Tag Archive for journalism

Public interest demands that RTE answer questions on McCollum

Screenshot of an RTE tweet publicising the McCollum interview

Some stories stick out, and not for a good reason – there’s a whiff of something not right off them, and the much-trumpeted interview with Michaella McCollum is one of them.

(Not that I have been able to see it in full, of course. The RTE Player continues to discriminate against the Irish abroad, limiting access to content which, although brilliant, as with the recent I Am Traveller documentary, has questionable or negligible resale value abroad).

But the McCollum story itself is now a story, and there are questions that RTE needs to answer in relation to it.

I have worked for the various editorial departments of RTE (mostly radio) on many occasions, and without exception they are highly-qualified and extremely professional people.

But in this case the state broadcaster needs to be utterly transparent about how the interview was conducted. Nothing less than the journalistic credibility of the national broadcaster is at stake – stories that wouldn’t look out of place in the tabloids are all well and good, but tabloid tactics and chequebook journalism are not.

The “why Michaela?” question is irrelevant – news editors make such decisions all the time, and besides, her arrest, denial of guilt and trial were big news stories, and it is logical to cover her release and to try to unearth the truth.

The following questions need to be answered, promptly and thoroughly:

1. Who initiated the story/interview – was it Michaela, the journalist on the ground, the RTE news desk, a book publisher, PR agency or similar?

2. Did Michaella, her family, her foundation or any other party connected with her receive any sort of compensation (including, but not limited to, cash, flights or accommodation) in return for her co-operation?

3. Did McCollum and/or her representatives promise RTE or their representatives exclusivity? If so, what did they receive in return?

4. Were there any demands or requirements made by McCollum or her representatives as to where, when and under what circumstances the interview would take place?

5. Did McCollum and/or her representatives refuse to answer particular questions, or seek a list of questions prior to the interview? If so, did RTE acceded to those requests? Did the journalist on site decide the questions to be asked or was he instructed by the news desk?

6. Is there more than one take of any of McCollum’s answers to the questions posed?

I am aware that there are confidentiality issues at play here, and therefore I have not asked for specific numbers regarding compensation or costs, so RTE should be well able to reply.

And if they have signed any confidentiality agreement that precludes them from explaining the journalistic method used, then that raises a whole new set of worrying questions.

 

Bad apologies a sign of the Times

What else should I write
I don’t have the right
What else should I be
All apologies
- Nirvana, “All Apologies”

So the New York Times has apologised for a story insulting six dead young Irish people, insinuating that they and thousands of other young Irish people are nothing more than drunken vandals and troublemakers.

But judging by the apology, they don’t actually realise what they did wrong.

According to NYT spokesperson Eileen Murphy, they “understand”.

We understand and agree that some of the language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive, particularly in such close proximity to this tragedy.

The problem for Murphy is that it’s not that the “language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive” – that is exactly what it was.

No interpretation necessary.

After all, it juxtaposes six recently-deceased young people with a “national embarrassment” to Ireland – a phenomenon for which no concrete evidence is offered, apart from one column from 2014, a quick perusal of a Facebook group, and a few complaints from neighbours.

This, apparently, is how journalism is conducted at one of America’s most prestigious newspapers.

The three reporters whose byeline is on the story aren’t exactly novices either. Adam Nagourney is national political reporter, while Quentin Hardy is an award-winning journalist and deputy technology editor.

Somehow between them and their superiors, they got it wrong.

But they still don’t even know how wrong.

“…there was a more sensitive way to tell the story…” Nagourney told NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan.

He’s right – and in this case, it was by not telling it at all.

The journalistic instincts of Nagourney and his colleagues were actually right – the story needed to be “moved on”, context needed to be given, explanations sought.

But there is nothing in the J1 visa program or the behaviour of Irish students that contributed to their deaths.

The J1 issue might even be worthy of a story on its own merits, but not here, not now, and certainly not in this way.

What might have been relevant would have been to go through building regulations, landlords cramming students and other migrant workers into sub-par accommodation, and the exploitation of these young people by unscrupulous business owners.

