Habermas & the Fourth Estate

Again, via signandsight, an interesting article on the future of print media, specifically our newspapers, by senior German philosopher and culture-broker Jürgen Habermas. Below the opening paragraphs, and here the link to the complete piece.

How to save the quality press?

Philosopher Jürgen Habermas argues for state support for quality newspapers.

Three weeks ago the business desk of Die Zeit newspaper startled readers with the headline “Will the fourth power come under the hammer?” The article was prompted by the alarming news that the fate of the Süddeutsche Zeitung is up in the air because a majority of stockholders want to sell their shares.

If it should come to a sale, one of the two best national newspapers in the Federal Republic could fall into the hands of financial investors, listed companies or media giants. Some will say: business as usual, what’s so alarming about shareholders making use of their right to sell their shares, for whatever reason?

Like other newspapers, the Süddeutsche Zeitung has now overcome the crisis triggered at the start of 2002 by the collapse in the advertising market. The families now wishing to divest – and who own over 62.5 percent of the shares – have chosen a propitious moment.

Profits have risen, despite digital competition and changing readership habits. Apart from the current economic upturn, this can mainly be put down to rationalisation measures that affect performance levels and the freedom of editorial desks. News from the American newspaper sector confirms this trend.

The Boston Globe, for instance, one of the few left-liberal papers in the country, has had to cut all its foreign correspondents. The battleships of the national press such as The Washington Post and The New York Times fear takeovers by companies or funds which seek to “streamline” demanding media with unreasonable ideas of profit. And at The Los Angeles Times, the takeover is already in the works.

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