Content is not king – cash is

Pat Rabitte – it’s a good thing for him that content isn’t king…

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.

Cash is.


Guth – why we need a new media voice in Ireland


As soon as Gerard Cunningham suggested the idea of a new independent Irish news magazine run by journalists to me, I was onboard. And here’s why.

Modern media is a complex business where the interests of shareholders, advertisers, editors, journalists and readers seldom converge.

Decisions about what stories to cover are taken for a wide variety of reasons – many of them commercial, as evidenced by the explosion in property porn and the light-touch reporting of Ireland’s “booming” economy, which subsequently went bang.

Stories about our society that deserve much greater scrutiny get buried under reams of pointless waffle about “rugby threesomes”, reality TV shows and “tell-us-about-your-book” interviews.

Guth is an ambitious crowd-funded project that tried to address those and other concerns about what motivates Irish journalism.

By securing as much funding as possible up front from readers, the dependence on advertising is removed, allowing much greater editorial freedom in what is a cut-throat market.

Guth will allow reporters to use their news sense to bring you stories that you haven’t already heard, or a perspective you may not have thought of.

It will hopefully herald a wholesale return to top-class investigative journalism in Ireland, of sharp writing and critical thinking.

In an era where freelance fees are collapsing, it will ensure that these reporters get the resources they need to do the job properly, and avoid the amateurish mistakes that are becoming more and more prevalent as hard-pressed hacks seek to churn out low-value content to feed the media beast.

Guth is not the answer to all our prayers, but from what I’ve seen it looks like a pretty good start.

By giving you the reader a sense of ownership, the contributors want to get back to what it is journalists are supposed to do – holding people and organisations to account, instead of sustaining share prices, property markets and fevered egos.

So sign up now for as much as you can, and let’s see how loud we can make this new media voice.

Ireland’s all-you-can-cheat attitude

There is a brilliant deflection going on in the wake of an outburst by Joe Brolly, the Gaelic football pundit, who let Seán Cavanagh have it with both barrels over an opportunist, cynical spot of cheating that arguably cost Monaghan a good crack at an All-Ireland semi-final.

Now the merits (such as they are) of the rules of Gaelic football can be debated elsewhere – the only point that interests me is the reaction to them, and what they say about the national psyche.

The first is that Seán Cavanagh is a good, sporting man of long standing, which may of course be true. What it ignores is that in this one instance he hauled a man down to ensure he wouldn’t score a goal.

The point is, as it is in many other areas of Irish life, that good people can do bad things fro good reasons. It’s neither an excuse for the bad behaviour, nor a shield to hide behind.

The wider issue is the idea that he did nothing wrong – if he did, the rules would be harsher. This, my sporting friends, is light-touch regulation in a nutshell.

Whole teams, seasons and eras are now being built upon the idea that a cynical foul is OK if the victory is achieved – that cheating is now somehow part of doing your best.

As the Anglo tapes show us, this extends from the practice fields of our GAA clubs to the boardrooms of our financial institutions, and indeed the corridors of Leinster House.

There is no longer any place for fair play or sportsmanship – all that matters is winning, getting your own way, and breaking (not bending – breaking) the rules is OK, as long as you get what you want.

It’s not. One of the major reasons sports exist is to teach morons like my good self to have some sort of a moral compass.

Sport has shown me that I can never be the best at anything, but within the rules and the spirit of fair play, I can be the best I can be.

That has on occasion brought medals and joy, more often than not it brings huge disappointment, but it has given me more throughout my life than I could ever possibly return.

And in particular I remember those times I cheated, got booked, played dirty, fought with my opponent, got sent off or otherwise let myself and my team down.

Those are among the most shameful moments in my life, but in and of themselves they do not make me a bad man – not least because I have tried to learn from them.

So in the debate that will rage over Brolly’s comments, it’s worth remembering – one honest victory is worth a thousand hollow wins achieved by cheating.

And whether the rules say that it was a yellow card or a red card or a black card makes no difference – Cavanagh could be Mahatma Gandhi, but what he did in that instance was wrong.

It was cheating, it was unsporting and whatever the rules say, he knew it.

Deep down, Seán Cavanagh, Joe Brolly and plenty of other great sportsmen and women can probably agree that in sport, as in life, the only real victory is to play fair.