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What is the future of Irish journalism?

While it’s premature to write the obituary for print media just yet, the Irish digital landscape is large and has room to grow.

Niamh Kirk

JUST AS THE music industry has had to adapt to digital disruption so too has the news industry, with digital-born publishers growing increasingly popular.

Nearly a quarter of a century into the digital era, the Irish are embracing new technologies and all the news delivery mechanisms they can get their hands on.

Research undertaken by the Institute for Future Media and Journalism (FuJo) at Dublin City University in conjunction with the BAI and the Oxford Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has found that, in Ireland, online is now the most popular source for news, with 83% using it in a given week. The Irish are also at the forefront of smartphone device use and are above average users of social media for picking up news.

Given Ireland’s levels of digital engagement, their high interest in news and the national skills set boasting software engineering and tech development, it is no surprise that this is a burgeoning area in the Irish media industry. As tech savvy, digitally immersed population we should be at the forefront of creativity and engagement in this area.

Players in the digital market

TheJournal.ie has taken a place among the long-standing traditional publishers online, now the third most popular digital brand, joint with the Irish Times online. Meanwhile, the success of Broadsheet.ie, Waterford Whisperer News, Her.ie and Joe.ie illustrate the appetite for new news sources and styles. The Irish digital landscape is large and it has many sustainable niches.

But even the digital market is tough for digital-born to break into. One of the reasons might be the relative success of our traditional favourite newspapers migration online.

In some ways this is unsurprising. As well as having the resources to make the transition, part of these news titles legacy is their reputations as producers of quality assured journalism. It indicates that digital first entrants must prove themselves in this respect if they are to measure up.

For those who publish across both, the choice will be about where to focus resources in the challenging climate. Here, the outcome of innovation will determine the fate of print news; and given its extended reach and its gravitas few who operate combined print and digital newsrooms are keen to deal the death blow.

It is premature to write the obituary for print media just yet

To focus on the rising stars can also cause a loss of perspective. The international trend shows the decline in print is strong, but it is premature to write the obituary just yet. The traditional news market in Ireland and internationally is still strong and newsprint has a long reach in Ireland, clearly there is still a lot to play for.

The decline in news print is nothing to celebrate nor is the rise of digital unproblematic. If print were dead the landscape for Irish news would be somewhat bleaker; more than half the population buy a newspaper in a given week.

Digital engagement is not ubiquitous, some 17% don’t use online news and digital engagement varies across generations. Print extends the reach of news content, which is important for both the public and the producers.

The overall decline in print has been obstructed by some case studies of experimental content delivery. The New York Times innovation report toyed with new print strategies such as focusing efforts on weekend print editions, but decided to retain their daily edition while developing digitally.

How to intergrade print into the life cycle of digital news production and how it can become mutually supportive is at the heart of these efforts.

The importance of original journalism 

There is much room and need for developments in original digital news. While those at top tiers of brand popularity might not welcome the competition, the Irish audience would benefit from a surge of more original and niche online journalism. To not might see the Irish audience drift to the rising global competitors such as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed who have already made headway into the Irish market.

While so many mourned the demise of original journalism in the early years of the digital era, for many producers it seems it will be the only way to survive it in the future. TheJournal.ie is a prime example, starting life as an aggregator and developing into original news with its own style and offering the readers a chance to advance the debate.

So the Irish news ecology is not solid as it was in days of the daily paper. Legacy news print is at risk of losing its impact if it does not secure its current reach.

And there is much room and need for developments in original digital news. The potential for Irish digital news to expand in content, style and news forms of delivery seems boundless. Digital news will always be tethered to developments in the technologies that gather and deliver it. Innovations in both news and the tech sector herald more change on the horizon – only last week Apple announced a new venture into the news market and began recruiting editors.

There are no easy answers 

The Reuters International report showed some strong common trends across the surveyed countries, but they were not replicated homogenously. Some national news traditions remain resilient but are nonetheless under threat as costs and benefits edge toward the wrong side of the scales.

There are no easy answers, but what is certain is that innovation and experimentation within Irish journalism will be key.

Niamh Kirk is a PhD in the School of Communications at DCU and a Member of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism (FuJo)

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