Present Tense »

  • Present Tense blog: RIP

    May 27, 2008 @ 1:01 pm | by Shane Hegarty

    So, we come to the end. I’ve been writing this blog since April of last year, the original idea being to post my weekly column outside of the paywall, and to throw up a few bits and pieces every now and then. The “every now and then” became pretty much daily. Much of this was done outside my normal working hours – mornings, evenings, weekends – but it’s come to the stage where the demands of my day job, a book I’m working on and the fact that my working day has stretched too long means that something has to give. So, it’s bye-bye blog.

    Another element involved the quality of the blog. It reached a certain level, but it could be much better. But to make it much better, I’d have to give it a lot more time that I just do not have. I wouldn’t be happy to let the blog drift on at this level.

    It’s been a fascinating experiment, and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. It’s given me one very proud moment that sits on my mantelpiece at home. There have been a lot of regular readers, commenters, and passers-by, and I’d like to thank all of you for your contributions. Without them, the blog would have withered and died long ago.

    I’ve learned a few things along the way. So here’s a few things I’ve picked up along the way:

    - Blogging isn’t easy. It takes time. It takes effort. It means trying to be distinctive and interesting. It means trying to reach a standard that justifies your continued existence. It can be exhausting.

    - But it can be fun. There is a camaraderie among bloggers, and their readers, that is really heartening. Let’s be honest: sometimes it leads to a bit too much back-slapping, and their needs to be a bit more self-examination rather than navel-gazing by the general “blogging community”. But there bloggers are continually driving traffic to each other, pushing each other on, striving for increased quality. And they put on a great awards party too, which helps.

    - Blogs will never be central to an online newspaper, but they will be an important component of any site. Jim and Conor have shown just how much cross-fertilisation there can be between the main paper and a blog, although I think that blogs are generally better if they’re focussed. This one was a bit loose, although – if done sparingly – there can be an attraction in the pick and mix approach too.

    - This blog has given me a communication with readers that I would never otherwise have had. An e-mail address at the bottom of a column opens a dialogue of sorts with readers, but nothing compared to this. Some journalists wouldn’t like it (know that, in fact), but others would thrive of it.

    - The demands of doing the blog shouldn’t be an excuse for sloppiness. Biggest regret was that stupid post in which I buried The Chancer when it was very much alive and kicking. Should have checked it before I posted. The pressures of keeping a blog fresh doesn’t excuse anyone from that.

    - The biggest reaction to any post? That following the recent one on the death of the motorcycle racer Martin Finnegan. There have so far been over 1,700 views of the YouTube footage I posted. Blogs can give newspapers a sense of just how much interest there is a subject – and unearth surprises here and there. You can’t stand over every reader and assess what they’re reading, and market research can be imprecise, but click-throughs, page views and visitor numbers should be vital tools for any media organisation.

    - Actually, as a general rule, journalist bloggers should have as much access to their site stats as any other blogger. It’s an important tool for them too.

    - I didn’t do it as often as I should have, but getting involved in the comment threads is important. This might seem obvious, but I don’t see it in a lot of newspaper blogs.

    - When you become a blogger, building traffic involves posting as regularly as possible. It means having to continually think about what you want to throw up there, and how many times a day, while also dealing with the demands of the day job. The problem is that a blog can be a distraction from the day job; and the day job a distraction from the blog.

    - If I didn’t post my column on a Saturday morning, my chances of getting a response to it diminished greatly. I am guessing that people read it in print and went straight to the computer to comment. If it wasn’t there, they didn’t go back. The blog was originally a way of getting the column online and letting people comment, but it turned out to be the least commented-upon part of the blog. It must have had a lot to do with the fact that people don’t really want to read 800 words in a blog format. That’s best kept for print.

    This is likely to be a lengthy break, rather than a permanent retreat, from the web. Obviously, given the way the media is going I won’t have much choice in that anyway. The column will continue in the Weekend Review on Saturdays and some day, I’ll get back to blogging. But, for now, I’m just looking forward to reading everyone else’s.

