Changes afoot at The Irish Times

It’s not just the internal machinations of The Irish Times that are facing change. From Monday the newspaper itself is to undergo a minor overhaul which will see the introduction of new supplements, an expansion of some of the ‘paper’s existing features and even a layout and design change.

Times editor Geraldine Kennedy goes into a fair amount of detail on what’s in store in an article in today’s edition and now it’s only a matter of seeing how the final product looks and seeing if it works.

From what Kennedy says the redesign itself isn’t going to be as revolutionary as, say, the one undertaken by The Guardian back in 2005 but more of a brand refresh. It’s being undertaken by Ally Palmer of Palmer Watson, a design consultancy firm that has previously worked on The Sunday Independent and the ill-fated Dublin Daily newspaper.

The firm was also behind the recent re-design of The Irish Times’ own The Ticket supplement – clearly this new brief means they got something right there.

The print version of Kennedy’s announcement is accompanied by some mock-up shots of the new-look newspaper and for the most part it looks like a cleaner, albeit largely familiar version of the newspaper. With these changes and the look of the supplements changing too – including the move to the compact format in some cases – I can imagine many will get more of a magazine-type vibe from the newspaper than they did before, in terms of look and content.

Rumours are also abound that The Irish Times are rethinking their subscription-based service in the face of the gradually improving (and, perhaps more importantly, free) online presence of its competition. Could this be coming as an added extra on Monday?

Either way Monday’s edition will be intriguing to see – although the Letters page in the proceeding editions may prove even more interesting than any of the outlets new ideas.

There Will Be Blood at the Dublin International Film Festival

I was lucky enough to have a ticket to last night’s Irish premier of ‘There Will Be Blood’, shown as part of the Dublin International Film Festival in the Savoy cinema.

I won’t review the film – there are plenty of professionals out there to do that – but I will give my opinion of it.

While I purposely avoided reading any reviews or previews of the film, for fear of ruining it, it was impossible to avoid the mountains of praise heaped on the production over the last few weeks. Therefore I went in expecting something very good and was not disappointed. The film is tense and gripping from start to finish and the two and a half hours pretty much flew by, which is always a good sign.

I don’t think it’s perfect, however, and it does suffer from a lack of focus in certain points – without wanting to give anything away I would suggest people look at the film as an account of a man rather than an event and this lack of focus won’t be nearly as noticeable. This quibble is a very minor one overall and the film is very, very enjoyable and one I’m sure I’ll be going to see again; which is something I don’t tend to do.

Whatever about the film, Day-Lewis himself is absolutely fantastic and while I’ve not seen his fellow nominees’ performances I can certainly see why he’s the hot favourite for another Oscar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character so clearly expressed through body language alone – nevermind through all the other aspects of his performance.

In my mind Paul Dano wasn’t quite as good as some have suggested but he is strong overall. I think this is certainly a breakthrough performance in the sense of the profile it will give him, if not in the sense of him showing the world what he’s capable of.

Towards the end I began to feel as if the film was losing its way but the final 10 minutes or so completely removed that fear. The closing scene manages to be powerful, thrilling, surreal, hilarious and downright shocking all in one and it perfectly wraps up the slow-simmering tension of the entire piece.

After the screening there was a question and answer session with Day-Lewis, which was quite interesting and enjoyable too. This lasted about an hour and all in all we had over four hours of entertainment, which makes the €18 ticket price seem pretty reasonable (and as at least some of that went to charity, even more so).

All in all, you should go to see this.

If there was one thing bad that I could say about the night, it wasn’t relating to the film but to the management of the event by the Savoy/DIFF (what follows is little more than a rant about the many mistakes of the organisers so feel free to skip it).

The first error they made was in ticket allocation, where having given people the opportunity to pick their seats when booking online they then informed customers the seating would be a free-for-all.

What seems to have happened to cause this is straight forward but indicative of bad planning. When originally booking tickets you could pick any seat bar those in the front 10 rows, which were reserved most likely for season ticket holders and guests. The organisers obviously realised soon afterwards that the front few rows in the Savoy’s Screen One, as in most cinemas, aren’t the best ones available and so they decided to change the reserved section to the back 10-or-so rows. This meant that the tickets people had chosen on the website when booking were no longer available to them, and so the ticket numbers were irrelevant.

So as a result of this cock-up ticket holders were told to get there early if they wanted decent seats – this meant that a queue had begun to form about an hour before the film was due to start. As most of the main lobby was sectioned off for the red carpet, there was about 1/4 of the area left for the queue to be formed.

This wouldn’t have been much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the Savoy had decided to keep their other screens open for regular non-festival screenings, as a result of which you had regular punters having to squeeze by the long queue to get to where they were going. With no-one bothering to manage this muddled traffic the place was a bit of a mess at times and what made things worse was the fact that the food shop, which as you may know is in between the doors of the Savoy’s Screen One, was completely blocked off by the queue for TWBB and nearly impossible for other customers to get to.

