Dark days as The Observer staff fight for survival

I’ve noticed recently that a number of the journalists working for The Observer newspaper have started being bylined in The Guardian, its weekday sister newspaper.

These are dark days for major newspaper titles, which is ironic given the continuing thirst for news, entertaining stories and articles that we seem to crave in as many different ways as possible.

Rumours that The Observer may be closing have gathered pace in recent weeks and when staff journalists start to work across both titles, it does not bode well.

The threat hanging over The Observer comes quickly on the heels of the news that The London Paper is closing soon.

It underlines how the use of smart phones, citizen journalism, instant news and a wide range of media outlets above and beyond those we would conventionally think of is making it harder and harder for hacks to survive.

A lot of the problems come from advertising of course, which has suffered so much during the economic downturn.

When I was a journalist, advertising department staff used to say ‘You write the stories and we’ll pay for the running of the newspaper’ and that is undoubtedly true.

You only have to look at stunning magazines such as Vogue or GQ and see how packed full of adverts they are to realise that it is the ad departments rather than the cover price which pays to keep publications running.

Rupert Murdoch, whether it is because his titles are generally becoming less profitable or because he feels nothing should be free, is planning to start charging for online content, while The Economist is planning to charge for all online content.

Whether this will turn readers off or not, time will tell, but with a plethora of news and information sources available now, especially in this world of social networking and Web 2.0, I remain to be convinced that charging for web content will ever be the norm.

From a public relations perspective, losing a valuable title narrows the options for exposure for clients.

But there is an irony that us ‘spin doctors’ need the press so much while the media is losing some of the variety and diversity which makes the British media so special.

The Observer, along with The Guardian, has long held a left of centre standpoint but it is also exceptional when it comes to the arts, not to mention its investigative and in-depth reporting and features.

It would be a tragedy if the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper is closed by the Scott Trust.

The National Union of Journalists has organised a public meeting entitled ‘Stand up for The Observer’ http://www.standupfortheobserver.org.uk/ to chaired by Peep Show’s David Mitchell on September 21.

For the good of the Observer’s journalists, balance in the media and in order to retain a British institution, I sincerely hope the campaign is a success.