Let our reporting be our yardstick

It is all down to our particular pedigree: we are not partisan journalists, we enjoy being the heretical, critical voice in a sea of yes-people, and we root for the underdog

Cartoon Mikiel Galea
Cartoon Mikiel Galea

I write in blissful retreat from the ravages of the Maltese news cycle while on holiday in France. But together with my colleague and fellow editor Kurt Sansone, it is crucial that we reassure readers what our newspaper stands for: the truth, the verification of facts, our loyalty to readers.

Understandably, such a commitment could be compromised by a media buying contract, something less than a novelty in the media world.

On a daily basis, a newspaper’s salespeople are busy selling print and online space to clients, corporate and public sector. Yet, MaltaToday is just one of the products of Mediatoday Co. Ltd - a company that produces other titles, magazines, polls, and occasionally ad hoc adverts or other client work.

This time, a related company, Business2Business, which does not own MaltaToday, is doing the job of the middlemen (the ad agencies) by buying the space of other newspapers on behalf of the roads agency Infrastructure Malta, that is: it uses the budget of the said agency to buy ad space and then keeps a commission on it.

Readers should know that when a newspaper is paid to feature adverts, never does its editorial get compromised (or so we hope for the sake of the public good that journalism brings); we can guarantee that because the sales department that works on at least six products is also buying ad space on behalf of Infrastructure Malta, MaltaToday’s editorial is not being compromised.

Kurt and I want readers to take this editorial as an example A recipe for traffic-induced disaster; and the stories by our senior journalist James Debono on Central Link Which trees to mourn for (or get tied to) before the chopping); and our dedicated section on the environment here as examples of what we do on a daily basis.

Let our writing and reporting be the yardstick by which you measure our worth. Speak to us and we will be frank with you.

We have always placed MaltaToday at the heart of those readers who feel powerless; those who want a critical perspective on politics, society, life and culture; and as further away from the partisan bludgeoning of our minds.

We have been dedicated to the preservation of the environment, and advocated radical ideas for the protection of urban and rural spaces and good governance (for example, our anaylsis on ODZ gave way to a review of PA rural policy rules yet to see the light).

Other newspapers delight in skewering us, not only because of the thirst for finance (whether it is through obscure sponsored content or opinion parading as adjective-laden news) but because the news industry is fraught with territoriality and facile puritanism.
We should also make clear two important realities about our newspaper title.

First, the money. Without any attempt at cynicism, Mediatoday is a media company and not one newspaper, with a hefty salary bill. The revenues of any media company tend to be slim. Those salaries must be paid but also raised: afford me the digression that we tend to lose jobs to the world of publicity and gaming, where salaries are higher (yet, we get publicly criticised AND punished by lost ad revenue when we question tax practices of these sacred cows of the Maltese economy - vide our MaltaFiles coverage).

Secondly, our power structure. MaltaToday was founded by the publisher of The Circle with Saviour Balzan as its first editor, who in turn acquired the newspaper title and then built Mediatoday Co. around its flagship product.

Today, I (Matthew) am its executive editor, while Saviour Balzan is managing editor. That means I am editor in chief, but the business and sales and operations of the newspaper (and other products) are handled by Balzan, who employs me.

This makes for a marathon of argument and constant disagreement, mainly instigated by yours truly with - no coyness about this - a sincere belief in what MaltaToday stands for, and the benefit that a public-minded newspaper gives by the way it informs and empowers readers.
Readers are naturally confused because Saviour Balzan is a towering figure in the name that MaltaToday built for itself; yet the title is built by its newsroom, and the journalistic values it prides itself of cultivating. Balzan can make his voice heard clearly, but as a shareholder he is often left wondering why he can be easily drowned out by the unruliness of the people he employs.

It is all down to our particular pedigree: we are not partisan journalists, we enjoy being the heretical, critical voice in a sea of yes-people, and we root for the underdog.

Surely, transparency here should become a major consideration, ie. if Mediatoday is a media company expanding its business in all possible avenues, we must ensure MaltaToday is not affected by key business transactions which, ultimately, are also carried out to ensure financial sustainability.

As editors we do not get to decide whose money to refuse, except when it comes to far-right organisations or entities we deem unacceptable. We have been running ads on our media spaces for government agencies since 1998. Why should anything change now?