Malta Tomorrow

Director Roger De Giorgio on MaltaToday’s challenge to secure journalistic integrity and financial independence

This is part of a series of articles celebrating 20 years of MaltaToday

When I became co-owner of a young MaltaToday, I dreamt of a liberal paper as a forum of ideas, giving coverage to all opinions, a defender of civil rights and a passionate catalyst for change in the country. Most of all, I felt the paper should shake a system that had been long broken. I imagined a stylish newspaper, well-designed, strong in its editorial line and reflecting the realities of a fast-changing society.

I realised only too well that for all this to be achieved was no easy task, demanding passion, competence and guts. Essentially, realising this dream depended on a committed editorial team which the paper certainly has, and a sustainable business model. It was immediately apparent that the financial challenge would be enormous. How does a newspaper offer quality content in a climate where newspaper sales are in decline, advertising revenue under attack and social media in advance? This is the challenge facing the newspaper industry today – journalistic integrity within a framework of financial independence.

With pride, I look back at the crucial part the paper played in the divorce referendum, the awareness of environmental concerns, the exposure of bad governance and the immigration issue. Our championing of these issues in the name of diversity, tolerance and good government helped in no small way to sensitise public opinion. With the passage of time the paper grew into an investigative paper and a campaigning media house with a midweek edition, magazines and a vibrant online presence.

These are all groundbreaking achievements but there is so much more to be done. The newspaper, like any other quality newspaper, ultimately aims to establish itself as the conscience of the country. We are still far away. But this should be our goal.

This does not come about by well-worded mission statements or pious declarations, but by a commitment to ethical journalism where a clear demarcation line exists between exposing right from wrong, speaking truth to power, criticising words or actions of influential persons equally, irrespectively of the exponent and his or her political leanings. Only in this way is credibility achieved.

I believe there is much work still to be done. The binary structure in our society with its tribal instincts has turned many media houses into extensions of political parties rather than the defenders of our institutions and peoples’ concerns. The brashness on social media has further challenged the media landscape.

The placing of party before country and the tendency to personalise all discussion has polluted this discourse. Our media house should be on its guard to avoid slipping down the easy road of tabloid journalism.

The challenge facing a media house today revolves around the far-reaching impact of social media on journalism. It’s a different ball-game where journalists and indeed any person can instantly report on their smartphones. This has created a fundamental transformation thanks to ubiquitous news.

So a new type of journalism seems to have been born: publish first and correct if necessary. A journalism driven by clicks and views with information being available by scrolling what gets recommended by others (not editors). News is consumed differently. Most persons turn to the social media networks before consulting a newspaper of TV station.

Today’s challenge is to bridge the divide between our digital realities and our dedication to print, which has to operate within an environment of falling print revenues in a very competitive environment, and where facts are thrown to the wind while opinion and speculation are presented as fact.

And in a prevailing environment where advertising budgets on Google and Facebook continue to grow at the expense of print, it’s time to question the sustainability of a business model where web audiences are soaring yet MaltaToday, like other media houses, insists of  offering content for free, so as to ensure it is available to all.

In such a harsh business environment the litmus test for MaltaToday’s credibility remains how to secure journalistic integrity and financial independence. And a credible and financially secure MaltaToday can only mean a better Malta tomorrow.