But the innate conservative nature of the New York Times does not lend itself to that kind of scrutiny – as seen on countless occasions, it is the establishment’s nodding donkey.

In short, the New York Times story was as hurtful as it was unavoidable.

Its instinct is always to apportion blame to the weak.

The wounds to Ireland’s pride will heal.

The families, in time, will forget, the story hopefully receding and replaced by happier memories of the brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours that are no longer with us.

But the New York Times will continue to tug its forelock to the powerful, because that is its nature.

And no apology in the world will change it.

 

 

Ryan’s video nasty says more about Late Late than Murphy

A pic of Ryan Tubridy and Paul Murphy taken from the RTE Player.

Let me tell you about The Late Late Show and fairness.

Next week, the show will feature several songs, one of which will be chosen as Ireland’s Eurovision entry.

The backing band and singers for one song are a girl band from Sweden, who asked me if I could find them a gig in Dublin on the Saturday.

I contacted Ryan Tubridy’s show and we agreed that it might be fun to have the girls go on the radio on Friday morning and then have Ryan’s listeners find them a gig for the Saturday night.

Then, yesterday evening, I got an e-mail to say that the idea was being nixed, as it wouldn’t be fair to the other acts appearing on the Late Late to highlight one on the radio show, and not the others.

Then Tubridy interviewed socialist TD Paul Murphy on the Late Late, and all semblance of fairness went out the window.

Tubridy is a terrible, almost comically bad political interviewer.

His only tactics are to provoke his subject and try to channel some semblance of righteous indignation.

But in trying to seem tough and uncompromising, he instead comes across as rude and ignorant.

His questions are aggressive, shallow and transparent, and when the subject answers them capably, he irritatedly talks over them and moves on.

Of course, this Paxman- (very) lite approach is the first thing the media handlers will tell the politicians as they prepare to face him.

Tubridy was entirely right to ask Murphy about his history, his political career, his penchant for protest and his numerous arrests.

And asking him to explain the footage of Murphy with the bullhorn during the “siege of Jobstown” was also journalistically valid, even if it has already been done to death.

But the decision to show the footage of an entirely separate protest, in which Murphy had no hand, act or part, was the most morally bankrupt editorial decision in a long time.

And given that we’re talking about Ireland here, that is some achievement.

The film of Murphy holding the bullhorn is journalistically valid because it gives the context of what happened in Jobstown.

The showing of the film in which president Michael D Higgins was called a “midget parasite,” under the tenuous logic that some of those shouting are known to Murphy, was all about subtext.

Paul Murphy supports water protestors.

Water protestors are violent, foul-mouthed people.

Paul Murphy is a violent, foul-mouthed person.

Deliberate or not, it was a nakedly political act – its message was “protesting is OK, but for the love of GOD don’t offend anyone or inconvenience our betters.”

But the question about the presidential protest had to be asked, you may say – but did it really?

Murphy has condemned the behaviour of those in the video (including those people known to him) on countless occasions.

About half an hour later, the game was up.

The jovial Chris De Burgh was sitting on the couch, singing his songs unprompted and telling everyone how great he was.

But here we had a man who had sex with a teenage girl while his wife lay recovering from a broken neck in one of the greatest scandals in Irish celebrity history, and he wasn’t asked about it.

So the dalliances of the millionaire class pass without criticism, while Murphy has to explain things that have nothing to do with him.

The problem, and it is a problem all over the world, is that journalism is now very much a middle-class profession.

The staggering lack of job security and the pitiful sums paid to journalists for their work mean that only those of independent means can engage in a career.

The result is that newsrooms – and the production offices of shows like the Late Late – have no innate understanding of what life is like for the working class.

Much is made of the influence that Denis O’Brien may or may not have over his newsrooms, but the fact is he doesn’t have to exert any influence at all.

All he has to do is ensure that he hires editors and journalists that share his view of the world, and the rest will take care of itself.