While the queue was lined up entirely for the doors on the left-hand side, the staff decided to also open the right-hand side doors once they started letting people in. Naturally this meant things would move faster but it also meant there was a bit of a rush to form a queue for the other door too. At first I stayed on the left but with staff urging people to move to the right door I decided to take my chances and do so… however when a few of us did this we were stopped by staff and directed back towards the left-door (as there was now no-one waiting outside the right-door I figured they had suddenly decided to close it). Pissed off I moved back to the queue I was in, only to have staff ask people to move to the right-door again. Having already moved there and been moved back, I decided to stay where I was.

Despite all of this I thankfully got a decent seat in the end but I bet there were plenty of people who booked some of the best seats available and ended up with the worst because of all of this messing.

During the post-film Question and Answer session with Day-Lewis they took questions from the audience. Nice idea but yet again it was marred in bad planning. The guy asking the first question was only handed a microphone towards the end of his question and so had to repeat himself and after that it gradually became more and more of a shouting match. There was no organisation here and basically whoever shouted their question loudest was eventually handed a microphone.

The very last question asked, something about the writers strike, was actually yelled out by a man who jumped to his feet in order to be noticed above the noise of all the others shouting their questions at the stage.

A system for organising audience questions isn’t exactly hard to do and I was disappointed to see the lack of one here. Really those with questions should have been asked to put their hand up, or stand up or something, and then if they were handed a microphone they’d know their question would be next in line… instead people were expected to start asking their questions first and then get the microphone afterwards.

It by no means ruined the night for me, or I doubt for anyone, but it was certainly bad event management in action. Considering the fact that it was an Irish premier of a very high profile film, being attended by its very high profile star as part of an International Film Festival I really expected more from the Savoy or whoever was in charge of this particular event.

Interview with John Waters on Blogging (from 2006)

In 2006 I undertook a thesis on the issue of new media and citizen journalism. As part of this process I approached a number of people in the mainstream media who I knew would have a strong opinion on the matter, one of whom was John Waters who was (and assumedly still is) a self-confessed neo-Luddite.

Below is a full transcript (typos and all) of the interview; which was conducted via email. As you will see his scepticism towards blogs is consistent with his recent outbursts however here he also sees blogs as a potential source of talent; something that he now seems to completely disagree with.

The questions were put to Waters on the 1st of May 2006 and the answers were received on the 5th of May 2006.

Q: Do you think that blogging is something that will influence the traditional media (print, TV and radio) at all, or do you believe that it is a passing fad? While some would believe that blogging has the potential to replace existing media others have a more reserved belief that it will work alongside it. You yourself said that you don’t see it becoming any more than a sideshow; do you think that it is possible for blogging and print to work together perhaps in the way that the Guardian newspaper has been welcoming blogs through its “comment is free” section online and the daily run-down of discussion usually printed on their second page?

A: I regard the printed newspaper as an almost ideal format. It is compact, portable and extremely flexible. Nothing in the development of technology in the past three decades or so has indicated that a more adaptable format is on the cards. I therefore see the Internet as an interesting but essentially overrated channel of information, most of whihc, by definition, lacks the credibility of that published in an old-fashioned newspaper. I’ve no doubt that blogging will provide material and talent for traditional media, but I don;t see it supplanting any of the traditional forms.

Q: Do you think that print, tv and radio need to adapt to concepts like blogging, or perhaps adopt some of its merits in order to stay on the cutting edge? Obviously print newspapers report on a daily basis while blogs have the potential to report and comment constantly, this means that something printed in a newspaper could be outdated by the time it goes on sale while blogs can stay on top of things at all times; for that reason do you think newspapers could take better advantage of their websites? Rather than using it simply as another place to publish what is available in the shops they could use it to report breaking news, have extra comment, extended interviews etc.?

A: I think this typle of question presupposes that media are consumed by people on a more or less non-stop basis, whereas most people use the media in quite a controlled manner, focussed within particular periods of the day – morning and evening predominantly. Blogging, to my mind, is a preoccupation of media and political groupies, who are far from typical of our societies. I believe there is a disproportionate emphasis on the innovations represented by these styles within what is essentially a marginal idiom. I’ve been listening since the early seventies to discussion of how the Internet is going to supplant the traditonal newspaper. Certainly, the Internet has made certain forms of information widely accessible, but this has not meant that people have less need or apppetite for more traditional forms.

Q: The concept of “citizen journalism” is a growing one in Ireland, with the rise in internet connectivity, video phones etc. do you think that there is some advantage to everyday people having the ability to influence readers on a, perhaps, smaller scale to newspaper or TV? Do you think there are risks in people taking the role as a journalist when they lack training and are perhaps willing to do thinks that the profession would not (infringe or privacy etc.).

