The Irish Times deserves to see off the Murdoch threat but needs to do better, especially on the North

The Irish Times reports that it is launching “ full proceedings” against the Times ( of London ) following its failure to win an injunction against the Murdoch- owned paper in its bid to use the title “The Times Irish edition” for a new digital edition of the paper linked to a subscription for Sunday Times version which already exists. This move will be very expensive and a sign that the Irish Times board believes much is at stake.

For overseas readers , in the US for example, I can see the scope for confusion and the threat to the Irish Times. The lively Sunday Times version tends to rely on prior knowledge of the context of the stories. I doubt if a daily Times digital edition would offer more original reporting to fill the gap. The Times’ reporting range is limited enough already and it would be expensive to increase it for such a small market, even if the diaspora is included. This looks a squeeze in already difficult market, with little gain for readers.

The Irish Times is run by a trust and just about manages to make money in tough times. The historic dominance by Protestants which long survived the transition from support for unionism, has quietly disappeared.

Sales of The Irish Times fell 6.3 per cent in July-December 2014 compared with the same period in 2013. The newspaper’s print circulation stands at 76,882.

The Irish Times Digital Edition has daily sales of 2,951, taking the combined net sale for the print and digital editions to 79,833. The Sunday Times, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s company News UK, recorded sales of 86,059, down 7.1 per cent year-on-year.

The Irish Times remains the Republic’s ” paper of record” of national and international developments, relying on syndication to fill gaps it cannot afford to cover itself. Since the end of the Troubles, it does not attempt to cover the North on equal terms with the south . This no doubt reflects commercial reality but there will be many readers who regret this.

While it has developed Opinion and covers the fast changing trends in society and lifestyle pretty well, it has faired less well in developing news analysis and backgrounders of equally fast changing economic and other developments. This applies equally to northern affairs where the lack of in- depth reporting is glaring. There is a gap there waiting to be filled that people who are keen to develop north-south relationships on both sides of the border  might actually pay for.

Still, any serious threat to the Irish Times would disastrous for Ireland as a whole.

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