A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree
of Masters of Arts in Journalism Dublin City University 1996
I would like to thank all of the journalists listed as interviewees for their time and consideration of my questions and hypotheses. I hope that I have represented their views fairly and accurately. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of two of my classmates, Aidan Fitzmaurice (The Title) and Antonia Hart (The Sunday Business Post) and one of my lecturers, David Quin (The Irish Independent) for their assistance in introducing me to many of their colleagues.
I would also like to thank my work placement employers at Computer Publications Group for their latitude in my arranging the interviews for this project and in allowing me the time off to write up the final work.
Within the University, I would like to thank Monica Brinkley, the university Web Editor, for her assistance and enthusiasm in placing this work on the World Wide Web. Having returned to academic life after a break of eleven years, I was very fortunate in having the assistance of a knowledgeable and patient supervisor in the person of Brian Trench, who replied to my whimsical email with a patience that stretched the concept of supervision beyond any reasonable limits.
The following notice appeared in the print version of this project submitted to the university:
The print copy of this work is only one version which was prepared for submission to Dublin City University. The same text was also prepared in hypertext mark-up language (HTML) and submitted for publication on the World Wide Web server for the university. The primary reason for doing so was to use the opportunity to demonstrate one of the greatest impacts of new technology on journalism, which is the ability to present material in a non-linear fashion through the use of hypertext links. By marking words or phrases within the text of this document, these words can be associated with another part of the document, a different document, an image, or a sound or video recording. Using the World Wide Web, such links allow the click of a mouse on the marked text to bring up, on-screen, the associated material. In this way, clicking on the reference mark in the text may bring up the related bibliography listing.
The Web version of this document offers an opportunity to glean more information than this print version does from the same text. Obviously, references to the bibliography can be accessed easily and comfortably. By providing a link to the background and photograph of an interviewee on each occurrence of that person’s name in the text, it also allows the reader to remind or confirm the status of the person to whom a quotation is being attributed. Even the quotations themselves are somewhat constrained by the words on the page. By allowing the reader to hear a recording of the quotation, he can better understand the strength of the views of the interviewee. For this reason, the web version of this project includes sound recordings for each of the interviewee quotations given in the text. These can be accessed by simply clicking the mouse on the marked quotation. The web version also contains some video clips and a number of links to related sites on the Internet.
"This is a revolution in communications that is just as significant, many historians and thinkers believe, as the invention of the printing press." (Gates, 1995). Al Gore, vice-president of the United States made this statement on an American television chat show, where the topic for discussion was the information superhighway, the Internet. Certainly, the Internet has had an impact on society in general and the media in particular. But it is only one of a number of elements of new technology which has revolutionised the media and particularly newspapers in the last twenty years
The purpose of this project is get a sense of Irish print journalists’ experiences of that technology and to examine how it’s ongoing adoption might effect their work. The central part of this project is a series of case studies of four Irish publications: Ireland’s largest daily newspaper, The Irish Independent; one of Ireland’s largest trade journals, ShelfLife; a business-oriented Sunday newspaper, The Sunday Business Post; and a Ireland’s only dedicated sports newspaper, The Title, which was first published on July 28th 1996.
To provide a background for consideration of these experiences, I have included a review of some of the literature which has been published dealing with the major themes in this area. Much of this work is north American, which reflects the greater adoption of these technologies in the United States and Canada.
In attempting to define the work of journalists in a manner which might assist an assessment of the influence of information technology, I have identified five areas of activity which broadly encompass their work:
These areas of activity were used in the case study interviews to tease out the specific effects on the day-to-day work of the journalists and as a framework for the material covered in the literature review.
This study of Irish journalists and their interaction with new technologies raises more questions than can be answered here. It does however shed a little light on the way in which this technology has impacted upon their lives and how it may continue to do so in the future.
Information technology is increasingly affecting our lives in a manner which has become commonplace. The year 2000 has long been portrayed by scientists and storytellers as an age of the future, where technology would impinge upon our lives far more than we could ever have imagined. As we stand on the verge of the new millennium, this age of electronic innovation seems to have ‘sneaked up’ on us without our being fully aware of any material change.
Almost unbeknownst to us, this electronic era has reshaped our lives. The ATM machine allows users to withdraw money from their Dublin bank account, 24 hours a day, as easily from Tralee as from Toronto. While in Toronto, the same bank customer can send and receive phone calls on an Irish number using their GSM cellular telephone, from which they can control an elaborate home security system back in Dublin. All of these daily occurrences would have been regarded as futuristic only a few years ago.
As recently as 1989, the CD-ROM was described as "a 5 inch silvery circle that stands to revolutionise libraries" (Abrams & Berstein, 1989). In only 6 years, something which had been seen as a revolutionary tool of the future for libraries and large companies, has become a standard element of a family PC for games and reference material.
In an article in Time magazine entitled The Future is Already Here, Barrett Seaman makes the point that the everyday adoption of such technology does not mean that these things have not been important. "The ATM’s great convenience and relatively humble workings should not obscure the fact that it is in the vanguard of the information age, no less than the internet, interactive TV or video conferencing". (Seaman, 1995).
In addition to being significant pieces of technology, Seaman also maintains that this quiet technological revolution has impacted on our lives in a very significant way: "The increasing stream of techno-driven products has already begun to change the way people live and work". George Beekman attributes the great part of this influence to the computer: "More than any other recent technological breakthrough, the development of the computer is responsible for profound changes in society." (Beekman, 1994).
When Beekman refers to the computer, he doesn’t just mean the PC or a large mainframe. He includes ‘embedded computers’ which are central to so many everyday devices in our homes and at work. In fact, Beekman makes the point that the rapid evolution of the computer to the level of something which is integral to so many aspects of our lives has disguised its potential effect: "In less than a human lifetime, computers have evolved from massive, expensive, error-prone calculators like the Mark I and ENIAC into a myriad of dependable, versatile machines that have worked their way into just about every nook and cranny of modern society."
Journalism is one area in which information technology, or more specifically media technology, has effected the way in which people work and in some instances, the very nature of that work. At a Journalism conference in Dublin earlier this year, Brian Trench identified "several ways in which information technology touches on the practice of journalism, all of which have affected how journalists do their job":
For each of these activities, today’s technology offers journalists a growing capacity to accomplish them with ever-increasing efficiency. Such technology is becoming increasingly more powerful and more affordable, by smaller media organisations.
Direct input and transmission of copy have been greatly enhanced by the availability of ISDN, a network of high capacity digital telephone lines. This has allowed high speed error-free transfer of all sorts of information across wide areas. Such information would include large quantities of text, photographic images and computer programmes; all of which may be sent from one side of the globe to the other in minutes.
Cellular telephones and laptop computers have made around-the-clock availability of skilled personnel possible. The recent combination of both these electronic tools has allowed the ultimate mobile office to offer reportage direct from the scene of news events, almost anywhere in the world. The question must be asked if this increased mobility has led to a better quality of life in terms of managing one’s timetable, or alternatively, an inability to escape the workplace?
Other computer-based technology has caused a blurring of some traditional responsibilities in the workplace. Because elements of the skills of some workers have been automated, these skills can sometimes be carried out just as effectively by other workers, in addition to their own work. Inexpensive desk-top publishing (DTP) systems have made available much of the skills of former print and design houses to many people with a personal computer and an eye for design. This ease of demarcation in the workplace has delivered substantial cost savings and offered a growing degree of flexibility and speed of operation.
