The Internet and the future of newspapers - an islands view - by Erin Phelan
John Lamani has taken the Solomon Star through various evolutionary stages. Change is not new to him. He employed a simple equation when he moved from government radio to launching an independent newspaper in the early 1980s: start small and work your way up.
The Solomon Star began as a weekly and grew into the first daily newspaper in the Solomon Islands, an archipelago in the western Pacific Islands. Today Lamani's newspaper has a circulation of about 5000 and growing. With new technologies - not only on the horizon, but also in the foreground - it is time to think about the future. And as they say, there is no time like the present.
Lamani recently returned from representing the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) in a week-long workshop in Manila, "Managing Community Newspapers Beyond 2000". The workshop was sponsored by Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF) for members of the Council of Asia and Pacific Press Institutes (CAPPI).
"It was one of the best workshops I've been to," said Lamani, from his office back in Honiara. The workshop was attended by managers of community newspapers from the Asia-Pacific region, including Mongolia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Some of the key points addressed were:
The use of modern technology in newspapers: Will this affect newspapers, will it kill them, or will it assist them?
Said Lamani: "Newspapers won't die. The Internet should be used as a tool to assist in the progress of newspapers." He said in the Solomons, the Internet could be used as a way to get news in from outlying regions, and to get news out to the global community. "Technology and the Internet are a great help to us," he added. "We're (media) moving from pasting manually and developing photos to computerised layouts and digital cameras - from computers direct to print. It really cuts down on time to put the paper out. In the past, with radio and television, people said that newspapers would die. This was far from true, in fact the other way around with more newspapers coming up than in the past. Technology doesn't give you the details that you want - you still need the newspaper."
Marketing newspapers to the community
Said Lamani: "This was the most important thing from the workshop: Marketing - not advertising. Sales, marketing and how to control what you are using now. Good management is essential to this. How to embrace the modern technology without ruining your system of news writing. Basic journalism must be retained - old journalism with good stories. What we want is not to rely on overseas news and the Internet, because then you lose readership. We still need 70% local news and 30% international news in the Solomons, or people won't buy the paper."
Media, new media and the global community
With communities, churches, governments and international organisations getting news on-line, it is crucial to have a presence. "Increased communication would make the Solomon Islands accessible to the rest of the world. We can increase the amount of news, and have a storage system so that others can come and use it."
Finance and electronic commerce
"PINA selects people who have been to this to inform the PINA community in detail what they have seen and discussed. When you look at managing finance - lots of Pacific Islanders don't know how to manage finance and the Asians are great at it. We can learn from this - checks and balances, how to secure markets - and make ourselves more competitive."
Lamani also spent time with the Manila-based BusinessWorld Online, a front-runner in the development of e-commerce for its own media products and others in the Asia-Pacific region. (Chief operations officer and editor Mike Marasigan is a regular trainer for the UNESCO/PINA Pacific Journalism Development Centre). Lamani said that this would be an area that the Solomon Star would think about entering in the coming years.
Lamani said that it was important for PINA members to attend such workshops that expose Pacific Islanders to Asian ways. "PINA members must tour Asian countries and see how they do it - there are some techniques and ideas that we need to study and implement and improve upon or diverge from. Managers should go and have a look at this. With PINA we look at small populations - handful of people. But Asia talks about millions of people."
UNESCO/PINA Pacific Journalism Development Centre coordinator Peter Lomas said participation in such Asia-Pacific workshops is a result of:
The Solomon Star will be setting up an Internet site, "sometime in 2000", said Lamani. The limitations lie with having the staff to maintain the website. "Our own site is in so many ways very important. The information is there to publish every day, we only need one of two reporters to start it off and to update it."
Start small and work your way up.
John Lamani and the Solomon Star have been through this before - successfully. The next stage will prove that evolution is alive and well in Pacific Islands media. With a little bit of help from Konrad Adenauer Foundation, CAPPI, the UNESCO/PINA Pacific Journalism Development Centre and the colleagues of Asia.
- PINA through the UNESCO/PINA Pacific Journalism Development Centre being one of the founding members of CAPPI;
- and strong support from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's Asian Media Project and its director Thomas Stehling.
|Texts published in 'Points of View' may not reflect UNESCO's position.
Erin Phelan works at PINA Nius Online, an on-line news agency for the Pacific Islands in Suva, Fiji