The working class voices are only ever solicited outside the dole offices or courthouses, or on YouTube clips when they finally get it into their heads to protest.

The result is that those who work with working class people and try to improve their lot, like Paul Murphy, are mistrusted and insulted in the media.

Holy Catholic Ireland, as it once was, has never been exposed to socialism or social democracy – the soon-to-be-defunct Labour Party is to the right of Thatcher on many issues.

So it would have been interesting to see what Murphy had to say about his own politics, his atheism (if he is an atheist), about education and health and the EU.

But no. Instead, we are treated to standard reactionary journalism that ensures that the Irish working class will always pay the piper, but it will never be allowed to call the tune.

For your betters, brow-beating beats being there

“I threw a brick through a window…”

Today the column inches will stretch to feet, yards, miles – infinitely longer than a single water balloon or brick can fly. The airwaves will crackle.

There will be news, there will be comment, there will be analysis on the collapse of democracy that occurred at the anti-water charge protest that hindered Joan Burton’s car in Jobstown at the weekend.

Despite their fleeting appearances, the brick and the water balloon will feature heavily.

Just one question to all of those breathless hacks painting dark pictures of the End of Days, caused by a violent mob of working and non-working class people in a Dublin suburb.

How many of you were actually there?

Because if you’re going to pontificate about the death of Irish democracy for thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of readers or listeners, then I expect you to have dropped everything and headed for Jobstown.

It’s not that hard to find. There are busses, and failing that the taxi company on your speed dial will take you there swiftly.

But such is the laziness and insular nature of the long-distance columnist that it is easier to make pious declarations about democracy from a safe distance rather than take the risk of talking to people for whom “th” in any word is an optional extra.

In truth, there is no need for any journalistic foundation to a column about certain areas of the country – after all, what are they going to do? Complain?

But for me the front line is the only place to start.

Because if I see a man throwing a brick, my instinct is not to ascribe a motive to him, or to find out what a well-to-do person in Dublin 6 thinks.

My instinct is to ask him why.

Then my instinct would be to find out if he is representative of the greater mass of people.

And my instinct is, in this case, that he wasn’t.

If I was in Jobstown, the ultimate journalistic bounty that day would have been an interview with the brick-thrower – after all, who better to explain his actions than the man himself?

I’d ask him how he felt.

I’d ask him what he thought of the fact that his brick was likely to do more damage to the peaceful protestors than it ever was to the Garda car he aimed at.

I’d ask him if his slip as he made his getaway was a fitting metaphor for something else.

But based on his actions, the instinct of virtually everyone else in Irish media this weekend seems to have been to scream “MOB!!” and write long, pretentious articles about democracy that are completely without any sense of nuance, understanding or first-hand experience of the situation.

But that’s OK, because what are they going to do? Complain?

Write a letter to the editor that will never be published?

Call the radio show that screens out exactly the prevalent accent used in that part of the city?

During the riots here in Stockholm last year, more people were injured in the rush to condemn the violence than were ever in danger from the riots themselves.

Such condemnation serves nothing but the ego of the politician or journalist already well-served by the democracy they claim to be upholding – the one that depends on the votes and the purchases of working-class people, and then abandons them as soon as power is secured.

The kind of people who live in places like Jobstown, Neilstown, Coolock, Ballymun and Darndale.

The kind of people who voted for Joan Burton – who sat in that car – and then saw her completely betray the mandate they had given her.

If you want a real story about the collapse of democracy, it was sitting in the car, not rocking it or shouting at it.

That story is how an unelected four-person “economic management council” has, with the support and full active participation of Labour, set aside Ireland’s parliamentary democracy until further notice.

No, the only thing that ran riot in Dublin yesterday was the middle-class sensibilities of journalists and politicians confronted by the dawning realisation that it is too late, and the proles have had enough.

For the hacks, there is no point back-pedalling now.

So do not start with your own answers and then tailor the facts to fit, as currently seems to be best practice at the Irish Water Meter and on Water Meter FM.

