Whatever else you can say about where we are as a country at the moment we are certainly living in interesting times. Nowhere is the tsunami of social change reflected more clearly in the result of the referendum to lower the waiting period for divorce from 4 years to 2 years. As I write exit polls suggest that in the region of 87% voted for yes for this change. In 1986 we voted against divorce and in 1996 the vote was passed by the slimmest of margins. Oh yes, times they are still a changin’.
But what is more interesting is the ‘Green Surge’ that has been delivered in both the European and Local elections. I am no expert and no political scientist and I still am not fully sure of how PR works, but I tweeted a week before polling day that from people I was talking to there seemed to be a ‘greening’ happening. And today listening to the radio as we wait for the first results to come there seems to be a fair amount of surprise among the commentators and journalists at this turn of events.
This is worrying. And it should also be something we are concerned about. We have great journalists, great commentators and I think we are still a nation capable of critical thinking. However our media, is an industry in big trouble. We saw stark evidence of this this week with the news that the Times Ireland will no longer publish an actual paper here. A lot of great journalists lost their jobs. The problem of course is funding and it is affecting our news media – both print and broadcast as they rely more and more on advertising for revenue as we insist that we should get our news for free.
The bottom line I think is that we need to go back to buying newspapers. I honestly believe that chasing subscriptions is problematic for all kinds of reasons. But mainly because our attention span when reading on devices is less than when we are engaged in reading the printed word. Studies have also shown that we read faster on screens and so not as carefully as we read the printed word.
Living in an urban area means that I can avail of the luxury of having a newspaper delivered to my door every day. Therefore, I can have my breakfast while reading the news the old-fashioned way. This means that I am presented with the full newspaper – all opinions and stories, not just those that have been curated for me based on my likes and interests by Big Brother – be he Facebook or some other medium.
When the e-reader came on the scene, we all were told that books were dead. Libraries and bookstores would vanish. They didn’t. E-readers have their place and are very useful for travelling but people still like to read books. Because reading is a much more than just words on a screen or a page. It is about time and space, the touch of paper and the smell of print.
Online reading becomes very cluttered very quickly. You either read when you find or you bookmark for later and the article or column becomes part of a huge online slush pile which will probably never get to. There is only so much you can read online. However a newspaper, particularly a chunky weekend one will lie around for a couple of days as you delve into its various parts every time you sit down with a cuppa.
Some great journalist lost their jobs this week because we think that our news should be freely available. In order to keep their finger on the pulses of a nation, journalists need to be out in the world. They need time and resources to do their jobs. And we need far more journalists than are currently employed in Ireland at the moment.
But journalists don’t just bring news. They hold the government and the powerful to account. They investigate stories that need time and energy to uncover. They are essential for a functioning democracy.
So, if you care, really care about politics, about our democracy and how we live; if you want to make this country a better place, we need a free, independent media funded by OUR money. So please, buy a newspaper. Not just today, but every day.