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  • Photojournalist Paul Conroy: “Marie was so powerful and she summed up the brutality of what was happening.”

    October 22, 2012 @ 9:14 am | by Laura Slattery

    Paul Conroy isn’t a fan of crawling through cramped tunnels. “Potholing should be banned,” the British photojournalist joked. When you have to bend double as Syrian rebels illegally smuggle you into a combat zone through an increasingly airless 3 km storm drain, it helps to have a dark sense of humour.

    The storm drain, 4 ft high, was the route he took with his colleague, the Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin, last February on their way to Baba Amr, a district in the Syrian city of Homs. Conroy was concerned about his friend’s sense of direction – a decade before, in Sri Lanka, Colvin had lost an eye. “She had a tendency to veer left,” he explained. That could be awkward in a pitch black tunnel, when you’re not sure what’s going to be waiting for you on the other side.

    Conroy was badly wounded in Baba Amr, as was the French reporter Edith Bouvier, in a shellfire attack on the unofficial media building where they stayed. The attack killed Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik. Conroy remembers the shells falling on one side, and then the other. He thought they had stopped and was reaching for his camera when a final shell landed. He reached down to find there was a big hole in his left leg, and shrapnel in his thigh. “I just felt like someone had hit me with a hammer.”

    He tied his wound with an Ethernet cable. “That’s when I went looking for Marie. I fell over her, in the rubble. I knew instantly that she was dead.”

    A fraught escape from Syria on the back of a motorbike – through the tunnel again – and multiple operations later, Conroy is now recovering. He owes his life to the Syrian field hospital that treated him – there was no anaesthetic, just the odd cigarette, and he hated being a burden on them.  “I didn’t get out for six days, which was a bit hairy, because they had our location and they were trying to bomb us,” Conroy recalled in a public interview at the Cleraun Media Conference on Saturday conducted by Irish Times photographer Brenda Fitzsimons.

    Journalists used to be seen as set apart from combatants – in the Balkans in the 1990s, he had been able to cross from one side to another, staying both independent and safe. It’s not like that anymore, which brings ethical challenges (the people who feed and house you become your friends) as well as immediate dangers. “Journalists are targets,” he told the conference, his crutch serving as visual evidence of this fact.

    The night before Colvin died, they had decided she should do live Skype reports for CNN and BBC World, in case this was her last opportunity. “Really that was the beginning of our end, the live transmissions, because Marie was so powerful and she summed up the brutality of what was happening,” says Conroy. “We must have irritated someone in Damascus.”

    After he returned home to Britain, he discovered there had been a $1 million bounty on his head, just for being in Syria. “I thought I was only worth £85 quid.”

    Some people seemed to blame Colvin for her own death, claiming she had become addicted to the adrenalin of war reporting. “They said, ‘why did you go somewhere so dangerous?’” But he doesn’t approve of the knee-jerk caution of editors since the events of February. “Let me put it this way, I don’t think it’s worth stopping what we’re doing in order to prevent a loss of a life.” In summary: “No one sets out to be killed.”

    Bearing witness to horrors that might otherwise remain undocumented is the whole point anyway. “If I see groups of photographers, I’ll essentially go the other way. Same with Marie, she hated bunches of reporters. That’s why we ended up in Baba Amr – 8,000 people trying to get out, two people trying to get in.” During the artillery barrage from dawn to dusk, they “experienced a tiny amount of what these people had been through for months on end”.

    Newspaper editors don’t always understand the logistical difficulties faced by foreign correspondents in conflict zones, Conroy noted. “Can you get a photograph of Gaddafi’s unmarked grave?” an editor had asked during an assignment in Libya. It’s the kind of question that answers itself. “But we did actually try, me and Marie,” he added. He used Google Earth to draw a line 50 km south of Misrata, where rebels had hinted to Colvin the burial site might be located. “We got a driver and a truck and we spent two days looking.” Eventually, the driver had enough of trying to find a dead dictator in a desert.

