The media in the Caribbean is undergoing profound change.
Nowhere is this more noticeable and impactful than the internet where change on a revolutionary scale change is being driven by the proliferation of social media content and output.
Mainstream media is struggling to keep up with this trend, constrained as it is by resources from human to technical, and in some cases restrictive administrative oversight.
Caribbean mainstream media’s inability - and in some instances sheer refusal - to adapt and change with the times could very well be its demise…as far as audiences go.
There’s no question that the explosion of the internet, especially and social media sites, have made access to information, and ownership of media, a lot less cumbersome.
The liberalisation of telecommunications in the English-speaking Caribbean in the 1990s led to an explosion of media outlets and opened the market to a wider array of opinions and choices.
The dominance of state-media was challenged by smaller, more nimble upstarts, especially in radio.
The initial euphoria of that era of ‘media freedom’ was however hampered by advertising and sponsorship.
More media tapping into the same advertising and sponsorship pool, not only made the marketplace more competitive, conversely it made that source shrink and drove down rates.
That inevitably resulted in newly found media ‘freedoms’ encumbered by inadequate funding to expand or even sustain operations.
Many of the adventurous upstarts quite literally got squeezed out of a market which became increasingly local and inward-looking by force of circumstance.
All of this happened at a time when the externally-funded giants of regional media; Radio Antilles (via Germany’s Deutsche Welle), Caribbean News Agency (Reuters) and BBC Caribbean, plus Voice of America and Radio Canada International were scaling back or curtailing their regional operations due to changing geopolitical realities, and business priorities.
It’s instructive that there have been no serious efforts to replace or provide an alternative to those pan-Caribbean media powerhouses which, through their editorial independence and funding, were important voices in the conversation of Caribbean integration.
In the local markets which had become saturated by the relative technical and regulatory ease of setting up shop, output revolved - and still does - around a veritable fast food offering of music programming and in many instances politically-preferential current affairs content.
Fast-forward to now. The explosion of the internet and in particular social media(technology externally owned and controlled), has shifted the region’s media dynamics even further.
While it might have removed muzzles and created channels for a wider array of ‘voices and choices’ through opinions and other offers, it nevertheless seems to be muddling the market even further.
Now, just about anyone with an internet connection, computer, smart-phone, basic technical skills, an opinion - and a like for ‘likes’ - can become overnight social media stars, citizen journalists and even self-styled ‘media moguls’ via a social media platform…mobile and in your palm.
Instantaneous uploads, realtime streaming, unverified newsfeeds and unchecked opinions are now just a click away.
But there's a positive angle to this. Fortunately, in the hands of media professionals and those with a professional outlook, this tool fills a void amidst all the ‘noise’.
Content management, (especially ‘content moderation’ - an editorial growth area), business management, audience relations, and output analytics are crucial skills to ensure success and secure integrity, whether online, on-air, or producing hard copy.
The sword of Damocles hovers over published content even more ominously now than it did before. Freedom of speech is not free and could be very costly - despite the ease of online accessibility.
Media is built on reliability and reputation. It might now be less costly to set up and upload, but the ‘takedown’ when, especially 'social' media gets it wrong could be extremely costly.
In this media milieu, it is, however, welcome to see a serious effort being made by some local investors, media professionals and media enthusiasts to tap into the opportunities of websites, pod casts and social media.
The Cayman Islands media landscape is a case in point.
A recent check shows that there are two newspapers, eight news websites, three cable channels, and eight radio stations serving a market of 60,000 residents.
Including the state-owned media, they all vie to compete for the same advertising dollars within the same space.
In other Caribbean countries, the media market relative to the population size, internet access, and strength of the local economy is even more challenging..and in many cases even more congested.
In such a crowded space, programmers, circulation managers and advertisers compete. That intensity of competition should consequently improved standards. Sadly, in many cases, it doesn’t.
Cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean better, nor does claimed market reach necessarily equate with reaching a pre-determined target audience.
The audience (the market) is key, and an over-saturated market self-regulates and regenerates within its own space.
Too much choice is not necessarily the best choice and loyalties shift easily in the absence of distinctive content.
Integrity is key. More is not always better...or merrier.