Getting `Home' with a double-click

 

`This is the exciting part, and it just tickles me. We're getting e-mails from around the world commenting on the Gerry Ryan Show. We had a call the other day from a woman in LA listening to our show live on the web. That's just amazing," says Paul Russell, producer of the Gerry Ryan Show on 2FM and project leader of RTE Radio on the Web.

Advances in technology, most notably the Internet and the advent of broadband broadcasting on the Internet, have opened new channels of communications to the Irish abroad - they may be living in Sydney, but can listen to RTE radio news and read The Irish Times as if they were living at home. "It's living simultaneously in both cultures for the price of one," remarks Professor Declan Kiberd, author and professor of Anglo-Irish Literature in UCD.

Ten years ago, the emigrant's life was very different and communication with their family and home was not quite so trouble-free. One hundred years ago, when people waved goodbye to their loved ones on quaysides they realised that they would never see one another again. Assimilation into a new life was difficult for the Irish and news from home often took months to arrive.

"When I first heard that an Irish cable channel was being launched in Boston I was so excited. The fact that I would be able to switch on my TV and sit down to the likes of Glenroe, Fair City and the Late Late. It was just the thing I needed to combat the homesickness I was feeling," says emigrant Helen Clinton, now production manager at the Irish cable channel Celtic Vision.

Media organisations in Ireland, while quick to adapt to the technology, have been slow to grasp the consequences of this change. Broadcasters and print journalists are now waking up to the fact that they are delivering to a global audience and the added responsibility that this heralds. Knowledge and circumstances taken for granted in Ireland, and references to its popular culture, will not be understood by a global audience.

Paul Russell of RTE admits that the "impact and consequences of this, we are, as of yet, largely unaware of. The huge feedback we are receiving from all corners of the globe, and not just Irish people, has amazed us. These are very exciting and challenging times."

One website, ireland.com, incorporating the online edition of The Irish Times and a range of stand-alone sites, is Ireland's leading site, with more than 10 million page impression per month and almost 700,000 unique users. Since 1994 The Irish Times has been available to a global audience via the Internet, and the site has evolved to meet the new demands that technology and a more sophisticated audience has demanded.

The editor of ireland.com, Deirdre Veldon, acknowledges the changing profile of the audience. "In recent years, our international audience has expanded beyond the Irish Diaspora to those with an interest in Ireland, largely because of the booming economy and Ireland's new-found international profile - ireland.com aims to provide in-depth news and information from Ireland and an Irish perspective on international issues.

"The channels of communication between Ireland and the rest of the world have opened up in a way never possible before because of the Internet," Veldon says.

The Irish Emigrant was a pioneer in this field and was the first Irish Internet site providing home news for the Irish abroad, launched in 1987 by Galway-based Liam and Pauline Ferrie. Ironically, says Liam Ferrie, their business is moving toward print: "While newspapers have been turning to the Internet, we moved in the other direction. While we were primarily an Internet publisher, we have a franchise arrangement with a Boston company which publishes printed editions for Boston and New York, and an element of local news in included in each edition."