OPINION: Chris Moerdyk recently spent three weeks in Europe and the United Kingdom, “taking every possible opportunity to consume the media of the various countries” he visited. I, on the other hand, spent 11 days travelling on trains in Switzerland, writes Britta Reid.
This is a less bizarre holiday than it sounds. It is possible to get from one corner of Switzerland to another in a day. The weather forecast always highlights at least one sunny spot in the country. With days of good weather assured, one can revel in a truly multicultural experience. The German area is relentlessly efficient and the Veal Zurich is delicious. The Italian area shows signs of incipient disorder and the Vitello Tonnato is mouthwatering. The French area is, well, French… and the Veal Cordon Bleu is scrumptious. The scenery everywhere is beautiful, and the train journeys spectacular. But this is enough rationalisation for my slightly eccentric sounding (European) summer holiday.
Catching a train everyday from Zurich Hauptbahnhof made me feel close to the commuter population, and I soon fell in with its habits. Admittedly, few of my journeys were made in the early morning, so it was the afternoon habits that I got to follow.
This was how I became a reader of ‘pendlerzeitung’ or commuter newspapers, and Blick am Abend, in particular. With the help of Google Translate, I figured out that this means “a view or glance in the evening”. In other words, a nice quick late afternoon/evening read.
For someone coming from South Africa, where media strategists and planners constantly question the value of free publications, it was fascinating to see the real value they can have. Blick is distributed at the train stations in Basel, Berne, Lucerne, St. Gallen and Zurich. Piles of Blick are put out on highly visible pink stands, so that commuters can help themselves. And they certainly do! There were several days when I arrived at the station to find the stands empty. The solution then is to scour the train carriages for a ‘used’ copy, and people happily do that.
The publication has a circulation of 163 412 copies and a readership of 647 000, making it the most widely read newspaper in the country. Blick’s publisher, Ringier, claim that it “offers solid information and features exclusive entertainment”. It goes on to say that Blick’s “strength lies in its exclusives. It stays in close touch with the people and depicts the faces its readers are moved by. Sports have always been given special emphasis… it is a political newspaper whose reporting remains independent”.
To me it seemed the quintessential afternoon diversion – it contained lots of really short articles and packed with colourful pictures. That combination, together with my smattering of Afrikaans meant that I could actually make some sense of things. ‘Das Wetter’ provided the first indication of what the weather would be like the next day, and was by South African standards, remarkably reliable. Cartoons, puzzles, horoscopes, entertainment listings help the reader de-stress after a demanding day. Celebrity gossip is a staple. However the readers feature strongly in the editorial, giving personal views, sharing photos, appearing as the male and female ‘Singles of the Day’, and sending in pictures and little pen portraits of their pets.
I have to confess to becoming absolutely addicted to this feature, the ‘Schnügel de Tages’.
Although founded in 1959, Ringier points out that Blick has “undergone various changes in terms of content and appearance; the daily’s format has also been repeatedly updated”. The current format of the publication is particularly appropriate, a neat 32 cm x 23 cm, just the right size to fold and pop in a hand or shopping bag. Of course, Blick is comfortably cross-platform these days. Blick.ch providing
Additional exclusives and added value incentivise readers to visit the paper’s homepage. It also provides advice and useful service features. There are tablet and smartphone apps, a mobile offers and various RSS-Feeds.
Interestingly the Monday – Friday edition develops a reading habit, which then enables Ringier to publish a thick Sonntags Blick, which sells for 3.90 Swiss Francs. I had a mildly embarrassing moment when I nearly walked out of a newsagent with one of these in my hand, not realising that the weekend edition required purchasing!
I fear that Chris Moerdyk would probably, correctly, categorise Blick as part of the move to dumbing down of content, but it does seem that it is succeeding in giving busy commuters just what they need at the end of the day.
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