Illustrating and Framing

Irish Times business journalist John Collins runs a blog on the Times’ website called Current Account. He recently pointed readers in the direction of David Gardner’s short history of Ireland’s economic malaise in the Financial Times, adding the comment:

“The piece is also illustrated with some great shots of our “ghost estates”.”

To which I felt the need to respond:

“The Irish Times has been illustrated with some great shots of our ghost estates too, with one slight difference, it’s been trying to shift them. In fact it’s still trying to shift them, for example… Glenmore Wood

The link brings Irish Times readers straight to the MyHome.ie database, within which the budding property tycoon can buy any number of houses located in so called “ghost estates”.

Which can be found on the ghostestates.com website here:

John replied:

“I can’t speak for the property team but I don’t see what the issue is with the paper having profited from property advertising. I’m in negative equity myself. My decision to move house in 2007 was not influenced by ads in the newspapers. If you are making such big financial decisions on that basis you have only yourself to blame.”

And then back to me:

The ads are just one small part of it. I’m not saying the purchase of MyHome.ie in some way impinged on the journalistic integrity of the Irish Times, it was just a natural step for an organisation that had become increasingly reliant on property revenue. The Times, just like other papers, tended to promote a certain lifestyle that suggested investing in property was a sure thing. And this view wasn’t limited to the property supplement, which in effect became an advertising supplement as opposed a news supplement. The relative absence of alternative perspectives in the paper itself up until 2007 is evidence enough of this.   

Fintan O’Toole acknowledged as much saying: “There is no question that almost all of the Irish media for the last 10-15 years has had a crucial economic stake in a rising property market… I’m not saying there is an absolute mechanical relationship between certain interests and what appears, but I am saying that the relationship exists.”

And Elaine Byrne noted only last month that “[t]he Icelandic banking inquiry found that the sources of independent economic analysis, such as the media and academia, were negligent in their obligations to display objectivity because of close links with banking interests.”

I’ve no interest in speculating on John’s personal motives for moving house in 2007, but to say that newspapers and the advertising they choose to carry don’t have a real input into the way society and the economy operates seems wildly out of step with the way the Editor sees the papers role.

The contradiction I was noting with my initial post was not that ads / reporting influence decision making, that’s a given, but that while the FT illustrates the news with ghost estates, the Times frames the news with ghost estates.

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2 thoughts on “Illustrating and Framing

  1. Well, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario going on here, isn’t there?

    I mean, I doubt there is a historical point that you could pick out and say “truly, this was when the Irish Times’s production activities and its content began to be decisively swayed in favour of the interests of the construction and associated industries”.

    Because the built environment itself, with its proliferation of semi-detached houses from the postwar period onward, is bound to have been a huge influence on how people think about houses, and how people working in the industry of journalism think about houses, you know, the idea that owning a house and a car and existing as part of a nuclear family is all part of some great path of progress.

    So, when it comes to selling property advertisement as a key element of the business model, lots of people in the journalism industry will see no contradiction between selling houses and selling stories, because they’ve been brought up to see houses as both an engine and an example of progress.

    Thatcher wanted to create a property-owning democracy not least because someone concerned primarily with home-ownership is likely to internalise all the other ‘conservative values’, such as assuming absolute personal responsiblity -often to the point of self-flagellation- for one’s own predicament. The neat trick here is that people likely to turn a buck are thought of as canny, those who didn’t buy at all and escaped the property crash, can consider themselves ‘prudent‘, whereas people who are in financial straits on account of buying a house because they thought prices would just keep on rising and they would end up renting in shitholes forever, why they ‘only have themselves to blame’, as Collins puts it above. In the end, the reality is that the ideas on display by the likes of Collins end up appearing to us as though they were part of the furniture.

  2. Hey! I didn’t go to the effort of writing a mundane post about property advertising for you to come along and add something interesting below it.

    You’re exactly right, journalists continually respond to the argument by showing their negative equity badge as unnecessary evidence that it’s not some sort of conspiracy. After all property advertising is only a significant example, not an anomaly.

    I notice in the interview with Thatcher that ‘anti-Americanism’ is as old as the hills. And encouragingly it’s always been left wingers engaging in it. I bet there was a labour government in the late 1700’s too.

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