Run with Eric + TIME

Observer observers need to look beyond sentiment

So, then, The Observer. National institution or financial dead duck? Ongoing liberal tradition or failing piece of press history? Last hope for decent Sunday newspapers or... well, you get the picture.

The problem is that many people don't. The news - or more appropriately, rumours - that Guardian-owned Sunday staple The Observer may be set to close has been greeted by cries of indignant outrage from the left and centre and cries of ugly derision from the right (i.e. almost every other newspaper).

No surprise there, perhaps, and it's good to see people coming out in force to condemn the proposed closure, oppose the Guardian Media Group's pessimistic murmurings and in some cases, call the whole thing a fascist coup. I'm one of them. I've joined a Facebook group and everything. AND I'm following 'savetheobserver' on Twitter. GMG, feel my web 2.0 wrath.

However, I feel the need to tar the rose-tinted Observer portrait with the brush of realism and bad metaphors. There's no smoke without fire, and in this case the fire is coming from an almost ritualistic burning of money from people bowing to a false idol of unerring tradition.

The Observer has not turned a profit in 16 years, ever since the Guardian bought it in 1993. Let's think about that. No profit in 16 years. And it's thought to have lost £10-£20 million every year in recent times. The Telegraph's business section has some more depressing statistics, although I must add that I don't condone the irrelevant comparison of the newspaper's losses with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's salary increase.

On Newsnight a former editor of The Observer, Donald Trelford, said the Sunday newspaper is being made scapegoat for The Guardian's losses. I don't agree. Once again, it hasn't made a profit in 16 years, and it's allegedly losing a million pounds a month.

Now I'm not a Godforsaken pennypincher, and I believe in political ideals ahead of profitable business, but can the GMG really afford for this to continue, and now of all times?

It's time, as ever, for a disclaimer.

I am a Guardian reader and an Observer reader. I detest almost every other newspaper from the Sun to the Mail - especially the Mail - for being irresponsible, reactionary and just a little bit racist. You may have noticed that my news links above took you to a story in the Times and the Torygraph, but only because, in spite of everything, they are at least trustworthy newspapers for getting their facts right. I just don't agree with anything they say, that's all.

So when I say we have to be realistic about The Observer, that doesn't mean I want it to die. I simply recognise that there may be no alternative.

But could it find some other way of saving money? Both The Guardian and The Observer have more staff each than the Chinese when they were building their Great Wall. If you were to walk past everyone who worked for these papers, you'd never reach the last one. There's just too many of them. The wage bill must be absolutely epic.

I don't want people working for The Big G or The Big O(we) to lose their jobs, though, partly because I know some of them. So could The Observer be smaller? It's a weekly so it's huge, naturally, but it could probably halve its page count before it had to halve its staff (uh, the number of staff, that is - I'm not suggesting it literally cuts its staff in half, despite the pleasant rhyming).

But if none of these cost-cutting measures are possible, what should the GMG do?

Shoot me for saying this but in times of dire need for a balanced world view, The Guardian must take precedence over The Observer.

The Tories are almost certain to win the next General Election (God help the delusioned sinners that vote for them), and we need The Guardian at its strongest to repel every right-wing newspaper out there. It's the guardian of liberal thinking and good journalism; it is not guardian of The Observer. And it can't afford to keep losing money.

Yes, I'm a bastard. But I do recognise The Observer's proud reputation and prouder history, which is why I think the proposal for it to become a midweek magazine is almost insulting. THAT would be the death of it. It's a 200-year-old newspaper, for goodness' sake. When World War One veterans are on their deathbed, do you cake them in gaudy make-up and call them Ruby? No. You let them die with dignity. I'd rather see The Observer close than see it become a midweek mag.

But just to make things clear, I don't want The Observer to close. If alternatives are lacking, however, we can't let blind brand loyalty get in the way of responsibility. Because if The Observer continues to print and continues to lose money, it could just bring The Guardian down with it.

And we really don't want that.

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Observer observers need to look beyond sentiment + TIME