A: Again, I think this is over-emphasised. Journalist, by its nature, is much more than the publication of things. Behind the process of publication is (usually) a fairly thorough system of checking and verification, which bloggers and ‘citizen journalists” are unable, either by virtue of training or resources or both, to match. There is therefore – and wil continue to be — a “trust deficit” in relation to what os conveyed in the newer forms. There will alsways be instances where the new technologies will enable the ordinary citizen to become a player in a particular story, but I don;t see this becomeing a generalised phenomenon.

Q: After the Dublin riots earlier this year many critisised the broadcast media (particularly RTÉ) for their failure to give proper coverage to the events, however, while RTÉ had limited coverage on radio and TV until after the events many websites were giving streaming updates on what was going on, many also included video and pictures taken amongst the crowd. Do you think that this was a once off incident or is it a sign of a changing media that may rely on viewer/reader submitted images or video in order to report certain stories? Could this also be a chance for print media to use the internet as a way of bringing news as it happens or is the current situation for the print media, where it acts as a source of comment and more considered news articles, the right niché for the industry?

A: Again, I think you’ll find that only a small proportion of interested individuals will seek out news in this way, and I don’t see this
changing much. What will happen, perhaps, is that the new technologies will shange somewhat the way traditional news gatherers go about their business. In other words, the new technologies and methods will be adopted by and adapted for the tradtional media. There will always be a need for centralised information dispersal, so , even if the technology allows for a more fragmented means of delivery, the public, being by definition a fairly monolothic entity, will always seek a mainstream source.

Q: Print media has been written off on numerous occasions, with the advent of radio, television, the internet and now blogs; do you think that the print media will always survive? What reasons do you see for the print medias constant survival, is it their ability to adapt or the freedom granted by the way the media operates (as in journalists have more time to work on a single story than one on a rolling news station or radio station; this allows them to delve deeper, investigate and find more)?

A: I think the big issus is confidence. The public needs to know that the pedigree of its information sources are relable. Also, the new technologies, for all their advantages, are unwieldly and unfriendly compared to the humble newspaper, especially the tabloid/compact format (which I see as the single most significant response of mainstream media to the computer).

Q: Finally do you think blogging serves a purpose as a training ground of sorts; where journalism used to be a trade where apprentices learned the ropes over time, blogging could now be the place for young journalists to earn their stripes, get used to writing for an audience and get their name known amongst the public?

A: I agree. Undoubtedly, mainstream media will increasingly draw upon the talent and energy which will emerge in the new formats. If anything, blogging offers a challenge not so much to mainstream media as to the existing peripheral media like magazines and so forth, where aspiring journalists used to go to cut their teeth.

The 16GB iPhone and the 32GB iPod Touch

There were always two factors that stopped me even considering the purchase of an iPhone – the lack of 3G and the lack of available storage space.

At least the latter of the two has been fixed with the launch of a 16GB iPhone, albeit for $100 more than the 8GB (it works out at €340 for any Irish thinking of buying one when in the US next).

The iPhone only launched in the US in June 2007 and it has already seen a price cut and now a hardware upgrade. Put simply, someone buying an iPhone now would get twice the storage for the same price as someone who bought an iPhone at launch.

Arguably this upgrade is needed more in the UK than the US and Engadget had said that UK o2 stores were rumoured to be getting stock of the 16GB device at lunchtime today, however British buyers haven’t yet been given the option to buy the bigger iPhone online yet.

As for us Irish – still no sign of a launch here. It is expected in 2008 but when exactly is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope that by that time 3G-capability will also be built into the device – again, this is rumoured to arrive some time this year.

But if you’re not interested in getting a phone but do want an iPhone-esque mp3 player, there’s always the iPod Touch which now has a 32GB option in addition to the 8GB and 16GB models. The Touch is basically an iPhone without a Bluetooth or GSM chip inside and 32GB means the device is finally catching up to the standard iPods of a few generations ago (the first colour screen iPod came in 30GB and 60GB models if I recall correctly). The device costs the same as a 16GB iPhone and if it’s simple storage you’re after you’d get far more value for money elsewhere. Oddly enough, the new Touch doesn’t seem to have hit anywhere other than the US store, so Irish buyers may have to wait it out.

Article on TD income in this month’s Village

The latest edition of Village Magazine features an article of mine on TD income for 2007.

The piece breaks down the basic salary, bonuses and expenses of all 166 TDs currently sitting in Dáil Éireann and works out how much each of them earned last year. The figures are sourced from the Oireachtas (via Damien) and the Department of Finance.

You can read the accompanying article for free here, although you’ll need a Village login (or a hard copy of the magazine) to see the actual list of TD incomes.

I have the Excel file with all the details on my hard drive, so I’ll try and upload it here in the near future for anyone interested. Perhaps someone might be able to do something fancy and all “Web 2.0″ with it too.