By Ioana Avadani
I talked last week with 40 Journalism students in Craiova, the largest city in South-Western Romania. Smart, perceptive, a bit shy and eager to know more. We talked about journalism as a profession and their expectations. They knew the jobs are few and far apart, that sooner or later they would collide with their owner’s interests and they feared they would have to give way. They were – as most of the Journalism students in Romania – determined to 1) come to Bucharest and 2) find a job in a television station.
I made it my job to dismantle, as gently as I could, their rosy expectations.
We took first a look at the circulations figures of the “national newspapers”. The largest circulation belongs to the tabloid papers. Celebrity news, bedroom dramas, lots of naked skin – you know the type. Were our students ready to work for them? Sure they weren’t, as they still believe that journalism is about something else. But sometimes this is the only job one can get… Quality newspapers? The largest circulation is 33,000 copies. Probably a third of it is sold in Bucharest. The rest is divided among the 40 counties of Romania. What kind of influence can one have selling 500 copies on a given market? Comparatively, the local newspapers are much better off – with circulations ranging from 3000 to 12,000 copies. This is why the local newspapers are as good a (prospective) job as it gets. It is thanks to the proximity of the news they provide, the fact that they are accessible and visible in their communities. A lot of stories can be dug in Romanian cities and it takes some young blood to cater to them. Are they related, owned or influenced by the local politicians? Sure they are. But still, their local character is much appreciated – and local politicians are somehow more consequential to the communities they rule than the distant “big shots” in Bucharest. Local newspapers really make a difference.
Local televisions – this is a completely other story. Bigger costs, bigger stakes, more (apparent) glamour. There are currently 368 active TV stations in Romania – way too many for the ailing advertising market that plunged down to one third of what it was in 2008. As a surviving strategy, they joined the big nation-wide networks. They reduced their local content and turned themselves in re-broadcasters of the content provided by the central stations. There are no audience figures for the local TV stations, as the measurement would be too expensive. But there is another figure that tells us a said truth. According to a survey conducted by the National Council for the Audiovisual, some 72% of the Romanians never watch a local station. Never. Why would they if there is no local angle to their content? But there’s another legitimate question: why keeping on air 368 stations that almost nobody watches? The answer is to be found in the owners’ other interests. Having your own medium seems to be good for (other) business. It gives you leverage, as it looks. Too bad the influence is not there…This very quick analysis of the media landscape in Romania gives our young journalists-to-be some food for thought – and us, the others – some hope. It demonstrates that local news is still selling, despite everything (poor market, abusive owners, autocratic local leaders, disappointed media consumers). If we want a “rejuvenation” of Romania media, maybe the local news are the way. Maybe the today’s students can be taught this valuable thing and made to look up at their local newspapers. We can ‘drop the print’, we can migrate online, we can turn ourselves in universal digital citizens – but the local news should be there for us, to make our lives easier and our communities easy to live in.
Ioana Avadani, director, Center for Independent Journalism, Bucharest.