Friday, Oct 18, 2019
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The important work of journalists in The Bahamas

Outsiders are unaware of the day-to-day work of journalists and editors in The Bahamas. We hide what it takes to make the meal in the kitchen, preferring to just serve an edible dish on the table.

Most reporters are required to produce at least two stories per day. For some it’s much more. There could be breaking news. There could be a story that reemerges a certain reporter knows well. In those cases you keep working, despite having met your quota, because the news must be reported to the people.

For editors there are other challenges. The Bahamas has an education problem. At times some who join the field need much training; their work much revision. An editor could be over one short story for an hour, reporter at feet. These are tense encounters. The editor, under the pressure of deadline and needing stories to fill space, is angry that facts are wrong and copy sloppily written. The reporter wants to go home, and is tired listening to the editor.

The standoffs could happen day after day for some young reporters. They are part of the learning process.

Some can’t take the pressure and leave the profession. Those who stay benefit. Their writing improves. They get more obsessed with fact checking. They get more imaginative regarding story creation.

Some young reporters who were once on the verge of walking away become great journalists. They take up the people’s cause. They ask prime ministers and business leaders tough questions. They bear witness to tragedies. They cover great debates in Parliament, or major trials in the courts.

These Bahamian editors and reporters play an essential role in making our democracy work. Without a free press willing to do the job under difficult conditions countries drift into authoritarianism and kleptocracy.

We value our journalists.

They do not make as much as their university friends who became financial analysts or accountants. Yet, day after day they come to work to do the people’s work.

In each major media house there is talent. Sometimes these journalists are at their best and produce extraordinary pieces. Some days, like in every profession, there’s mediocrity. Then there are those days. Days when it didn’t quite work out and what you submit, and what the editor does her best to fix, is a bit of a mess.

But for editors and reporters, you get up and do it all over again tomorrow. You remember your aim and keep moving forward. Your worst day doesn’t define you. You evaluate missteps and try not to repeat them.

All in all, The Bahamas is served well by its media. The major issues are probed; big questions are asked; public figures are held to account.

There are things we the media could do better, of course. The majority of our population is situated in New Providence. There could, for example, be more regular reporting on the Family Islands. There is some, but not enough.

There have been efforts in the past toward this goal at various media houses. They have not succeeded as a permanent part of the business model. Nonetheless, we should never set aside the goal of telling the stories of Bahamians from every corner of the archipelago.

When analyzing Bahamian media it is important to remember our size. The Bahamas is a developing country of 350,000. On a global scale, its media companies have tiny budgets. Yet with the resources at hand, in the two main newspapers, for example, there are sections that cover general news, business, arts and culture, lifestyles-related matters, sports and entertainment. There is commentary, too.

Bahamians get to read, listen to and watch stories about what happens in The Bahamas. For each media house the struggle is to identify your strengths and weaknesses, to try to get better.

There is a structural problem here, however. We come back to the education problem.

It is hard to find people in The Bahamas who can write well. It’s even harder to find people who can write and think well. Journalism requires both. The difficulty finding people puts even more pressure on editors to train and fix.

We are not seeking to paint an all-rosy picture of Bahamian journalism. We read stories that lack balance. We see coverage given to people we do not think should be entertained. There are stories that lack context. But problems exist in journalism around the world.

The liberal U.S. media’s obsession with Donald Trump has led to terrible excesses and bad reporting. The Mueller report has revealed that many of the over-the-top reports on Trump and Russia the past two years by “the greatest” of newspapers and T.V. news stations were nonsense.

It’s likely that these major media companies will look back at this period much as they did the run-up to the Iraq War when the untruths of the Bush administration were inadequately scrutinized and a war was justified based on lies.

Any suggestion that our journalists are terrible is incorrect. Bahamian media houses should continue to invest in training. They should set salary structures to keep their talent. They should make sure they offer benefits that make staying possible. They should internally assess to ensure they maintain balance and fairness in reporting. They should seek out additional, quality commentary.

We encourage Bahamian journalists in all media houses to keep at their important work. You are as essential to The Bahamas as the Cabinet, the legislature and the courts. Take pride in what you do. Always strive to improve. Learn from your errors. Seek mentors who can help make you better.

Your work is important to ensuring we live in a free, fair and prosperous country.

Common sense is dead