Friday, May 28, 2010

An Phoblacht - The future looks bright

As we all know An Phoblacht is moving to a new format and the web is going to become an increasing focus for putting forward the republican argument for change in Ireland.

Below is a piece from this week's An Phoblacht on what is hoped to be the future shape of An Phoblacht. Here's hoping that we deliver on the great potential of the web for encouraging debate and analysis within the republican movement.



Why do we need journalism, what is it for and what does it actually do?’ are not questions you might expect a newspaper to ask, but in truth these issues are on the minds of media news rooms across the world whether its print or broadcasting, daily, weekly or even on the web.

Journalism is changing, its audience is fundamentally different from five or ten years ago and the method of creating a simple weekly paper like An Phoblacht has been transformed by the impact of digital technology. From the writing of this article, to how it was researched and sent for editing, how it delivered to printer and how the finished paper is published, has all come on in leaps and bounds.

First on the web
All of this happens in a digital format. An Phoblacht was one of the first news publications in Ireland to move its layout and design functions onto computer using Apple Macs and a computer programme called QuarkExpress in 1989 which became the standard across newspaper publishing. In 1994 the paper began to put its content on line, again one of the first in Ireland to do so.

Today more and more of the audience has migrated from traditional to new media platforms whether it is a laptop, PC or the iPhone.

When An Phoblacht began using computers to create layout, Sky News and CNN were in their infancy. Now people don’t even have to wait to see the news on the hour, they can access and download bulletins whenever they please. Google news is the sharp end of the process of change. Its stories and headlines are generated entirely by computer, siphoning content from news sites around the world, and it’s not uncommon to find An Phoblacht articles on its pages.

Citizen journalism

It is this metamorphosis that is driving An Phoblacht’s decision to move from being a weekly paper to a monthly with a fresh daily updated internet presence. As we go through the summer the paper will launch a new look website, which will have more interactive features for readers, such as photo galleries of republican events, where before the paper would only carry one or two photographs with an article, and critically there will be space for readers’ comments.

There will also be more video slots enabling readers see and hear critical news events and happenings, and like the readers comments, there is potential for reader content to be included here also.

Citizen journalism is one of the critical features of new digital journalism, where your audience also becomes the broadcaster, writer, interviewer and commentator. This interactivity is crucial and we will be able to have a Phoblacht that is the sum of a greater number of parts.

It was citizen journalism that highlighted through mobile phone pictures and shaky videos uploaded onto You-tube the social devastation created by US government ineptitude after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In the aftermath of the disputed elections in Iran last year, it was citizen journalism accounts online in pictures and words that gave an alternative view of what was happening on the streets and in homes across Iran. In Ireland the political activists protesting against Shell have used the internet as a tool against the establishment view of the protests as did the M3 protestors.

Centuries of change

This process of change is nothing new. In the 19th century, developments in printing technologies, allowing greater quantities of newspapers to be printed in shorter time periods led to the first mass produced papers. Add in the technology of the telegraph providing daily news updates across huge geographical distances and distributed by an emerging rail network meant that in Britain it created a market where people waking up in Glasgow, Manchester or London could read the same morning newspaper.

The new publications moved from being driven by political commentary to the news event reporting that is still the bedrock of news media today.

However today, the morning newspaper reader is disappearing and young adults increasingly don’t buy or read newspapers. They still want to access news, but want it on demand and not hours or days old.

Older readers often want more in-depth news, more commentary and insightful analysis. Expanded internet content from An Phoblacht could support both these audiences.
The most recent Irish newspaper circulation and readership figures highlight aptly the challenges facing the modern newspaper. All the main Irish papers sold less copies in the last six months of 2009. But they all had more readers with significant jumps in some cases.
In Britain the Guardian was selling just over 284,000 copies on average daily in February, compared to an average daily sale of 340,000 a year earlier. Online the Guardian had 1.87 million daily unique visits to its website. The Mail online had the highest daily traffic with 2.27 million daily browsers.

