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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.



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.


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.

In Memory: Lyra McKee

I can’t remember when I first met Lyra McKee. She was that very 21st century thing, a twitter friend. We first came across each other there, back when it was still small enough to feel like a community.
That friendship led eventually to meetups in real life as we attended some of the same events, or whenever she got in touch to compare notes on a story. She spoke twice at the Freelance Forum, most recently last year, and the first time in 2014, when she was 24 years old and already had a CV more crowded than people twice her age.
The last time I met her was in Belfast at the start of March, and it was a brief check-in. We spoke about her move to Derry, made plans for a possible meetup in Donegal over the Summer holidays, and parted ways.
She was young, incredibly gifted, and passionate about the things she wrote about, and the world feels wrong this morning without her in it.

Censorship of Films and Publications in Ireland 2011-18

Following on from a recent Freedom of Information request to the Censorship of Publications Board, a further FOI to the Irish Film Classification Office and the Cesorship of Publications Board.

Irish Film Classification Office

FOI Response from Irish Film Classification Office

106-18 Decision

Censorship of Publications Board

FOI Response from Censorship of Publications Board Part A

FOI 106-18a

FOI Response from Censorship of Publications Board Part B

FOI 106-18b

FOI Response from Censorship of Publications Board Part C

FOI 106-18c

FOI Part Response from Censorship of Publications Board D

FOI 106-18d

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 newpapers and broadcast media will continue to be very white, Irish, male and middle-aged, and become 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 among those books complained about (the complaint was rejected), 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


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.