German business daily Financial Times Deutschland (FTD) bade farewell to its readers on Friday in a final edition packed with gallows humour cartoons and melancholy musings on the revolution in the media industry that sealed its fate.
"Finally black", was the laconic headline on a darkened front page of the paper, which like its British namesake is published in a salmon pink colour. Several letters of the paper's name were omitted to make it read 'Final Times'. Publisher Gruner + Jahr decided to shut the FTD after accumulating what German media said were 250 million euros ($325 million)in losses since its launch in 2000.
Around 330 employees are expected to lose their jobs. The FTD was seen as a breath of fresh air in Germany with its modern design, international perspective and audacious style of journalism, but it always faced tough competition from a plethora of established newspapers. The real challenge, however, came from the proliferation of online news services.
"FTD will probably go down in history as the last newly-founded, paid-for daily newspaper to be established in the industrial world," said Andrew Gowers, the paper's first editor-in-chief, in a valedictory column written in English. If the FTD were launched today, it would probably not appear in print at all but in the form of an app, like the younger and highly successful Huffington Post, he said. Gowers noted the irony that a paper so quick to welcome the rise of new technologies linked to the digital economy should founder due mainly to a failure to develop strong, real-time news services online. In one typically mordant cartoon inside the paper, a newspaper seller says: "A good daily paper? I'd recommend the FTD." The customer, Death in his black robe and holding a scythe, replies: "OK, I'll take it." Other cartoons also mostly featured graveyards and tombstones.
The paper showcased scoops, headlines and photographs from the past 12 years and also messages from advertisers thanking its journalists for all their hard work. Gowers said the FTD had stood for high quality, independent journalism and lauded its free-wheeling, investigative style that set it apart from what he called the "group-think" prevalent in much of the German press. "If necessary it took its arguments beyond Germany's borders, memorably advising the voters of Greece - in Greek - not to heed the siren voices of Syriza," he said, referring to the Greek opposition leftist party that has campaigned against the country's tough austerity measures.
Gowers said many other papers would share FTD's fate as they struggle to find ways of making money amid the mass migration of readers to online news sites. "In today's fast moving media markets good journalism is an important asset but on its own is no guarantee of success," he said. Germany is home to Europe's largest print media market and had proven relatively resilient hitherto to the technological, cultural and demographic forces that have shuttered newspapers in many other developed countries, but that is now changing.
The loyalty of German readers - who previously stuck to their favourite daily newspaper - has eroded in recent years as consumers get more of their news online. Advertising income for German newspapers is on the slide, falling 6 percent in the first 10 months of this year from 2011, data from Nielsen Media research showed. G+J, controlled by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann , launched the FTD 12 years ago as a joint venture with Pearson, but the publisher of the Financial Times sold its 50% stake to its German partner in 2008.
Striking an elegiac note, reporter Horst von Buttlar recalled advice he once received that a journalist should spend two hours every now and again just looking out of a window. Asking himself whether it might have been possible to save the FTD, he adds sadly: "I think I will now have to take a long look out of the window." ($1 = 0.7700 euros).