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Why Paschal Sheehy’s ‘I have scored, Eileen’ is good for RTÉ News

It might not be the role of news to entertain, but with a wave of AI slop on its way, the human touch does no harm

RTÉ News presenter Eileen Whelan: smoothly segues from one item to the next. Photograph: Naoise Culhane

I missed the RTÉ One O’Clock News last Thursday and I was raging. They say it’s important for your sense of inner order and productivity to build an anchor habit into your daily routine, and for me that anchor is Eileen Whelan.

On this occasion, the miss meant not getting to see a spot of comedy gold as it unfolded live in the wilds of linear television. I had to catch up with a clipped-up version of it later in the day along with the rest of the extremely online masses.

The moment came courtesy of RTÉ News southern editor Paschal Sheehy, who brought some much-needed colour to the fifth day of the European Parliament count from Nemo Rangers GAA club in Cork.

“[Fianna Fáil candidate] Billy Kelleher’s team has just arrived here with a tray of sandwiches,” he informed Whelan near the end of a live link.


With some time to go before the result of the next count, there was “probably more interest in the distribution of those sandwiches at this stage” than there was in the distribution of an eliminated candidate’s votes, he suggested to absolutely no dissent whatsoever.

“My presence on this plinth is a source of some mirth for some people here because I am being kept away from these sandwiches,” explained Sheehy then, conveying the perils of live broadcasting via some real-time smirking.

He didn’t seem too hopeful when Whelan ventured that someone might save him one. But after dropping into the Midlands-North-West count centre for an update from the suddenly “peckish” western correspondent Pat McGrath, there was time for a quick goodbye from a newly sandwich-laden Sheehy.

“I have scored, Eileen,” he declared with the sort of glee that can only be elicited by the arrival of food.

A replay of the full bulletin confirms that Whelan, because she’s a pro, smoothly segued from congratulating her freshly carb-equipped colleague to the straightest of faces and most serious of voices as she proceeded to the next item, which happened to be news of Enoch Burke losing his defamation case against the publisher of the Sunday Independent.

I was reminded of Sheehy, his single transferable sandwich triumph and the clip that RTÉ packaged up for online consumption when I was sent an embargoed copy of this year’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism global digital news report.

One of its significant Irish findings is that trust levels in RTÉ News have risen. Based on a survey of more than 2,000 people, conducted earlier this year, some 72.4 per cent of news consumers in Ireland trust RTÉ, up 1 percentage point compared to last year.

RTÉ's performance, DCU’s Institute of Future Media, Democracy and Society (FuJo) said in its analysis, was “particularly notable” in light of the corporate governance scandal at the broadcaster over the past year.

So, there has been no reputational contagion, this appears to confirm. RTÉ is the most trusted news organisation in Ireland, though I’m contractually obliged to mention that The Irish Times is right there with it, trusted by 71.7 per cent, while local and regional radio is next on 71 per cent.

This is worth remembering amid all the online noise. In communities across Ireland, reporters for long-established news outlets — who face consequences when they don’t live up to editorial standards — tend to be respected, well-liked figures who may, sometimes, also be hungry.

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Interestingly, the survey found that online news has now nudged ahead of television as the most likely answer when people are asked to give their “main” source of news. This wasn’t by much — 33 per cent compared to 31 per cent — and the survey itself is conducted online, meaning it tends to underrepresent traditional offline news consumption. But it does underline the benefit to RTÉ if its news clips go viral every so often.

When asked about the role of news in their lives, a relatively low percentage — 43 per cent — say it is “very” or “somewhat” important for news to be entertaining. This is less than the 75 per cent who say it is the role of news to keep them “up to date with what’s going on” or even the 52 per cent who say it is important for news to make them “feel connected to others in society”.

This seems about right. I don’t think it is the role of news to be entertaining, necessarily. I just appreciate it when somehow, against all the odds, it manages this feat. Indeed, it’s the unexpectedness of any injection of humanity into the formal, historically stiff genre of television news — and the relief of fleeting lightness in a world of misery and gloom — that makes such moments stand out.

The global Reuters Institute report expands on the theme, examining “user needs” when it comes to news. “Update me” is the biggest one, important for 72 per cent, and “divert me” is bottom of the pile on 47 per cent. The authors caution that diversions may be more important to people’s lives overall, but are just not something they always expect the news media to provide.

Again, this is fair enough. But what we think of as “news” does not exist in a silo. It is part of a much wider attention economy in which failure to engage is punished. It would actually be odd if a “bundle” of news, such as a television bulletin or a newspaper, was rigidly monotonal and robotic. And with the age of AI-generated slop now seemingly imminent, it would be counterproductive, too.

For sure, the banter-as-default mode of some US television news networks would be unbearable. Constant, contrived jokes would be inappropriate and weird. But a little bit of personality goes a long way — like the seasoning in a sandwich.