Analysis of Risks and Opportunities in Journalism in Poland: The Example of the Lublin Region

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Lidia Pokrzycka

[WJMCR 8:3 June 2005]

Sections:

Research Questions|Methods|Results|Conclusions

Introduction

The Lublin region1 in Poland is characterized by a low level of economic growth, poor investment in enterprise, and a very low investment appeal of the province for international capital. A positive feature is the location of the Lublin province on the East�West transit route (at the Ukrainian and Belarusian borders), as well as considerable potential of Lublin as a center of economic infrastructure.2Nevertheless, the Lublin area is one of the weakest regions of Poland in terms of economic indicators. Income per person, earnings of communes (smallest administrative units) and investment spending in the province are evidently lower than in the rest of the country. After the year 1989 privatization changes occurred on the local press market in Poland and Lublin. The system of distribution and the organization of editorial work were changing, too. Norwegian Orkla and German Passauer began to invest. At the same time, however, journalists started suffering from growing unemployment, which is particularly noticeable in the Lublin region.

Research Questions

The Norwegian company Orkla Press Polska has invested in the Lublin media market (the newspaper Dziennik Wschodni). The rest of the publishing companies belong to Polish owners. A pretty poor financial situation of enterprises in the Lublin region makes the advertising revenue still lower. Moreover, journalists suffer from the effects of growing unemployment. Foreign capital investments in Lublin press seem to be indispensable to sustain the print media�first of all daily papers�on the local market. Can this signify a threat for journalists or perhaps a chance for new employment opportunities or keeping the existing jobs? Does foreign capital pose a threat for democracy? The publishing companies are more and more dependent on advertisers. Is this only external dependency? Or does this process translate into the danger to the media�s internal independence? What is the status of local press journalists?

Methods

To obtain a more complex picture of possible risks and opportunities for the local press journalists I have analyzed my research from 2005 on problems encountered at work by journalists. The goal of the research was to determine the status of the journalistic profession, as well as to describe risks and opportunities connected with foreign capital entering the Polish media market. The research was carried out among journalists working in the biggest titles of the regional press (Dziennik WschodniKurier LubelskiGazeta Wyborcza�Lublin). One hundred questionnaires were sent and 51 of them were completed. In 2006 one hundred questionnaires were sent and 48 percent of them were completed. However, these samples may not be representative because the number of professionally active journalists in Lublin is continually changing and very difficult to assess, even by publishers themselves.

Results

Most of those polled had a full or part time editorial job but 30 percent of the journalists earned their living by linage or ran their own business activity. In the question about the professional status 90 percent answered that it was average or constantly going down. Only 10 percent marked the high status answer.

Journalists claim that their profession loses its prestige, which is to be seen during collecting materials, when various institutions and offices show no consideration for reporters, heads of companies do not have time for them and often refer them to their spokespersons. However, the latter also avoid journalists who have a lot of embarrassing or inconvenient questions to ask.

Only one respondent said that journalists from local newspapers influence readers� attitudes; however, involvement of journalists in current politics makes their work regarded as commissioned by particular political parties or pressure groups. Journalists emphasize that a specific sort of prestige is still perceptible but it seems to be only a shadow of respect which their older colleagues could enjoy years ago. Among the main reasons for a decline in their professional status they mention the fact that media let external powers manipulate them in quite a primitive way. This is primarily connected with money, as well as with a desire to stay on the market at all costs and a struggle for advertisers. Another issue is the evolution of the profession. This process goes in fact in various directions with a strong inclination towards electronic media but one of the strongest trends is a continually growing demand for a cheap tabloid style sensation.

Furthermore, 45 percent of the journalists complained about their financial status. Being responsible for their words and dealing with very affluent people, they often perceive their own financial situation as unsatisfactory. One respondent said, �The journalistic circle is divided, labor unions are not active enough and do not have influence on the social status of the profession.� The reason for the low status of a journalist, according to some of the polled, is an inflow of young but insufficiently prepared people to the profession. They put the prestige of the journalistic profession in jeopardy. As one of the respondents wrote, a journalist is a person who enjoys social trust. More and more people, however, consider themselves to be journalists whereas they are not ones in fact. Some think that it is enough to graduate from a university to automatically become a journalist. Journalism has become too accessible � these are the conclusions of 70 percent of the journalists. A great inflow of casual people and a too short period of apprenticeship before getting into the profession do not increase its prestige. Casual people, who �by force� want to become known in the professional circle, manage too easily to find their way into journalism.

