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 According to Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, further funding from Foras na Gaeilge was to be withdrawn if the Belfast Media Group (BMG) were to unilaterally withdraw the print version (it’s understood to have about 4000 2000 in circulation, though there is no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?

  • fair_deal

    Mick

    “(it’s understood to have about 4000 in circulation, though there is no figure for how many sold copies that contains)”

    OC on the other thread gave the following figures:

    “(Lá Nua’s internet PDF edition was attracting a readership of up to 30,000 per month, coupled with sales of approximately 2,000 copies per day)”

  • Darren Mac an Phríora

    There is also Feasta as well.

    Hopefully another newspaper will win the contract. Gaeilgeoirí would be better served with having a large supplement in The Irish News- or any other ‘paper- rather than have a small newspaper that is owned by the Anderstown News Group/Belfast Media Group.

    There are some good journalists and columnists with Lá Nua. However the ‘paper is too focused on the North of Ireland and language rights. Perhaps language rights are needed in the North but we have them in the South and most gaeilgeoirí are not intersted in hearing about them or indeed are not interested in hearing stories “about” Irish.

  • sms

    Darren mac an phrora
    a supplement in the Irish News would hardly reach the gaeilgeoiri in the south would it?

    as far as the focus on the North goes.I believe the editor works and lives in west Cork and four other employees live and work in west Donegal while the rest work from Belfast.Say what you will about LÁ but it is surely an all Ireland paper.

  • An Lochlannach

    A bit of clarification on Comhar. The intention is to re-apply for funding in the near future. The current board of the magazine is stronger than for some time. They seem to be considering a re-appraisal of Comhar, in the hope of finding a distinctive role for the magazine. They handed out questionnaires to the participants at the Cumann Merriman School in Westport last weekend, asking their views on what Comhar needs to do.

    By the way Mick, cheers for providing the link to Hearts and Minds.

  • Mick Fealty

    Déanann sinn ar dhícheall…

  • Laaargh!

    The BMG never published the circulation figures for Lá, probably because they were so low. The paper was getting worse and worse, substituting more and more opinions and campaign platforms for hard stories – ‘columnism’ taken to the limits.

    Plus there were all the space-fillers – larger and larger photographs, word-for-word Dáil and Assembly debates (mostly in English) and the worst of all – Monday’s double-page spread of the previous week’s headlines!! The lights were on but…

    Also it was a very dubious as a ‘daily’ – it took a week off at Christmas and was never published during a bank holiday in the South.

    As is usual from the BMG, the blame is heaped on everyone else – lack of British government advertisers and Foras not giving enough. Leaving aside the fact that few Irish speakers actually read it!How about ya, Daily Ireland!

  • RG Cuan

    A circulation of a few thousand is normal for minority language newspapers. Similar publications all over Europe receive funding from different sources and Lá Nua shouldn’t be any different.

    It is an important resource for the Irish language community and hopefully will be saved, if not by Foras na Gaeilge, by its readers.

  • It’s good to see reasoned debate on this subject and I’ve said a fair bit on Gonzo’s thread already so perhaps those who are not up to speed can catch up there.

    There are a few points to make. I’m not sure it’s useful to connect Lá Nua to the Belfast Media Group’s other projects, the Irish Echo, as Lá Nua, for a start, is only part owned by BMG (the other 50% of the shares are held by 50 share holders at £1,000 each). Not much granted but it does exist and that is the legal composition of the company. However I see that the temptation does exist to link the two in order to take a cheap pot shot at Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and the Belfast Media Group and to have a sly snigger, it seems to me, at the fact that ten people will, if no Deus Ex Machina intervenes, be without a job at the end of February. But for the weaker among us, a chance to take a pot shot at Máírtín Ó Muilleoir and never mind the small fry is too much to resist….

    If it were just a job, perhaps that would be fine. But this is more than a job to these people. They have put their hearts and souls into this project and it was within £2,000 per week of coming off…that’s all we’re talking about. And that could easily be made up by two or three ads each per week from the governments on either side of the border.

    It should also be noted that the Foras HAS NOT decided to end support for Lá Nua. The Chief Executive, Ferdie Mac an Fhailigh, no doubt acting according to his lights, has taken the view that Lá would be contravening its contract by going to the internet alone. Notwithstanding that it would be a cost neutral option, Lá could actually turn a profit by doing this and could invest more in the paper and its further development.