    In Libya, Conroy had been invited to photograph Colonel Gaddafi’s body in a freezer shortly after he had been killed, brutally, by rebels. “You could recognise the brand marks of the boots they kicked him with.”

    He doesn’t self-censor. “I’ll shoot anything, and the odd one or two make a newspaper. I’d say 90 per cent of what I shoot would never make a newspaper – they’re too graphic. We’re quite delicate little souls,” he said drily. But dead children are the reality of war: “I was once approached by a woman with a baby’s head saying ‘can you fix this?’ Those pictures didn’t make the papers.”

    The ones that do tend to be the bloodless “bang bang” pictures of rebels with guns. The photographs of mutilated bodies too macabre to print he keeps in his archive in the hope that they may become of use to future war commissions. Since returning from Syria, he’s been interviewed by the International Criminal Court and the British Foreign Office. “I had to come off morphine and be certified drug-free in case the testimony was challenged.”

    Conroy is back on pain medication and still needs physiotherapy on his leg. But he doesn’t quite believe he has seen his last conflict zone. “I don’t think I’m ready to start doing landscapes,” was how the ex-soldier put it. “I’m terrified of giving up in case I become a wedding photographer.”

  • Newsweek says goodbye to the printing presses. Who’s next to go digital-only?

    October 19, 2012 @ 9:44 am | by Laura Slattery


    No more Newsweek. Photograph: Reuters / Carlo Allegri.

    “As a former editor in chief of Psychology Today, I know how hard it can be to sell magazines,” begins a letter in the current edition of Newsweek. “But how do you get from a neurosurgeon’s report about his near-death experience to your cover headline?” A thumbnail opposite the letter shows the previous issue. It is emblazoned with the words “HEAVEN IS REAL”.

    Not even the discovery of an afterlife was enough to save Newsweek. The current affairs magazine, which had been due to celebrate its 80th anniversary next year, has announced that its December 31st edition will be the last time it rolls off the printing presses in the US.

    Editor in chief Tina Brown, who enjoys a near-Wintouresque celebrity status, put her spin on it (just as she did in July when she described suggestions the current affairs magazine was planning to ditch print as “scaremongering”). In a post titled A Turn of the Page for Newsweek, she yesterday admitted that the publication would “transition to an all-digital format” in early 2013. “We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” wrote Brown and chief executive Baba Shetty in the co-authored post, placed on the website of Newsweek’s online sister publication, the Daily Beast.

    “Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” they write. But jobs, as well as romance, will be lost. “Regrettably we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the US and internationally.”

    Newsweek will “expand its rapidly growing tablet and online presence”, as well as that new must-have for media companies – an events business. The all-digital publication will be called Newsweek Global and will be aimed at “a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context” – and pay to do so, with just “select content” available for free on the Daily Beast.

    Newsweek is already available to buy via the newsagent app Newsstand for €2.39 per issue or an annual subscription of €19.99, which is how I read that letter complaining about its stretch of a headline. Now I happen to think Brown was indulging in fair editorial licence there – if you can’t pander to the mumbo-jumbo coma-convert crowd every now and again, we might as well all give up and go home. But the problem is that the wow-heaven-exists cover story is part of a pattern: Newsweek‘s “BUY ME” desperation has been writ large in recent months.

    Sure, a lot of people seem to get a kick out of knocking the British-born Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. So much success so young – everyone hates that. But it’s hard not to agree with those who believe that under her tenure the magazine has ceased to provide a “sophisticated context”. Instead, it seems to have adopted a policy of trolling – the act of deliberately provoking an angry reaction (plus clicks). Controversial moments during 2012 to fit into this category have included a cover image of Barack Obama with the strapline “the first gay President” and a sensationalist cover story titled “Muslim Rage”. It might be eye-catching, but not in a way that’s edifying.

    Newsweek’s decision to “embrace the all-digital future” follows a series of similar moves by US newspapers, led by the Christian Science Monitor in 2009. But those were inky, disposable and mostly classifieds-dependent newspapers. Newsweek is a shiny, glossy magazine – for leisure, not commuting; for big brand advertisers, not local businesses. It turns out such magazines are not insulated from the reader trends that have seen the percentage of US people who get their news from online sources rise to 39 per cent. Newsweek‘s print circulation has halved since 2006.

