“gazing wistfully in the rear-view mirror and shaking a fist at passing traffic.”

In the Sunday Times Liam Fay takes issue with a recent speech by Emily O’Reilly, Ireland’s Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, when addressing journalism students at the University of Limerick. From the Sunday Times

O’Reilly’s speech was simultaneously over-pessimistic about the future and over-sentimental about the past. Literally and figuratively, journalism has always been a race against time, so penning the profession’s obituary is premature in an age when the opportunities generated by technology change by the week.

New media create new problems, but the general trend is positive. Apart from anything else, increased diversification of the means through which knowledge and opinion are circulated provides a needed counterweight to the writing or rewriting of history by anointed grandees.

The beauty of the information superhighway is that it can accommodate everybody, even those who are parked in a lay-by, gazing wistfully in the rear-view mirror and shaking a fist at passing traffic.

, , , , ,

  • Sometimes a profession’s durability is more of a reflection of the techology and industrial pratices which it has grown up with rather than the talents of it’s members.

    Press journalism will have to adapt to it’s new amateur rivals springing up all over the (non closed) shop or look and feel increasingly outdated.

  • Driftwood

    This controversy has been in the press for the past few days, various links from the Times are available;


    But shows how forums can disintegrate..

  • Alas, Some like myself, are stuck in

    a land beyond the wave
    Sworn to be free.

    So, therefore, didn’t see your quotation in our local edition of the Sunday Times.

    That aside, Emily O’Reilly seems to be missing one essential factor, and one that was identified lately by Mick Fealty, the Man himself, in a post about the BIPA.

    Ordinary mortals are deluged with an infinite amount of information. Therefore we use our prejudices, our ideologies to prioritise. Individual sources are undoubtedly biased and twisted. We either go with the flow, choose our fountain of prejudice, or we float from spring to spring.

    Yet, we need some filters. None of us can trust any one source. There is no way any individual source can be sterilized, or trusted as the ultimate Deep Thought.

    That means the future role of the journalist remains as it always was. The reader chooses a primary source which resonates with his/her essential views. My coffee, toast and marmalade is with the BBC/Guardian, and so my essential brainfood for the day is formed. Later on, with mature reflection and access to other sources, my view expands and modifies, even reverses.

    Ultimately, though, I am being fed my world-view through filters, through journalistic and editorial prejudices. That is unavoidable. My need, as a reader, is to be educated to recognise those biases and prejudices, and to discount thereby.

    So, here’s an experiment, one I endured some pre-internet years ago. Locate yourself in the likes of Pocatello, Idaho (of Judy Garland fame). You are dependent on local sources of Motel information. That amounts to USA Today, CNN and Fox News. Now tell us about the life and politics of the good ol’ North of Ireland.

  • David Crookes

    There is a great deal of first-class information of wikipedia, but many ‘anointed grandees’ pooh-pooh the resource completely. The scholarly apparatus-chicks need to renounce the hand-churning of academic butter. Making a reference in a bibliography to someone’s unpublished MA thesis is a ritualistic piece of folly: and consigning an important textual reference to a footnote is often a pain in the neck for any reader who wants to exceed the speed of a mortally wounded worm.

    Once the full bibliothecal resources of the scholarly world are available on the web, the speed of real discoveries will increase noticeably. We should expect to see more and more USEFUL academic work being done outside the universities.

    Good journalists can set the standard. Eamonn Mallie finds out more in an average week than many professional scholars find out in their entire lives.

  • Driftwood
  • RobertNoonan

    She was so correct

    as the poet Bob Dixon said

    Who just parrots the generals’ stories?
    who just writes what they are told to say?
    who’s always in bed with the biggest army?
    who peddles lies, for Pay

  • Driftwood @ 11:08 PM:


    Now can anyone here remind me of the primary source of a pertinent anecdote?

    In the days before wireless and the time signal, a passenger from London dismounts from a train, somewhere in the West of England. He finds the Westminster time of his expensive and accurate watch exactly matches the station clock.

    Hours pass.

    He does his business in town, and checks his watch by the town-hall clock. He notices the timings of the two local clocks precisely coincide with Westminster. Anyone who has seen King’s Cross and St Pancras knows this is an impossibility.

    Our traveller is puzzled. He asks the town-hall custodian how he sets the time. Oh, he looks up the street, and adjusts by the station clock.

    Right. The traveller checks with the station master: how is the station clock so accurate? Oh, that’s easy: we look down the street and check with the town-hall.

