After the success of last month’s visit to the TVM studios, the Insite team organized another media-related event to the Times of Malta premises in Valletta. This was a great opportunity not just for those undergoing the Communications course, but for any University students interested in taking up journalism in the future. It was in fact interesting to discover that the Times are in the process of setting up internships for prospective journalists, who as a result can obtain a highly recognized British diploma. There are also plans to pursue Insite, in a more consistent manner, in order to pinpoint members who would be ideal to join the Times.
The news agency’s HR manager Mr. Matthew Naudi gave us a good insight into the everyday schedule of a Times journalist. A key recent change made to the Valletta offices, which he told us about, was the creation of an open plan space. Here all staff members, working on both the newspaper and online portal, can easily communicate and consult with each other, as opposed to the previous scenario of separate enclosed offices. As a result, the Times has become more efficient and speedy, to cater for its competition with other new local sites which are constantly popping up.
The staff themselves admit the site’s dominating popularity over the Times paper, since of course it facilitates instant access to the latest stories. This is why a decision was taken to limit certain content on the site to premium paying users, with the purpose of encouraging more people to buy the newspaper. Unfortunately, although I can understand this move on behalf of the Times, I do not fully agree with it since it would automatically lead readers to access other completely free news portals to get the information they desire.
Over 100 employees, including about 60 journalists, constitute the team behind the oldest yet still most sought after local source of news. Apart from reporting stories and writing accurate articles, journalists are today expected to be more versatile in covering assignments on their own, possibly without the help of a cameraperson, or in being able to edit their own articles or videoclips to be published online. It was surprising to realize that, compared to the staff presiding over the newspaper, only a handful of people are fully responsible of updating the Times website. This is the reason why, they joking told us, we often see spelling mistakes in their online articles.
During the visit we were taken to the Times board room, almost synonymous to a huge dark office from an old American soap opera. Likewise is the drama to get the newspaper of the day after ready by an 11pm deadline, although a concrete plan of its content is already drawn up by the early afternoon. This deadline could easily induce pressure on staff when breaking news stories emerge in the evening, or numerous articles need to be updated due to new developments later in the day. It is occasional for the paper to be amended entirely with just minutes to spare before the printing in Mriehel commences.
Despite the fact that other Maltese news portals are sprouting everywhere, and many continuously criticize its journalists for not always observing ethical guidelines, the Times is opening its remits to more modern ways of spreading news both locally and internationally. It might be a very long time until we can make the assumption that the Times is no longer the most accessed source of information about current affairs in our islands.