MEDIA: By misreading its readership the European set its own fate

There’s no joy in seeing a newspaper close, even when it’s a basketcase.

There’s no joy in seeing a newspaper close, even when it’s a

basketcase.



I’m sorry that financial reality is about to blot out the European even

as the single currency is about to be ushered in.



I’ve followed its Houdini-style escapades over the past eight years, and

marvelled. But nothing quite matched its descent into disaster last

January, when it was recast from being a liberal broadsheet - with a

quite good cultural magazine attached - into an inferior, unreadable

Eurosceptic business magazine. It’s been bizarre to hear its executives,

led by tarnished editor-in-chief Andrew Neil, gloat about losing the

old-style ’wrong sort’ of loyal readers, such as retired teachers in the

Dordogne, in the hopeless pursuit of rich bankers from Basle.



There are interesting lessons to be learned from the Barclay brothers’

overall experiences as proprietor/publishers. Even their patience, their

willingness to invest tens of millions of pounds, and think long term

could not get around the basic problem.



The European was conceived as a vanity product, not a genuine niche

product. Robert Maxwell, robber baron though he was, made it crystal

clear to me in 1990 that he was launching it as an act of faith, to

shape a rising generation of Europhiles. There are publications which

tap into this desire to escape from the mindset of national

parochialism: the Financial Times, the Herald Tribune, the Economist,

even the National Geographic.



Alas the European, in all of its guises, never came near it. At best it

was an airport lounge product for those in transit.



The consolation, of course, for the Barclays is that Sunday Business

brought back from the dead last February, just a month after the new

European, is showing very distinct signs of perkiness. Take the

announcement of a merger between Deutsche Bank and Banker’s Trust

costing thousands of jobs - the paper ran the news the week before it

was confirmed.



So what’s its secret? First there is a slender specialist market

gap.



The Sunday newspapers, vast as they are, are under pressure to expand

personal finance and consumer financial coverage , rather than hard

reporting of the City. Second, Sunday Business has buried its reputation

for running dodgy stories. Its editor, Jeff Randall, experienced ex-City

editor of the Sunday Times, has stamped authority upon it. In other

words, the journalism, while far from perfect, is punchy and makes it

impossible to ignore. It has just launched its own distinguished panel

of ’wise men’ to shadow the Bank of England’s monetary committee.



The audited sales of 50,000 - it was given a goal of 80,000 over three

years - are not bad, though priced at 50 pence, it’s clearly a cheap

second or third specialist buy. It should face 1999 with confidence.



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