Instead, put aside your pointless pontificating, go back to your basic journalistic training and ask the five Ws and one H that we all learned on our first day in class.

And of all those questions you should be asking, right now “why?” is the most important.

And from what I’ve seen in this morning’s papers and online, not one of you has asked it yet.

Missing the bigger picture as AP fires freelancer

The original photograph (top) and the manipulated version.

This week the Associated Press dispensed – rightly – with the services of freelance photographer Narciso Contreras, who used software to remove a colleague’s video camera from an image he took in Syria.

What Contreras did was wrong. The value of press photography is embedded entirely in its integrity – we have to know what these images represent is the truth.

In this one instance, Contreras broke that bond of trust. His punishment, while harsh, is probably justified. His career could well be destroyed.

But what is deeply unappetizing is the pontificating being done by pictures editors who are no strangers to offering photographers – even those working in war zones like Contreras – peanuts for their work.

His firing has prompted a glut of self-righteous pieces such as this one from the Guardian which makes all the right noises about integrity, but says little about how images are acquired and paid for.

Noticeably, it does not ask why Contreras – a Pulitzer prize winner – did what he did.

Since the turn of the century, the combination of modern digital cameras and the fact that many of the world’s hotspots are no-go areas for western photographers has seen the rise of the local freelancer or stringer.

It’s not unknown for an amateur who shows talent to be discovered by an agency or a news outlet.

They are then given tips – and in some cases equipment – and sent out into places where it is too dangerous for westerners to go. They are sometimes paid by the day, sometimes by the image.

It’s seldom very much. It’s usually a lot less than what a western photographer would get.

There isn’t much offered in the way of insurance  or training or counseling either.

And when the war or conflict ends, there’s not much chance of a staff job somewhere either. The news moves on. They don’t.

Contreras, from Mexico City, was working as a freelancer in Syria, essentially competing against newly-minted photographers such as those described above.

I don’t know what freelance deal Contreras had with AP, but an educated guess at the original image suggests that, as shot, it wasn’t sellable.

Contreras might not have had any other decent images that day either, and thus he may have decided that in this one instance it was worth a shot at manipulating the image in a way that is normally totally unacceptable.

After all, having spent a day on any assignment, let alone one as dangerous and as violent as Syria, a freelance photographer must have something to show for it.

It should also be pointed out that it was he himself that brought this manipulation to AP’s attention, and that no other image filed with the agency showed any signs of having been manipulated in a similar fashion.

I’m by no means accusing AP of underpaying Contreras or of putting him in danger, nor am I excusing what he did. Trying to understand something is not the same as condoning it.

What I am doing is asking the question: why did he choose to do this?

Was it because of economic necessity?

Because if it was, we have a very big problem on our hands.

Modern (and not-so-modern) media businesses are working on notoriously tight margins, and agencies and outlets are trying to get content for as little as possible.

But if that is going to be the business model, then something has to give. You cannot produce good journalism on a shoestring.

It might be that we have to accept a photographer manipulating an image, or a reporter reporting quotes and scenes he didn’t witness first-hand as if he was on the spot.

AP have deleted Contreras’ images from the public database, but the debate cannot be deleted from the public domain – how much are we (consumers, readers and agencies) willing to pay for our content?

And if that isn’t enough to compensate journalists, photographers and camera people for the risks that they take, how much are we prepared to have our news compromised as a result?

 

There’s no such thing as “internet journalism”

The Irish Times- why, indeed.

Let’s put this to bed once and for all, shall we?

There’s no such thing as “internet journalism” – there is journalism, and then there is everything else.

There is some very good journalism out there in newspapers, magazines and on the internet, and an awful lot of very bad journalism too.

Whether it appears doesn’t matter – journalism is journalism, end of story.

Not in Ireland, apparently. An article in this morning’s Irish Times (don’t worry, I won’t be paying for the link) does the usual half-cocked job of attacking everything on the Internet, all at once.

Contrary to the preferences of millions around the globe – many of them journalists – Twitter is dismissed out of hand as simply a tool to showcase gossip and bad grammar.

