INM pulls plug on Sunday Tribune

THE future of the Sunday Tribune newspaper was cast into serious doubt yesterday — along with the security of its 43-strong staff — after its largest shareholder, Independent News & Media (INM) effectively pulled the plug on the publication.

The Irish Examiner understands that some members of staff, including those in senior roles, met late last night with a view to discussing a possible staff investment in an effort to save the title.

Tribune Newspapers — the title’s direct publisher — yesterday announced that it had appointed a receiver, Jim Luby from McStay Luby, on the back of a decision by INM to cease funding the lossmaking newspaper.

INM holds a 29.9% stake in the Sunday Tribune and has, reportedly, been providing loans of up to €2.5m per year to keep the title afloat, comfortably making it the Tribune’s biggest single creditor.

The receiver now has until the end of February to find a buyer.

A decision on whether or not a hard copy edition of the newspaper will reappear before that, or the possibility of publishing an online edition solely, is likely to be taken today.

In a brief statement INM said that it has committed “adequate funding to enable the receiver to assess the prospects for the business of Tribune Newspapers as a going concern, including funds to meet staff costs for the month of February”.

The group added that it “remains hopeful” that new investors may emerge “to safeguard the future of this quality Sunday title”.

Speculation was also mounting yesterday that the Tribune’s outstanding debt could be partially written off as an incentive for any interested party.

The accounts for the Sunday Tribune covering 2008 showed that it generated a pre-tax loss of €8.2m, €5m up on the previous year’s loss, meaning that it was losing nearly €160,000 per week.

Although its relaunch as a compact newspaper last autumn initially worked; upping weekly sales by nearly 7,000 copies, sales declined by the end of last year.

Tribune Newspapers’ chairman Gordon Colleary recognised that additional investment would be needed it the title is to continue.

The National Union of Journalists expressed its “grave disappointment” and said it is seeking a meeting with the receiver.

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