    It’s been a rocky week for print believers, all told. On Wednesday, the Daily Telegraph‘s media editor Katherine Rushton published a story online claiming the Guardian had plans to dump its print edition. Not true, tweeted Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. “Plain wrong,” wrote its media blogger Roy Greenslade. But the Telegraph refused to backtrack, publishing the story including the company’s denial in its print edition on Thursday.

    I guess it all depends on your definition of “plans”. Crucially, the Telegraph didn’t hazard a guess as to when the Guardian might abandon print, which means the story has a good chance of proving right – eventually.

    It certainly wouldn’t be too shocking if it were to make like the London Independent and cease distribution in Ireland. I wouldn’t care. I no longer buy the Guardian in print, as I’ve signed up to its iPad edition. Why pay €13.99 a month when all that content is available on the web for free? It turns out I quite like the edited product in digital form, and the convenience of having downloaded editions available to read even if my device isn’t connected. The free trial, surprisingly, worked its magic. (I still miss the paper Indy though.)

    The other publication frequently mentioned in “online-only” dispatches is the Financial Times – one of the few news publications to have triumphed in the science of making money from its paywall. As a specialist affair, it has an advantage – its readers belong to a demographic that is affluent and iPad-friendly. But quite aside from the digital-only debate, this could well be a time of flux for the FT following the resignation of Marjorie Scardino as chief executive of parent company Pearson. She was on record as being an FT loyalist, where others in the Pearson hierarchy may favour a sale.

    Few media companies are blessed with enough scale and enough niche appeal to make a convincing go of it right now as an online-only entity – even if they weren’t still pulling in print advertising revenues too big to sacrifice just yet. But failure to figure out a viable digital model won’t preclude some companies from “transitioning” their print product. As with Newsweek, which was reportedly on track to lose $22 million this year, it may not be much of a choice. Printing eats money, as does distribution – Brown described such costs to Bloomberg as “incredibly archaic”. A struggling media company looking to rationalise its operations will inevitably look to the print side of its operation in any cloth-cutting exercise, on the basis that if it’s not part of the solution, then it must be part of the problem. That’s the thing about romance. It fades.

  • Amazing Pathé Newsreel of Dublin Airport under construction

    July 26, 2012 @ 4:43 pm | by Laura Slattery
    YouTube Preview Image

    Take note, Ryanair landing jingle composer – this is how you do trumpets… You really can’t beat a Pathé newsreel for some good old-fashioned jaunt, though the narrator’s optimism with regard to Dublin Airport’s ability to link “all nations in peace” was ill-founded, sadly. This report is from 1939 – not a year that’s especially famous for the smooth passage of international diplomacy. After the airport’s official opening in January 1940, it spent the rest of the Second World War (aka the Emergency) effectively mothballed.

    Still, onwards and upwards. For the airport, obviously. And in terms of European diplomacy. For news reporting, anything with such a jubilant, brassy soundtrack clearly represents a peak of sorts.

  • Operation Transformation at RTÉ might be unavoidable, but slimming down is not going to be pleasant

    March 30, 2012 @ 8:00 am | by Laura Slattery

    Fewer imported programmes, even less sport and constraints on independent commissions – the financial pressures on RTÉ, bubbling beneath the surface throughout recent scandals, will soon be clearly visible on screen, as director general Noel Curran’s blueprint for the future takes “unavoidable” chunks out of programming budgets. Those announced yesterday – a 25 per cent slash in the sports rights budget and a 10 per cent cut in the budget for overseas acquisitions – will not be the last. “Additional target-led reductions” are currently being identified across all divisions: television, radio, news and digital.

    Cuts in “star” salaries dominate the headlines for two reasons: because they bring the saga of RTÉ back to the level of celebrity Schadenfreude; and because six-digit fees to presenters – some of them talented, some of them over-rated, some of them both talented and over-rated – are symbolic of the lunacy of the boom.

