Posts Tagged ‘The Royal Gazette’

David L. White (1933-2013)

I was saddened to hear of the death of David L. White, former editor of The Royal Gazette, who passed away last night after a long illness.

While he and I did not always see eye to eye professionally during our time at Par-La-Ville Road, we enjoyed a far more cordial relationship after he retired and I came to respect his talents and generosity of spirit that weren’t always appreciated or valued in the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of a daily newsroom.

In fact, had it not been for David I would not have ended up in Bermuda at all, let alone call it my home for more than 30 years as it was he who interviewed me at the Berkeley Hotel in London in 1982 for a job on the sports desk of the Gazette.

It was the longest and most entertaining interview I’ve ever had, largely because by the time we’d finished, it was early evening and he insisted on buying dinner. As we sat down, he asked me what I would like to drink. Not knowing the protocol one should take with a prospective (and foreign) employer, I asked what he was having. “I’m having a f******g double vodka and tonic!” he declared loudly. “The single measures you Limeys serve are a joke!”

And so we proceeded to consume an absurd quantity of vodka and good wine. I have no idea what we talked about from then on but as I stood swaying on the Tube platform later that night waiting for the train home, I remember feeling confident that I would be leaving England for a tiny island in the Atlantic later that year.

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Judging from the many comments, phone calls, emails and texts I’ve had about my recent post on editorial independence, a lot of people share my concerns. Today’s Royal Gazette is another reason to be concerned.

RG-wrap

Here’s the news … but first a really annoying word from our sponsor.

It features what the industry calls a “wrap” – advertising that masks part or all of the front page. The Gazette certainly isn’t the first paper to do this and it won’t, sadly, be the last. Wraps, which are lucrative revenue earners for cash-strapped newspapers, are controversially creeping across many of the world’s newspapers.

The Daily Express in the UK took a lot of flak in 2009 when it obscured coverage of Barack Obama’s historic inauguration with a four-page wrap marking the first birthday of the Fiat 500. Ditto The Guardian, when it carried its first wrap last year for a phone company. In 2010, an appalling wrap for the Johnny Depp film Alice In Wonderland mimicked the front page of the LA Times.

Newspapers seem to be returning to the 18th and 19th century, when the front pages of many leading publications were completely full of ads. As journalism and professional reporting became more established, news content grew and became the main driver of circulation. The front page became sacrosanct and defended by editors and owners alike against front-page ads of any kind.

LA Times: re-defining the front page "mock up".

LA Times: re-defining the term “front page mock up”.

A few years ago, Gene Roberts, a former managing editor of the New York Times and executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the American Journalism Review that front-page ads were another in a series of industry mistakes triggered by short-term thinking. “It’s one more in this kind of death by a thousand cuts that the newspaper business seems to be administering to itself. In the long run, the big necessity is to get and maintain readers, and I think without question that front-page ads work against readership.”

Every advertiser naturally wants to be on the front page because it’s the most-read page in a newspaper. Although my company plans and produces advertising, I never recommend wraparounds and dissuade clients from doing so. Why? Because I believe they are counter-productive and not worth the premium rates that media organisations charge. Journalists and editors naturally hate them and readers generally resent them in the same way they resent ads that often pop-up when you load a web page. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who immediately rips off the wrap and chucks it in the nearest trash bin.

I’m not sure if today’s half-page wrap is a first for the Gazette but we’ll be seeing more and you just know that a full page wrap won’t be far behind.

I hope that the Gazette resists this trend and is able to find an alternative revenue stream for many of the same reasons that I stated the other day. When advertising becomes the front page, it tells readers that the news is not important. It devalues the very reason that newspapers exist for in the first place and further blurs the line between news and business interests.

Wraps are part of a slippery slope that turns a newspaper into an advertising free-sheet. And if newspaper owners and advertisers risk alienating the very people they are trying to attract, then what’s the point?

RGLtdWhat on earth is going on at The Royal Gazette these days?

Over the past weeks there has been a rash of unusually soft front page lead stories that would have normally run on feature pages at best while more important news articles were carried – some would say buried – on inside pages. Last week this reached a nadir when the front-page lead stories included:

These stories certainly have a place in the paper. They are worthwhile community stories but they have no place being the lead story itself.

So what’s going on here? Have acting editor Jeremy Deacon’s news senses deserted him or, as PLP leader Marc Bean claimed recently, have Gazette journalists “been told by their editors, and their board of directors, that nothing negative about the OBA Government, or Bermuda in general, can be on the front page, let alone reported on”?

Jonathan Howes, the Gazette CEO, angrily denied this and threatened to sue Mr. Bean, prompting one reader to write this week: “We expect [the Gazette] to hold every organ of this Government accountable. As uncomfortable as it may make Mr. Howes and the board, the evidence of bias is clear; deliberate or not.”

Mr. Bean and the letter writer may be a little wide of the mark politically – ‘Jetgate’ has had plenty of coverage in the Gazette, for example – but it is my understanding that the board of the Bermuda Press (owners of The Royal Gazette), through its publishing committee, has indeed been putting increasing pressure on the editorial department to run more “positive” stories on the front page, and wants closer control over editorial content and direction. I understand that none of the publishing committee have any journalistic experience.

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