The Coalition for Ethical Journalism Turkey (CEJT) has met with local journalists in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, voicing support for the hope in the embattled profession.
The CEJT’s meeting, which was supported by The Journalists’ Association of Izmir and the Izmir branch of The Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), was focused on ethical issues of journalism in the city. It also proposed inspiring solutions and cooperation between the media and NGOs.
Misket Dikmen, the head of the Journalists’ Association of Izmir, stressed that Izmir has a deep-rooted history of journalism and its problems are similar to those of the national media.
According to Dikmen, traditional readership is still strong in Izmir, and the readers can “punish or ignore the newspapers which disregard the ethical standards” But at the same time, she said that having closer relations at the local level can it make easier to come up with solutions.
Only a few media outlets are family businesses in Izmir. National newspapers’ local supplements are strong competitors of the natively local outlets’ advertising revenues. All seven newspapers in the city are dependent on the official advertisement, distributed by The Directorate General of Press Advertisement (BİK). According to Halil İbrahim Guner, the head of TGS’ Izmir branch, official advertisement revenues has recently declined by three-quarters although they are still the only source for local newspapers to survive.
On the other side, the newspapers’ owners stated that another reason for the declining incomes is an advertising shift towards digital and nobody suggests any solution regarding the shrinking advertising cake. According to BIK requirements, a local newspaper should sell at least 2,400 copies, to be entitled to receive official ads, which is a barrier that the newspapers try to overcome by promoting subscriptions. The average number of local newspaper sales through kiosks is only 300-400 in Izmir.
National media use the local ones as a news agency
Izmir’s local media employs about 170 reporters. The national media closed most of their local offices to cut costs, reducing the number of local representatives. But this situation ended up with an increase in plagiarism.
An exclusive story of a local media outlet can instantly be copied and used without giving a link or reference. Although “copy-paste journalism” is also widespread at the local level, the national one’s outlets were more cautious as they are on the spotlight. The main grievance remains as impunity for plagiarism and the other unethical practices.
The “do not disturb the owner” mantra of most national outlets haunt local journalism as well. Negative stories about the mayors or other public institutions often result in the cancellation of advertisement. Fearing of such financial repercussions, many local journalists self-censor themselves to protect their publishers.
According to media owners, local powerholders try to create a proponent media network as their national counterparts. They organize press conferences to launch exclusive stories but blacklist their opponents or competitors.
Bureaucracy, local government units, and investors underestimate Izmir’s local media. They try to access and become popular in the pages of national newspapers.
Paid journalism remains a problem
“Paid journalism” is another problem in Izmir. Due to low salaries and high-level unemployment, many journalists write stories for advance payment or else resign from the profession. The only local newspaper where collective bargaining could be made possible is 9 Eylul.
Another problem raised in terms of ethical journalism is that young journalists are not well-educated and the mentor system in the media was damaged. “There were no editors who would add background to the stories coming from the Internet and the agencies,” they said. The senior journalists and newspaper owners believe that the younger generation is “a little bit touchy”.
The local press in İzmir foregrounds the solution of economic problems for ethical journalism since it provides editorial independence. The main suggestion is to work in cooperation to develop new business models. The owners and the executives established a WhatsApp group last year to argue and solve both their economic problems and ethical issues. The increasing cost of paper due to exchange rate depreciation forced them to take a decision not to publish on Sundays after a 10-minute discussion in this group. Everyone is satisfied with this cooperation. Local reporters, too, have groups where they share news stories.
A unique and enviable model based on print and digital subscription adopted in Izmir by a local trade newspaper. The other ones try to improve new cooperation or sharing models on the basis of advertising revenues.
New collaborations for better refugees coverages
İzmir has a considerable refugee population. It is one of the last stops migrants who want to move to Europe through the Aegean Sea. The rising refugee population, their living conditions, the conflict between the refugees and the local population are often on the local media agenda. They said that they have already had four training programs on refugee coverage, and they sound very sensitive not to use the words like “fugitives” or “illegals” for the refugees in their stories.
However, every news outlet or reporter may not show this kind of empathy. Moreover, journalists, who are also inhabitants of the city, criticized the state’s refugee policy, and sometimes it causes refugees to become the subject of the problems again.
Dikmen said that the recommendations of the representative of the Association of Bridging Peoples who attended the meeting gave hope for the emergence of new collaborations between the media and NGOs. Media owners and executives who listened to the criticism asked the collaboration to improve the refugee coverage and future special stories.
According to the participants, the city stuck in limbo between national and local. Izmir’s local press had raised many journalists for national media. However, they both criticize and admit that they emulate the national press. This is the result of the hierarchical position of local media in Turkey’s traditional journalism culture.
In addition to all these, they stated that all the local press reached about 80,000 people every day and they aware that this is still a strong position.