It’s just an accounting mechanism…

2006 has been stacked full of important moments for me. I turned 21, I had my first nationally-published article, I got my journalism degree and I got some priceless experience in a newspaper office. I think it’s safe to say that this has been the most eventful and important year for me in a fair while and there’s little else I could have asked for from it.
The title of this post is a paraphrase of a friend of mine (who may have paraphrased it from somewhere else) and it’s an opinion I find difficult to argue with. Why is the transition from this month to the next any more significant than the others? Why is the turning of midnight on this day more important than the 364 other times it happens every year?

The truth is, it’s not, and yet you can’t help but feel some kind of gravitas around the whole thing. Of course it’s just an accounting mechanism, but it’s an important one. The end of the year allows you to take stock of what has been and think about what comes next; of course you can do that any day of the week but the year is just long enough to get a fair comparison but not too long as to make the data irrelevant. Just like how companies compare one year’s profits with the last, we as humans tend to take one year and hold it up against the ones that went before.
If the past year has been anything to go by, 2007 should be a very enjoyable experience for me. However, just as on 31st December 2005 I had no idea what was in store for me I won’t be anticipating or planning for anything tonight. That said I do have my plans, plenty of them. Hopefully one or two of them will begin to form in a more public way in the next month or so.

Until then, have a good night and a nice start to the new year. It’s silly to expect it to be an entirely happy one, but let’s at least hope that the good will outweigh the bad when we sit back and take account for it all this day next year.

Download the Moriarty Tribunal’s first report

The first report of the Moriarty Tribunal has just been published.

The Tribunal was set up in 1997 to investigate the finances of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry (you can read a bit more about it on the wikipedia).

According to RTÉ the report is highly critical of Haughey, even more than had been previously expected, and it raises disturbing issues relating to a transplant fund set up for the late Brian Lenihan.

The quote of the moment from the report is that Haughey’s dubious financial dealings “devalued the quality of a modern democracy,” which puts Mr. Justice Moriarty’s criticism in no uncertain terms.

If you want a copy of the 704-page report, right click here and save it.

Expect the rest of the week, and even month, to be laden with analysis, reaction and discussion of this publication and expect both hot air from politicians and a strong defence from the family of CJ.

Blog apathy, vinyl love

I have about 1,000 topics in my head that I’d love to blog about, but keep finding myself deleting my draft about 2 paragraphs into the discussion.

Part of the reason is that I’m listening to the latest addition to my ever-growing vinyl collection, Tool’s Lateralus. As with every Tool release in recent times it’s beautifully packaged, with the record sleeve (and double discs) offering all the more space for the band to play around with designs and Alex Grey art.

Oh, and it sounds great too, but I already knew it would, what with having the CD anyway.

The website seems to be sold out of them (again) and they’re apparently limited editions, although to what degree I couldn’t tell you.

If you’re looking for one you could always try ebay (where prices have dropped since the 2nd pressing came out), or you might be lucky enough to find one in Tower on Wicklow St., Dublin. I saw 2-3 there the other day at €49 each; only €7 more than the price I paid straight from the site. If you’re really desperate, though, a last resort could be HMV, Grafton St. where I found copies of it for a whopping €69.

Oh, and Sound Cellar is always worth a try.

First they taketh… then they taketh some more

Conan O’Brien’s latest piece of cult comedy, which has snowballed from an ad-lib quip into an internet sensation, is another example of the online world at its finest, but it also shows the gap in thinking between the new and old media types.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, this NYT article should fill you in, but to be brief Conan referenced a fictional domain, HornyManatee.com, in a recent skit. As part of some US law (or maybe just to be safe), NBC bought the address up and the Late Night team decided to make the most of the purchase.

What that throw away line created was a website clocking up 3 million hits, an ongoing gag for the Late Night team, plenty of positive press and even more viewer contributions on all things manatee.

This whole thing is a perfect example of how the internet allows traditional media to give little extras to the audience. It’s also about how an appreciative audience can repay you ten-fold, in this case in the form of content. What’s disappointing, however, is that while Conan & Co. seem to understand that (and are basking in it), NBC are missing the point completely.

One of the contributions that was subsequently shown on Late Night was a poem about the manatee, recited by James Lipton. If you search for it on YouTube you should stumble across a clip for it, but then you’ll be hit with the usual spiel of the content being removed at the request of the copyright holders, NBC.

What gets me the most about this is that 1) the gag that features was sent in by a member of the audience who was paid nothing in return and 2) Late Night isn’t a drama that’ll be brought out on DVD later in the year, so there’s no real revenue stream being denied by offering it for free online after the initial airing anyway.

HornyManatee.com is a funny fad that will probably run out of steam at some point, but not before NBC receive a lot of positive buzz and Late Night receives plenty of mileage from an originally throw-away gag. If only NBC realised that the more accessible you make it to the audience, the more you’ll get out of it before everyone moves on.
Oh well.

Here’s some of what I missed

Plenty has happened in recent weeks that I had hoped to blog about in detail, but never got the chance, so here’s a quick round-up of just a few of the bits and pieces that have been and gone without a mention in these quarters.

