Why Ireland’s press must up its act

Fiona Field on why newspapers needs to make a more concerted effort to convince advertisers about the value of print

Not long ago, I read an article in the Irish Times by its business affairs correspondent Mark Paul lamenting the changes in Independent News & Media (INM) by new owner Mediahuis. In the article, entitled ‘The more it changes at INM, the more it stays the same’, Paul drew attention to the closure of the INM printing press inferring it was contributing to the darkening mood in Talbot Street. In today’s media, change is critical.

Having grown up in a family publishing business, The Southern Star, I have always felt surrounded by newspapers of every shape and size at home. My late father, Liam O’Regan, who still holds the record for the longest-serving editor in Europe, was passionate about the power of newspapers and their impact on influencing and shaping society for the better.

As a young person growing up in Skibbereen, I would visit the newspaper and witness the full force of the printing press, complete with that memorable smell of ink and marvel how everything would magically come together on printing day. Today, I wonder what my father would have thought of the media landscape and how greatly things have changed.

As Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates once famously remarked: “We always over-estimate the change that will occur in the next two years and under-estimate the change that will occur in the next 10”. Brands that forget to account for long-term changes will inevitably be confined to the history books. A Kodak engineer invented the first digital camera back in 1975.

Kodak’s leaders relied heavily on where their profit was coming from, which in their case was film and they failed to recognise the impact of the disruptive technology that rendered the long-respected photographic powerhouse obsolete, resulting in it fading faster than their once renowned family photos having been left in the sunlight a tad too long.

Evidence is crucial: Operating as a collective means an independently researched focus on the big numbers. Without the right evidence, there is no argument. Trust is the secret weapon and news media  need to double down on bringing it more to the fore. In an era of fake news, trust wins out and advertisers look to reliable media partners, as brand safety issues unfold.


In the same manner, Blockbuster survived the move from VHS to DVD, but relied on their significant store presence as a defence against innovation, while Netflix began quietly delivering DVDs to people’s homes. Once powerful brands like Yahoo rested on their laurels and lost their way, even passing on the opportunity to buy both Google and Facebook.

News media groups face the same problem, where most profits are still being generated from print, despite the heavy investment in digital, bringing the daunting challenge of investing in the very thing that will continue to put pressure on circulation. Brands today need to reflect on the business they are in and take the necessary steps to future proof against disruptors.

In the case of INM, they took the right action and focused on the fact that they are a media company first, not a printer company, allowing them to focus on the business of media.

What was also worrying however, is the nature of one media company attacking another.

MINISTER FOR MEDIA

The news media business is under fire and what is needed is a rally of troops to get its house in order. To do so, leaders of news media organisations must set aside their differences and start lobbying fast and hard as a collective, to ensure that indigenous media companies not alone survive but prosper. The only way to gain pace is to lobby the government.

Appointing a Minister for Media should surely be a necessity for the next government as it goes about tackling a multitude of important challenges. Important policy issues like zero vat, copyright, defamation, freedom of the press all have the power to impact the fabric of our society and a focus on these areas is badly needed to effect greater change faster.

NEED FOR MORE PROOF

Newsbrands recently commissioned research with B&A showing that Irish newspaper buyers contribute €1.9 billion annually to the retail sector. Powerful stats, but where is the rest of the evidence? The last set of JNRS figures came out back in 2015 and those big numbers that are pushed out for other media, are sorely missing from the newspaper industry.

In 2018, we saw the first green shoots of the investment in digital with the New York Times reporting a $709 million investment in digital revenue. It is a race against time and the only way to win it is to gain momentum, work together and challenge the status quo to ensure a strong indigenous media in Ireland. One thing’s for certain, we need to do better in 2020.

Fiona Field is deputy managing director at Mediaworks and board director of IAPI

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