The writer attempts to portray the Internet and social media as lawless badlands of bullying and libel, despite the fact that the law of the land applies as equally to online publication as it does everywhere else.

Then there is the Daily Mail-lite argument that people behave ignorantly online, as if somehow it is the Internet, rather than people themselves, that is responsible for such behaviour.

Then there is the lovely irony of the central argument:  ”so-called internet journalism is at a level equivalent to the Stone Age.”

The Internet has revolutionised how news is conveyed and how we consume it, but the basic tenets of journalism have not been changed one iota.

To pretend otherwise is to obscure “the story of why” (to borrow the cute phrase from the Irish Times) traditional media – in particular Irish newspapers – are struggling to adapt to changes in the industry.

 

Sindo’s journalists avoid questions and blame the bullies instead

Not Niamh Horan.

I once didn’t take some pictures that would have earned thousands of euros in a heartbeat.

AIK had played Levski Sofia in a Europa league qualifier, and as I left the ground fans of the Swedish club set about attacking their opponents’ team bus.

In my bag I had a professional-quality digital camera, zoom lenses, flashes, the works- all I had to do was pull it out and snap the action.

I would have made a fortune from the Swedish tabloids if I’d only captured the moment a brick was hurled through the window of the bus.

I didn’t, because had I done so the guys attacking the bus (hooligans whom I’ve crossed paths with before) would probably have attacked me instead, leading to an immense amount of damage to me and my equipment.

Instead, I got out of there and reported the story from safe distance, because sometimes as a journalist, you don’t take a picture or ask a question in the interests of your own safety.

It’s called professional judgment, and it seems to be sorely lacking over at the Sunday Independent.

Last week, Niamh Horan filled the front page with a report of how she was almost attacked by an Irish property developer in a bar in Portugal.

I’d love to be able to link to her report to let you see for yourself how bad it was, but I can’t, as the Sindo promptly removed it from its website.

Remarkably, there was a follow-up piece today denouncing those who criticized Horan for her stupidity and useless writing – but no explanation as to why an article that was deemed front-page material on Saturday night wasn’t allowed to remain online.

Indeed, when I contacted Horan and Sindo columnist Barry Egan via Twitter to ask why it had been removed, the “very brave” (Egan’s words) Horan blocked me.

Aside from being littered with snide references to “competing” journalists and allegations of online bullying, it essentially makes no effort to deal with Horan’s shoddy work, so let’s look at it a little more closely.

Horan – a journalist whose output mainly consists of gossip and harassing middle-aged celebrities like Van Morrison and Sinéad O’Connor, according to a quick Google search – sees a developer in a bar, and thinks that this would make a good story.

What seems to have happened next is that she approached said developer and asked him if he’d like to talk about his situation – this either before or after taking an opportunistic (and frankly awful) picture on her phone.

The developer then apparently threatened to ram his glass down her throat, smashing it in the process, and she ran off crying.

Now let me get one thing straight – there is never a valid reason for threatening a journalist, man or woman.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the job, it happens. All the time.

Despite the frankly bizarre question on the front page of last week’s Sindo, which asked people to identify the “thug” who had threatened her, Horan says she already knew who he was,, and vice versa.

Whatever the odd circumstances, it seems that it was at this point her professional judgment (or the total lack of it) failed her completely.

The man allegedly in Horan’s photo was once sentenced to 26 years in prison for attempted murder, possession of illegal weapons, and robbery, and had spent time on hunger strike – all of which Niamh would have known if she’d done her research properly, or indeed at all.

Had she done so, she would have given him a wide berth.

I’m 6’ 3”, weigh over 90 kilos and play Gaelic football regularly, but even at that I wouldn’t be going up to this guy when he’s full of pints, snapping pictures without his permission and asking questions about his finances. Journalist or not, that’s asking for trouble.

And had Horan called her editors at the Sunday Independent – who, let us remember, are well-versed in dealing with the dangers that face investigative journalists as they go about their work – to consult with them before approaching him, they surely would have said the same thing.