Media

The Defamation Bill was debated in the Seanad, as details of the Press Council and Press Ombudsman were announced.
Concerns over this legislation have been minimal, apart from the odd whimper coming from publications who would much prefer to force complainants into expensive libel law suits.
The bill repeals the tort of slander and libel, replacing them with the single defamation tort; it also gives journalists the defence of ‘reasonable publication’ (that is to say that the article was published in good faith, every measure was taken to ensure its accuracy and that it was honestly believed to be true at the time of going to press), while also allowing publications to publish an apology without that being an acceptance of liability.
Blurred Keys supplies the various links on the legislation and points out that while the Privacy Bill has been keeping a low profile, McDowell has ensured us that it’s not gone away, you know.

Village Magazine relaunched their website recently too, dropping the ‘magazine’ bit from their domain name and adding a host of new features, from back issues of Vincent Browne’s Magill to daily news updates and even a blog. It’s great to see an Irish publication put serious consideration into the internet, although the existence of a subscriber-wall is, as always, a shame. But does this mean Village could become the first publication to have a working blog? I’m not sure, but I don’t see how it could be called an actual blog if it’s just used to republish the magazine’s articles as it has done so far.

Politics

Pinochet pulled a Haughey and kicked the bucket just in time to dodge the bullet on a lifetime of suspected wrongdoings. This comes after a series of health problems suffered by the former Chilean dictator which ensured the legal process to try him was as slow and fruitless as possible (another tactic plucked straight from the book of CJ).
His death brought about a pretty split public reaction, a schizophrenia that Slugger reckons is a pretty good summary of his general legacy. Apparently Marget Thatcher was saddened.

David McWilliams is looking into the future this Thursday with the latest round of his Leviathan debates. Entitled Ireland 2016: The Pope’s Revenge, the discussion will centre around what’s ahead for the country and what that oh-so significant year will bring us. It sounds like a pretty interesting debate and one made all the more enticing by the presence of not one, but two bloggers; Simon McGarr and Sarah Carey. Congratulations guys and best of luck.
Hopefully I’ll get a chance to attend but if you can’t make it, never fear, the debates will be available for download at some point afterwards.

Let’s skip the apologies and move onto the detail, shall we?

I feel like every single one of my last few blog posts have been apologies and explanations as to why I haven’t been blogging much. I’m serious this time, though, full service resumes today.

Lot’s to do on the site; the Portfolio page hasn’t been updated since August and the CV and About page could probably do with a re-think too. I’ve also missed a hell of a lot of stuff I would have liked to have blogged about (more on that later) and I’m compelled to push this blog back in the originally intended direction (that being a chronicle of my experiences starting out in journalism and a rantbox on media and politics) – hence the chatter below.

So here’s to a return to blogging, finally…

So why have I been absent? Well as I mentioned, I went straight out of my time in the Sunday Business Post into Village Magazine for a 4 week stint. One week into that I was offered 2 shifts in the SBP until the end of the year, which saw me working Monday-Wednesday in the Village and Thursday & Friday in SBP. I was then originally supposed to be finished in the Village the week before last but was asked to stick around for another few days to work on some research I had started there.

So in other words, this is the first week I’ve had where I’m just doing the 2-days in the Sunday Business Post and I’ve finally gotten some (but not too much) time to work on my own bits and pieces.

So how was Village? Interesting. To be honest it may not have been my best move, simply because the shifts in the SBP were a priority for me and I couldn’t give the magazine my full attention. It was interesting to be in the same small quarters as the likes of Frank Connolly, Justine McCarthy and Vincent Browne although I unsurprisingly wasn’t lucky enough to actually work with them (or, for that matter, near them…), but still.
The worst part of the whole SBP/Village situation was the fact that while the SBP was a major priority I was still unable to devote nearly as much attention to it as I would have liked. As a result the last few weeks haven’t been nearly as productive as I had wished and I feel I’m capable of a hell of a lot more. Fingers crossed I can get back on top of things in the final 3 weeks of my stint there; so wish me luck.

Actually, forget about wishing me luck, just send me information on any great (and unreported) injustices in our society, any interesting goings on in business or any other worthy developments of any nature to my e-mail address (or call me). Uh… now I feel dirty; like one of those tabloid ads that say “We’ll pay you €250 for your story”, only I have no intention of paying you anything.

Seriously though, I’ve had a pretty amazing few months and things have been going much better than I could have planned for in terms of starting my career; I’ll discuss it more towards the end of the month but the scale of work, experience and opportunities afforded to me at the SBP has been superb. I’m not trying to suck up to anyone here, if I felt underwhelmed by my time there my praise would be notable by its absence, but it’s not often that you get chances like this so quickly.

So it’s onward and, hopefully, upward.

Espie to head unofficial FF party in North (SBP – 10th December 2006)

An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post. Unfortunately the article didn’t turn up in the online version, but it’s available in the print edition (scan here), and I’ve transcribed it below:
Former SDLP members — including the party’s former vice-chairman and a former Lord Mayor of Belfast — are setting up an unofficial Fianna Fáil organisation in the North.

