Is Ireland’s Traditional Media Destined for Failure?
2015 is shaping up as a landmark year for Ireland’s media. But have the aging contenders fallen too far behind the play to keep up?
RTE’s Brian Dobson stated that it was a potent mix of “risk and ratings” that saw our national broadcaster “devour good editorial practice.” This ‘slip’ ended in the Fr Reynolds’ libel case while also igniting the largest crisis of conscience that RTE has ever witnessed.
Dobson cites the broadcaster’s appetite for “edgy” journalism as the problem, and they’re not alone in this boat. All traditional media are competing to win the consumer amid the boom in digital media. And, just like fathers trying to act hip at their teenager’s party, it can be awkward to watch.
If it’s tough to survive as a broadcaster right now, it’s much worse off in print media land. Ireland’s major newspapers are adopting an ‘evolve or die’ approach to avoid losing it all.
Our two major protagonists in this example are in contrasting situations. The Irish Times has attempted numerous brave, if unsuccessful, digital media plays in the last two decades, while the Irish Independent has completely fallen behind the times.
So why is it that after turning a blind eye to innovation and neglecting their website, the Irish Independent and its sister papers are all of a sudden awakening to the need for a digital strategy?
A quick glance towards their circulation figures gives us our answer.
The nation’s most sold newspaper, The Sunday Independent, has dropped 20% in sales since 2009, from 272,174 to 220,565. The country’s largest daily, the Irish Independent, has dropped 26% and the Irish Times a whopping 30%.
At the same time total sales of Irish papers have dropped from approximately 632,000 to 502,000. This figure is more concerning when you factor in that in 2009 seven publications were included, versus the eight publications that were included in 2014 (due to the Herald switching from evening to daily).
So, it’s not surprising that newspaper boardrooms nationwide are panicking.
The knock-on effects are wide ranging. Independent News Media (INM) is poised to cut one of every eight editorial positions across its publications while it refocuses operations around a central content point. Editorial content will flow to its numerous print and online publications from this central point. How the individual characteristics of each title survives this change will be fascinating to watch.
In an attempt to establish a viable online model, the Irish Times has set up paywalls around its online content. Although this step won’t recoup shortfalls in revenue dropped over the last decade, it is at least a step in the right direction.
Although the way forward seems treacherous, and newspapers and broadcasters will never dominate today’s media landscape, they can stay relevant in a tech-driven climate.
Staying flexible and being open to experimenting with new techniques are essential factors that will dictate whether traditional media ‘sinks or swims’.
Although there are differing tastes among the media-consuming public, its appetite for high quality journalism remains unchanged. The provision of reliable reporting, enlightened commentary and thought leadership, across online and offline, will always be relevant.
In light of this, the relentless pursuit of ‘edgy’ journalism over quality reporting, dumbing down or serving up lesser alternatives to offline content, are not tactically prudent choices.
And although the lay of the land is changing fast before their very eyes, newspaper and broadcasting executives should stay calm and know that video hasn’t yet killed the news reporting star.
Originally published on thejournal.ie