Media Notes (30-05-08)

This week’s media notes:

The latest Dublin radio licence battle is under way with big names like the Guardian Media Group and businessman Ulick McEvaddy coming up in the applications. The proposed station will be a classic rock service, which would probably aim to sound like a mixture of Phantom FM and Q102. Radio is still extremely popular in Ireland and that’s proven by the ever-increasing number of radio stations hitting the airwaves – this could expand even further if DAB, or some digital radio alternative, picks up speed in the near future.
Read More: Samantha McCaughren’s article in The Sunday Business Post.

The businessman who is no stranger to Irish radio, Denis O’Brien, has upped his shares in newspaper empire Independent News & Media giving him his biggest stake yet. O’Brien spent over €27.5m on the stock and now holds a 22.67% chunk of the company. The magic number for O’Brien is 25% as at this point he will be able to block special resolutions going through the board. CEO Anthony O’Reilly holds 27.88% of the company and has little room to move upwards unless he wants to launch a formal takeover of the company – that would only be necessary as a last-resort defensive measure against O’Brien as O’Reilly already has tight control of the company even if he doesn’t own a majority of its shares. O’Brien has never stated his intentions with IN&M but most believe he is looking to eventually buy it up.
Read More: Arthur Beesley’s article in The Irish Times (subs required).

Sticking with the radio theme it looks like Irish businessmen are about to take control of Virgin Radio in the UK. Donnach O’Driscoll and Adrian Robinson, who head up Absolute Radio, are said to be putting down €76m for the suite of stations (although they won’t be allowed to use the ‘Virgin’ brand name any more). Virgin Radio is one of three national independent radio stations in the UK and it also has a number of niche stations on DAB. The radio station is currently owned by SMG plc, although that had decided to sell off various parts of the company to concentrated on its TV offerings. SMG had previously been in talks with UTV about a merger but this was rejected early last year and hasn’t risen its head again since then.
Read More: Laura Noonan’s article in The Irish Independent.

The integrated newsroom

The Press Gazette yesterday published an interesting although somewhat vague article on The Guardian’s moves to the ‘integrated newsroom’, a term that is sure to become the buzz-word of the mainstream media in the coming months and years.

The Guardian’s mission, headed up by editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, is to merge the editorial operations of The Guardian newspaper, its Sunday sister-title The Observer newspaper and its news website guardian.co.uk. Such a merger comes on the back of similar moves in the US and has many logical advantages – it also creates many serious hurdles.

In Ireland the leader of this particular pack appears to be The Irish Times, which has recently been moving to bring together its print and online operations. Unlike The Guardian, The Irish Times Ltd. does not have a Sunday newspaper to complicate matters further, however it is safe to assume that the majority of its print staff are far less “net-friendly” than their counterparts at The Guardian have been in recent years.

The most obvious step in merging operations like this is the physical aspect. While the editorial staff may all share a building regardless of the medium they work for, in most (if not all) cases in Ireland their offices would be totally separate from one another.

The next step is to create a parity across the newly merged workplace and this has been one of the issues raised in The Irish Times’ plans. At present the Ireland.com journalists get paid less than The Irish Times journalists but if they are expected to be working together and across formats this distinction will have to go.

However, physical and financial aspects of a merger are arguably the least important factors in such a move – it is the editorial changes that make a merger beneficial and logical.

This, of course, is where the real hurdles arise. In a fully-merged newsroom the meaning of the word deadline will change, for example, from being the final point at which copy can be submitted to being the final point at which copy can be changed. In other words journalists may well be expected to write copy early in the day and then adapt and develop it online over the following hours – the final version of this may then make it into print.

This would be a major culture shift for traditional print journalists and could increase their workload significantly – alternatively it could lead to further specialisation for individual journalists with staff being expected to focus on one or two stories throughout the day, chasing it and evolving it as new information arises rather than writing it once and sending it off for print.

One cannot see the veteran or high-profile journalists making this change willingly, though, so if this is how integration develops it may be something that has to be introduced in a more long-term, ground-up style.

One of the interesting things mentioned in the Press Gazette article is the idea that a journalist might now write a story and self-publish it on the newspaper’s website, rather than having to run it by an editor for approval. This could be a huge step towards allowing smaller stories to make it online at least, even if they do not make it to print, however it does raise the question of quality control specifically from a legal and grammatical point of view. Some may see a newspaper’s editorial system as bureaucratic however there’s no question that there would be far more journalists with red faces (and hefty lawsuits) if it did not exist.

