A guest post by Mike Pope – @mikepopeonline
The Independent newspaper is rapidly increasing its advertising space. Looking at the paper now when it gets delivered to me I find that page after page consists of full spread advertisings, advertorials and promotional pull outs.
Owned by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, the man who has been credited with transforming the Evening Standard, The Independent is seen to be in safe hands. Having made the Standard close to turning a profit, Lebedev was brought in to secure the future of the affectionately labelled “Indy”.
However, with the increase in the quantity of ads within the paper a fundamental question has been raised: Should newspapers be run to make money or do they have a higher calling?
This depends on the paper in question, but surely one which runs with: “Free From Party Political Bias, Free From Proprietorial Influence” across its front page should be more concerned with content rather than profit? N.B. the tag-line did not exist until after the papers recent change of ownership was completed.
Advertising is a globally accepted form of revenue, appearing in all walks of life, attached to buildings, hillsides and people. Advertising is also intrinsically linked to the newspaper industry. All major newspapers print at a loss, only recouping there costs through the advertising sold within their pages.
Under Lebedev, The Evening Standard became a free paper dramatically improving its circulation and thus its audience. Whilst this increased the initial cost of printing the paper, the Standard’s ability to reach consumers means that advertisers are willing to pay more and more money in order to give their products exposure on this desirable platform. The result? An increase in advertising revenues and a steady climb into the black. An undoubted success? This of course depends on your viewpoint. In purely business terms, yes, but as a provider of quality journalism, only time will tell.
First established in 1986, The Independent did not contain much advertising, the paper was an attempt to provide the public with a different type of news, it was, like its title suggests, independent, unlike its competitors. Long term however, this idealistic and or naive ambition could not be maintained and advertising was embraced, but there was at least a sense that what you were buying was a little bit different, maybe even, a little bit better.
Yet, fast encroaching is the possibility that The Independent, under the control of Lebedev, will go down the same route as the standard; profit before content. Moving offices, cutting staff and increasing advertising are all polices that have been adopted in order to cut the papers losses. However, when does all this start to affect the content, the message, the journalism?
Surely the quality of a papers content should always remain the number one priority regardless of the economic or political situation? If the standard of the written word is no longer the focal point then one has to question the reasoning for the papers existence. Of course there must always be a balance, nothing can exist on good intentions alone, but the importance of one does not always have to result in the decline of the other.
This article’s focus on The Independent is not meant to be seen as a vendetta; there are many papers not worthy of mention and others which are also on the same slippery slope. Instead, it should be read with this message in mind; profit should never be the force which drives journalism forward.