Noel Doran: 'Once the troubles had ended, we broadened our horizons'

The editor of The Irish News tells Matthew Bell how his paper has bucked the sales trend

There is no champagne on ice and he has no plans for a party, but Noel Doran could be forgiven for raising a small glass next month to mark his 10th anniversary as editor of The Irish News.

According to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), his paper has once again bucked the downward trend among regional titles by showing a sales increase in the second half of last year. At 0.1 per cent, the rise may seem small, but it is impressive given the uniquely tough climate in which all local papers are currently operating, with equivalent titles in Scotland such as The Scotsman and The Herald experiencing double-figure percentage losses and record circulation lows.

"In the context, it's good news," admits Doran, although he is reluctant to revel in any glory. "The paper is more than the work of any individual and the News is more than a newspaper – it is central to the community." Largely, this is the Catholic community of Northern Ireland, which makes up about 43 per cent of the population. In a heavily partisan press, The Irish News is the leading voice of moderate nationalism, squared against The Protestant Newsletter, and with the Belfast Telegraph somewhere in between. With an average daily circulation of 47, 819, the News is the second most-read paper in Northern Ireland after the Belfast Telegraph, owned by Independent News & Media.

The Irish News has undergone a considerable reinvention since Doran became editor, a year after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. "Once the troubles had ended, we had to broaden our horizons," he recalls. Doran responded by creating a business desk and recruiting health and education correspondents. Sport was also made a priority.

Latterly the News has been unusual in refusing to give in to the widely held assumption that newspapers must give away their content for free on the internet. "If you're in an area where there is online advertising, you can afford to do that," he says. "But in Northern Ireland it is very, very hard to find – online ad revenue simply does not exist here. So we charge a £65 annual subscription. We don't have a huge number of subscribers, but the revenue certainly helps. I'm happy we have a reasonable website, but we can't compare with any of the London nationals."

The News is also a curiosity in being entirely owned by one family, the Fitzpatricks, who bought it in the early 1980s. Despite this old-fashioned management structure, the paper has not been afraid to take risks, switching from a broadsheet to a midsized Berliner format in 2000, five years before The Guardian. The readers welcomed the move, and subsequent market research showed they were in favour of an even smaller format, prompting a second downsizing in 2005,.

"The Irish News has been very clever," says Paul Moore, a media commentator and lecturer at Queen's University Belfast. "It has evolved to combine its core product of hard news with enhanced lifestyle, sport and celebrity coverage in a coherent way. But what really sets the News apart is that it was the first paper in Ireland to realise the importance of airing views it didn't necessarily agree with. Anecdotally I would say that quite a few Protestants read the paper."

The News stretches back to the time of Charles Parnell, who led the campaign for home rule in the late 19th century. When his party split in 1891 over revelations of his extramarital affair, the paper was launched as the voice of opposition, in reaction to the Belfast Morning News' unwavering support of Parnell. When Parnell died later that year, that paper collapsed, leaving The Irish News as the chief voice of nationalism, which it has remained ever since.

There is no shortage of quality newspapers in Ireland, but the News has carefully defended its corner, most notably against the now-closed Daily Ireland, a nationalist tabloid launched in 2005. Reports at the time that the News adopted aggressive tactics to see off its rival were denied by Doran: "It just wasn't a good newspaper."

His formula is working, for now, but Doran is not complacent. He is already concerned about the next set of ABCs, which will reflect the response to last month's price hike from 60p to 70p. "We thought of going up by only 5p but thought that would actually annoy the readers more." A recent diary item suggested he might be ready to move on. "There's no substance to it," he says, adding perhaps more enigmatically: "There are no circumstances I can think of under which I would want to leave." For the Fitzpatrick family, that must be cause for celebration.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?