The impending changes in local government will mean that local newspapers will have an even greater role to play in the political sphere, a meeting of newspaper representatives and Oireachtas members heard recently.
Editors and journalists with the leading local newspapers of record around Ireland travelled to Leinster House where they met with over 70 rural TDs and Senators to discuss the importance of local press and journalism.
At the presentation by the Regional Newspaper and Printers Association of Ireland (RNPAI), the role of the local newspaper as a platform for local democracy and the relationship between local politicians and the regional press was also discussed. The meeting also heard about the importance of allocating government print contracts to Irish companies to retain Irish jobs.
President of the RPNAI Sean Mahon and Managing Director Southern Star newspaper explained that newspapers are evolving as media businesses.
“We are not just producing papers of record but also websites of record as well, expanding our reach and expanding our interaction with local readers.”
Mr Mahon explained that the purpose of the delegation was to underline the importance of the local democratic structure.
“There are significant changes on the way in local government such as the abolition of the town councils and, more than ever, people will need to know what is going on,” he explained.
“The role of the local newspaper in terms of promoting transparency and accountability is more important than ever”.
He spoke of the challenges facing the industry such as the decline in advertising revenue due to the closure of many small businesses and called for a fairer division of government advertising revenue to local newspapers.
“When central government spending for key national campaigns doesn’t go to local press, for example the Road safety or The Gathering campaigns it adds further pressure,” Mr Mahon stated.
Mr Mahon stated “we have trusted titles across the country reaching over 1.6million readers every week and 1million web visitors each month. We have always been, and remain, an impactful way of getting a message out to the people of Ireland”. Mr. Mahon also discussed the knock-on effect for local newspapers of the RTE dual model of funding which he said was “distorting the market”. “RTE is now producing a very rich website using its television and radio content to attract a big audience. But they also carry national advertising and operate commercial partnerships with classified websites. National brand advertising is a key revenue stream for local newspapers both via our print titles and, increasingly, our digital operations and therefore it makes it harder for us to compete when the playing field isn’t level”.
Mr. Mahon also stressed the importance of maintaining the reduced VAT rate of 9% that is currently applicable to newspapers and urged consideration be given by Government to an additional reduction to help further support the industry.
“Local newspapers are fuelling the nation’s conversation,” Johnny O’Hanlon, Director of the RPNAI told the audience.
“76% of households regularly buy their weekly local newspaper,” he explained, adding that: “Local newspapers in Ireland have a readership of 1.6 million outside Dublin and Cork cities and 1 million unique users monthly.”
Mr O’Hanlon underlined the key function of local newspapers to cover local politics and highlight issues of public interest. He also pointed to research carried out by IPSO for the Oireachtas which shows that 41% of people kept themselves informed about politics through newspapers as opposed to 19% through radio.
“This is not hyperbole from us, this comes from separate pieces of research commissioned by you and by us.”
Editor of the Limerick Leader Alan English explained that the local newspaper is the paper of record in the community.
“In years to come, if you want to know what happened in Limerick on June 26 2013, you can go back through the archives of the Limerick Leader,” Mr English told the meeting.
“If the local newspaper is not around to preserve the message, it will be lost forever.”
Mr English went on to compare the role of local journalists and rural politicians.
“There is a parallel between a good local reporter and the work of a good TD; you do a lot of things that are unseen and you do things that apply to only a small section of your communities, yet it is important. It is important because politics matters and local newspapers matter.”
He warned Oireachtas members not to take their local papers for granted.
“There is a perception that local newspapers are bulletproof and that they are institutions that will always be around but that is not the case,” he stated, adding that the local papers needed their support.