In the area of research, vast quantities of information are being made available in new and more accessible media, like CD-ROM. This same information is being made globally accessible by the exponential growth of the Internet and other computer networks. Allied to these sources of information, are additional electronic search methods, which have made access to such information simple, quick and inexpensive.
It is against this background of technological innovation that the case studies contained in Chapter 3 are presented. They attempt to provide some insight into the extent to which this technology has touched on the work of Irish journalists and the changes it may have brought about.
This chapter examines some of the studies and articles on major themes within media technology. Much of this literature is American, which reflects their advanced stage of the adoption of much of the media technology available today. There have been a number of studies which have examined both the level of adoption of technology and the degree to which it has impacted on the work of journalists.
Research studies of American newspapers have shown that "electronic information technologies have been adopted in a large majority of the nation’s biggest dailies". (Ward & Hansen, 1991). This particular study, carried out in 1990, examined the uses of technology in 105 of the 108 largest dailies in the U.S., with an average circulation of 193,445 and an average of 193 editorial staff. The results of this study show that the most widely adopted technologies were that of the portable computer (97%) and the fax machine (93%). The study noted that "these technologies are relatively inexpensive and produce few changes in routine that would demand important managerial decisions."
The same study showed that 90% of the newspapers had at least one commercial database subscription. The number of these subscriptions varied greatly, with 10 newspapers having none and one newspaper having subscribed to 14 different databases. The growing importance attributed to the use of electronic libraries is underlined by the fact that 67% of the 105 newspapers were operating one, with a further 28% having had plans to install electronic libraries in the future.
Despite such high rates of adoption of the available technologies by leading newspapers, some commentators have insisted that the newspaper industry is still slow to change its traditional methods of discovering and delivering the news. Jon Katz has pulled no punches in his description of the recent state of the newspaper industry: "Newspapers have been floundering for decades, their readers ageing, their revenues declining, their circulation sinking, their sense of mission fragmented in a world where the fate of presidents is slugged out on MTV, Donahue and Larry King Live." (Katz, 1994). Given such a scenario, Katz predicted that newspapers would resist the changes promised by new technology: "At heart, newspapers are reluctant to change because of their ingrained belief that they are the superior, serious, worthwhile medium; while things electronic are trivial or faddish."
In a survey of two large Canadian daily newspapers in 1994, Catherine McKercher examined the practices of 30 journalists in their use of computers as part of their work and it’s effect on their traditional roles. The study found that the main use of computers was "as electronic typewriters and as devices to check the electronic clipping files." (McKercher, 2). Whilst McKercher identified both these activities as variants of traditional aspects of a reporter’s job, she did discover that "small, but growing groups of reporters at both newspapers are using computers for communications, research and organisation in their reporting" and regarded these activities as representing "new techniques and reporting tasks".
Such definitive changes are also suggested by Tom Koch when he writes of the effects of the use of online data technologies, which he suggests will "eventually redefine the form of the news in specific and of public information in general". (Koch, 1991, p.xxiii). Koch also predicts increased flexibility for newswriters and editors, whose boundaries of responsibility will tend to disappear.
This increased flexibility has been one of the motivating factors for management’s introduction of new technology. Such introduction of the technology was also to be found in Ireland, where such investment was made in a difficult economic climate. "Improvements in newspaper technology have forced the publishers to increase investment at a time when they had difficulty increasing their advertising market revenues." (Fitzpatrick, 1996, p.9). The introduction of new technology in an atmosphere of economic stringency can draw attention to its economic benefits for management and so overshadow the benefits to be gained by the journalists themselves. Such an emphasis can create a suspicion for new technology which is not easily overcome.
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his investigative reporting andrew Schneider sounds a warning note about the adoption of new technology. In a piece entitled The Downside of Wonderland", he quotes Baltimore Sun editor John Carroll, "All the computers and high-tech hardware in the world won’t produce top-quality journalism without the right people doing the right things." (Schneider, 1993). Schneider points out that while the use of computers in newsrooms in tripling each year, many editors complain that "too much emphasis is being placed on the technology and not enough on nurturing the more traditional basic journalistic skills". In a series of interviews with senior newspaper editors, Schneider discovered that 20% reported ‘no measurable change’ from pre-computer days, while 60% of them said that "the magic boxes slowed production down significantly". Reasons for the negative effects included an unfamiliarity with the system, or that the larger pool of information was leading reporters down too many blind alleys.
Nancy Woodhull, Vice-President of The Freedom Foundation, a private foundation to promote the ideals of a free press and free speech, has maintained that it is not the nature of the new technology which is of importance, but rather how that technology is applied. "The role technology plays will be determined not by inventors or marketers, but by innovators in the newsroom and boardrooms who figure out just how technology best serves the needs of consumers. Until that happens, the technological innovations of the 21st Century will be nothing more than appliances waiting for someone to turn them on." (Woodhull, 1995).
In an article about their 1990 study of 105 American Daily newspapers, referred to in chapter one, Ward & Hansen identify the area of story research as that which has gained most from the application of the new technologies: "Electronic information technologies have vastly improved both the speed and the comprehensiveness of information access for newsrooms. News libraries play increasingly prominent roles in reporting and editing in metro newspapers". (Ward & Hansen, 1990).
Kathleen Hansen, in another study published in the same year, compared 30 stories that won, or were nominated for, newspaper Pulitzer Prizes with 30 other newspaper stories from the 1985-1989 period. The conclusions of the study refers to the prize-winning journalism as having an ‘information richness’. The Pulitzer stories used a far greater diversity of sources in their preparation and relied more on third-party research than did the non-prize-winning stories. (Hansen, 1990). This study underlined the importance of the diversity and quality of information sources to generating high quality news stories.
The effects of the adoption of electronic library systems for newspaper research was examined by Ward, Hansen and McLeod in 1988 when they proposed that "the change in the way journalists acquire information for their reports has substantial potential both to influence news production and to change the character of news stories." (Ward, Hansen & McLeod, 1988). The results of this study demonstrated that although there were several important changes in the way a story was written, the extendt of these changes depended on the degree to which news reporters had adopted the new technology. Whilst this may seem obvious, it had been accepted by staff that all journalists would use the old ‘clippings’ facility, but that a significant number of journalists failed to use it’s electronic equivalent. The impact of this technology varied greatly depending on the level of participation in any given publication. This point will become significant in the light of the case studies in Chapter 3, when we discover the degree to which the journalists interviewed have adopted the technology and the degree to which proper training has facilitated that move.
The use of technology for researching news stories has become known as ‘Computer Assisted Reporting’, or CAR. The extent of its impact was underlined in a recent article by the Irish Times media correspondent, Michael Foley: "The use of computers for investigating news stories, providing background to profiles, allowing analysis of complex financial data and generally sharpening up news, will probably have greater impact on the news media than newspapers going online and being available on email or on the World Wide Web." (Foley, 1996).
A similar concept of ‘Computer Assisted Journalism’ (CAJ) is defined by Barbara Semonche as encompassing "online database research, the acquisition and analysis of government databases and the creation and use of staff-developed databases". (Semonche, 1993). Semonche underlines the importance of CAJ as providing a means to make stories definitive in a more realistic time frame than would have been previously available. Clearly such use of computers requires the availability of government databases and access to them by members of the press. The freedom of information legislation in the United States has traditionally allowed greater opportunities in this area, than in Europe or Ireland.
With the provision of global cellular telephone systems and increasingly easier methods of transferring elaborate messages from one country to another, it is ironic that the most popular method is also the least elaborate - and not coincidentally, the least intimidating. The most popular means by which technology has effected communication is in the provision of email facilities.