  • Reading

    @ 9:57 am | by Shane Hegarty

    book-of-fame.jpgLloyd Jones’s The Book of Fame, an enjoyable, and often beautiful, novella which gives a fictionalised account of the 1905 tour to the Britain and Ireland by the All Blacks. Jones previously wrote Mister Pip, but this is a far more gentle affair, in which a group of ordinary men transform a sport and become famous for it. It has a great sense of place, as well as the strange sense of dislocation experienced by men far from home, unused to becoming such objects of curiosity.

  • Hey, ape man!

    May 26, 2008 @ 11:59 am | by Shane Hegarty

    creationism.jpgAs spotted by Niall on James McInerney’s blog, here’s a Creationism event in Lucan

    Be amazed by the “Colourful PowerPoint Illustrations”!

    Marvel at the madness of the “Ape Man”!

    Be baffled by the “Frog that turned into a Prince (Man)”!

    Completely miss the irony of religious types accusing evolution of being a “fairytale”!

  • Bruce Springsteen

    @ 9:22 am | by Shane Hegarty

    Jim has a fine round up on his blog, but I’m too pumped up not to say a few things about Bruce’s Dublin gigs too.

    - Highlights for me? Badlands was great, and Livin’ in the Future (as Jim has said this morning) is settling in as a classic. But Jungleland on Friday was just glorious. (Neil agrees. His review his here.)

    - I saw Clarence Clemmons get into a car on Friday night. He really is the biggest man you’ve ever seen.

    - It’s getting to the stage now where of the 10 best gigs I’ve ever seen, at least six of them are Springsteen shows.

    - Most heard comment of the weekend: “Jaysus, he’s in fine shape. isn’t he.”

    - Overheard conversation:
    “Paddy was here last night and he says he didn’t even play Born in the USA”
    “Really? What about I’m On Fire?”
    “No.”
    “Ah, Jesus.”

    - When the introductory carnival music struck up on Friday night, there was a distraction in front of me as someone tried to jump into the wristband-only circle, and he got chucked out. He desperate pleas were ignored. He was probably drunk, but it seemed to be a harsh penalty.

    - Well done to the two stewards who were acting as clapping, dancing cheerleaders to those sitting in Block H. Made a refreshing change form the stewards asking people to sit down.

    - It occured to me that becoming a Bruce fan makes you an obsessive because, as each show is different, you become a collector of songs and moments and rarities. You never know what you’re going to find each time you go to see him. But you always know it’s going to be great.

  • Saturday column: Pitching it right

    May 25, 2008 @ 11:28 am | by Shane Hegarty

    WEDNESDAY NIGHT WAS a long, long night of Champions League football and an even longer night of football coverage, although this applied more to RTÉ than to ITV or Sky Sports.

    If the stats had popped up on the screen, in football terms RTÉ would have spent far more time on the pitch than its rivals, because once half-time was done and dusted, the broadcaster didn’t go to a single commercial break until well after the last unused substitute had danced around the trophy. Instead, the Irish viewer was treated to analysis before extra time, during its half-time changeover and before the penalty shoot-out. A small screen – with mini-Giles, Dunphy, Brady and O’Herlihy – even slid into view at the appropriate moments.

    ITV, on the other hand, gave the viewer ads. Lots and lots of ads. It was only just short of squeezing one in between each of the penalties. And when it had run out of ads, it took a minute to remind viewers of what other sporting action it had in store. Finally, it got to analysing the action, although the important action was flashed through so quickly that its panellists had little time to actually talk about it. Instead, they clung to the platitudes that help them float at such moments. (more…)

  • Some weekend reading and listening

    May 23, 2008 @ 4:15 pm | by Shane Hegarty

    Have a good weekend, everyone.

    What would the universe look like in time ran backwards, asks Scientific American.

    Slate.com on the perils of running for US President if you have an unusual name.

    While climate change litigation be the class action of the future?