    While ‘Laargh’ has a valid point to make about the inclusion of filler material, there are valid arguments for the inclusion of Dail and Assembly debates about the Irish language and relataed issues, the newspaper has grown from a 12 page per week broadsheet in 2003 to a 16 page colour tabloid per day (five times a week) in 2008. At 80 pages a week, this is twice the amount of pages published by Foinse and the quality is on a par or better in Lá Nua with better columnists and sharper design and layout. That may be biased – but I challenge anyone to stand Foinse against Lá Nua and argue that the Galway based paper with the Conamara focus is better than Lá Nua’s all Ireland coverage. Yet Foinse gets a grant which is 50% more than Lá Nua’s plus a host of government ads every week. It doesn’t compute. What measurement did Foras na Gaeilge use to make this decision?

    It should also be pointed out that Foinse’s inflated circulation can be attributed to a very sneaky distribution deal they have with the Irish Independent by which Foras na Gaeilge pays that newspaper to distribute 180,000 copies of the weekly paper once a year with its nationwide paper and then the 180,000 copies are averaged out over 52 weeks with a resultant 3,000+ boost to Foinse’s sales figures.

  • Darren is more than a little naive if he thinks that ”the Irish News or any other paper than have a small newspaper that is owned by the Anderstown News Group/Belfast Media Group” is going to take up where Lá Nua left off. It just isn’t going to happen. And Mick is naive with his supposed sums which have the Foras enjoying a £200,000 windfall which they can spend on another newspaper. What Mick doesn’t factor in is that the Foras will probably be unable to get another taker for this contract by year’s end as they will probably first of all have a six month long review about what they should do about the publishing sector and then decide to give the money back to the two governments. If you don’t believe they would do this, then ask yourself this question: Why has the Foras failed to issue accounts for the years 2003-2007? Why indeed?

    The Foras has a dilemma now, brought about by the precipitate action of its chief executive. The board’s next meeting isn’t until March, by which time, unless we have an act of God (or the Chuckle Brothers or the Orange Order’s latest benefactor, Eamon Dev Óg Ó Cuív) Lá will be no more. So unless they hold an emergency meeting in the meantime, this will be a fait accompli. And then the Foras will have as the first remark in its report card – succeeded in closing down Lá Nua, Ireland’s only Irish language daily. Given that the last remark in the last Foras’ report card read like: closed down Comhar, they’ll have already trumped the outgoing lot.

    I happen to believe that the members of the Foras will not go down this route and I hope that they take this into their own hands rather than allowing Lá go by default. That would be the worst possible outcome because then they will have no defence whatsoever the next time they’re at an Irish language event when they’re told that what they did was wrong and caused incalculable damage to the Irish language. I believe that they have vision enough to see the bigger picture and to bear with Lá Nua a little longer will make a significant difference to its fortunes.

    What the Foras could do is either give an extra £100,000 or opt for the cost neutral internet online option until the end of this year when Lá’s contract will be put to tender once more anyhow. That would give whatever putative ‘other papers other than the Andytown News’ to get their ducks in a row for a bid if that’s what they’re interested in.

    This would not be a breach of contract as much a tweaking of it to adapt to changed circumstances.

    That’s the picture as I see it and if any body has any reasonable questions, I’m happy to answer them.

  • The Devil

    Time for Millar to go,
    There is nothing else for it, he is a proven failure, he has the reverse midas touch, everything he touches turns to crap

  • gaelgannaire

    The FnaG grant, in keeping with their ideology, was simply never enough for a stand alone publication. They always wanted to promote a daily supplement.

  • howth calling

    At least this means that the next time an Irish fundamentalist is told there is no way a daily newspaper can be viable in that language, he can’t stick his fingers in his ears and say ‘la, la, la, la can’t hear you’…

    Seriously, tho…first DI, then the southern SF reversal, THEN the vetoing of the Irish Language Act, now this. It hasn’t been such a bad year for modern, non sectarian, non tribal Ireland.

  • I think this comment exemplifies the blind bigotry of some who think than an Ireland without Irish is somehow non-tribal. That an Ireland where a unionism which doesn’t accomodate the Irish identity in any way and then whinges to the Sunday Tribune, for example, about the GAA playing the Irish National Anthem is non sectarian.

  • Dk

    OC: “It should also be pointed out that Foinse’s inflated circulation can be attributed to a very sneaky distribution deal they have with the Irish Independent by which Foras na Gaeilge pays that newspaper to distribute 180,000 copies of the weekly paper once a year with its nationwide paper and then the 180,000 copies are averaged out over 52 weeks with a resultant 3,000+ boost to Foinse’s sales figures.”

    This is what Lá should have done. But ideology came first….

    Time to lobby Poots.

  • Danny

    “It hasn’t been such a bad year for modern, non sectarian, non tribal Ireland.”