Online news matters

The print news media sector is in a state of chasis, with some outlets closing and some changing beyond all recognition. In Dublin we have a free sheet paper the Metro, now produced by Associated Newspaper and Independent News and Media. Previously the two companies had competing free-sheets, fighting for circulation running up multi million euro debts for the companies involved.

In the United States some newspaper groups have gone into bankruptcy such as the Tribune chain which printed the LA Times, Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune. There are growing new news media outlets such the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast and Politico websites whose commentary and reporting can influence the national politics of the USA.

Politico journalist Mike Allen’s daily email news round up Playbook, was recently described by the New York Times as making him one of the “most powerful” and most “important” journalists in the USA, yet his articles appear only online.

There is also another aspect of the news media on the web, which is a positive force and needs to be harnessed. It is its ability to link up communities at the smallest of local levels. The internet has played an active role in creating virtual communities, increasing political participation and social interaction after decades of individualism have left many of us living behind locked doors, hooked up to the TV set.

Micro newspapers are one example of this localism. In Monaghan what began as the Carrick Gazette, a subscription driven online paper has morphed into the Monaghan Gazette selling local news as it happens. In the coming years expect a lot more of this type of paper.

Right to information

We need a news media service that reaches all of the people who support and embrace the republican vision. So we need a paper that reaches not just onto the coffee table but into your PC and your mobile phone. An enhanced An Phoblacht can in the coming months and years be that multimedia news source.
Finally there is another critical issue underpinning the development of an expanded web presence for An Phoblacht. It is that citizens, as readers and viewers, have a right to information and knowledge, they also have a right to a diversity of opinion and comment.

We didn’t need media oligopolies and cartels in printed papers, radio and television. We still don’t. The commercial media did not and do not present a picture of the whole world as it really is. A radical republican news outlet is one small stand against the prevailing orthodoxy.
Republicans didn’t give up the printed word to Murdoch, O’Reilly and the mainstream media and we won’t be surrendering the internet to either them or the Googles and Microsofts either.


  1. There is clearly massive potential for an online interactive forum for an phoblacht, but only if the forum is really an interactive one. It must be moderated properly and be a constructive avenue for debate.

    There are plenty of people out there who are more interested in attacking Sinn Féin than in building an alternative and these people will attempt to derail any sort of Sinn Féin forum. Such attempts have been made regularly on this site and that is why all comments are moderated.

    In addition there will be some in the party who will worry that too much open discussion will leave us open to attack. These people must also be resisted by An Phoblacht.

    The future for republicanism can only be with further developing the party as a grass roots organisation where party members' views are heard, respected and acted on.

    An Phoblacht on line has the opportunity to create a place where memebers/supporters can meet whenever they like to discuss issues, ask questions etc. This means those in positions in the party will be more accountable and will also have the opportuntiy to interact with party members and supporters in a way they never could before.

    The potential offered by the changes coming up are great, but only if the party is brave enough to grasp it.

  2. thats a good assessment of the potential of the new site.

    If An Phoblacht is to expand on its role as a republican alternative to the main stream media online then it will need to have reasonably open comment, with sensible restrictions.

    But if there is no reasonably open comments allowed on the site then the widest possible community of users wont be built up and it wont realise its potential to broadcast to the Republican community and further afield.

    Back a few years ago when Howard Dean was starting his political campaign on the web they decided to have his blog as open as possible. It thrived from that call. Other imitators tried the same but without the more open comment policy and they didnt work.

    The internet is most powerful when building a community around something. That requires interaction to be realised.

    Goes live at the end of the month is it?

  3. If one looks at the BNP site and the importance that it plays in their communication mix, most visited political site in Britain, it shows how the republican movement has like the other parties been years behind in using the immense power of the net to promote its agenda.

    I know that there will be the usual tripe about them being Fascist, but to go off on that tangent is to complete miss the point.