Why the Blog?
22 March 2008
WHY DO the Irish media do so little investigation? The answers are disparate.
The tired, conservative Irish Times regards investigative journalism as vulgar. The closest it usually gets to investigation is printing leaked anti-Bertie affidavits from the Mahon Tribunal, often after The Irish Mail has blooded them. The Sunday Independent fudges the difference between News and gossip and The Irish Sun doesn’t understand the difference between News and repeating the Sunday Independent‘s gossip, with more nipples. For the Irish Independent, investigation is what Sam Smyth finds in his briefcase after a night in Doheny’s. The Sunday Tribune confounds News with last week’s News and Metro mixes up journalism and usefulness in keeping the rain off. The Phoenix confuses investigation with insinuating Half-Truth while Radio 1 doesn’t understand the difference between News and sport and travel News.
What unifies them is that they’re not interested in attracting bright, hungry people with painfully analytical and obsessively investigative instincts. None of them understands that news is something someone somewhere doesn’t want published. Add to it a bit of door-stepping or file-rifling investigation, a reasonable approach to privacy, promotion of the public interest and a pick of style – and you could have good journalism. The rest is AA Roadwatch.
You don’t report news, you BREAK it. That’s what I thought when I decided to back Vincent Browne’s new “Village” magazine three and a half years ago.
I wanted the editor paid extra for breaking big news: say double the weekly salary if a story was big enough to make the nine o’ clock news. I wanted a magazine that was investigative and broke news; and one that was uniquely left wing in its editorial stance, because I believe there is a niche for such a magazine.
Vincent is a charming guy, but sadly the magazine is badly edited, suffocatingly Gramsciite – and has been the failure everyone I ever asked always smirkingly said it would be. It hasn’t really broken a single notable story in its three and a half years. (Vincent gets very annoyed if you say this!) Often there’s no carry-through on what the headline suggests lies below and too much leading material is dyspeptic rehashings by Vincent of old material, usually about the big male beasts in our society such as Tony O’Reilly or Michael Mc Dowell. Sometimes too, as with Charlie and Bertie, Vincent tellingly feels he has to publish endless nonsense about what nice fellas they are underneath it, as if that mattered in determining corruption in public life.
The only reason you could forgive all this is that he did once introduce Frank Dunlop to his radio audience with “You’re some little bolix, aren’t you”!
The management of the magazine owes little to the business manuals: it is an unorthodox, if beguiling, mixture of turmoil, spit and whirlwind. Remember the way Vincent spluttered and punctured so entertainingly in his late-night Radio 1 show, well that’s mostly how he runs Village.
There has never been a strategy so of course the point of the magazine has never been clear; and it has lost a lot of money – mostly Vincent’s but also I regret to say, roughly in proportion to my 25% stake (and neanderthal stupidity), mine. I don’t know how much money it has now lost as I’ve long since stopped funding it and Vincent has refused to furnish accounts despite a dozen letters, some of a legal nature. Indeed I had to resign as a Director as I was receiving contradictory reports from Vincent about the accounts and so had no idea if I could be deemed to be trading recklessly – a case of oppression of a minority shareholder by Vincent so blatant that if he does not furnish them soon I will seek the winding up of the Company for this reason – and the real story of Village will be told.
Perhaps it could be made into a short movie. The script would certainly be more entertaining – and remunerative – than the magazine.
I’d intended to write more for the magazine and to be centrally involved in editorial decisions and management. But that was as unrealistic as anyone out-spleening him on his radio show! And so I’ll leave Village to Vincent and get on with something else myself that encourages people to break news: wiser, not bitter and with a sense of Summer-morning birdsong after gentle rain.