La Nua, Foras and the BMG…

Gonzo picked up on the news that La Nua is to close by the end of this month. Along with the closure of the magazine Comhar this is a serious dent in the Irish language provision, leaving only Foinse and Colm O’Torna’s magnum opus, Saol as a regular print provision. According to Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, further funding from Foras na Gaeilge was to be withdrawn if the Belfast Media Group (BMG) were to unilaterally withdraw the print version (it’s understood to have about 4000 2000 in circulation, though there is no figure for how many sold copies that contains) for the internet version.

Update: two updates from Máirtín this evening. One to clarify that BMG is looking for another £100,000 to meet its expenses. And a second this evening clarifying that the plan to go internet only has officially been ditched.There is some hope amongst staff that someone will step in and take over the running of the paper, either buying it as a going concern or taking it over under some other arrangement. The other option is that the British or Irish governments step in with advertising spend. But since they are disappearing from its larger titles, and as the Belfast Media Group is already locked in dispute with the one British Irish authority for funding the Irish language, it would appear to be a forlorn hope.

Ten staff have reportedly been put on notice, presumably including the paper’s own chief executive and head of marketing, and a Deputy Editor who was only appointed to post last week.

Indeed much of this provokes more questions than answers. Slugger understands that the website was extra to that required in the original tender document. On that basis, the company may have believed that with such low circulation figures for the print version that Foras might have taken their ‘offer’ more positively. What we don’t know is the extent to which the company’s website offering weighed in Foras’s decision to give the contract to BMG rather than the rival bid from the Irish News.

It was the second time in five or six years that BMG had beaten their larger rivals to such a contract. Although the Irish News proposal was not for a stand alone publication, it would have piggybacked an Irish language suppliment on the paper’s circulation; providing nearly 50,000 readers per day.

With only half the money in the original contract paid out to BMG (which a year after its binding agreement with Foras, it now argues is insufficient), there is in theory up to £200,000 available for another company to produce a daily Irish language publication.

On previous occasions, the committee responsible for the funding package has resiled from confrontation, particularly considering the potential for job losses in Belfast and Donegal. But there has been a change of personnel at the top of the organisation, with Liam Mulvihill, formerly Director General of the GAA, taking over this week. There is no telling which way this is going.

It also raises the question of that if things are so tight at BMG on a relatively small project like La Nua, how is its much larger capital investment (worth a cool $4 million) faring on the other side of the Atlantic?

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

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