Michael Keane: Newspaper editor turned PR guru who loved journalism

Obituary: ‘Once I became a reporter I was like a bird freed from captivity, and a great adventure began that only ended 30 years later’

Michael Keane:    December 27th, 1946- June 4th, 2016. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Michael Keane: December 27th, 1946- June 4th, 2016. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Michael Keane, who died recently, aged 69, was a prominent journalist who became a public relations executive in mid-career after the national newspaper he edited suddenly closed.

His first major journalism posting had been to Belfast when the conflict there was at its worst. He later won respect as a plain-speaking public relations adviser whose word could be trusted.

Michael Jude Keane was born in Athy, Co Kildare. He was the eldest of three children of Kathy and Gerry Keane, a primary school principal teacher who served as president of the teachers’ union, the INTO. After primary school in Levitstown, and the Christian Brothers’ secondary school in Athy, he was taken on as a copyboy – or trainee journalist – by the Irish Press group of newspapers in 1965.

Keane attended the journalism course at Rathmines College of Commerce, and progressed quickly through the ranks. “Once I became a reporter I was like a bird freed from captivity, and a great adventure began that only ended 30 years later.

“That adventure took me to every part of Ireland and also to the UK, Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, the United States, Israel, the Lebanon, Norway, Holland, France, and, perhaps most importantly, to Northern Ireland,” he wrote recently in a chapter for The Press Gang, edited by Dave Kenny.

Keane was posted to Belfast in 1972, and remained there as northern editor until 1978. These were years of dreadful conflict, of Derry’s Bloody Sunday, of “no warning” bombs in crowded restaurants, of the imposition of direct rule from London. Almost 500 people died violent deaths in 1972, the most blood-stained year of conflict.

Married

Irish Press

It was a paper-pushing job, and Keane had itchy feet so he got posted back to the newsroom where the action was.

“When a big story breaks, there is nothing better than the excitement it generates,” he recalled. “It was the time of ‘Gubu’, the era of the three elections [1981-2] the Haughey ‘heaves’, the pope’s visit, president Reagan’s visit. A wonderful time to be a journalist.”

From there he went to the Sunday Press, where he was editor for eight years, until the three newspapers, daily, evening and Sunday, ceased publication in May 1995, in a bitter dispute in which 600 people were thrown out of work.

For Keane, as for others, it was a tough time. His children were aged 14, 12 and eight. His options in journalism were limited, as publishers would not want to take on a former editor, he felt.

After a year out of work, he contacted a public relations firm at the prompting of a friend, John Saunders.

Consultancy

Colleagues recalled him rehearsing a verbose client who was about to be interrogated on air over a disaster on his watch. Keane put an aerosol spray on the table labelled “Bullshit”. At the first sign of waffling, Keane pressed the spray nozzle. The waffler soon learned.

Keane was particularly proud of the pro bono media work Fleishman Hillard did for the 2003 Special Olympics. This included Keane editing a daily news sheet – the Games Gazette – of which 20,000 copies were printed.

Ten years later, together with colleague Michael Parker, he founded a new public relations consultancy, Insight Communications, and he was working there until he suffered the heart attack which led to his death four weeks later.

‘Live wire’

Journalism whetted his curiosity and equipped him for the wider world of business consultancy.

In his spare time, he counselled the bereaved, and supported the south Dublin Balally parish (including its Bethany Group), without fuss.

He is survived by his wife Jenny, their children Aoife, Michael John and Simon, and his sisters Mary Cunningham and Rita Reid.