As a new age of media and technology dawns, Dublin has not been left in the dark. It has never been easier for us to reach breaking news at a moment’s notice, as social media, newspaper apps and aggregators provide us with a constant stream of information that we happily devour. As the intensity of this inundation increases, however, it seems that attaining information is no longer a question of our will to reach a media source, but instead the will of that media to reach us. As a result of this, when Dublin Bus leaves me on O’Connell St and I make my way through crowds of tourists, I pay little attention to the voice of one man selling newspapers at the newsstand that I pass, as I am instead too distracted by the hundreds of other voices emanating from my phone, demanding my attention.
I am not alone in this. We are a generation that has become increasingly dependent on fast-paced media, which does not lend itself well to the business of a trader on the side of street selling yesterday’s news. It therefore no longer comes as any surprise to us that the future of print media appears to be in crisis. At a time when we’ve never before had such a choice of news sources, accessible simply by tapping our phone screens, it’s easy to ignore the crisis facing print media. There are, however, constant reminders that we cannot ignore. Whether it be the “Since you’re here…” tabs at the end of online articles that ask for financial support or the increasingly rare sight of someone reading from a newspaper, the signs of an industry struggling to survive are all around us.
This raises serious concerns for those who depend on print media to earn a living, whether it’s the struggling journalist or a newsstand proprietor. Speaking to The University Times after 15 years of selling newspapers on O’Connell St from his stand outside Easons, Francis Mumbley appears jaded: “It’s no life”, he remarks. It becomes apparent that Mumbley is very much aware of the impact that online media has had on his business: “They all get their paper either digitally or on the phone. The younger generation don’t buy papers.”
We are a generation that has become increasingly dependent on fast-paced media, which does not lend itself well to the business of a trader on the side of street selling yesterday’s news
There is no doubt that with every year that passes, Mumbley’s job becomes more and more difficult. I don’t envy him – the prospect of sitting in the cold and the rain day-in-day-out sounds like quite a lonely existence, but he does tell me that he often has a helper with him (on this occasion, he’d “gone for his tea”). However, there is something melancholic about our conversation that cannot be ignored, an atmosphere only broken for a moment when a customer hands Mumbley some change and says “Sun please”.
It is difficult now to even imagine a time when this newsstand thrived, but it is clear that this is a time that Mumbley remains nostalgic for: “There are very few stands left, very few. Only two, only him over there [gesturing to a newsstand on the other side of O’Connell St] and myself, that’s all. There used to be one at every corner one time.”
Across O’Connell St sits Stephen Cregan, who helps out with the family-owned newsstand that has been in business since 1897. Cregan explains that the stand has been manned by three generations, but has little doubt that the business is currently in its last years. “Newspapers is a dying trade. The only people that buy newspapers here are the older people, the old customers. You get a few young people early in the morning that might buy the Guardian or the Times, but that’s all. Young people don’t read papers. They’re like yourself, they’ve got it on the phone or the iPad and that is where it’s all done.”
There are very few stands left, very few…There used to be one at every corner one time
Cregan is happy to discuss this challenge in greater detail. “I could stand here for 10 hours, and maybe take in €50 for the whole day. There is a hell of a lot less coming in. I only get in 10 Irish Times on a Saturday, it used to be 25, and I could return eight.” While I was aware that newspaper sales had dropped dramatically in recent years, to hear first-hand that a newsstand in Dublin’s mainstreet was only selling two copies of the Irish Times on a busy Saturday, still came as quite a shock.
With these numbers in mind, one has to question how Cregan remains so dedicated to his work. As we chat, however, it quickly becomes clear that he is no longer committed to the papers that he sells, but instead to the people that he serves: “Somebody will always come up to me and ask what bus they should get, or where a certain street is. They will always stop. Especially the older generation, they will stop and talk. Sometimes I look at them and I know that they don’t get to talk to anybody else that day. And that’s why, I didn’t realise, but I’ve noticed that the older people spend that little bit longer with you and talk to you. Whatever the topic of conversation is, whatever is in the paper. And after talking for 20 minutes or so they go away happy. So therefore it is a kind of a community as well.”
As our conversation is interrupted by a customer, to whom Cregan nods a knowing “howiya” to before continuing to serve him, I realise that there is a lot more at stake than just an absence of newspapers. The culture of the trade and the community that it creates presents an invaluably personal quality to the press that liveblogs and email newsletters still struggle to replicate. More importantly still, there is something quintessentially Dublin about these newsstands that is now at risk of being lost. While the nature of the free and fast-paced media that surrounds us is an undeniably fundamental aspect of our lives today, this does not mean that we cannot appreciate the value of newsstands and what they can offer to the press in their own right. By occasionally buying a newspaper and stopping for a chat, we can engage with this uniquely Dublin tradition before it is too late. One may even find that there is something inherently rewarding about exchanging a newspaper and conversation that stands to compete with refreshing that news app in your hand over and over.