The idea of the integrated newsroom is not something that’s going to be easy to develop – but likewise it’s not something that’s going to go away; there’s no doubt that newspapers in the UK and Ireland are certain to be monitoring The Guardian’s experiment to see how it pans out.

In essence integration is about responding to the demands of an increasingly internet-based news media but it is something that has been coming anyway, given the challenges posed by rolling-news on TV and radio. Newspapers and media outlets can no longer think in terms of shifts and deadlines and must now give serious consideration to catering for a constant flow of news rather than the stop/start attitude that the old world of newspapers and fixed news bulletins featured.

There’s a lot to gain, from the editor’s, proprietor’s and readers’ points of view, and most media companies in Ireland could certainly benefit from making the change, if it’s proven to be practical, and it’s not just print media.

RTÉ, with enough work, could eventually merge its TV, radio and online newsrooms into one central operation (which is what the BBC is doing), which would allow for far more cross-pollination of media than currently exists there. At the very least such a change might put an end to the illogical tendency for the broadcaster to have two or even three separate crews covering one story at the same time. Even if it didn’t become the norm for one reporter and crew to file for TV, radio and online, you could even have a situation where three reporters from each aspect of the newsroom share facilities where possible, rather than each having their own fully-fledged team with overlapping tasks and equipment.

The only news outlet that might have trouble merging its newsrooms is Thomas Crosbie Holdings. Unlike most other news organisations its problems would be largely physical rather than anything else. After all, The Examiner‘s main offices are in Cork while The Sunday Business Post is based in Dublin – therefore a proper merger of the two would require a geographical shift East or West for one or the other.

After the goldrush

Excuse me for using an Neil Young song title for a post about the Tom Waits gig but as Fergal points out, there has been a touch of Waits-Fever online today as people finally got a chance to splash out on his upcoming Dublin gigs.

Having called in a few favours, dissolved a few assets and extorted a few shop-owners I managed to get the cash together to buy a ticket myself – one for Friday 1st August’s show (the last of the European tour so here’s hoping it’ll be something special).

The ticket-buying process this morning was kind of pot luck, as there was no seating plan to be found before 9am and by then there was no time to be picky about what you got. I just put in for 2 of the higher priced tickets (when you’re paying over €120 including booking fee for a ticket, are you really going to miss the extra €14 for better seats?) and hoped for the best.

What I came out with were pretty good. From what I can gather from the seating chart that finally appeared, I’ll be very near the front of Block A, just a little to the left of the stage.

Using the same seating plan you can work out the likely capacity too. With Block A consisting of (it seems) 31 rows with 74 seats in each row, Block B consisting of 26 rows with 105 seats each and Block C & D both consisting of 13 rows with 39 seats each you get the grand total of 6,038 people. If this is accurate it means the gig will need planning permission (apparently anything over 5,000 capacity demands it).

At the time of going to post the first two nights (30th and 31st July) still appeared had some seats left – however when I tested it out and put through for one ticket at any price, I was told there were none left. The third night was listed as sold out after less than 10 minutes of going on sale, though, which probably isn’t surprising giving its placement on the European route.

So how much cash will be generated by these three nights? Well it’s hard to say for definite as it’s not entirely clear which seats are “premium” and which are not. Block A is definitely within the higher price bracket, but some of the tiered seating seems to be too.

So assuming my capacity calculations are correct, assuming all nights are sold out and pretending that it’s just Block A that’s €131.25 a ticket; each night will bring in €736,304.56c at the door alone. That means all three nights will bring in €2,208913.70c before you include any possible merchandising, bar sales etc. etc.

Not bad for three night’s work – let’s hope Tom’s not too tired from his tour and the tent he’s playing in has what it takes to do him justice.

Having patience when pitching

One of the most annoying periods of a freelancer’s working week is the wait in between the pitch and the commission/rejection. With some editors you can have a reply (for better or for worse) within the hour. With others you might spend a few days talking to their voicemail before you get them and that elusive answer.

This can be a pretty frustrating venture as you’re very much in the air until you get a response and you know exactly what you’re doing (or not as the case may be). If you’re not working on anything else at the time you tend to feel a little udder-less and aim-less during this wait, which is compounded by the fact that you have a good idea (in your opinion, at least) but nothing to do with it.

