Belfast-based daily The Irish News has announced plans to switch from midsize Berliner format to tabloid in the spring.
The move comes a week after the latest regional newspaper ABC figures made it the fastest-growing local daily in the UK.
A purpose-built £12 million press in Belfast will print the new-look paper with a full-colour, 96-page capacity.
In 2000, the family-owned paper switched to the Berliner format which The Guardian and Observer plan to adopt in 2006.
Editor Noel Doran explained the decision to change size again saying it “will improve The Irish News in every respect”.
The paper’s performance was masked in the official ABC six-month figures released last week by the fact that it has reduced bulk distribution copies. But while overall circulation rose a modest 0.04 per cent, actual fullprice sales rose by 1.97 per cent.
The News has gone from 45,000 to 50,000 sales over the last 10 years.
Doran said this was despite the fact that many expected the paper to lose sales following the first IRA ceasefire in 1994 and the consequent drop in hard news stories linked to the Troubles.
Doran said: “After the initial paramilitary ceasefire 10 years ago there was a suggestion from some quarters that it would have a detrimental effect on papers like The Irish News. There was a suggestion that we relied on reporting the Troubles and the consequences of the violence.”
He added: “There is less hard news around now, the news agenda has changed. When the Troubles were at their height the number of murders a year in Northern Ireland was running at roughly 100. In 1972 almost 500 people were killed in Northern Ireland. Violence has not completely left us but the number of annual murders is now in single figures.
“Right up until the early 90s there were significant levels of violence and civil conflict, and that dominated our agenda. Now there is a difference emphasis, we still don’t have the political stability that The Irish Newswould like to see in Northern Ireland. But the readers are not as obsessed with politics was they were in the past – it’s an important story but a fairly repetitive one. We cover the political stories but also try to give them more health, education, business and sport.”
Doran said improving coverage in sport has been good for sales.
Coverage of last September’s AllIreland Gaelic football final between two Ulster teams, Armagh and Tyrone, secured the paper’s biggest ever sale at 67,000.