Thursday, September 24, 2020
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Newspapers can change hands but not the vision

A veritable institution in itself, the Forbes magazine has just been put up for sale.

The decision comes after a steady decline in ad revenues, which went on to impact profitability. Not even revenue from the online version, which has about 30 advertisers, compensated for those lost by print advertising.

Forbes Media’s US ad sales were $275 million (Dh1.01 billion) last year, down 19 per cent since 2008, according to the Publisher’s Information Bureau. The Forbes family hired Deutsche Bank to conduct the transaction, according to the Wall Street Journal. Among potential buyers are some of the millionaires portrayed by the magazine – founded by Bertie Charles Forbes in 1917 — over the years.

New blood and thinking is being injected into the US publishing environment. Recently, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos paid $250 million for the Washington Post and interrupting four generations of the Graham family’s control. At the same time, The New York Times agreed to sell Boston Globe to John W. Henry, the Boston Red Sox owner, for $70 million.

‘The Era of Family Newspaper is Back’ was the headline Matthew Yglesias, Slate’s columnist, used to explain these transactions, which he argued should be seen not so much as the end of an era but as a necessary recycling of control. “A business that’s always somewhat depended on bigwigs more interested in challenge and prestige than pure profit maximisation is naturally going to need some new bigwigs once in a while. It’s the circle of life,” he wrote.

The Sulzbergers in New York, the Bancrofts at the Wall Street Journal, the Chandlers in Los Angeles and the Grahams in Washington. They owned newspapers because they wanted to and also had a journalistic vision. It was not only as an investment or a tool to influence.

Money will help run a publication, but it is not enough. Vision is the most important; the new owners may not sit in the newsroom and command the publication, but must appoint professionals with the vision to do the right work.