30 jobs lost as three regional newspapers go to the wall
THREE regional newspapers printed their last editions yesterday following the shock announcement by their owners that they were to cease publication immediately.
Presses at 'The Roscommon Champion', 'Longford News' and 'Athlone Voice', rolled to an abrupt halt after the Alpha Newspaper Group, which is owned by former unionist MP John Taylor and his family, decided to close all three titles with the loss of more than 30 jobs.
In a statement, the group's managing director Jonathan Taylor said all three titles were now available for purchase.
Staff at the 'Roscommon Champion' -- whose foundations stretch back more than 80 years -- were "traumatised" by the closure and a possible staff rescue plan was one of the options being considered last night.
"These are difficult economic times and the staff understood the need to introduce efficiencies," editor Richard Canny said in statement on behalf of the paper's editorial staff.
"However, no newspaper with foundations stretching back more than 80 years should have been allowed to close its doors.
"Local decision-making became non-existent a long time ago as the newspaper's operations from a management and production point of view became so centralised.
"We, the staff, feel this was to the detriment of a newspaper that had stood proud and strong since 1927."
'Longford News' editor Thomas Lyons said his paper was also a long-established journal and was 74 years old.
But he felt that with falling advertising revenue, the news of its closure was inevitable.
"Effectively, there'll be no more 'Longford News' published unless someone buys the title but, given the current economic climate, that simply won't happen," he said.
Mr Taylor blamed the economic downturn in the Republic for having an adverse effect on both daily and provincial newspapers, with a fall in both circulation and advertising. He said more than 12 weekly titles had ceased publication in the past year.
"Alpha was not immune to these developments and had decided to close three of its smallest titles. This decision is very much regretted; we now enter a period of consultation with employees and we will assist them where ever possible," he said.
But the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) accused the Alpha Group of "acting with indecent haste" in forcing the immediate closure of the three midlands titles.
Irish secretary Seamus Dooley, a former editor of the 'Roscomon Champion', said staff were called to meetings to discuss the "reorganisation" of the newspaper group in the region, but then managing director Jonathan Taylor advised workers that the papers would cease production immediately.
"Alpha Newspapers entered the market in the South fully aware of the tough competition in the region. They failed to invest in editorial resources and made massive demands on staff, whose loyalty has certainly not been rewarded," he said.
Yesterday's meetings called by Mr Taylor seemed to be timed so that the newspapers could not carry news of their own demise.
"It is not too late to save the newspapers and we would urge Lord Kilclooney and his board to take a step back, even at this stage," he said.
All three closures were last night described as a major blow to the communities they served for years.
Local Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten said the 'Roscommon Champion' had a long history of community life in the county and the newspaper masthead would now be missed from the shelves.
His FG colleague Frank Feighan said the closure was a huge shock as the 'Champion' was effectively part of the local community.