Daily Newspapers in Thessaloniki Are Dying
Their decline was slow. But was it inevitable?
By Panagiotis Mandatzis*
Thessaloniki, Greece. — A huge banner on the façade of the offices of Makedonia and Thessaloniki newspapers (published daily and weekly, respectively, by Makedoniki Ekdotiki Ektipotiki SA) reads: “SOS — A city without newspapers — 17 months unpaid — work abstention.”
Over a month later, no one seems to have heeded to the employees’ call. Few appear to care altogether. It’s as if the ongoing financial crisis has desensitized Greeks to each other’s struggles — it’s “just another company shutting down.” Or maybe it’s because of the role the media have played in legitimizing the successive austerity measures implemented in the last eight years.
The banner’s existence was short-lived, as it was torn down a couple of days later. Against the odds, the employees of Makedonia (Macedonia) — a newspaper with a history of over a century, who has already closed down once, in 1996, before reemerging in 1998 — have withstood much longer, suffering under the mismanagement and the consecutive failed business plans of their employers.
With its employees abstaining from work and its publication suspended, Makedonia seems to be following on its competitor’s, Aggelioforos (Messenger) , heels, whose staff found themselves between a similar rock and a hard place before the newspaper finally filed for bankruptcy in October 2015, leaving more than a 100 people unemployed.
After the Greek financial crisis erupted, both newspapers adopted several harsh reorganization measures, such as pay cuts, voluntary staff reductions and lay-offs. Instead of solving the companies’ financial troubles, however, these measures resulted in salaries being withheld for months, with the management repeatedly pleading for the staff’s understanding and patience. Strike action and/or legal recourse were discouraged amid an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.
According to Kostas Kekeliadis, who was laid off from Makedonia in 2016 and currently serves on the board of ESIEMTH (Journalists’ Union of Macedonia and Thrace Newspapers), neither Makedonia nor Aggelioforos were actual products of local entrepreneurship. “Makedonia’s biggest shareholders are part of the international financial capital — their names appear in leaks of offshore records”, he continues. Besides, as Vassilis Kyriakoulis, who worked in Aggelioforos for 20 years, points out, “DOL and Pegasos, two of the biggest media groups in Greece who subsequently filed for bankruptcy also, had a shareholding stake in Aggelioforos along with local businessman Alexandros Mpakatselos. None of these shareholders invested actual money in the newspaper, instead financing it with bank loans.” Both journalists agree that neither newspaper served the interests of the people, but those of their publishers.
Marina Meintani, who worked in Makedonia for almost 15 years before she was laid off in 2012, and currently serves on the board of POESY (Panhellenic Federation of Journalists’ Unions), adds that due to their intertwining interests with politicians and the country’s business elite, the two newspapers began losing their credibility long before the financial crisis hit. “The publishers weren’t interested in investigative journalism. They also favored national over local news coverage. As a result, the citizens of Thessaloniki felt that the newspapers weren’t reflecting their reality anymore, and eventually stopped buying them. Local reporting requires a lot of staff resources and the publishers weren’t willing to cover the cost,” she says.
For Vassilis Kontogoulidis, Secretary General of ESIEMTH, the Greek financial crisis definitely had a major impact on both newspapers. But the abundance of free news sources on the Internet had already taken a toll on them. “It’s strange and sad, a city of over a million people being unable to sustain a daily newspaper with a sufficient number of employees,” he says, expressing his hope that soon things will improve. “There have been some efforts from former Makedonia employees to publish the newspaper themselves by starting a Social Cooperative Enterprise,” he adds.
Until now, there are no developments regarding the setting up of a SCE. According to various sources, there are several employees who are willing to participate in it, while others hesitate to go ahead, fearing that their employer hides behind the SCE plan and that they will lose the wages owed to them.
With both major newspapers gone, the only remaining publications in the city are the daily Typos of Thessaloniki and the weekly ThessNews, both small-scale presses with a handful of employees. It remains unknown whether, if at all, they have benefitted from Makedonia and Aggelioforos’ closure.
People don’t seem to miss newspapers. K. Kekeliadis highlights that, in a city of over a million people and even in their prime in the early 2000s, Aggelioforos and Makedonia sold no more than 10–15,000 copies in their daily edition and 30,000 in their Sunday edition. V. Kyriakoulis adds: “People prefer watching the news on TV and reading them on the Internet, often relying on news sites of disputable quality that have no professional standards. Fake news dominate,” he continues.
When it comes to the future of journalism in Thessaloniki, Marina Meintani believes that a new newspaper would only be sustainable if it was funded by a major investor. “But do we really want an investor to call the shots? Perhaps we can only be truly independent if there isn’t one. It’s better to be accountable to the public than to some media mogul.”
In this context, Kyriakoulis and Kekeliadis, along with a few local unemployed journalists, have set up two news websites, dailythess.gr and pressenger.gr, respectively, running them as cooperatives. Kyriakoulis feels that dailythess.gr fills a void in local media and the need for independent news coverage, respecting journalism’s ethics and standards. Kekeliadis is concerned about time and human resources. “Building trust with readers requires time, and to achieve it you need several journalists following and covering what’s going on”. But work needs to be paid. “It’s the way we deal with the lack of capital that will determine the media of the future, their quality, form, and essence. Solidarity is our foundation,” he says, before quoting the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: “There is no road — the road is made by walking.”
*Panagiotis Mandatzis was a copy editor in Makedonia newspaper for 12 years, until 2012, and participated in dailythess.gr for nine months.
This publication has been produced within the partnership with Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso for the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), co-funded by the European Commission. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of media partner AthensLive and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.