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Terry Prone: The demise of Irish newspapers has been greatly exaggerated

Cherish this copy of the Herald. Don't just save it. Put it in a little time capsule and bury it. Because, according to commentators (particularly, it must be noted, those on radio) Irish newspaper sales are on an irrevocable ski slope. Downwards is the only way they can go and we in print are doomed for sure.

Of course, the chances are that you'll buy this paper tomorrow. Because we in Ireland love news and when we go to the shops in the afternoon, or head to the bus after work, we want an update on the latest disaster, tragedy, insult to the taxpayer or sports controversy.

Not to mention the new revelations on the stars we watch in the movies.

We've always loved newspapers, not least because we know how powerful they are in exposing crooks and knaves, but also because we're outward-looking.



Emigration

Maybe it's our history of emigration and travel or just that we're on a tiny island and know that what's going on in the rest of the world, whether it's fuel shortages or terrorism, affects us, or, in the case of the Pakistan flood, can be, even in a small way, affected by us.

A friend of mine recently returned from a holiday with friends who live in Maine.

"In six days," she told me in astonishment, "not a newspaper came into the house, not a radio was switched on and the only time I saw the TV on was when the weather channel was consulted to see whether we'd have rain or sun for the rest of our trip."

Ireland isn't like that and never was. Buying a newspaper is part of our everyday rituals. Buying two is a frequent habit. But maybe that's all changing?

Actually, it isn't changing much at all. Sales of some newspapers -- especially those aimed at a business market -- have shrunk in response to the recession. Makes sense, if you think about it.

Ireland suddenly has almost half a million unemployed people; many of them architects, lawyers, builders and surveyors. Precisely the kind of people who'd have bought a business paper to keep abreast of opportunities we used to have in this country. Now, they can't.

Then there were couples who used to buy two or three on a Sunday and get back into a bed strewn with papers and supplements, clutching a vente latte and planning several hours of snuggly browsing. Now, where they bought two papers, they buy one. It doesn't mean that we've fallen out of love with newspapers.

The fact is that Ireland has more national newspapers available for daily purchase than any other country in the world. That's partly because some of the overseas suppliers dump their wares in this country at discount prices.

But, whatever the reason, we are oversupplied -- and yet we buy. We have alternatives -- and yet we continue to buy newspapers.

We have news sources all around us at home and in the workplace, often free, yet we continue to buy newspapers.



Briquettes

They're a flexible friend -- you can bend them, tear bits out of them, recycle them into briquettes for the winter, or use them to clean your windows.

Undoubtedly, the trend in newspapers closing in the United States has been dire. But the American media market never matched or mirrored the Irish market.

And while some newspapers, even in Ireland, have seen their sales graphs sag a bit, they've seen that more than compensated for by people reading their news and columns on the internet.

The issue, for most newspapers, is how to price their web offerings so people stay attracted to them when they cease to be free. The issue is not about packing up the notebooks and abandoning a relationship of trust with the reader.

Remember when Mark Twain said the reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated?

It's the same with newspapers. Today. Tomorrow. And for the foreseeable future.