In whose hands is the salvation of the drowning press?

It is a global trend – in parallel with increase of the online media, the newspapers circulation is falling, financial resources are diminishing, and many editorial offices are closed. In the digital age, when the information and news are appearing more quickly on the screens of the computers, iPad, or mobile phone than оnto the pages of newspapers, the print media is facing serious challenges. Naturally, Armenia is not an exception. But besides the objective difficulties, there are many other problems in the Armenian market of newspapers.

The Chorrord Ishkhanutyun /”Fourth Power”/ daily published since 1996 has been suspended since July 1. It is now being published once a week. Mher Ghalechyan, Director, considers this a “romantic patriotic step”. “Basically, we are publishing the newspaper without having money. Taking into account the reputation and history of the Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, we are just trying to keep the work done for so many years until we find the sources of funding,”-noted Mher Ghalechyan. According to him, one of the main reasons for the newspaper’s decline is the Internet; people prefer the more informative and accessible source of information. “Today, even many reporters do not read newspapers, as the most interesting and important parts of the same articls of newspaper are published in the” Media Review “section of the online media. “All this caused serious financial problems”, – said the Director of the Chorrord Ishkhanutyun.

The price of the newspaper was raised in 2013 last time, from 150 AMD to 200 AMD.  But the problem is not solved. “It did not have an absolute impact. It is impossible to cover all the costs by today’s selling of printed newspapers. And, recently, sales have fallen further, and it is impossible to provide the staffs, editorial office and printing costs with this revenue anymore. That’s why there were remarkable reductions in the newspaper’s staff, ” -he said.

We inquired from Mher Ghalechyan whether there was no need for a content change in the print media to make the audience more interested. “Demand for newspapers,  interest towards them increases only during important events, particularly during the elections. Writing of the most interesting and exciting things in the next period does not matter. A socially vulnerable citizen preferred to buy a bread at 200 drams … “. As for the advertisers, according to the director of the Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, the newspaper did not have an advertisement at all. “The advertisement provision to our newspaper is perceived as a support to the opposition (laughing); so, we have not had advertising, and we have been obtaining the financial resources through our own efforts.” According to Mher Ghalechyan, now they are trying to find new ways to support the newspaper’s running.

Taguhi Tovmasyan, the editor-in-chief of the Zhoghovurd /People/ newspaper, talking about the critical situation for the print media, also points out the same reasons: online media development, purchasing power falling, low interest in political and news content.

The return of the newspaper has increased; there have been some reductions in the staff. Since September of 2017, the printing house has been changed. Now, the newspaper is published with more affordable terms in “Our Printing House” LLC, which was founded by the founders of Haykakan Zhamanak and Chorrord Ishkhanutyun newspapers. According to the editor of  the Zhoghovurd, the extremely low interest in the press today is a common manifestation. “The Internet has swallowed  both the TV companies, radio and the media; so we are gradually trying to combine our activities in the online domain, so that we can use the revenues from it to keep the newspaper as a tradition,” – she said.

According to Taguhi Tovmasyan, the tough situation in the print media field has been further aggravated by government under Karen Karapetyan, the Prime Minister, by his ordering the governmental agencies to unsubscribe the newspapers for the sake of the state savings. “Today, the lack of these subscriptions affects all media outlets. It is funny to say:  the ministerial news service employees call our reporters, ask to send an article about their governmental body in order to clarify the issue; so, the state departments are in such a bad state, ” –Zhoghovurd’s editor said. According to her, the government took this step purposefully because of the problems available with several free newspapers, or websites based on them. “The government is interested in the kind of media, which can be silenced by a phone call; for example, remaining silent during the events related to Sasna Tsrer,” said Taguhi Tovmasyan.

The editor of the Zhoghovurd declares that it is very difficult to keep the paper in these conditions, but given the purchasing power issue, the price of the newspaper has not been raised yet. “When the price of almost all the newspapers began to rise, I announced that we would be the last. Soon, I think, the day will come and the Zhoghovurd will forcibly get expensive”,- said Taguhi Tovmasyan. Meanwhile, as the experience of other print media  proves, the rise in newspaper prices is not a salvation for the publisher.

Thus, according to Aram Abrahamyan, editor-in-chief of the “Aravot”, the price of the newspaper had been raised three years ago, which reduced the number of readers. The media is facing many problems and challenges today. There is increase in returns, reduction in print runs, staff shortages, loss of readers and advertisers.

 

Armine Ohanyan, the editor-in-chief of Hraparak daily, believes that the print media today has problems all over the world, but if the world goes through a distinct way, i.e. each newspaper creates its electronic version and tries to simultaneously accomplish its mission, the same has failed in Armenia. The process was devastating. We failed in fast restructuring, on the contrary – a huge group of parasitic media, various kind of  “.com” and “.am”, which do not actually produce materials, do not have their own publishing houses and sources of information, but built their business due to their agility by stealing our products, ” – said Hraparak editor.

Many years ago, at the initiative of the print media managers, amendments were made to the Law on Copyright and, according to Armine Ohanyan, the situation slightly improved; if previously the materials were stolen without a reference, now they take them with the link. However, it did not become a source of income or capital for us, it is only empty reputation  – we are quoted on the different sites. Meanwhile, making the newspaper is a business activity; to develop, raise salaries, and make new projects, you need to have an advertiser, finances. The issue of non-development of newspapers does not concern either international donor organizations or even the government. On the contrary, the authorities make the newspapers dependent; making money is so hard, that no energy or desire remains for the creative work.”

According to Armine Ohanyan, today, selling the newspaper for 100 drams means that even one-tenth of the real price is not received from the reader. “It’s a symbolic figure – we pay 30 out of those 100 drams to the selling companies, 35 to the printing house, and 25 drams remain, which is not enough even to pay for electricity, “-she said. The paper does not raise the price in order to not lose the reader.

“The print media is the serious journalism for me. There is a more garbage in the Internet, the newspaper requires more serious work. I think, the newspaper culture is different, it should be understood by both, society and the government”,- said Armine Ohanyan. She also acknowledged that the demand for print media grows, when there is politically critical and interesting period in the country. But in this case, another problem arises. “We were captured by a media-seller “monster” organization, which reacts hardly and slowly to the changing situations.Whenever there is an acute situation, the newspapers get the opportunity to consume their product, but they are unable to sell it, because they face the inaction of the “Press Stand” organization. It sells 90 percent of newspapers in all the provinces of the republic, but when we have an important material about this or that community, we warn that more newspapers should be sent there, they respond – no, it is impossible. The figures concerning our newspapers’ sales are provided to us 15 days later, so we have no opportunity even to find out what kind of demand is available in the given marz”,- complained Armine Ohanyan.  According to her, from the moment when the “Press Stand” started selling cigarettes, chewing gum, charging cards and coffee, the news stands of that network turned into the small shops, where the newspapers were sold in one corner, as well.

With regard to all these issues, editors of several newspapers have addressed to the Prime Minister with a letter, stressing that the country can not be democratic, if it does not have a print media, and that the country should take some step in that direction. However, the letter remained unanswered. In these conditions, the survival of the “drowning” print media remains in its own hands.  However, according to Armine Ohanyan, editors of the  newspapers do not have that much mutual gains and interests, so it is difficult to take any step to combat.

 

Lilit Hovhannisyan

 

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