The journalistic status is low and is still getting lower also as a result of a limited number of jobs and a weak financial position of existing editorial offices in Lublin according to 20 percent of the respondents. Journalists are not paid enough and in many editorial offices they are required to work much more than is stated in their contracts with employers. One respondent said, �The practice of concluding part�time contracts can serve as an example here: part�time contracts (a half or even a quarter of the full�time employment contract) are offered to people who actually do a full�time job (and frequently even more than that). A journalist who wants to change a job has almost no such possibility on the Lublin market.�

The journalistic circle itself also poses a problem because it is unable to keep high factual and moral standards. For many people journalism has become a stepping stone. Thanks to this profession they can find a well-paid job, start business activity, etc. Journalists become frustrated also by the fact that their professional activities sometimes remain unnoticed because criticized institutions do not react and intervention actions do not bring any results. One of the journalists writes how different reactions towards her profession she encounters. One respondent said, �People holding high offices treat us as a necessary evil or as a tool to spread their own projects. It does not, however, change the fact that a Lublin journalist is still respected. An average person usually considers a journalist to be someone much more important than him or herself.�

In answer to the question about a possibility of unlimited spreading of reliable information without any consequences 85 percent of the respondents said �no.� The rest said �yes� but under the condition of an appropriate attitude of an editor�in�chief, an owner etc. Journalists say that sometimes officials adopt a particular information blockade towards an �inconvenient journalist,� or try to exert pressure in order to change his or her critical attitude. When a journalist feels gagged in one editorial office he or she can always, as a last resort, go to another, a competing one � notes one respondent. However, the local media market is limited. You cannot endlessly change jobs. Another journalist writes that spreading reliable and well�investigated information meets with criticism chiefly from people holding public offices (politicians, officials etc.) If a journalist announces in public some facts unfavorable for certain people he or she may receive threats. Even reliable information is sometimes criticized when the �protagonist� is not satisfied with the image presented. It happens that trustworthy pieces of information are not allowed to be published because such is the policy of a particular editorial office.

Journalists also mentioned cases when some of them, while describing a given matter, had to direct a few critical remarks towards high�ranking officials. As a result, they ceased being on good terms with these officials and lost their information source. Sixty percent of the respondents said that the local media market, due to a low level of newspaper readership, depends on advertising and sponsorship, and a difficult financial situation of an editorial office rules out any actions against policies of editors. One of the journalists concluded that in general she and her colleagues try to spread reliable information. However, if this information is not in accordance with a party interest of the employer�s circle, you can face various consequences from an admonition to an official reprimand whose justification is �an offence against the highest-ranking municipal officials.

It seems that in small market communities, the so�called community pressure is very strong, and journalists prefer not to put themselves at risk presenting their own views or molding public opinion. Some are afraid that if they fall into disfavor with a particular person, they can bear serious professional consequences: for example encounter difficulties in finding a job. A regional media journalist is subject to pressure of a superior or a publisher, whereas a journalist of a local (e.g. district) newspaper is conditioned by certain dependence on the local authorities.

What is interesting�the younger the person who filled in the questionnaire and the shorter their work experience (40% of respondents had worked in media for from 2 to 5 years), the more optimistic their replies are. In their case restrictions of journalistic freedom virtually do not exist, with the exception of self�censorship. These people are aware of the fact that it is very difficult to find a full-time job and therefore they unconditionally trust the publisher and editors. �A job of a journalist of Gazeta Wyborcza consists in providing reliable information�writes a person with short professional experience�That is what I get paid for and for what I sometimes receive bonuses. �Reliability and accuracy of published information is a very important element in everyday work of a journalist. Making public a good, breaking piece of news brings as a result a praise from the superiors,� a young journalist said. On the other hand, they point out very frequent restrictions imposed on journalistic freedom by self-censorship.

The last inquiry of the questionnaire considered limitations of journalistic liberty. Eighty percent of the respondents emphasized a very frequent practice of censorship inside the editorial office of a newspaper or a magazine, and 75 percent pointed to self�censorship. Journalists also admit that there are subjects and problems (sometimes important and �hot�) which could be very risky to undertake and publish in local press and could bring serious consequences both to an author as well as to an editor�in�chief.

I carried out another very short research project in March 2006 among 50 journalists of the local press in the Lublin region. Sixty percent had regular editorial jobs and 40 percent some other form of employment. The main question concerned foreign capital in regional and local media: Is it a threat or an opportunity for journalists? Media employees emphasize that one can expect the press supported by the foreign capital to be more independent politically, but it still does not signify the certainty of employment (and income) for journalists. A lack of income agreements for journalists becomes a problem. It creates an obvious effect of making attempts to gain the approval of an editor-in-chief and entails self�restrictions in revealing one�s point of view. According to journalists, foreign capital means both a chance as well as a threat. Everything depends on how publishers deal with journalistic ethics and freedom of speech, whether they bother about the development of a newspaper or if they care only about profits.

