The Supply Problem

The Internet operates in an economy of plenitude and nothing is ever going to change that. Finding a place in it will be an uncomfortable and sometimes disappointing exercise for many – but not all – print publications.

The solution, if they choose to recognise it, is not to stand like Canute among the waves and order back the tide. The secret is to find news, analysis and insight that is in short supply, and to add it to the flood. This is something that our local publishers a uniquely positioned to do.

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent. This is a re-working of the ideas expressed in this post, applied specifically to Vanuatu’s newspaper publishers.]

(As this column was going to press, the news broke that Rupert Murdoch had decided to move all of his newspapers behind a pay wall. I’d like to thank him for his sense of timing.)

I write for both of our national newspapers, and love nothing more than flipping through their pages over a good cup of coffee. But I still get the vast majority of the commentary, analysis and hard news I read in a day from my computer.

Publishing a newspaper in Vanuatu has always been more a labour of love than anything else. The number of readers and advertisers is decidedly limited, so the amount of cash available to this critical part of the public dialogue is limited, too.

That puts constraints on the depth of detail that can go into important news stories. It also limits the amount of editorial oversight, fact-checking and analysis that can be brought to bear. Nonetheless, our local rags do manage to muddle through and, generally speaking, they do a pretty commendable job of keeping us abreast of important issues. All the journalists I know are keenly aware of their role in ensuring that the public is as informed and engaged as they can be about the important issues of the day.

Despite all their effort and devotion, they reach only a fraction of the people to whom their news is relevant. The task of delivering newspapers outside of Vila, Santo and a few airports is prohibitively difficult. The Internet can change that, but in so doing, it could also bring about the demise of our local media.

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