Published but not damned
‘The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Mark Twain’s words are being echoed round the world by newspaper editors, and not least in this island in the wake of responses to the unfortunate receivership on Wednesday of Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH), publisher of the Irish Examiner. Morning Ireland’s Áine Lawlor came close to expressing condolences to the National Union of Journalists’ Séamus Dooley on what she implied was the imminent demise of the whole newspaper industry, a “sunset industry”.
Not so. Fragile, yes. But, casualties notwithstanding, there’s life in the old dog yet. Newspapers continue to make a social contribution that outshines their imperfections. A great many demonstrate an ability to change, innovate, and compellingly serve large growing audiences across print and digital spaces.
True, these are not easy days for this business. Falling ad revenues (compounded by recession) and circulation – sales of all Irish daily and Sunday titles shrank by 7 per cent in the second half of last year – and huge levels of corporate indebtedness in both TCH and Independent Newspapers (INM) are typical of the business worldwide. And then there is the particular challenge of cut-throat competition from UK titles with their economies of scale. And the drift of readers to free online sites, many involved in wholesale theft of newspaper-generated copy, is forcing all of us to re-examine business models and to refocus our endeavours to new platforms.
But that is happening. And the Examiner is by no means dead. It, and related titles, and 554 jobs, will soldier on under new ownership, and, at a minimum, with “significant additional financing facilities” from AIB. It is expected the Sunday Business Post, now in examinership, will also end up, and, hopefully, thrive, in the hands of the new owners.
Restructuring by no means guarantees the titles’ future in a fiercely competitive market. Both the Irish Examiner and the Sunday Business Post have seen circulations decline by close to a third in six years, but the former in particular has a strong regional advertising base. And INM, publisher of the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent, and which owes more than €400 million to a consortium of eight lenders, including State-owned AIB, is engaged in talks to restructure the debt. Political and business sources believe a write-down of up to €100 million may be on the cards.
These newspapers’ rivals, The Irish Times included, take no comfort in their distress . But their survival and competition will drive up newspaper standards and, above all, ensure the four out of five of the population who continue to read a printed newspaper, and particularly the one in two who read a morning title, will continue to find reason to do so. The ability of newspapers to generate good journalism is beyond question; notably in the Irish context. “Sunset”, what sunset?