The signs of trouble were visible long before the tooth fairy ran out of silver


ALL new newspapers have teething problems. In our case, the tooth fairy ran out of silver.

I suppose, in retrospect, the signs were there. After the news paper's launch on May 22nd, papers arrived late in the shops. Newsagents and the public who, according to our market research, wanted and believed in a second national evening newspaper became disenchanted.

Sales started in the mid thirties (thousands) and declined. Advertising revenue never reached even its modest targets. In July it was clear that we were having cash flow difficulties, and would need new investment.

Yet spirits stayed high. Nobody doubted that the investor would be found. The company sought a wage cut from staff. They got it. For the cause.

The trouble signs coincided exactly with a real improvement in the appearance and performance of the newspaper. This was not just the back slapping of friendly journalists in local hostelries, or even the opinions of focus groups sampling our product, but the sense that the public was back on our side, and liking what they saw.

The Evening News had a new masthead, a new printing structure, printing simultaneously in Birr and Ashbourne, was arriving back in Dublin to compete with the first editions of the Herald, and putting five star editions on the street before the lunch time readers had returned to work.

On the day that the Evening News closed, the five star racing edition arrived back in Dublin at 1.45 p.m.

There was a sense of destiny about this paper, even though it was only three months old.

All of the newspapers which had been launched over the past 70 years experienced start up problems the Irish and Evening Press almost closed in their first year, the Sunday World, Sunday Tribune and Star all had their doubts and hiccups. All went on to modest success.

And modest success was all we needed. We had a low circulation target. We could hang on and build from there.

It was not even that we were winning. It was more that we were not losing as badly. We had sorted out most of the weaknesses in our defence.

There was no warning until yesterday morning that the final whistle was so close.

Managing director Gerry Mahedy talked to the assembled staff shortly after midday. He broke down when he attempted to tell them that the newspaper was to suspend publication.

Editor Dick O'Riordan took over, with a brief speech paying tribute to the efforts the staff had made.

The Evening News employed 60 people, about half of whom had come from Irish Press titles. This had none of the bitterness of Burgh Quay, none of the sense of betrayal.

We had given this our best shot. We had got most of it right, and given a little time we would have been producing an evening newspaper that would be a model for the market, focused on the new consumers of the 21st century.

In our own little way, the Evening News was the future.

It is not as if practice makes perfect. When you have been told that you have lost your job for the second time in 15 months you don't go into despair, think of might have beens or wonder what would have happened if the marketing budget had been available to us now when the product was right, rather than in the initial months when the paper wasn't even getting to the shops.

The three months have not been lost. New technology has been pioneered and in some small way, I would like to think, attitudes have been changed.

The evenings are getting brighter, our pre-publication promotional material declared. For three months in the summer of 1996, they certainly were.