Crosbies' new flagship must negotiate shark-infested waters
BACKGROUND:When Thomas Crosbie became a reporter in 1850, he would stand in a dinghy in Cork Harbour and shout a welcome to travellers on the big ships en route to London, asking them about the news from America.
In those early days, that was how the Cork Examiner got its scoops.
If only it was so easy to gain competitive advantage in the newspaper business in 2013. Sinking under the weight of its boom-time debt, Thomas Crosbie Holdings could have done with the original Thomas Crosbie’s dinghy to help it stay afloat.
Yesterday’s announcement that the group has gone into receivership has seemed inevitable since last summer, when it emerged that it was in debt restructuring talks with its State-owned banker AIB.
The cracks in its ship were in evidence before that, with a succession of salary cuts for its employees, a shrinking in its overall workforce from more than 800 to 642, the closure of Kerry title The Kingdom and the offloading of titles such as the Sligo Weekender, the Newry and Down Democrat and the London-based Irish Post, which had debts of €2.3 million when it was liquidated in 2011.
Many of these acquisitions were part of a spree by TCH’s former managing director Anthony Dinan that placed unbearable pressure on the group when the recession hit.
The relationship between the company’s management and its employees has been frosty since early last year, when National Union of Journalists members at the Irish Examiner title rejected what management called a “critical” proposal to cut wages by a further 5 per cent.
A life raft of sorts has now been thrown to 554 of the employees by AIB, which will provide further funding to Landmark Media Investments, the holding company to which many of TCH’s assets will now transfer. Its printing operation TCP has been liquidated with the loss of 12 jobs and the Sunday Business Post is set to apply to the High Court to be placed in examinership.
Ability to thrive
In truth, it is difficult to be entirely confident about the ability of the group’s two national titles, the Irish Examiner and the Sunday Business Post, to thrive in the long term, even if freed from their historical debts, but that is certainly the hope and the plan.
The Irish Examiner has one major factor going for it: a readership that is concentrated in one place, which advertisers love. Recent Joint National Readership Survey figures suggest 174,000 of its 189,000 readers are based in Munster, with 136,000 of them located in Cork city and county. Just 8,000 of its readers are in the greater Dublin area.
The Sunday Business Post, meanwhile, is the only Irish-published title in the country to currently have a paywall on its digital edition. It has not stated how many subscriptions it has amassed since it erected the paywall in November 2011, and it remains to be seen whether these payments, added to the diminished print revenues, are high enough to sustain its workforce of 76.