Eddie Espie — who resigned as vice-chairman of the SDLP in March, and Martin Morgan, who was Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2004 — are involved in the recently-formed Fianna Fáil Tuaisceart.

Espie said the formation of the group was in response to Fianna Fáil’s failure to fulfil its promise to become involved in Northern politics.

“In Mid Ulster, we’re ready to form our own cumann, which of course won’t be recognised by Fianna Fáil,” he said. “We have to form our own policies and structures to be able to bring Fianna Fáil – or a Fianna Fáil-type party – into the North, rather than waiting for this never-ending line: that they’ll do it when the time is right.”

The issue of organising in the North has been brought up at numerous Fianna Fáil ard fheiseanna in the past, most recently last year.

Residents of the North can become independent members of the party, and more than 100 are believed to have signed up, despite having no voting rights on party issues.

“We have a person from Derry who has been travelling back and forward to Fianna Fáil for 26 years and hasn’t got anywhere,” said Espie.

“There are 60,000 people who stopped voting for the SDLP and who are unrepresented – 20,000 of those sit very uncomfortably within Sinn Féin and they need an alternative.”

Espie said there was not enough time to contest the elections planned for next March, but the new party was aiming to be ready for the proposed “super council” elections in 2009.

This would mean registering as an independent political party.

“We’re not looking to go on a collision course with Fianna Fáil here,” said Espie. “If we do register as an independent party, it would only be a temporary measure before an amalgamation with the main party.”

A Fianna Fáil representative said: “The current focus of the party is its organisation in the Republic of Ireland and the campaign for the next general election.

“As regards the North, we have a Northern Ireland committee on our national executive and they’re reviewing the situation.”

A prophecy I didn’t want to come true

…although I always knew it would.

Most people will have some kind of memory of the tragic 2004 Asian tsunami; it’s one of those incidents that you’re unlikely to ever forget completely (which isn’t a bad thing).

While the massive loss of life is what made the event so horrible, one other aspect of it that always comes to my mind was the media coverage. For example, I still remember being completely disgusted at the front page of The Mirror shortly after the event, which consisted of an all-page photo of bloated and bruised bodies strewn across a beach. I couldn’t comprehend why they did it, or why they felt the need to visualise so graphically this disaster, which was the fault of no-one and the scale of which was apparent through the death-toll alone.

That Christmas I had gotten The Day Today DVD from my brother and sister; something I hadn’t watched in years, and so I spent the 27th of December (at least I think it was the 27th) watching through each episode again. At one point I got up to get myself a drink, went downstairs and headed through the sitting room (en route to the kitchen). My mam was watching an ITV special report on the disaster, with one of their people reporting from the scene of the disaster.
I couldn’t help but feel a slight case of deja vu, as the “special report” played out with all the bells and whistles of the now ten-year-old BBC satire I was watching upstairs. The flashy graphics, the tone of voice, the pointless packages, the use of over-emotive and over-the-top words to try and make a serious situation as sexy and consumable as possible… it was all there.

I always knew that Morris was onto something, and he lampooned the media of 1994 perfectly with his Paxman-esque performance… it was just scary that his purposeful over-the-top delivery had finally been adopted as the ideal way for “serious” news organisations to put information into the public domain.

And so, his most recent prophecy has now become a reality (and this time it only took 5 years) with ITV’s Manhunt; their sexier answer to BBC’s Crimewatch.
The premise? They show picks 10 individuals, who are wanted for various crimes, and aim to catch them all by the end of the night. What follows are dramatic reconstructions, fear mongering packages about public safety and straight-faced delivery of the kind of tough-talk you just know The Daily Mail would love.

Morris’ paedophile special was, certainly, about the media’s coverage of paedophilia in the UK. He hit out at their attempts to incite fear, encourage vigilanteism, sexualise children; all in the name of bigger sales rather than concern for the safety of anyone. That said, in delivering that message he also poked fun at their delivery techniques; it was as much about the words they used as they way they used them. The point was always “This is where you’re going”.
People familiar with the Brass Eye special might remember the reconstruction of a story about a paedophile potato-seller. At one point in the video, the man pounces on a child and as he does this the camera revolves around the scene in a bullet-time-type spoof. The first reconstruction on Manhunt, again for those of you who saw it, also tried to use eye-catching camera work (MTV cuts and edits, fades, spins), dramatic music and so on.
Don’t get me wrong, a special report from the Asian Tsunami wasn’t a bad idea, and nor is a show that tries to catch criminals through public appeals; it’s the delivery that I have a problem with.
I’d recommend to anyone to watch The Day Today or Brass Eye again now, and then watch a show like Manhunt or even the news on ITV, TV3 etc.
It makes for depressing viewing, and it may make you ask yourself; why do they feel the need to sex-up and over-sell serious incidents in order to sell them to the public? I don’t have an answer, but maybe it’s because the public respond so well to it.