One of the more financially viable names in Irish journalism through its skillfully administered Trust, the Irish Times Group reported an 8% contraction in revenue for the year 2020 according to its annual financial report . With annual turnover falling from €110 to €101 million over the 12 month period, the Group nevertheless saw an increase in gross profit at €8.3 million on the back of salary cuts and operational streamlining, which overcame the drop in revenue.
Governed by a 9 person Trust, the Irish Times Group manages a variety of other titles, such as the Irish Examiner and The Echo, as well as various subsidiary companies. Employing 431 individuals through its publishing and distribution, this is 11 less than it did in 2019.
While witnessing a stark 20% decline in advertising revenue, this was rectified by a 41% uptick in digital and home subscriptions which helped tide the Group over. Commenting on the findings of the report, the Group’s managing director Liam Kavanagh stated that while the initial few months of 2020 had been turbulent, this had been mitigated by positive conditions in the second half of the year.
The Group also availed of various wage subsidy schemes to the tune of €3 million to help buttress itself against the impact of the pandemic, an amount the paper has subsequently paid back to the Exchequer in full.
With an annual wage bill of €29 million the salaries of the paper’s top brass were given as €270,000 for its managing director Liam Kavanagh as well as €240,000 for its editor Paul O’Neil.
Claiming 286,000 daily readers, the last known figure for the paper’s print circulation was placed at 54,000 in 2019 and falling fast.
In addition to a variety of newspapers, the Group also controls other commercial ventures including MyHome.ie and the Itronics Limits, the paper’s electronic publishing wing.
While the Irish Times and its media affiliates maintain some of the nation’s healthiest bank balances for a media company, questions ought to be raised about whether the use of state subsidies constitutes the thin end of the wedge regarding state support. Our political class has been trying to push the envelope on state subsidies of old media for years, conscious of the increasingly desperate situation some outlets face. The pandemic in many respects acts as an icebreaker for this trend.
The crisis of profitability may not have wreaked havoc upon the Irish paper of record yet, but looming clouds may very well linger over the horizon. The Irish Times, at least according to their own figures, is in decent financial condition. However, across the board, the ghastly spectre of state support for news media beckons amid a ruinous market and a political regime cynically willing to throw a financial lifebuoy.