    Okay, I’ll bite. If you want to be “more English than the English themselves” so be it. But don’t pretend that having an Irish language daily is backwards and sectarian. That’s BS. There’s nothing unreasonable about multilingualism. There’s certainly nothing unreasonable about speaking and reading Irish *IN* Ireland. North or South. In fact, it would be expected of any native language in most countries. Just because Ireland is almost alone in Europe (let’s not forget Britain) in having a largely monolingual population, doesn’t mean striving to change that is a bad thing.

    Having Lá Nua based in Belfast may have been a bad thing. It certainly makes it easier for trolls/dinosaurs to make idiotic comments. The language issue is decidedly more political in NI. Plenty of indifference, like in the Republic, but with a larger serving of ignorance.

  • Danny

    Lá Nua has offices in Donegal (Gaoth Dobhair) and Belfast and its editor work from home – which is Cúil Aodha in the West Cork Gaeltacht. So it truly has a national spread. However there is a perception, I grant, that because it is based in the north and because it’s in the north that most of the juicy language stories occur and that Lá is always first to the punch, that it is an ‘overly northern’ paper. That perception is also fed by rampant partitionism in the south….

    DK

    I don’t think it’s a question of ideology winning out. The reason Lá Nua wouldn’t be distributed with another paper is two fold – it would be too expensive and we didn’t have the budget. And secondly, while there was a paper that might have accomodated us, that paper, unfortunately or otherwise, is no longer with us.

  • Dewi

    Confusion here as well – Not good days for the celtic language press.

  • Mick Fealty

    Oili is right. Foras has a bit of a problem. It is likely that given the budget offered in the original tender, widespread distribution would always have been problematic. That is something it should have factored in before making the award.

    Another £100,000 (50% of the original budget) is a major commitment, given that the main plank in the business plan has fallen through. If there was a sign of a rescue plan, ‘ala Northern Rock’, there should be a strong case made to continue funding until the end of the year. But can Foras take the risk with public money of simply ploughing it back into a fatally flawed business without an exit strategy?

    Which brings me to what is really puzzling in all of this: i.e. the idea that neither BMG or Foras could have predicted the absence of government ads. Leaving aside the fact that Daily Ireland foundered on that self same rock, a review of public expenditure noted two years ago (ie a full year before the current contract was awarded) that verification of circulation is essential in a market with an increased number of players and a reduced number of readers. I’ve not yet seen any verified figures for LN other than the ones kindly offered by Oili. Even these are substantially down on what they were four or five years ago, when the figure I had was 3.4k.

    Given these imperatives, it cannot be a surprise to anyone (Foras included) that the new devolved institutions have declined to advertise in a paper with such low figures.

    Foras has not made any friends in any of this. By settling for a business plan that was light by some £100,000 grand it has left 10 people’s jobs in the balance, and of course the Irish News will also have reason to grumble since it lost the contract to a seriously under powered rival tender.

    If Oili is right, and the £200k previously earmarked for Irish language development simply disappears from the Foras pot, that would be the last bitter icing on the cake.

  • RG Cuan

    FnaG can’t let Lá Nua go under. As has been pointed out, the extra money would improve the paper’s standing and ability to overcome some of the problems outlined. Publishing on the internet for a period of time would also enable Lá Nua to save funds and reinvest in the future.

  • Given these imperatives it is cannot be a surprise to anyone (Foras included) that the new devolved institutions have declined to advertise in a paper with such low figures

    While I accept that this point is made in a good spirit, the reason that government departments are NOT advertising in Lá Nua is not down to low circulation figures. It’s down to a politically motivated decision typified by Michael McGimpsey’s decision to make a political issue of not continuing with the £150,000 budget for Irish language ads last October. It should be factored in that Lá Nua only got a fraction of this budget – approximately £10-£15,000. The rest went, absolutely wastefully, on bilingual ads in English language newspapers.

  • URQUHART

    “Oili is right. Foras has a bit of a problem. It is likely that given the budget offered in the original tender, widespread distribution would always have been problematic. That is something it should have factored in before making the award. ”

    Again I ask, if BMG can’t deliver on this level of grant, why can Foras not go back to the unsuccessful bidder, The Irish News, and see if they can?

    Seems very simple to me if they’re interested in saving the paper.

  • RG Cuan

    URQUHART

    Lá Nua hasn’t stopped yet so the contract isn’t up for grabs.

    If it did come to an end however i imagine the Irish News would be interested again. That said, the Irish News have little clout or no in the south and the thought of trying to run another All-Ireland Irish language publication from Belfast might make them think twice.

  • fair_deal

    AFAIK FnG have little option from a legal stand-point. This was a publicly tendered contract not a grant application (which would have had a greater degree of flexibility). Thus, the fundamental change requested by BMG would not have been possible.

