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Priit Hõbemägi: In memoriam Eesti Päevaleht (1995-2024)

Priit Hõbemägi.
Priit Hõbemägi. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

In recent years, it has been the task of Eesti Päevaleht to lend credibility to the Delfi news portal as Eesti Päevaleht making a claim simply carried more weight. The brand will continue to do that even after the disappearance of Päevaleht's print issue, Priit Hõbemägi writes.

Eesti Päevaleht would have turned 30 in one more year. An age where one already has their wits about them but can still afford to get up to a little mischief. Allow me to take a look back at Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) as its former editor-in-chief (2001-2006).

The beginning of Eesti Päevaleht was sober and hopeful on the one hand and a little hysterical on the other. Because the owners realized that a few newspapers too many had cropped up, merging Hommikuleht, Rahva Hääl and Päevaleht to form Eesti Päevaleht was decided. Later, cunning was deployed to also merge Eesti Sõnumid with EPL. The paper's first editor-in-chief Kalle Muuli went to Sweden to ask the editorial desk of the Eesti Päevaleht newspaper published there for permission to use the same name in Estonia, and President Lennart Meri gave the first issue his blessing.

But Mart Kadastik then also moved Postimees from Tartu to Tallinn, which caused problems for Eesti Päevaleht. There was fierce competition for a while and the print run of EPL was artificially increased. I suppose Postimees did the same.

Once the print runs were close to equal, emissaries of Swedish publisher Bonnier, which had a stake in EPL, slammed their fists down on the table and said, "Enough spending, let's make some money now!" I was present when the decision was made and realized it marked the beginning of Eesti Päevaleht's long decline. (Mart Kadastik's memoirs revealed that he was close to giving up and moving Postimees back to Tartu.)

Still, EPL was a grand undertaking in terms of its ambition, content and quality. Jaanus Piirsalu, Kärt Karpa (Anvelt), Tuuli Koch, Urmet Kook, Enno Tammer, Hannes Rumm, Kaarel Tarand, Vallo Toomet, Toivo Tänavsuu and many others were the heavy cavalry of Estonian journalism and some still are.

Eesti Päevaleht became the most modern-looking newspaper in Scandinavia after it changed its design in the 2000s with the help of one of the world's leading agencies at the time. The multicolor headlines in newspapers borrow from that very concept. If we add that Eesti Päevaleht's advertising campaign was handled by Olav Osolin's bureau, it was almost the perfect daily. The only thing missing was... money.

To make some, Director Aavo Kokk and I launched a grand book publishing campaign, which made Eesti Päevaleht the largest publishing house in Estonia overnight, much to the dismay of the new competition. They feared a newspaper would ruin the book publishing market. While this did not materialize, readers got the chance to obtain several wonderful series of books for very little money. They are likely still adorning bookshelves in people's homes.

But the inevitable was happening. Päevaleht was fighting with its relatively modest resources, while Postimees channeled the money it made back into developing the paper and marketing. And it started to work. Once it was clear EPL was no longer capable of functioning as a full newspaper, its focus shifted. Eesti Päevaleht concentrated only on more exciting stories but gradually gave up informing readers on everything that matters.

This caused Postimees and EPL to drift apart. Postimees continued to keep its readers up to speed on all more important domestic and foreign news, while EPL had to settle for cherry picking the best or most scandalous stories.

In truth, it was clear for years that it no longer made sense to publish EPL in print. Following the 2011 editorial reform at Ekspress Meedia that saw Eesti Päevaleht, Delfi, Eesti Ekspress and Maaleht merged into a single media company, with the former two also sharing the same team. That is precisely what my editorial reform concept prescribed.

In recent years, it has been the task of Eesti Päevaleht to lend credibility to the Delfi news portal as Eesti Päevaleht making a claim simply carries more weight. The brand will continue to do that even after the disappearance of Päevaleht's print issue.

Looking back at the history of EPL, we could say it was a publication born out of sober calculation, with an eager and compassionate team, which served Estonian readers well for years, also by unearthing a number of corruption and misuse cases. Competition between publishers will always benefit the reader. It was also the home of a series of respected Estonian journalists. And it counts for more than nothing. Rather, it counts for a whole lot.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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