The Samoa Observer Newspaper Group has welcomed the services of Alexander Rheeney as one of the Co-Editors.
Mr. Rheeney brings with him a wealth of experience having dedicated over 11 years of his working life to mainstream media in his homeland, Papua New Guinea.
He served as the Editor of one of P.N.G.’s print media companies, Post Courier, for four years.
Digital Manager, Jarrett Ieti Malifa, said the Samoa Observer is delighted to welcome Mr. Rheeney onboard to help take some of the load off Editor, Mata’afa Keni Lesa.
“The newsroom is growing and will continue to grow,” Mr. Malifa said.
“A big part of our 40th anniversary is investing in the newsroom of the future. Our readers’ faith and confidence rests on the journalism we produce and it’s important we continue with that in mind for the next 40 years.”
Mata’afa echoed Mr. Malifa’s sentiments.
“It’s wonderful to be able to welcome someone of Mr. Rheeney’s calibre to the newsroom, who brings with him a lot of experience and knowledge in the running of a daily newspaper,” Mata’afa said.
“There is a lot that can be done to improve the work we are doing, especially in developing quality and investigative journalism, and that makes me excited.”
Mr. Rheeney started his career as a reporter at the Post Courier at the age of 27, fresh out of university with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, but it was mastering written and spoken English that made him adapt to the print media well, which eventually led to him achieving a Masters Degree in Cross-cultural Communication from the University of Sydney in 2012.
“This is my first overseas assignment working in a media organisation and I am here to learn as much as I can about the country and its people,” Mr. Rheeney said.
“Ordinary Samoans need to identify with the content and that’s why Mata’afa is there to ensure that it happens, he drives the agenda and some of us are here to complement and support him and the team to achieve that goal.”
It’s been a month with a dynamic news team at the Samoa Observer and he looks forward to spending the next two years learning from his colleagues.
“The P.N.G. media industry is different from the Samoa media industry, so when I flew into Samoa, I came with an open mind to learn as much as I could,” he said.
“Each newspaper strives for content that promote balance, independent journalism, represent the views of the readers, keeps Government accountable. So those principles apply everywhere, regardless of whether you’re in P.N.G. or Samoa, the foundation of journalism remains the same, it’s universal.
“So that was what connected me with the Samoa Observer because I knew the same principles apply, but the fact that the Samoa Observer is an award winning newspaper and to work with someone like Savea, to me, had the biggest appeal, so when the job came up I saw that as an opportunity because I’ve always heard about Savea Malifa and the journalism he practiced and championed in this part of the Pacific Islands, so I said this is my chance to work with him, to get a feel of what it’s like.”
Having a vast experience mainly in print and television (having worked for Digicel-owned TVWAN as a current affairs program presenter), Mr. Rheeney knows the content, quality of news and the impact mainstream media and social media has had on sourcing news for the public.
“When I decided to apply for the job, I come in with more than 10 years’ experience working in a newsroom and different industries have gone through different phases of development,” he said.
“Back in P.N.G., social media has had a great impact on news content put out by mainstream media, eventually that will happen here, when mobile phone penetration expands and more Samoans will have access to smartphones and they will be able to just log into the news page.
“I kind of know the sort of content readers want in my experience back in P.N.G. because thousands of Papua New Guineans have taken up social media and rely on Facebook and websites that provide news now and that is the way of the future and I want to bring that experience and share it with my colleagues here at the Samoa Observer so we can prepare this newspaper to move into this new world of technology.”
The 43-year-old acknowledged that there will always be challenges because the P.N.G. media industry is different from Samoa.
“P.N.G. and Samoa are two different markets because you have one of the Pacific Islands, maybe the Pacific’s biggest market in P.N.G. in terms of media consumption, versus Samoa media industry where the market is much smaller where a lot of people know each other,” he said.
“So sometimes, I have to say that I admire the work reporters do in this newsroom. It’s a small operation, but the fact that it’s a small community it means that the pressure doubles on them to get it right. Reporters here know the sort of ideals that the Samoa Observer has always stood for and they are also compelled and they have an obligation to the masthead to be independent and objective in terms of reporting.
“The expectation of the newspaper is the same as in P.N.G. and especially for Samoa Observer where the owner of the paper has won a number of awards that recognises his work. Pressure is on the journalists to live up to those expectations as well, not only for Samoans, but even readers outside the region and the world.”
Speaking of the Samoa Observer newsroom team, Mr. Rheeney highlighted the enthusiasm that reporters have shown to possible changes in content and style of writing.
“At the end of the day, we are working towards trying to improve content, standardise and bring international quality journalism into the pages of the Samoa Observer. The feedback I’ve got so far from colleagues in the newsroom is great, but I can say it will take time.”