According to an article in Business & Finance, the technology has been available in Ireland since the 1950s. (Business & Finance, 1995). The same article predicts that the number of users in the United States is expected to triple from a 1993 level of 29 million to nearly 86 million by the end of the decade. With such a high level of adoption by society in general, one could expect a similar use of the medium by journalists.
The nature of the use of email will vary from one instance to another. It can be used to keep in touch with colleagues within or outside any news organisation. In addition, if offers the facility to conduct interviews with someone who is unavailable at a time or venue which is convenient. Finally, email has provided access to electronic discussion groups between people who share a common interest, by means of an email mailing list, or ‘listserv’. This final use provides a wealth of experts from many fields to those who subscribe to a particular listserv, which is a resource that is increasingly being used by journalists.
Email, more than any other means of communication has provided a direct and very personal method of audience response. In an article in Time Magazine, David Jackson writes about the growth of online newspapers and their use of the Internet as a new means to reach their readers. However, Jackson points out that the provision of email addresses for their reporters has "an electronic dialogue between journalists and their audiences that is having a subtle, but important effect on both - and inevitably, on the whole profession of journalism". (Jackson, David S., 1995).
In a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, Jennifer Wolff examines the effects of the opening of "a chink in the thick wall that has largely separated the media from their audience". (Wolff, 1994). Wolff describes the resulting relationship as "an unusual symbiosis: readers have unprecedented access to reporters and editors and journalists enjoy the rare opportunity to learn with lightning speed what their audiences is thinking on a variety of issues".
The Irish media also seem keen, if a little sceptical about the benefits of email. A survey published in August 1996 by Covenberg Market Research and Simpson Financial & Technology PR found that 45% of Irish media had access to email facilities and that 71% of those currently without it indicated their intention to have it in place within a year. (O’Sullivan, 1996). An interesting aspect of this survey was that despite the widespread access, the preference of editors remains to receive press releases and stories by traditional methods.
The early and rapid rate of adoption of Video Display Terminals (VDTs) for sub-editing, or to use the American term copy editing, can be seen from these figures from the American Newspaper Publishers Association, which indicate the number of hot metal linecasters and VDTs operated by their member publications in the following years:
(Lindley, 1988, p.485)
In a survey by Shipley & Gentry conducted in nine American states in 1978, the question was posed as to whether sub-editing on a computer terminal was faster and/or more accurate than hard copy editing. (Shipley & Gentry, 1981). The study focused on the sub-editors of newspapers which had been operating on-screen editing for a period of at least two years. Although many of the differences uncovered by the survey were not statistically significant, there was a contention that on-screen editing was slower, but more accurate than hard copy editing.
Despite such a contention by this early study, William Lindley describes the attitude of sub-editors towards the introduction of the VDTs as a threat. "Skills learned over time are declared obsolete and the respect that comes from knowing a hundred ways through or around a problem is reconsidered". (Lindley, 1986). Lindley also noted that this first introduction of technology for sub-editors brought with it greater responsibility: "Copy editors constantly are reminded that they’re the editorial backstops, that no typesetter or proofreader is in the shop to catch editorial mistakes."
Despite this negative reaction, Lindley discovered a more positive mindset in a survey of sub-editors of American newspapers in 1987. In a questionnaire mailed to the chief copy editors of every U.S. newspaper with a circulation of more than 50,000 copies, Lindley sought to gauge the reactions of former hot-metal sub-editors to the new systems, having made the transition some time previously. In the main, the sub-editors were enthusiastic, acknowledging the system to be both cleaner and faster: "After about six years of VDTs, I don’t know anyone who would go back to hard copy." (Lindley, 1988). The same survey, while identifying additional control of copy as a welcome advantage, also detected the shortfalls brought about by the speed of the VDTs: "I like the total control; however, it is very hard for me to check the editing by my subordinates. It is too easy to tell someone to ‘set’ the copy instead of wait for me to check it over. I can read the leads on five stories on paper much faster than I can on five VDT stories. It’s just too easy to overlook good editing for speed in getting copy right."
It is not only the journalists who have access to the facility of direct input. Since the early 1980s, some companies have chosen to issue news releases electronically. This material initially enters the editing system of many newspapers in the same way as the direct input copy of the reporters. If reporters have been given more control and with it more responsibility in the input of copy, then does the same additional control, (without the responsibility), fall to external agencies submitting copy electronically?
A study conducted in 1984 and 1985 relating to the publication of material based on news releases from the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that "electronic news releases are edited less than hard copy news releases". (Neuwirth, Liebler et al, 1988). The study examined the treatment of over 300 electronic news releases and the subsequent publication of related stories in the Madison newspapers. The impact of the news releases was measured both in the timeliness of the copy and story length. 37% of the news releases issued were published by the newspapers in some form and 31% of those published were almost entirely rewritten in their final publication. The study also found that the reduction in substantive editing associated with electronic receipt was higher in stories of low news value.
Perhaps it is in the area of page makeup that the introduction of media technology has been most visible. This process which is referred to as ‘pagination’ in North America, allows an editor to operate a computer terminal from which he may select and edit copy, write headlines, select and size photographs and graphics, lay out and set a page and output the result as ‘camera-ready copy’, to be photographed and made into printing plates.
The adoption of pagination in the early 1980s in Canada and the United States was far slower than had been anticipated, mainly due to the industrial relations problems involved. However, from 1985 the larger newspapers began to replace the computerised systems which had been adopted for the first wave of new technology, direct input, in the 1970s. As these systems were replaced, some publishers chose to include full pagination facilities as part of the replacement editorial systems.
The impact of the introduction of pagination systems in Canada was examined in a study by Catherine McKercher in 1989. McKercher discovered that the job of sub-editor was to undergo substantial changes with the adoption of the systems. "The job of putting the type on the pages becomes the work of the editor. This requires editors to perform new functions - functions of a technical, non-traditional and production-oriented nature." (McKercher, 1).
Editors interviewed by McKercher welcomed the additional control it gave them, but many acknowledge that the quality of the traditional editing skills suffer as the editors concentrate on the design and layout elements of their work. Some editors who moved across to pagination systems regretted the time constraints which limited their opportunities for proper training. This lack of proper training for some editors may explain McKercher’s observation that "some editors now see part of their work as wrestling with an unfriendly machine; others see it as working with a sophisticated new tool".
Similar concerns were expressed by the authors of a survey of 187 journalists at 13 American newspapers in 1993. "Pagination is leading to a trade-off in newsrooms where, in the name of improved quality control and better appearance of newspapers, traditional editing activities are being displaced by production functions." (Underwood, Giffard et al, 1994). The survey confirmed that the workload of sub-editors had increased substantially, but that this additional workload would ease off as newsrooms became more adept at using the new technology.
In a study in 1988, John Russial sought to gauge the increased workload of sub-editors using the pagination system. In studying the work practices of sub-editors in 12 newspapers varying in circulation from 18,600 to 508,500, Russial discovered that 10 to 20 minutes was spent doing electronic makeup for each page. Although the average time of 15 minutes seems small, for a paper producing 50 pages per day, it amounts to more than a full shift for an editor. Russial pointed to this factor for the falloff in attention to traditional editing skills: "If it continues to take up those extra minutes and additional editors are not hired, quality will almost surely suffer". (Russial, 1994).