    The New York Times looks at the book 1001 Books To Read Before You Die and suggests that “death might come as a relief”.

    The blog Positive Boredom has some fine ideas. None of which succeed, but he shouldn’t let that put him off.

    I had meant to link to the Sky One Lost Initiative podcast earlier in the week. It really is top class. You can subscribe to it through the website here.

    Here’s some White Denim.
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  • Where I’ll be tonight. And Sunday night.

    @ 9:36 am | by Shane Hegarty

    bruce.jpg

    UPDATE: Thanks to Green Ink for capturing this great moment from last night’s show. Which I wasn’t at. So Bruce had better repeat himself tonight. I don’t care what the crowd thinks.

  • The first of many

    May 22, 2008 @ 10:45 am | by Shane Hegarty

    j-terry.jpgAs (possibly) already seen in your inbox.

  • R-R-Ronaldo is a d-d-diver

    May 21, 2008 @ 1:47 pm | by Shane Hegarty

    Last night’s ITV tee-up for the Champions League final included a mash-up in which DJ Yoda mixed and scratched Chelsea and Man U footage with a few tunes. Sounds like a cool enough idea. Yet, as soon as Robbie Earle pops up, you know that this effort to get down with the kids just isn’t going to work.

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  • Dustin the Turkey: he’s not real

    @ 10:38 am | by Shane Hegarty

    One of the odder aspects of this whole Eurovision thing is that Dustin the Turkey has, at times, been playing it straight. Here’s today’s Morning Ireland interview in which Aine Lawlor interviews a man on a phone line who is in character, but without the jokes.

    However, is there a moment at the start when the man nehind/beneath Dustin, John Morrison, can be heard saying hello in his own voice?

  • Dustin in the dustbin

    May 20, 2008 @ 9:52 pm | by Shane Hegarty

    The chief reason Dustin the Turkey failed to get out of even the semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest was not because the song was desperate (although it was) but because it was such an obvious act of desperation on the part of Ireland to get some Euro-kudos again. On the night it became clear that Ireland was like a child, engaging in all sorts of annoying tricks just to get some attention. But the voters, I would guess, could see right through it. Post-Lordi, you have to be a little more subtle if you’re going to go overboard.

    Ultimately, it was more humiliating than any of the other recent disasters, because in previous years we sank quietly. This one plummeted with a very loud whine, and hit the ground with a noticeable splat.

    [By the way, the odds of this being a topic on Liveline today? 1/500]

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    UPDATE: RTÉ’s Gareth O’Connor gave a live report on the RTÉ2 news late last night that was so bitter he was only just short of calling for a no vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. It was late, but I’m pretty sure he actually used the phrase “there’s no accounting for taste”.

    Anyway, the RTÉ website hasn’t updated the News On Two page since last Thursday, so we’ll have to wait a week or so to see his reaction – which was a better performance than our Eurovision entry.

  • Getting lost in a Lost theory

    @ 1:22 pm | by Shane Hegarty

    There are many, many theories that attempt to explain what the hell Lost is all about, but for fans with half an hour to spare, here’s the complex but fascinating Time Loop Theory*. The gist? That the island had been deliberately kept in 1996, meaning that all the crash survivors reverted to their 1996 selves (no cancer for Rose; Locke being able to walk). But it goes far deeper than that. Far, far deeper.

    * As first heard of on Sky One’s excellent Lost Initiative podcast.

  • Write a sentence using the following phrase…

    @ 7:58 am | by Shane Hegarty

    The Perfect Storm is on TV3 tonight, but you can see it in the papers several times a day, every day.

    Here is a selection of its use in recent days:

    The New York Times, Sunday:

    ”Park Slope is a perfect storm of stereotypes that provoke derision,” said Steven Johnson, a local writer and a father of three.

    The Guardian, Saturday:

    Despite the impact over the past year of what some have called the perfect storm for ethical funds, Coates is unfazed.

