“There is always the danger that in the news media the urgent drives out the important”

Saturday’s Irish Times noted its former editor Conor Brady’s call for ‘thoughtful and committed journalism’, particularly in news reports on Northern Ireland, despite “the pressure on budgets and dwindling revenues”.

Addressing the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh yesterday, he warned the Dublin-based media against treating Northern Ireland as not important enough to bother with anymore.

“Personally, I regret that with the ending of the large-scale conflict within Northern Ireland, so many of the Southern news media have also lost or reduced their interest in what goes on.”

Mr Brady, who is a member of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, said: “If the decades of violence on this island and the decades that preceded them taught us anything about living together it should be that we need to know about each other. If we don’t know about each other we become prey to suspicion, to stereotyping, to mistrust and ultimately to hostility.”

The report continues

“There is always the danger that in the news media the urgent drives out the important. And there is the growing danger that with the pressure on budgets and dwindling revenues, news editors and programme makers will simply not look as much as they should beyond their own immediate, local constituencies.”

…….

Broadcasters and writers had a “heavy responsibility” to help foster mutual understanding, to deepen awareness and respect across all communities and to help dispel, suspicion, fear and mistrust. “There is the potential for a considerable regression in cross-community trust if the news media don’t do this well,” he warned.

“If there is pandering to sectarian or racist bias, if the news media fail to challenge those who would wish to revert to stereotyping or to the raking up of old shibboleths, the news media will fail in their duty to the people they serve.”

And in today’s Irish Times, Gerry Moriarty follows up by mapping the “media retreat” here

Journalists in Belfast have not been short of stories this year: the “Irisgate” affair, the battle to strike an agreement over policing and justice, the Westminster election, the Saville report on Bloody Sunday, the dissident threat, street disorder such as at Ardoyne, and much more besides.

“A Chinese curse is that you may live in interesting times, but it’s not a curse for journalists because we thrive on mayhem,” observes the Sunday Times ’s former Northern Ireland editor Liam Clarke. But as far as the Sunday Times head office in London was concerned there wasn’t sufficient mayhem in the North in recent years, which accounted for his early standing down as a staffman three years ago, although he still writes a weekly column for the Irish edition of the newspaper.

And that is mainly behind the journalistic retreat from Northern Ireland: the relative peace.

It has led a number of Irish and British news organisations to reassess their involvement in Northern Ireland. The Irish Times and RTÉ have maintained their commitment to covering the North but the Irish Independent , Sunday Independent and Evening Herald have no staff reporters based in Belfast while organisations such as the Sunday Times , the London Daily Telegraph, Reuters and Sky have closed their Belfast offices.

There is another worrying aspect to this media retreat which also works against any desire or need for thoughtful and committed journalism here.  And that is the apparent growth industry of government press officers.

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  • Oracle

    Hi Pete,

    You have probably just blogged the most important thread in years though most of Slugger will skirt past it as being to intellectual or need of too much thought for their mental endurance.
    The observations of Mr. Brady are somewhat unexplainable if not quite baffling as he pursued a vision of his own whilst at the helm of the “Old Whore of D’Olier Street” which was “safe, really safe, and completely safe” a vision the he prosecuted with some vigor I might add.
    So to listen to his selective utterances now is a little humorous especially with his warning about the urgent replacing the important, when the “Old Whore of D’Olier Street” still has a policy to this day of “Nothing replacing Something”

  • Alan Maskey

    Suddenly, nothing happened.
    If it ain’t a a story.

    This is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-10837773

    Good sermon too. And, with regard to another thread, note the videos.

  • Interested

    Interesting that Pete is so concerned about a ‘news retreat’ when his entire oeuvre is broadcasters’ hotlinked…er, news?

  • Munsterview

    Once the everyday activity in the North became the political banal as news, it had plenty competition from other regions of Ireland. The perceived stagnation of Northern politics and the stalled and bypassed opportunities for political progress have been a monumental turn off in the South for all things Northern.

    Having said that, there is no appetite in the Southern media for true in depth reporting. Tralee for instance is swamped with drugs and also acts as a hub for distribution to the larger satellite towns of Killarney, Kenmare, Dingle, Listowel and Castleisland, which in turn acts as hubs for their regions.

    The county has three local newspapers, and a radio station, the local reporters are keyed in, the dogs in the street know who the druggies are, the small time dealers and the big operators yet there has not been one detailed in depth medial examination of the havoc the drugs are causing in communities. Neither have the dealers, their networks or structures been exposed!

    Limerick is a brand name with national recognition for all the wrong reasons : it too has a number of local newspapers and a regional radio station. There is ongoing general coverage of criminal activity as events happen but yet again there is no in depth study or analysis as to how the criminal problem in Limerick grew into the present out of control situation.

    The reason for this is simple and obvious, start peering under the scabs and the whole political power and other vested interest interfaces come into focus and the real causes of these problems such as poverty, ineffective policing, lack of community resources, curtailment of post school facilities etc. come into sharp focus.

