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"Newspapers must keep standards high"

Sandeep Dikshit

We cannot compete with TV or internet in terms of speed, says veteran German journalist

There must be no compromise on quality to attract readersThe printed word has an enemy, and that is the young people

NEW DELHI: The traditional newspaper, which is facing competition from different media, can only compete with them in terms of quality, said Mathias Nass, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of German newspaper Die Zeit.

"A newspaper today is a slow medium. We cannot compete in terms of speed with television or the internet. That is why we have to keep our standards high," the veteran journalist said in his address on "Globalisation and its effect on media" at the press club here on Monday.

Even when there was pressure on circulation during a difficult economic environment, there should be no compromise on quality to gain a few new readers.

"You would risk alienating your core readership. They want a paper that invests in good journalism, good writing, extensive research and international coverage. They expect in-depth analysis and background stories that they do not get from the electronic media. They want food for thought."

For Die Zeit, two principles followed from this formulation never underestimate the reader, and quality sells. "Recent developments proved out strategy to be right. The circulation has been increasing for five years now." In contrast, dailies in the United Sates and most of Europe were facing a downturn in circulation.

In addition to the challenge from the internet and television, there was competition from free papers, whose circulation had crossed that of quality papers.

Was the Fourth Estate, once a solid pillar of western democracy, crumbling and which section had contributed to this? Mr. Nass quoted a German publisher for the answer: "The printed word has an enemy, and that is the young people." One way all major papers were trying to cope with the internet challenge was setting up online editions; some were attracting more readers or `users' than their parent papers.

"I think you can stick with ink produce a newspaper applying all the traditional quality standards that your readers are used to and which they expect from their paper and at the same time offer them electronically an alternative that is faster, much more flexible, open for experiments. At least that is our philosophy at Die Zeit. And it seems to work."

Die Zeit was involved in several new activities, such as conferences on scientific, economic and cultural topics, and it had also started an academy for young professionals.

Cooperation

Though this appeared to be a much too commercial stance for a venerable newspaper, Mr. Nass said it was all right provided "we do not lose sight of our main business. Our experience has been that our present cooperation between journalists and managers is helpful as long as the one fundamental principle is respected: the editorial side stays independent. There can be no compromise here. Compromising editorial independence for commercial interests would be putting the axe at the roots of our profession. Never hurt the credibility of the paper. It is your most precious good."

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