Closure of local Irish newspapers set to ‘accelerate’ after loss of 17 titles since 2008

Print sector has seen ‘an exodus’ of experienced journalists and specialist correspondents, Oireachtas media committee also hears

The closure of local newspapers in Ireland will “accelerate” without further Government support as circulation and advertising revenues continue to fall, industry group Local Ireland said on Thursday, with the Oireachtas media committee also hearing that that journalism has become “an unattractive and unaffordable profession”.

Bob Hughes, executive director of Local Ireland, said the recent move to zero-rate newspapers for VAT would help local news publishers continue their transition to digital business models. But the 150 per cent rise in newsprint (printing paper) costs over the past 18 months, alongside spiralling energy prices and the cost-of-living crisis, means the environment remains “very challenging”.

“The number of employees among local publishers has halved over the last two decades and since 2008, 17 local newspapers have ceased publication, including one as recently as last month,” said Mr Hughes, referring to the closure by Mediahuis of the Fingal Independent.

“That’s 17 communities that have lost their local paper and that trend will accelerate without further support.”


Circulation for local paid-for weekly newspapers has fallen more than 50 per cent since 2010 and was down 7 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2022, while advertising is down by an average of 14 per cent for local titles compared to pre-Covid levels, Mr Hughes said.

Some 70 per cent of publisher revenues, globally and domestically, still come from print at a time when newspapers have become “increasingly expensive to produce” due to the surge in newsprint costs, said Colm O’Reilly, chairman of Newsbrands Ireland, which represents national titles.

The industry is “fully committed” to digital transition, with publishers developing business models that include video production, interactive content and gamification, said Mr O’Reilly, who is chief operations officer of the Business Post Group. This evolution in the roles and responsibilities of journalists requires “significant investment” in training and upskilling, he noted.

But Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said journalism in Ireland was “in crisis” as a result of precarious employment, low pay and the concentration of media ownership.

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“It is an irony that at a time when the need for professional, authoritative journalism has been widely recognised, journalism is becoming an unattractive and unaffordable profession. Print journalism, in particular, has seen an exodus and the NUJ is deeply concerned at the loss of experienced journalists and specialist correspondents,” he said.

Linda O’Reilly, editor of Cavan-based newspaper the Anglo-Celt, said there had been “a major brain drain from the industry”, with experienced journalists leaving the media for public relations and other roles.

“We can’t get suitable replacements,” she said.

The NUJ has called for a State-backed recovery plan for the news industry but has said no public money should be given to companies making compulsory redundancies, cutting pay, giving executive bonuses or blocking collective bargaining.

Mr Dooley welcomed the 0 per cent VAT rate for newspapers introduced in Budget 2023, but said the NUJ was concerned that the zero rate would not apply to “news periodicals” as it does to print and digital newspapers.

“This is an unfairness not just to periodicals, but to the magazine sector, which continues to play an important role in the Irish media and provides work for staff and freelances.”

Conor Goodman, deputy editor of The Irish Times, said some shops that traditionally stocked newspapers were now giving them less or no shelf space, exacerbating declines in print circulation.

“The retail model is really in danger of breaking down and that is something that could take us all by surprise.”

Broadcasting levy

Also addressing the committee, the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) called for the suspension of the broadcasting levy.

This is the annual sum that radio stations currently pay to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and are set to pay to its successor, the Media Commission, when it is established in 2023. But the Media Commission will also begin regulating aspects of online and social media for the first time, with this cost covered by the State.

“The costs of regulating my station, KCLR, will be borne by KCLR. Meanwhile, the cost of starting to bring some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world under regulation will be paid for by the exchequer. This is a glaring injustice and unfair,” said IBI chairman John Purcell, who is also chief executive of the Carlow-Kilkenny radio station.

“We are feeling particularly sore about that, and we would like something done.”

While radio stations survived Covid with the assistance of public funding supports, the industry is now “perhaps entering a more dangerous stage”, he said.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics