There have been plenty of examples of new journals being launched on the basis of a misunderstanding of reaer demand. But Reggel's failure is perhaps the most annoying of them all. Not just because of the billions that Axel Springer wasted, but because there were several elements of the paper that gave it a chance of meeting some bold aims, revolutionising the Hungarian press market.
I had a role to play of course. I was a member of the founding team, I was once the paper's editor. I bear responsibility for some of the wasted opportunities. At the same time, it should be made clear that the company assembled a team - and then gave them a pre-prepared template that the team had to work within. We accepted this, since we had no choice.
People who came to work at Reggel were forbidden from taking a creative approach to their own work. We had to copy the pre-prepared models, and the accuracy of our copies was continually checked by the foreign experts swarming around us. Every single aspect of our work was carefully laid out before us with German precision, and every business goal was declared with gung-ho American-style optimisim. We were asked to be the first, the best in every sphere. Market leaders, even. Straight away. Even instantly, if possible.
Axel Springer can take justified pride in certain features of the paper. Readers were delighted with our independence from the political parties - an independence in both word and deed. Most were pleased with Reggel's innovative appearance, our so-called typographic portal system. The page buzzed with tables, information boxes, graphics and pull-out quotes. It was hard at first, but the staff later got used to the attitude that an article could only be brought to life if set amidst a busy landscape of typographical elements.
So why was it all in vain? It was because of our forced focus on the capital. Our owners learned nothing from the failure of Budapesti Nap, an earlier Budapest daily. They believed that there was space in the market for a national paper which dealt primarily with Budapest and the surrounding county. This faith derived from a certain imperial logic. Axel Springer remembered that most of its success in this country came from the dominant position it secured in the regional newspaper markets. So they tried to repeat the same approach - disregarding all other factors
When we saw the first test issues, we could hardly believe the kind of paper they wanted us to put together. Community news masqueraded as a front-page splash. The first half of the paper was focused entirely on Budapest, so we immediately lost our readers' attention. It was impossible to sell stories about potholes, roadworks and drainage in the capital. No clever typography can rescue a boring theme.
It works in a regional paper, but it cannot work in Budapest. You can have a borough paper, but not a Budapest paper. What links Kobánya and Huvösvölgy? What have Szentendre and Nagykáta in common?
So why was it impossible to change direction?
Because sacred cows cannot be slaughtered.
The fall of Reggel is infuriating because it takes with it some interesting stylitic and attitudinal innovations. It also provides important lessons. Companies that do not learn from their mistakes will fail.
When Reggel was just taking off, one of the German experts was asked what would happen if the paper failed to meet its owners expectations. "What ever happens, the conception is the right one," replied the expert, adding: "If it doesn't work out, then it can only be because you're doing it wrong."