60 July-August 2024
The reason your newspaper is thin
and thinly written is because of
declining readership and profitability
By Gerrd Cunninghm
he news business has always
been difficult but the media
landscape in 2024 is looking
particularly challenging for
journalists, particularly for
In January, Mediahuis, owner of the
Independent, Sunday World, Belfast
Telegraph and other well known titles
issued a statement saying it was looking to
lay o ten percent of its sta, in its second
redundancy scheme within a year:
“Mediahuis Group estimates that this year
70% of our revenue will come from print and
30% from digital, but by 2030 we foresee
that it will be a 30-70 ratio of
In addition, the Business Post also laid o
several of their senior staff before
Reach, owner of the Star and Mirror, has
been shrinking in the UK and Ireland: in
November it announced that 450 jobs would
be cut.
Meanwhile. RTÉ is about to have another
existential crisis, even before it finishes the
last one. This time, it faces questions about
the continued existence of 2FM.
The cuts in Irish news outlets echo
international moves, with publishers from
Buzzfeed to the Los Angeles Times slashing
numbers, and some publishers exiting news
journalism entirely.
Most ominously, the new media outlets
born online aren’t immune either. VICE
announced in mid-February that it was
shutting down its news website, and would
only supply stories – or content – to other
news businesses — producing film
packages for CNN and the like.
Many of these publications have seen
jarring shifts in readership in the last few
years. At first, the blame could mostly be
imputed to the social media giants. In
particular, Facebook decided to deprecate
news links. News is negative, and Meta
doesn’t want to upset people. Happy
readers looking at baby photos and cat
memes stay around longer, and generate
more advertising revenues.
To a lesser extent, the implosion of Elon
Musk’s new toy also helped, as Musk
stripped headlines out of news stories on
Twitter, promoted far-right conspiracy
theorists, restored racist accounts, and
even banned journalists for making fun of
him. Twitter is dead, having lost one in five
users since the takeover. It’s X now, filled
with Nazis, trolls and bots as Musk takes on
the motto of moving fast and breaking
Other social media are hurting too. TikTok
trac is down 9.5%. Instagram 4.4%.
Snapchat 1.7%. Even Facebook, the best
performer, is down 0.6%, essentially
But the killer blow was delivered by
Google, in its rush to get aboard the AI hype
train. Changes to the search engine pushed
news stories o the Google front page,
hidden below advertising, clickbait, and
inaccurate summaries “written” by
Alphabet’s answer to the HAL9000. Site
trac for many sites, in decline for two
years, fell o a cli in March 2024, as the
company rolled out its latest search
This may be a part of the reason why, for
example, the Journal.ie, mostly an
advertising-driven publication, has been
more aggressive in its use of pop-ups
asking for reader support (although the
reported attempt to sell the platform may
also be a factor).
So, for many reasons, news publishers
are looking at a crisis for anyone not behind
a paywall, and for many who are.
This means that, in the short term at
least, the freelancing sector will see a
surge. But, if traditional patterns repeat,
some will drift out of journalism into other
areas. In the short term, there will be more
freelancers, chasing fewer gigs, with
budgets not only frozen since before the
Great Recession, but cut and never reversed.
Freelancing isn’t a solid choice any more.
So, if it feels like the newspaper you read
isn’t just thinner than it used to be, but that
the stories inside feel thinly written and
under-researched, keep in mind that most
of them are being produced by reporters
who are underpaid, overworked, and
overstretched covering too many beats with
too few resources.
Social media took media business, then
Facebook downgraded news for negativity
and X imploded, and then Google
downgraded news to facilitate AI


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