In an opinion piece earlier this month for Lisbon’s daily newspaper Público, José Manuel Nobre-Correia called for a plan to better provide for the “sustainability of existing titles and, in parallel, promote the creation of new titles” in Portugal. He stated that “help for the development of initiatives in terms of written information” (print or digital) could come from various sources: public funds, such as from the EU and Portugal; proceeds from the ad sales of private TV stations and telecommunications sales and services; and tax-deductible donations from institutions and private citizens.
Nobre-Correia, a now-retired longtime professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, claims Portugal lags behind other European countries in terms of daily press consumption. The daily press penetration rate in Europe’s westernmost country is “about seven to nine times inferior to that of Scandinavian Europe”, according to him.
His proposed press fund would be distributed to established media companies or startups applying with projects. Awards would be contingent on evaluation and approval by the fund’s executive board, which should be “composed of independent elements of incontestable competence in matters of media and written information”.
For six years, until October 2014, Nobre-Correia wrote a weekly column for the Diário de Notícias newspaper, analysing European and Portuguese media. Nobre-Correia himself had ventured into online publishing in 2013, but not into print, blaming the “harsh reality” of the Portuguese publishing market. His digital monthly “Notas de Circunstância” was a short-lived venture, however, lasting less than a year.
Besides the ongoing global recession, print media have been mired in a deep crisis. It has to do with cheap or free access to information via digital media, which also typically means a loss of traditional advertising and subscriber-derived income for publications. A high-profile announcement last month was that The Independent, one of the leading daily newspapers in the U.K., would cease its print edition and lay off at least 75 employees as it transitioned into publishing only digitally.
Nobre-Correia contended in his Público article that budget and page volume cuts, layoffs and the risk of some publications closing have worsened the situation of the daily press in Portugal, which ”translates into an inevitable loss of quality”. In a phone interview with ECPMF, Nobre-Correia lamented what he referred to as the “systematic deficit” in which traditional Portuguese publications are operating. He mentioned that Diário Económico was publishing its last print edition on 18 March, and that Público itself, among other major dailies, has also been struggling.
Público had a circulation of 31.653 copies for the last two months of 2015, according to APCT, the Portuguese authority reporting on circulation numbers. Fifteen years earlier, in 2000, Público’s circulation was about 43 percent higher, at 55.136.
What keeps Público afloat is its continued ownership by the Portuguese multinational Sonae, which has multiple businesses in different areas, said Nobre-Correia. Still, in December 2015, Público announced it would stop publishing its Revista 2 and offered a severance programme for employees who would volunteer to end their contracts. Twenty-four employees left the newspaper under the programme, the Portuguese state-owned news agency Lusa reported in January 2016. Online paid content and ads did not bring in enough money in 2015 to offset Público‘s loss in print circulation and advertising revenues, and a deficit was registered, being balanced out by profit from Sonae’s other businesses.
Three years earlier, Público had laid off 48 employees, among them journalists and graphic designers, according to an article from Diário Económico. The Angolan group Newshold, publisher of the newspapers Jornal i (daily) and Sol (weekly) in Portugal, announced in late 2015 that it would pull out its shares and that two-thirds of the publications‘ employees (120 people) would lose their jobs amid the restructuring. In six years of existence, Jornal i had reportedly gone through four different owners and seven administrations.