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Personal Responsibility

Words matter. As journalists, we have to believe that.

When the tánaiste goes on a flagship RTÉ Current Affairs programme to undermine the advice of public health experts, it matters.

When the taoiseach promises everyone they can have a “very special” Christmas, words matter.

When the cabinet dithers and postpones lockdowns while they know people will gather in large groups on (and after) Christmas day, words matter.

When vaccines are over-promised, adding to the belief that it’s nearly over and people can let their guard down, words matter.

The tone is set at the top.

What senior political leaders say matters.

What senior political correspondents write matters.

And I get it. We’re human. We make mistakes. But when we recognise the mistake, the next words we say matter.

When we get it wrong, acknowledging that is a critical in restoring trust.

Feeling sorry for yourself, or trying to blame a new virus variant, or grumbling about hindsight, isn’t going to help.

There were lot of voices advocating caution in October and November. Claiming everyone supported your moves at the time isn’t going to work. The internet remembers.

Saying sorry matters. It may be the word that matters most of all.

Screen Grabs

This is the second attempt in a decade to reorganise RTÉ funding, after the earlier proposal for a universal “screen” fee foudered on anti-tax sentiment.

This idea is likely to sink too. RTÉ just isn’t that popular with politicians. The broadcaster’s news division, even under current cutbacks, has a habit of asking awkward questions just often enough to justify itself to the viewing public, if not to the subjects of its inquiries.

Happily for TDs shying from accountability, people who wouldn’t pay a direct fee for water pipes are unlikely to want larger bills to keep Ryan Tubridy in a six figure salary, which is how increased funding will be framed by opponents. An already struggling government isn’t going to push too hard against angry voters.

Complicating the picture is the increasingly fractured relationships between news, social media and politics. Trying to buy off papers by merging the licence funds with the rumblings about Google or Facebook paying a media tax might be popular with media owners, but no one else will care.

If the last ten years have shown anything, it is that people will do everything they can to save journalism, with the exception of paying for it.

Television is broken

Sticky News

Advertising is the past. Reader support is the future. This has implications for journalism and website design. You cannot build a media business annoying the audience. People will not keep paying for things that constantly annoy them. That confrontational contrarian opinion writer? He’s costing you money.
News websites also need to fix the stickiness problem.
Make it hard to subscribe, and people will give up. If someone has decided to give you money, don’t put obstacles in their way. Get the money. You can always circles back later if you really need more information. And before you do, ask yourself if you really do need to know a date of birth, or what they work at.
Worse again, make it hard to cancel a sub, and you kill your future. People unsubscribe for all sorts of reasons. Maybe money is tight, or just need a break. But if you’ve made it a pain to leave, with dark designs, obscure and concealed links, or 45 minute phone calls, they’ll remember that pain, and think twice before coming back.
Smart companies make it as easy to leave as to join. You don’t want Hotel California. You want to be a revolving door.

[Thoughts after reading How Google and Facebook destroyed the value of digital advertising]

Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash

History 111

Eleventyone years ago today, the House of Lords rejected the People’s Budget of Lloyd George.
Furious, Lloyd George pushed through the Parliament Act in 1911, limiting the Lords veto to two years.
As a result of the Lords loss of veto, the third Home Rule bill passed in 1912, and would go into effect in 1914.
Between 1912 and 1914, unionists organised to oppose Home Rule, eventually forming the Ulster Volunteer Force, pledged to oppose a Dublin parliament by force of arms.
In response, nationalists formed the Irish Volunteers.
Both sides drilled, practised military manoeuvres, gave themselves martial-sounding titles, and made attempts to import guns.
The 1914 deadline was postponed though, as the world — or at least, Europe — went to war.
Many UVF members joined the British army to fight in Flanders and prove their loyalty.
The Irish Volunteers split, some going to fight in France, arguing this proved they deserved their own parliament, others saying Irish people had no business dying in English wars.
What matters though, is that as a result, there was a body of men primed and ready when the IRB conspirators decided to make their move in 1916. That move failed, but it led in turn to a decisive electoral victory in December 1918, and a campaign of violence followed.
Twelve years and six days after the Lords vetoed his budget, Lloyd George signed a treaty with Michael Collins, agreeing the partition of Ireland with not one, but two home rule parliaments, one in Dublin, one in Belfast.
Collins died in the civil war that followed in Ireland. After the treaty was ratified, the Irish Free State was ruled by his party for a decade, and then by his civil war opponents, Fianna Fáil, who systematically dismantled the Free State constitution.
There are a lot of dates when you could mark Irish independence. 24 April 1916. 21 January 1919. 29 December 1937. 18 April 1949. I’ve even heard arguments for 13 March 1979 (the day Ireland joined the EMS, breaking the link with the pound sterling, in case you’re wondering.)
But 30 November 1909 was the day the Lords accidentally broke the Union.

Share

I created the graphic below earlier this week, in response to yet another hate filled tweet from a bigot being amplified and shared by people on Twitter protesting how outrageous it was.

(No, I’m not going to tell you which bigot.)

The graphic is self-explanatory. Trolls feed on attention. So remember, do not feed the troll. Don’t add fuel to the fire. It is everyone’s responsibility to curb the spread of disinformation and  propaganda, not just journalists.

Feel free to share.

How it works

 

 

Peak Television

The pilot episode isn’t called ‘Pilot’. It’s called something that sounds fancier than it is. Palimpsest, perhaps. Or Quotidian. Or Bellwether. A word wearing it’s best shoes, trying to look its best. And its not an episode. It’s a Chapter.
At some point, a character will define the title word. Most likely, this character is a middle-aged man, and he will explain it to a young woman. This conveys Serious Intentions.
As the credits roll, we get a series of images. An old medieval map, transitioning to a modern streetmap, or a satellite view. Sepia photos of rural landscapes giving way to technicolor urban crowds. At the end of the credits, the camera zooms down to earth, landing on the protagonist to begin the story.
During the credits, the music sounds vaguely folkish, with fiddles and banjo. Later, during a Serious Scene involving either extended silent thinking by the protagonist, or stubborn determination as he fights in slow motion, we get something classical. Probably Handel’s Sarabande.
Instead of the standard 45 minutes, the show runs short, or long, between 55 and 70 minutes. No two episodes – sorry, chapters – are the same length. One is a single uninterrupted 25 minute take.

 

Discards

I once had an idea for a pod/radio show where people go through what’s wrong with how their profession is portrayed. Politicians talking about the West Wing, journalists about the Newsroom, a few Guards ranting on the basic mistakes in your favourite cop show.

The idea began as a narrower part of a wider feature on comic book worlds, where I’d consider the  DC or Marvel universes from the point of view of, for example, a lawyer talking about the legal system in Daredevil, or journalists checking out the journalism of Peter Parker and Lois Lane. Which editor would you rather work for, Perry White or Jonah J Jameson?

Trouble is, professions in mainstream fiction are fairly narrowly represented. Add to those above a few doctors, computer hackers and teachers, and you’ve covered most comic books and tv shows. And in comedy, the protagonist usually has a generic, vaguely defined office job. Apart from international spies and  multibillionaire genius inventors of course, but there aren’t too many of those in my contacts list.

Still, it might make an interesting miniseries, or an occasional feature as part on a wider programme or pod, so I’m throwing it out into the world.