Once you do get the response many of your ideas will inevitably get the thumbs down. If the answer has been a particularly tricky one to obtain it means you may have spent your time chasing an editor for absolutely nothing – the prospect of having to start again on the same path with another editor quickly becomes very unappealing.

At times like these it’s easy to lose patience and to undertake a more scatter-gun approach to pitching, throwing the idea to anyone and everyone in one go and hoping to that someone will bite.

Do not do this.

Just like a fisherman with 10 lines cast will have a hard time catching anything at all, you too will likely find yourself worse off in the long run if you take the seemingly quick fix to pitching.

There’s an interesting thread on boards.ie which goes into one or two of the reasons why you shouldn’t pitch far and wide at once, but the reasons are pretty obvious. If you pitch the same idea to a number of rival publications at once and more than one comes back with a commission, you’re going to be in trouble.

Of course you don’t have to pitch the same story at the same time to make a balls of it – you can find yourself in a similar quandary if you pitch a story without finalising the status of a previous attempt elsewhere.

This is the mistake I made a few months ago. I submitted a story to a daily, left it a day or two (but – and here was my first mistake – didn’t follow it up on the phone). I then went to a Sunday with the same story pitch, only to get a call from the daily nearly straight afterwards telling me they wanted to use the piece. So there I was with a daily newspaper picking up the same story I was in the middle of pitching elsewhere and as I had pitched to them first (and not followed up in any way) it’s only fair to say that they had first refusal on it. So back I went to the Sunday to tell them someone else had picked up the story and I got an understanding and polite response, coupled with a polite bit of advice telling me to be careful not to put myself in that position in the future. I was mortified and all apologies but thankfully the Sunday editor didn’t seem pissed off… the whole thing just stank of “rookie mistake” because that’s exactly what it was.

Just to make it even worse the article was never published by the daily. Just my luck.

The moral of the story is to have patience when pitching. Do not pitch the same idea or story to more than one editor at once and be sure you know where your pitch stands before you move on to the next editor. Yes, this can double or triple the amount of time it takes to turn an idea into a commission but it’s worth it. The last thing you want is to have two rival newspapers both commissioning you for the same article – it’s a sure-fire way to ensure that you don’t get a look in with either ever again.

Media Notes (23-05-08)

This week’s media notes:

RTÉ has given more details on its plans for DTT – specifically what new channels it hopes to launch on the service. The broadcaster says it will launch a bona fide third channel (referred to at the moment as RTÉ Three) alongside a ‘time-shift’ service which will show RTÉ One programming an hour after normal scheduling. These services will compliment the new Oireachtas TV and Irish Film Board channels and possibly a few more, including TV3‘s 3Xposé (a lifestyle/fashion channel) and 3Today (a news/current affairs channel).
Read more: Catherine O’Mahony’s article in The Sunday Business Post.

Setanta Sports has gotten the US rights to show the English FA Cup – which will compliment the rights it already has to show the soccer tournament in the UK. An interesting part of this deal is that the station will link up with the FOX Sports Channel and will split the coverage 50/50. FOX, of course, is owned by Rupert Murdoch; the man who also owns Setanta’s market enemy in the UK – Sky Sports.
Read more: Ciarán Hancock in The Irish Times (subs required)

Johnson Press appears to be struggling under a burden of debt and is attempting to manage this through a rights issue. The hope is to raise around Stg£212m, all to avoid the selling off of any of the group’s newspapers. Johnson Press has a number of local newspapers on the island, both north and south, including the Leinster Leader, The Derry Journal and The Dundalk Democrat. Should the newspapers go on sale there will be plenty of potential buyers, not least The Irish Times which has been expanding its local newspaper output quite quickly – albeit from a significantly weaker starting point than its rivals in Thomas Crosbie Holdings and Independent News & Media.
Read more: Emmet Oliver in The Sunday Tribune.

Tom Waits’ three nights in Dublin

So after all of that, Tom Waits’ Dublin gig has been totally confirmed.

The details:

Three gigs in a marquee/tent in the Phoenix Park (entitled ‘The RatCellar’); dates July 30th, 31st and August 1st.
Gig is rumoured to have a 6,000 person capacity.
Tickets are €116 and €131 each, they go on sale next Tuesday at 9AM.
Two tickets allowed per person – valid ID needed.