New Publishing Opportunities:
One of the great advantages of the growth of new technology has been the provision of new opportunities in the form of electronic publishing. The growth of the Internet in the past few years has provided a new and burgeoning market for an industry experiencing a shrinking and ageing customer base. The Internet may also provide ‘a second bite of the cherry’ in creating additional revenue for the same material which appeared in print. The area of electronic publishing, both on the Internet and by other means has created new problems for journalists. Lee Corner in an NUJ publication entitled ‘Superhighway Robbery’ outlines the danger: "Publishers see the Internet and other new media as a chance to ‘syndicate’ your work to individual readers, viewers and listeners. Most don’t really understand the new media much beyond that. So, apparently with the encouragement of the Periodical Publishers’ Association, they’re trying to grab everything from you for a one-time fee." (Corner, 1996, p. 3). The ease with which copyright can be ignored is demonstrated by the publication on the Internet of ‘The Great Secret’, a book about the late President Mitterand which was banned in France. Although the intention in this particular case was to get around the prohibition of the book, the local prosecutor acknowledged that there was a "pure and simple plagiary of intellectual property". (Cunningham & O’Marcaigh, 1996).
The impact of new media on the future of news is difficult to imagine. Howard Rhinegold underline its impact on access to the media: "A personal computer, plugged into a telephone, becomes a printing press, a broadcasting station, a town hall meeting: connecting a computer to a telephone creates a new medium, with unique properties and powers." (Rhinegold, 1995).
One of the greatest changes will be a merging of current media. Newspapers online will include video clips and sound files of today’s headlines. The use of hypertext links will offer further information for those who wish to take that option. The reader can then return to the original story, or follow a series of related links. This will require journalists to write stories in a non-linear fashion, allowing the reader to determine the level of information they want at any particular point.
Roger Fidler of Knight-Ridder Media takes this concept of non-linear news and sees it being accessed by people on a personal ‘tablet’, the size of a pocket diary. (Fulton, 1993). This multimedia device will offer personalised editions of the stories of the day and also send and receive your email using radio signals. Touching an image on the screen on such a device would play a video or sound file, which can be bookmarked to save or to forward to someone else in the same way as we might now cut a clipping from the newspaper.
The following case studies of four Dublin-based publications seek to present an indication of the ways in which the application (or not) of media technology has effected the working lives of Irish journalists. The four publications concerned were selected to generally reflect the varying extent to which the Irish media has adopted new technology.
The choice of The Irish Independent was because of its position as the largest selling newspaper in Ireland, one of the most profitable and as a publication which has done so having survived from the days of hot metal production.
ShelfLife magazine is a trade journal for the Irish retail trade and is almost exclusively funded by advertising. It is regarded by its readers as a ‘newspaper’ for their particular business. It is included here because of its primary commercial motivation to publish and because of its position within a publishing group which is responsible for a number of technology publications and might therefore be more open to the adoption of new technology. Publications such as ShelfLife have been identified by commentators as the greatest beneficiaries of electronic information resources. "The professional and trade press and professional conferences, especially, have emphasised electronic information technologies as resources which can open up new avenues for investigative and project reporting." (Hansen, Ward et al, 1994).
The Sunday Business Post was established at a time (1989) when much of today’s production technology was readily available. It is included here in an effort to examine the extent to which the newspaper adopted such technology and the extent to which the existing journalists have taken to that technology.
The fourth publication included here is The Title, Ireland’s first dedicated Sports newspaper and is also published each Sunday. Its first publication, on July 28th 1996, was during the writing of this project and so should represent as up-to-date a publication as is possible. As with The Sunday Business Post, The Title would have been expected to make full use of all existing technologies and have experienced the transfer by journalists who would have moved from other publications with older systems.
The Irish Independent is Ireland’s largest selling newspaper with a circulation of 160,000 out of the total Irish daily newspaper publication of 400,000 (Finlay, 1996, p20). As part of the Independent Group, the mid-market broadsheet is a member of "an aggressive empire of 47 newspapers across two continents" (Coleridge, 1993, p454), and so might be expected to be at the forefront of the application of international media technologies.
Independent Newspapers first introduced computerised technology in the form of the Systems Integrators Incorporated (SII) editorial system in 1988, but it was not until 1991 that agreement was reached on direct input by journalists. A system of ‘double keystroking’ operated in the intervening years, where the text was initially inputted into the editorial system by reporters, printed, edited and then input for production purposes by members of the print union.
The editorial system provides access to editorial and advertising staff via some 200 terminals. Editorial copy is passed on-screen via a series of electronic baskets as they are written by reporters, reviewed by the editors and then sub-edited. The sub-editors mark up the copy on-screen and it is then outputed by a print union overseer. The sub-editors have a facility to ‘soft-set’ the copy, where they can see a rough image of what the final copy will look like, including the shown headlines in the actual point size.
The editorial system includes access to a number of wire services including Reuters, PA, The London Times and The Daily Telegraph. The system also provides an internal messaging facility for all staff, which prompts the user on the arrival of new mail. It is not currently linked to any form of external email, but there are a small number of stand-alone PCs connected to the Internet.
The Irish Independent is printed on-site and do not have in-house colour printing facilities. Colour supplements are printed elsewhere and are then overprinted at the Abbey Street works. The editorial and production systems at Abbey Street are shared with two other Independent Group newspapers, the Evening Herald and the Sunday Independent.
The research facilities at the Irish Independent have not benefited greatly from new technology. Besides the online wire services mentioned above, the newspaper’s own clippings and picture library remain on hard copy and are searched using card index files.
Despite an ongoing industrial relations strain at the Independent, staff have welcomed the degree of technology which is now available to them. Philip Molloy has been surprised at the degree to which he has become comfortable with the editorial system: "I wouldn’t be a technical person in any sense and I’ve really been won over to this kind of thing." Philip compares the hassle of typewriters and carbon paper to the ease and speed of the computer system and couldn’t contemplate working without the facility. Claire Grady, who was also somewhat reticent about the introduction of the technology and found the prospect quite daunting, has been completely won over: "We were all very nervous of it, afraid we wouldn’t be able to cope, but within a week we wondered how we’d managed before then."
For sub-editors too, the system has meant real changes in the way they work. Daivd Quin feels that direct input has substantially streamlined the system and he finds it easier to sub copy on-screen than on paper: "It is terrific for quick changes." John O’Sullivan, an confessed techo-junkie, surprisingly doesn’t share David’s preference: "Believe it or not, subbing on paper is a joy compared to subbing on screen. I would much prefer to sub a thousand word piece on paper any day."
Regardless of their personal preference, everyone agrees that there are inherent dangers with the sub-editor’s new role. John O’Sullivan admits that there may be a growing problem when he says: "I think that it may have led to a certain increase in reliance on the editors". Philip Molloy admits that this is indeed the case and feels that some specialist writers may tend to pass the buck: "They actually believe that all they have to do is to get the basics of the story down on the screen and then it’s up to all those other people down there to clean it up." Claire Grady feels that direct input has placed the burden of responsibility firmly on the reporter: "If I write a story and there’s a typing error in a name, or a figure, chances are that unless it’s a very obvious one, that’s going to remain, because there is nobody whose job it is to key it back in again."
Seamus Dooley is far more specific in his concerns about the sub-editors’ new responsibilities: "They’re so involved in the technical end of it, that the actual function of accuracy and creativity becomes of secondary importance." David Quin agrees: "There is a tendancy to focus on what can be done technologically, rather than what should be done journalistically."
