Journalism matters – and it comes at a cost
“One danger of reduced news coverage is to the integrity of government. It is not just a speculative proposition that corruption is more likely to flourish when those in power have less reason to fear exposure.” — Paul Starr (The New Republic)
The decision to increase the price of The Royal Gazette for the second time in four years is not taken lightly, but is a move out of necessity to ensure that we can continue to provide a valued service that our community has come to rely on.
The timing of a 33 per cent hike to $2.00 so soon after a 50 per cent rise in April 2016 may not seem ideal, what with the economic effects wreaked on the island by the global pandemic, with Bermuda households counting every penny and many still out of work or on reduced hours.
However, producing a daily newspaper six times a week comes at a cost — in particular during times such as these when the volume of advertising has dropped precipitously. And for good reason, as businesses had closed either temporarily during the four-month-long state of emergency or, in some cases, for good.
The Bermuda economy was not doing brilliantly before Covid-19. What the pandemic has done is peeled away the scab to reveal the haemorrhaging of bottom lines — hastening the decline and calls to action.
This is one of ours.
We believe journalism matters.
We believe governments and industry leaders should be held to account. But, as established elsewhere, the lower the free circulation of newspapers in a country, the higher it stands on the corruption index.
We believe there is an appetite for investigative reporting, and we believe there is a need for campaigns and other initiatives whose goal is to reverse the acceleration of our moral decay.
Too many in this country do not appreciate that having a black government in a majority-black jurisdiction is not automatically the cure to all our ills.
Too many in this country do not appreciate why it is essential and morally right that our gay countrymen and women should be treated as equals.
Too many in this country do not appreciate how our abuses on the roads through drink-driving, speeding and being otherwise distracted have cost so many lives — until it happens to one of our own.
Too many in this country do not appreciate that a conveyor belt towards antisocialism and crime remains well oiled to entrap generations of young black Bermudians.
Too many in this country do not appreciate that, like journalism, Black Lives Matter and that the bastions of society that have kept their knees on the necks of black people for centuries need to be exposed, challenged and dismantled.
Those who value what The Royal Gazette brings to the community — trust, integrity, accuracy, incorruptibility, consistency — demand that service continues uninterrupted.
But we are under no illusions that the future of the newspaper business is not under threat — from Facebook, Google, YouTube and any number of website start-ups and social-media outlets speaking their own truth, at home and abroad.
Reducing cost while growing revenue is the challenge for any business; it is no different for us.
We told our Covid-19 story early in the pandemic — of how 40 per cent of all staff across the companies under the stewardship of Bermuda Press (Holdings) Ltd had been laid off, with those who remained subjected to pay cuts of up to 25 per cent; of how an entire sports department was laid off between April and July.
And, now, of how, despite Bermuda emerging from the phases of reopening the economy, rolling layoffs and wage cuts remain as part of our new normal.
With all that, and despite being blissfully unaware, the public demand that we do the same, if not more, with less.
Easier said than done, but when done effectively it means staff and their superiors working around the clock with no real expectation of additional remuneration.
Better to be employed than not at all, but owning an expectation to be awake even when you, the public, are asleep is among the greatest of sacrifices — to self and to family.
We persevere because we believe earnestly that what we do is of significant benefit to the people of Bermuda.
We persevere because we believe that journalism matters.
With all that has transpired over the past ten years or more in this space, The Royal Gazette would be ill-advised not to move with the times; to think that because we are Bermuda's only newspaper of record that readers should take it or leave it.
Technology is our friend, and it is of great benefit to advance as it advances. Progress made has included more expansive use of video and social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
New media, with all its bells and whistles, but the aforementioned virtues must remain unchanged — underpinning why The Royal Gazette must exist.
So much has changed since the days of the hot-metal press, but the price of The Royal Gazette has not moved along with these changes. Until recently.
By comparison, and to posit why $2.00 for a national newspaper is a snip, consider the prices of the following:
• The New York Times, $3.00
• The Times in London, £2.00 ($2.60)
• The Washington Post, $2.00
• The Boston Globe, $2.50
• The Guardian, £2.20 ($2.90)
• The Daily Telegraph, £2.50 ($3.25)
Now, in no way are we comparing our paper that serves 65,000 with those who serve hundreds of thousands, if not millions, but the high cost of living in Bermuda is indeed comparable with anyone, anywhere.
And that matters, especially considering the hefty markups on those publications in the days when they were imported to our shores.
It is not uncommon for publishers to raise prices when advertising falls. What is uncommon is that it has taken us an eternity to react, with several years passing between the previous increases until this now, more urgent action.
It is our promise to continue to provide value for money, to continue to keep the public informed, to continue to ask the difficult questions — and to continue to reveal answers.
It is a responsibility we are duty-bound to uphold.
To close as we began, it is prudent to tap into the thoughts of the venerable Paul Starr in a classic 2009 essay published by The New Republic:
“News coverage is not all that newspapers have given us. They have lent the public a powerful means of leverage over the state, and this leverage is now at risk. If we take seriously the notion of newspapers as a fourth estate or a fourth branch of government, the end of the age of newspapers implies a change in our political system itself. Newspapers have helped to control corrupt tendencies in both government and business. If we are to avoid a new era of corruption, we are going to have to summon that power in other ways. Our new technologies do not retire our old responsibilities.”
Or to paraphrase Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger, in the battle between them and us — them being informational chaos — we must choose us.