    But while it might be entirely proper to target the pay of the highest paid on-camera faces, there’s also off-screen remuneration to think about. As they sit down after Easter to discuss what Curran indicated would be “significant” changes to work practices, the group of unions at RTÉ will presumably be equally interested in hearing about the kind of sacrifices being made by the broadcaster’s boss class.

    In any case, the biggest saving in Curran’s €25 million plan comes from the €15 million expected to be generated by a new voluntary redundancy scheme, which this time around has a more attractive offer for staff who are members of RTÉ’s defined contribution pension scheme. The current redundancy scheme is more attractive for longer-serving employees who have defined benefit pensions. This scheme has been taken up by 170 employees to date and more are scheduled to leave by the summer. But personnel costs at RTÉ, which still employs 1,900 people, continue to account for half of its cost base. It is hoped that at least another 200 employees will drive out the gate.

    Meanwhile, as RTÉ Television’s heads of department prepare to make their case for which programmes should be re-commissioned for the coming seasons and which should be quietly axed, they will do so in an environment where any and all cuts will contribute to plugging RTÉ’s operating deficit, projected to reach €20 million this year. Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte made it clear to the board last month that it cannot simply continue to stay in the red, and so a turbulent 18 months, marked by whispers, goodbye parties and fractured morale, lies ahead.

    It is clear that news and current affairs, though it resides smack in the middle of RTÉ’s “core” public service responsibilities, won’t entirely escape the hurt. The broadcaster currently operates separate Irish language reporting staff for Raidió na Gaeltachta and the Nuacht programmes on its main stations, while TG4 also runs its own news department – some rationalisation is to be expected here and across its entire regional output, though there are promises that output levels will be maintained.

    The impact of shutting down its London office – which has the misfortune from its departing staff’s point of view to double as a prime rental property in pricey Millbank – is yet to be ascertained, though it seems that RTÉ is at least contemplating a future where British affairs are covered out of Dublin or Belfast. Curran will argue that these are “efficiencies” rather than retreats in coverage.

    Arguably, the potential ramifications of cuts in sports rights and imports won’t make a material difference to most viewers. An RTÉ without, say, Champions’ League football matches? Tune into ITV’s coverage or wait for TV3 to snap up the rights. An RTÉ without acquisitions of acclaimed series like Homeland, or indeed not-so-acclaimed series like Pan Am? Watch them on Channel 4 or the BBC or the internet or DVD instead. A schedule more frequently and cleverly filled with repeats? Groansome and convenient in more or less equal measure.

    With the squeeze coming on both its commercial and public sources of funding, RTÉ will want to tick enough boxes on public service output – news, children’s shows, arts and religious affairs programming – even as it strives to keep prized ratings bankers on its schedules. Entertainment formats like The Voice of Ireland and weight-loss reality show Operation Transformation have performed well of late, while both The Late Late Show and The Saturday Night Show boast appealing cost-per-viewer ratios. But maintaining a balance between pays-for-itself programming and mandate-satisfying budget-eaters will not be any easier in an austerity-bound Montrose, while independent commissioning budgets, already dented, are likely to be targeted again.

    One of the problems with cutbacks on the commissioning side is that you can never quite predict where your next hit will come from. And if you commission next to nothing, it will never arrive. RTÉ’s biggest ratings success over the past 12 months has, somewhat unexpectedly, been a sitcom, and an old-fashioned slapstick sitcom at that. Mrs Brown’s Boys, a co-production between BBC Scotland and BocPix in association with RTÉ, comfortably out-rated the Late Late during its second run. Curran will now be hoping that the show’s forthcoming third series is the only painful farce at Montrose between now and the end of 2013.

  • Thank you and hello: The Sun rises for a seventh day

    February 20, 2012 @ 1:08 pm | by Laura Slattery

    “This is not the weather forecast…” reads the front-page Sun “exclusive” this morning as it promises that there will be an Irish Sun next Sunday. Actually it reads “THIS IS NOT THE WEATHER FORECAST… IRISH SUN NEXT SUNDAY”, to be more precise. Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants are doing what nobody except News International and passing Russian oligarchs would contemplate these days: they’re launching a printed newspaper.

