If Northern Ireland’s largest regional newspaper, the Belfast Telegraph is experiencing troubles, then so is Ireland’s smallest and punchiest title, Daily Ireland. Belfast City Council has just rejected a bid to have DI included in its advertising list of approved national daily papers. The sticking point appears to be lack of a rating from the NI Target Group Index – a portfolio of surveys which provides information on audiences and their attitudes towards consumer goods and services. The decision comes in the wake of a draft report as part of a review of public expenditure on government advertising spends, which notes:
The custom and practice around public notice advertising owes much to a period when newspapers were the principal form of communication. Greater use needs to be made of the opportunities presented by the Internet and other new methods need to be assessed.
In regards to the print media it identifies several key factors currently in play:
• An increased number of titles;
• Falling readership and circulation;
• Media cost inflation;
• Cost differential – government should not pay an increased price for classified versus the ’run of paper’;
• Value – some titles are charging government a premium;
• Weekly press – limited research information is available for weekly titles;
• Audited circulation – there is a lack of audited figures for some titles.
To this it is careful to note that verification of circulation is essential in a market with an increased number of players and a reduced number of readers:
AVB – the press market in Northern Ireland has changed significantly. Changes include the launch of Daily Ireland and the Belfast Telegraph morning edition. There has also be a significant change in ownership with Johnston Press purchasing both Morton’s and Local Press Limited. The comments in respect of press are valid. Fundamentally, the government should not pay a premium to advertise in the local press. The sheer number of local paid-for titles is a sad reflection of our divided community.
We would be very supportive of any initiatives to make weekly press more accountable. Like government, we feel that an independently audited circulation should be a minimum requirement and have been lobbing all weekly press titles to adopt ABC. By insisting on an independently audited circulation government will increase accountability in this sector. We would also welcome
a weekly press readership survey covering all titles – government may need to consider funding such a survey to ensure that this is robust and covers all paid for weekly titles.
It goes on to argue that all newspapers should have their circulation figures audited before government should spend money with them, suggesting there could be exceptions for some magazines with circulations of less than 5,000 for the purposes of hitting minority groups.
However, in the case of Daily Ireland, any future index rating may not address one major underlying problem: ie the total figure of papers sold island wide is so small it could be difficult to identify a clear and targetable demographic. It sells less nationally than its locally popular stablemate the Andersonstown News.
We predict this is a battle the paper will have to perserve with for some time, in hopes that it can reverse early trends begin to eat into the substantial lead of all its rivals.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty