Along the Tracks

Friday, May 09, 2003

WANTED: A few good newspaper managers

Iraq needs a lot of things: A government, a constitution, the basic tenets of an economic system, generally recognized accounting standards, etc. I think a very basic key, however, is an active, interested, free press. The Iraqis have little experience in this area, and successfully promulgating the idea of independent media outlets will be more difficult than it might first appear. You see, there is this little-considered fact that it costs money to run a newspaper, radio station, television station, etc. That money can come from a wealthy patron, sure, but then the staff is at the editorial mercy of its owner. The key to a successful news media enterprise is convincing two sets of people that your work is worthwhile: first, the reader/listener/viewer; second, the advertiser. Without an audience, a news outlet operates to little social effect; without an advertising base, an outlet’s management has no check on its whimsy, be it political, social or ethical.

Don’t get me wrong - there is a place for one-sided opinion, tabloids, lowest-common-denominator entertainment, and other forms of expression which do not hold to any ethic of objectivity. They must be protected in a free society. But a successful democracy will require a press (to use the term loosely, including all the news media) which can develop trust with its readers, and is built upon a broad base of financial support. People need to be informed with facts; political opinions need a foundation of reliable information. The Arab world is awash in opinion, but only fed “facts” which are in line with the pre-ordained politics. That is exactly backward, and no democracy can succeed when reality is hidden from its voters.

A newspaper management training force would be an important, if low-profile, piece in the construction of Iraq’s civil society.

Anyone up for the challenge?

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