But somewhere  along the line, either she or they failed to correctly assess the situation, thus putting the reporter in grave physical danger. That is not the fault of any tweeter or blogger or critic or “bully”. That is the fault of the Sunday Independent and Niamh Horan.

Despite that, they went ahead and published, only to remove the online version without a trace.

One can only assume that the developer – having not been arrested, tried or convicted of anything like the assault (and maybe even attempted murder) described in Horan’s article – took umbrage at his image being used in this way and in this story, and complained to his lawyers.

I’d love to know for sure, but Niamh dosen’t seem in any hurry to tell me.

Instead, the Sindo article dismissing  criticism of Horan’s amateur efforts at investigative journalism blames – quite incredibly – the recession:

“Media suffering from the effects of recession and other ills are investing too few resources in serious, in-depth reporting on the agents, causes and extent of Ireland’s problems.

When they see an opportunity to highlight an aspect of that bigger story, reporters should be protected against assault and intimidation on the ground, and spared the attention of bullies in cyberspace.” (my italics)

The first duty of the editor is to protect his or her journalists from harm – either physical harm when reporting in the field, or the damage they can do to their careers when writing non-stories that, had they exercised a touch of common sense, never would have arisen.

And if the Sunday Independent feels that too few resources are being invested in investigative reporting, forgive me for suggesting that there might be a very simple way for them to remedy that.

Namely, by the Sunday Independent investing more resources in investigative reporting, and not relying on a gossip columnist striking gold in a pub in Portugal.

Rabbitte caught as Gallagher wags the dog

The last we've heard of Seanie? Don't bet on it.

So Pat Rabbitte said no.

There will be no public enquiry into “tweetgate”, and I doubt Gallagher is too disappointed.

He’s in a golden situation, whatever happens. He has been wronged, and he’s making as much hay as he can out of it.

Because this has little to do with RTE, or social media, or democracy, and everything to do with Sean Gallagher’s public political rehabilitation.

It is ironic that Denis O’Brien-owned organs like Newstalk and Independent Newspapers can be so lamenting of journalistic standards at RTE, all the while failing to apply them  themselves- before and after the fact.

In the first instance, there’s a good case to be made for the fact that Gallagher never should have gotten as far as he did.

Despite the prevailing anti-FF political climate, Dev’s border bagman was allowed to reinvent himself with ease as a community and social worker who had but a passing affiliation with the Galway tent.

Not only do we now know this to be true, we knew it at the time – but somehow, the silent acquiescence of the media allowed him to get away with it, almost all the way to the park.

Contrast this with the invasive analysis of the other candidates, in particular Martin McGuinness. Dana Rosemary Scallon had transatlantic family matters dragged up and Mary Davis was battered from pillar to post, as McGuinness had skeletons thrown at him from every conceivable closet.

But in the end Gallagher was placed in a farmyard with a cheque in his fist, very much a member of the inner circle of Fianna Fáil. The voters extracted their revenge, swiftly and mercilessly.

Since then, very little has been heard of him, but now Gallagher is back, having timed his return carefully.

With the wind of the BAI judgement in his sails, he is once again untouchable.

Once again, the lie is played out that the tweet sank him. It didn’t. The word ‘envelope’ and his proximity to the party that destroyed the country did.

Which leads us to the most worrying aspect – the hollow accusations of bias being bandied about, not least at RTE.

O’Brein’s minions would do well to remember that those in glass houses are ill advised to start getting careless with the rocks.

One only need to look at the first three pages of yesterday’s Sunday Independent to get a comprehensive view of the hysterical, anti-nationalist, anti-liberal agenda of the paper.

Turn on Newstalk for five minutes and you’ll hear a watered-down version of the same thing.

To accuse RTE of anything near that level of bias is beyond hypocritical.

RTE should not be biased. In as much as possible (and there are theoretical discussions that suggest that no-one is capable of full impartiality), RTE should strive to be as fair and as balanced as they possibly can, leaving the viewers, listeners and voters to make up their own mind.

