The ‘Panama Papers’ succeeded where traditional media failed

The Middle East region has so many talented and able journalists who regularly produce quality content...

Faisal J. Abbas
Faisal J. Abbas
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I read with much interest Diana Moukallad’s opinion piece, published on this site yesterday. The article argued that the “Panama Papers” project has exposed Arab journalism for no longer producing relevant, investigative content. I agree with Ms. Moukallad on this count. However, I don’t think the problem with Arab journalism is the journalists, but those who manage them.

The Middle East region has so many talented and able journalists who regularly produce quality content. And yes, having so many so-called “red-lines”, which is a reality in this part of the world (and elsewhere too), does limit what we can or can’t do.

However, there are many stories that remain un-tackled, even though they don’t have anything to do with governments or censorship.

I believe the larger and more relevant issue is the wrong decisions often made by owners of media outlets or managing executives. Their errors of judgment – sometimes inefficiency, even corruption – often result in cost cutting and knee-jerk response to crisis situations. This obviously goes beyond media industry, which is only focused on producing quality content. In other words, it should be seen as “mismanagement”.

Unfortunately, it is usually the journalists who bear the brunt of such mismanagement. They have to accept cuts and sometimes are even expected to write for free, or accept severe delays in their payment.

The Internet has brought together a large number of top-of-the-line investigative journalists from around the world and enabled them to work closely

Faisal J. Abbas

Many blame this situation on the impact the Internet has had on traditional media businesses, namely newspapers and magazines. However, if anything, the “Panama Papers” have shown that - on the contrary - the Internet is not killing quality journalism. Actually, this particular project has brought together a large number of top-of-the-line investigative journalists from around the world and enabled them to work closely together.

These individuals transcended geographical and time zone barriers and produced some of what could certainly be described as the most interesting pieces of journalism in recent years. Sadly, none of the traditional “newspapers” have been able to match this feat.

Content is king

The reality of the matter is that “online journalism” isn’t just about listicles, or “top-tips-to get-multiple-orgasms” kind of articles. The advancement in digital publishing, connectivity, ability to instantly share documents and work together in virtual newsroom is a larger and more encompassing phenomenon. The 'Panama Papers' have only proved that you don’t need massive offices, helicopters, vans and international bureaus to produce award-winning journalism.

Indeed, the success of this project has been a lesson and a reminder that media organizations don’t fail because of their journalists, but because of the lousy management of their top executives. For instance, it would be almost impossible to argue that the NYT Pulitzer prize winning journalists were not producing quality content when the company had financial issues back in 2008.

The reality however is that The New York Times slipped into debt because of the loans and financial mismanagement. For instance, they invested in a new tower in New York when the managers should have been adapting to the new online realities and spending money on content. Moreover, the newspaper wouldn’t have survived but for a $250-million cash infusion from Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu.

A similar argument could be made, hypothetically, about paying hundreds of millions for merely having a US presence of a foreign news channel, when they could have easily reached that audience online.

The way forward is investing in good quality journalism and its best practitioners. Only this can produce the best possible content available out there and maintain platforms for professional investigative journalists, such as the extraordinary Diana Moukalled.
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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