VSB closes after 34 years of broadcasting
VSB, a local news source launched in 1981, officially closed yesterday after its broadcaster, DeFontes, ceased operations.
“You have lost a balancing voice in the world of journalism — a voice described by United Bermuda Party, Progressive Labour Party and One Bermuda Alliance premiers alike as a very fair station,” said Bryan Darby, news director.
VSB had helped “level the playing field”, he said, in a local media pool that lost The Mid-Ocean News in 2009, followed by the Bermuda Sun last year.
Calls of support came in to the DeFontes Broadcasting office even as it closed, where former staff also gathered, in a gesture Mr Darby called “stunning, wonderful and very moving”.
However, he added, declining advertising revenues concurrent with the explosion of electronic media had been “our death knell”.
While VSB 11 went off the air last year, the news switched to online — a move Mr Darby said had been enjoyable.
“We’ve discovered that young people don’t watch TV for news, but they do get a kick out of having news online that they can look at when they feel like it.”
The proliferation of online news with its emphasis on breaking stories meant there was less investigative journalism, but Mr Darby particularly lamented the Island’s loss of BBC World Service radio that comes with VSB’s demise. The absence of VSB’s storm watch, which could interrupt scheduled broadcasts with breaking news on hurricanes, would be another blow, he said.
“With the weekend coming up, there’s a possible hurricane threat.
“In the old days we were called upon because we were the only radio station running live on the weekends.
“The weather service people are horrified. We used to have automatic breaking news. It has been an enormous asset to the country.”
Jeremy Deacon, the executive officer of the Media Council of Bermuda, extended the group’s sympathies.
He added: “In terms of news, the loss of VSB, following on from the loss of the Bermuda Sun, means there are even fewer journalists to hold those in power to account. There are fewer journalists to ask probing questions and to champion the causes of the people — all of which are fundamental roles of the media.
“There is now increased responsibility on the remaining media outlets and it is vitally important that the relevant boards and CEOs give those outlets the freedom to pursue editorial policy that is wholly independent, where editors and news directors are not beholden to statisticians, where they are allowed to take gut decisions based on experience and where serving the community comes foremost.
“It is also vital that boards and CEOs give the editorial department the necessary resources and do not demand an impossible profit margin which will inevitably erode editorial competency.
“We have seen this week a celebration of Public Access to Information. Pati cannot do it all — journalists are still, and will be for some time, the professionals that members of the community will expect to hold those in positions of power and influence to account. The closure, therefore, of VSB is a very sad day indeed.”
Gavin Shorto, former editor of The Mid-Ocean News, also expressed sympathy for the journalists and broadcasters who had fought “a losing battle” to keep VSB going.
He praised reporter Chris Lodge, well known for his storm coverage during hurricanes when VSB might be the only station on the air.
“I don’t mean to suggest that the stars of VSB were all journalists — the station offered Bermudians a choice of people and programming and music which will be greatly missed.”
Mr Shorto said he regretted the Island’s loss of choice, calling VSB “a casualty of the relentless assault of the internet and social media” on traditional media.
“You can’t depend on blogs and social media for reliable news — you’re at the mercy of a couple of dozen people who have an axe to grind and a boundless imagination,” he said. “The result is a kind of Wild West, where anyone can and regularly does say more or less anything that comes into his or her head. Tracking the truth through that jungle is a nightmare.”
PLP MP Jamahl Simmons, one of numerous VSB alumni who went on to other positions in public life, recalled being put on the air by Kenny DeFontes and Don Burgess as a sportscaster when he was “fresh off the plane from university”.
His first opportunity in Bermuda led to others, he said, including meeting his future wife, radio journalist Sherri Simmons.
Thanking Mr Darby and Mr Lodge, Mr Simmons added: “The closing of VSB narrows not just the opportunity for jobs and experience for Bermudians, but also narrows the media and news options for our people.”
Ms Simmons, meanwhile, said that what stood out in her recollection was “the dedication of the staff and network — particularly in the newsroom, but that’s the culture of the company in general”.
A small news team working on a shoestring budget managed to produce quality broadcasts that were “on time every day, even when there were only one or two people”.
“Whenever any media outlet closes, it’s a loss for the people — just because it’s one less voice and one less opportunity for voices to be heard. The dialogue is poorer for it.”
VSB’s shutdown, announced at the start of the month, means 19 jobs have been lost, although The Royal Gazette understands that at least one, the “Captain” from VSB’s early morning shift, is to switch over to ZBM’s breakfast programming.
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