Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First post


I've been meaning to start a proper blog for some time now.

My first attempt, robohack.journals.ie, is lying in a state of disrepair and neglect and I can't figure out how to pull the damn thing down. I began that blog in 2006 after John Breslin, boards.ie founder and lecturer, gave a talk to my postgraduate journalism course in NUI Galway on the merits of blogging.

Enthused by John's passion for blogging I set one up myself and started putting up a few articles I'd written for college assignments. Once I started working full time for the Irish edition of the Sunday Times I found I didn't have time to blog.

Almost three years on, and hopefully more time efficient, I'll have another go.

I usually read about four or five blogs regularly and have just discovered Michael O'Toole's impressive new blog on the life of an Irish crime reporter.

Michael's post on death knocks reminded me of my first such assignment down in Monageer in 2007 and the inspiration for this blog's name. Thankfully my line of journalism, which mainly covers legal disputes, doesn't involve too many such knocks on doors in times of tragedy.

In 2007 though, I and hacks from every other paper in the country descended on Monageer after Aidan Dunne apparently killed himself after first killing his wife and two small children. The first person I spoke to in the tiny village was Fr Bill Cosgrave, the priest who raised the alarm when his calls to the family home went unanswered.

After waiting for the rest of the congregation to leave after morning mass I approached Fr Cosgrave. It was three days after the bodies were discovered and the priest was now very familiar with journalists.

"I guess you would be a newspaper man?" he asked.

I had to think about it for a second. I'd been in the job a year but had never been called a "newspaper man" before.

After interviewing the priest over breakfast and getting directions for Poulpeasty, where Aidan Dunne's family lived, I headed for the dreaded death knock. Pulling up outside the Dunne family's remote house I could see the yard was filled with cars and there were lots of people moving about inside. Trying to decide whether to go in, I could only wonder why I was doing the kind of job that requires you intrude in a family's grief at a time like this.

Eventually though I went in and said hello. It turned out the family were very keen to chat and to defend Aidan Dunne's reputation which was already in shreds. In fairness they probably spoke to every paper in the country that week so in that respect it was an "easy" first death knock.

Anyway, about the blog. I hope to maybe give a flavour of what it's like working for a Sunday newspaper in Ireland. Despite the stress of deadlines and the long hours I love working as a journalist. I'll be honest and say if this blog attracts a bit of attention from people who want to tip me off to a story then that would be great too. There's always another deadline coming round the corner.

There are actually quite a few hacks blogging in Ireland now. The first one I came across was Adam Maguire's. Since then the Irish Times have got in to it in a big way.

Looking at some of their blogs it reminds me of the second reason I've been putting off starting a blog. I think journalists have to be very careful about being too opinionated in their blogging especially if it can lead to accusations over the balance or fairness of their reportage.

I don't think Deaglan DeBreadun is particularly opinionated in these pieces (by the way Joanna Tuffy, the Labour TD, is obviously a big fan) but voicing views in a public forum, especially on a divisive topic, leaves a journalist open to accusations of being pro one side or the other. It's a tightrope reporters must walk if they want to blog with some conviction and flavour while not harming their stance as an unbiased journalist.

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