Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Press Delete: the decline and fall of the Irish Press, Ray Burke, Currach Press, ISBN 1 85607 924 4, €19.99/£13.99 pbk
In 1998 Irish Press Newspapers Ltd was dissolved. Over ten years of mismanagement had resulted in what had once been an Irish institution, coming to an end with one of its directors jailed for fraud. In fact, no Press newspapers had been published since 1995. This is the story of those final years of management turmoil until the last editions.
The Irish Press, Sunday Press and Evening Press, were once the best-selling and most influential newspapers published from Dublin. The Irish Press had been launched in 1931 as a daily mouthpiece for mainstream republicans, financed mainly by subscriptions of tens of thousands of sympathisers at home, in the US and UK. It was actually Fianna Fáil's mouthpiece and soon became a private business controlled by the De Valéra family for much of its life.
However, it gave journalists, who had supported the republican struggle in the civil war and who often found themselves unemployed after 1922, an outlet. It was to launch the careers of many famous Irish writers.
Frank Gallagher (1898-1962), a Cork journalist, who had worked in the Republican Publicity Bureau editing the Irish Bulletin<.em> during the War of Independence, had become its first editor in 1931. My father, a fellow Cork journalist and contemporary, had worked for Frank in 1919-21 in the Bureau. Soon after taking editorship, Frank offered my father, who had by then settled in Fleet Street in London, a job, which my father, not enamoured by Dev's leadership, declined. In fact, Frank only lasted four years as editor himself before resigning.
Coincidentally, in 1968 and 1969, I wrote some features for the Sunday Press as a freelance writer.
It's a small world. Ray Burke, the author of this book, came to the Irish Post, a newspaper I helped to launch as deputy editor in 1970, and then in 1984 he joined the Irish Press and was news editor until its demise. He saw at first hand the machinations and malaise that led to the newspaper group's ultimate corporate suicide.
This is a story of management incompetence, of disastrous decisions, such as the partnership with Ingersoll Publications in the USA in which they lost IR£8 million in the disastrous launch of the St Louis Sun, which collapsed within a year.
The Irish Press struggled to survive, there was High Court action by the newspaper board against Ingersoll and he was ordered to sell his 50 per cent share interest back to the Irish Press company and pay IR£6.5 million for lost investment. But on appeal the Supreme Court froze that payment.
Within a year the newspapers were no more. The story becomes a horrendous catalogue of business mistakes told by a participating journalist, reading as grippingly as any thriller.
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Copyright © 2005 Peter Berresford Ellis