    Somewhere in there is my definition of reliable journalism.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    “Apart from anything else, increased diversification of the means through which knowledge and opinion are circulated provides a needed counterweight to the writing or rewriting of history by anointed grandees”.

    I suppose the really amazing thing is that they have “courses in journalism”. I can fully understand the need to do a “course” to be a doctor……but does anyone actually NEED to do a course to a journalist.
    Anybody here really do a half-assed course at the Metro College in Belfast?

    A casual look thru the profiles of BBC journalists (check BBC website) shows most graduated in economics, politics, history.
    So since when did the Fourth Estate think of themselves as a Profession. Nobody else thinks they are.

    I can kinda understand a train crash and a voice saying “let me thru, Im a doctor” but I would not be comforted by “let me thru Im a journalist” or worse still “let me thru I have my own blog on word press”.

    More Journalism self regard and self promotion.
    Those who we entrust to deal academically with History and Politics are hardly self appointed. Cetainly the training would seem more rigourous than one year at the Metropoitan College in Millfield.
    And of course a casual look thru Blogs reveals a stunning lack of any kind of standard.

    Rummaging thru the dustbin of Ashley Cole or negotiating a “story” with Max Clifford is NOT a profession and frankly undermines anyone who has a real profession.

  • Driftwood

    The Dawkins web forum-much bigger than here- 85,000 registered users- and a minor adjustment causes uproar.
    The Belfast Met course in ‘journalism’ is a hoot.
    It’s at the bottom of the heap with ‘media studies’ ‘film studies’ and the rest that try to place these pseudo courses with proper subjects like History,Sociology, Psychology, English Literature etc and almost on a plane with Science and Mathematics.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Absolutely right on the Metro course.

  • wee buns

    I give up Malcolm; what is the primary source of your metaphor?

  • Pete Baker

    If we could focus, guys.

    To quote from the Sunday Times article

    Among the extinct professions she cited were breaker boys, who plucked impurities from coal in 19th-century America, and toshers, who scavenged in the sewers of Victorian London. However, O’Reilly could have chosen a much more pertinent example of a defunct role: an information commissioner with a distaste for information technology.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Well Mr Baker…..the toshers scavenging in the sewers of London cant be that much different from those scavenging in Ashley Coles dustbin……so I think we are very focussed.
    Information Technology is the 21st century version of Caxtons printing press.
    The Fathers of the Chapels bemoaned a lowering of standards as books and literature was made open to the masses.
    The current Fathers of the Chapels in Journalism are perhaps the modern version of those “annointed grandees” who see the profession (sic) of journalism opened up to the barbarian hordes of bloggers and their so called Information Technology.

    Of course discerning jouranlists need to embrace modernity AND maintain standards. So many bloggers are devoid of even basic good manners (too much time on computers and avoiding real people producing a foul mouthed degenerate cynical culture that brings little credit to bloggers).
    Rather than confront these lowering of standards mainstream journalism has adopted them.

    Presumably Journalism does not like the idea of an “Information Commissioner” hence the rather snooty tone in their article.
    Presumably Bloggers (average age 19) cant understand that anyone over 19 might have a distaste for something called “Information Technology”.

    Focussed enough for you?

  • jtwo

    There are “courses in journalism” mainly so people can get a decent grounding in media law, shorthand and basic technique; outside of a few gilded BBC presenters most jobbing hacks will have done such a course, usually as a postgrad.

  • JaneJeffers

    “The beauty of the information superhighway is that it can accommodate everybody, even those who are parked in a lay-by, gazing wistfully in the rear-view mirror and shaking a fist at passing traffic.”

    It can accommodate everybody that can work in return foe nothing.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    how many of the current crop of Millfield journo students will actually get those jobs in the media?
    Alas as has been pointed out above “media studies” is the last refuge of those who dont get the grades to do a real university course.

    The lesson is clear…..if you dont do your homework, you could end up a journalist.

  • “The beauty of the information superhighway is that it can accommodate everybody”

    Not to be confused with the ‘freedom of information’ round and roundabout!!

  • jtwo

    FJH, short of crystal ball gazing I don’t know but probably not loads given the shrinking size of the sector.

    Also isn’t the implication in the first part of your post contradicted by the last line of your post?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    The Course all but guarantees jobs as sub editors, PR etc.
    Perhaps the Metro College should back up its claims by stating the actual figures in say 2003, 2004, 2005, for new students who will be enrolling in September and currently in the interview process.

    Perhaps an enterprising investigative journalist could ask them.