I was going write about the latest SABC saga today but frankly, it’s all incredibly boring and what, I thought to myself, could I possibly say that I haven’t said before?
The SABC will remain a complete and utter disaster until the ANC stops deploying cadres into the chair and tells the communications minister to back off supporting him by calling for the parliamentary portfolio committee to effectively get rid of the board.
So, instead of repeating myself, I would much rather talk about BDFM and the multi-tasking of Peter Bruce.
This week he once again took up the reins as editor of Business Day after having been, as he said himself, catapulted into the strange world of managements and accounts six months ago.
What interests me is that Bruce isn’t going to have the luxury of just being an editor because he is still going to have to deal with management and accounts. He has also been appointed editor-in-chief and publisher, that’s where the managements and accounts bit comes in, of BDFM and all of its products – Business Day, Financial Mail, BDLive, Summit Television – and so forth.
This move has predictably been criticised in some quarters as an “extraordinary breach in newspaper tradition”.
Simply because newspaper tradition has seen newspapers the world over either battling to survive or closing their doors. Tradition is more of a hindrance these days than anything else.
For some time now newspaper editors have had to weather a break with tradition –particularly that firewall between advertising and editorial.
For an editor to sit in isolation and protected from the grim reality of newspaper publishing and revenue generation is a luxury that is simply not affordable.
Bruce is certainly not alone nor is he setting a precedent. As he pointed out in his Thick End of the Wedge column this week, “Erik Berger, CE of the World Editors’ Forum, is editor-in-chief and MD, nogal, of his Danish daily. There are many, many examples. TN Ninan is chairman and editor-in-chief of the Business Standard in India, so I rank fairly far down the list of transgressors. Let us also not forget that two of my predecessors at Business Day and the Financial Mail, Nigel Bruce and Steve Mulholland, held executive and editorial power at the same time during parts of their careers.”
He added something else, which in my book is extremely important for a multi-tasking editor. “I have never had any doubt about what I am — a journalist. I have promised the BDFM shareholders that while I may promote the positive aspects of the titles we own and jobs they do, I will never even try to sell an advertisement and I simply cannot imagine choosing the interests of an advertiser over those of our readers. There is a queue of companies who frequently don’t advertise in either the Financial Mail or Business Day because we simply do not make that kind of compromise.”
Of course, what Bruce knows full well is that one cannot actually generalise too much about that foggy point at which advertising meets editorial.
There are supplements, corporate surveys and heaven knows how many other things that look very much like editorial but which are just wall-to-wall advertising.
It is happening a lot these days – one just has to have a look at TV programmes such as Top Billing in which virtually all content is paid for. And a whole raft of magazines that look like editorial but of which 100% of the content is paid for.
And while Bruce might not become an advertising salesman, he will, as he has done in the past, be right there at the coalface with his advertising reps giving them moral support.
Nothing wrong with that. Editors have been forced to become PR people as well.
This is one of the reasons why in a modern newspaper or print operation the editor is involved in management and accounts. But the trick is to know just where to draw that precarious line.
Generally speaking today, consumers aren’t much interested in whether media content is paid for or not. As long as it is credible and of sufficiently high quality, they will buy it.
An editor who sits in isolation of the real world of business cannot possibly know where to draw lines.
So Peter Bruce is not doing anything out of the ordinary. He is someone who knows where to draw lines, except of course when it comes to rugby and the teams he supports.
For years Business Day under his watch, published a motoring section every week and I have no doubt that he realised the importance of the editorial – which was all outsourced by the way – never ever seriously criticising motor companies because of their penchant to withdraw their ads at the slightest provocation.
Interestingly, there are a number of newspapers and publishing groups in this country that have ex-journalists as CEO’s, publishers and elsewhere in the management and accounts departments.
Some of them are not allowed to interfere in editorial decisions because that is the tradition of the newspaper business.
I think its a pity and an outdated paradigm, because the newspaper business today depends increasingly on a combination of management and editorial skills with neither one being mutually exclusive.
Business Day and the FM for example, have always had a lot of credibility and respect from those who read them.
I don’t think anything is going to change.
Now, don’t you think that what Peter Bruce is doing is a lot more interesting than the on-going saga of our weird and wonderful national ‘broadcorping’ castration?
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk