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.