Saturday, February 2, 2019

The dying newspapers in Lebanon and how not to get them back!

Ad recreated by Tarek Chemaly
The scene happens in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2004. I woke up, turned the laptop on, started reading The Guardian. My host (who was my gallerist at the time since I was there to open my exhibition), was appaled. "Tarek, you do not do this, you go down - buy a paper edition of The Guardian, buy a coffee from Clements and sit there reading it".
When Al Mustaqbal newspaper announced its Sunday edition quite a few years back, it did so in a glorious ad (mind you - Al Mustaqbal means future and "Sunday" also means "one/person") which said: "No "one" stands in the way of the "future", and no Monday, no Tuesday, no Wednesday..."
Al Mustaqbal newspaper joined, on January 10th, the trope of newspapers that ceased their print editions, namely:Al Balad, Assafir, Al Anwar. Well, there is always this question: How do we save dying newspapers? The question, naturally, reminds me of the sit-in when "De Pargue" pub was about to close in Hamra in 2013 (De Pargue did close in August 2018 for your info). My reasoning was simple, if you want the damn place to remain open - go to it, spend money there.
Mind you, I am a culprit as much as anyone else. I want my news and I want it now (it reminds me of the Christmas carol "so bring us our figgy pudding, and bring it right here"). I am not a millennial, let that be known (born in 1974 and despite me being a "blogger" and not young and hip!), still - millennial or not, who buys newspapers anymore? I am a voracious reader mind you. I read and analyze all day long. I do so on the computer (only Instagram gets checked on my phone).
Hearst Magazines, Meredith, both international publishers with top notch magazines are all trying to see how to make their magazines profitable (again) - this includes titles such as Vogue, or Architectural Digest, and so on. A paywall? Subscriptions? Branded content? Or as in the case of The Guardian - a direct appeal to the reader in an incredibly successful campaign. This too reminds me of the Annahar ad (which was issued sometime in the mid 90s): "The paper that the reader does not finance, is financed by the unknown".
No, no, I got no magic wand or easy solutions. Yet here's the problem: Unless publications go and remain on the digital sphere, they no longer exist. Quite recently I did a meeting with a magazine, and funnily the owner did not admit that they were losing money in print - so I simply said: "it's not a state secret, if you do not want to admit that you are losing money, it's fine. My point is - we all know that you are, so how quickly do you want to stop the bleeding and go online with your publication to do that?".
This blog does not make money, I admit to it. I did not wish for my readership to be bought and sold or for my readers to think my opinion about an ad is skewed because I was paid to comment on it. Still, want it or not, it is a respectable publication, I went to Sweden because of it, was invited to lecture in Oslo, am a member of the Epica Awards (the only blogger there) due to its content, and the list continues. I could easily sell out in search for quick income, but I did not (and yes, it is "costly" in certain ways - I admit). But well, the golden age of money-making in print is long gone (as one publisher quipped when told a book was being published by a not-for-profit foundation "Oh, I thought the whole industry was!").
No, we cannot get these newspapers back - and sadly clickbait is being used by publications (not just in Lebanon but our local example is quite risible!) to attract readers online. Good, smart, meaningful content will always win, do not forget that.
Want to talk more about this with me? Meet me at the De Prague.
No, wait - it closed!