Irish Times boss says time will tell if five year plan means further job cuts

IRISH TIMES managing director Maeve Donovan played down the reported threat of further job losses at the newspaper.

But she said yesterday that a “five year strategic plan” would be completed by the year end.

It was too early to say “what the fall out, if any form that would be in terms of the jobs”, she said.

Staff numbers at the paper fell from 705 to 560 during the year under review as a result of a voluntary redundancy scheme introduced to tackle the group’s overstretched cost base. Donovan was commenting after the group reported a significant return to profits last year.

Earnings for the period hit €8.5m in the year to end December 2003. That compared with a pre tax loss of €2.8m in the year previous.

Donovan expressed great satisfaction at the sharp turnaround in the group.

Her ambition now was to protect the future of the “Irish Times”.

That was the basis of the strategic plan and it would involve the publication of an international edition.

Britain would be its first target market for the new overseas edition and “then we will be looking at elsewhere,” she said.

Acquisitions were also on the cards, but the group was mindful that prices had risen sharply in recent years.

To an extent group strategy could be “a bit like yourselves”, she said in a reference to Thomas Crosbie Holdings, owners of the Irish Examiner.

Outlining the commitment to the new plan Donovan said the first rationalisation and repositioning of the paper was done under fire and “we did the process as best as we could.”

With the group back in profits it was opportune to look at a five year plan that would create a buffer to protect the publication.

The strategy would be like that deployed by the Guardian in Britain which expanded to protect its core product, she said.

It was in the context of the five year plan that Donovan said job losses might result. But she stressed that was not the major issue facing the group. Creating an environment that would allow the group to develop further in the years ahead was the key focus of the strategy.

“We are taking a much harder look at the business in its entirety and will be looking at what comparable newspapers elsewhere have done”, she said.

Last year the average pay of directors increased to €384,000, a figure that included generous bonuses.

Ms Donovan and the paper’s editor, Geraldine Kennedy, were each paid a basic salary of €308,000 each.

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