In the wake of Bermuda Sun’s closure, observers of Bermudian media are questioning what the future holds for the industry, with some concerned that news coverage will continue to narrow on the island.
“It’s very unfortunate that the closure of the only alternative news print publication now leaves one daily news publication with a monopoly,” said PLP MP Glenn Blakeney, who is the chairman and CEO of Inter-Island Communications, Ltd.
Mr Blakeney said the media marketplace is “increasingly competitive and saturated” but added that there is “indeed a need for an alternative publication.”
“It’s very unfortunate that the Bermuda Sun has fallen victim to the paradigm shift in how and where consumers prefer to source their news and information, because it would have been great if the Sun could have at least maintained their online presence as a going and sustainable competitive local news source,” he said.
Ayo Johnson is a local journalist who has worked for both the Sun and The Royal Gazette, from which he was fired last October. He now runs an independent media outlet called Think Media.
He said none of the traditional, legacy media institutions are doing well financially. Bermuda, he said, should be grateful for ventures like Bernews, which he described as “the only daily alternative to the RG in the online space.”
In the future, media will have to adopt business models that aren’t advertising dependent, he said.
“Clearly the media is in a transitional period,” said Mr Johnson. “I’m confident that others will rise and fill the gap, in time. We may well end up with a more diverse mediascape. My only hope is that we find ways of collaborating and generating synergies while preserving our individual editorial visions, instead of engaging in the kind of predatory capitalism which in fact killed the Bermuda Sun.”
He added, “Make no mistake — the Sun died primarily because the RG (Royal Gazette) cut its throat. It is extremely ironic that the result of this ‘competition’ is the death of the quality product and the survival of a mediocre, badly led monolith.”
Yesterday, Jonathan Howes, the CEO of Bermuda Press (Holdings) Ltd (BPHL) responded to the comments: “Mr Johnson is entitled to his opinion. He has a personal agenda and continues to attack the Royal Gazette...”
He added: “In the news business we thrive on competition and over the years the Sun has certainly proved a worthy rival as well as providing a valuable alternative media voice in the community... “As Bermuda’s only print newspaper, The Royal Gazette now has an even greater responsibility to provide the community with the balanced, accurate and inclusive news coverage that it deserves. It’s a responsibility our editors and reporters take very seriously and we’re ready for the challenge.”
Tim Hodgson, The Royal Gazette’s editorial consultant, however, declined to respond directly to Mr Johnson’s assessment. He did say the island’s media landscape still features “considerable competition and room for a wide variety of viewpoints.”
In the deal that prompted the Sun’s demise, the
Gazette’s mother company, Bermuda Press (Holdings) Limited (BPHL) acquired several operations from MediaHouse Limited, which owned the Sun, including Island Press and the Bermuda.com site and print guide companion.
MediaHouse retained ownership of Global Directories, which is a Caribbean company that publishes directories out of Grand Cayman, according to a statement from BPHL.
However, the Sun, which has been operating at an annual loss since 2008, will cease to exist per the agreement announced last Friday. Twenty-three people were made redundant in the deal.
Mr Hodgson declined to comment on what effect the Sun’s closure will have on the Gazette. Specifically, he batted away a question about whether he anticipated more revenue now to expand his staff.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on any potential plans for expansion at this stage,” he said. “In common with the rest of the media, The Royal Gazette has had to cope with declining revenues in recent years and continues to do so.”
Is he worried about complacency at his paper in light of the end of one of its main competitors?
“The Royal Gazette takes pride in the professionalism of its staff,” he said. “We do not anticipate complacency will be a problem – particularly, as we have already noted, there remains a plethora of competition.”
The paper’s sense of responsibility to the community, he said, will not change.
He batted away concerns that the media would become less diverse in terms of viewpoint or that his paper carries any sort of inherent bias.
“While we regret the loss of jobs and the loss of a media voice, we are satisfied that we will continue to report the news with professionalism and without fear or favour,” he said.
It is unlikely, according to Mr Hodgson, given the current economic climate that “anyone would choose to invest in a new print venture.”
Jonathan Starling, a local blogger and political activist, thought any reduction in the island’s media options was “dangerous.”
“We’re increasingly (in) an information desert; social media tends to mask that, but social itself remains dependent on good journalism,” he said. “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.”
He hopes other media ventures will fill the void left by the Sun.
“But at the moment I’m a tad pessimistic,” he said.
He said The Royal Gazette has some “great journalists” but worried that they were under-resourced and overwhelmed.
“Journalism, as an institution here, it’s in freefall,” he said.
Randy French, president and CEO of MediaHouse Limited and publisher of the Bermuda Sun, said there is always a need for more media outlets on the island.
“I think there will be opportunity for new media in particular and there may be a proliferation of them in the short term,” he said.
“However, it will take time for any one of them to become dominant as the level of investment is high if original content is to be provided, as well as costing out an advertising department and cutting-edge technology.”
The bigger question, he said, is whether any such outlet could be sustained financially “given Bermuda’s contraction.”
“Running media is expensive, quality reporting is expensive,” he said.
He said the paper’s legacy was putting a “human overlay on news reporting in Bermuda.”
“That was a market opportunity that was ours to take as Royal Gazette is the paper of record,” he said. “There is always space for news with a distinctively human touch, and I think it will be sorely missed.”
He described the amalgamation deal between BPHL and MediaHouse as complex and said the chief objective was to preserve as many jobs as possible.
“Unfortunately we could not preserve all,” he said.