The impending changes in local government will mean that local newspapers will have an even greater role to play in the political sphere, a meeting of newspaper representatives and Oireachtas members heard this week.
Editors and journalists from the Regional Newspapers and Printers Association of Ireland travelled to Leinster House last Wednesday where they met with over 70 rural TDs and Senators to discuss the function of local press and journalism. The meeting also heard about the importance of allocating print contracts to Irish companies to retain Irish jobs.
“Local newspapers are fuelling the nation’s conversation,” Johnny O’Hanlon, Director of the RPNAI, told the audience, adding that “76% of households regularly buy their weekly local newspaper.”
Editor of the Limerick Leader Alan English compared the role of local journalists and rural politicians.
“There is a parallel between a good local reporter and the work of a good TD; you do a lot of things that are unseen and you do things that apply to only a small section of your communities, yet it is important. It is important because politics matters and local newspapers matter.”
President of the RPNAI Sean Mahon, Southern Star newspaper spoke of the challenges facing the industry such as the decline in advertising revenue due to the closure of many small businesses and called for a fairer division of government advertising revenue across local and national outlets.
“When central government spending for key national campaigns doesn’t go to national newspapers, it adds further pressure,” Mr Mahon stated.
Mr Mahon also discussed the knock-on effect for local newspapers of the RTE dual model of funding which he said was “distorting the market”.
“The digital strategy is very important for the local press and RTE is providing a wonderfully rich website using its television and radio content to attract a big audience. But they also attract national advertisers and run partnerships with dating websites, job sites etc. These are areas that would be targeted by local newspapers, who do not have the benefit of licence-fee revenue, and it makes it very hard for us to compete on a level playing field.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Mahon explained that the purpose of the delegation was to underline the importance of the local democratic structure.
“There are significant changes on the way in local government such as the abolition of the town councils and, more than ever, people will need to know what is going on,” he explained.
“The role of the local newspaper in terms of promoting transparency and accountability is more important than ever”.