CASE STUDY #7: Newry.ie - When audiences grow but funding shrinks
Updated: May 6
Area of Influence: Newry, Northern Ireland
Newry, Northern Ireland is a border city of around 27,000 people. Newry.ie is a local independent news provider, which registered as a CIC in 2018, although it can trace its history back to 2003. It serves the city of Newry and its surroundings by promoting the area and keeping residents informed of what is happening locally.
The title, ran by Columba O’Hare, covers news, events and campaigns and raises awareness for community and voluntary organisations, businesses and people. It produces editorial and photography content, with the help of regular contributors and occasionally freelance journalists.
As a response to Covid-19, Newry.ie is offering its platform to local charities doing essential work during the crisis, as well as refocusing its coverage to reflect initiatives by the Newry community (business, charities, citizens, local government).
And despite a spike in audience numbers of 150%, the current pandemic has left Newry.ie facing financial hardship and its future in jeopardy, due to a steep loss of advertising income as well as of additional funding the publication relies on regularly.
Beyond traditional journalism
Newry.ie has made a conscious effort to support the local community through the Covid-19 pandemic. The title has showcased campaigns by local charities whose fundraising events have been cancelled or whose bucket collections have ran dry, and are feeling the pinch. They are also running banner advertisements free of charge for local charities, including for a local hospice, a suicide prevention charity and the local branch of the Samaritans.
Photos: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The title has also taken care to extensively cover council, police, health trust, local government initiatives and directives and the business community during the crisis. It has also adopted a real focus on positive work that local people and community organisations are doing, as well as trying to give local businesses a helping hand for free.
From local restaurants cooking free meals, to online local events and fundraisers such as quizzes and fun-runs, Newry.ie is keen to show how the community is knitting together at a difficult time.
A growing audience
The title has seen its audience grow dramatically throughout March and April – up 150% on the same period last year, something its Editor Columba puts down to “seemingly everyone craving every morsel of local information about Covid-19.”
This said, Columba has noticed that numbers are starting to stabilise, “possibly because people need to mind their own mental health and have decided to reduce their news intake. As time passes the 'ordinary' news is also starting to return.”
As seems to be a trend across the independent news sector, despite rising page views and clear demand for content, Newry.ie is struggling financially due to the ongoing crisis. Typically, the site generates its income via advertising and funding for specific projects and is supplemented by other photography and website maintenance services. Each of these funding streams have unfortunately all but dried up for the time being.
The options provided by the Government at a central and local level don't seem to apply either given the small structure of the Newry.ie operation. And regarding furlough, Columba describes a reality that is true for many independent news providers:
"(...) to furlough would mean ceasing my business for an unknown time, a business that I have been spending years trying to build up, so I would be very reluctant to go down that road”. Columba O'Hare, Editor of Newry.ie.
A future in jeopardy
Despite a spike in demand for its unique content and the great benefit the site is for the local community, the current pandemic has left Newry.ie facing financial hardship and its future in jeopardy.
Being a ‘one-man-band’ at the moment comes with its advantages and disadvantages: “(...) presently I continue to work even though income is virtually non-existent. The flip side of this is that, like everyone, I have moments when I feel overwhelmed with all that is going on, and at times feel that it is hard to produce regular and interesting stories.”
The experience of Newry.ie, and its commitment to the community it serves despite the challenges it faces, is another example of the need to support, fund and #saveindependentnews.