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Revue: Apocalypse Now

The Four Horsemen, Revised Edition.





Revue: On Punditry

Revue is a newsletter app, and they recently hooked up with Twitter. I sent out this article on Friday 26 March.

Punditry: How I got it wrong

About five years ago, I found myself on a radio roundtable panel giving my opinion on the week’s events.

And I got it wrong. Spectacularly, undeniably wrong.

Donald Trump’s publicity stunt announcing he’s running for president isn’t going anywhere, I announced. Hell get bored in a few weeks, once the new season of The Apprentice starts and he has to go back to the day job.

A few months later, when he started winning primaries, I said it wouldn’t last. The novelty would wear off. Besides, the party will throw millions at the other candidates to find one to beat him. Bush, probably, but basically anyone who isn’t Donald.

When he got the nomination, I said he’d lose. You all know how that went.

But afterwards, I was never challenged or confronted about it. I was never invited back and asked why I got it so wrong.

And I don’t even mean in a gotcha or ambush sense.

I wasn’t the only one who got it wrong. And at no time (as far as I know) did any of the many mistaken panelists sit down and examine why we got it wrong.

For what it’s worth, I think we were victims of conventional thinking, faced with a very unconventional set of events.

And I think not holding those look-back discussions on where we went wrong was a mistake.

We would all benefit from looking over where we went wrong, and learning that we do ‘t always have a clear grasp of events.

And I think we all need to be more forgiving.

We’re in another unconventional time now.

There have been epidemics before. Asia has lived though several in the last decade. Gay men can tell you all about AIDS in the 80s, watching friends die before politicians cared. Africa has been dealing with Ebola for over a decade.

But there hasn’t been a truly worldwide pandemic in living memory, affecting the entire global population, unless you’ve lived long enough to have received a centenary birthday card from the president.

We’re going to make mistakes.

Some of them will be very foreseeable and avoidable.

But many of them will be because we operate in a bubble of assumptions at the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

So be kind.

Even to that useless gobshite on the telly.

He’s probably exhausted, frayed at the edges, and doing his best. We all are.

Revue: Hello World

Revue is a newsletter app, and they recently hooked up with Twitter. I sent out this article on Friday 19 March.

The EU needs an EU wide shared news outlet. Something set up to overcome the language barriers between us, so that, for example, Irish people aren’t at the mercy of politicians defining how well or poorly we compare with Denmark, or Estonia, when it comes to vaccines or housing.

EuroNews tries, but suffers from the dullness of its origins. It feels like the corporate video HR shows new recruits during the autumn intake.

And Politico isn’t the answer either. For starters, it’s anglophone, not European. And it covers Brussels insider gossip, not Europe.

I’m not sure there’s an answer to this, at least not in the public sector. I can see a business case for an English (Lingua Franca) paper covering the 27 for elite business or political audiences, but I’m not sure there’s a commercial case for reporting for a wider audience.

Maybe the answer is cross border links between public broadcasters. Not sharing bland reports like EuroNews, but pooling content among themselves. We introduce the Spanish to Teresa Mannion storm reports, and in return we get to meet the Greek Charlie Bird. A real cultural exchange.


Year Two

It’s been a year.

One year ago last week, I cancelled the Freelance Forum. At the time, the optimistic plan was to reorganise the same event later in the year.

It soon became clear that wasn’t going to work. Instead, we moved online as a series of podcasts. Fourteen episodes in the Spring, three more in the Autumn. Added to older recordings from live events over the years, it made for a useful archive from a decade of Forum events.

This year, the plan is to expand on that model, with a combination of podcasts and live webinars. On alternating Mondays, the plan is to host a live Webinar, or drop a new podcast.

If all goes well, the same structure will be used for a second series in the Autumn.

Outside of that, it has been a quiet year in lockdown. Book ideas remain half-formed and half-written, though I did put some work online.

So here we are, entering Year Two.

No major plans. No major announcements. Just a few ideas to keep working on in the hope some of them pan out.

But it feels like a moment that should be marked.

See you on the far side.

From Gaia to QNN

This Is QNN

QNN feels a little on the nose, so I doubt I’m the first to think of it. I’m sure there are people out there using it as a handy name for media platforms supplying Q-Anon-inspired Qonspiracy theorists with grist.

As an aside, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more about Gaia as the conspiracy Qovid conspiracies multiply. A pandemic is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect a sentient planetary goddess to come up with to innoculate herself against a species who were changing the climate, causing her to run a temperature.

Selling Out

But back to QNN. Working to build a new influencer base at my age isn’t really feasible.

The only way to make a go of it seems to be to cultivate the kind of  audience that follows people like Alex Jones.

George Hook or John Waters might be happy to head down that road, but I don’t think I could.

Not while keeping a straight face anyway. The mask would crack.

And if it didn’t, I don’t think I would be able to sleep at night.

I’m just not built to be McQook.

So I don’t think I’ll be reporting from QNN anytime soon.

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.


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.

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