Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

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

Fri 4 January 2013, 10:11am

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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Comments (15)

  1. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Thanks, Mick. You say, “…..a majority of those who are most senior in the industry have not been studying the form book in this new connected world.”

    That applies to many areas of life, including the political area. But the speed of the new connected world is most distressing for the meeja. There is often a notable slowness about the BBC NI site. It appears that the journalists are unable to react quickly to new events. Same goes for commentary. Often the same old tired piece of political commentary stays up for ages.

    And in local newspapers the same tired old photograph is used month in, month out, over and over again, when some tired old story is resurfacing (or being revived to fill up pages). But that’s down to laziness, not to the speed of the new connected world.

    Newspapers are in a tight corner. If some of them charge me money to read their articles online, and others don’t, of course I’ll read the ones that don’t.

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  2. The point wasn’t charging us to read. The Financial Times does that well. The point was that the Irish newspapers want to charge anyone who makes a hypertext reference to one of their articles, as many Slugger contributors do.

    It would be interesting to see if they tried to enforce their claims in the courts, since the legal profession depends on making references to other documents, so it could be considered unethical to make a case against the academic reference.

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  3. BarneyT (profile) says:

    I would hope that the courts would place the onus on the newpapers to ensure they protect their content (via authentication and all usual mechanisms) and charge at the point of access, rather than throw it into the big pond and complain when they get a few bites.

    The secondary, horse-bolting nature of the possible charge is rediculous.

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  4. One reason why the Irish-produced newspaper market in Ireland is dying is because it is an English language newspaper market. Anglophone newspaper titles in Ireland simply cannot compete against those imported from Britain, or rebranded as “Irish” but with 90% British content.

    If Ireland contained a large monolingual Irish-speaking population there would be a significant market for newspapers in Ireland – in the Irish language. Just as there are thriving markets in Norway, Denmark and Sweden for newspapers in their languages, despite falling numbers.

    The irony being it is the decades-long hostility by the press establishment in Ireland towards the Irish language and Irish speakers and the constant attacks on both which have contributed towards the failure to create a large monolingual Irish-speaking population in the country.

    What goes around comes around. They robbed themselves of their own future.

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  5. MrPMartin (profile) says:

    Yes but everyone in Scandanavia speaks English too. Your argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when you look at The Scotsman which is English language but successful in Scotland.

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  6. MrPMartin (profile) says:

    if English was good enough for Jesus then it’s enough for us

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  7. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Sionnach,

    The problem is financial, and the late penetration of the British titles is because distribution is cheaper to manage over much wider distances than it ever has been before.

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  8. Framer (profile) says:

    If there are no newspapers there will be no linking to them. So that’s sorted.
    However if they found a way to charge the BBC for its parasitic reliance on the prints and its discreet churnalism they might survive.

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  9. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    The content of the Bel Tel, The Independent, Irish Independent etc are virtually the same. Some even co-opt material from the Daily Telegraph, Guardian etc, presumably under license.
    It’s not actually ‘news’ just op-eds.
    If it wasn’t for horse-racing and deaths, the circulation would plummet.

    The demographics of those who actually buy a hard copy paper must be frightening for print journalists.

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  10. @MrPMartin,

    Knowledge of English in the Scandinavian nations may be quite high but not “everyone” speaks it. And that is hardly the point. Having a large population speaking a vernacular tongue has helped sustain newspapers which serve that particular tongue. Despite falling numbers newspapers in Scandinavia continue to do well out of serving niche language markets. According to the 2012 World Press Trends survey from WAN-IFRA “…Scandinavian and Alpine countries continue to have the highest readership of newspapers per capita”.

    Pippa Norris’ study in 2000 still holds, albeit to a lesser extent:

    “In Norway, for example, there are approximately 100 daily papers, mostly regional or local, and with subscription services most households take on average almost two newspapers every day. The largest Norwegian papers are national tabloids based in Oslo including VG (Verdens Gang), Aftenposten and Dagbladet, all with circulation figures of 200,000-400,000. Sweden is also characterized by high newspaper readership, again with a predominately regional and local press.”

