All change at the Irish Times from today…

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…

  • pippakin

    I think the trend toward charging for online subscriptions is the right and possibly only way for newspapers to go, but they must give as much attention to the online ‘paper’ as they do to the print one. The Journal.ie and others are leading the way into the future of news reporting. I wonder though if it will be even harder for them to maintain editorial balance. Its a tightrope.

  • Mick Fealty

    You can’t do it on subscriptions alone, at the moment. The deficit is in advertising. That’s where the big hole needs plugging. Whilst I think the Journal.ie is one of the more audicious online projects, for now it is mostly a repackaging job (which is fine, that’s kind of where Slugger came in).

    If in the process they find the missing economic key then we should all benefit…

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    No but it has to be included especially with advertising down so much. The days of easy advertising are long gone. Its funny if you watch, for eg, CNN you see adverts for Gucci if you watch channel x you see adverts for washing powder. You might see both on CNN but you will not see Gucci on x. Advertising is incredibly and increasingly targeted.

  • The ominous fact is that young people are becoming used to reading the news on their phones, i-pads, etc. Electronic media and the internet are probably going to make ever greater inroads into the news business. That is why quality newspapers in many parts of the world are in deep financial trouble – the Guardian, Le Monde, the Observer, etc.

    Part of the problem is that quality news is available for free on the internet. The Guardian site is free, as is the BBC. Murdoch has bitten the bullet and introduced charges for the online Times, but he has had to accept a much reduced readership as a result.

    It may sound mad, but all those papers and television news sites should try to agree some kind of a contract which will be to all their benefits. A contract which sets an agreed price for accessing online news. Without some kind of a deal (and it might include sharing correspondents too) it is hard to see how newspaper closures can be avoided. What they all have in common is the trust of their readers and the reputations that they have built up over many years. There is common ground and a common threat – surely a degree of co-operation in fighting that threat would be a sensible strategy?

  • PJ Maybe

    It’s a pity there isn’t some sort of grant available for websites who can’t support themselves through advertising or by selling subscriptions.

  • Mick Fealty

    There are trusts, but my fear that without some incentive to experiment, that approach will only sustain people in old models that just won’t work in the longer term.

  • Harry Flashman

    “That is why quality newspapers in many parts of the world are in deep financial trouble – the Guardian, Le Monde, the Observer, etc.”

    Hmmm, couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the “quality” of those papers isn’t actually as good as they think it is?

    The New York Times is the archetypal “quality” newspaper, the grand old lady of papers of record, yet they are going down the pan also, why?

    Well, because they have compromised their journalistic ethos and have become water carriers for the liberal establishment. You may hate Fox News, you may despise Murdoch, the Daily Mail may have you grinding your teeth in apoplectic rage but curiously enough they are all doing quite well in this era of competition between the so-called “old” media and the new media, as indeed are many left of centre websites and forums.

    The answer is really rather clear, stop the haut-en-bas, paternalistic, “we are ever so superior purveyors of perceived wisdom” mindset and start providing the punters with what they want.

    You may despise the masses, you may feel that you know what’s best for them but if you expect them to provide you with a big fat index linked, state subsidised (RTE, BBC, the Guardian, you do know who I’m talking about don’t you?) salary and pension well you better stop insulting their intelligences and start giving them the information they want.

    Trust me the eleventy gazillionth story about how global warming will effect the forest dwelling tribes of New Guinea isn’t really what people are looking to spend their hard earned cash on these days.

  • Greenflag

    [Play the ball! – Mods]

    @pippakin

    ‘Advertising is incredibly and increasingly targeted.’

    Thats the crux of the matter. New search engine technology and ‘cookies’ and a whole paraphanalia of personal data trackers even unto the cell phone has made it possible for advertisers to focus more on their target markets . Once upon a time it was believed /estimated that half the money spent on advertising was wasted and one way to add to the bottom line was to find out which half of the advertising budget was being wasted . Nowadays that’s not as difficult or as costly as it once would have been .

    The broadsheets are in effect Russian fronted being attacked from all sides . Not all species adapt quickly enough to survive in nature when environmental change is underway and ditto in business in this new Anthropocenic Era .

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ve been having a civil discussion with The Dissenter on another of our fora on whether profitablity and quality are consonant when the general business model for papers is screwed. I’m not a francophone so I cannot say for sure but Le Monde is held in some suspicion by senior British and French hacks because of the shed loads of cash it’s had from the public purse over the years.

    That said, some bundles work and some don’t. The Economist and the FT are hardly rabid or right wing, but they have a segment of the market which doesn’t mind the cover price, and an advertising world that will still bet on the brand to get at its influential audience.

    But we can’t all want the Daily Mail, who have done remarkably well to retain their advantage in volume sales.

  • pippakin

    “But we can’t all want the Daily Mail, who have done remarkably well to retain their advantage in volume sales.”

    I never read the Daily Mail on the grounds that I completely disagree with everything in it, but credit where credit is due it knows its market and panders to it ruthlessly.

  • How much of the Daily Mail circulation are actually sales, not giveaways? You used to be able to get free newspapers on business class flights. Now you can only get the Daily Mail.

    I suppose that makes business sense if they rely on advertising.

  • Harry Flashman

    “I never read the Daily Mail on the grounds that I completely disagree with everything in it”

    How do you know if you never read it?

  • pippakin

    Harry Flashman

    Is the Pope a Catholic?