Standing up for journalism before it’s too late

Yannick Pace, Chris Peregin, Tim Diacono • For the public and key stakeholders to take the IGM’s voice seriously, journalists must start by taking it seriously themselves and turning the Institute into a force to be reckoned with

Journalists on the streets after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia
Journalists on the streets after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Yannick Pace (MaltaToday), Chris Peregin and Tim Diacono (Lovin Malta) will be contesting for three of the six roles within IGM

Journalism is under threat. Society is changing, and the information-sharing landscape has been radically transformed by social media and the Internet.

Not only do media outlets have to compete with everyone and his dog for space on this landscape, but they also have to face up to the sobering reality that advertisers are no longer dependent on them to disseminate information to the public.

Already, newsrooms today are filled with very young journalists and very few people to train them. It has become very easy to lure journalists away from the profession, and so many experienced journos jump ship just as they are starting to get really good at what they do.

The reason is clear. News organisations are not making enough money to offer stable careers in an increasingly competitive job market.

A newsroom is an incredible place to work and there’s nothing quite like having a heated debate among journalists, or the rush of working together on a big breaking story: analyzing news angles, discussing ethical issues and collaborating with each other to join the dots and expose the truth.

Yet when the promise of a better personal lifestyle hits, many journalists opt out.

Why does this need to change anyway? Good journalism is a fundamental pillar of democracy, just like the justice system and parliamentary representation. The better we perform our task as journalists, the fairer society becomes for all. The alternative is anarchy, where only bad journalism is cost effective and the truth is conditioned by third party agendas, with no one getting a fair public hearing.

So how can we fix things? Starting a serious discussion is the first step and putting forward realistic proposals to help out local media is the second.

We can regulate government advertising to ensure taxpayer money is being invested back into local journalism and not just multinational internet giants Facebook and Google. We can create funds and organise professional training for newsrooms and freelance journalists. We can consider tax breaks for veteran journalists to encourage people to stay in the profession longer and gain from their experi-ence. We could reduce the costs of newsrooms by going them better access to public MFSA and PA records and legal support in the face of foreign SLAPP threats.

Then there are the other problems. The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has left a permanent psychological scar on all those in the profession, epitomised in a very tangible way the threat to our physical well-being.

There is an ongoing threat to our reputation and our credibility as journalists. We see it everyday. Journalists being denigrated or accused of having hidden agendas or being holier than thou. When we inconvenience others, we are too easily dismissed as armchair critics, idealists or ‘fake news’.

In these troubling times, journalists have a huge responsibility towards their profession - to ensure they are true to their conscience and that their work is directed towards the truth.

Yet mistakes will happen and when they do, they are there for everybody to see and criticise. And unlike politicians, who can craft a consistent narrative with carefully considered PR strategies, the paths we must navigate are greyer by design.

We must be true to fact and to all sides of an argument, which often involves having to speak uncomfortable truths to the public or coming across as ‘inconsistent’.

Many of these challenges are things we simply have to live with. But there are also things we can do, as a journalistic community, to fight for our patch and earn more respect from authorities and the pub-lic at large.

The first step is to come together and treat each other with respect. We all compete - for talent, for the best stories, for advertising revenue - but that should not stop us from putting our differences aside and finding common ground to defend our mutual interests.

The Institute of Malta Journalists (IGM) is an ideal platform for us to make these demands as a united front. However, for the public and key stakeholders to take the IGM’s voice seriously, journalists must start by taking it seriously themselves and turning the Institute into a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, as things stand today, a considerable segment of Malta’s journalists are not even members of the IGM, let alone active contributors. And the few journalists who are members often don’t get involved in key events such as electing the executive team.

It’s about time this starts to change.

Next week, the IGM will elect its executive team for the next two years. This could be the beginning of a bright, new chapter for Maltese journalism - a chance to truly elevate the profession and take things to the next level.

If you are a member of the IGM, and you support this message, please cast your vote on 28th July at 10.30am. Let’s start standing up for journalism.

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