All the news that’s fit to print

The quality and stability of democracy in any society depends fairly crucially on the media, and on newspapers in particular. The willingness and ability of journalists to identify and pursue a significant story, and to present a trenchant but balanced view when they have got to the bottom of it, is as important as, and may be a prerequisite to, the willingness of politicians to defend rights and freedoms.

On the whole, in Ireland we have been lucky with our newspapers. They have tended to take a serious view of the big political and social issues and provide us with coverage that supports our democratic credentials. But then again, that comment betrays my age a little. I grew up when there were three Irish daily papers – the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Press. It was also possible to get many of the UK newspapers, particularly if you were in Dublin or one of the larger towns; but their circulation overall was very small.

That picture has long changed, with the arrival of Irish editions of UK newspapers (particularly the tabloids), the enormous diversification of the broadcast media and the impact of the internet, where you can now choose to have as your daily newspaper something from just about anywhere in the world.  The ‘old’ Irish papers (minus the Press, which disappeared some time ago) are still in a strong position, but not a dominant one. This slight erosion has also made it more difficult to say for sure that our news coverage gets it about right; there are now many column inches on sale in newsagents focusing on celebrity gossip and adopting a much more partisan political approach. Conversely, I also sometimes wonder whether some of the media over-do the desire to bring people ‘to account’, pursuing stories largely geared towards finding someone to ‘blame’ for something – and this ‘blame culture’ may yet serve to stifle imaginative policies and innovation (which is always risky anyway for politicians and others in the limelight).

New technology alone will guarantee that we cannot return to the apparent comforts and certainties of how the media operated decades ago. But as citizens we need to remind ourselves that the dissemination and analysis of news is vital, and that it is (at least in part) a serious business. In the end the media, whatever platform they may use, will serve us what we appear to want. The quality of our news analysis is ultimately the responsibility of all of us.

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