    If FnG had agreed to such a change I would have thought it wouldn’t have taken the Irish News too long to get down to the High Court. There isn’t exactly any love lost between IN and BMG.

  • Urquhart is naive in the extreme if he believes the Irish News lost out because its proposal would cost less than Lá Nua. It’s more than likely that Foras na Gaeilge calculated it would be cheaper to offer the contract to Lá Nua because they calculated coldly that the newspaper which has survived on a shoestring throughout its existence could be strung along another while. If the Foras were to offer the contract to the Irish News now it would a) cost them more and b) not have the All Ireland reach that Lá Nua has (the Irish News does not sell beyond Dundalk!).

  • Misty

    According to the Irish News, La Nua proposed to go web only which would violate the Foras funding, which is £20,000 per month thru Dec 08 for a print edition. They are half way through the grant. So how is that Foras fault? It appears that La Nua can’t budget and mismanged something along the way. Why then does it become Foras’ responsibilty to bail the management out? And let us remember the track record of this management is not so hot.

    The question is what has changed that means La Nua cannot operate on the budget it had been sustaining prior to this need for an influx of cash?

  • RG Cuan

    MISTY

    Lá Nua has always made it clear that the initial funding was not sufficient. Foras is there to assist Irish language projects, and a daily newspaper is one of the most important.

  • Misty

    So, please clarify for me if I am confused, La Nua won the contract from Foras for the money to print the newspaper. But La Nua underbid, and, halfway through the funding, its now a case of chickens coming home to roost? And BMG is blaming Foras for this, that Foras should have known they would run out of money halfway through and should be willing to admend the contract or pony up more cash now?

  • It’s not a question of Lá Nua under-bidding, it’s the fact that the Foras were not going to spend the type of money required to do the job properly and they calculated that Lá Nua, because its team was fully committed to the project, would pick up the slack. Lá Nua took the contract because it was travelling in the expectation that public ads from north and south would flow once it had ‘official’ status as the newspaper endorsed by the cross border body. The cross border body never went to bat for Lá Nua to help it get that business or to open doors for it. That’s the way I see it….

  • Misty

    Ok, La Nua’s proposal was based on projected earnings from government ads (i.e., more government subsidies) which did not appear. How is that Foras fault, and not the management of La Nua, who, presumably, had already been burned once at the same lark with Daily Ireland? It’s everyone else’s fault but managements? Foras is too cheap? La Nua did Foras a favour by taking the contract despite it not being enough money to actually fufil its terms?

    How very charitable of La Nua.

  • I think the most charitable poster here is yourself Misty.

    I have pointed out the facts – you charitably throw around wild suppositions based on your own ignorance and petty prejudices.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Good point on the $4 million New York “investment”. If BMG is that committed to an Irish language publication, why is it quibbling over DoE planning notices that would cost more to translate than to publish while O’Millionaire jets back and forth across the Atlantic pretending he’s an international media tycoon?

  • Misty

    You say tomahto, I say toemayto. I know I am not being charitable. I’m a bit fed up with the poor-mouth, blame-everyone-else, the-world-is-coming-to-an-end-an-no-one-will-ever-speak-Irish-again, precious attitude emanating from certain quarters. Especially so when it’s an also-ran, the same dribble we were treated to when Daily Ireland was run into the ground on the same bad business practices. Only this time Foras is the bad guy, but only just, because you still have the hand out.

    Basically, La Nua took the contract hoping Foras or some government agency would pitch in the missing money down the line. Foras isn’t for budging (yet), Stormont isn’t going as planned, and the ads from the government aren’t forthcoming. BMG doesn’t have the money in its stable to cover the shortfall, or doesn’t want to spare the cash – perhaps too much is tied up overseas to be readily available, or maybe management at La Nua wants to use emotional blackmail to push for more money from the government forums before they reach into their own pockets.

    It is interesting, as Mick noted, that BMG had $4mil to invest in the Irish Echo, but can’t spare £100,000 to sort La Nua out.

  • Mick Fealty

    The point about the IN not having a thirty two county distribution system is well made. Though, to be fair, they do have a substantial readership in the border counties. There may be other ways they can get the product out to Irish speakers in the rest of the Republic.

    Oili’s point about Ministerial decisions is an useful one, and one which it would be good to see more detail on. What I still don’t get though is how this money could have featured as core funding in the business plan if it was going to be subject to an arbitrary decision by a single Stormont Minister?

    Which itself raises another question: is the missing piece in this puzzle the ‘missing’ Irish Language Act? By everything that was in the public domain by last March, the likelihood of that Act ever getting to law seemed slim to impossible once Stormont was re-activated, despite some seemingly disingenuous arguments to the contrary.

