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20th Dec 2016

Handbags At Dawn – The Irish Times Took A Swipe At The Indo, But They’re Both Missing The Point


I love watching the Irish Times and The Irish Independent adapting to the digital age. It’s a bit like watching a depleted crew attempt to turn an oil tanker around through 180 degrees, while at the same time trying to catch a fleet of fleeing speedboats.

The Indo are clearly going for the Daily Mail strategy of huge page views, celebrity photos and victory through sheer volume. The eyeballs solution is, after all, the only one that newspapers have ever known – and so, it does make sense that these print giants would attempt to apply it online. Meanwhile, I’d love to tell you what strategy the Irish Times have, but I haven’t really been able to detect one from the outside over the last five years or so.

Is the paywall up or down these days? Last I heard I think it was coming back up but who knows. Flip a coin. In fact, you can use the coin you’re not going to use to buy a copy of the newspaper, as their physical sales have plummeted in that time.

For the most part in these media wars – and it is still a media war between these two, despite the massively diversified landscape they’ve both been thrust into – things potter along with everybody trying to get their own house in order. Nobody in the glass house wants to go lobbing stones, but today somebody seems to have put something funky in the water at the Irish Times. They’ve come out fighting in a somewhat uncharacteristic way, and launched a scathing attacked on the poor old defenceless souls in the Indo.

They just published this article about clickbait, which I’d encourage you to read.


Seems like the Irish Times are angry about The Indo’s online strategy, blasting it as clickbait. They even go as far as giving us a photo caption saying “Gratuitous photo of The Boss to entice people to click on the article”.

Now you may wonder why I blurred out the article above instead of publishing a screen grab. Well that is because the Irish Times are also on a crusade against people who don’t link to their content as you can see from the following discussion between a prominent Indo contributor and Times’ journalists this afternoon on Twitter.


So linking good. Clickbait bad. Screen grabs bad. I do look forward to reading the inevitable upcoming article titled “27 things people shouldn’t do according to the Irish Times” just as soon as they get the memo that people love lists online. Okay, fine, I jest (mostly) – I must say I love their nobility and their dedication to the old brand. I love their new data blog, some of their long reads, and I do genuinely hope they turn the business around and are here for decades to come.

Media Is Changing

The exchanges remind me of two pensioners on the deck of the Titanic rearranging the deck chairs while knowing that the captain will have them back down at the dinner table soon enough drinking a gin and tonic. Arguments between journalists are nothing new and ironically they’ll drive up traffic (you think the Irish Times, in writing that piece, don’t know that it will provoke a response?) but this is so far from the real action it beggars belief.

To see where the magic is happening, you need only to look across the Atlantic at the modern giant that is Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed have attracted plenty of stick over the last few years, but they’ve transitioned from a site that does lists about cats to one that yesterday ran a one-on-one interview with the US president; they’ve built a respectable and credible brand (which the Irish Times has, but the Indo is sacrificing) while also managing to pull in the hits (which the Irish Times is sacrificing, but the Indo has) and the cash (umm… less said about that, the better).

Buzzfeed, Vice and other new media companies are massively backed with billions of dollars VC money, offices full of engineers and hackers growing their traffic. On the flip side every single time I talk to old-media employees for an interview they seem to be coming from the latest round of job cuts or mergers.


I don’t know who’ll win in the long term when it comes to media. I would share some guesses at a high level including…

  • Video is not the answer for big traditional media companies. Quick fix maybe, but that’s it
  • There will be a lot more consolidation
  • The big winners will be truly global plays (Guardian, Vice, Buzzfeed)
  • Podcasts and audio won’t generate enough cash
  • The winners will come from the bottom up rather than top down. The exceptions will be the early adopters of the bygone era, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Mail etc
  • The ad revenue will continue to be sucked out of publisher’s pockets and into Twitter, Facebook and Google’s coffers.

It wasn’t that long ago that we had Irish media looking to charge people to link to them! We were laughed at globally for that. There is a lot of figuring out to do for everybody in this industry. Probably better everybody gets their own houses in order, and stops getting caught up in petty wars, before the big American tech companies suck the life out of everything.