From AJR, July/August 1999 issue
By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (email@example.com) is an AJR senior contributing writer.
THE SARAJEVO DAILYOslobodjenje was born in 1943 as an underground voice against Nazi invaders. But it was another war a half century later that thrust the newspaper into the international limelight.
During the attacks on Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, Oslobodjenje—meaning "liberation"—hit the streets every day and became a heroic symbol of resistance.
Now Bosnia's oldest surviving newspaper once again is fighting to sustain publication. Oslobodjenje (pronounced Os-slow-boe-jay-nee-ya) is plagued by heavy debt, a stagnant postwar economy and an outdated socialist-style management that is slow to build circulation, increase advertising revenue and beef up news coverage.
At times, the staff has worked without salary; utility bills have gone unpaid. Snazzier new publications regularly outsell and out-scoop the old war horse that boasts on its masthead, "Oslobodjenje, the World's Newspaper of the Year," a reference to an accolade dating back to 1992. The debt load for the paper is rumored to be in the millions of dollars, according to a 1998 story by the International Press Institute.
Still, Deputy Editor in Chief Sead Luckin offered a resounding "no" when asked if the paper is in danger of folding. "I also have heard such gossip, mostly because of the terrible financial situation at the newspaper caused by the war and the Sarajevo siege. But honestly, I do not believe such stories," the editor says.
Pre-war circulation for the daily, once hailed as the best in Yugoslavia, reached a high of 80,000. That plunged to 3,500 during the bombing and now hovers around 20,000.
Critics say Oslobodjenje's editors rested too long on wartime fame and depended too much on foreign benevolence for revenue. New and more aggressive publications place greater emphasis on both marketing and investigative journalism.
As is common in former communist countries, there has been confusion over the ownership. Luckin describes Oslobodjenje as "an undefined company in transition."
"We plan to have 51 percent of the shares owned by journalists and 49 percent owned by someone else. The best solution would be if some fresh money came in," the editor says. "We need a financial injection. The war was a huge load.