By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Rising costs and collapsing income have led to cash crises in two of the country’s media institutions, with both the Irish Times and RTE seeking jobs cuts in an effort to curb multi-million-pound losses.
The problems at the 142-year-old Irish Times are the most serious. To stave off the threat of closure, it wants to shed 250 jobs, almost a third of its workforce.
The sudden emergence of the crisis at the paper has caused widespread shock as its appointments and property supplements were bringing in record profits during the Celtic Tiger boom and the circulation has been moving steadily upward.
However, it is expected to lose _2 million this year and up to _17 million next year if nothing is done.
The paper has been run by a trust since 1974 with chairman Major Tom McDowell, 78, having a veto on all decisions.
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It has spent virtually all of its cash reserves on a new print works at Citywest on the outskirts of Dublin, which is expected to cost _60 million. A Saturday supplement and an acclaimed website are both incurring heavy losses.
Editor Conor Brady said the job shedding would affect all areas and all levels and he hoped as many as possible of the layoffs would be voluntary.
“I have no doubt that unless we get the cooperation of the unions and of the staff on this, then we do face the very real prospect, I would say the inescapable prospect, of closure of the Irish Times,” he said.
Brady said they had been cutting costs but that the severe economic downturn had “cut the heart out of our revenues.”
“The first few of months of this year were quite good,” Brady said. “Revenues were actually up to an all-time record. Things began to fall down in February and March. What became first of all a gentle descent then became a very precipitous slide.”
Brady said the paper is a quality product with high expenses. This includes a large team of journalists and offices in the U.S., China, Britain, Northern Ireland and several European cities.
Hit by increased competition from commercial TV and radio and falling advertising, RTE has also announced a further 150 jobs cuts and the axing of programs and departments as it struggles to reduce a projected deficit next year of over _23 million.
In July, Arts Minister Sile de Valera allowed the station a _14.50 increase in the license fee. RTE had been seeking _50.
RTE, which has already cut 330 jobs in the last three years, is to scrap its outside broadcast section and buy in the service, cut its news and technology divisions and drop a number of programs. It is expected to show more reruns to replace the 200 hours of home-produced programs being axed and savings on programs from Britain and the U.S.
“If we do nothing, we are facing into a level of deficit next year which is absolutely unsustainable by anybody’s standards,” RTE’s director-general, Bob Collins, said.