    There is no appetite in the Irish Media to go there, in my own activist days for every ten news stories I knew as an insider, only one severely curtailed version made it into mainstream media. On the lead up to the building collapse, many construction reporters knew the writing was on the wall, but paper commercial and advertising considerations spiked stories.

    The problem is not the lack of accredited correspondents in the North, rather it is now that there is ‘normalization’ or a weary realization on this island that things are as good (or bad) as they are likely to be in the foreseeable future, real news from ‘up there’ is now simply binned for the same variety of reasons as it is on the rest of the Island!

  • Kevin Barry

    Hi Pete,

    This is a very good piece. Though I agree with a lot of what Gerry Moriarty said in his piece, I think that a large amount that happened would be perceived to be quite trivial elsewhere.

    Take for instance ‘Irisgate’, aside from Iris being a vocal homophobe she did not voice her opinion on much else as far as I could see. So when this story broke, to be frank, it was seen by some as a very parochial matter that wasn’t going to take the train that is the peace process off the tracks.

    For matters such as Saville or the Westminster elections, I imagine media organisations will send someone to cover what may be seen as one off events rather than have someone permanent here.

    I think that in some ways, this is a welcome sign that life is starting to become somewhat normal and their is no need for media organisations to have a large full time contingent reporting on 1.7 million people. However, Conor Brady’s point that we need the media to challenge those who revert to lazy stereotypes so that we can avoid repeating the past is a very valid point.

    I think the changes with media coverage in NI can also be tied in with the decline of the traditional media and the growth of new media like Slugger for instance.

  • Brian Walker

    In my view the biggest failure is the serious dearth of local infomed specialist coverage in education, health and above all, economics. The BBC with its unrivalled its resources is particularly remiss here. The Belfast Telegraph struggles with mid market appeal as a sort of local Daily Mail. Political reporting is no substutute for the lack of policy inquiry, although Kathryn Torney does her best and Business Telegraph at least runs along the waterfront after its fashion. Just because the Assembly is in deadlock ia no excuse for such a lack of inquiry and analysis. Good journalism should fill the vacuum in the public agenda. The Irish Times should be making north-south comparisons on a host of issues. Bright spots are livelier and more incisive local comment from guest contribtuors in the morning papers ( stimulated perhaps by Slugger, Nolan and Talkback?) and some good digging by the Irish News, when I get to hear about it. The locals led by the biggy the Derry Journal are rivalling the Belfast dailies and the republican stable after its earlier commercial reverses competes with them all, on the web at least.

    From this distance, journalism still hasn’t adjusted to the post Troubles age and the decline of newspapers. There is still no substitute for a decent paper covering the news and the issues.

  • aquifer

    ‘The BBC with its unrivalled its resources ‘

    Even with fresh blood on the streets the BBC barely found a budget to fund discussion programmes on our political difficulties when they were absolutely necessary to keep our political process moving.

    The Belfast Telegraph struggles to make the mark despite having the budget.

    How many of us only buy the Tele for the jobs and business?

    Could someone pool the Irish News’ journalism with local newspaper input and columnists to produce a quality Sunday with business news and the lucrative job adverts?

    Newspapers cannot do ‘instant’, they could do relevant.

  • jojo

    I don’t see how the Belfast Telegraph has the budget. It’s been cut to the bone and has too much dross in its pages and isn’t the paper it once was. As for the weeklies, too many of them seem to be suffering from being under-resourced and can hardly put papers out never mind produce ‘thoughtful and committed’ journalism. Alpha and Johnston Press titles spring particularly to mind as papers that can’t fulfill their traditional roles, including their role to help maintain local democracy.

  • Brian Walker

    Funding is of course a huge issue for the papers but it’s also an excuse. The development of blogs and social media shows that the public increasingly like interraction and diversity. Newspapers are faced with a tough choice: do they narrow or widen their market appeal? If I were an editor I’d think hard about a Heineken strategy – going where others like blogs, social media and newjocks can’t reach. That means improving news provision. Expensive? Up to a point. But they could box clever. They can widen the range of their expert outside contributors to provide analysis and stage debate. The conventional idea of a news story is also passing it sell by date. All papers, broadsheet and tabloid are beginnning to realise they have to set agendas and stop tamely relying on a few limp pars to cover stories, when continuous news has already done them to death . The locals show some signs of catching up but have a long way to travel,.Editors need to be bolder to survive in these tough times.

    Although here in London I’m only a sporadic consumer, I suspect BBCNI badly needs to review its range for gaps – they’re strong on newsjocking ( for some, an acquired taste) but weak on daily news in depth, although they have a strong current affairs dept It’s almost as if the merger of News and current affairs never happened. The website on which I try to rely is particuarly weak.Why not a blog and regular news stories in text from Spotlight? The national networks promote current affairs programmes on the news much better now. For a compact region to fall behind in this is regrettable. What ever happened John Birt’s mission to explain?