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Virtual ‘lies’

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

VirtualIreland.com, the New York-based Irish-American community website, is on the selling block.

But, contrary to a recent Irish Times report, it is not "going out of business," according to employees of both the website and its parent company, Virtual Communities.

"Reports of our demise are grossly exaggerated," said Brian Rohan, the editor in chief of Virtual Ireland, who described the Times story as "a pack of lies" and "incredibly libelous."

The reports of Virtual Ireland’s closure followed the layoff of 50 employees by Virtual Communities, the parent company of VirtualIreland, as well as four other ethnic websites, VirtualJerusalem.com, VirtualHolyLand.com, VirtualItaly.com and VirtualIndia.com

The layoffs — in New York and Jerusalem — account for a third of Virtual Communities staff, according to Deborah Gaines, Virtual Communities vice president for content. But, she emphasized none of the layoffs affected Virtual Ireland, which, she revealed, had turned a profit in the last quarter.

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However, she said, the other sites are not generating adequate revenue.

In addition to editor in chief Rohan, 31, the Virtual Ireland editorial team includes two other editors, Stephen McKinley and Noreen Bowden, and Web master Kristen Geiger.

"Virtual Ireland is for sale to the right buyer if the right buyer comes along," Gaines said. She added that the parent company, also known as VCIX, is looking to change its strategy from managing online communities to the development and sale of CORTEXT, which is content management software for the Web.

And although Virtual Ireland is on the market, Gaines said it was not "a fire sale" in that it was liquidating; nor was the company interested in someone who merely "wants our mailing list." Rather, she said, VCIX is seeking someone with the resources to enable the website grow.

"We are also very interested in a joint partnership," she said.

Said Rohan: "We are currently talking with several different people interested in a partial or full investment." He pointed out that Virtual Ireland has 80,000 registered users and a million and a half page views a month.

Meanwhile, Rohan is seeking a retraction from the Irish Times, which also publishes the Web site Ireland.com.

Asked if the report had not generated valuable publicity for VirtualIreland, Rohan insisted it was "bad publicity."

Carol Power, the New York-based reporter who wrote the Times story, declined to comment.

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