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Rival Voice to strike fear into Irish Catholic paper

Added on November 7, 2004

THE once serene domain of religious publication has just got ugly, writes Dearbhail McDonald.
For the first time in its history, the Irish Catholic newspaper will have serious competition for the hearts and souls of Ireland?s faithful.

A rival weekly publication is being launched by Simon Rowe, a former editor of the Irish Catholic who left in acrimonious circumstances earlier this year. Rowe has also poached at least two key members of staff from his former employer and has hefty financial backing from a business consortium behind the new paper.

Rowe, a former business journalist, resigned as editor of the religious weekly, first established in 1888, after just nine months following a row with Otto Herschan, its 77-year-old managing director. Rowe failed to ?see eye to eye? with Herschan over an article that criticised the sale of church property by Ireland?s senior prelates.

The Voice, which has secured ?250,000 in investment from a 15-strong consortium, will be launched on November 25, targeting families, the Irish Catholic?s core readership.

?The Voice will cater for families, parents and young people who are interested in culture, faith and family,? said Rowe, who has signed up John Lonergan, the governor of Mountjoy prison and Ronan Mullen, an Irish Examiner columnist and a former Dublin diocesan spokesman, as contributors to the new family paper.

?Many young parents and their children are finding it difficult to keep pace with, and make sense of, the fast-moving, MTV culture that surrounds them,? he said.

Rowe, who penned a number of high-profile stories during his brief reign, resigned following a dispute with Herschan over issues of editorial independence, policy and finance of the religious weekly.

?Although it is a newspaper with a Catholic ethos, we hope to form alliances with other Christian traditions and the ?new Irish? who have brought other religious traditions into our community.?

The Voice is backed by several leading investors including Sean Ascough, a Catholic property developer, and Leo Goodstadt, a Dublin-based consultant. Its imminent arrival is said to have rattled the Irish Catholic, which has yet to find a replacement for Rowe and is battling against falling circulation figures and an elderly readership base.

The defection of at least two key staff members, including Pat Quinn, the circulation manager, to the new rival has exacerbated the situation, as has the fact that the Irish Catholic?s distribution partner will also circulate the new rival, which will be printed in Belfast by the Andersonstown News.

The Voice will retail at ?1 ? 20 cents more than the Irish Catholic. It will have an initial print run of 20,000 and the tabloid format paper will be sold on Thursday ? the same day as its competitor. The Voice has received tacit approval from the church hierarchy, and 10% of the profits will be donated to Irish charities.

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