National Newspapers of Ireland deploy the survival instincts of the Dodo…

So it’s Friday. On Sunday Simon McGarr wrote a fascinating piece in which he revealed that some of his professional clients were under pressure from Newspaper Licensing Ireland Ltd (NLI), a collection agent for the Newspaper publishers to pay for linking in to a number of newspaper articles about them.

The piece went viral, and not just in Ireland. Some of the leading advocates for the Internet in the US went for it in a big big way, muttering darkly about Irish attempts to kill the link.

Still, at home, the clock ticked and nothing was said in any of the big media. The newspapers obviously nervous of breaking ranks, and compromising their own interest. Other media, just nervous of talking about something they still have little clear understanding of, and some neuroses of their own to nurse.

Until this morning when RTE finally plucked up the courage to get Simon to come in and talk about it himself. National Newspapers of Ireland refused to come in and speak for themselves. No surprise that, since the case against them is virtually unanswerable.

My own personal take is that this reflects:

  • the often wilful insularity of large swathes of the Irish newspaper industry;
  • a profound sense of quiet desperation of a small country’s news industry whose visible (and invisible) means of support is rapidly disappearing.

Of course, I go with the criticism. But I also understand that whilst ten years ago, there was a skeletal presence of foreign papers in Ireland, now big, well funded British groups are mopping up increasing chunks of a falling print market.

The Irish news industry is pinned to its own Promethium rock.

I suspect some good people know that charging for links is nonsense (though I know of one northern proprietor who once threatened to sue over links to material that was critical of his own papers), but have to play along with because others have yet to wake up from the nightmare and deal with it directly.

This is a tragic misadventure. Tragic in the singular sense that it demonstrates that a majority of those who are most senior in the industry have not been studying the form book in this new connected world. It is impossible to pick people off one by one. If you do, you will get found out and notoriety is the result.

If money was really that easy to come by, don’t they think someone else would have done it already? More importantly, this is a dangerous distraction from the job of finding new business models that will enable the production of indigenous news and analysis of the future.

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