In addition to the extra technical tasks, the overall speed of the entire system seems to have developed a pace of its own: "I think that the technology is driving the process instead of the other way around. The stuff comes through and there’s an urgency to get it out now, because the lead times are so much shorter.", warns John O’Sullivan. Claire Grady regrets that the time saving aspects of the current system have been lost by the journalists: "When I started first, the deadlines in the morning were a little bit later than they are now. Its hard to believe that the technology which supposedly speeds things up, which has supposedly cut out an awful lot of middle jobs, has actually facilitated that."
If the way copy is handled has altered so much, has the technology affected the actual content to the same extent? Frank Shouldice admits that there may be a price to pay for the benefits of speed and revision: "I think because of that, it increases the speed and productivity, but sometimes it probably reduces the amount of thought you put into it." David Quin agrees that this can sometimes be the case: "Now because they can just mount up the words and the paragraphs, I think the copy can run to seed a bit and might be a bit more slapdash." John O’Sullivan thinks that the ease of revision is not being availed of in many instances: "Some people may go back and have another bite of the cherry, but others will psychologically switch off. The story is done. File it."
Not surprisingly, some journalists have used the Internet for research purposes. Although it is not readily available to reporters at the Independent, some have Internet accounts at home and use it for stories in the newspaper. John O’Sullivan, as editor of the computer page on Mondays, is currently trying to get Internet access for the newsroom and finds that some of the material he uses from the World Wide Web is passed on for use in other parts of the paper. Frank Shouldice has very limited experience of the Internet and has mixed feelings about the World Wide Web: "I was astounded by the amount of material that was in there. I was also quite surprised at how much of it was utterly useless." Despite the trouble in avoiding the unwanted material, Philip Molloy would welcome newsroom access to the Internet, but feels that its use would have to be tailored to fit in with the style of the Irish Independent.
Philip Molloy’s concern with the future use of the Internet reflects his concern about the current use of foreign news copy received electronically. "I think its a case of the tail wagging the dog here. I firmly believe that this wire service coverage, which should be seen as an adjunct to your main Irish coverage, should be processed with that in mind. I don’t think we do that enough here." Philip feels that whilst the wire services are essential, the Irish perspective on a story is missing and that if the newspaper cannot send their own reporter, a greater effort should be made to include that Irish perspective in some other way. The degree to which some of the wire services are reproduced verbatim is underlined by an incident recounted by John O’Sullivan where a protest march in O’Connell Street (yards from the Independent’s offices) formed part of a report which ended with "Ó The Daily Telegraph, London"
In a newspaper as large as the Independent, a means of communication between staff is important. The SII does have a messaging system which alerts the user when a new message has arrived at a terminal to which he/she is logged on. Clare Grady finds the system very useful. She uses it to leave messages for people on other shifts and to alert other reporters of a story which may be picked up by the Evening Herald. David Quin finds the internal messaging useful for sending something to a particular person, or groups of persons, but admits that it is used mainly for light-hearted banter. John O’Sullivan agrees: "but an awful lot of that is tittle tattle and nonsense. Actual real communications, you’re much more likely to stand up and walk down the corridor and do it face-to-face."
The provision of a new voice mail system in August 1996 has underlined another shortfall in the introduction of some aspects of the technology. Frank Shouldice tells of an incident where a message left on the voice mail system for a staff reporter remained unanswered. On enquiry, Frank discovered that the person concerned wasn’t aware of the voice mail facility on his own telephone. "It’s no use bringing in these sort of advancements if people don’t know how to use them." John O’Sullivan admits that such a situation is not unusual: "and that is typical of the introduction of new technology, not just in the Independent, but everywhere".
New technology is often heralded as providing more control to the journalist. So, does the fact that the text is already on-screen influence its chances of appearing in the final publication? John O’Sullivan thinks that although it gives an editor more control, that there is a greater likelihood of pieces surviving intact. "If a sub or an editor is tasting a story and looks at in on screen, it’s more complete and it has that credibility. It’s less likely to get rewritten, I think and I think the stories are the poorer for it." David Quin disagrees because "it is easier to make changes, so it would be surprising if copy wasn’t changed more".
The future of use of information technology is likely to bring further changes to the Irish Independent. Perhaps further developments will give reality to John O’Sullivan wish: "I’d like to see us having the full process from story generation to page makeup. Perhaps not pressing the final button, but just to be in control of the product journalistically." Philip Molloy would like to see the use of colour on a regular basis and a general improvement in technical quality: "I think the facility to use the technology to improve the quality is there, but I don’t think we use it enough."
Whilst the next stage should be a move towards full page makeup by journalists, Seamus Dooley thinks that there will be another interim stage where the journalists and printers will work together on production. One of his concerns for the future is the specific impact on employment in journalism: "With the emphasis on new technology, there is a danger that more and more vacancies in newspapers are going to be filled in the production area, with a consequent negative effect in the newsroom."
All of the journalists hope that there will be investment in the research facilities at the Independent and that future technology will be accompanied by full training opportunities. Over time, it is hoped that a proper relationship will be established with the wire services to enable the Independent’s own style to be reflected more in foreign coverage. Claire Grady sums up the feelings of everyone’s appreciation and scepticism of the new systems: "The technology is not the be-all and end-all of our job. The technology is a means to getting the information you have into the product, the newspaper."
ShelfLife was established in 1994 by the Computer Publications Group (CPG) as a trade journal for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) retailers. It has attempted to provide independent news and features in its editorial section, which occupies just over 50% of the magazine’s 40 tabloid-size pages. Recent ABC audited circulation figures identify ShelfLife as the biggest Irish publication in this sector, with a circulation of 11,500.
The editor and senior reporter are the only full-time editorial staff, with additional material is provided by some seven casual and contract freelance staff, who include the property and off-licence section editors.
In 1995, CPG started to design and layout ShelfLife in-house using freelance production journalists. In May 1996, CPG set up its own in-house design studio employing non-journalistic production staff who have a print and design background. The magazine is written and produced on a network of Macintoshes using Microsoft Word and Quark Express. Images for the magazine are scanned in for positioning purposes only, with the original material sent by courier to the printers. The final pages are sent to the printer as Quark Express files via an ISDN line, where high resolution prints of the illustrations are placed on bromides of the pages, giving the final camera-ready copy.
ShelfLife’s editorial team have experienced the impact of technology first-hand. Paul Golden has been surprised at the rate of change in such a short time: "When I started in the Democrat and this is only eight years ago, we were using typewriters." Colette O’Connor is also impressed at the rate of change and would put speed and accuracy as some of the greatest benefits. However, she adds: "I think that the flexibility of word processing is a huge advantage." Publisher John McDonald admits that there might a drawback in the ease to which revisions can be made: "The whole thing of rewriting has become a lot easier, so the effort doesn’t necessarily go in at stage one, so I think that’s a bad thing. But it’s the only bad thing." Paul Golden maintains that there is now an expected standard for material, based on the level of technology: "If a contributor sends me an article with spelling errors, I go mad because even the most functional PC now has a spellcheck."
Research facilities within ShelfLife and the other publications of CPG are limited to back issues of print journals and little-used access to the Internet. Colette O’Connor thinks that the Internet is too global a resource for such a specialised publication, but admits that she might be missing out on something. She does acknowledge that ShelfLife needs to upgrade its research facilitates: "I would love to have better access to information. For example, Stubbs online." Geraldine Daly isn’t impressed by the use of electronic resources and hasn’t been affected by them: "After all, it’s just a library on disk and I’d prefer to go to the library." Publisher John McDonald sees this changing in the future. He maintains that ShelfLife will take advantage of its position within a group of Computer-related titles to avail of, and contribute to, electronic publications: "As time progresses, it will play a major role. Online information is where it’s all going."
