• The Irish Times, the Dublin riots and me

    In the aftermath of the violence in Dublin at the end of February I wrote a piece in relation to the riots and social media. It was mildy critical of RTÉ and full of praise for Irish bloggers. In all the piece heralded the first victory for the rising Social Media scene in Ireland.

    As a budding journalist I hoped that this piece would find a home in either The Irish Times or The Sunday Business Post. I was happy with the finished article and sent it on to both publications. After some e-mails back and forth I discovered that the Marketing and Media editor of the SBP was away until the 13th of March and wouldn’t able to consider unsolicited articles until then; just my luck. The Irish Times politely responded to my submission and informed me that they were currently working on a similar piece, but were thankful for the time I had taken. Admittedly I have been unable to follow the Irish Times as I would have liked to since then but I have yet to come across the article that has been in the works for so long.

    Today, as part of an article (transcribed here) in relation to the Irish Blog Awards, I find this:

    Many of the first reports and images of the Dublin riots of last month appeared on blogs.

    That line is amongst a short summary of what a blog is. That’s it.
    So did The Irish Times neglect to report on one of Irish bloggings most important developments (besides the Awards!)? Did they neglect to criticise RTÉ for their terrible coverage? Unless I’ve missed something, yes they have.

    Had they e-mailed me back and said “we have no interest in your piece for reasons x, y and z” I would have been more appreciative. I’m not going to claim that my piece was superb and they were idiots not to print it; I just think they were foolish not to cover the subject at all. As a result of the reply they did give me I was left waiting with interest to see their take on the issue. I’m still waiting.
    Click the more option below to read the final (and now dated) draft of my piece.

    It is extremely difficult to see any positives come out of last Saturdays riots in Dublin, however the weekends violent events were the first major skirmish seen in Ireland between traditional and new media outlets, and round one has ended; 1 – 0 to the bloggers.

    Blogging is a phenomenon that has taken off at high speed over the last few years; chances are you’ve heard the term even if you don’t know what it means. Assuming you have an internet connection and a keyboard at your disposal blogging allows you or anyone else to self-publish on the internet, regardless of subject or quality. In the last US election political bloggers changed the face of the Republican and Democrat campaigns; baby-kissing and hand-shaking were suddenly second-best to a positive comment from a popular blog website. As blogging progressed the idea of “citizen journalism” or “social media” began to grow with it. Self-styled journalists began to scoop the mainstream press or cover the topics that no-one else dared (or cared about). Interestingly, all the while the Irish media sat uninterested and unafraid because, despite our booming economy and modern outlook on life, the Irish seem consistently slower on the uptake of new technology than our peers.

    The 7th July bombings in London brought social media to our doorstep. Camera phones and high-speed internet connections became a potent concoction that allowed viewers a birds-eye view of the chaos and devastation; the BBC and other outlets aired now infamous images of people exiting one of the bombed underground tunnels, pictures which were taken by a tube passenger with a mobile phone. Videos and photographs submitted by members of the public are nothing new; we’ve all seen some instance of amateur footage that captures an interesting, exciting or important event. The difference highlighted last July was that most people now carry their own tiny cameras and camcorders with them all the time, even when they have no intention of using them. Also, by their very design, camera phones allow the fast and easy transfer of data from one person to another, so not only are they always ready to record, they are also capable of broadcasting minutes afterwards.

    The 25th February 2006 will go down in recent Irish history for many reasons, but it is likely to be remembered for some time by those in the Irish blogging scene as first blood to their cause. Excluding a brief in-studio report on RTÉ Radio 1, the event remained largely ignored by the station until 6:30 in the evening; live sport was given the priority instead. The RTÉ News website was updated twice during the day, once to report the start of the violence in the afternoon and again to detail the charges put against thirteen of the 41 arrested late in the evening. Likewise it wasn’t until the 6:1 News that RTÉ Television gave any real coverage to the scenes, altogether meaning that much of the public was left in the dark until it was too late. Members of the established press that did try to cover the event were treated as the enemy of the rioters, most notably Charlie Bird who was singled out, punched and called an “Orange bastard”.

    Combine the failures of our national broadcaster with the considered attempts of the criminals to keep the possibly incriminating media attention away from them and you’d think that the media had fallen short of its role in our society, but thanks to the blogger, the citizen journalist and the amateur photographer and cameraman not only was the violence given proper coverage, superb footage was also obtained from the epicentre of the trouble.

    Indymedia Ireland, which allows anyone to publish or contribute to a campaign or story, ran a constantly updated series of photo’s and comment pieces over the course of the day and now features an eye-opening thirteen minute video taken on camcorder. Flickr, the online photo album, was flooded with photographs of the violence by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Youtube.com, a site dedicated to publicly submitted video footage, featured a short clip of one of the damaged cars on Nassau St. being upturned by a mob; this incident occurring before the Gardaí themselves had progressed to the Southside. Video and images were captured on phones, disposable, digital and even professional cameras but the anonymity and regular look of the amateur photographers meant they were largely ignored by the same people that hospitalised Mr. Bird; it’s hard to believe that an RTÉ or TV3 cameraman could have stood amongst a crowd of vandals, film them without their faces covered, and get away with it.

    Blogs such as The Dossing Times gathered together information as it happened and presented it to its readers while Disillusioned Lefty published an eye witness report as the violence continued on the streets. Bloggers at Back Seat Drivers offered numerous photographs, news links and some comment all in one piece, four hours before RTÉ News broke its silence.

    It is unlikely that the traditional and new media will go head-to-head like this again in Ireland for some time. Our national broadcaster is sure to have learned a lesson or two from its dismal coverage and such shocking scenes are unlikely, we hope, to happen on our streets in the near future, if ever again. The fact is, however, that most people looking for information last Saturday were forced online and those recent converts may be hard for the traditional media to recover. The question is will RTÉ learn from and adapt to our changing media or will it close its eyes and hope for the best? After all, without hesitation the Irish social media community (which was almost non-existent before this) took on the role of the public service broadcaster and did so with great professionalism. The traditional outlets were caught shy and unprepared, even more than the Gardaí, but it was the unpaid and untrained amongst us that saved the day for the Irish media and captured some of the most provocative and shocking images and video’s to surface so far. Bloggers 1, traditional media 0.