Virus hastens newspapers’ slide into shaky digital future

The disappearance of newspapers deals out additional pain throughout the production chain, taking in printers, paper makers and delivery people. (AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2020

Virus hastens newspapers’ slide into shaky digital future

  • Getting papers to readers is a challenge, worsening a decline in advertising

PARIS: The coronavirus crisis has weighed heavily on print newspapers already battling for survival around the world, with the number of copies sold tumbling while less profitable digital readerships surge.

Simply delivering printed papers to the shops — or having customers come in to buy them — has become a challenge, worsening the decline in sales and advertising revenue.
“Consumption of printed newspapers has fallen as lockdowns undermine physical distribution, almost certainly accelerating the shift to an all-digital future,” the Reuters Institute’s 2020 annual report said.
Major dailies in Brazil and Mexico have already switched to online-only or dropped some days’ editions, while in the Philippines 10 of the 70 newspapers in the PPI association have shuttered.
“Times are hard. There are no advertisers and no-one is reading us,” PPI executive director Ariel Sebellino said. The archipelago nation’s small local newspapers were hardest hit during lockdown as street sales tumbled. “The industry is under siege and we’ve all taken bruises,” Sebellino said.
Far from affecting only journalists, the disappearance of print papers deals out pain all up the production chain, taking in printers, paper makers and delivery people.
Major British media brands could boast of 6.6 million new online readers in the first quarter in what their industry association said was a new record. But most have not seen the same bounce in print sales. The coronavirus has become “the greatest threat to the global news industry since the 2008 economic crash” wrote industry publication Press Gazette — which itself moved online-only in 2013.

FASTFACT

Between 2005 and 2018, some 250 local papers closed across Britain.

Between 2005 and 2018, some 250 local papers closed across Britain, while today one in three journalists’ jobs are believed to be under threat. The picture is similar in the US, where dozens of papers have closed or merged with local competitors since the crisis. Between 2008 and 2019, half of all workers in American newspapers lost their jobs, according to a Pew institute count.
Around the world, audiences have melted away for the free sheets once handed out in busy urban centers. Unable to count on funding
from advertisers, some have paused publication, including Metro or Destak in Brazil or France’s 20 Minutes.
With its aging population used to holding a paper in their hands, Germany’s newspaper publishers “were all making money before the coronavirus crisis, even if circulation figures kept falling,” said Frank Ueberall, president of the DJV journalists’ federation.
“Things are different now,” but “text journalism still has good days ahead,” Ueberall said. “Old people in particular are far from adopting digital technologies en masse.”
“Printing is expensive, but it’s swings and roundabouts,” said Gilles Dechamps, head of a printing company in northern Paris, arguing that “it’s important for readers and for advertisers to have the landmark” of a printed paper.”
Despite efforts such as cutting their size to save paper or investing in the web over the past 30 years, few papers have found the winning formula to make money from 21st-century journalism.
“Even in the smallest markets, Facebook and Google syphon three-quarters of the digital revenue,” said Penelope Abernathy, a former Wall Street Journal and New York Times vice president who now teaches media economics at the University of North Carolina. “That leaves all other legacy media fighting for the digital scraps.”


Bailout will keep Air France-KLM afloat for less than year: CEO

Updated 21 September 2020

Bailout will keep Air France-KLM afloat for less than year: CEO

  • ‘If we base it upon the past few weeks, it is clear that the recovery in traffic will be slower than expected’
  • Governments are coming under pressure to tie airline bailouts to environmental commitments

PARIS: Bailouts provided to Air France-KLM by the French and Dutch governments will keep the airline flying less than a year, its CEO Benjamin Smith said Monday and evoked the possibility of injecting new capital.
In an interview with the French daily l’Opinion, Smith also warned that calls for airlines to contribute more to fight climate change could be catastrophic for their survival which is already under threat due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When countries imposed lockdowns earlier this year to stem the spread of the coronavirus airlines faced steep drops in revenue that have claimed several carriers.
A number of countries stepped in with support, including France which provided $8.2 billion to Air France and the Netherlands which received a $2.9 billion package.
“This support will permit us to hold on less than 12 months,” said Smith.
The reason is that air traffic is picking up very slowly as many northern hemisphere countries are now fearing a second wave of infections.
“If we base it upon the past few weeks, it is clear that the recovery in traffic will be slower than expected,” according to Smith, who said when the bailout was put together the airline was expecting a return to 2019 levels only in 2024.
Smith said discussions were already underway with shareholders on shoring up the airline group, and steps would be taken before the next regular annual meeting in the second quarter of next year.
“One, three or five billion euros? It is too early to put a figure on a possible recapitalization,” he said.
The airline group had $12.12 billion in cash or available under credit lines.
Major shareholders include the French government with a 14.3 percent stake, the Dutch government at 14 percent, as well as Delta and China Eastern airlines which each hold an 8 percent stake.
Governments are coming under pressure to tie airline bailouts to environmental commitments.
One proposal that has come from a citizen’s convention convoked by President Emmanuel Macron would cost airlines an estimated $3.6 billion.
Smith said the imposition of environmental charges on the industry would be “irresponsible and catastrophic” for Air France-KLM.