THE government should provide aan immediate stimulus of €2.6m to be distributed to newspaper publishers, in line with similar funds given to independent broadcasters in June.
That call was made by Local Ireland, the representative association for 46 local newspapers, during a submission to the joint committee on media, tourism, arts, culture, sport and the Gaeltacht last week.
In his address to the Committee, Frank Mulrennan, executive committee member, Local Ireland, said that the titles are read by 1.5m readers weekly and generate 90% of the published local news coverage in the country.
‘We employ over 1,000 reporters, correspondents and columnists and are, in effect, the largest local news agency outside Dublin and Cork cities,’ he said.
‘Each week our titles publish vital, trusted public interest information ranging from local authorities to courts, education training boards and local policing authorities, not to mention sports, community events and life in regional Ireland.’
He said that since the start of the pandemic, an audit of member titles for the period April to November revealed that circulation, advertising and event income revenues had seen a staggering decline of €6.38m – or almost 22%.
‘While the combination of the PUP and wage supplementary schemes were most welcome, coupled with increased government advertising spend, these measures pale against the on-going income loss,’ he added.
Mr Mulrennan cautioned that without this level of support, local news publishers’ abilities to sustain the current high level of employment and coverage will be severely impeded.
And he noted that local papers were driving ahead with excellent digital offerings, as well as printed options.
He made particular note of The Southern Star’s popular podcasts.
In response, West Cork FF Deputy Christopher O’Sullivan said he could see the challenges facing the sector and he had recently spoken to Sean Mahon, managing director of his local paper, The Southern Star, who is also a board member of Local Ireland.
He said local papers could never be accused of printing ‘fake news’.
But he wondered if politicians, given their use of their own personal social media sites to post news about grants and events, might be helping to propel the ‘demise of local media’.