It’s been a while since we checked in with the Budapest Times, Hungary’s last remaining English-language newspaper. And it seems that things aren’t going so well!
This week the paper (or at least the website; we haven’t seen the actual printed edition for some time) features an appeal entitled “We can only help if we are still around: A message from The Budapest Times publisher to the English-speaking community.” In it, Jan Mainka explains that since the economic crisis hit in 2008, both the Times and its sister paper, the German-language Budapester Zeitung, have been forced to switch from a traditional newspaper business model based on companies and individuals buying subscriptions and advertisements on a “commercial basis” to one in which “sponsors” finance the paper for reasons of corporate social responsibility or community building, akin to supporting museums or concert halls.
Our first response was to cackle and scoff at the whole thing, but in many ways Mainka’s appeal is actually quite well-reasoned (and well-written). Around the world proprietors of traditional newspapers are seeing the benefits of switching to such a “patronage” model. So the only major quibble we may have is that he seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, by asking people to consider the paper a charity, while continuing to run it as a for-profit business. We might also wonder why anyone would think that in 2012 a printed record of last week’s news that is heavy on PR articles and partially financed by the current Hungarian government is still something local English-speaking expats would need, but that’s a different story.
Where things do get a bit cackle-worthy is when Mainka not-so-gingerly talks about the different levels of success his two papers have been having in making the adjustment to the new economic realities.
Unfortunately, despite all our efforts to appeal to the expat community, in the past few years we have largely only been successful in persuading companies with a German-speaking background such as Audi, BASF, Bosch, E.ON, ELMÛ, Siemens, UNIQA and a number of others to support this part of the foreign-language infrastructure. The reluctance of non-German-speaking investors to support the continued existence of the newspapers has led to the unfair and unbalanced situation where German-speaking sponsors are paying for the reading pleasure of the English-speaking community…. Without such cross-financing, The Budapest Times would no longer exist. This is not a sustainable situation, in my view, as it creates enormous pressure by permanently pulling resources from Budapester Zeitung. Every community should finance its own infrastructure.
Now is it just us, or doesn’t all this sound a little familiar? All we can say is, thank heavens Mainka hadn’t followed up on the earlier success of the Times by launching editions in Greek, Portuguese and Spanish, or the Zeitung would itself be begging for a new bailout!
As for how the new poor relations at BZT headquarters are taking the whole thing, the answer seems to be either sly defiance or grumbling capitulation. That, at least, is the message we get from the partly obscured headline in the copy of the Times they chose to illustrate Mainka’s ultimatum: “Bending over.”