Investing in the Newsroom
By Cynthia Barnett
Three years ago, the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, struggling to keep its place as the fifth-largest newspaper in Denmark, faced a crisis resembling those at many American newspapers.
Cynthia Barnett is metro editor of the GainesvilleSun. She has witnessed four executions in Florida’s electric chair.
Danish citizens were becoming preoccupied with visual news. Fewer and fewer young people felt newspapers were part of their lives. Circulation was flat. Advertisers were more interested in emerging commercial television stations and satellite services. Newspaper executives throughout the country pared editorial staffs and cut newsholes to save money. The money they did spend bought readership surveys, redesigns and updated computer systems.
But not at the Jyllands-Posten.
Under the leadership of Ulrik Haagerup, a new 29-year-old editor in chief who had just earned the Danish equivalent of the Pulitzer, the Jyllands-Posten did something radical.
Haagerup tossed out the conventional wisdom of making newspapers more user-friendly and convinced the Jyllands-Posten's president to invest every resource the paper had in what he describes as "old-fashioned journalism." In the four years since then, Haagerup, now 33, has added 60 news reporters to the Jyllands-Posten's staff. He has also increased the paper's newshole by as much as 20 percent.
The result of his old-fashioned journalism revolution is vindication for American newspaper journalists frustrated by the bottom-line mentality of corporate ownership. After three years of investing in the newsroom instead of in profit maximization, the Jyllands-Posten is now the largest paper in Denmark, and it is growing. Daily circulation has increased from 125,000 to 178,000, Sunday from 225,000 to 265,000. Advertising revenues have increased by 43 percent.
Haagerup's formula for success is simple. "If you dare to believe in journalism, then you can live," he says. "If you dare to invest in journalism, then you can live."
"All of the other papers are fighting very hard for survival, and they have tried to survive by cutting very hard and very deep, but the Jyllands-Posten went the other way," says Arne Mareager, editor of Funs Amts Avis, a smaller daily. "They are proving that you need to go deep, write well, and you need lots of quality and lots of people."
The Jyllands-Posten has launched new sections on computers and business news and a new weekend magazine, and puts out a Sunday paper focusing heavily on investigative journalism. Other changes are more subtle. For one thing, Haagerup says that the paper has stopped trying to compete with television. "Newspapers have devalued themselves," Haagerup says, "by repeating what people saw on TV last night."
Haagerup believes blaming only slashed budgets for the decline of modern newspapers is simplistic. A bigger problem, he says, is created when people other than journalists decide what the paper covers and prints.
"First they hire a design guru...for $1,000 an hour... who says, 'This paper is boring and young people don't like it'..and they redesign the whole thing. They spent a lot of money and time redesigning the outside but not talking about journalism, so the inside was still crap.
"Then the computer gurus came in and said the computers are too old-fashioned. So the papers and editors spent a lot of money and two years on that, too. Still not talking about journalism but about where the mouse should go...
"Then the management people in Armani suits and silk ties from the business schools came in, telling you you're doing it all wrong. They started calling it 'the product' instead of 'the paper.' They started talking about the customer instead of the reader. They asked the customer what he wants... So you try to create the paper people want. But in doing so you forget what the paper is all about--the most important tool in a democratic society."
On the wall of Haag-erup's office hang inspirational news photographs. One photo is of a striptease dancer sitting in her panties and bra, peeling off her stockings. The photo accompanied a piece on the life of a stripper that Haag-erup wrote for Jyllands-Posten back in his reporting days. The piece never saw print because the paper's former editor in chief didn't want to offend readers.
"It is not a vulgar picture; it is a beautiful picture," Haagerup says. "I put it up to remind us that we can do many provocative things. And it is not our readers who decide what we put in the paper. We decide."###