Paul Golden has no doubt about the most important facility of the Internet for him: "The merits of the Internet can be argued for and against, but I think email is tremendous. I think that it is the most exciting thing that’s happened in my time as a journalist." With so much of the copy coming from outside journalists, Colette O’Connor agrees with its importance. She feels the additional time it allows freelancers to work on a story is very significant and results in fresher news.
Copy received by email is cut and pasted on-screen into word documents where it is sub-edited. Colette O’Connor feels that she does treat this electronic copy differently to the copy she used to receive on paper: "I’d say I would be less inclined to tamper with them, unless there was some glaring error, but I do have the facility to change it." Paul Golden, who is also editor of another publication within the CPG group, has another view: "I would think that in the days of hard copy and because of time constraints, that editors were more likely to let things slip." Geraldine Daly, who sub-edits some sections of the magazine, is insistent that the technology does not influence her: "It would still be edited. It will always be what I wanted it to be."
The greatest impact of technology for ShelfLife has been the move to in-house production, or the extent to which that has been achieved, which is without the final scanning or film processing. John McDonald gave his motivation for doing so in order to save the cost of time and to avoid the hassle of the additional logistics of dealing with an outside agency. He admits however, that the technology has brought other rewards: "We have more consistency and we have more control by having it in-house. But it’s definitely been facilitated by technology."
Paul Golden is clear about his views on the move: "I would say that the biggest advantage of having something in-house is accessibility." This accessibility has been utilised for most editions of the magazine where last minute changes are added with very little inconvenience. John McDonald feels that some of the editorial staff like the new system because "they can take advantage of the fact that they know which page the guy is working on and which one he’s going to do last".
Despite working with some very high technology companies, John McDonald maintains that the mindset of many people has still a long way to go in order to make proper use of the available technology: "It’s like we’re pushing a boulder uphill in the environment in this country. Even IBM’s advertising copy doesn’t come in by ISDN, nor do any pictures we ask them to supply!"
Overall, the technology has been important to ShelfLife, not only in relation to the editorial production, but to all aspects of publishing a trade journal. John McDonald is quite certain about that: "We certainly couldn’t have produced a magazine and managed the database and distribution side of it without the technology that’s been available for the last ten years. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have done the job we’re doing now. It simply would not have been possible."
The Sunday Business Post was set up in 1989 as an independent publication aimed at a business and current affairs readership. It currently enjoys a circulation of 33,000 and has 15% of the quality Sunday newspaper market. (Finlay, 1996).
Until the recent publication of The Title in July 1996, The Sunday Business Post was the only Irish national newspaper produced entirely on a network of standard PCs or Macs. The rate of evolution of computing technology over the last seven years is apparent by the use of some 8086 machines by the news reporters at the newspaper. Although regarded as suitable in 1989, such machines are often no longer viable for repair and are now being replaced on a piecemeal basis.
Reporting staff use a tailored word processing package, called Sprint, which is accessed on the network. The package is DOS-based and has a spellcheck and thesaurus facility. As journalists complete a story, it is passed on via a series of electronic baskets to be checked, subbed and laid out in the same office. As it is okayed through each stage, the story tag line changes colour to indicate that it is cleared.
Sub-editing and page make-up are both done on-screen using a tailored version of 3B2, a British DTP system which is specifically designed for newspaper production. However, there is still a small element of manual paste-up and the size of the operation makes this possible. Photographs are scanned in-house and Photoshop is used to do any touching up necessary. Other photographs are downloaded via modem from a London-based picture library when necessary. Most graphics are also handled in-house using the PC-based package Corel Draw.
Fergus Manifold feels that the size of the operation is one of its greatest advantages. It makes all aspects of the newspaper small and accessible and allows most elements of the system to be ‘off-the-shelf’ items. He does admit that because the system has been organic, rather than pre-planned, there has been less opportunity to shape the system as he would have wished. Although many of the journalists who joined the newspaper from other publications in 1989 were apprehensive about new systems, he feels that journalists are now comfortable with the technology and can handle most basic editing functions. It is only when things go wrong that Fergus feels journalists can become easily confused using off-the-shelf products. If the Sunday Business Post was using a large-scale dedicated editorial system, there would be less opportunities for the unexpected and fewer moments of panic when an unknown function appears on-screen.
Maurice Sweeney acknowledges that the ease of revising electronic text may have had an impact on the planning of a story: "In the old days, when you sat down at a manual typewriter, you certainly had to think a lot beforehand. I know good journalists on their way back to the office would have the story written in their head and they sit down and they bang it out." The remaining editorial staff at the newspaper feel that the writing has not been affected by the use of the new technology. Mark O’Connell admits that being able to revise the text so easily meant that journalists "probably had a bit more discipline in the old style", but Carissa Casey feels that the potential for this is "not as significant as people make out it is".
Not all copy for the Sunday Business Post is written electronically. Nick Mulcahy admits that the newspaper hasn’t been forthright enough in having everyone keep pace. "It’s only in the last two or three years that the printed text has become no longer acceptable, although in our own paper, two of the three columnists not only fax in copy, but fax in handwritten copy. The fact they’re doing it is our fault, that we haven’t laid down the law."
On a more practical aspect, Mark O’Connell doesn’t think that reporters should make use of the electronic facilities just because they’re available: "I think spellcheks are really bad for your spelling because you don’t correct your spelling yourself." Maurice Sweeney holds the same reservations for sub-editing: " I never allowed sub-editors in the Sunday Business Post to use spellcheck because it makes them lazy and stops them looking at the copy. You cannot substitute technology for quality control."
Many of the journalists also feel that sub-editing practices under the electronic system are no different to those on hard copy, except that the copy is cleaner. But Fergus Manifold points out that this in itself can be a difficulty: "The problem with electronic copy is that the errors may not be as obvious, the factual errors, because it looks clean." He also regrets the loss of the old sub-editing language which helped sub-editors to have a real understanding for many procedures which are now handled automatically.
Research resources include the online services of FT Profile and Bloomberg and three terminals have Internet access within the office. News Editor Nick Mulcahy isn’t impressed with the availability of electronic resources in this area: "The information databases in Ireland are very poor. There’s virtually none, apart from company information." Maurice Sweeney feels that a danger of the use of online resources is the ease with which material can be cut and paste into a story. "On the writing side, there’s a danger of cut and paste; of relying on the amount of information that is available there, - and it is absolutely immense - but stopping journalists lifting the phone and doing some original research." Fergus Manifold is familiar with the worst manifestation of the problem: "You see it sub-editing where you’re reading somebody’s style and suddenly you end up in the mid-Atlantic, or in New York and you come out of that again and you’re back in Ireland."
Carissa Casey uses the Internet primarily for background research and believes that it is currently under-valued: "I think that the Internet has been one of the most significant developments. I would rate it as significant as the launch of the PC and I think it’s hugely significant in terms of journalism." She finds that the search facilities of the Internet are far more advanced than those offered by the FT Profile online service. As an opportunity for publishing, Carissa sees great potential in the Internet: "I think that in about five or ten years time, most journalists will be writing stuff that will be appearing on the Internet. I think that this will have a huge impact on how you write and the way you write." Carissa feels that future journalism will have to allow for the use of hypertext links and journalists will have to move towards a form of non-linear writing to use this facility to it’s full potential.
