At a crossroads: Observer Media in trouble

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Observer Media Group, which prides itself on having virtually liberated independent media in Antigua & Barbuda, has found itself in a desperate financial situation which threatens its very existence.

“I can tell you that OMG is at the crossroads and facing strong headwinds. We will not survive if we do not work together and work smarter,” Chief Opeerating Officer Darren Derrick wrote in a memo to staff dated October 27, 2017.

The memo was in response to a letter signed by members of the newsroom department listing myriad grievances related to working conditions.

In the missive to staff, labeled “private and confidential. Not for distribution,” Derrick outlined how Observer was being attacked from all sides.

Emphasising the financial challenges, Derrick told staff that the news industry was changing and Observer was barely treading water.

When staff complained that one person often had to act as producer,¬†reporter, technician and presenter in a radio news cast, management responded that it was not “financially viable” to provide a full complement of staff on each shift.

“The stark reality is that news, in today’s world of multimedia, requires staff to multi-task across disciplines at all times…we will not survive if we do not become multi-disciplined and more productive,” the memo read.

Referencing the BBC, UK Guardian and Fortune magazine, the memo often rebutted staff complaints about inadequate staffing by emphasising that OMG, like many media houses around the world, was in dire financial straits.

“We operate in a small market that is shrinking and the news/talk format within which our businesses operate is the most expensive of all…”

“Our problem…is that our paying supporters are dwindling and our non-paying supporters are increasing.”

Derrick also hinted that government was out to get Observer, a claim he has made in the past.

“Beyond the business risks, there is a political element that views us as a ‘threat’ to Antigua & Barbuda and has taken concrete steps to impact and minimize our ability to operate freely and fairly.”

A January 19 this year, a story in the Daily Observer began, “Chief Executive Officer of OBSERVER Media Group, Darren Derrick is of the opinion that the Labour Party administration is ‘utilising state institutions to silence’ OBSERVER media…”

At the time, it was revealed that Observer owed about $1.5 million in utility costs to the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) which was demanding the outstanding sum.

OMG later began to sell “I stand with the free press” T-shirts in order to raise funds for its operations.

Derrick ended his memo on an ominous note, “I can tell you that big changes are coming so we should reflect on our preparedness,” he wrote.

The Daily Observer Ltd was founded by brothers Winston and Samuel “Fergie” Derrick back in 1994. They played a major role in getting information, otherwise unreported, to the public in a time when the press was much less free. In 2001 they opened the popular Observer Radio. By 2003 Fergie had had died and his brother Winston followed a decade later in 2013.

The company is now run by Fergie’s sons Darren and Byron Derrick, along with his daughter-in-law Caecilia Derrick.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. I only hope that some of the changes do not involve removing Voice of the People or the Snake pit from the airways. That certainly will cause listening audience and support to dwindle. Not only that it will silence freedom of expression. Now isn’t that what the politicians want?
    We would have reverted to that era before”talk as yuh like!” and “have your say!”
    If Mr B were alive he would say, “Only in Antigua!”

  2. Somewhere along the way some terrible financial decisions were made. I only hope that “management” is really able to MANAGE this situation so that OMG remains afloat. We need OMG to help keep things “in check” in Antigua and Barbuda

  3. We are all at the peril of the politicians if Observer Media group is allowed to go down. OMG is the people’s Media group and had given the common Man a voice, therefore it is our first to support this Media group in its time of need. Observer! You were there for the people when the people needed you, It’s time to act and call on your people for Help. S.O.S people don’t let the politicians win S.O.S

  4. They need to stop with the lie that they are independent media. Much of the propaganda from Crusader is pushed via OMG. Entitles like this cannot be depended on to provide the public with information, especially since they not only have a economic motive not to but also a political one. Their very founder Fergy Derrick declared to all who wished to listen that OMG’s purpose was to get the ALP out. Some way wish to point to their so called successful shows, however at the end of the day do they bring in more revenue than the lawsuit costs. Seems to be Derrick is indicating the latter.

    • what lawsuit?? Damani Tabor has been banned from OMG since he did not sign the legal document. What they need to do is write an article and publish it in their paper. But then again they might not want to “report” on themselves this time around. The common man cannot owe APUA and not get their service disconnected. apparently the common man needs to owe at least $1.5M to APUA in order to retain his utility services.

    • Observer’s biggest mistake was entertaining and being so welcoming to the same persons who fought so hard to keep them off air.

  5. I’m not really surprised. As a regular overseas visitor to Antigua I stopped buying the paper a few years ago, (only rarely nowadays). The reason is I just don’t think it’s interesting enough. With so many other island things going on the reporting is limited, very little nor thorough investigative questioning (if any), couldn’t see follow-ups or bringing actions to account. Hardly a mirror on society, nor bolstering civic responsibility or pride in my view. (A picture of someone with an award, without explaining circumstances, interviewing, history, etc. doesn’t count). And I think the paper itself must be a very expensive print run, right? Frustrating.

  6. hopefully Winston Derrick won’t have to ROLL OVER IN HIS GRAVE. hopefully OMG is “down but not out” especially given it’s history, I hope and trust that OMG will overcome and keep the fire burning: “Let There Be Light”

  7. By the way, how did this memo labelled “private and confidential. Not for distribution” make it outside the building??? You mean OMG cannot even trust its own employees TO KEEP THINGS CONFIDENTIAL??? What a calamity!!!

    • This is Antigua. Unless you bribe or threaten, nothing stays confidential for long. It’s also not a secret that Observer has financial problems. They have a donation button up on their website. They were peddling t-shirts. And the CEO came on radio to moan about their problems.

      It doesn’t surprise me that someone in an organization of journalists would leak something to the public that they thought (for whatever reason) the public should know. Current management is a little too fond of the shadows if you ask me.

  8. The simplest of solution is to be fair and balanced and have programming that educate the people. The OGM is far to involve in political programmimg. Such programming divide people with the same financial resoirces that it is beconing.

    Every breakfast morning, “DMW”, every lunchtime VOP with the TWINS that changes their tune as soon as one voices a different opinion with the other, and every night till bedtime “SITSP” with a man by the name of “DAY’s opposite, who seems to have been ovetlooked for something.

    If the OMG was fair and honest and not so pilitical, it would have gain the respect and support of honest people thereby retaining and even surpasses its revenue intake.

    Things should be good financially regardless of the political party that is in power. When the side you support looses political power and no longer give government adds to prop you up, you begin to cry.

    We all need news, but not politics for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    The education station has failed to educate the masses and have abandoned it core values. The shining light has gone dim. Want some batteries?

  9. ‘Politics’, like ‘Sport’, etc. SHOULD be separate sections, independent of general ‘News’. Population and visitors might get a better view of society and have more interest and pride in the country!

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