Paper politics: Keeping in touch with home news when living abroad
As Irish communities formed abroad, so too did a network of media focused on Irish affairs. But in the digital age, do emigrants still want these local papers, asks BRIAN O'CONNELL
In the mid-1990s, I spent a number of summers in Cape Cod. We had one direct link with home, a house telephone, which enabled us to call family once a week to get the latest news. None of us had a mobile phone and access to the internet was limited. When Veronica Guerin was shot and killed in June 1996, it was 24 hours before the news filtered through.
The only other news link to home was chancing upon copies of the Irish Emigrant, a weekly newsletter emailed from Galway to a worldwide mailing list. It began in 1987 when Liam Ferrie emailed a number of his colleagues in Digital Equipment Corporation who worked abroad, with snippets of what was happening in Ireland.
It began to spread, but the only people with email at the time were those working in IT or academia, so circulation remained limited.
By the time I arrived in America a decade later, however, copies of the newsletter were being printed off and left on bar counters where Irish people socialised. The Irish Emigrant gave a concise breakdown of the main headlines in Ireland along with some opinion pieces, and by the time it ceased last year it had become one of the oldest online publications in the world, reaching emigrants in dozens of countries.
With emigrants and Irish communities now able to read newspapers such as The Irish Times every day online or listen to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland as they come home from work in Sydney, I began to wonder why anyone would need a filtering of the news several days behind in print form, and whether Irish community newspapers still had a role to play. Over the past year, I have travelled to Belfast, London, New York and Sydney to make a radio series, Home News, which explores how Irish communities stay in touch with Ireland.
Some titles have been quick to recognise the shift in attitudes among newer emigrants, who are as likely to identify with fellow international professionals as they are with exclusively Irish communities. They are less likely to attend Irish centres in Boston or Birmingham, and their sense of place is less reliant on being articulated by community newspapers, given that they can digitally maintain links with home.
The Irish Voice, under editor Niall O’Dowd, has been a strong voice and advocate for the Irish in America for a quarter of a century. O’Dowd, who also publishes Irish America magazine, is now focusing more on his online product, irishcentral.com, than on his printed offerings.
“The whole game has changed overnight,” says O’Dowd. “I’m an old timer when it comes to media. You need well researched, good stories and I’m not into all the bells and whistles. Our website has a lot of original content and we are doubling our audience every year. The number of unique visitors each month dwarfs anything we ever did with the Irish Voice and we get more advertising now in our online products than we do in the newspaper. The train has left the station in terms of print. We are on a new journey.”
The Irish Post in London has had a dramatic two years. The paper, which calls itself the “voice of the Irish in Britain”, went into liquidation in 2011. A large effort was undertaken by leading members of the Irish community in the UK to get it back in print, before Cork-born businessman Elgin Loane stepped in to rescue the title.