Comic Books. Photo by Lena Rose on Unsplash


unsplash-logoLena Rose

Rear View Mirror

It seems to be traditional to reflect on the decade gone by every time a year ending in a zero rolls around, so here goes.
In truth, I feel I’ve been treading water for the last while. A decade ago, when this blog was younger, social media hadn’t sucked the oxygen out of small websites yet, and the world was a different place.
Ten years ago, I was still a smoker. I quit in at the end of 2014. In possibly related news, I gained a lot of weight. And despite better diet and exercise, that weight is a lot slower to lose than to gain.
Two decades ago, I hoped I would be a journalist ten years on. A decade ago, I expected that I would still be a journalist ten years on. This time, I’m not so sure where I will be ten years on. Journalism continues to shrink.
On the other hand, I should still be writing. Though it remains an open question whether I can find enough markets to make sure that’s a paying proposition.
Here’s to the next ten years. See you again in 2030.

Fireworks at night time photo – Free Nature Image on Unsplash :Spencer Davis

On news media

Too many journalists complain people won’t pay for news. This is not true. People will pay for news. The question we need to ask is why they won’t pay for our news.
I suspect the problem often is not reporting, which is good, but the opinion pages, which are often awful clickbait dreck.
The most common reader protest is a cancelled subscription.
And once cancelled, getting a subscription back is hard work.
Apart from anything else, op-ed pages seem to be hugely unrepresentative of the population.
If you want to attract younger Generation X and Millennial urban readers who voted for equal marriage and Repealing the Eighth, then Iona Institute and reheated right-wing US/UK talking points seem like a strange offering.
And the problem is not restricted to the obvious suspects on the op-ed pages stuck in their well worn ruts.
As the Repeal one year anniversary approaches, the number of tweets of headlines marking a year since tone deaf middle aged men spectacularly missed the point is striking.
This wasn’t so much a problem for news media until about a decade ago. The model required a level of outrage consumption. The business plan involved getting people to pick up the very cheap paper to see what that eejit said today, and selling those eyeballs to advertisers.
But advertising supported news is over (for text anyway) thanks to the Google/Facebook duopoly, so news media will need to adjust their opinion and analysis pages as they come to rely on direct reader support, whether that’s subscriptions, membership or donations. Trolls may drive clicks, but they hurt subscription support.

Electioneering

The trouble with EU elections is they feel irrelevant. Even more than presidential elections, they’re seen as an ideal avenue for a protest vote. In the UK, this is why Nigel Farage is an MEP and a serial failed Westminster candidate.

In Ireland, the presidential election is a bit odd. We care about who is president, and the message that sends to the world abut how we see ourselves, but despite the various promises candidates might make, that’s pretty much all the president is. Sure, everyone knows they have some extremely important and very carefully restricted powers when it comes to signing bills and dissolving parliament, but let’s face it, the Presidency is an ornament, the political equivalent of a nice shiny star on top of the Christmas tree.
We see MEPs as somewhat similar to that, only even more. While the average voter can tell you what the president’s powers are, or at least is aware that there aren’t that many presidential powers, few people could tell you what the EP does.
This is hardly surprising when you look at press coverage of Brussels. Even before Brexit sucked most of the oxygen out of EU coverage, Irish reportage concentrated on what the Commission was up to, and how Dublin and the other capitals – particularly Paris and Berlin – will react when the Council meets. No matter what the issue is, the focus is on those two institutions, with a paragraph or two as an afterthought at the end noting that the Parliament will also have to approve any agreement or deal.
Small wonder then that a vote for the EU is one of the purest protest votes, whether it’s Connacht sending Marian Harkin as a protest against perceived neglect of the West and economic underdevelopment, Ming pushing much the same line only with stoners and turf cutters, or Nessa Childers crystallising an anti-Labour vote after their 2011 coalition with FG.
Could any TD get away with ten years of barely showing up in the Dail due to ill health, and yet continue to get elected, as Brian Crowley did in Ireland South?

And all of that would be fine if we just sent Ming because he’s a bit of a laugh with the funny beard and the funny tokes, but the world has changed since the last EP vote. There’s a white supremacist in the White House, the English are having a collection breakdown, and the world is full of people who don’t realise the nazis were the baddies.

Remember to vote, because all the worst people will.