Analysis: Break into Northern Ireland's clique

Northern Ireland’s media scene is characterised by strong relations between local PROs and journalists. Hannah Marriott reports on trends in the province, where communities are largely loyal to their local papers

Northern Ireland is said to have more newspapers per head than any other region of the UK. The Irish Media Directory details 69 titles – a huge number for a country with a population of just 1.6 million.

This is partly because most towns have at least two weekly papers – one with a largely nationalist readership, and another historically serving the unionist community.

Belfast-based Morrow Communications MD Peter Morrow points out that many people are loyal to local media, such as the Andersonstown News in west Belfast, which continue to have healthy circulations.

Of NI's regional dailies, The Belfast Telegraph is the most widely read, a 'cross-community' paper with a circulation of 96,299. Sister title Sunday Life is similarly successful, with a circulation of around 94,000. Other strong dailies include The Irish News (48,405) and The News Letter ( 29,103).

More than politics
Understanding these newspapers goes well beyond knowing their political slant and geographical scope. Anderson Spratt head of public relations Kate Thompson  says: 'We would never offer different papers the same photograph. Glamorous shots of girls, for
example, would be fine for The Belfast Telegraph, but not The Irish News, which is a family paper.'

Morrow also notes that with readership for Republic of Ireland papers The Irish Times and The Irish Independent on the rise in NI, 'there is an increasingly all-Ireland approach to journalism'.

The News of The World is the highest-selling Sunday paper, and other UK-wide dailies are also popular. Life Communications MD Darlene McCormick jokes: 'We have overspill from Irish papers and overspill from English ones – we're bombarded with newspapers in NI.'

In February, NI saw the launch of its fourth major newssheet, Daily Ireland (circulation 10,012), while The Belfast Telegraph added a morning edition to its daily output.

In the regional magazine market, two consumer titles stand out – glossy fashion magazine Northern Woman  (circulation 13,000) and Ulster Tatler, a social events publication covering gala balls, school reunions and restaurant openings. For business coverage, meanwhile, the dailies are important, as well as monthlies Business Eye and Ulster Business.

As for radio, U105 launched last month, targeting the over-40s. City Beat offers commercial music and Cool FM caters for 'young and funky' listeners. Downtown Radio focuses on the over-30s, and the BBC's Radio Ulster provides news and current affairs. Most other stations are local, with small catchments around 30,000 people.
The main TV players are UTV – producing local news and current affairs – and, of course, the BBC.

Be NI-aware
Daily Ireland  news editor Ciarán O'Neill says most PROs who contact him work in NI, with about 30 per cent in the Republic and a small minority in England. He claims England-based PROs 'would benefit from being more aware of Ireland. They don't seem to know where we are, or what we cover'.

The Belfast Telegraph news editor Paul Connolly says research is crucial: 'Contact specialist correspondents via our website. And when you're offering us a survey, make sure you include NI data. It's maddening when we examine something interesting, only to find it doesn't include this region.'

NI's PR industry is well established, with a relatively low staff turnover.

Ulster Business editor Russell Campbell says: 'Journalists meet up a lot, often with the same group of PROs at events – it's an established clique.'

But with a little effort, non-NI PROs can deliver in the region. Tools such as contacts site and the Northern Ireland Yearbook are a good start for research.

So outsiders should not have any misgivings about seeking coverage. As McCormick asserts: 'A good story, well told, is a good story – you can always do a good, top-line job.'

Media contacts

The Belfast Telegraph

The Irish News

The News Letter

Daily Ireland
News editor: Ciarán O'Neill
028 9060 6871

Business Eye
Editor: Richard Buckley
028 9047 4490

Ulster Business
Editor: Russell Campbell
028 9078 3200 RussellCampbell@

Ulster Tatler

Northern Woman
Editor: Lyn Palmer; 028 9078 3000

BBC Northern Ireland & Radio Ulster

UTV; News editor: Chris Hagan
028 9026 2000

City Beat
Downtown Radio & Cool FM

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