The jobs will still go - so why was the Observer worth saving?

Last week Guardian Media Group announced it had decided not to close The Observer – ending six weeks of uncertainty about the title’s future.

And the nation’s journalists collectively heaved a sigh of relief.
If the Scott Trust which owns GMG, dedicated as it is to supporting journalism, starts closing national newspapers – what hope does anyone else have?

But while the 80-odd journalists who work solely on the Observer have been given a stay of execution, many will still lose their jobs.
GMG has said that in order to stem losses for the Guardian and Observer which ran to £36.8m last year there will be further integration between the two titles, with more job cuts needed across the board.
Even though the Observer has been saved, just as many journalists’ jobs will probably still need to be cut to balance the books at Guardian News and Media. According to The Sunday Times up to 100 more editorial could go.

So why did Press Gazette bother to launch a campaign to save the Observer?
Over the last couple of years hundreds, if not thousands, of British journalists have lost their jobs. What makes The Observer worth saving?

We launched the campaign because up until the beginning of August – when news broke that closing the Observer was one of the cost-saving measures being considered by GNM – the title had seemed like one of the more robust of our national newspapers. Killing this 218-year-old did not feel like euthanasia, it felt like it would have been murder.

In editorial terms the Observer is a remarkably successful and resilient title.

In January 2000 it had an ABC circulation of 416,460 and in January 2009 it had an ABC of 427,867.
Even when you take out the increase in bulk give aways, the Observer’s sale is still slightly up over that period.
By comparison, over the same period the Sunday Times has dropped from 1,373,900 to 1,198,984; the Sunday Telegraph from 822,931 to 602,306 and the Independent on Sunday from 248,630 to 178,797.
Even in August, with the all uncertainty swirling about around its future – and minus the axed TV guide – The Observer still sold more than 360,000 copies.
In 2007 it was named Newspaper of the Year at the British Press Awards, following a judging process that involved around 100 of the most senior and respected figures in UK journalism.

If there was a news website which persuaded 300-400,000 people a week to spend £2 of their money and around an hour of their time with it – it would probably be the most successful editorial website in the world.
To have thrown that readership away, along with a thriving journalism brand, would have been cultural vandalism.

Newspapers readerships take decades to build, but can be lost in weeks and GNM has a substantial and influential readership at the Observer.
It is evidently no longer prepared to bankroll annual losses for the title which are believed to run at £10-£20m a year, so the challenge ahead is to turn that around find a sustainable future for Observer journalism.

Anyone who cares about British journalism will draw encouragement from the fact that GNM is now stepping up to that challenge.

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