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September 3, 2008

What would newspaper beancounters make of the Berliner Philharmoniker?

By Dominic Ponsford1

Last night I watched the extraordinary Berliner Philharmoniker at the Proms (thanks BBC press office).
Stick with me, this will be journalism related – sort of.
I wondered what a newspaper accountant might make of this 100-plus strong orchestral behemoth.
Let’s start with the six-strong timpani and percussion section. Six people to hit wood blocks, gongs and triangles? Surely with a bit of multi-tasking one guy would do.
How about that violin section – is 42 really necessary? Surely ten would make nearly as a good a sound. Ditto the cellos, horns and brass.
And what about that expensive Simon Rattle fellow? Professional musicians should be able to keep themselves in time, let’s scrap him.

You probably could put together a pretty good orchestra for a lot less money than the Philharmoniker, but it wouldn’t be quite the same would it? And you’d be destroying one of the great cultural achievements of human civilisation.
I’m not suggesting that every news organisation could, or should, be of philharmonic orchestra proportions.
But it is terribly important that some great news organisations do survive with their intact complement of violins, cellos and oboes as it were.
Because great news organisations, like great orchestras, are among the crowning achievements of western civilisation.
Funding such organisations is, I admit, an issue.
The Philharmoniker keep themselves in bratwurst thanks to some generous funding from Deutsche Bank.
Perhaps it’s time the world’s great capitalist charitable foundations looked towards funding news organisations as a way of giving something back.
Great journalism, like great art, often isn’t economically viable. But it’s just as important.

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