The moderate liberal Dutch broadsheet NRC Handelsblad is the latest of a series of European periodicals looking for a more international readership by translating part of their content into English for distribution on the world wide web. “NRC International” is partnered with the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, itself a pioneer in featuring English content in an “international” section of its website. Aside from NRC and Der Spiegel, other news outlets now featuring web-only English-language content are Germany’s Die Welt and Hungary’s Heti Világgazdaság, while Eurozine features translated and original content from a broad spectrum of continental reviews and journals. Sadly, Sign and Sight recently had to reduce their “From the Feuilletons” — looking at the culture pages of German-language newspapers — from a daily to a weekly feature. Sign and Sight also features a weekly “Magazine Roundup” doing the rounds of a wide variety of European, Asian, and American magazines.
The move comes as print newspapers of the conventional variety across Europe and America are losing circulation. Some Manhattan newsstands have seen takers for the Sunday New York Times fall by as much as 80% in the past few years. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal both recently narrowed their page width in a move to save paper costs; the change, however, also means less room for advertising and a more ungainly appearance.
South Africa’s Herald, meanwhile, has bucked the gloomy trend and increased its readership by 14.5% in the past year. The Herald, the Eastern and Southern Cape’s regional broadsheet, attributes its success to a visual redesign and reorienting content to encourage readers to link up with the newspaper’s website. South Africa is also home to The Times (not to be confused with the older Cape Times), a new upmarket broadsheet newspaper launched as a daily extension of the century-old Sunday Times. The weekday Times was started a year ago and its circulation since just June has seen a 10.4% increase.
A major problem for the industry is that formerly high-end newspapers have driven down the quality of their product to a suicidal extent over the past decades. The middle market, for better or worse, is dead, and publishers have three alternatives to this disappearing sector: 1) go lowest-common-denominator — as The Times of London has done, with only moderate success; 2) go up-market — The Times and Sunday Times of South Africa have proved worthwile; or 3) go niche — the New York Observer is still in business after two decades of aiming towards Manhattan’s yuppie community.
Whichever path taken, integrating print and web operations is vital for the survival of print newspapers and other “dead tree” media. That European newspapers are providing at least part of their content in English is helpful in keeping up with events and ideas in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary as our native English-language media are tightening their belts and cutting foreign correspondents and coverage. I hope more non-English papers follow this trend and help to permanentize it.