From Panti to Garth

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I was contacted by a student a few days ago, asking for my reaction to the statement that the media was overwhelmingly dominated by a narrow middle class perspective. This was my initial reply, which also riffed on the PantiBliss debate.

I know some journalists who are predictably middle class. I know others who are right wing lunatics. And an equal number who are left wing lunatics. Mostly they’re people who want to tell stories. Any stories. Censorship/free speech isn’t always something they’ve thought about, but it is something they feel about instinctively.

Libel laws are something we think about, all the time. Having been on the receiving end of threats a few times (never successful, happily) I can assure you the chilling effect is literal. A shiver ran down my spine.

And there we get to the nub. Journalists aren’t really white middle-class men, even the white middle class men. But juries are. And to an extent, so are audiences increasingly, as kids defect to their second screens. And upper management cares about audience, so they won’t want to upset their audience. And they care about costs, so they won’t want to attract litigation.

Behind Vincent Browne or George Hook is a team of three to five people, probably still in their twenties, and the majority are probably women. For a show like Sean O’Rourke, the number is probably closer to thirty to forty people. And they want to push the envelope, they want to get the story, but they also know what the suits want, and they know there’s no point in telling a story to an empty room, so they have to take their audience with them too. And so conversely you often end up with an audience that’s usually far ahead of media (listen to the applause from a safe RTE light ents crowd when Rory O’Neill named Ionanists) because the suits put a brake on the caravan so that it only travels as fast as its slowest member.

And then, I thought about Garth Brooks. Anyone paying attention to ticket sales over the last couple of weeks will be in no doubt but that Garth Brooks is enormously popular in Ireland, yet almost without exception, every article, radio piece and media tweet I’ve seen on the topic has not only been amazed by this revelation, but dismissive of it. The Garth Brooks fan is reported like a strange foreign phenomenon, much as we’d report one of those stories about a new species of frog discovered in the Amazon basin.

And we wonder why people are switching off and seeking (and making) their own news online.

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