The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

I was deeply disappointed by the response of Searchlight newspaper in its editorial of Feb. 20, 2015 to the result of the latest newspaper readership survey conducted by Systematic Marketing & Research Services Inc. in December 2014.

Searchlight, which did not lead in any of the income categories, said the survey did not take online readership into account and claimed that the poll “missed the mark by a mile”.

The results of the survey, as reported by The News, (the only newspaper to date to write a news story about the results) show that The News continues to be the most widely read newspaper in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, among all income categories.

Surely, poor performance in a media survey can be demoralising for a media house. This is especially so, as in the case of Searchlight, when, for a second consecutive survey, the drop in readership approaches double digits. The demoralising effect can be particular when another publication outpolls yours in the upper income category — the grouping that supposedly has the highest disposable income, the group that advertisers might want to target, and which had hitherto remained faithful to your publication.

Searchlight’s response to the results of the survey was a petty and distasteful attempt to drag in extraneous variables, even though they supposedly endorsed the survey by agreeing to pay for its results.

Worse still, Searchlight’s editorial dealt a damaging blow to journalism when it suggested that when it is convenient, beating up on the messenger is absolutely justified.

One would learn in journalism/media 101 that, among many other things, the media is a scapegoat, a convenient punching bag, especially for a political directorate, and the various elite factions. While we, journalists, tolerate this situation – often with equanimity – in no circumstance should we endorse it as acceptable.

It would be interesting to find out why readers, including those in the upper income category, who are generally expected to be more educated, have consistently chosen a newspaper characterised by “false and misleading headline[s]” over “journalism you can trust”.

Full disclosure: My career in journalism began when, in 2002, I enrolled for a five-week “Introduction to Basic Journalism” course organised by Interactive Media Ltd., owners of Searchlight with sponsorship from overseas. In 2011, I applied for a position at Searchlight newspaper but forfeited the post offered, deciding instead to further my studies. In 2012, having completed my course of study, I again applied for a post at Searchlight and was offered the position of Assistant Editor and editor of Searchlight Midweek. I was fired in February 2013, after six months on the job. No reason was given for my dismissal and I was compensated in lieu of notice. Since then, I have been managing what is widely regarded as SVG most widely read online news entity and have become a correspondent for an international news agency.

Kenton X. Chance

(Simpliciter)

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

6 replies on “When a newspaper endorses ‘beating up on the messenger’ ”

  1. C. ben-David says:

    Yes, I wondered about that myself.

    But there is a much bigger issue here: the slow but certain death of print journalism (and other print media) as those who reached adulthood before the rise of the Internet die off.

    I am the exception that proves the rule: all of my age(d) mates still buy or read print editions of newspapers and magazines, even though they are computer literate, because they are used to doing so and don’t like reading a lot of stuff on screen. I do almost all my reading on-line because I forced myself years ago to get used to this new medium because I could read the handwriting on the wall (at the back of my computer screen, that is). Now I even dislike reading broadsheets … and welcome not having to wash my hands after doing so to get rid of the ink.

    The question that beats me is why doesn’t The News have an on-line version when so many other newspapers all over the Third World have gone on-line years ago. Surely they must know that even in an Internet-poor country like SVG in the long run the “newspaper wars” will only be won by those who fully embrace the Internet age.

  2. You know, I’m not sure what Searchlight’s problem is. Other than “shooting the messenger” as Mr Chance suggests, that is. If I am asked “What newspaper did you read last week?” I am apt to list all that I read, whether I read the news on-line or in a print edition. I am fairly certain that most people assume that Searchlight on-line and Searchlight in print carry the same news. I have met some of us older folks who don’t have computers, much less smart phones or tablets, and are sceptical about going on-line. But certainly the younger age groups questioned spend half their lives on such devices. Reading, for them is on-line all the way. And after all, even a digital edition has to be read. So why would the responses to the questionnaire under-represent on-line readers? As far as I know, we have not yet reached the stage where Searchlight’s digital edition can enter my brain by Wi-Fi. We may come to that but we ain’t there yet!

  3. I do not have any info on this particular survey conducted by Systematic Marketing & Research Services Inc. However, based on my own knowledge of polling and the different methodologies employed in conducting these surveys/polling;the Searchlight Editorial outlined a substantive and persuasive case as to why the polling conducted by Systematic Marketing & Research Services Inc. was flawed in their opinion. And while I do recognize that the Editorial critique is wholly base on protecting the image of its own Newspaper; I agree with the sentiments, the messenger, in this instance, ought to be shot.

    If the objective of this survey is to established which Newspaper is the most widely read in SVG, then common sense dictates in this day and age, that every platform available to readers must be taken into account, including online readership. The Editorial made an interesting point that the fall off of readership in the print category maybe in direct relation to an uptick in online readership, this may or may not be true…but its an observation that make sense on the face of it and apparently wasn’t taken into account by this poll.

    Now, if I am to venture to answer the question put forth by Mr Chance as to “why readers, including those in the upper income category, who are generally expected to be more educated, have consistently chosen a newspaper characterised by “false and misleading headline[s]” over “journalism you can trust”….my answer is simple, I believe the News newspaper, is the closest thing to a tabloid publication in SVG…in Vincy parlance, a “commess” paper. I believe, this is one of the reasons that the News Newspaper is not online…there is no need. It has a loyal following on the ground in Vincyland…to go on online is to compete with a plethora of “commess” blogs along with the various assortment of Social Media, the bastion of “commess”. People just luv “commess”-young or old, rich or poor…Of course this is simply mere speculation on my part but I have been reading the News newspaper long enough to know what I am talking about.

    I think sometimes the messenger is worse than the message. Like I said before, I do not have any info on this survey, so I cannot speak to what exactly was the underlining reason for this polling. But I do not believe as Mr Chance indicated, that the Searchlight was being “petty” or “distasteful” in criticizing the methodology used to carry out this polling. Mr Chance, would you accept an outcome, if you are aware that the methods used to arrive at said outcome, were outmoded or in dispute with acceptable standards?

    VIVA LA COMMESS!!

    1. Kenton X. Chance says:

      TeacherFang:

      The News has quoted Systematic Marketing as saying that they simply asked the respondent which newspapers they had read within a particular period of time. I haven’t read a hard copy of Barbados Nation for quite a while. However, if you ask me to list the newspapers I have read in the past week, I would mention Barbados Nation among them.

      Kenton X. Chance

      1. So I would have thought. I too saw the report of Systematic Marketing statement about the research – they asked respondents, “In the past month which newspapers did you read?” So unless they are claiming that the survey sample was not a random sample, I cannot see why Searchlight should complain about the results because (so they think) on-line readers were excluded. According to the survey results Searchlight seems to have had the lowest readership in ALL age groups, including the youngest who, as I pointed out in a previous post, seem to have fingers permanently attached to on-line devices. Would THEY really think that reading an on-line version of a newspaper is not really “reading”? If anything I would have thought that they, at least, would have mentioned an on-line newspaper first. That the News, which has no on-line presence, is nevertheless the most read may be attributed to “commess” or to a perception that the Searchlight is now just a government mouthpiece, or to more lively reporting or whatever. But none of these was the focus of Searchlight’s objection to the survey. What they claimed was a bias because on-line readers were not included; that is not a valid assumption unless one also assumes that readers do not consider on-line reading to be actually “reading”, or that they do not consider on-line newspapers to be really “newspapers” (a very dubious assumption in this digital age)

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