The business deficit of the Greek media

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Nikos Dimou, a Greek writer, advertises himself by adding to his CV that during his adjoining career as a journalist resigned ten times. His resignations are more than a personal matter as they could also be interpreted as ten losses for Greek newspapers, which seek to survive by selling DVDs instead of content.  The case of the well-known author indicates at least the short – term policy of media enterprises in Greece.

What is being judged is not Dimou’s ability to write (which is definitely good), but whether is he commercial or not. Dimou’s articles are widely read, his books are among the best sellers and the blog he used to run was quite popular judging from the comments in his posts. The fact that such a writer had been excluded from the mainstream media is indicative of the media crisis. It demonstrates above all that media enterprises are not oriented towards the reading market.

If we look closer at the crisis of the Greek media (which has some common characteristics with the international one but not many) we should first of all ask ourselves the question “What exactly do media sell?” Then, the answer is “The intellectual job of some people”. Its first material is neither the paper nor the ink. It consists of the minds of those working. However, even big media enterprises lack a department of human resources management. To be more precise, human resources management is totally unknown in a successful –in economic terms –industry, which quite often points the finger to other organizational schemes – public and private- regarding their modernization deficit.

But, is the HR management going to rescue Greek newspapers? Of course not. However, its lack demonstrates the business deficit of the press. Should not a department that exists even in cement industries be an integral part of enterprises selling human thought (at least in theory)?

This deficit is reflected daily in the Greek press. Underpaid journalists with two or three jobs, packed in small offices produce everyday the hubbub which surrounds them. Most of them lack even the time to think about what they write and transmit. But why should they, since what they are asked to do is actually to fill boxes or time with words?

Normally, every journalist should know more than his readers, should do a lot of reading on what he writes or he informs about. This is the added value offered by an information enterprise that asks for 1-4 euro every day. It is not just a journalistic joke that “journalists are paid not to read but to write”. It is also applied since ignorance and improvisation make the rule in Greek media. It is, after all, convenient for a huge number of journalists (who often do not read even the newspapers) but also for media industries, which reduce their cost by allowing journalists to do two or three more jobs, all of them underpaid and in the detriment of the quality of the output they produce. In other words, the employees pretend to be productive while enterprises pretend to pay them.

Furthermore, the tools that modern industries use to ensure their survival such as “lifelong learning” or “continuous education” are unknown in Greek media sector. An example: The global conference organized every year by Newspapers’ World Association is a good opportunity for publishers and executives working in the media from all over the world in order to discuss the tendencies, the problems and the perspectives in the field. Not surprisingly, in Greece press industries consider as an unnecessary expense what powerful newspapers of the world actually pursue: education, discussion, and reflection on press issues. As a result, Greek newspapers missed the arrival of the Internet.

Press enterprises are not alone to blame for this situation. Journalists and their syndicate are also responsible. Every attempt towards modernization if it does not cause rivalry should pass through an extremely costly compromise for the enterprises: the new must coexist with the old. All unions’ intransigencies widespread in Greek economy are even more intense in the media sector. Every attempt to rationalize the operation of media enterprises is met with strong refusal. There is a wide connivance between employees and employers to the detriment of the quality of the product.

This management deficit is due to specific reasons. The first one relates to the fact that all parts involved in the media industry had for a long time felt safe from the international competition. To put it differently the Chinese can also make T-shirts, but only Greeks can work in the newspapers. However, Internet and free-press entered the market while media enterprises were apparently looking elsewhere. Why?

The main explanation for the indifference shown by the Greek media towards those two developments can be found in their operation not within the information market but within the market of political influence.  At this point the left obsession according to which information is not a selling product meets a widepsread business practice that maximizes profit within the market of political influence. (The fact that 26 national newspapers survive manifests the profit of this business.)

This wedding has given rise to a monstrosity in the media such as extended reportages regarding the meeting between Erdogan and Karamanlis, which never took place. Moreover, it still seems a paradox the fact that for 15 years we believed that Albanians were slaughtering the Serbians in Sarajevo as well as that Iraqis were winning the war against Americans. Media enterprises being oriented towards the market of political influence neglect ordinary content in favor of the political analysis. These are left to obsessed columnists who combine left wing ideas with strong anti-imperialism feelings and who seek to change the world rather than to inform. The reportage concerning the meeting between Karamanlis and Erdogan, which never took place, is nothing compared with other news transmitted by the Greek media particularly when “the murderers of the peoples” were fighting wars and our media forces were fighting for certain ideologies. But this has nothing to do with a particular ideological preference. Had history been different and extreme right the prevalent ideology this would have led to a manipulation of the media coming from the latter. But still, we would not have right information since media industries are oriented towards the market of political influence.

This orientation is also confirmed by some other media phenomena. The last twenty years almost all business executives of media industries are coming solely from the political reportage despite their lack of experience in producing an output and also the fact that they are not being judged for their managerial abilities. This is because publishers do not look for people effective in producing an informative output but for people able to deal effectively with the government. This is the law of the market: the best client is served first. And usually the best client is the public sector either through state advertisements or through enactments or even public works that could secure funding.

Another symptom of this situation refers to the parapolitical columns of the newspapers. Many of them are incomprehensible not only to the readers but even to those who closely follow the political game. Within the market of political influence these columns form the medium through which the politicians reach the media and vice versa.

The problem is that this parapolitical correspondence is not limited in certain columns but it is spread to the political reportage in general. The last one, also directed in covering influence games, plays its part in them. As a consequence the reproduction of the political gossip makes it not political but parapolitical since are not the proposals, the arguments or the different perceptions of a problem that are being discussed. All these presuppose a lot of reading, thorough examination, and time, which are not offered in the media enterprises. In addition, they presuppose an information market in which industries will participate. Since these presuppositions do not exist, it is easy to understand why a statement made by a politician turns into a big issue and is being discussed for hours word by word. All these end up not only to a devaluation of politics but also to the devaluation of the journalistic product: the consumers stop buying because they cannot follow the pirouettes in the political scene.

The crisis of the press is part of the structural crisis that the country faces. The crisis can be seen everywhere and it will get even more acute in the coming months. Α big, opaque and centralized state has supported this malaise that distorted every aspect of the political, economic and social life for a long time. Unfortunately, today we undergo the consequences of this model. How we are going to overrun this model is definitely something that is not going to be discussed in the existing media.

PS: It is worth mentioning Dimou’s confession regarding his resignations: “At some point certain powerful people (in or out of the media) are bothered by my views. A pressure for a compromise or for censorship follows this situation… Most of my resignations were caused by political, actually party pressure...Only two of them came as a consequence of censorship on my ideas.”

Published in "Athens Voice" newspaper 2.7.2009 (Translation Elina Tzanoudaki)