One of the high points of the year for me was the Sunday morning when I appeared on Eamon Dunphy’s show back in the spring.
It doesn’t matter how many elections you cover or how many internationals you interview for news agencies or foreign media, you’re no-one till you’ve sat and chewed the fat with Eamon or Marian on a Sunday morning.
Sitting in the chair with the other guests, it felt like I’d finally arrived.
I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Dunphy as a journalist and broadcaster, even if I haven’t always agreed with him.
His part-showman, part-shaman polemical style has provoked debate on all manner of subjects over the last thirty or so years, from soccer tactics to the real meaning of the term “gombeen man”.
It was a pleasure to meet him, although I think I embarrassed him when I told him that his columns in the Sunday Independent were partially responsible for me wanting to become a journalist in the first place.
He needn’t be; those columns showed many of us that it wasn’t our thoughts that were the most important thing- it was the fact that we thought at all.
He showed us that an independent mind was worth its weight in gold.
It seems that money was at the root of Dunphy’s decision to leave what was (until today) the best show on Irish radio.
Rumours of a 50% salary cut abound, as do tales of Dunphy having to fork out for the four sets of newspapers his panellists devour before going on air.
But I doubt it was because of the impact on his own pocket that Eamon jumped ship, rather a more sinister approach to journalists and journalism from the bean-counters that control where the money gets spent.
He has mentioned a “yellow-pack”mentality in Irish journalism, and you don’t have to dig too deep to discover that Irish journalists aren’t exactly living off the fat of the land.
Having worked for so long in Sweden, I was shocked when I discovered exactly how little Irish media outlets are prepared to pay for journalism.
There are a few notable exceptions, but in most cases it is peanuts, something the quality of much of the end product is testimony to.
It’s not that our journalists lack the skill or the interest; it’s quite simply not worth their while to properly research and write an article, or produce a tv or radio program, because no-one in Ireland is willing to pay for their time anymore.
And before you start feeling all high and mighty about it, that includes the consumer.
The Times of London was hammered for putting its content behind a pay wall, mostly by those who refused to understand that free access to information is not the same thing as free information- at some point, someone has to pay.
I still work for Irish media on stories that I think are worthy or otherwise interesting, but thankfully I can afford to be a bit more selective than the average journalist back home.
The low-cost approach, where the owners complain about the price of everything rather than realising that without it their products have no value, is destroying Irish media.
Then there are those who confuse content with journalism.
The internet is awash with people who write, film, photograph and publish, often entirely uncritically; very little of this material is ever fed through a journalistic set of princicples.
As the recent Irish presidential election has shown us, we need people whose job it is to sift through the streams of fact and rumour, hearsay and heresy, and get to the bottom of a story.
Without it, our democracy grinds to a halt and those who can afford it can buy all the silence they want.
No democracy has ever thrived with its media controlled by a single entity, public or private.
Like every aspect of Irish life, what is needed is plurality in the media where people can present their arguments and allow us to make up our own minds about what we think.
In other words, it needs exactly what Eamon Dunphy provided every Sunday morning on his radio show.
What is most worrying is that, in arguing over the price of taxis and newspapers and Dunphy’s salary, Newstalk have lost something a lot more valuable.
And ultimately it is the listeners that will have to pay the price.