    Was Foras confident enough to sign off on a business plan dependent upon other streams being released under a future Act, or was it simply taking a gamble that those revenues being passed along by a nationalist Health Minister? Either way (or another) someone’s gone right out on a limb here. The next question surely is why?

    BTW, the online petition has 52 signatories so far:

    http://tinyurl.com/2a35f8

  • Shore Road Resident

    Foras may have taken a gamble because the BMG has an inexplicably good reputation for business acumen. It may be high time, and good for all concerned (especially the Irish language community) to puncture this perception once and for all. Consider the facts: the bedrock of BMG’s commercial success is the Andytown News and the North Belfast News, which like all dominant local newspapers in Northern Ireland constitute two licences to print money (even without the Curley’s ads).
    But even this has been propped up with huge subsidies down the years, including a print plant. Otherwise the BMG is a business disaster, not just in terms of Daily Ireland, which admittedly was not quite as mad an idea an advance as it turned out to be with hindsight, but with the New York investment which was paid for by selling profitable local newspaper investments in the Republic.

    The common thread running through BMG’s business conduct is the ego of its management, not helped by a political bubble mentality the papers themselves do so much to promote, allied with a belief that handouts are not just as fundamental as cover price and ad revenue to income but are actually more fundamental, being essentially a tribal entitlement. This is the backward thinking of another era.

  • URQUHART

    “the Irish News have little clout or no in the south ” Perhaps, but it seems that it certainly has more clout than La Nua. My only point was that if they can deliver a newspaper on the same terms as the original contract they should be allowed to do it.

    That is, of course, assuming that MO’M and BMG are being genuine, rather than trying to use the media to strong arm Foras into handing over more dough.

  • RG Cuan

    Oh i think they’re genuine alright – MÓM has forked out thousands for Lá over the years but it now seems that’s no longer an option.

  • Mick Fealty

    Additional to that point Urq, with a circulation of just 2000, there can be very few places in the Republic where LN is currently for sale that the IN is not.

  • Harry

    How’s the Polish supplement in the Evening Herald doing these days? Still motoring along doing a brisk trade?

  • That’s not the case Mick as I know well from travelling throughout the south. I’ll gladly compare sales of Lá Nua with those of the Irish News south of Dundalk.

    But the Irish News isn’t even a runner at this stage. If it were, it would already have said so. And as I pointed out they would never do it for the amount of money currently needed by Lá Nua, never. That’s my intuition on that point and, in a way, I hope I’m wrong. I want there to be an Irish language daily newspaper. I just don’t think the English language media are going to provide the platform to do it effectively at the same level as Lá Nua was doing it.

  • did I say was doing it – is doing it is what I mean!

  • Shore Road Resident

    [text removed – play the ball! – mods]

  • Mick Fealty

    Just had this from the Irish News, as a correction to some of the information I’d given above:

    “The Irish News would like to confirm that we are available in over 2,000 outlets in all parts of the Republic of Ireland on the morning of publication. We would also like to confirm that it is our overall ABC circulation, and not our readership, which stands at just under 50,000.Our readership in Northern Ireland alone, according to the
    most recent TGI NI report, is 180,000.”

  • Quaysider

    I’ve bought the Irish News in Cahersiveen, which is about as far away from Belfast as you can get without getting your feet wet. In fact I’ve never had a problem buying the Irish News when I’ve wanted to buy it, wherever. It’s just the garages that don’t seem to stock it.

  • RG Cuan

    Buying the Irish News down south is one thing, trying to buy an Irish language paper with an Irish language title is another.

    Uninterested shopowners have a tendency of forgetting about non-English papers or placing them carelessly under the English language titles, especially the Farmers’ Journal or the Weekly World News – just ask any Lá Nua or Foinse reader.

  • kelly d

    “BTW, the online petition has 52 signatories so far:

    http://tinyurl.com/2a35f8

    Thanks, Mick. I don’t know how much good signing on does, but it’s something I can do from here (Chicago). I’m signature no. 222 (and coincidentally, no. 222 on another petiion to Ciste Craoltóireachta. Hmmm.)

  • The Devil

    Has Millar been sacked yet

  • RG Cuan

    Maith thú Kelly. Bíonn sé i gcónaí deas tacaíocht a fháil ó Ghaeil na Stát Aontaithe!

  • Danny

    Interesting how some people seem incapable of using the síneadh fada. Or perhaps they just don’t want to.

    Greetings from Nohrtern Ierland.

  • kelly d

    Danny,

    Who’s fada-free? Samplaí?