Saturday, April 10, 2010

Journalism from the other end of the world

While helping my husband edit a column for the newspaper in his home country of the Solomon Islands in the Melanesian South Pacific, we got to talking about the business of newspapers.

I wondered aloud how an economically struggling country—where many of the people live in what Americans would consider poverty—could support not just one newspaper, but several. I can't imagine the businesses there 't have much money for advertising and as a journalist, I'm constantly reminded of the newspaper business's woes here in the western hemisphere.

He barely glanced up from what he was reading to give me a quick reply. "Well, people buy the paper."

I was indignant. Subscriptions couldn't be the answer. It couldn't be that easy. Besides, what could people afford to pay for the paper? He said single-copy papers sell for $3 to $5 and with many mouths to feed and few jobs in each household, money is almost always tight in the Solomon homes.

"It doesn't matter," he said, shrugging his shoulders and ignoring my persistent questions. "Everyone has to read the newspaper. Everyone wants to know what's going on."

I continued investigating. His carefree island-style answers weren't settling well with my reporter persona (this wasn't the first time and won't be the last), especially when he was so quickly dismissing my disbelief. I started up a Facebook chat with Romulus Huta, a journalist at the Island Sun, an alternative paper in the country's capital, Honiara.

He seemed equally as nonchalant during my pelting of questions. Had things changed since they got online? No. (This didn't surprise me; time on the Internet is too costly for many in the Solomons). I knew they were on Facebook. Did they Twitter? No again. Did they accept citizen journalism? Reporters write stories, but they also accept contributions from local people.

I ended the conversation still feeling unsatisfied. It felt to me as if they were keeping a secret from me—as if the Solomon newspapers knew the secret ingredient to save the industry that means so much to me. But as fellow journalists, we made friends and promised to stay in touch. We both know about long hours, tough stories and unforgiving deadlines. And I knew going out what I knew coming in—that there was no easy answer.

Journalists aren't ones for easy answers, anyway. We know easy answers are rarely the truest ones. So we'll continue to work hard, impassioned about creating a strong product that is relevant to our readers, no matter what side of the International Dateline we're on.

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Stories are my passion—and I am an advocate for the new, engaging ways to share and create those stories. I grew up in a small town in Michigan and now live and work in the Chicago area.