Your Meath Chronicle may not look all that different today from any of the preceding editions but a rather significant change has just taken place in the ownership structure behind our newspaper.
In the past week, the Irish management of Celtic Media Group, parent company of the Chronicle, acquired the business and assets of the company in a move that secures the 125 jobs in the company and positions it well for the undoubted challenges of the future. The consideration involved is €5.5 million (see coverage on page 4).
It means that there is no longer any involvement by the Scottish-based investor group which had acquired the Meath Chronicle and its related printing operation, the Anglo Celt, the Westmeath Independent, Westmeath Examiner and Offaly Independent during the 2002-2004 period in the ownership of the company.
Responding to the development last Thursday, National Union of Journalists (NUJ) vice-president Barry McCall said: "I welcome the return of these titles to Irish owners. All the newspapers in the group have a proud heritage. This is a good news story."
Mr McCall continued: "The fact that the titles are now owned by management based locally and with local knowledge is a welcome departure at a time when other publishers are ignoring the central importance of local ownership, control and governance. The return of the titles from Scottish to Irish hands will be welcomed by staff, readers and advertisers."
To be fair, you, as readers, probably had little awareness that our titles had passed over to non-Irish ownership some years back - not least as the Scots came from a proud newspaper heritage themselves and continued to invest in the new Irish acquisitions.
Unfortunately, associated with the acquisition of those titles some 10 years ago was a substantial amount of debt which - given the major downturn in the economy since 2007 - was proving to be a real threat to the future of the titles.
We note that another proud newspaper in the midlands - the Offaly Express - published its last edition this week as its owner, the UK-based Johnston Press, wrestles with large debt repayments itself.
Barry McCall of the NUJ said of this Offaly Express closure: "The closure of a newspaper not only means the loss of jobs; it takes with it part of the very soul of the community it serves. Local newspapers play a unique role in chronicling readers' lives and deeds - from birth, to Holy Communions, sporting achievements; weddings and final passing - in a way no other medium can hope to match."
It is really good news, therefore, that the debt burden and threat to jobs hanging over the Celtic Media titles has been addressed in a very progressive manner through Lloyds' Bank, funder to the group, agreeing to sell the business and assets to a new company owned by the incumbent Irish management, led by chief executive Frank Mulrennan and finance director Frank Long. The wider management group, including editors and sales managers, will also have an ownership share in the new company.
Having been around since 1897, the Chronicle has seen many seismic changes - and has proven to be a brand that has stood the test of time very well for this area. We look forward, under our new Irish management, to continuing to serve you in the future and thank you for being so loyal to us in the past!
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