In terms of communication, access to email is rated very highly by Maurice Sweeney: "Email, I think, is a fantastic research and communications tool for a working journalist." Carissa is cautious about her use of email: "In terms of contacts, people are very wary about the security of email. People will say things to you over the phone that there is no way that they’re going to type into their computer - particularly for people working at companies." Nick Mulcahy admits that the newspaper may not be using email to it’s best advantage: "We log into our server to check our email only once or twice a week." If a significant amount of material does arrive via email in the future, Nick is adamant that it will be subbed and rewritten in the same way as the hard copy is today. Mark O’Connell sees the danger of text received electronically as having a credibility for being already on-screen, but doesn’t think it is a real difficulty: "I think you’re just as apprehensive about something on screen as you would be in the printed form."
Mark O’Connell has recently set up a computer at home, from which he sends copy to the newspaper via modem. Mark has found that he is more productive working from home and is surprised that it is not encouraged more by newspaper management. "I have to say that it has definitely changed the nature of my work and it has improved the quality of my life."
Maurice Sweeney describes the Sunday Business Post as "the first paper to break away from the mould" and that other newspapers who had introduced technology had retained the old structures and divisions. He feels that the small size of the newspaper helped to keep the journalists closer to the final product and gave them much more control. He does admit that because of the way some newspaper management have introduced new technology, many journalists have developed a strong suspicion for it and regrets that "I don’t think journalists have availed of the new technology as much as they should have."
The Title is a dedicated sports newspaper, published each Sunday and first appeared on July 28th, 1996. It is the first such Irish newspaper to specialise in all sports and does contain three pages of news from a total of 36 broadsheet pages. Circulation figures of the first issues have been in excess of 60,000 copies and it is hoped that the figure will level off at almost 50,000.
The new Sunday newspaper has been well financed and has made every opportunity to avail of new technology. Editorial and production staff share a network of twenty Macintoshes, using Microsoft Word to input the copy and Quark Express for full on-screen layout and design, which is then transmitted electronically to a newspaper printers some fifty miles away. Additional graphic design and photographic work is done using the software packages Illustrator, Freehand and Photoshop.
The system is linked to the outside world via five pairs of ISDN lines, which are used to their maximum capacity each Saturday night. The Title is unusual among Irish Sunday newspapers in that it is not available for sale in Dublin on a Saturday night. This is because at 9pm, it is only being transmitted to the printers. In this way, staff at The Title hope to have the edge on delivering up-to-date sports coverage of Saturday events, which is sport’s busiest day of the week.
The newspaper is produced in two halves, with copy for the first half due by Thursday afternoon for transmission to the printers on Friday at 4pm. Material for the second half of the newspaper is due by Saturday morning, with match reports and scorelines arriving right up to its transmission to the printers from 8pm to 9pm.
With such a specialised topic, content in the newspaper has to be of high quality and up-to-date. The Press Association (PA) Newsnet feed arrives via satellite to the network, where material from USA Today and a number of other foreign news sources provide online access to the editorial team. A number of picture libraries are also available online, including Graphic News and the PA’s own online picture service which is accessed via ISDN line by the journlists.
Some freelance material arrives from Belfast and Cork via modem directly into the system, but some also arrives to the office typewritten by fax and post. Because of the time factors involved in sports coverage and in an effort to include match reports of Saturday’s games, some copy is taken over the telephone by copytakers and typed into the system.
Whilst The Title itself may be new, it is staffed by a team of experienced journalists who have worked in the Irish and foreign media for some years. They have arrived to work for a newspaper which in some ways, is radically different, according to Cathal Dervan: "We have a system which has changed the way newspapers in this country work and I think that we will be seen in many years to come as the flag bearer for technology in this country." As groundbreaking as Cathal Dervan believes The Title to be, Ashley Balbernie emphasises that it is the way in which the technology is being used which is innovative, rather than any particular aspect of the production process itslef: "We’re not doing anything here that’s particularly new or different."
Chris Dooley had been using typewriters in the Irish Press up to a few years ago and although he had to be cajoled into using a computer for word processing, he took to it very quickly: "I’d say that within a fortnight or a month of using a computer, there’s no way people would look at a typewriter." He does admit however, that he doesn’t make use of the extra facilities to any great extent: "I mean I have ‘t got past the stage of using a computer as a glorified typewriter."
Declan Moroney points to the absence of demarcation within the newspaper as one of the most important differences at The Title: "The only physical demarcation here is that the reporters are in one room and the production unit is in another. It’s worth noting that the editor and the managing editor are with the production crew." He says that the clear divide which once existed between the gatherers and the processors of the news is now gone. Even in Irish newspapers where the technology had been adopted, some of the old structures remained in place. "The Title came along, which blew apart the whole idea that it had to be done that way. It hadn’t." However, Declan feels that the gatherers of the news have had the least transformation: "It’s the processors who have changed. The role of compositing and subbing has merged into one effectively now. The newspapers who haven’t reached that yet will have no choice but to go that way."
But the new system has effected the writing journalists as well. Chris Dooley welcomes the control that the technology gives the journalist, which wasn’t available under the old methods: "If there was a complaint, or people were unhappy, you never knew who subbed your story. You wrote the story and it was gone. You had no control over how it was going to appear the next day." However, the price of that control has meant increased responsibility for the journalist. Without the new technology, Cathal Dervan points out that there were other people to share that responsibility: "There were so many channels that a story had to go through, that if there was a mistake in it, the likelihood was, that by the end of that cycle, somebody would have spotted the mistake."
On a practical basis, there may be a danger that some of the responsibilities fall between the newly defined roles and that accuracy may suffer. Declan Moroney is clear as to where the responsibilty lies: "The message we make clear in The Title is that the reporter is responsible for accuracy, not the sub; because the sub’s concentration is on the page, not the elements of the page." Declan goes on to admit that things like spelling may not be looked after systematically by reporters: "For a reporter to take the time to spellcheck and add words to the dictionary, is unheard of. They don’t do it." Aidan Fitzmaurice admits to this shortfall: "Three-quarters of the time I don’t use a spellcheck. I just scan over it with my eye and I hope that the subs will pick it up." Aidan insists that he still checks the spelling of names and unusual words and that the errors to which he refers are everyday words, that may be typing errors.
While Cathal Dervan believes that the technology is important, it is only one side of the formula: "The old traditional values won’t go away. Technology won’t produce great stories. Technology is only as good as the people using it." He feels that as editor it is important that "you work together and you marry the traditional values and the new technology and you make the two of them work for the paper."
If The Title is to maintain its lead in it’s use of new technology, it will have to be prepared to continue to adopt new systems as they become available. Management at the paper feels that because the publication has started at such a high level of technology, that it should not be too difficult to upgrade the systems as time goes by. To achieve this, the industrial relations difficulties experienced by other newspapers must be avoided. Ashley Balbernie feels that the favourable attitude of staff towards the use of the current systems will go a long way to help, "and obviously, the suitable training. Because again, it is a key word in the whole thing. Far too often you get people shoved down in front of screens and told to get on with it. That is a recipe for disaster and I hope that it is something that we will not just pay lip service to within Title Media."
The interviewees at the four Dublin publications in the preceding case are not all in agreement as to how new technology has influenced their work, or even that it has done so at all. Whether this divergence of opinion is due to the work methods of a particular newspaper, or the personal experiences of the journalists concerned is unclear. What is apparent is that definitive changes have taken place in Irish journalism and that these changes have, at the very least, been facilitated by the use of technology.
