THROUGHOUT the pandemic in particular, the importance of local newspapers in disseminating news and information has been widely appreciated by the general public. They provide a unique service to readers, both urban and rural, and as president of Local Ireland David Ryan said, ‘We are in every county, every town, every estate and every townland.’
Local Ireland, the association representing 42 weekly paid-for newspapers around the country, including The Southern Star, is looking for more official appreciation for its work and is calling on the government to match its €5 million funding for local radio with support for local newspapers.
There has been a dramatic fall in advertising revenue during the pandemic with an average drop of 22% among Local Ireland members in 2020. That has come on top of advertising and circulation being hit hard by first the recession post-2008 and then the huge migration of advertising to tech giants like Google and Facebook.
‘The outlook for 2021 is, if anything, worse,’ according to Mr Ryan. He made the point that local radio stations, which operate in the same marketplace, received €2.5 million via a Covid funding scheme last April and have just been given the opportunity to apply to another €2.5 million scheme this month.
‘We have received no such similar support,’ the Local Ireland president pointed out, adding that local newspapers would normally source 91% of their advertising revenue from local businesses. Many businesses in the hospitality, entertainment and tourism sectors closed in the lockdown, while other business have reined in spending because of future economic uncertainty.
The consequent losses to local newspapers had led to some publishers taking emergency measures, such as shorter working weeks, lay-offs and redundancies. So, the government needs to ensure that local newspapers receive their fair share of advertising around national Covid campaigns.
Local newspapers reach older people and the most vulnerable in society who rely on them for the latest information about changes in Covid restrictions and the roll-out of vaccines, while younger people are kept informed on the publishers’ online and social media platforms.