Changes in the new year

Today, I am taking a step back. It is not a question of age. I am not dumping Mediatoday of course. But I will be doing solely what I have been doing for a long time, that is raising the finance to keep this project going

Sometimes it seems that people have simply stopped reading beyond headlines or simplistic outbursts on social media. It is almost as if we facing some calamitous societal challenge in which facts are ignored, and the younger generations are refusing to read books and newspapers and instead want to gaze into their smartphones.

I’d say we once had ignorance. Now we have something worse: ‘self-imposed illiteracy’ and a generation with a superficial understanding of what is happening around them, a poor appreciation of history and worst of all, an addiction to fake news. And that is quite something when being a news organisation means challenging untruths as well as publishing facts.

It is something that at our media company, Mediatoday, whose newspapers are both print and online, has had to contend with. We technically ‘compete’ with, as well as work with social media. That is, social media ‘publishes’ us, and we compete for attention inside a world where individual users get to say their piece unfiltered. For better or worse, it is a Babylon of commentary, pontification, conspiracy, invention and gossip that lacks the journalistic art of verification.

The Internet is what it is, and attention is no longer commanded by news of course. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or Tik-Tok provide entertainment and information, forcing newspapers to adapt with less sophisticated ways of going about the news. Perhaps, our educational system itself needs to start promoting bona fide news channels and media platforms to younger people.

I remember publishing my first magazine in 1985, 36 years ago. It was called Ambjent 2000. Flipping through that first edition, I realise how things have not changed.

Still, after that first foray, and numerous start-up newspapers, magazines, TV programmes and other publications, MaltaToday was the consequence of my varied experience in the world of journalism and activism. It was set up to be irreverent, agenda-setting, left-leaning and liberal. But the most difficult part of this project was sustaining the financial aspect, and when I became part-owner of this company as well as editor, I had to contend with the schizophrenia this brought about – ensuring that money comes in while also playing a part in the stories we publish.

Nobody can deny the role that MaltaToday and Illum have played in investigative journalism and the way their stories are a reference point for our audiences who seek a critical viewpoint. Our 21-year editorial archive has hit out at all sides of the political divide, the Church, the institutions and business giants.

Journalism and the life of a journalist is certainly not one for the feeble and weak. I have seen many journalists come and go. Most never return. Many feel stressed and burnt out, unable to take the toxic environment that self-appointed critics of the trade bring about. Some just can’t take the heat of the job and look for new jobs, often with better pay and less stress.

People who choose this line of work have a passion to ride the wave of information, kick back against the foibles of the powerful and the fey trends that are born in social media, and be fanatical about revealing the truth.

In these last four decades I have built a network of contacts that find it easy to sit down and talk to me. It came with the job: after all, native wit is a crucial ingredient for a journalist; you must get out there and speak to the people to build your network.

Today, I am taking a step back. It is not a question of age. I am not dumping Mediatoday of course. But I will be doing solely what I have been doing for a long time, that is raising the finance to keep this project going, by formally relinquishing any editorial role as a director and founder of the company.

My job in the last years has been this, and now I will be dedicating myself to our next project as a media company that is not just a newspaper.

Almost 20 years ago, a young man walked into my office and showed interest in being a journalist. I turned him down, unimpressed by his enthusiasm. Instead I employed someone with prior experience. Months later, I called him up to give him a chance after a vacancy arose.

As Matthew Vella landed in the newsroom, he experienced the abrasive and brutal side of my style of journalism. To survive against the media competition of the time, I had to be uncouth, unforgiving, unrepentant and fearless. But he stood out from the others with his strong command of the English language, his single-mindedness, an honest appreciation of the political narrative and more importantly, being unwilling to be “impressed” by anyone.

Well-read, au courant with so many of the minute changes in the media world and popular culture, meticulous, correct and incorruptible, and also a work-horse, he has always been willing to counter and challenge me.

Which is why he is today the Executive Editor at MaltaToday and the face of this newspaper.

I will retain my role as a managing director and also my column and TV programme, but I will be working on new projects and sustaining the operation, as well as work on my forthcoming memoirs.

The brave new world that is out there has to be harnessed by people who can withstand the undulating force of its change. But we need to bring young people into this world of information awareness and fight the laziness and ‘illiteracy’ that has contaminated society, making it more challenging to fight what is wrong and promote what is right.

We need to excite people’s intelligence and curiosity, make them think, and counter what they see and perhaps read. From what is said by our political leaders, to the rape of our countryside, the shortcomings of our educational system and the modern faithlessness of conspiracy theorists and the short memories of our peers, we must believe in journalism that works for the common good.

I am not proud of everything I have done. I have made many mistakes of which I have also admitted and written about.

But I am full of pride that I gave birth to MaltaToday, and that I did bring about change. Mediatoday has been a media company that has stood for something good, for news and debate. And all this in a year that has been one enormous challenge.

A Happy New Year to all!