There’s our Minister for Communications at it again – this time in an interview in the Irish Times – telling us that, in the newspaper and media industries, “content is king”.
It’s not. Cash is.
Content is optional. Cash isn’t.
And the quality of the content is pretty much dependent on the amount of cash that is available to produce it.
Like every other industry in Ireland at the moment, money is tight in the media business.
Stories are passed over simply because the desks can’t afford them.
Stories that deserve deeper scrutiny – and there is any amount of those in Ireland – are passed over.
Content these days is not allowed to cost much, if it is allowed to cost at all.
Press releases are topped and tailed, meaning much of what you read is written by PR people and given a cursory glance before it makes it into the paper.
Properly-taken pictures of news events are dumped in favour of girls in bikinis at St Stephen’s Green advertising everything from charities to rugby kits – pictures provided for free by PR agencies.
Online content aggregators pick up pithy articles about celebrities and sports stars, and on slow days a numbered list is knocked out to keep the hits up on the website.
Rabitte’s desire to see physical newspapers survive is misplaced. Format is an irrelevance.
How citizens consume their news in a democracy is secondary; it is the quality of the news that is available to them that is of primary importance.
The arguments about the survival of newspapers have rumbled on since the dawn of radio, through television, the tabloids and on into the Internet era.
They survive, mostly because those at the top are canny businessmen and women (mostly men) who know their audience almost better than they know themselves.
They know that content wasn’t king then, and it isn’t now. Cash is.
If Rabitte wishes to see a thriving Irish media sector, there are plenty of places to start – by strengthening the public service mandate of RTE and supporting it with proper resources, for one thing.
Or by extending state support to national newspapers to ensure plurality and independence across the board. That way, maybe we’d still have the Press and the Sunday Tribune.
Or by educating the next generation of media consumers about the media landscape, about how to go about consuming it, and how to see through the spin and guff so beloved of Rabitte and his colleagues in Leinster House.
You can be sure that the businessmen and women are way ahead of the likes of Rabitte on this one.
Most of them would be delighted to see the back of the expensive printing presses and complex distribution routes currently required to get their wares in front of a local or national readership.
Indeed, the Irish Times and the Independent are already evolving, with competing sports podcasts and video content. They mightn’t be making money out of it just yet, but they know that they have to be in the game if they are to have any chance of making a profit.
Because unlike Rabitte, they realised long ago that content isn’t king in the Irish media marketplace.