Newspapers are not only about news
July 2, 2004
Different people have varying ways of reading their daily newspaper. Some people start from the front page, while some start from the back. Others begin their morning newspaper routine with the comics and then move through the paper, based on their interests.
Reading a newspaper is not just about the news. Some people buy the newspaper to also see what bargains they can get, and the numerous job hunters in our society scavenge through the papers to what openings are available in the labour market.
In Guyana, newspapers do more than simply report on matters of public interest. The typical newspaper today provides a range of services to the public, through its columnists’ special sections and of course through advertisements.
Columnists dissect the issues in the news. Readers are provided with analysis and opinions on a wide range of issues. As far as I know, Peeping Tom is the only newspaper columnist who appears on a daily basis. However, it is not just the columnists that are allowed to share their opinions. Newspapers open their pages to a wide range of viewpoints either directly in reports, special interviews and features or through the highly popular letter sections.
Allowing businesses and organisations to advertise their products, services and events is another vital service that newspapers provide to the community. Through this service, companies reach a large market and thus are able to encourage citizens to buy their products.
Running a newspaper is expensive business and ever since the advent of Kaieteur News, there has been very stiff competition. The PNCR-instigated boycott against the Chronicle and its overtly partisan biases has seen that once healthy circulation shrivel. Today the Chronicle is on life-support and were it not for the disproportionate State advertisements it receives, it would have been bankrupted.
There was a time when Stabroek News dominated but those days are over. That newspaper is now fighting for survival but it too enjoys a very generous share of State advertisements.
Guyana’s leading newspaper is however, the Kaieteur News and it continues to leave its competitors behind, outstripping them in circulation. Yet, Kaieteur News from its inception has not received its fair share of State advertisements. In fact, it was only in recent times that we have begun to receive any government advertisements.
Advertisers are interested in reaching large numbers of people. Therefore circulation has to count when a decision is made as to which newspaper to market one’s product. We are sure that the government also wants to ensure that its advertisements and notices reach as many people as possible.
Since Kaieteur News is the top selling newspaper in Guyana, it is expected that we would be the first choice for state advertisements. This is, however, not the case and it is mind-boggling to note that Kaieteur News enjoys the least share of State advertisements. Even the Mirror newspaper receives more State advertisements that the Kaieteur News. This cannot be fair.
As was mentioned before, running a newspaper is expensive business. Daily sales cannot by themselves cover the numerous expenses, which go into producing a newspaper. Newspapers therefore depend on their business clients for advertisements.
This is a mutually beneficial partnership with those companies and firms being able to advertise their products and services to the reader and thus benefit from the exposure, while the newspaper earns valuable revenue from these advertisements.
Kaieteur News has not been the only newspaper to complain about the manner in which State advertisements are distributed. In the past, even the Stabroek News had had to call attention to the fact that the private media deserves its fair share of advertisements from the government.
Why is it that Guyana’s leading newspaper took so long to begin receiving any significant government advertisements? Why is it that even today, the Kaieteur News with the largest circulation for a newspaper receives the least state advertisements than all of the dailies? Surely, something has to be wrong here and the government should address this inequitable situation.
Most of the state advertisements are usually channelled through public relations firms. While we respect the right of the government to do this, we feel that the government should ensure that the final distribution of advertisements is fair and tied to objective considerations such as target markets and circulation. The government equally has a responsibility to ensure that there is no conflict of interest when it comes to those companies responsible for distributing advertisements to media houses. Surely, if a public relations firm or any of its principals have shares in a particular newspaper, this would present a conflict of interest.
The government therefore has to ensure that none of the agencies that distribute its advertisements are caught up in any conflict of interest. Otherwise, it would be difficult for the government to convince the public that the distribution of advertisements is based on anything but objective considerations.