    Notwithstanding the double-digit circulation declines in the UK Sunday newspaper market – and glossing over for one moment the fact that nine current and former Sun journalists have been arrested in connection with alleged illegal payments to public officials – Murdoch’s manoevre is not all that bizarre (no pun intended).

    While the speedy demise of the News of the World last July took thousands of readers out of the market, if any publication can recapture it, it’s likely to be the Sun on Sunday – though not, perhaps, in Liverpool. For all the public opprobrium, readers never got a chance last summer to prove they were serious about boycotting the News of the World, and in any case the shared parentage of the Sun seems unlikely to prove a problem for most readers seven months on.

    Maintaining a seven-day operation at the Sun is also likely to prove substantially cheaper on labour costs than the old Sun / News of the World system, which is why rumours of a seven-day Sun were circulating long before the Guardian published its story on the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. Even if it’s not a commercial success, it has already achieved an instant public relations goal for Murdoch, allowing him to  ”move the story on” from last week’s narrative of civil war and crumbling empires.

    So is the arrival of the Sun on Sunday a good thing? Ever since the idea was floated that the weekday Sun might go the way of the News of the World, people employed elsewhere in the media (and bet-hedging politicians) have been happy to declare that the loss of another newspaper – yes, even one that brought us “WHITNEY’S DEATH BATH” – would not be in the public interest. It would even be bad for democracy, given how much “good campaigning journalism” was apparently squeezed in between the breasts.

     Such intra-industry solidarity was too much for one Guardian feature writer, who tweeted, “to all those saying it’s either the Sun or Pravda: come off it”. Indeed. Democracy, I’m guessing, would muddle along pretty much the same with one less Murdoch newspaper. If anything, ”the moment of evangelical release” in the House of Commons last summer - as Hacked Off campaign founder Brian Cathcart phrased it – suggested that a weaker Murdoch would probably be a good thing for British democracy.

    The launch of the Sun on Sunday means it’s pretty much a case of “as you were”. As for Rupert himself, his one tweet on the arrival of his latest print baby was this: “Just for the record: Newscorp shares up 60c on news of Sun on Sunday. Highest for year.”

    Phew, eh.

  • In Page One Documentary, the Grey Lady Receives a Timely Makeover

    September 26, 2011 @ 8:30 am | by Laura Slattery

    If you’re a newspaper journalist who enjoys masochistically gorging on the “newspapers are dead, take me to the content farm” meme, then Page One, a documentary about The New York Times showing at the Irish Film Institute, is the movie for you. Or at least it was for me. I came away from it duly convinced by the democratic importance and sweeping professionalism of The New York Times, as I think is the intention. As a tribute I’ve replicated in this post’s title the newspaper’s unique stylistic fondness for starting a headline with a prepositional phrase.

    It’s not that I didn’t absorb the very real sense of insecurity and self-doubt that’s clearly got a guest pass for the New York Times Building. As advertising plummets and the culture of free triumphs, the editorial axe swings. A veteran section editor decides to take voluntary redundancy rather than try to “push my luck for another five years”. The deputy obituaries editor departs in the knowledge that her job title is on the endangered species list. Colleagues clap and cry.

    But much of Page One seemed designed to “move the story on” from the paper’s recent woes. So, as a corrective to the scandalous saga of Judith Miller’s uncritically WMD-tastic, administration-cheerleading war reports, there’s a segment where a series of editors forensically rubbish an NBC news broadcast proclaiming the US military’s exit from Iraq, deriding it as fake narrative closure by the network.

    What of the diluted authority of “analogue newspapers” in a digital world? One of the talking heads notes that in the YouTube age, someone like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange doesn’t need The New York Times the same way that Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Vietnam war-era Pentagon Papers, needed The New York Times. Ultimately, however, it’s decided that the Wikileaks documents gained credibility by virtue of its “vetting” and publication by established journalistic brands.

