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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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June 17, 2008 9:40 AM

Are profits killing news?

Posted by Ryan Blethen

BELGRADE, Serbia - That question was addressed by a panel of media executives from Europe and Turkey. The panelists - Vuslat Dogan Sabanci, CEO of Hurriyet; David Montgomery, CEO, Mecom Group; and Michael Ringer, Chairman of the Board of Ringler AG - sounded upbeat about their companies and the future of news in Europe and Turkey.

I am an optimist, but had trouble accepting some of what they were shoveling. Of course American newspapers were bashed. Ringer the most forceful when he said that Americas regional newspapers are terrible. A very broad and easy statement for somebody to make, especially somebody whose newspaper company dominates Switzerland. He went on to say that similar European newspapers are much better when compared to American newspapers. Sure there are some bad American newspapers, just like there are plenty of bad European newspapers. It would have been helpful if he used some examples of why American newspapers are not good. He did not. Instead the statement was left to dangle as the conversation moved on.

A journalists from Slovenia made the most salient point of the day. She said that media consolidation is what is killing news, not profits. Unlike the execs she got a round of applause from the crowd. The three panelists clearly did not care for her statement. How could they. Their companies are media giants in this part of the world.

The executives rambled on about the need for profits to put out a newspaper. Yeah. That is stating the obvious. The moderator, William Green of Time's European edition, did a good job of pushing back. He asked about the loss of jobs, especially in the U.S., and the negative effect that has on putting out a quality newspaper. Green did his homework. He noted that Montgomery, plans to raise Mecom's profit margins to 15 percent from 10 percent. Any good American newspaper is scrambling to shrink its profit margins from double to single digits. Europe's newspapers seem to be more healthy than in the U.S. Even so something will have to give when raising a margin by 5 percent. What happens when the issues affecting U.S. newspapers hit Europe?

It was interesting to hear how many people in the audience are worried about media consolidation in Europe. I agree with the Sloven journalists. Consolidation has made profits a danger to journalism because the media giants have to bleed their news-outlets of resources and people to meet the quarterly demands of the market. Europe is not immune.

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