Campaign Report on the Top European Newspapers: Can newspapers hold their own against broadcast media? - Although TV and print have never enjoyed an easy relationship, publishers are happy to diversify on to the Net. Alex Games reports on the new media or

Earlier this year, Jan Wifstrand, the editor of Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, had an idea. The front page, he said, was to be cleared of any reports by the paper’s own journalists. In its place would appear a transcript of the previous night’s 30-minute news bulletin on Swedish TV. Why? Because it just happened to fit neatly on to one broadsheet page.

Earlier this year, Jan Wifstrand, the editor of Sweden’s Svenska

Dagbladet newspaper, had an idea. The front page, he said, was to be

cleared of any reports by the paper’s own journalists. In its place

would appear a transcript of the previous night’s 30-minute news

bulletin on Swedish TV. Why? Because it just happened to fit neatly on

to one broadsheet page.



The point Wifstrand hoped to make was that the TV programme was over in

half an hour, whereas after page 1 of a newspaper come pages 2, 3 and so

on. It was, he claimed, a clear case of shallow versus in-depth

reporting, and Wifstrand’s aim was to show that, when it came to the

latter, newspapers beat TV hands down.



It was a daring move, and one that other European editors have copied

with varying degrees of success. But is the picture as bleak as that

painted by Wifstrand? Figures produced by the World Association of

Newspapers show that, with a few exceptions (such as Italy and Spain)

newspaper readership across Europe is in gentle but relentless decline.

In the UK, for example, daily newspaper sales for 1996 were down 5.9 per

cent on the 1992 total, and by 3.8 per cent from 1996 to 1995.

Publishers seem to be tiring of getting their fingers burned, too: the

number of daily titles across Europe shrank from 1,170 to 1,128 between

1992 and 1996.



It is a familiar scare story: the dinosaurs of the newspaper era losing

their place at the feeding trough to their more agile younger

competitors like TV and the Internet. But is it true? Hugo Drayton, the

Daily Telegraph’s marketing and new-media director, thinks that in one

crucial area - advertising - TV no longer exerts the pull it once

did.



He notes that Kellogg’s, the UK’s second largest TV advertiser, has

reallocated some of its vast adspend in favour of newspapers and

magazines, an area it had previously ignored altogether. It’s a tiny

amount, says Drayton, but it’s a start.



Another argument that Wifstrand’s front page cannot address is the claim

that newspapers are more expensive to produce than TV. That, says the

media commentator and former editor of the Daily Mirror, Roy Greenslade,

is not true. ’It is simply not the case that TV is more profitable than

newspapers. Newsprint was expensive last year and so newspapers were

expensive to produce, but this year newsprint is cheaper. Besides,

profits are cyclical, business is global and you can transfer

investments and use those profits when needed.’ Put another way, any

media baron with an interest in both newspapers and television is highly

unlikely to ransack one for the sake of the other.



In the early days of cable TV, there were some crude resource-sharing

experiments between newspapers and TV by Kelvin MacKenzie at Live TV and

Sir David English at Channel One, but the ruse of planting a newspaper

correspondent in a studio and suddenly expecting them to turn

camera-friendly was a dismal failure. ’There used to be a lot of synergy

between newspapers and TV,’ says Greenslade. ’But synergy is no reason

to get together. The reason is commercial. There are still great gains

to be made from ad revenue, and the newspaper owners know that.’



Elsewhere, the retreat from print is not as advanced as some might

think.



After some enthusiastic job-cutting and a vigorous redesign overseen by

Andrew Neil, the European aims to relaunch itself in the new year as a

’viewspaper’ with the ambitious aim: to out-Economist the Economist. It

is probably all Rupert Murdoch’s fault. Stung by the gains made by News

Corp, other newspaper groups have virtually reinvented themselves to

broaden their appeal. At the Telegraph, Drayton is adamant that the

paper is well prepared to face the challenge of new media. And whether

as a printed paper or in its online form, Drayton predicts that the

newspaper as a whole will win both ways. ’The paper wins by being

exposed to the latest technology, and the Website gains access to a

really strong commercial brand.’



What this means is that there will be long-term erosion (through

electronic media) of those sections of the paper that are already

obsolete before they have left the news plant, although newspaper

modernisers should tread carefully. If the Telegraph were to drop its

racing results, which are ignored by 95 per cent of readers but are the

stuff of life for a minority, there would be howls of protest. The aim,

then, is to create an online demand for such services that could

gradually replace the printed form.



For the time being, though, says Drayton: ’Papers are so readable and

portable; they’re the core activity for our lifetime.’



The Guardian pioneered the experimentation with newspaper formats when

its Weekend section went tabloid in 1989. Its marketing director,

Stephen Palmer, says: ’At the moment, a media company is defined by its

channel of distribution. In the future that will change.’ He envisages a

paper selling 500,000 daily copies could break that down into, say,

250,000 print readers, 100,000 online and 25,000 downloading some

tailored sections of the text, and the others receiving it by fax or

other means.



He also sees a bright future for newspapers and magazines in masthead

programming on cable.



What of newspaper groups themselves? Greenslade is in no doubt: ’There

are going to be more mergers between weaker and stronger parties. The

trouble is, the British have always believed in plurality and diversity,

and we have long had a fear of conglomerates. That has crumbled and will

continue to do so.’ And, so far, no British newspaper has attempted

anything so gimmicky as to replace its front page with the script of the

previous night’s TV news. Which is probably a healthy sign.



Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).