The ownership of the ‘Irish Examiner’ may have changed but its thorough and professional journalism, hallmarks of a free press, will continue, writes Tom Crosbie.
Mr Public was a gentleman who had really no friends. Mr Public was a gentleman who was liable to much abuse, and probably the only friend he could get if he wanted to find one to take his part, was a free press.
These are words from a different age and time, but their import is as true, and may I say important today as it was when they were said on March 25th, 1880 in the opening of Thomas Crosbie’s defence of a charge of libel by the newly re-elected Mayor of Cork.
What is a free press? It is certainly not free if it is the preserve of a small few to set agendas and control information flows.
My belief is that a free press is one where right-minded reporters and journalists are given licence to clearly record and reflect on the facts of the day without undue interference.
Of course there must be checks and balances and indeed consequences but ultimately a free press is about ensuring that the public are fully and honestly informed so that they can make their own decisions, whatever they may be.
The ownership of this paper may have changed yesterday, but that is all. This newspaper is so much more than that and thankfully it continues today with its fine, responsible and thorough journalism as before.
The honest truth is that the family would have preferred to have been in a position to stay with the business for longer. We believe that what the Irish Examiner and indeed regional and local media generally provide is important for the wellbeing of the communities they serve.
Clearly there is an emotional connection given the history of the family with the titles in Cork, but the other titles and radio stations are just as important in their own way.
In any case, emotion does not sustain a business, and the business of media is changing rapidly. I think that social media can be wonderful, but it is full of challenges and not just financial.
The world (and I mean governments in general) has yet to put in the rules and safeguards to ensure that the abusers don’t prosper. In the meantime, much of the more reliable content that appears online is actually created by professional journalists who wages are paid by newspapers companies and more often than not the money is primarily coming out of declining print revenues.
I would like to take the indulgence of explaining the realities for a typical publisher as it is a complex problem to solve.
Most newspapers are actually an amalgam of multiple businesses all of which are interdependent. Different streams of information, from classified advertising for various sectors to sports results to financial, weather, entertainment listings and adverting features, all packaged with current news and commentary.
The beauty of it is that for centuries this model has been able to sustain a large cohort of professional journalists and reporters, and I think the most important word here is professional.
It’s been no secret that traditional media companies are under pressure as news has become commoditised and the amalgam, in particular, due to classifieds migrating to digital has come unstuck.
Someone said recently to me that of course if only we would employ more journalists and provide more (and I agree it can always be better) content that more people would buy papers — it isn’t that simple regrettably.
Right now, the role of newspapers in providing a living to professional journalists and reporters is quite critical to a functioning democracy.
The online model is very difficult for traditional newspaper companies to adopt — put up a paywall only diverts the audience elsewhere or stay free and hope to find the money some other way.
Subventions from the public purse are two-edged — it is so important that media holds government to account and to do that effectively it needs to keep its distance.
I can suggest that one way to give immediate (if only temporary) relief would be to finally remove Vat on the cover price of newspapers entirely from its current reduced rate of 9%.
I am in no way trying to say that newspapers are paragons of virtue compared to other forms of media. I would like to think the Irish Examiner is better than most, but I am quite aware that some individuals may not agree — it would be odd if it were not so.
However at least with a newspaper the reader generally has a very good idea of the provenance of its writings. And my main concern here is about the future of professional journalism which is under attack.
“Fake news” is nothing new — the current cry, in particular from the White House in Washington, is possibly the most predictable thing about the current president of the US. However concerns about it long predates the internet, Charles II issued a prohibition on coffee houses in 1675 in order to deal with “diverse, false, malicious and scandalous reports”.
Indeed the then Cork Examiner has found itself from time to time at the rough end of things. In the period from 1919 to 1922 the paper was suppressed from all sides — firstly by the British authorities (the bullet hole is still visible in a rolltop desk at the company), followed by the IRA (at the time led by the “Big Fellow” Michael Collins) in Dec 1920, and again by Dev’s Irregulars in 1922. I guess each group were eager to exert pressure to promote their own slant!
This was just a continuance — in 1888 Patrick Corcoran, the Examiner’s head printer, was jailed for three months by the then authorities due to the paper’s policy of covering the proceedings of the National League which were at that time prescribed.
I am proud of the role the Irish Examiner, has played over the years and indeed want to pay tribute to all the current and indeed past staff who have contributed to its success since it was founded by John Francis Maguire in 1841.
My great great grandfather Thomas Crosbie joined as a fifteen-year-old in 1843 and became a reporter. In those days the paper was just three evenings a week and it became a daily morning paper in 1858.
My understanding is that Maguire left the paper to him on the understanding that it would provide a pension for his wife after he died.
The Holly Bough of 2010 had an article by Catherine M. Herbert about the young Thomas and another young reporter Justin McCarthy (1830-1912) and their time reporting on the horrors of the Famine, the indifference of the ruling classes and the consequent rise of nationalism. This beautifully brought to light for me that time of upheaval when communications were non-existent and reporters had to get their copy home by stagecoach.
The Famine, and in particular the way the poorest in Ireland were abandoned, led to much social change. An interesting fact I learned recently is that there is just one Famine oil painting in the whole world that was actually painted during the Famine, the 1847 Daniel McDonald An Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of their Store.
Clearly not a subject in demand at the time - perhaps if it had been then those who were privileged then might have not lost their estates 50 years later. Avoiding reality really does catch up with you eventually.
Speaking of avoiding reality, the fact is the day of reckoning has arrived regarding my family’s continued involvement in this newspaper and at this stage I can only express my father’s and my thanks to people.
To the directors, management and staff of Landmark Media and all its subsidiaries. To the customers of all the Landmark titles, readers and advertisers. To the suppliers, freelance journalists, vendors, newsagents, distributors, bankers, advisors and others. And in particular to my own wife and family. Thank you all.
I also acknowledge and welcome The Irish Times, the new owners of this paper. You have your own history and traditions and I have no doubt that by combining the operations of both newspapers, both become more resilient to the headwinds in the industry. May I and my father wish you every success.