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15 July 2024

Readers look for quality journalism during crisis

Daniel Franklin (FILE)

By Ryan Harrison

The global financial crisis has worked as much in the favour of The Economist as it has against, said the magazine's online Editor-in-Chief.

Daniel Franklin, also Executive Editor of the print version of The Economist, told Emirates Business the media industry faced a "sharp upheaval" as a result of recent events. But the financial crisis as a news story has accelerated the flight to quality journalism by readers.

"The Economist is well insulated because quality analysis of big stories is what it does best," he said. And he has not had a shortage of subject matter in the last 18 months – the economic downturn, the Gaza conflict and Barack Obama's inauguration are the events that stand out.

"It's an opportunity for us because when there's a lot of uncertainty in the world and a global economic crisis like the one we're in now people want good analysis," he added. "We've seen the appetite for our analysis growing, and we've seen that particularly in our circulation and the traffic on our website. We also make money through advertising but the outlook for that is cloudy."

The symptoms of the downturn in the media industry have been no different from any other sector – job cuts. Drastic lay-offs across newspapers, magazines, TV and radio around the world have been a daily occurrence. And those businesses that have avoided this course of action have relocated their offices or downscaled. Some remain on the brink of bankruptcy.

"There is a lot of restructuring in the industry at the moment, with announcements from company after company. And we haven't seen the end of it. This is a time of such sharp upheaval that there are bound to be changes creeping through."

Media firms in the UK that have cut staff in the last six months include heavyweights such as the Telegraph Group, Time Out, the London Evening Standard and the Financial Times.

Franklin said their print editions had been battling with the growth of the internet for the past decade.

The prestigious Christian Science Monitor will in April become the first internationally distributed newspaper to switch to a web-only edition, ending its 100-year history on paper. It has faced a gradual 40-year decline in the sales of its print edition. "The Economist print edition is still managing to grow despite the move to online. Print is still strong, but that said there's an opportunity for online – that's where we'll be finding new and young readers.

"We've seen our online traffic grow very strongly over the last year. I'm excited at the opportunity to reach a wider audience through the internet.

"The current crisis is giving the media industry a hard push towards online as companies look to slash their budgets. You can see restructuring across the industry – particularly with a lot of daily newspapers.

"But underlying the strength of the print and online versions of The Economist is a growing thirst for understanding, explanation and interpretation in the increasingly complex world of global politics and business.

"We are one of the places people go to and trust to help them understand the world at a particularly difficult time, and that helps us through these times.

"There are others that will struggle because news gathering is an expensive business, so if you're in an area that is being commoditised and people are increasingly moving to the internet rather than print then that's going to be a tough time."

Franklin said major disruptions on the world stage – such as the Israel-Gaza conflict – increased the need for understanding.

The same went for the magazine's two biggest stories of 2008 – Obama's triumphant election campaign and the economic collapse. Both kept its political and economic commentators busy. "There's a link between big events and the appetite for news," said Franklin.