OPINION

Pages through the ages

Each New Year’s Day we celebrate the coming year but we also fear deep down that at the same time in some future year we will have lost something precious. This applies not only to loved ones but also – though to a lesser extent, of course – to things that add something special to our lives. Over the last few years, one of the most endangered parts of our daily lives has been the newspaper, like the one you hold in your hands. Right on cue, ending the year with heavy symbolism, the world’s oldest daily newspaper, which had been published without a break since 1645, announced on Friday that it would stop being printed and will from now on appear only on the Internet. Sweden’s Post-och Inrikes Tidningar serves as a bulletin for government and company announcements as well as bankruptcies. There is much to be read in both the nature of this paper and its history: It is necessary, that’s why it survived; in its new form, it will live on. The written press still has life in it, if it can seize the opportunities of this volatile era. Part of this new breath comes from its electronic incarnation on the Internet. The worldwide trend is for newspapers to increase their revenues from advertisements on their electronic editions at a time when their circulation and print advertising are under fire from the Internet and free dailies. In Greece, where the average daily number of papers sold on weekdays is below 400,000 (it’s 1.2 million on Sundays), regular visitors to news sites are estimated at about 500,000 and rising. And yet, income from advertising on the Internet is a paltry 5 million euros (if that), in comparison to the 353 million euros that newspapers pulled in from advertising in 2004 (according to the Media Services annual survey). It’s worth looking at what the much more mature market of Britain is experiencing. There it was forecast that in 2006 the Internet would pull in more advertising revenues than newspapers for the first time, slicing out 13.3 percent of the 12.2-billion-pound pie as opposed to newspapers’ 13.2 percent (The Guardian, May 31, 2006). In the United States, the forecasts for 2007 are gloomy for newspaper ad revenues, as more and more classifieds are appearing on the Internet, which is much cheaper. According to analysts quoted by The Financial Times (Dec. 4, 2006), Internet revenues are set to rise by about 28 percent (to 39.6 billion dollars), whereas other media will see a rise of about 3.9 percent. This does not mean that the newspapers’ battle is lost. It is worth noting that the top news sites on the Internet are spun off from respected, established newspapers. And this is the most optimistic sign in the maelstrom of change and new ideas: However much readers (or «consumers») may seek out specialized sites and blogs to express themselves and commune with like-minded individuals, there will always be a need for serious, honest and reliable reporting. The future of the newspaper that is printed on paper and distributed by trucks may be unclear, but this does not mean that the newspaper as a vehicle for information will cease to exist. There will always been a need for information and analysis, and as long as there are readers there will be journalists. With these two points in place, the medium that joins them will be found. That is what we have to work on now, to keep the reader interested and confident that he or she is getting the best and most objective news and comments, while at the same time keeping the business side in the black. The best papers will survive and will be read by a grateful public. And so, Happy New Year everyone.