Digital-age ‘Post’ editor will still have ink on their hands

Its new owners are looking for a candidate with ‘strong commercial focus’

Post Publications investor and chief executive Paul Cooke (right) with acting editor Pat Leahy

Post Publications investor and chief executive Paul Cooke (right) with acting editor Pat Leahy

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 02:00

The Sunday Business Post has advertised for a new editor using a large graphic of a QR code, which interested candidates can scan to their phones to “find out more”.

It’s a gimmick, of course, as all the QR code does is bring would-be editors in possession of a smartphone to the home page for Dalríada, the executive search firm hired by Post Publications to oversee the recruitment process. Rather than serve as the route to further information, the main purpose of the QR code, it seems, is to apply a digital gloss to the printed version of the job ad.

There is something revealing about the choice of gimmick, nevertheless. If Post Publications was already an all-singing, all-dancing digital business it would have opted for some fancier augmented reality: scan here to watch our corporate mission statement brought to life in video, click here to enter this 3D trip around our open newsroom hub, or similar.

The Post has a paywalled website and paid-for apps in place, but it is not a website or apps business – yet. Despite shedding more than a third of its print circulation since the second half of 2007 it is still tied to print as a medium, because its digital subscriber numbers are currently too low to sustain the costs of a digital-only operation.

Investment in digital offering

The company is now “poised to announce a significant investment” in its digital offering, including “the introduction of a range of innovative new products”. It also says it is seeking “an experienced editor for the digital age” and one with a “comprehensive understanding of all digital opportunities”.

But that is not quite the same as saying as it is looking for someone steeped in digital experience. The next editor will more likely than not hail from the same print traditions as Cliff Taylor, who stepped down last week after a decade in the job. In industry parlance, Taylor’s successor can be expected to have “ink on their hands”. This is not an “apply via LinkedIn” scenario, but a case of giving the nod to someone with a contacts book thick enough and a journalistic reputation solid enough to “be the voice of the publication” and set the tone.

Post Publications investor and chief executive Paul Cooke expects a high calibre of applicant and decent volume of interest for the job. “If I was a journalist, it would be a position that I would want to have,” he said. Ultimately, this is the Irish media sector, however, and the pool of potential new editors is more paddling than it is Olympic-sized.

Notwithstanding the financial backing of Cooke and private equity house Key Capital, the Post’s place in a much- contracted market is more precarious than it was in 2004, the year Taylor was appointed. Senior business journalists from outside the newspaper may be lured only by the appeal of running their own editorial kingdom if the medium-term future of their current employer is also insecure (which it may well be).

Both external and internal candidates will also want to know a lot more about what kind of company Post Publications is intent on becoming. The Sunday Business Post styles itself as “Ireland’s financial, political and economic newspaper” above the masthead. The “political” bit is not there merely to complete a trinity of adjectives: it frequently leads on political rather than business topics, while acting editor Pat Leahy is a political journalist.

After a round of reader research last year, the new management also decided to retain its arts and lifestyle magazine, dubbing it a “hidden gem”. But the title is still more of a niche proposition than it is a “full service” newspaper, most obviously because it has no sports coverage. In the past, its circulation would have been boosted by households that bought more than one paper on a Sunday, with the Post as the secondary purchase. Now that households have cut back to one or indeed zero newspapers, the Post’s positioning is unclear. It is not just between editors, but between markets: specialist and general, print and digital.

It may yet go down a more corporate path and focus on persuading business people that they simply must become subscribers, because its digital and/or print editions are stuffed with information vital to their own profitability.

It is no accident that the list of required skills for the editor’s position includes possession of a “strong commercial focus”. This is unlikely to be open to much negotiation. Post Publications needs to make money for its investors, and everything from hard-hitting scoops to nice Sunday-supplement features will only be as welcome as the extra credit card details or scanned barcodes that they deliver.

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