So, I’m new to blogging (on WordPress) so a little introduction is probably warranted. Irish; former journalist; academia pays the bills these days. I write/broadcast for fun. And because, like almost every journalist I’ve ever known, newspapers are my life. I am actually addicted to them. It’s a disease.
Noel Curran, the director general of the Irish State broadcaster RTE recently accepted my invitation to speak to a class of journalism students at the University of Limerick. A podcast of the talk is available here and is well worth a listen. Curran, himself a journalist and producer before he crossed over the management, spoke about the importance of journalism; how important it is for democracy; why RTE was committed to it, even though how we journalists tell stories is changing in the digital era; and why the greatest challenge was for newspapers to bring their readership with them as they transitioned online. It was an interesting and engaging talk from the State broadcasting chief, and perhaps not surprisingly it received a lot of media attention (although the dailies concentrated on comments he made regarding the high salaries RTE is paying to its top talent). Below are some introductory comments I made:
“I cut my teeth in national newspaper journalism. I describe it more of a disease, or an addiction, than a career. I once told the now Chief Executive of INM Joe Webb that I loved my old job so much I would have worked there for free. He suggested it was a pity I hadn’t told him sooner, he would have stopped paying me. To explain what it is we do, or why we do it, and why it’s so important, to anyone who has never worked in a newsroom, well it’s impossible. But it’s damn important that the many fine journalists in Ireland – some of whom are in this room today – keep doing it.
“The Celtic Tiger was a boom time for the media, just like every other Irish industry. But those glory days of double digit ad growth are well and truly gone, and many news organisations are now in crisis. Newspapers are probably worst hit. If the collective drop in circulation we have witnessed since 2007 continues, where will we be another five years? Another 10 years. By 2026 the international ‘Newspaper Extinction Index’ suggests that Irish newspapers will become ‘insignificant’? A few years ago online editions were in their infancy but now they are the future, perhaps the only future, newspapers have. But we’re here today to talk about broadcasting.
Say what you like about journalists, journalism has a fundamental role to play in any democracy. At their best journalists expose corruption and wrongdoing, they investigate wrongs. They act – mostly – in the public interest. Fundamentally, as Emily O’Reilly has said, they keep government honest. Radio Telifis Eireann has been Ireland’s national broadcaster for more than 50 years, and I think it’s fair to say it is probably one of the best broadcasters in the world. And why wouldn’t it be, with the influences of our nearest neighbours the BBC.
By any objective assessment, the Irish public has been well served by RTE. At its very best RTE’s reporting has led to the resignations of Cabinet ministers and exposed corruption and abuse. It had made us laugh, and made us cry. It has recorded that first rough draft of history many times. RTE journalists have been at the forefront of breaking some of the biggest stories in the history of the State – RTE’s journalism has quite literally shaped the Irish political landscape during the last half century.
Journalists get things wrong, sure, but we never intentionally set out to do so. We are guided by principles of accuracy and fairness, and bound by defamation and privacy legislation when conducting our work. RTE in recent years has been left reeling from two whoppers, first the Fr Kevin Reynolds debacle and the bogus tweet on the Frontline programme. While today’s seminar does not concern itself with those events, they are none the less relevant. The mistakes cast a shadow over the public service broadcaster’s impeccable record of investigative reporting and public service journalism. RTE has dealt with those issues. It is in the nation’s interest, and in journalism’s that RTE recovers.
Today’s topic – public service journalism in the digital era? Well, can there be any more important question facing a room full of journalists. The skills required of the journalism graduates of the future are also going to be different. No longer will it simply be enough to know what the ‘inverted pyramid’ is. Sure, those fundamental skills – writing solid copy included – are all important, but so too is the ability to tweet about the story as it breaks, to record the audio, to produce a short video package and offer podcast analysis for online. The message has not changed, but the way we tell our stories certainly has, and it will continue to do so.”