Lachlan Murdoch (52), who this week became sole chairman of News Corp following the stepping down of his father Rupert (92), is a lot less committed to newspapers than his father, according to the former editor of the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, Frank Fitzgibbon.
The Irish edition of the British title is among a number of media assets News Corp has in the Republic that have seen declining fortunes over recent years.
As well as the Irish edition of the Sunday Times and the Irish edition of the Sun, News Corp’s presence in Ireland includes the social media intelligence agency Storyful, and a number of radio stations including FM104 and Q102.
An Irish print edition of the daily Times was launched in 2017 but was not a success and closed two years later, while the Irish edition of the News of the World closed in 2011 against the backdrop of the title being shut down generally as a result of the phone hacking scandal in the UK.
At one stage the Irish News Corp titles, as well as a number of other newspapers, were printed in a plant in Kells, Co Meath, but in August 2021 it was announced that printing was to be outsourced.
The News Corp titles in Ireland suffered in line with the general downturn in newspaper sales, and never developed a substantial digital presence to compensate, Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“There will be a long-term question over all newspapers in the Murdoch empire once Rupert leaves for good, because Lachlan doesn’t have the same commitment, and they are a much more difficult proposition,” he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon, who was editor of the Sunday Times Irish edition for 15 years, leaving the position three years ago, said he expected influential titles such as the Wall Street Journal would remain part of News Corp, but that might not be the case for a lot of its other titles, including the Sunday Times.
“His first love is newspapers,” said Mr Fitzgibbon of Rupert Murdoch, whom he met during three visits the media mogul made to Ireland. “The other stuff made loads of money, but he just loves newspapers.”
The Sunday Times Ireland edition at one stage accounted for about 12 per cent of overall sales of the Sunday Times, but that fell with the collapse of newspaper sales generally. The latest editor of the Irish edition, Nóirín Hegarty, stepped down just this week.
Storyful, which was founded by former RTÉ journalist Mark Little in 2010, was bought by News Corp in 2013 in a deal valued at €18 million.
The latest accounts for the company, which are for the year to the end of June 2022, show it had a turnover of €4.48 million and produced a pretax loss of €3.9 million, compared with a loss of €6.77 million the previous year. Accumulated losses at year’s end were €52.77 million. The figures are not reflective of the global operations of the company, according to the accounts.
In 2016, News Corp bought the Wireless radio group in Belfast, owner of the London-based radio station, TalkSport, as well as FM104 and Q102 in Dublin, LMFM in Louth and Meath, Cork’s 96FM and C103, Live95FM in Limerick, and U105.8FM in Belfast.
The latest results for Wireless Radio (ROI) Ltd, the holding company for the radio stations in the Republic, show it had a turnover of €22 million in the year to the end of July 2022, and produced a pretax loss of €2.58 million.
Mr Fitzgibbon said that he found Mr Murdoch to be “incredibly sharp” when he met him. “When he comes into the office he wants to see all the newspapers and he goes through them in incredible detail and he can spot the dodgy stories. He wants to know how much you got for the ads. He’s on top of the whole game.”
During a visit to Ireland in 2017 to mark the launch of the Times Ireland edition, Mr Murdoch had a lunch in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin that was attended by, among others, Dermot Desmond, Denis O’Brien, JP McManus and a number of other Irish business figures.