of whiteness, an expression of their resentment towards being out of power, even unconsciously.

I know that Non-Mariners is more than the non-race.

There’s raft-ups and a general party atmosphere, in many ways completely separate from the non-race, and I am seeing them as two completely separate events that just so happen to occur in the same geographical location at the same time.

Nonetheless, the political sentiments of the non-race have been such that I have made a conscious decision to not attend – although I have at times made brief recce’s of the area a few times.

Am I guilty of pre-judging the event?

Yes, very much so, based on what I’ve seen in the media about it and on what I’ve seen during my recce’s.

As such, it will be curious to see if my prejudice towards the event is borne out tomorrow.

With the OBA in power, and more prone to mis-steps than any government in my living memory, it will be curious to me whether the themes expressed in the non-boats will feature them, or instead carry on the tradition of ridiculing the PLP or the unions.

Last year, after all, the first year of the OBA in power, featured:

  1. An attack on PLP MP David Burt – the ‘HMS Burtlegger’s Bliss’.
  2. ‘Cannonair’ (complete with an ‘L’ sign for a learner driver), which sought to make light of a scandal which today we know much more of, and which led to Premier Cannonier’s disgrace and subsequent resignation.

I have the distinct feeling that tomorrow will instead focus on the PLP or the unions, or the ‘White Mental Illness’ theme.

So, yes, I have prejudices about the Non-Mariner’s Race.  I look forward to being pleasantly surprised and proven wrong.

Who know’s, maybe someone will have a ‘non-referendum’ non-boat?

Into Darkness…

The Sun has set, we’re into darkness… 

The Sun has set...

The Sun has set…

Today marked the last issue of the Bermuda Sun.

This last issue is full of tributes and laments, including comments from many public personalities.

Heck, it even has my last ever OpEd for the Sun, and a few comments from me on the state of the media today.

Below are my full responses to the questions I was asked regarding the closure of the Sun – I knew it was far more than they would use, but I thought I’d give them the options all the same:

Are you concerned about media consolidation given the Bermuda Sun’s closure?

Yes, very much so.

Why?

I think it is always dangerous to have limited media options.

“New Media” hasn’t really filled the shoes of “Old Media” in terms of journalistic resources yet.

We’re increasingly an information desert; social media tends to mask that, but social media itself remains dependent on good journalism.

The loss of the Sun greatly reduces ‘the people’s’ access to information and concentrates too much power – control over information – in too few hands.

How will this affect the local coverage of the news?

If you look at the biggest political scandal of recent times, Jet Gate, if it wasn’t for the Sun providing key information – complementing ZBM and Politica – and relying solely on the RG, it is unlikely we’d have gotten even half of the revelations we’ve had.

With reduced media diversity, as a people we’re reliant on a news media which hasn’t done a particularly good job of acting in the public interest of late.  And now it has less competition it has even less reason to serve the public interest.

Also, there’s now a surplus of journalists.

This will depress the collective wages of all journalists and threatens editorial/journalistic independence as ‘owner’s interests’ can now use this reserve army of unemployed journalists to discipline journalists.

It makes journalists less likely to defend their integrity or pursue stories that may upset owner interests, out of fear of being replaced.

Will this create a news vacuum at all?  And do you think a new outlet will form to fill the vacuum?  Or is the local media market already over-saturated?

Yes, it sure will create a vacuum.

I am hopeful that out of this darkness we’ll see new forms of media to fill the void, but at the moment I’m a tad pessimistic.

It depends on what you mean by ‘over-saturated’.

I think there’s clearly an appetite for media diversity – and media diversity is in the public interest too; diverse and strong journalism should be considered a public good in my opinion.

Is it over-saturated for advertising revenue?  Quite possibly yes, especially with the rise of smart, targeted advertising.

So, I don’t think the business model we’ve had in Bermuda works anymore.

However, there’s other models, such as community funding or public subsidies of journalism, like in Europe, that we can look at.

Now, more than ever, the democratisation of journalism has to be considered a key struggle for democratising society.  Journalism here is in crisis – and so is our democracy.

Much has been made of the Royal Gazette’s alleged OBA bias.  Is that a valid criticism in your mind? If so, why?

I think it is, but it would be difficult to definitively prove.

What is clear is that the RG’s editorial independence is compromised by editorial instability there – they don’t even have an editor anymore, just a ‘consulting editor’, and so owner interest seem to have become dominant there.

And if you look at their reporting, for whatever reason, they seem to have been largely ignoring major stories or generally treating the current Government with kid’s gloves.

They still have great journalists there, but I think they’re under-resourced, journalistically.

This means they’re not able to follow-up on stories properly; they can’t chase stories critically or investigatively.

More and more their stories look like cut and past PR jobs unfortunately – which is not surprising when I believe there’s something like two or three PR people in Bermuda to every one journalist.  They’re overwhelmed.

Journalism, as an institution here, it’s in freefall.

See also Bermuda Blue’s post on this.

And Beachlime as well.