The same cannot be demanded of privately-owned media – but what can be demanded is a clear distinction between what is news, and what is ideologically-driven comment.

For instance: the interview with Pat McGuirk – the man was delighted to ask a question on Frontline until the Sindo told him otherwise – by Jody Corcoran was not news. It was an ideologically-motivated attack on RTE, from beginning to end, and this should have been made clear. Any attempt to portray it as anything else is disingenuous and misleading.

(Add to this the fact that everyone in the PR/media business knows that you don’t just show up and ask whatever you like on TV shows. Producers and researchers are very careful about what it is they let through for all sorts of reasons- ironically, appearing to be impartial is one of the primary ones. Gallagher’s claims to be surprised at this fact lack credibility).

The same with Newstalk. At least I know George Hook is a blueshirt, and that he brings on the dimwitted squawking buffoon that is Michael Graham every week to himself appear moderate. I can take that into account, and god knows George says it often enough.

What I cannot take is Jonathan Healy saying “surely RTE must now face a public enquiry” when there is nothing surely about it.

It’s opinion masquerading as news, and the distinction should be an awful lot clearer.

As for Gallagher? Ironically, given that it was his association with them that destroyed his campaign, his FF handlers are now welcoming him back inside the tent.

Why? He is probably the only man who could save the party.  He may have been denied the Aras, but – with a little help from Denis’s uncritical minions – Kildare Street might still be he his.

Why you need to hear less from me, and more from them

There are essentially two reasons I am a journalist, and this blog is a major part of one of them – one is because I love to write.

The other, and the major reason behind the blog, is that on occasion I come up with an idea or an argument that deserves an airing.

Unlike most people (except other columnists, of course), I am mostly lacking in humility, so when I do come up with something I am utterly convinced that it is unique, and should be shared.

Now that, per se, is not a problem. The Internet is large, vast and mostly blissfully ignorant of my existence.

The problem is that there are many others like me. And the ones who are most visible and well-known are virtually all men.

This question was posed on Twitter today  - it asks how we can change the fact that the majority of voices commenting on business in Ireland are male.

If only it were that simple.

The position of women in journalism seems to be limited to “women’s issues”- health, fashion, gossip magazines for other women and the like. This story is not just an Irish phenomenon either.

It also goes entirely against experience. Many of the most outstanding journalists working in Ireland- be they in politics, business or sport – are women.

Of course, women are just as capable of dropping journalistic clangers as their male counterparts (the despicable “Magda” article in the Indo was authored by one Norma Costello, of whom thankfully little is heard nowadays), but these seem to be few and far between.

So if their work is of such a high standard, why do we see so few successes?

The reason is because the positions of power are still held by men.

Owners, editors, producers – most, if not all, of the juiciest jobs in media and journalism are still held by men.

Of those that aren’t, you’ll often find the girls that have beaten the boys at their own game to the hot seat – often with reputations as hard-hearted ball-breaking bitches because of it.

Which is why, when it comes down to a choice between guys and girls, the boys still get the call.

We know the rules.

We laugh at the tit jokes.

We apparently don’t cry or have hormones.

At the root of this nonsensical charade is fear – it is as if, by letting women into the VIP area of the party, we are somehow risking or cheapening what we do.

We aren’t.

In fact, journalism would be a better place for having more women involved – and not because of all the happy-clappy bullshit about how they offer a “softer” perspective, either.

The perspective women offer is not “softer”. Nor is it “harder”. It is just different.

And that perspective represents some 50% of the readership/viewership that’s out there.

But until that viewership and readership are represented on the boards and the production teams and the newsdesks, we aren’t likely to see any meaningful change.

Which is a shame. A democratic, pluralistic media should be all about offering people opinions from all corners of the debate, and not just those that chime in with our own.

So I doubt I’ll be the only one who’ll be glad to hear less of me, and more of them, and if in the future I wind up out of a job or losing a column because a woman gets it, so be it.