    International Herald Tribune, Saturday:

    Perfect storm‘ ravages Somalia; Global food crisis meets local chaos

    The Irish Times, Saturday:

    In the end, though, the stores perished in a perfect storm caused by these difficulties, a dramatic fall-off in business and a dip in business confidence that decimated the line of potential suitors for the franchise.

    The New York Times, Saturday

    ”It’s been a perfect storm,” said Harry Chang, president of marketing for Black Cat fireworks…

    The Irish Times, Friday:

    There are a lot of talented people out there, but not many of them get that one song. For us, Umbrella is the perfect storm.”

    Miami Herald, Friday:

    A perfect storm of hype and unmet expectations, the Seinfeld finale – that silly trial scene, remember? – remains a watershed moment in popular culture.

    Washington Post, Friday

    The perfect storm of events have put more than 1,200,000 homes in foreclosure with an additional 3,000,000 forecast during the next two years.

    I could spend the day listing examples. USA Today actually use it twice yesterday, in different articles. It’s a good phrase, that suits many situations, but it has reached the tipping point after which it will slide quickly into becoming a cliche.

    To make something a cliche, it takes suitability and ubiquity to come together in a kind of perfect storm.

  • Wearing the hijab to school

    May 19, 2008 @ 11:08 am | by Shane Hegarty

    This morning’s page one piece, in which a school principal sought clarification on the wearing of hijab, is now topping our most read and most e-mailed articles of the last 24 hours, showing how much the issue grabs attention. Here is a snippet from the article, by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic:

    Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the school wrote to then minister for education Mary Hanafin last October, when a Muslim couple asked that their child wear the hijab in class.

    Though this contravened the school’s rules on uniform, the principal agreed to the request pending approval by the board of management.

    “Our board of management met . . . and after a very extensive discussion of the issues, it was felt that the board should be entitled to guidance from the department,” Mr Sweetman wrote to the minister, adding that this needed to be addressed “with some urgency”.

    When no response was received, the school again wrote to the minister in December. In reply, her private secretary advised that it was a matter for the board of management to decide on a school policy, “and it would not be appropriate for the department to direct or advise a school in relation to any aspect of its policy on dress code”.

    The minister’s representative pointed to two sections of the Education Act 1998.

    The first charges boards of management with a duty to uphold the “characteristic spirit of the school” as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values which inform and characterise it. The second balances this with the requirement to have regard to the principles of a democratic society and “have respect and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in society”.

    What section of the Education Act is that? Catch 22?

    This has been a touchstone issue in several countries that have dealt with Muslim populations far bigger than ours, and it is seldom resolved in a quiet way. The hijab divides forces people to confront their true feelings on issues such as tolerance, gender, religion, education, liberty and modesty. So, it’s clear why it has proved so popular this morning, why it will be picked up on more over the next few days, and why this would be an issue any Government would prefer to avoid for as long as possible. Never forget that Fianna Fáil’s pre-election broadcast listed all the great changes of the previous decade, but ignored immigration altogether.

  • Saturday column: Pictures and lies

    @ 9:36 am | by Shane Hegarty

    THE NEW YORKER magazine has just run a fascinating profile of Pascal Dangin, the fashion and publishing worlds’ most sought-after retoucher of photographs.

    In the March issue of Vogue alone, he “tweaked” 144 images: 107 ads, 36 fashion pictures and the cover. From his desk, he splices skyscapes, changes the colour of the sky, makes the grass more grassy and gives actresses digital boob jobs, knee lifts and neck transplants.

    “Maybe we could redo the ass,” a photographer suggests. “Yes, the ass is quite heavy,” Dangin replies. (more…)

  • News from the wireless

    May 15, 2008 @ 5:54 pm | by Shane Hegarty

    Among the most noteworthy figures to come out of the latest radio listenership results show that RTE Radio One’s Drivetime has overtaken Today FM’s The Last Word, although with only 3,000 listeners (223,000 vs 220,000) in the difference they are effectively neck-and-neck. Still, given the weaknesses of Drivetime - it is often bland, overly-segmented, generally that bit too safe – it will get quite a boost given it had slid behind Matt Cooper’s show in the past year. George Hook, by the way, has 97,000 listeners (up 3,000), so is making very slow but definitely unspectacular progress.

