Losing Time & People

Opinion | Margaret Childs | December 2013 / January 2014

The Austrian publisher News Verlag informed staff in mid-November that it plans drastic spending cuts. Changes that will hit the flagship weekly News include reducing the frequency of publication to every 14 days. With 80 jobs to be cut across the company, 25 will be at News itself.

When he started the magazine with his brother Helmuth in the mid ‘90s, Wolfgang Fellner told an American Chamber of Commerce gathering in Vienna that they aimed to position News "somewhere between Time and People", so covering news and society topics and speaking to a wide range of readers. Piece by piece, News Verlag begat more targeted publications like TV Media, Woman, Format and Trend, and in 2001, acquired its more intellectual competitor, profil.

Then, a number of things went wrong. After the Fellners sold it in 2003, the magazine was caught reporting false distribution numbers at kiosks and newsstands and lying about how many people read the magazine. But the company had powerful backers: the German Gruner+Jahr Publishing Company, Kurier/Raiffeisen and the Fellners, who now run the daily Österreich. In time, the scandal would surely blow over.

But this is not what you hear.  More often it’s "not what it used to be". Perhaps News had been better off with profil as competition. The look of the magazine never evolved and the online edition hasn’t been very successful. Compared to the earlier marketing presence, the magazine today is virtually invisible. Despite the vicissitudes of ad sales, its fate may be more a combination of editorial decisions, poor marketing and antiquated branding that brought the publisher to its knees.

As to the circulation scandal, the public prosecutor didn’t take it too seriously: "No advertiser goes by distribution numbers, but rather by media analysis." Regardless, no one was punished in court for spiking the numbers. Lying about readership decline was just a symptom and News seems to have lost its bearings along the way. It lost the People readers to Österreich and the Time readers to profil.

For now, they can still use the slogan "Jetzt gibt’s News" (News is Here). But it may not be for long.

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