After 208 Years, Is Britain's Observer Near the End?





Journalists often stand accused of neglecting good news in favor of bad. And on Monday evening, some of the most eminent names in British journalism seemed frankly perplexed at how to handle a piece of good news: namely, that their employer, the Observer, had been saved from the chop. They had called a meeting in London to plot a campaign to rescue the world's oldest Sunday newspaper. Despite news of the paper's reprieve, they assembled anyway. As the room filled to capacity and then filled beyond capacity, one Observer writer wondered aloud at the size of the turnout. "I didn't realize there were so many Observer people," he said. "Perhaps it would be a good idea to sack some of us."

The Observer had already been in business for almost two years when it reported the execution of French Queen Marie Antoinette in 1793. Observer journalists have filed dispatches from two world wars and multiple other conflicts. For more than two centuries, the paper has not only described and analyzed profound social and political upheavals, but also survived them. Yet the twin challenges of repositioning print media for the digital age and a global downturn in advertising threatened to deliver the coup de grâce. In August, word leaked of proposals to turn the Observer into a Thursday magazine. In keeping with the robustly competitive spirit of British newspaper journalism, the story was broken by the Observer's arch-rival, the Sunday Times, a weekly broadsheet owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp...

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