    The threat posed to public interest journalism by parasitic aggregators like Michael Wolff’s Newser and ethically-alternative media magnates like Sam Zell are cited, though both are effectively and amusingly taken down in one way or another by the film’s blunt hero, David Carr, a former cocaine addict turned media columnist. (If you’ve seen the film, you can read Carr’s page-one story on the “bankrupt culture” of Sam Zell’s Tribune Company here.) Carr has a short fuse – “I don’t do corporate portraiture,” he tells a multimedia company making a pitch about how great they are.

    But the line that had me wide-eyed was where he informs his editor that he is going to take “another” two weeks to research the Tribune article, followed by a further week to write the piece, and only then would he have something to show him. Three weeks plus added time is an ice age in the average byline-hungry, resource-starved newspaper. Any minute now, I thought, this being the US media, they’re going to start talking about the mysterious creatures known as “fact checkers”. Or maybe someone is going to be shown hot-footing it down to a crime scene in order to conduct a parallel investigation that eventually trumps the inferior police one. Such is the way with journalism in the movies, even when they’re fretting about the end times. The New York Times may be committing fewer resources to journalism than it once was, but its investment is still way ahead of most of the rest.

    Amazingly, however, even when someone comes along and makes a documentary as flattering as this one, the newspaper is still old-school enough to be wilfully non-commercial about it. Apparently mindful of potential “conflicts”, the paper hired somebody outside the company to review it on its movie pages. Sadly, the reviewer slammed the documentary as “a mess”, telling the loyal New York Times‘ readership to go see His Girl Friday again instead. Oh well.

  • The light at the end of the media tunnel

    June 18, 2011 @ 10:33 am | by Laura Slattery

    “There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Independent News & Media chief executive Gavin O’Reilly at the company’s recent agm.  At this point, my mind turned, as it tends to do in these situations, to a song by relentlessly sardonic indie perennials Half Man Half Biscuit. It’s called The Light at the End of the Tunnel (Is the Light from an Oncoming Train).

    Then it switched to The Thick of It’s spin doctor Malcolm Tucker explaining to Westminster hacks that he’s invited them around for a curry because he thinks they should have one big square meal before they end up living off their own faeces. “I know that these are hard times for print journalists, yeah. I mean, I read that… on the internet.”

    Meanwhile, O’Reilly qualified his tunnel metaphor. “It’s not a blinding light – we’re not going to emerge blinking into 2012.” But all his publications were profitable, he assured shareholders. “There is a light.”

    In the end, the INM agm was so overshadowed by corporate tensions – a fist-fight expressed via proxy votes rather than actual punches – that anything positive O’Reilly tried to say about his underlying business just became a shield in his battle with Denis O’Brien. That was a shame. Selfishly, as an employee of a newspaper I am more interested in the uncertain fate of traditional media companies than the latest tit-for-tat between millionaire-billionaire businessmen – though, of course, the two have been historically intertwined.

    This week, I met Alan Crosbie, chairman of Thomas Crosbie Holdings, which as the publisher of The Irish Examiner and The Sunday Business Post is in direct competition with INM and, to a lesser extent, The Irish Times. Speaking in TCH’s corporate HQ on Cork’ s South Mall, there was some similarity between his views and the comments O’Reilly made at his company’s Aviva Stadium agm.

    Alan Crosbie said this: “I think the biggest problem in Irish markets is the UK papers. They pay no VAT over there, there’s no VAT on the bulk of their circulation. Then they publish here and pretend to be Irish… The only other place this happens in the world is a little bit on the border between Austria and Germany… I respectfully suggest that if it happened in any other democracy, people would be jumping up and down. It’s treating newspapers as if they were any other industry. They’re one of the pillars of democracy as far as I’m concerned.”

