Five Minutes with…Peter Vandermeersch, Publisher, INM
What drew you to the news publishing business?
As a young boy in Bruges, I saw in 1976 the movie ‘All the President’s Men’ about the Washington Post and the Watergate scandal (Bernstein and Woodward). I was 15 and decided: ‘I want to become a journalist’ (I wanted to be Robert Redford, I guess). And basically, I always have been a journalist since. A couple of years later I went to the university of Ghent to study history because people told me (rightly so!) that that was the best way to become a good journalist. After my studies I first worked a while at the university doing scientific research, but quickly followed my vocation and started as a journalist at De Standaard in Brussels. The rest (editor in chief in Brussels and Amsterdam/ publisher in Dublin) is history.
What’s the most exciting thing happening in news publishing internationally right now?
The most exciting things in news publishing is always the content. And obviously there are a couple of major stories. How the world is coping with Covid-19, how Donald Trump is fighting for his political survival, how we are coping with climate change, Brexit… The value of journalism in all of these major stories cannot be overestimated. Apart from the content side: I think that the most exciting thing in our business is the regained trust in ‘classical’ media. In the Covid-crisis people all over the world turned to the newsbrands they know and trust and turned away from ‘influencers’ and other dodgy news providers. Obviously it will be up to us to prove to we deserve that trust. Every day.
Current challenges facing news publishers?
The most obvious one: how to be where our customer is: on a mobile phone. We love print but believe digital is the future. I still think we do not realise here in Ireland how quickly print will disappear (apart from Saturday/Sunday) and how radical we must be in becoming digital. Linked with that challenge: how do we convince our customer to pay for digital information? Yes we love the advertisor but its the reader who is our customer. We have to provide unique and valuable information he/she is willing to pay for. And that brings us back to: content. content. content.
What’s next for your publication/ Any exciting news you’d like to share?
In September, we launch our home delivery. In Dublin (and very soon in the other bigger cities in Ireland) we offer a combination of Saturday print plus digital, Sunday print plus digital or Saturday and Sunday print plus digital. I believe very much in this bundle of the future. The whole week we read on our phone/tablets/computers but during the weekend we want the print on our kitchen table. We deliver the newspaper to your home during the weekend and to your phone seven days a week.
And in October we launch Sundayworld.com. This great newspaper, which by the way was during Covid-times one of the best performers of our group, deserves a great digital future. It’s a very exciting project.
And,… well watch this space. An industry which is not changing the whole time (at a higher speed than what we are used to here in Ireland) is a place I do not want to be.
What is your most memorable or favourite news moment/story in the past year?
It’s the story about ourselves. How we launched in February a digital subscription on the independent.ie and have acquired in a couple of months 25,000 subscribers. How we launched in Belfast a digital subscription and have in no time 1,500 subscribers. And how we make newspapers and sites, not from an office in Talbot Street, but from more than 350 homes all over the country. If you would have told me this story at the beginning of the year I would have told you I do not believe in Irish fairytales.