Radio meltdown trumps climate meltdown every time

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Duncan Stewart of Eco Eye and About the House fame had a professional breakdown on Shane Coleman’s Newstalk show earlier today, or so you’d be led to believe if you read the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Irish Mirror or Journal.ie. All four of which jumped at an opportunity to produce a ‘famous person loses it live on air‘ headline, following a fairly inconsequential, if uncommon, argument about air time and radio convention.

And for good reason too, the stories were No.1 in the ‘Most Read’ stats for both the Times and the Indo. While the more discerning readers of the Mirror and Journal appeared more interested in other affairs (a ‘giant rat’ and a fatal traffic accident respectively).

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The “environmentalist” (if there’s an ‘ist’ at the end of someone’s title that typically means they’re an ideologue and thus unreceptive to reason) was said to have had a “meltdown” live on air. Caught in a “bizarre rant” or “fraught encounter”, depending on whether you prefer tabloid or broadsheet size, while discussing climate change.

Ironically, the thrust of Coleman and Stewart’s 18 minute discussion (of which 1.5 mins were taken up by the aforementioned argument) evolved around the Irish media’s, in Stewart’s words, “irresponsible” reporting of climate change:

“Everybody seems to avoid climate change because it’s not popular, it doesn’t bring in ratings, it’s not good for advertising, and that’s a fundamental issue with all media, including press”

And the Irish media’s response to Stewart’s criticism is to forefront the trivial, at the expense of the substantive points raised. Yet even in the course of the interview Stewart’s criticisms of RTE were discounted as little more than a ‘row with RTE’, reflecting succinctly the majority view of media criticism in the Irish news industry. Critical media analysis has only one value, the party political.

RTE’s reporting of climate change is a topic we covered back in 2008 in response to a Primetime segment titled ‘Questions raised over global warming’ and earlier in 2007 in relation to the Corrib gas project. In the first case, RTE fabricated one of those media ‘debates’ where a scientist is pitched against a ‘skeptic’ (in that instance, a documentary maker who’s documentary was funded by a mining company) to argue over decades of scientific research in a four minute window between ad breaks and serious sounding video segments fronted by one or more of RTE’s roving reporters.

More recently, two pieces by John Gibbons and the Irish Examiner’s Victoria White went over the same ground. Gibbons, whose climate change column in the Irish Times was cancelled four years ago (and who we interviewed at the time), pointed to a Sunday Times report which had identified clear deficiencies in RTE’s environment coverage:

“Sunday Times report pointed out, “30 major climate-related stories carried by other media between January 2012 and April 2013 were ‘entirely absent’ from Six One News, Prime Time and RTE News online”

Gibbons’ account suggests that RTE’s stubborn attachment to the “Is the climate change man made?” format is causing actual experts in on the subject to spurn requests to appear on the channel. Raising the question, what quality of information are we getting about the climate at all?

White’s Examiner piece echoed many of the same points:

“On RTÉ news climate change was almost always presented as an international news story so that the Irish farm fodder crisis, for instance, was never linked to climate change. Even as an international issue, coverage has collapsed to the point that the recent UN climate talks in Warsaw were not covered at all.”

Stewart later apologised to his Twitter followers, saying, “I honestly hope that with all that happened today that the seriousness of is not lost. Its too important an issue”, to which I responded, “you raised plenty of serious issues, the fact that Irish news orgs chose to forefront the ‘meltdown’ story proved your point”.

[You can listen to the interview here]

Future of News is Past of News

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[This is an expanded version of the article Reclaiming the printing press and was first published 3 Dec 2012 here]

Imagine a theme park. Imagine this theme park is the most popular theme park in the world. More popular than Disney World, more popular than Sea World, more popular than all US theme parks combined. Now imagine that it costs about $400 for an annual pass to enter this park. Yet there are no rides in this park. Sounds ridiculous right? But this isn’t an imaginary theme park. This park exists. In fact, you go there almost every day. 

Several weeks ago Newsweek announced it is to stop printing magazines. After 80 years, one of the giants of US news is going web only. It will no doubt be tempting for others to follow; off-loading manufacturing costs, abandoning a declining print readership, addressing steepening competition on the web. Newsweek’s bold move may well herald the long-forecast demise of the print industry.

But it is not just the physical paper that is disappearing. It is the media’s control over content distribution. Gutenberg’s printing press allowed publishers not only to realise their ideas in print, but also to share those ideas as they saw fit. That power is slowly being eroded. Newsweek’s decision underlines the fundamental shift in newspaper and magazine publishing in the age of Web 2.0; a relinquishing of the mode of production.

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Nexus Ireland – Relationships that Rule

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[This article was original published at Nexus Ireland, 9 Nov 2013]
Russell Brand’s manifesto for a “revolution of consciousness” has, it seems, opened space for an important debate about revolution and democracy. Unfortunately the UK press remains, for the most part, stuck on Brand’s disenchantment with a particular mechanic of democracy – voting. Yet few have offered the revolutionary generation a convincing reason why they should engage in a “tacit act of compliance” for a multi-party democratic system with no significant “distinctions between [political] parties.” 

Citing anecdotal evidence, Brand highlights a particular problem with capitalist democracy – the tendency of power to concentrate: “Whatever party they claim to represent in the day, at night they show their true colours and all go to the same party.” An observation that couldn’t be more timely, coming as it does when the trial of News International’s Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson is getting into full swing.

Brooks, a former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, is a neighbour of Prime Minister David Cameron, and, it is said, they are on such good terms, she even lets him ride her horses (one of which was lent to her by Scotland Yard). Apparently, Brooks was introduced to Cameron through her husband, who was “one of his school friends”. For his part, Coulson, a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, was made director of communications for the Conservative Party in 2007 and later appointed by Cameron to be his chief media spokesman.

Separating the News from the Noise

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In all the talk about the future of news, it’s rare that you actually come across an innovation that alters the way you think about reporting and news gathering. Digital journalism innovations too often focus on how stories are presented to audiences. Social media is used to generate and sustain interest in news, rather than as a source of news. Where news is sourced from social media it is dominated by celebrity feuds or political gaffs. This type of journalism only scratches the surface of what is possible. Sentiment analysis, the virality of content, all measured through social media, overshadow the real evolution occurring, often imperceptibly, across the globe.

Consider the recent Guardian profile of Eliot Higgins. Higgins, a blogger, who from his livingroom in Leicester, “has put together a database of 491 videos of cluster bombs being used across Syria, together with map references and details of the type of weapons used”. Scouring “about 450 YouTube channels from Syria every evening” Higgins has managed to beat organisations such as the New York Times to a globally significant story nearly 5000 km from his front door.

Which is what drew us to the work being done by Storyful. Founded in 2010 by former RTE Prime Time presenter Mark Little, the organisation is a ‘news agency for the social media age’. Storyful’s raison d’etre is to draw actionable news from the noise of social media. Its journalists and editors curate stories about conflicts, natural disasters and elections by verifying social media events – tweets, facebook updates, videos, images etc.

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