I’ve been a big fan from the earliest times I took up reading papers seriously. And for a long time, living in England, I could not get the Irish Times. Indeed, what really switched me on to the Internet was those first flickering images of the paper’s masthead in the cupboard/study into which I’d sequestered my first connected computer.
Like many in the industry, the Internet was never the outgoing Madame Editor’s strongest card. But in her farewell speech, she outlines some of the value of the product she spent much of the last nine years honing:
“I know that there are those, inside and outside The Irish Times , who found me awkward, exacting about our verification processes, keenly aware of our responsibility given our influence – but the guiding light always for me was to produce an independent, quality newspaper.
“The most difficult challenges for any editor are the internal and external threats to our journalism. They range from the mundane, such as operating within our diminished means, which is hugely challenging in the current economic and internet environment, to the daily and incessant demand from diverse interests to control our editorial content.
“I would hope that I will be judged to have stood the line against attempts to fetter and control our independent journalism.
Amen to that Geraldine!
“Journalists like to think that press freedom is all about them. But it is not. It is about the public’s right to know; your right as readers and citizens. The freedom of expression, enshrined in the Constitution, is your freedom and we exist to serve your right to know in a democracy.”
But it is the Irish Independent that cuts to the real economic challenge facing the new editor and managing director: making quality journalism pay in the new dis-aggregated era:
It is seeking cost reductions of some €2m, which means staff cuts of between 20 and 30 people out of around 420. Last year staff were hit with pay cuts of between 5pc and 20pc.
The newspaper is also fighting falling circulation as the industry copes with the difficult economic environment.
In 2009 — its most recent accounts — The Irish Times Limited booked a €27.9m loss after tax. The company was “not profitable” last year and it has been speculated that that trend has continued into this year.
The good news is that none of their direct rivals have cracked the problem of how to make money from news. But some of the new kids on the block, like journal.ie who are actively and interestingly trying to solve the economic problem, will be well worth watching.
The net is giving rise to a new and complex economics in which ownership both of the means of production and distribution has been cannibalized and redistributed (to the people) for a long time before the industry began to recognize the danger.
This threatens established quality players like the Irish Times (and its real, as opposed to professed, capacity to hold power to account), but it also offers them a complex range of new opportunities.
I can only wish the new editor, Kevin O’Sullivan and his staff, bon voyage…