Three midlands newspapers to close

 

Three local newspapers in the midlands are to cease publication with immediate effect, with the loss of up to 25 jobs, staff learned today.

The Roscommon Champion, the Longford News and the Athlone Voice published their last editions today.

They are part of the Alpha Newspaper Group, which is owned by Northern Ireland-based businessman John Taylor, also known as Lord Kilclooney.

In a statement, the staff of the Roscommon Champion said they were “traumatised”.

“These are difficult economic times and the staff understood the need to introduce efficiencies,” the statement said.

“However, no newspaper with foundations stretching back more than eighty years should have been allowed to close its doors.”

The statement said local decision-making “became non-existent” a long time ago as the newspaper’s operations from a management and production point of view became centralised.

“We, the staff, feel this was to the detriment of a newspaper that had stood proud and strong since 1927.”

They said the advent of local competition and the challenges presented by internet-based content “should have prompted a renewed focus in defining a proper business strategy, based on advice provided locally on the ground”.

“Unfortunately, as far as the staff here are concerned, it never materialised, and we have now paid the ultimate penalty.”

The staff thanked readers and advertisers who had “remained so loyal” over the years.

The National Union of Journalists said the Alpha Newspaper Group had acted “with indecent haste” in forcing the immediate closure of the three local papers.

Irish secretary Séamus Dooley, a former editor of the Roscommon Champion, said staff were called to meetings to discuss the “reorganisation” of the newspaper group in the region.

He said workers had been advised by managing director Jonathan Taylor that the papers would cease production immediately. The union had “strongly protested” at what he said was the “lack of consultation or examination of alternatives to closure”.

Mr Dooley said the Athlone Voice was “a new title in a difficult market”.

“The Roscommon Champion and the Longford News are long established titles and form an important part of the landscape of the midlands.

“The closure of the newspapers represents a blow to media diversity as well as a significant blow to the economy of the midlands.”

He said Alpha had entered the market in the south “fully aware of the tough competition in the region”.

Mr Dooley claimed today’s meetings had been timed deliberately so the newspapers, which publish on Tuesdays, could not carry news of their own demise.

“It is not too late to save the newspapers and we would urge Lord Kilclooney and his board to take a step back, even at this stage. We would also urge local politicians to use their influence with Lord Kilclooney at this crucial time.”

The Alpha Newspaper Group could not immediately be contacted.

Roscommon-South Leitrim Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten said the closure of the papers was "devastating" news for the employees and also a major blow to the area.

“In particular the Roscommon Champion, which had incorporated the earlier titles the Roscommon Messenger and the Roscommon Journal and Western Impartial Reporter, had a long history in community life in the county and had been published for over 80 years."

Mr Naughten said all three papers had a history of fine reporting of local stories and events and it was "sad news that these three titles have now joined the growing number of local newspapers being forced to close their doors across the country".