Sport magazine sacrificed in Observer redesign

Observer Sport Monthly, the widely acclaimed and award-winning supplement that came free with the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper, is among the casualties of cut-backs at the title, wrapped up in a redesign announced today by The Observer‘s owners, Guardian News & Media.

OSM was launched in 2000. It has been described by a former Observer editor as “one of the industry’s most pioneering and respected sport magazines”.

As well as contributing to the overall package which saw The Observer win the Newspaper of the Year award in 2007, it also contributed to the business’s bottom line, with the ad department regularly filling all the available advertising positions in the magazine until the recent economic downturn.

The colour magazine offered an important platform for the country’s best sports photographers, and also gave space for longer, Sports Illustrated-style written pieces which do not often appear even in Sunday newspapers. Last year one of the magazine’s writers, Emma John, was named as the SJA’s Young Sports Writer of the Year, winning the Ian Wooldridge Memorial Trophy.

The sport magazine was such a critical and commercial success that The Observer followed the same format with monthly magazines on women, music and food. Only Observer Food Monthly survives the redesign announced today.

It means that OSM has gone the way of the short-lived, Robert Maxwell-owned SportsWeek and all other attempts at delivering a general sports magazine title in the UK, although London free weekly Sport was recently revived.

Barry Fitzpatrick, the NUJ national newspapers organiser, said that the redesign brought in to question the management’s commitment to the Observer’s future as a stand-alone Sunday newspaper.

Fitzpatrick told Press Gazette that the changes were “an act of bad faith and something which will make it far less competitive on a Sunday. It’s extremely worrying and I think it suggests they don’t have a genuine commitment to the long-term future of the title.”

It is not yet known whether Tim Lewis, who was named as OSM‘s third editor in 2007, and the rest of the magazine staff will be employed elsewhere within the group, as their employers have announced another round of voluntary redundancies towards stemming the group’s current losses, running at nearly £2.5 million every month. The company has already cut around £10 million from its editorial budget this year, shedding more than 60 journalists out of a total of about 850 staff.

In a redesign that will hit newsstands next year, The Observer is to become a four-section paper — news, sport, an expanded Review section and the Observer magazine.

According to a report tonight on the Guardian Media website, “a core editorial staff will continue to work solely for the Observer. Other Observer journalists will be integrated into the editorial teams that work across the Sunday paper, GNM’s other title, the Guardian, and its website network,”.

GNM has reopened its voluntary redundancy scheme and the precise number of departures from different editorial departments has not yet been finalised, although the company has said there will be fewer staff at the end of the process.

Observer staff was being briefed about the changes by the paper’s editor, John Mulholland, today.

Mulholland said: “Like all newspapers, we had to make changes both to the way we work and to the products we publish. It has been a difficult few months for staff while we have worked through these changes as part of GNM’s publishing review, and some hard decisions had to be taken given the extremely challenging economic environment for newspapers.

“The paper we have created as a result of this review will continue to uphold the proud tradition of Observer journalism. It will remain a serious, high-quality, multi-section Sunday newspaper, independently edited, and with its own distinctive voice. I am confident that the new-look paper we will launch early in the new year will continue to be a venue for exciting, robust and authoritative journalism — of the type which our readers rightly expect.”

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