The silly season is well and truly upon us. It’s that time of year when the Dáil has closed down for the summer, and there just aren’t that many stories to report any more. To everyone who compains there’s nothing but bad news in the papers, this might be a good thing.
For reporters though, it’s a nightmare. You see, it doesn’t matter whether there’s any news or not. All that empty space between the advertisements in the paper still have to be filled.
So it is that events that would normally get a coupl of paragraphs deep inside the paper become major stories. And if there’s no story, you can always recycle an old reliable.
It used to be that you could tell it was silly season when the Dublin newspapers ran a story that Neil Blaney was about to rejoin Fianna Fáil, for instance.
Unnamed sources would be quoted, reaction would be sought left, right and centre, and a bit f puff would expand to fill the front page.
This last week, it’s been a row over Bundoran. Everyone has had great fun arguing over whether the place would be better off towed into the Atlantic and sunk.
The Sunday People started the slagging, and got a nice boost to sales in Donegal. Everyone has a read to see what was said.
Bundoran town councillor Tiernan Brady complains about the People, and gets his name in the papers. The Donegal Democrat sells copies reporting what Tiernan said, and no doubt will do a vox pop to see what everyone thinks of Tiernan’s response.
Meanwhile n the rest of the national papers, the old reliables are being recycled. The silly season is truly upon us when there’s a story about Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth.
Eamon Ó is all for the idea, we’re told, and believes it would be a gesture of good faith to unionists. Though you suspect the real reason is he’d like to see Sonia O’Sullivan pick up a few medals at the next Commonwealth Games.
If things stay quiet, the story can be stretched out for days. Get the black ook out, starting phoning around, get reaction to the idea, crate the story. All good clean fun.
There’s a serious side to it though. The news isn’t just what happens. Reporters try to catch everything, but don’t always manage it. What you read about in the paper is what reporters know about, and sometimes we get lazy. We go for the storm in the teacup, we phone up a local politician or celebrity fr a quote we could almost write before we talk to them, anything to fill that empty space.
Newspapers are a business. We sell column inches. Nothing wrong with that in itself, in the market we’ll be punised if we don’t deliver the news, the competition keeps us honest.
But newspapers are a bit more than just another business. The press is essential to the free flow of information in a democracy. Debates on the Nice referendum, election campaigns, the impact of an abstract sending cut announcement on the local ambulance service or roads, all get teased out in the columns.
Sometimes it’s silly season because there’s nothing happening. Sometimes though, we should try harder.