Gutted to discover this morning that the UK Independent newspaper will no longer sell copies in Ireland, North or South, apparently due to distribution costs (online link to be added when I find it). Online content will still be available free, of course, and apparently the i will still sell over here.
The response of most people will be: get over it, get online or buy the Guardian. And given that the paper is a private operation, I’m sure that ultimately nothing can be done to change what is presented as a commercial decision.
And to get the online argument out of the way – for me personally, as someone who blogs, Facebooks, Twitters and generally spends more time than is good for me in cyberspace (including reading other newspapers), for years there has still been nothing like feet up with a cup of tea and a copy of the Independent, away from the screen. I shall miss it. Of course there’s a wider public policy argument about digital exclusion, but obviously the Indy doesn’t care about that.
My three points about the significance of this decision are rather different, and they do only relate to Northern Ireland. Should the paper wish to continue selling in the Republic, it may do so on the same basis as other foreign publications, with an appropriately higher price. But, first, in Northern Ireland, we are part of the United Kingdom, whether or not individuals think we should be. This means we share the tax system, welfare benefits (through a parity agreement), and defence and constitutional matters. Our block grant to the Assembly is decided by the UK Treasury. We need to know what is going on in UK politics, and the Independent’s news coverage and features in this area are exemplary. Incidentally their coverage of the eurozone financial crisis by Ben Chu is also outstanding.
The second point is – what will happen to the paper’s coverage of Northern Ireland? Assuming that NI readership will drop without a full paper edition, and given the lack of interest over the water, does it mean that the Independent will no longer provide reliable reporting and analysis in this area? Again that would be a great loss.
Third, it sets a worrying precedent. As times get harder, will other UK newspapers restrict their circulation to more populated areas? Surely it costs no more to transport papers to Belfast than it does to the Scottish Highlands and Islands? Are they next? And which papers might be affected? – most likely the papers of record. Comments on the Guardian’s reporting of this story today include concern about this.
So in future my cup of tea will be supplemented by the Guardian, a poor substitute in my opinion.