These changes have brought many benefits to the newspaper industry. In the main, these benefits have been financial in cost-saving to the newspapers themselves. Because this primary motivation was based on job losses and increased workloads, many journalists have been suspicious of all aspects of the technology and may be open to accusations of having thrown out the baby with the bath water.
Despite resistance by some journalists, technology is being given increasing importance in the industry and that is going to continue to have an impact on jobs. Seamus Dooley feels that this will result in a shift in recruitment in the industry: "With the emphasis on new technology, there is a danger that more and more vacancies in newspapers are going to be filled in the production area, with a consequent negative effect in the newsroom." Cathal Dervan feels that time is running out for those remaining in the industry who cannot deal with the technology: "In Dublin in the next five to ten years, there is going to be heavy redundancy amongst newspaper people and that’s something that the industry has to face up to."
For those who do make the successful transition to the new systems, they must be careful that they note John O’Sullivan’s hope that the newspapers of tomorrow have "the whole journalistic process being controlled by journalists and the technology serving the journalists, rather than the other way around". At the moment, John feels that this in not the case: "I think that the pressure on individual journalists has increased. They’re being pulled along by the productivity demands of the technology."
An example of this technological determinism is Martin Bell’s description of an occasion when he was reporting live on television from a war zone and the United Nations had just issued a statement about the conflict. The television station felt that Martin should deliver the statement from his position, because the technology allowed him to do so. Martin went live and repeated, word-for-word, the United Nations statement which was fed to him as it was announced in another part of the world. Martin Bell’s comment summed up the ridiculous nature of that situation, when he complained: "That’s not journalism. That’s not even show business. That’s puppetry!" (Bell, 1995).
The other factor that needs to be dealt with for the future is the careful re-allocation of responsibilities to avoid elements of the process falling between two stools. Journalists will have to accept that they are now a the major element in the struggle to meet deadlines. "With the power that the computer has brought to journalists has come responsibilities that were previously shrugged off on to others. Now there is no one to blame for delays, there are no departments to insulate the journalist from the consequences of missed deadlines." (Williams, 1990, p.1).
One of the consistent remarks by the those interviewed was a regret that the traditional subbing skills were being allowed to disappear. David Quin expressed it at its mildest when he admitted that "the traditional sub-editing job is diluted somewhat by the concentration on purely technical matters". Seamus Dooley believes that the concentration on acquiring the technical know-how has allowed some sub-editors to take one step too far from the editorial process: "We have people moving in now onto the sub-editors’ desk who have never been journalists and I think that’s a mistake. A good sub needs a good overall knowledge."
The Irish newspaper industry has not finished its technological transformation. It is unclear how long it will take for the available technology to become a standard feature of Irish newspapers. It is likely however, that the pace of technological advances will continue to maintain a lead on their application within the industry. The Report of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry acknowledges the uncertainty of that future:
"The speed of technological advances in both the publishing and printing trades in recent years has been very great indeed. Those involved in the industry are agreed that they are in no sense at a standstill and that in the reasonably near future, further significant advances are likely to develop. The nature and direction of such future advances is insufficiently precise to make speculation concerning them of value." (Finlay, 1996).
Whether Maurice Sweeney was right when he said: "I believe profoundly that new technology makes good journalists better and bad journalists worse", or whether the future may prove him wrong, the sentiments of the editor of Ireland’s newest newspaper Cathal Dervan really hit the nail on the head: "At the end of the day, it’s all about the quality of the product that appears on the street and no computer is bigger than that product, no journalist is bigger than that product, no photographer is bigger than that product and really no story is bigger than that product."
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(Photographs are by Martin Molony, unless otherwise indicated.)
Formerly with the Smurfit Group for 16 years, he has been involved in publishing in the UK and the United States, where he ran The Irish Voice newspaper.
Having studied engineering at Trinity College, Carissa started writing for an engineering magazine, then an electronics publication and two computer magazines abroad. She returned to Ireland to join the Sunday Business Post in 1995.
Photo courtesy Sunday Business Post.
When she left college in 1994, Geraldine worked for Checkout magazine, The Sunday Tribune and The Sun newspaper. After a period of freelance work, she joined ShelfLife full-time in 1995.
Editor, The Title.
Cathal wanted to be a journalist since he was a child. His career started with the Meath Chronicle at the age of 16. Since then, he has worked in journalistic and editorial positions in Ireland and the UK, mainly in the area of Sports. He left the Sunday World as Sports Editor to establish The Title in January 1996.
Chris finished a journalism course in Rathmines in 1982, and worked for the Irish Press as news reporter and agriculture corresspondent until it’s closure in 1995.
Seamus joined the Midland Tribune having completed a journalism course in Rathmines. After 7 years at the Tribune, he became editor of the Roscommon Champion, where he was for 3 years. Seamus joined the Independent as a Sub-editor 7 years ago.
Aidan has just completed a Masters in Journalism at Dublin City University, having studied Russian and History at Trinity College. He has been writing about soccer on a freelance basis since he left school and joined The Title in July 1996.
Paul started journalism with a Summer job in the Donegal Democrat. He later freelanced, mainly in sports writing, for a number of Dublin publications. He is also the editor of Communications Today.
Fergus started freelance journalism in 1986. After studying journalism at Dublin City University, he worked mainly in editing with some design and picture editing experience.
John describes his position as having ‘been born into it’ because he joined the family publishing company after working abroad in the computer industry for some time.He was promoting the concept of ShelfLife in 1995 and in his own words ‘got landed with it’.
Philip worked for the Wexford People Group, where he ran the New Ross standard for a little over a year. He worked for the Irish Press for 11 years, the last 3 of which was as News Editor. He joined the Independent as News Editor 6 years.
Declan served his trade apprenticeship as a typesetter in a Robert Maxwell company in the early 1980s. He moved to desktop publishing in 1987 and later took a career break to study journalism at Dublin City University. He has since worked in newspaper design for local and national papers.
Nick studied law, after which he joined his father in the publishing business. He joined the Tribune on leaving College and then moved to Phoenix magazine for a time before joining the Sunday Business Post as News Editor.
Mark studied economics and politics at Trinity College, during which time he wrote for College publications. He studied journalism at Dublin City University before joining the Irish Press for two years prior to his move to the Sunday Business in 1990.
Colette worked for the Duffy Retail Group as a bookkeeper, after which she joined the retailers organisation, RGDATA. Colette gradually moved into writing, and was headhunted by Checkout magazine, where she was editor for 5 years. She left to start ShelfLife in 1995.
Assistant Features Editor,
John joined the Independent from the journalism course at Dublin City University as a junior sub-editor. He had previously freelanced in general news. He is currently the Editor of the weekly computer section of the Irish Independent.
Assistant Chief Sub-Editor,
David joined Hibernia magazine in his late 20s. After 2 years he moved to the Sunday Tribune as a reporter and feature writer. David then moved to sub-editing at the Tribune, where he became Assistant Chief sub-editor before moving to the Independent, where he has been for ten years.
Frank did a communications course in Dublin City University, after which he started freelancing in 1984. Frank also wrote during his time in Australia and New York, where he worked for the Irish Voice.
Former Design Editor,
Maurice worked in Hibernia as assistant literary editor for 2 years. He joined the Irish Press as a financial reporter, became a sub-editor and later features editor. He has since concentrated on design and production and now runs a multimedia graphic design company.
This document was last updated on Friday, 30th August, 1996.
Copyright Martin G Molony.