Media (and other) predictions for 2019

  • Layoffs and shutdowns will continue to close down traditional newspapers and magazines. But the crunch will also affect new media outlets, who will find it just as hard to compete with the Google/Facebook advertising duopoly.

  • Anonymous funding from vaguely defined organisations will continue to flow into right wing and dubious groups around Ireland until one of them gains traction. Expect a significant surge around the Euro and local elections.

  • Before 1 January 2020 the official homeless figure will exceed 20,000 people. No minister will lose a job because of this.

  • From the most respected to the most base news outlets, Comments will continue to decline both in quantity and, even more noticeably, in quality, as trolling and information warfare actors use them to game public opinion. Editors and publishers will continue to publish the comments, because even a bot click is a revenue click.

  • Now that abortion is lawful in Ireland, any problems will be disavowed by the minister as administrative matters and the responsibility of the HSE, nothing to do with him.

  • The public faces of Irish media will continue to be very white, Irish, male and middle-aged, and extremely defensive when challenged about any of those things.

FOI: Censorship of Publications Board

Following a random conversation on Twiter in September 2018, I submitted a Freedom o Information request for the minutes of meetings of the Censorship of Publications Board between 2011 and the end of 2017. Alan Shatter’s Laura (“”) was complained about (the complaint was rejected) was among those books complained about, as was “Flatpack Feminism”, and for some reason, a book about St Anthony of Padua.

So now, I’m curious what exactly people were complaining about, and I’ve sent in a further FOI for the original complaints. I’ll keep you posted.

Meetings of the Board

Meetings of the Censorship of Publications Board, 2011 to 2017


Appeals

Meetings of the Censorship of Publications Appeals Board, 2011 to 2017


After Charleton

I wrote this before the Charleton tribunal first sat (and at a time when I didn’t think I would be covering it). It feels appropriate to repost it today.

Every time a Morris report was published, experts and commentators suddenly appeared. They were almost entirely uninformed.

And an awful lot of commentary will obsess about the tribunal’s costs.

My sustained impression after almost a decade of seeing An Garda Síochána dealing with its problems up close is that there is no institutional or political will to look under the hood, never mind fix the engine. Tribunals aren’t about solutions, they’re about the appearance of solutions, and their reports go largely unread.

When the Charleton report is eventually published, in two or three years time, it is likely that most of the main players will have retired from public life. The news cycle will follow a predictable pattern, with selective leaks to political and crime correspondents beforehand to set the stage, a “feeding frenzy” for two or three days after publication, and then nothing. Barring some extraordinary developments, there will be a few speeches from people in charge assuring the public that changes have been made, new procedures put in place, and everyone will move on to the next story. GSOC will remain underfunded. Garda records will for the most part remain outside the reach of Freedom of Information law. Tusla and the HSE will carry on business as usual.

All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.

Life Changes

Some thoughts while waiting for the count.

Negative campaigning didn’t suppress the vote. It infuriated young voters tired of the dead hand of history and impatient for the polls to open so they could cast their vote and move on.

And speaking of young people…

The young voted against the Eighth in 1983, but they were outnumbered by the old. In 1983,Ireland has a young, educated population, half of them under 25. But in 1983, most of them were under 18. The youngest of them are 35 this year, old enough to be president. Some of us are in our fifties.
Throughout the campaign, I’ve seen canvassers surprised and delighted as older voters too assured them they were voting Yes. But those older voters were young in 1983. A 66 year old today was 31 in 1983, the same age as Simon Harris. A 74 year old was 39, the same as as the taoiseach. They’ve been waiting for this day, making the best of the bad choices offered to allow travel and information amendments, and twice rejecting attempts by Fianna Fail to roll back the X Case suicide ruling.

This has been a Long War, and it’s almost over.

The Young Europeans: An IDA marketing campaign form the 1980s.

The Eighth

Every foreign TV report of the Eighth campaign

Cottage and sheep in the distance.
Saint Patrick’s Day parade.
Church spires.
Farmer with a border collie.
Keith Mills.
Leo Varadkar’s socks.
Nuns.
Pantibar.
Fintan O’Toole.
Closing shot of sunset behind Hapenny bridge.

Things you won’t hear during the Eighth campaign

“And joining us now is [Insert Name] from Lolek Ltd, a privately-held limited company trading under the business name of the Iona Institute”

“What’s the going rate?”

Ideally, you decide your rate. Realistically, it’s a negotiation. Most of us start as pricetakers. If we’re lucky, we end up naming our price. We should all strive to reach that point.

So what’s your rate?

One way to decide is to work backward. Pick a gross yearly income target. Say €36K, more or less the average industrial wage. Research shows freelancers work about 180 days a year. Target divided by workdays yields €200/day.

But maybe the landlord doubled the rent, or the car broke down. Maybe you expect to work fewer that 180 days. Maybe you need to charge €300. Or €500.

Don’t quote half-days. You’re unlikely to get a second gig same day, that one job is all you have to meet your target. If you do get a second gig, Bonus!  There will be enough days when you are idle.

