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Times journalists mark closure of Ireland edition with 'mixture of pride and sadness' as 20 jobs lost

The final Ireland edition of the Times will hit newsstands tomorrow.

Owner News UK and Ireland is replacing the Ireland edition, produced by a team of journalists in Dublin, with its international edition.

Journalists have today put together the final Ireland edition of the newspaper, with about 20 full-time editorial staff made redundant.

Three journalists are being kept on to work on the international edition, including news editor Ben Haugh.

The Sunday Times in Ireland is unaffected by the changes. Irish news will continue to appear online under the Ireland section of the Times website.

The Times launched an Irish edition in tablet-only format for the first time in 2015, expanding into print two years later in 2017.

Times Ireland editor Richard Oakley tweeted today: “It has been a blast.”

Senior news reporter Sean McCarthaigh told Press Gazette the feeling in the newsroom today was a “mixture of pride and sadness” and that the closure was a “sign of how difficult it is” in the news industry today.

He also stressed that the closure was “not in any way a reflection on the quality of the journalism”.

“In the past four years since the paper was launched we have done a lot of groundbreaking stories – in relation to abortion laws and maternity hospitals,” he said.

“We punched above our weight. We were a small team but we certainly made impact and there were legislative changes as a result of stories we did, mostly around abortion and access to information.”

He added: “It was a brave decision to launch the paper.

“There were lots of resources put in. I suppose the staff would feel that we should have been given a longer period to see it come out of the woodwork because the paper was getting traction. It was still building readership.

“We felt we had a lot more to promise and deliver. The feedback from readers was incredibly positive.”

Times Ireland journalist Ellen Coyne has won political story of the year for the past two years at the Journalism Awards run by Newsbrands Ireland, while colleagues Jennifer O’Brien and Catherine Sanz  picked up showbiz story of the year in 2018.

Times Ireland business reporter Paul O’Donoghue tweeted earlier: “The paper was a breeding ground for talented hacks, and broke amazing story after amazing story.”

‘Teething problems’

A second staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, told Press Gazette the closure had “all happened very quickly” and that staff were told it was shutting because they were not hitting audience targets.

The Times had an average print circulation of 3,154 in the Republic of Ireland in May, according to ABC figures.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the same month it had a circulation of 361,536 and in Scotland it sold 28,432 copies.

Rivals the Irish Independent and the Irish Times had circulations of 76,749 and 55,813 respectively in the Republic of Ireland from July to December.

None of these figures include the titles’ online readerships.

“Obviously we are all disappointed it came to an end but we are quite proud of what we achieved over the last two years,” the journalist said.

“We broke some very important stories. We think we carved out a place in the market and we had a very firm identity but unfortunately we just didn’t gain enough traction.

“I suppose there was a lot of teething problems. Obviously the Irish Times would have been one of our main competitors and initially there was a lot of confusion over the title. We were the Times Ireland, they were the Irish Times.

“That didn’t help in terms of that initial phase of trying to establish an identity, establish a presence, but I know we did get over that and we were certainly getting there in terms of establishing a presence in the market.

“Unfortunately I suppose that trajectory wasn’t fast enough for the overall company.”

Improved redundancy terms

The staffer added that they believed the newspaper should have had better marketing on its launch and more support from News UK and Ireland management in London in order to reach its targets.

“The reason our name was out there was the quality of the stories we were breaking,” they said.

“We broke a number of nationally important stories but ultimately when News UK started this ‘future proofing’ project, which is basically just to cut costs, we were the first to come under the firing line.”

Times Newspapers made a pre-tax profit of £9.6m in 2018, up from a loss of £6.5m the year before.

Turnover was up 2 per cent year-on-year at the Times, to £326.4m, while its earnings (EBITDA) were up from a £27m loss to a £17m profit.

News UK has asked the Government for permission to share editorial resources between the Times and Sunday Times for the first time, citing “persistent cost pressures facing our industry”. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright is “minded to” accept the change.

The National Union of Journalists criticised News UK and Ireland last month for offering the legal minimum package of two weeks’ money per year of service for staff being made redundant. Those who had served for less than two years faced getting nothing.

The journalist told Press Gazette this was improved “just slightly” after a public backlash against the terms.

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