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Shuffling the hack

By Gerard Cunninghamgetting_kicked_out_the_door_1600_clr_14276

Autumn elevated Ian Kehoe to editorship at the Sunday Business Post, while his predecessor Cliff Taylor shifted back to his alma mater the, now stressed, Irish Times as managing editor where his return will no doubt bolster that paper’s institutional memory, battered by the impact of successive redundancy waves over the last decade. Pat Leahy, the Post’s deputy editor, stepped down from his caretaking temporary elevation to the editorship. He and the Irish Independent’s Eamon Delaney are said to have been among the disappointed candidates. Kehoe’s investigative background – in the Business Post and on RTé’s ‘Prime Time’ – augurs well for a more hard-edged, newsy newspaper with perhaps less deference to the business establishment.

Kehoe faces a struggle at the Sunday Business Post. The weakest of the weekend titles since the demise of the Tribune, the Post’s circulation is in freefall, though it can siphon some comfort from the fact that the valuable and ascendant ABC1 social demographic remains strongly represented among those who remain.

Over the summer INM’s ebullient head of news Ian Mallon replaced Clare Grady, the first woman to edit the Irish Independent, as interim editor. Grady’s resignation came after those of Natalie Nougayrède, Le Monde’s first woman editor-in-chief and director, and Jill Abramson the first woman executive editor of the New York Times. Grady’s announcement, after only one year in the job, was followed by the INM NUJ chapel expressing its “disappointment” at the news, and calling for an “open and transparent” process of appointing her successor.

A second NUJ motion on the same day noted “the deterioration in morale within INM titles and the oppressive management culture” which it claimed was “undermining the health and welfare of workers throughout the company”.

The motion reminded senior management of their obligation to “ensure that all employees are allowed to work without intimidation or fear of bullying”. The Employment Appeals Tribunal will shortly hear a claim of unfair dismissal from journalist Gemma O’Doherty dismissed because her position became redundant by INM after she revealed that former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had penalty points quashed while apparently driving his own car to a security meeting.  Meanwhile the editorial operations of the Sunday World and the Herald have been merged, and another round of cross-title cost-cutting looms following the departure as CEO of the already profoundly snipping Vincent Crowley. Clearly there are troubling morale issues in Talbot House.

The reasons for Grady’s departure were unclear, though there were some suggestions it was because of her failure to halt circulation declines.

Considering how every broadsheet newspaper in Ireland is bleeding circulation, it seems particularly unfair to blame Grady for the rise of the internet. Those in the  running to succeed Grady include Dearbhail McDonald, the Irish Independent’s legal editor and Ger Colleran, twice former editor of the Irish Star now edited by Des Gibson, managing editor at the paper. Both are articulate and charismatic. Meanwhile the roaring and feisty editorship of Anne Harris at the relatively buoyant Sunday Independent may be coming to an end, to the potential glee of INM’s biggest shareholder Denis O’Brien who though he says he does not exercise control over the group did have enough influence to wrangle some embarrassing apologies out of the Sindo over the summer after it asserted the contrary.

The overall newspaper market continues to contract, shrinking by seven percent in the year to June 2014. Worse, the newspaper market has been decoupled from general economic growth since 2009. As if the Great Recession wasn’t enough, it coincided with a tipping point as readers abandon print for digital and, while some titles are doing well online, internet advertising rates are nowhere near as lucrative as print. The Post’s paywall experiment is labouring while other titles are free online, and it’s difficult to see how a general publication can offer a unique product readers will pay for.

Inspiration may come from the uniquely definitive Economist and Financial Times newspapers, which admittedly benefit from worldwide readerships. In Ireland, the Farmers Journal manages to offer a compelling mix of timely business news and features which sectoral readers are prepared to pay for. It is helped by the fact the general media have a poor understanding of agribusiness, where the major stories happen outside Dublin and are sometimes filtered through a patronising  Dublin lens as with the Ploughing Championships welly-wearing urbanista ingenues.

It’s difficult to see a good exit strategy for Paul Cooke and Post Publications, the apparent forces behind the title. However, there is one cheeky possibility the Post could avail of to give itself a boost. Unlike the Irish Times and the Independent titles, it barely avails of bulks, the free copies given away in hotels, coffee shops and colleges to boost readership figures. Bulks account for 12% of both Irish Times (9,140) and Irish Independent (14,083) Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures according to the last audit. During the same period, the Post figure for bulks was only 994 copies. A few more bulk copies could be a valuable advertising and promotional tool. •