Poles pay the bill for paper’s lack of resources

Hat for sale, one careless previous owner. Contact Norma Costello, c/o the Irish Independent.

As the perfect media storm formed over Donegal and Magda this week, it washed up a pathetic excuse from one of the journalists involved.

Norma Costello took to her blog to defend the indefensible, laughably attempting to suggest that her article wasn’t intended to be racist.

Amazing how none of her “inaccurately translated quotes” portrayed Polish people in a good light, isn’t it?

She has the gall to suggest that, to get a fuller understanding of how she herself has been a victim of racism, we should read the rest of her blog.

I won’t be doing that.

I’ve read one of her articles, and thus filled my quota of misinformed, badly-written racist tripe for this lifetime. I hope no-one else bothers to read it either.

She then attempts to justify herself, whining about inequality and suggesting that because of her degree, journalism owes her a living.

She got €80 off the Indo for her googling – not much more than forty pieces of silver, and about €80 more than I would have been prepared to pay had she submitted it to me.

There are two truths here – one is that the likes of Norma Costello doesn’t belong in journalism. Racism and inequality notwithstanding, she made fundamental errors that are the anathema to the profession.

Let me explain.

I was contacted late one night with information that could have brought down the Cowen government, long before its calamitous end.

The information was journalistic dynamite, and as it was breathlessly relayed to me over the phone, I prepared myself for the appearance on Morning Ireland that would inevitably result.

I never appeared on Morning Ireland.

Instead, I went and checked what I had been told with a variety of sources, all of whom confirmed that what I had been told was completely untrue. There was no story.

Because that is what journalists do. About 20% of the job is writing- the rest is reading, questioning, calling, checking –  sometimes even translating, provided you speak the language yourself.

This is what Norma should have done- checked the accuracy of her dynamite quotes. If she had, she would have realised her story was bunkum.

She could have done what Pat O’Mahony did– a proper journalist with years of experience in broadcasting and print- and actually tried to interview Magda herself.

Instead it appears that, for her €80, Norma was content only to get a dodgy translation and then let her prejudices run riot.

How much of the €80 was spent on a professional translation of the original Polish newspaper article? I’m going to hazard a guess and say zero.

But in that lies our second truth- it is impossible to produce quality journalism for €80.

It cannot be done.

You might be able to knock off 300 words about the Islamification of Moate or how the public service eat more biscuits than the rest, to name but two Indo favourites, but not a proper news article. And certainly not quality journalism, whatever Ian O’Doherty might say.

Laptops, phone calls, petrol, parking, bus tickets, notebooks and coffee all cost money. So too do digital cameras and degrees and software.

To do the Magda story properly for a freelancer should take about three or four hours- €20 an hour does not even come close to covering the cost.

Add to that the fact that freelancers don’t have regular work and you can why there is a temptation to cut corners.

But the papers won’t pay more unless we as advertisers or consumers pay more.

And as consumers, we can do two things- we can stop reading the newspapers that churn out this cack-handed, badly-written, barely-researched rubbish that shouldn’t even be used to wrap chips.

And instead of that, we can pay more for quality.

I’m a big fan of freedom of information, but the time has come to prepare ourselves to pay for content; far from limiting our access to information, time-limited paywalls will ensure that the quality of information we do receive is increased. Keep it exclusive for a week, then open it up.

In doing so we can recognise that the digital world is a cheaper marketplace to produce in, and make it both affordable and accessible.

And hopefully if media outlets do that, they’ll be able to pay editors who are smart enough to recognise that the likes of Norma Costello have no place in journalism.

Because in their incompetence, they cheapen  the work of proper journalists like Pat O’Mahony, and hundreds of others who try to get their story straight.


3 responses to “Poles pay the bill for paper’s lack of resources

  1. Isn’t it odd that within a mere 36 hours of Norma Costellos shameful, innaccurate and defaming article that Education Minister Ruairí Quinn would suggest to journalism students at the University of Limerick that Irish mainstream media is, in his opinion, a generally better quality source for factual news than online media? And not only that, but online media is in greater need of moderation and policing than the newspapers because the newspapers can be held to account? Or as he put it, that online media must be ‘prepared to embrace the same levels of accountability as traditional media’.

    Where exactly is the accountability?

    Costello’s still in a job, and her sad excuse for an explanation or apology on her blog came nowhere close to the mark required for such shoddy and offensive commentary. Her lazy clarification of her potentially racist article seemed to be preening for a sympathetic understanding of how tough it was for her as a journalist abroad.

    I wonder too if Quinn still feels as strongly about his recent speech for increased militancy of online discussion, particularly given the coverage his multi-millionaire brother Lochlann Quinn is receiving on the front page of todays Irish Independent regarding his reluctance to waive his €78,750 in fees for his position on the state board for ESB? This from a ‘patriot’ with an estimated worth of €188 million, listed as the 50th wealthiest person in Ireland according to the Sunday Independents ‘Rich List’ for 2011. The Quinn family agenda soon becomes apparent.

    Not too many mentions either from our political class regarding the revelations of another €163,000 claimed by Senators in the Seanad during a month in 2011 when the house wasn’t even sitting. Just the meanderings of some anonymous Oireachtas spokesperson regarding the legalities of the process of claiming the expenses. Spokesperson? Accountability?

    Traditional media in Ireland is a disgusting morass of spin, deception and ongoing distortion of the truth. The mainstream dailies are the most guilty of this type of fear mongering, willingly abetted by the likes of state funded RTÈ, with staunch Fianna Fail apologists the likes of Tubridy, Kenny and O’Connor happily harping along for their offensively outrageous wages.

    Every day seems to throw up another tale of deception.

    I would place my trust closer to the anonymous work of bloggers, independent researchers and online activism than to any Irish newspaper presently available. Few Irish journalists operate without an agenda, and the hard copy newspapers are sealing their own fate. Time is short for them, and they seem to finally get this fact, the hysteria they’re spinning lately makes this much clearer.

    Hopefully the general public in Ireland follow suit and realise the dangers of trusting in a media with vested interests which merely pander to a small but powerful political elite.

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