Delivering relevant local news content across a range of platforms will ensure the future of local newspapers in Ireland, stated Terry Kroeger, President and CEO Berkshire Hathaway Media, at a local newspaper symposium held in Croke Park last week.
Over 150 delegates representing local weekly newspapers, national advertisers, advertising agencies and academia attended the Local Newspapers Moving On symposium on Thursday. This event was organised by Local Ireland and NNI Regionals, representing 51 local weekly paid-for newspapers, including the Connacht Tribune.
Berkshire Hathaway Media, a profitable subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s worldwide conglomerate of Industries, has continued to expand its investment in newspapers despite continuing negativity about print journalism’s future in the digital age.
“The mistake the consultants and prognosticators make is that they argue whether it’s digital first or newspaper first. It’s neither. The truth is the model that’s most likely to work is customer first,” Mr Kroeger said.
The conference, which was chaired by Connacht Tribune editor Dave O’Connell, was officially opened by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White, who commended the role of local press in informing and leading communities in rural Ireland.
Sean Mahon, President of Local Ireland and Managing Director of the Southern Star, called on Minister White to address the imbalance that exists between independent publishers and RTÉ.
“Serious concern exists amongst the independent commercial media community with regards to the dual funding model in place for RTÉ and the effect that it is having on creating an unfair and distorted marketplace for newspapers to operate within.
“Take the RTÉ website for example. Its digital news service is certainly impressive and free to access by all. It’s great for the public but not that great for the media industry.
“Of course it is funded and driven by resources generated by the licence fee but in addition it is also generating revenues from commercial advertising and is, therefore, competing directly with national and local newspapers who have to fund their own digital developments from their own coffers and compete with RTÉ for their share of the advertising available in the market,” he said.
Delegates were also told that to ensure the future delivery of trusted, relevant content through good journalism will require payment for online content. This is likely to come in the form of metered payments for specific content.
Frank Mulrennan, CEO of Celtic Media and a panelist at the symposium, called on Ireland’s national newspaper companies to give a lead by introducing pay walls for their online content.
Responding to this call, Mr Kroeger told delegates that his organisation commenced a metered payments policy twelve months ago. “I wish I could say we have convinced everybody, because we haven’t, we’re of the opinion that we have to start somewhere.”
Storyful Managing Editor Áine Kerr discussed the positive relationship being developed between local press and social media. She said that the combination of local newspapers and social media facilitates greater engagement with communities on news stories.
“This collaboration can balance one way communication with two conversations. It can also share compelling content to engage communities”.
Local Newspapers Moving on was filmed by Irish TV and can be viewed on www.LocalIreland.info.