    Faced with an assembly of not-angry-just-disappointed shareholders, O’Reilly didn’t invoke any pillars of democracy. But when asked a delightfully optimistic question by the representative of a South African shareholder about when circulation would start to grow, the INM chief executive said this: “You are right to observe that circulation figures have come off. At the time we have had increased competition, particularly from the UK titles, all of which are loss-making I might add – all of our competitors are loss-making.”

    Only recently the INM board of directors had observed it was “remarkable” that no titles had gone out of business this year (apart from the INM-funded The Sunday Tribune, of course), O’Reilly noted. “It’s a fairly unreal market,” he sighed. “If dysfunctional competition in Ireland continues, it will be hard to see volume increases, but I suggest [such competition] is unsustainable.”

    The loss-making UK publications that O’Reilly and Crosbie say are creating an unreal, dysfunctional market can’t pull out of Ireland without taking an unpleasant hit on their all-important circulation totals. Still, the idea that they might to do so is a flickering light of hope for the newspaper groups that compete with them. If the bid to keep circulation up by vanquishing physical competitors is the short-term battle, however, the longer-term, more serious threat of total eclipse comes from online.

    From INM’s Independent Woman micro-site to TCH’s decision to brand its main news website as, Irish newspaper groups are following the Daily Mail and The Guardian path of differentiating the tone and style of their websites from their newspapers, in order to preserve the perceived worth of the latter. In recognition of changed reader patterns and in preparation for a print-free future, The Guardian has already reached the stage of signalling it will remove some of the space devoted to “straight” breaking news reports in its print edition – making it more Newsnight rather than News at Ten was how editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger phrased it. Some £25 million of cutbacks from the print operation will be reinvested in its digital activities.

    Faced with plummets in advertising and circulation deemed likely to be irreversible, the Guardian Media Group has calculated that the risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of banking more of their business on still revenue-challenged online models. But as Alan Crosbie said to me this week, “nobody really knows… No one knows how to make money out of online”.

    It’s either time to stop listening to Half Man Half Biscuit, take down the copy of the Future Exploration’s Newspaper Extinction Timeline on my office wall, and pretend none of this happening, or it’s time to start sucking up to some Malcolm Tuckers for a dinner invitation.

  • Cowen accepts the bailout but not the responsibility

    November 21, 2010 @ 9:46 pm | by Laura Slattery

    As a result of an ill-judged edit, viewers of the national broadcaster missed the liveliest and most telling part of the press conference held tonight at Government Buildings by the current Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the current Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan. TV3 host and Irish Times columnist Vincent Browne asked Cowen if he accepted that he was to blame for “screwing up the country”; that he more than anyone else was responsible for Ireland’s economic catastrophe and that his continued presence in office was “a liability” to the nation.

    “I don’t accept that at all,” replied Cowen, grumpily. “I don’t accept your contention [or] the premise to your question that I’m the bogeyman you’re looking for.”

    Minutes earlier, a Bloomberg television journalist who asked if Cowen had ever thought of packing it in was told that the process of electing a Taoiseach was a parliamentary matter… mumble, jargon, mumble. As for whether or not he would lead Fianna Fáil into the next election, “obviously that is my intention”.  All of this enraged Browne who temporarily became the voice of a nation’s anger about the bizarre lack of contrition on the part of a Taoiseach who insisted there was a rationale for every decision (that he would explain to Browne on another occasion if he wanted) and that every decision the Government had made was “in the national interest”. “I have always taken full responsibility for my actions,” said Cowen, lost in doublethink and seeming almost resentful of the television cameras.

    He was also unable to answer Browne’s inquiry about the estimated level of Irish citizens’ future debt burden. This, he explained, would depend on the size of the drawdown on the assistance offered, which in turn would hang on further stress-testing of the black-hole-banks. Something to look forward to, then.

    There is at this point no confirmation on the total size of the bailout from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (plus some bilateral loans from the UK and Sweden thrown in for good measure). Lenihan earlier in the day said it would not be “a three-figure sum”, by which he really meant it would not be a 12-figure sum of €100,000,000,000 or more. In other words, it will be less than €100 billion, according to the Government. EU sources and UK banking analysts say something similar, in case the Government’s best guesses are no longer enough.