Some publishers will balk, and you’ll need to make a judgment call. Is a particular byline worth it? Is there a chance of future work?

Need an absolute floor? Minimum wage is €9.55/hour, €76.40 for an eight-hour day. But minimum wage staffers cost more than this, because of additional costs like employer PRSI and holiday pay.  You’re worth more. Ask for more.

On voting

I wasn’t at home for the divorce referendum in 1995, so I could only follow it from a distance online. It wasn’t until a few years later I got talking to my brother about the day of the vote.
He was off work, or they finished a job early that day (I can’t remember which), and they ended up in the pub. And across the street from the pub is the national school, and they watched the voters come and go.
And of course some of the voters stopped for a pint afterwards, and naturally the conversation in the pub turned around to the debate that had gone on for the past month.
At the start of the day, he hadn’t planned on voting at all, but the conversation went on, and eventually he decided he’d cast a vote in favour of the referendum.
Someone said afterwards the difference between Yes and No came down to one vote in every ballot box, and that pub conversation may have decided up to half a dozen votes in one ballot box. So I think about that pub debate every now and again.
The thing is, all of this happened in the heart of rural Donegal. In a constituency with a reputation for saying No in every referendum. Where 59% voted No to divorce. The story of one vote in a box.
I was in Donegal for other votes. The first attempt to introduce divorce. The original eighth amendment vote in 1983. I remember the local FF and FG hacks cooperating to get the vote out on that one.
I moved to Dublin to start college two weeks after the Eighth vote. I don’t think I ever met someone who voted No before then. In Donegal, it was easy to believe you were a lunatic for opposing that vote.
I think even in 1995, a lot of people must have felt very alone voting Yes in Donegal. But here’s the thing. The nationwide Yes margin was 9,114 votes. There were 10,450 Yes votes in the Donegal SW constituency, where my story took place. The story of one vote in a box, added to all the other votes.
Every vote matters is a platitude. But it’s also true. And more importantly, every voter matters. So take a minute now, and make sure your vote is still there. Check the register.

Outside the bubble

About a fortnight ago, I accidentally escaped the Twitter filter bubble.
Without thinking about it, I’ve been refining my online filter bubbles for a while, quietly unfollowing some accounts, muting others, occasionally blocking when to send a public signal.
I do the same with particular keywords. Try it sometime. Twitter becomes a much nicer experience if you mute all mentions of ‘Trump’, for example.
The thing is, at the same time, I’m aware I’m cutting myself off from particular debates in doing this.
But as it happens, I was building a different kind of timeline at the same time.
A few years ago, I started an account for a business idea that never went anywhere. And don’t ask me why, but whenever Twitter suggested new followers for that account, I added them. I did apply some rules. I only added people, not corporate accounts. I didn’t add TDs and other aspiring politicians, because they might as well be corporate. And I excluded anyone outside Ireland.
Two weeks ago, I moved from @faduda to @maccuinneagain (I now skip back and forth). And all I can say is, unfiltered Twitter is a bitter, angry place. No wonder their user numbers are stagnant.

Outside help

Last month, the Young Scientist of the Year contest was won by a kid who found  new kind of antibiotic in blackberries.

There was some minor controversy afterwards, as it came out the kid had access to some facilities in a third level institution.

It seems the use of outside facilities is allowed under the rules of the Young Scientist competition, provided it is acknowledged by the entrant, something that was done in this case.

Kevin O’Sullivan wrote a followup to the row, quoting UCC academic Tadhg Ó Cróinín who said “Every entrant can pick up the telephone to a university or college for help if he or she needs equipment, or help.”

So I sent in a Freedom of Information request to University College Cork asking for:

  • Records relating to granting permission for access to UCC facilities
    and laboratories by Young Scientist winner Simon Meehan
  • Records relating to general policies on access to such facilities by
    second level students for the Young Scientists competition or other
    projects.

Here’s the reply I received:

“the record concerned does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts shave been taken.”

Make of that what you will.

Young Scientist fallout – tweet from Kevin O’Sullivan

Freedom of Information reply (pdf)

Bump, Slump, and Subs

Facebook doesn’t want to be a publisher, and it really doesn’t want to be a news publisher, so it should come as no surprise their reaction to accusations they spread fake news is to kill all news in the “newfeed”.

This brings us back to a long-running argument. The future of journalism is not in hunting page impressions on social media. Sure, tell people news sites exist, but the advertising micropennies from the resulting pageviews aren’t going to pay the rent. Longterm, news needs paying customers, not advertisers. Not even if the advertisers are paying for “brand journalism” commercial features.

Subscriptions are the future. Own your words, and sell them to your readers. Call it something else if necessary, membership programme, premium community, supporters and donors, anything. Build a hard paywall, soft paywall, or regular donation drives, but revenues will come from readers. Advertising is not worth the effort for ever-diminishing returns.

And don’t take recent readers for granted. Just as there was a Trump Bump, there will be a Trump Slump. All those new readership subs from last year’s Shellshock Moment are about to expire. They need more than just the latest madness from Washington. Keep it local, stupid.