    While there are many separate reasons for this, one reason is the preference of Norwegians and Swedes for news in their own language, including printed news. A large monolingual Irish-speaking population would have helped sustain Irish-printed newspapers in their language for longer than has been the case with the anglophone community. Instead the remnants of the anglophone Irish press will simply be swallowed up by their British rivals before they too succumb to the encroachment of web-based media.

    Of course all this is academic since we do not have a monolingual Irish-speaking majority to sustain separate Irish language press, print, publishing, TV, movie and music industries. Instead we allow UK, US and other anglophone markets to supply those needs while indigenous companies go to the wall or become parasitical arms of global conglomerates with no real interest in Ireland beyond revenue stripping.

    @Mick,

    The problem is the internet one one hand and the anglophone media in Ireland on the other that is simply unable to compete with anglophone markets elsewhere. Economies of scale. BBC versus RTÉ? No contest.

    But as I said, all academic :-(

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  11. MrPMartin (profile) says:

    But in Norway, Norwegian is the first language hence their preference for papers in their own language. Here, like it or lot, the first language is English both north and south for 95% of the population. Why should we be parochial and only buy Irish/NI papers anyway when there GB is a much more varied and interesting polity/cultural entity?

    It’s like asking people in Nebraska why they prefer to read about New York and not Hicksville. I never understood this obsession with the local. Localism is parochialism and anti meritocratic. When people support crap local bands and artists just
    Because they’re local, it means that a better more worthy band or artist fails to get the support they deserve

    Local papers only die because they deserve to due to lack of imagination. There’s nothing axiomatic about local being best

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  12. jojoclonee (profile) says:

    There is a more simple reason for the wide selection of newspapers in Sweden anyway and probably the rest of Scandinavia too. Newspapers whose circulation falls below a certain level are entitled to government subsidies. This ensures that minority views and opinions are heard. Something which I am sure would be of massivt benefit to our own society.

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  13. “But in Norway, Norwegian is the first language hence their preference for papers in their own language.”

    Which is the point I was making. A large monolingual Irish-speaking majority would have helped sustain an indigenous newspaper industry longer than the English-speaking majority has done so when the anglophone British press can simply dump into or swallow up the anglophone Irish market.

    Your opinion of Britain is entirely subjective. Should those people in Norway stop buying Norwegian newspapers and switch to British ones because Britain is in your opinion a politically and culturally superior entity?

    Your views of local make no sense. Everything is “local” to the people to whom it is local! Including to the British. Have you heard of “The Killing”? Have you heard of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”? They were local things that became international.

    Local newspapers die for many reasons, not simply because they are local.

    Of all which is of no import anyway. The heyday of the printed word is over. Newspapers are dying, in some places faster than others. Resorting to the crazy schemes advocated by some will not stop that slow decline.

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  14. MrPMartin (profile) says:

    so we should eschew a language to a another one just to support local papers? Lets have each council district speak its own language and we can have a plethora of newspapers and localism.

    Linguistic differences or anything that impedes free flowing communication between people’s only results in misunderstanding and suspicions. I support Englishnot because I think it’s superior but because de facto its the mostly widely spoken lingua franca in the world. If Irish held that mantle or Welsh or Korean I’d support those languages too.

    Lets live in the real world and not the one of fantasy. To eschew English would be eschewing the car and returning to the horse and cart

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  15. No, nor was that the point I was making. I stated that if the Irish press media had been more supportive of the rights of Irish-speakers and our equality before the law and encouraged the growth of the Irish-speaking communities they could have ensured their own future by creating a language market they could have served and which overseas media would have had little interest in wresting control of by dumping their own titles into the Irish market with little or zero local input.

    Funny, but I haven’t seen that many Germans riding around in horse and carts. Or other non-English speakers around western Europe. There is more to the world than English and English culture.

    I think we must agree to disagree on this one and leave it at that :-)

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