Because it will ultimately be because I wasn’t good enough – and that should be all that matters.

Not who wears the pants.

This article is dedicated to Ireland’s Women On Air group, who do great work in promoting the female voice in Irish media- something that, in other jurisdictions, be referred “hostile environment training”. =)

Poles pay the bill for paper’s lack of resources

Hat for sale, one careless previous owner. Contact Norma Costello, c/o the Irish Independent.

As the perfect media storm formed over Donegal and Magda this week, it washed up a pathetic excuse from one of the journalists involved.

Norma Costello took to her blog to defend the indefensible, laughably attempting to suggest that her article wasn’t intended to be racist.

Amazing how none of her “inaccurately translated quotes” portrayed Polish people in a good light, isn’t it?

She has the gall to suggest that, to get a fuller understanding of how she herself has been a victim of racism, we should read the rest of her blog.

I won’t be doing that.

I’ve read one of her articles, and thus filled my quota of misinformed, badly-written racist tripe for this lifetime. I hope no-one else bothers to read it either.

She then attempts to justify herself, whining about inequality and suggesting that because of her degree, journalism owes her a living.

She got €80 off the Indo for her googling – not much more than forty pieces of silver, and about €80 more than I would have been prepared to pay had she submitted it to me.

There are two truths here – one is that the likes of Norma Costello doesn’t belong in journalism. Racism and inequality notwithstanding, she made fundamental errors that are the anathema to the profession.

Let me explain.

I was contacted late one night with information that could have brought down the Cowen government, long before its calamitous end.

The information was journalistic dynamite, and as it was breathlessly relayed to me over the phone, I prepared myself for the appearance on Morning Ireland that would inevitably result.

I never appeared on Morning Ireland.

Instead, I went and checked what I had been told with a variety of sources, all of whom confirmed that what I had been told was completely untrue. There was no story.

Because that is what journalists do. About 20% of the job is writing- the rest is reading, questioning, calling, checking –  sometimes even translating, provided you speak the language yourself.

This is what Norma should have done- checked the accuracy of her dynamite quotes. If she had, she would have realised her story was bunkum.

She could have done what Pat O’Mahony did- a proper journalist with years of experience in broadcasting and print- and actually tried to interview Magda herself.

Instead it appears that, for her €80, Norma was content only to get a dodgy translation and then let her prejudices run riot.

How much of the €80 was spent on a professional translation of the original Polish newspaper article? I’m going to hazard a guess and say zero.

But in that lies our second truth- it is impossible to produce quality journalism for €80.

It cannot be done.

You might be able to knock off 300 words about the Islamification of Moate or how the public service eat more biscuits than the rest, to name but two Indo favourites, but not a proper news article. And certainly not quality journalism, whatever Ian O’Doherty might say.

Laptops, phone calls, petrol, parking, bus tickets, notebooks and coffee all cost money. So too do digital cameras and degrees and software.

To do the Magda story properly for a freelancer should take about three or four hours- €20 an hour does not even come close to covering the cost.

Add to that the fact that freelancers don’t have regular work and you can why there is a temptation to cut corners.

But the papers won’t pay more unless we as advertisers or consumers pay more.

And as consumers, we can do two things- we can stop reading the newspapers that churn out this cack-handed, badly-written, barely-researched rubbish that shouldn’t even be used to wrap chips.

And instead of that, we can pay more for quality.

I’m a big fan of freedom of information, but the time has come to prepare ourselves to pay for content; far from limiting our access to information, time-limited paywalls will ensure that the quality of information we do receive is increased. Keep it exclusive for a week, then open it up.

In doing so we can recognise that the digital world is a cheaper marketplace to produce in, and make it both affordable and accessible.

And hopefully if media outlets do that, they’ll be able to pay editors who are smart enough to recognise that the likes of Norma Costello have no place in journalism.

Because in their incompetence, they cheapen  the work of proper journalists like Pat O’Mahony, and hundreds of others who try to get their story straight.