Local Ireland, the association representing 42 weekly paid-for print and online newspapers around the country, has created a blank print and digital newspaper to illustrate the crisis facing the sector as a result of COVID-19.
The newspaper includes strong editorial messages from the newspaper editors, adverts calling for Government support and a map showing newspapers in every county of Ireland but its 48 pages are mostly empty of stories.
The industry is calling on the Government to match its €5 million funding for local radio with support for local newspapers and is urging a fair share of Government advertising for COVID information campaigns.
President of Local Ireland David Ryan said: “The Blank Newspaper shows what will happen if professional, quality journalism is not supported. We have already seen measures being taken for shorter working weeks, lay-offs and redundancies.
“There has been a dramatic fall in advertising during the COVID period for publishers, who were already having to deal with the fall-out from the global recession and the mass migration of advertising to tech giants such as Google and Facebook prior to COVID.
“Advertising fell an average of 22% in 2020 compared with 2019 and the start of 2021 is, if anything, worse.
“We provide a unique service to our readers both urban and rural. We are in every county, every town, every estate and every townland, in print and online. Our readers rely on us to give them the detailed local coverage that they cannot get anywhere else.
Executive Director of Local Ireland Bob Hughes said: “Local radio stations, which operate in the same market as ourselves, received €2.5 million via a COVID funding scheme last April and have just been given the opportunity to apply to another €2.5 million scheme. We have received no such similar support.
“Government needs to come forward with creative solutions to support the industry during the current crisis. Ninety one per cent of our advertising comes from local businesses and many have been devastated by the pandemic, particularly those in the hospitality and tourism sector.
“We are also calling on the Government to ensure that local news publishers receive their fair share of advertising around national COVID campaigns.
“Our newspapers reach older people and the most vulnerable in society who rely on us for the latest information about changes in COVID restrictions and the roll-out of vaccines.
“We need to see a fairer distribution of advertising spend to serve our readers and to support our businesses.”
You can read the full digital version of Local Ireland online here