I’m a little bit gutted because I really want to go to this gig but don’t think I can find €116 for next week. If I have that money in my bank account there’ll be other things I need to spend it on. In other words, as much as it pains me (which is a lot), I’m not too confident that I’ll be able to go.

Maybe Tom Waits will be kind to me and give me a freebie – surely all the money he made from his chart placement at Christmas has to count for something!

A man can dream. A man can dream.

Media Notes (16-05-08)

This week’s media notes:

The BCI held a public meeting on Monday (12th May) to allow the three bidders for the three commercial DTT multiplexes to state their case and explain their plans. Each bid hinges on the condition that the winner takes all, so there’s no scope for each company taking one mux each or two bidders sharing the spoils between them. The three bidders are Easy TV (owned by RTÉ and Liberty Global International, parent company of UPC Ireland), Boxer TV (owned by Swedish DTT company Boxer and Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp) and OneVision (backed by eircom, Setanta, TV3 and Arquiva). The mux licence is expected to be awarded by June 21st but DTT rollout is unlikely to begin until next year.

The Government published its Broadcasting Bill (pdf file) on Wednesday (14th May), which will pave the way for a new broadcasting authority (the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) to replace the current Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Unlike the BCI, the proposed BAI will have authority over all broadcasters, including RTÉ, and will have a role in both licensing and compliance/enforcement. The Government’s bill also sets down the formal tracks for a national DTT system, as well as an Oireachtas TV Channel and a public service-based Irish film channel. One interesting aside is that the bill appears to enhance the proposed BAI’s scope in relation to mergers and acquisitions in broadcasting – not only will it have tighter criteria for deciding on allowing one media player to buy out another, it will also be able to consider any bid in the context of overall media ownership and not just ownership in the broadcasting sphere. Could be bad news for Denis O’Brien who already owns Ireland’s two national commercial stations (Today FM and Newstalk) and is some way to owning Ireland’s biggest newspaper.

The Irish Times today reports (subs required) that TV3 is in talks to buy fledgling Irish commercial station Channel 6 for €10m. As part of its DTT proposals TV3 already plans to create two new channels – 3Today, a news/information-based service and 3Xposé, an entertainment/fashion based service – and it is not clear if C6 would become one of these two channels or would compliment two entirely new services. Channel 6 has reportedly been talking to Liberty Global (which effectively owns City Channel and NTL/Chorus), UTV and ITV too but it seems as though the TV3 negotiation is the only one at any kind of advanced stage.

The JNLR figures have been released (subs required) and RTÉ programming continues to dominate. The only non-RTÉ programme in the top ten most listened to shows is Today FM’s The Last Word, which picked up listeners but was still bested by its timeslot rival Drivetime. Newstalk’s The Right Hook, also in the battle for the early-evening audience, picked up 3,000 new listeners but even a doubling in listenership would leave it third in the race. Other notable movers are Gerry Ryan, who picked up 14,000 new listeners to bring him to 342,000; Marian Finucane, who picked up 7,000 new listeners on her Saturday show to rise to 309,000 in total and Ryan Tubridy, who dropped listeners for the third time in a row (4,000 this time around). Some interesting figures but some notable absences too – for example no word on how Newstalk’s Breakfast show is doing; apparently that has performed quite poorly since the station went national.

Tom Waits’ Dublin gigs confirmed?

I’ve been following news on Tom Waits’ return to Ireland like a hawk and between a few friends we’ve all been keeping each other up to date on the latest rumours.

Today Hot Press have said that Waits will play two nights at a Marquee at the Phoenix Park; July 30th and 31st. No sign of when tickets will go on sale or how much they’ll cost (my bet is it’ll be around the €80 mark) but you can count me in.

No word of the dates on the Aiken website or Ticketmaster.ie yet, but fingers crossed this rumour turns out to be true.

Maybe July 31st should mark the official launch of the second ‘Waits for Christmas‘ campaign, too!

Ahern to stay on as TD until next general election (Irish Times – 6th May 2008)

Page 7 of today’s Irish Times has an article by myself and Deaglán De Bréadún on Ahern’s apparent plans following his resignation as Taoiseach today. The article is based on a letter sent to constituents, which I mentioned in a previous post here.

The first five paragraphs or so are my own with the rest of article being De Bréadún’s.

You can also read the article here (subs required).