The funny (for those who know about it) title of this article was eventually prophetic. This came out of the mouth of one of the many Editors in chief of Eleftheros Tipos (ET) newspaper, the first one I knew. Sadly ET closed 3 days ago. It was a shock for me since it was one of the best works I have ever done and there are a lot of colleagues I admire that are left jobless in the worst possible time.
What lead to this situation is a combination of many different believes and decisions and many many mistakes.
Mr. Smailis, the first Editor in chief with whom I worked on the paper, believed that at least the graphic model (if not also the editorial one) that we applied would not succeed in Greece (something that was told a lot by all the journalists from the beginning). Of course he and every one else were totally wrong. On the contrary we managed to get one European and one World best designed award. What he was prophetic about, without knowing, was that the editorial model that the journalists chose to follow, ignoring the proposed one, would be the end of the newspaper. And that was exactly the same as the one they used before.
It's not strange at all that the paper closed. ET before the relaunch was selling around 10.000-15.000 a day and 45.000 on Sunday. It was it’s lowest numbers since its birth on 1984. After the relaunch it started rising in circulation reaching 25.000 – 35.000 on the daily and 120.000 on Sunday. These numbers were steady for at least 3-4 months. After that the editorial model changed back to the old ways. And with it slowly came the old numbers, both in circulation and in advertisement.
But what is this old editorial model. Well its something that every newspaper professional knows and understands. Politically engaged publisher, editor, and journalist interests are the daily agenda. For every Editor in Chief, a newspaper is only about the first 10 political pages. The rest is to decorate the package. What I heard a lot while working on the headlines on the front page was “what stories do the others have?”. By "others" the editor meant world news, art and culture, sports, lifestyle and social sections. As if the rest of the paper was a separate business.
And of course everything was yesterday’s news. It was what we could hear on the radio, see on the TV, read at the Internet only one day before.
There was a research conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for ET that was presented to the chief editors. The findings of that research showed clearly that the newspaper had the potential to make the difference and invite new readers if it changed its agenda to a more independent point of view, if it had more social, urban and young oriented stories and less politics. The graphic model had done the job. It had made the paper friendlier to a bigger portion of the population. That was shown in the results of the research. The only 2 sectors that ET was a leader in the market were its appearance and freshness and the use of photography and infographics to tell a story.
And what did they do? They ignored all the findings about the editorial module and tried to change the graphic model that had already at the time won the European Design Award.
As months went by and the numbers were dropping the editors were turning even closer to the old model until eventually the newspaper lost its credibility and with it it’s readers. The political line was changing day by day since every one from journalists to publisher pushed their own agenda ignoring the only thing that could keep them alive. The readers.
I strongly believe that there is a successful model. There are plenty examples all over the world. Even on saturated markets like UK the Daily Telegraph showed the way. Unique content. Your own reporting. Make the tomorrow’s agenda. On Eastern Europe we see a lot of newspapers who have redesigned both graphically and journalistic to rise their circulation in some situations 100%.
Asia is the next big market. We witnessed a transformation of the newspapers in Asia beginning in the UAE and ending in China who hosted the 2008 Olympic Games. Beautiful newspapers design wise that became market leaders.
I believe in 2009 the New York Times model is dying. We must follow the trends and produce elegant newspapers that are pretty, clever, modern, and have unique content.