Media cutbacks hurt quality journalism

Journalism suffers as staff cutbacks in media groups lead to an over-reliance on media releases, according to NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley.

Photo: Seamus Dooley
Seamus Dooley: Cutbacks hurt newspapers
Image: NUJ

“There is also a marked absence of what used to be called fresh air journalism, reporters who left their desks and went out on the streets to meet people,” said Dooley.

Last week Newswhip reported on a student survey suggesting that Irish newspapers did no better than their British counterparts in dealing with “Churnalism”, the practice of recycling press releases as news, first outlined in the best-selling book Flat Earth News.

“When resources are scarce, you’re bound to have a situation where people merely regurgitate media releases,” said Dooley.

And he warned that reliance on media releases meant the assumptions contained within official communications were not challenged.

“There is also a dependence on people with undisclosed vested interests, or disguised vested interests,” he added. “There is no in-service training, not even a half day tutorial about how NAMA works or the powers of the IMF.”

“The lack of training means journalists may take as gospel anything which sounds half plausible. So someone who lectures twice a week in Trinity can describe themselves as some sort of trinity associate and become a ‘leading expert’ overnight.”

The growth of the internet as a source of news also had an effect on the quality of modern journalism, although it was not a major factor in Ireland, Dooley said.

“The 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of [online] publication means people rely less on newspapers. But they still, and always will, rely on print editions on the big occasions. For instance, the recent Irish Times editorial ‘Was it for this?’ touched a nerve with many people.”