    Elsewhere, Marian Finnucane’s weekend show continues to build a strong listenership. Her Saturday show is now fourth overall, with a total audience of 309,000 (her Sunday show is 8th). Since moving to the weekend, she has emphasised what an excellent broadcaster she is. The interview with Nuala O’Faolain – radio that froze you in your tracks – may have gained the attention, but each weekend she has been delivering lively radio that, on Sundays, is showing up Sam Smyth’s often rambling and all-too-pleased-with-itself Sunday Supplement.

  • Reading

    @ 10:04 am | by Shane Hegarty

    granta.jpgGranta 101, specifically a piece by Owen Sheers on the British nuclear tests off Christmas Island, a short piece by Douglas Copeland on visual thinking and an eerie and oddly-affecting short story by Joshua Ferris.

    Actually, in the last year or two I’ve been reading a lot more short stories, and occasionally wondering – as publishers and writers regularly do – why they tend not to sell. There is, perhaps, an idea among the public that short stories are something for Leaving Cert courses, or that they are prose without obvious narrative, drifting to a messy conclusion. And yet there are so many good collections that out a prove that to be untrue. I’ve enjoyed Anne Enright’s Taking Pictures and Kevin Barry’s There Are Little Kingdoms. Anything by Tobias Wolff is a winner. I’d also recommend any of the annual anthology, the Best American Mystery Stories, which give short, sharp thrills.

  • Think of this next time you walk into Xtravision

    May 14, 2008 @ 1:51 pm | by Shane Hegarty
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  • Reading the newspaper, but forgetting which one

    @ 10:19 am | by Shane Hegarty

    I’d been meaning to return to a comment made by Bolg a couple of weeks ago, who wrote:

    I read an article this morning (can’t remember where – Guardian? NY Times?) about Lynndie England et al…

    As it happened, the piece was in The Irish Times. This isn’t to point the finger at Bolg, but only to use it as an example of a growing problem facing the media. In an age in which people graze the papers, television, internet, magazine and radio, they will pay less attention to where exactly they got the information. They will absorb information, but not always remember the source. They are bombarded with media, or have a range from which to choose. But these are often carrying similar content, making it a cherry-picking exercise for the readers, who do not have to be “loyal” to anyone other than their own interests.

    I may be generalising from one example, but it’s an interesting conundrum for editors (and a frustrating one for me as I worked on that page on which the England piece appeared). But it offers a reminder of why opinion will continue to be a greater factor in how newspapers, especially, sell themselves. The Sunday Independent may be an infuriating publication but it has been successful because it established itself early on as being unique in its voice. Other Sunday papers face a struggle to mark themselves as different from the supplement-heavy Saturday papers, but the Sunday Independent is already in a position to protect itself from that problem. It largely ditched news in favour of opinion, but it is clearly distinguishable from its competitors because of it.

  • Philip Treacy: clearly a genius

    May 13, 2008 @ 1:43 pm | by Shane Hegarty

    parker-hat.jpg Philip Treacy is feted as a fashion genius, and his latest design – sported by Sarah Jessica Parker at the Sex and the City premiere – was hailed as a truly top hat. Present Tense caught up with the style demi-god and asked him how he created his latest masterwork:

    “I got a plunger, rammed it up a snake’s backside, so creating the scaled effect, before yanking off the plunger’s handle but leaving the sucky bit on Sarah Jessica’s head.

    “Then I tacked a sick flower to it, and left it in Stephen’s Green for a week. Once a swan had built half a nest on it, I dragged my creation through a hedge. And for the piece de resistance I covered it in a mix of pollen and superglue, so luring a couple of butterflies into becoming part of this work of art.

    “Voila.”

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