Ten percent of the polled journalists think that foreign capital in some cases can lead to a decline in the local character of particular media when a shareholder wants to create a copy of a product that already exists on other local markets. On the other hand, local media do not always have an opportunity to live off the advertisements, and thus such capital helps them to remain on the market according to 30 percent of the respondents. Twenty-five percent of the journalists also mentioned that foreign capital means good editorial projects, trainings and modern management methods. Drawbacks are mainly the higher risks of being made redundant and receiving lower income according to 60 percent of the respondents.

One journalist said that foreign capital is interested in the media only to make a profit. Its presence definitely does not guarantee stability or even higher incomes of journalists. Modern management concerns only financial issues and has nothing to do with the needs of readers or journalists themselves. Particular newspapers lose on the participation of an investor who hardly ever uses the earned profit for further investments.

A journalist of a newspaper which has not been taken over by foreign capital yet gave a very characteristic comment in the questionnaire. Only a few regional newspapers financed by the Polish capital remained on the market. Without financial input they are in danger of going bankrupt. The problem is whether foreign capital will not use a newspaper for political goals and will not aim only at pure commercialization which poses a threat of lowering the level of a magazine by pandering to bad tastes. Journalists themselves will agree to foreign capital under the condition that it will improve their financial status. Nowadays they are aware that �there is no place for writing against the interests of a publisher or an important advertiser. Today freedom and independence of media is a relative notion� wrote a journalist from Lublin.

Conclusion

In general, one can say that journalists are divided into two groups with opposing views (in a ratio: 40 per cent � for, although under certain conditions; 50 per cent � against, approximately 10 per cent � difficult to say). It is characteristic that people already working for a newspaper with foreign capital think that big media groups pose a threat for them (mostly connected with employment instability, as well as possible interferences in the contents of published information). On the other hand they emphasize greater independence from local authorities as well as investments in the development (both factual and technical) of an editorial team. An inflow of the foreign capital into the local press does not seem to be a bad thing, under the condition of appropriate legal regulations adapted to the present situation in the media. The foreign capital undoubtedly means the development of press, but it should not, however, take place at the cost of employment conditions and employees� remuneration. It is well known that foreign investors are looking for sources of earnings and economize a lot, but there must be a clearly defined border on where the profitability ends and exploitation begins.

General conclusions based on the questionnaire research regularly are pessimistic. The requirement of absolute availability and a decline in incomes depreciate the profession of a journalist in Poland. A journalist can write about important matters without any restrictions if he or she enjoys support of an editor-in-chief or a publisher. Journalists� status is decreasing, what can be an outcome of the weakening readers� and advertisement market.

Local media are much more exposed and susceptible to political pressures. Media employees are more comprehensively educated but a large part of them remains unemployed. They temporarily cooperate with editorial offices of particular local newspapers and magazines (for very low rates and without many rights); however, having seen the realities of local journalism they tend to give up work in their profession. New technologies lead to employment reductions in editorial offices, older people resign or are dismissed, redundancy plans are implemented. The situation of mass media and journalists in Lublin depends to a great extent on the economic condition of the region. Perhaps the EU structural funds will create a chance for the development of the region and the media market as well.

APPENDIX

First questionnaire (2005)

1. Practice of work in journalism: 

* For 2 years
* From 2 for 5 years
* From 5 to 8 years
* From 8 to 15 years
* Over 15 years


2. Conditions of employment 

* On regular post
* On semi regular post
* Economic activity
* Other form of employment 

3. That is the status of professional journalist? 

* high
* average
* low
* it diminishes permanently

Please, substantiate answer

__________________________________________________________. 

4. Can journalist of local media always spread honest information without consequence? 

Yes
No

Please, substantiate answer

__________________________________________________________. 

5. Who or what limits journalist freedom?

* Autocensure
* Censure of editorial
* Pushes of owners
* Other causes

On the scale from 4 �the most frequent to 1 �the least frequent forms of restricting journalistic freedom.


Second questionnaire (2006)

1. Conditions of employment

* On regular post
* On semi regular post
* Economic activity
* Other form of employment

2. What are you thinking about foreign capital in regional and local media? Does it mean a threat or an opportunity for journalists? 

Yes
No

Lidia Pokrzycka is on the Journalism faculty at Maria Curie Sklodowska University in Poland.

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