    The only thing the press conference confirmed tonight, amid a blaze of obfuscation, was that Ireland will be taking the money. As a result, Irish public finances, for the next three years at least, will be subject to “regular reviews” by the external monitors that control the purse-strings. Whether the Government will be taking responsibility – as the concept of responsibility is understood by the (mostly livid) Irish viewers of the BBC and Sky (which kindly broadcast the press conference in full) – is as yet uncertain.

    It’s an infinitesimally small comfort, but Browne’s series of questions, transmitted live to millions across Europe, will at least have shown internationally that Irish people are not okay with incompetence, not sanguine about fecklessness, not calmly accepting of economic negligence. This, in the long run, can only improve our reputation. Shortly after Browne’s indignant contribution, the two Brians exited stage left. TV3, for its part, is broadcasting a special edition of Tonight with Vincent Browne at 10.30 pm, where the rational apoplexy will continue.

  • Pictures of trainees shame newspapers more than PwC

    November 11, 2010 @ 10:10 am | by Laura Slattery

    The text goes something like this: “We’re OUTRAGED by this SEXIST behaviour.” The subtext? “Oh yeah and here, why not take a gander at the lovely ladies. Our favourite in the newsroom is the blonde. We’re so sorry they’re just company headshots, but people might notice if we reprint images from Ryanair’s annual charity bikini calendar every day.”

    “Rated like prize cattle,” announces today’s Irish Daily Mail headline above the staff photographs of the female PricewaterhouseCoopers trainees whose attractiveness was rated – complete with a slang reference to female anatomy – by a group of male employees at PwC’s Dublin office. The bovine imagery is the Daily Mail‘s own.

    Presumably, the women college graduates were not so long ago delighted to have secured a place at one of the Big Four accountancy firms and excited to be gaining three years’ worth of professional experience. Of course, even without this shivering display of workplace chauvinism, as women they would have already been up against the statistics. The accountancy profession is no bastion of equality: while women now represent 50 per cent of the student intake, according to a study by Prof Patricia Barker, just 16 per cent of people who make it to partner level in the Big Four boardrooms of the English-speaking world are women.

    However, the male PwC employee who originally circulated the offensive email is not, it is understood, a senior partner in the company or anything like it.  What makes him and the other men involved so pathetic was their belief that compiling a “shortlist for the top 10” in an email and confidently forwarding it around was anything other than spectacularly dumb. There will be an inquiry into what the US gossip site Gawker labelled the “frat boy behaviour”, and the PwC partner in charge of HR, Carmel O’Connor, says the company is “taking the matter extremely seriously”.

    The same attitude has not been replicated by the media (led yesterday by the Evening Herald) that reprinted the women’s photographs, thereby inviting readers to play the very same “hot or not” game that they claim brings PwC into disrepute.

    Last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne saw Browne question Irish Independent columnist David McWilliams about whether he was “embarrassed to be associated with a newspaper that does this”. McWilliams at first noted that the pictures were “all over the Internet already” before conceding that if he was editor, he wouldn’t have printed them, as he agreed with Browne’s view that publishing the photographs was “compounding” the insult the young women had received. That they had not asked for the spotlight is not a difficult concept to grasp.  

    Thanks to PwC’s colossal size, the story has now gone international. Gawker, which has more readers than all Irish newspapers and online media put together, is the kind of website that publishes stories that make even bitter political opponents of the US Tea Party’s Christine O’Donnell feel sorry for her. Repeated publication of the email would be negative for the company, Gawker observed: “Once it hits the British tabloids, it’ll certainly be a PR nightmare for PwC.”

    I don’t imagine the women involved are having much fun at the moment either. Again, just think what it must have felt like, starting out in a new job, buoyed by their fresh academic achievement, proud to pose for their company ID mugshots and eager to prove how capable they are. It must have been beyond their imagination to think that their faces would be collated en masse to be judged, compared and criticised not only by their male colleagues, but millions.

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