Media predictions 2009, Part 5: The Irish Independent’s readership will suffer significantly from cost-cutting

Here is my fifth and final Irish media prediction for 2009:

The Irish Independent, in fact the entire IN&M group in Ireland, has endured plenty of back-room changes recently – all in an effort to cut costs. These cuts have been taking place long before the economic downturn and their impact on quality can already be seen – as the knife goes deeper I think we will see readers walk away in significant numbers in 2009.

One of the most significant moves made by IN&M in Ireland of late was the decision to out-source sub editing to private operators, often ones based in mainland Europe. The obvious result of this split is a decrease in communication between each side of the editorial divide, not to mention a huge potential for poorer sub-editors doing the job due to the decreased rate and job security.

As part of its reaction to the economic turmoil the group has asked journalists to take a pay-cut and is likely to push this further as the company seeks to work its way out of its poor stock market performance.

All of this combined, along with the slashing of editorial budgets that is not unique to IN&M ‘papers, has two effects. Firstly it drives talented staff away, be they existing staff who get a better offer elsewhere or potential staff that seek employment in another organisation or even industry. Secondly they destroy morale within the remaining staff as they see the declining importance of their input and output. In the end, every aspect of the newspaper’s quality suffers.

It is one thing for a newspaper to change its focus or tone, it is a whole other thing when it becomes visually and grammatically unappealing. Readers nowadays tend not to tolerate ugly newspapers and there is no greater sin than to have one that features repeated errors and even inaccuracies.

Mark Coughlan thinks The Irish Independent will finally drop its broadsheet edition this year and I think he’s right – in a world of cost-cutting it makes no sense to have to pay sub-editor to edit and layout two versions of the one newspaper. However the readership of the newspaper is split at almost 50/50 between the two formats and removing one could alienate those who have stayed loyal to it – after all these are people that have decided to stick with the broadsheet version even though the ‘Metro edition’ is just as available.

According to recent figures The Irish Independent has a readership of 508,000 people, compared to The Irish Times‘ 319,000 and The Irish Examiner‘s 238,000. All three newspapers saw declines between 2007 and 2008 however The Irish Times’ was just 1.8% while The Irish Independent and The Irish Examiner were both at 10.9%. The overall readership for all daily newspapers saw a 1.4% decline, so The Irish Times is only slightly below that.

Logically there are many reasons for The Irish Independent’s bad performance, however the impact of its cuts is sure to be one. As the cuts get deeper and the effects of them become more pronounced this level of decline is likely to continue at a far faster pace than it will elsewhere.

In fact I believe if The Irish Times can manage to weather the current storm, and the general issues facing print media, for now it will pass The Irish Independent in readership and circulation by 2014.

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