Full colour will put Observer back in black, says Alton

By Dominic Ponsford

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www.changeyoursunday.co.uk

Observer
editor Roger Alton has predicted that the loss-making newspaper will be
in the black within 12 months following its Berliner-size relaunch this
Sunday.

He also told Press Gazette that he thought Tory leader David Cameron was a “likeable bloke” and that it was “not inconceivable”

for the paper to back him at the next election.

The Observer is the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper and has been a broadsheet since its launch in 1791.

Talking
about the financial outlook for the title, Alton said he foresees the
paper “balancing the books, so essentially breaking even, within the
year, sooner if I can do my job properly and get the numbers up”.

Alton
said the production savings are “huge” from the new £60 million
Berliner-size presses, which the paper now shares with sister title The
Guardian.

Alton said that The Observer will also reap the benefits of the premium paid by advertisers for colour.

He also believes that the advertising market will pick up this year, buoyed by football’s World Cup in June.

The
paper has had periodic financial troubles since the mid-1970s. It has
changed owners twice since then, before being saved from closure when
the Guardian Media Group bought it in 1993.

Alton responded to
the suggestion that since then The Observer’s losses have been
subsidised by The Guardian, saying: “I think that’s unfair, a lot of
money goes through it.”

He added: “What would happen if The
Observer wasn’t here in terms of all the shared costs, all the shared
deals in advertising you get spread over seven days?”

Responding
to newspaper reports last year that the Scott Trust, which owns
Guardian Newspapers, wanted to sell The Observer, he said: “It would be
batty to sell it.”

Speaking about The Observer’s exclusive first
interview with David Cameron last month, he said: “Cameron at last
realises that, for the Tory party to win, he has to get to a lot of
people who have been voting Labour – particularly in 1997 and 2001 –
and get them to vote Tory.”

He added: “Cameron is a bright,
engaging bloke and most likeable. So is Tony Blair but Blair won’t be
here at the next election – it’s a fantastically interesting political
time.”

Asked whether it was possible that the traditionally
left-leaning Observer could support Cameron at the next election, Alton
said: “You have a meeting with a lot of people to discuss issues and
come to a consensus on how the paper feels – what you think is best for
the country and best for the most people in the country. I wouldn’t
have thought it was inconceivable.”

In Cameron’s Observer interview last month, he said: “I’m not a deeply ideological person: I’m a practical one.”

Alton
was also asked whether newspapers, like politicians, have shifted away
from ideological positions. He said: “I think ideology of the left or
the right is absolutely insane. I think you try to do the best you can
in a tricky world. You want people to not fuck each other up, basically.

“It’s
all about vertical issues – you think about an issue. Iraq brought
together The Independent and the Daily Mail in opposition to it for
different reasons…

“You have the issues and you make your mind
up – what’s left or right about nuclear energy or non-nuclear energy,
where is the left/right debate about Europe?”

When asked whether
he now regrets The Observer’s stance in support of the Iraq war, Alton
replied: “There’s just been a huge election in Iraq, it’s a great
tribute to the instinctive desire people have to play a role in their
own destiny.

“Should Saddam have been overthrown?

Of course he should.

“Should the Americans have had a better plan for Iraq? Of course they should.

“Should Blair have used his clout to make sure the Americans did have a better plan?

Of course he should.

“Should
people have listened to some quite clearly fraudulent Iraqi exiles
going on about silos full of chemical weapons? They shouldn’t have
listened to them and taken it on trust so much.”

Alton, 58, has been in the editor’s chair for seven years and when asked if he had any plans to move on said: “Oh God, no…

I love what I do.”

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