It is with great sadness that I write this. The Irish Examiner has decided that the world outside Munster no longer exists, or at least if it does, it won’t be publishing anything about it. As my editor there so eloquently put it “Sun Sets on Rest of World, Ireland now Isolated”.
In a dramatic overhaul of the newspaper’s property section the overseas page (which I wrote for the title since 2003, hence my interest in the topic) is to be dropped.
The copious quantities of Irish people who purchased property overseas on the back of advice or advertorial liberally published by this title, and many other newspapers around the country, can rightly feel aggrieved that these same newspapers now feel they are surplus to requirements and do not need any advice or content.
It is somewhat of an irony that those who purchased abroad from 2000 to 2007 are probably more in need of this advice and information now than ever before so, with this demand in mind, it is interesting to ask the question: “Why is the overseas property owner now shunned by the media?”
While not on the level of bankers, highly paid civil servants or politicians, owners of property overseas have become symbolic of a past that we are falling over ourselves to forget. Of course, the overseas investments, both good and bad, don’t disappear quite so easily. Nor do the debts associated with them. The newspapers can easily walk away from the havoc wreaked, washing their hands of the whole issue, but those who purchased property on the back of articles written in these newspapers aren’t afforded the same liberty.
It would appear that newspapers are, in this age, driven not by the need to inform, but by the desire for profit. The main reason you get practically no overseas property coverage in any Irish publication these days is simply because it is no longer the advertising magnet it once was. It is a classic victim of its own success.
During much of the noughties this sector, and its Irish equivalent, drove massive amounts of advertising revenue into the coffers of newspapers such as the Irish and Sunday Independent, the Irish and Sunday Times, The Sunday Business Post, the (now defunct) Sunday Tribune and the Irish Examiner (which along with the Sunday Business Post is owned by Cork based Thomas Crosbie Holdings). Of course, the fact that the coverage of property both home and abroad very much exploded on the back of the huge volumes of advertising it garnered (advertising on its own is quite unappealing for a newspaper unless it can carry an equivalent amount of editorial to give the illusion of balance). This blanket coverage of property during the boom (some property sections were larger than the newspapers with which they came in 2005 and 2006) meant that many people that might not otherwise have done so invested in property, both home and abroad. Some did so for the right reasons, others not so much, but the fact remains that a lot of Irish people now own property overseas and quite a few of them need guidance and information. This fact is totally lost on the newspaper industry which, with the occasional exception, supplies information that is currently of no interest to its readers. To inform and guide would, it appears, be an admission of guilt that the industry is not prepared to countenance.
This piece is not aimed at any of my direct editors at either of the newspapers for whom I wrote on a regular basis (the Irish Examiner and the Sunday Business Post). Not because I don’t wish to draw their wrath upon me but because these are all people I hold in the highest regard. Those in The Examiner in particular clung onto this section for as long as was feasible under the circumstances in which they found themselves. Like all newspapers, despite the fact that they are still making huge profits (the Independent alone made nearly €116m last year in one of the most difficult trading years on record), they are using the current recession as an excuse to strip newspapers of staff and freelancers -all seen as costs rather than assets.
The problem lies instead with chief editors and, particularly, management – the bean counters. Property sections are now just operating a holding function, there to gauge when the next raft of easily achievable and highly profitable advertising will waft under their noses. The sections are increasingly run by a skeleton staff, where they are run at all. Any pretence that these sections are there to inform anybody about anything have now long disappeared.
In a way I guess this can be seen as a positive because you will receive information and guidance on this website, which you won’t receive anywhere else, so there is no competition. It is however bittersweet, in the knowledge that the very powerful newspaper industry in Ireland really doesn’t care about those who purchase their titles in the hope of reading something of consequence that might guide their investment or divestment decisions.
If you doubt the connection between content and revenue consider the fact that I offered content for free to an Irish newspaper (not the Irish Examiner by the way), if they would offer a portion of the advertising revenue generated as payment. They refused on the basis that they ‘didn’t do that sort of thing.’ They don’t do a lot of things they should do I’m afraid, acting as a conduit for the information needed by their readers would appear to be one of them.