Exploring the Irish Media and Professions

Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA has developed a Spring 2010 semester course Exploring the Irish Media and Professions. 21 School of Communication graduate and undergraduate students and 4 faculty are involved in the six on-campus preparation classes and the two weeks of study and travel in Ireland in May.

Each student will be blogging throughout the Ireland portion of the course. We hope you'll check us out on the School of Communication page on the Point Park Web site: www.pointpark.edu

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Reporter, The Ambassador and The Professor

Wednesday, May 12 (late due to computer problems!)

We started out on a sunny Dublin morning with coffee and pastries at a local coffee shop up the street and were graced by the presence of talented, red haired, and popular Irish Times feature reporter, Rosita Boland. We had tried to have a “phone” class with Rosita in Pittsburgh but our connection was poor so she agreed to meet with us in Dublin. What a much better connection! She talked with the students about the importance of finding a good story – no matter where you live or for whom you work. A hint is that where there is money involved....there's always a story. She noted that while she was spending a year at Harvard last year that she realized how American journalists depend and use a lot of data and statistics which she hasn't found to be true of Irish journalists. She's started to do a bit of that in her own reporting. She reminded the students that the most important quality they can possess is a keen sense of curiosity.

Next we hopped on a private coach with Vlad our driver for a ride to the US Embassy where we had an appointment with Ambassador Dan Rooney! What a memorable experience! We made our way through security and were met by Margot who kindly escorted us into the rotunda area where official receptions and greetings are held. Mr. Rooney was a bit delayed greeting us as he had just received a call from the president of Ireland! His Director of Public Affairs, Karyn Posner-Mullen talked with us about the role her office played in the Energy Conference that had taken place the previous two days in Dublin and Belfast. Some of the anticipated coverage was overshadowed by the events in the UK surrounding the government elections. The Irish Times environmental reporter did provide extensive coverage. The Ambassador then arrived as if out of nowhere and greeted us warmly saying seeing us made him feel like he was home. He told us about the conference and how he looking forward to a planned NFL game in Ireland on July 4. He gave each of us a unique pin with both the Irish and US flags and posed with us for a group photo. After he left, John Murphy, Communications Assistant, shared with us his career path, which at 23 is most impressive. He attended college starting at age 17, had worked for a year at the Embassy, then left to work for a radio station, and now is back at the Embassy with the promise he would stay for 5 years. He told us that the Irish are in love with radio......everyone listens in the morning and are very interested in the reading of death notices! He says that Mr. Rooney is well liked by the Irish people and that he plans to visit all 26 counties. So far he's been to 12. John is also the Embassy photographer and in charge of the Web site. He was delightful. Our entire experience was one for the memory book.

We then headed for DCU for a lecture by faculty member Helena Sheehan on Irish TV drama. She talked to us about how the dramas have mirrored and magnified Irish life over the decades. She does believe that she's never seen herself reflected in any of the dramas so she questions the completeness of the picture of Irish life as depicted in the dramas. She is saddened that there is currently very little drama production locally. It was an interesting perspective.

Our room became a press room when we got back after a lively hour discussion of what we'd all seen and heard the last couple of days. Three students worked on a story and photos to send back to Pittsburgh about our encounter with the Ambassador. We hope to see some coverage as a result!

Evening was spent having a delicious dinner with Helen, Dave and Bob.....followed by a stop a local pub for some traditional music and dancing.

What a day!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rain, Bogs, Sheep, Scenery and Irish Music

We left Cobh Tuesday morning in a light rain that got heavier throughout the day. Bummer since this was Ring of Kerry day. Our first stop was at the Bog Museum where we learned how the peat is formed over many centuries. There is apparently a preservation movement to stop the harvesting of peat - an ancient practice -that is meeting with lots of local resistance as it is a primary source of heating fuel for many rural residents. Thank goodness for gift shops! My much needed umbrella gave up the ghost yesterday and I was able to replace it with a very Irish one that's covered in shamrocks.

A fun stop was at a sheep herding demonstration. Max and Bess, two border collies, put on quite a show for us as they responded to the commands of their master to herd sheep in various patterns and formations.

In Waterville we posed for a picture with a statue of Charley Chaplin who vacationed often in the area.

We made several photo stops along the way but with the rain and the mist the pictures won't be as great as we'd hoped, but will definitely have that soft Irish mist look.

We pulled into Killarney about 6 pm in time to check in and get to our 7:30 Irish dinner show at Danny Mann's. It was another tasty meal followed by a fun 2 hours of Irish music.

Wednesday we awoke to lightening skies that have since added some blue. Today is mostly a "free" day so Bob O'Gara and I went for a ride on a jaunting cart - driven by Marin and pulled by Tom, an Irish draft horse - that took us from town out to the lovely national park where we had a photo op at an old castle. Spent the afternoon doing some final shopping and as I write this it's about time for our final Irish Media component with the editor of the Kerryman, a regional weekly paper. It will be an interesting contrast to the Belfast Telegraph which is owned by the same company.

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The New and the Ancient

Red FM......the #1 radio station in Cork and County Cork licensed to target the under 35 audience.....was our first stop on Monday. What a hip and cool place with delightful and engaging personnel. Delightful Nuala Cronin greeted us and arranged for all of our speakers. First was Grainne Murnane the Advertising and Sales Manager. She shared with us a lot of great info about their sales operation and told us about an extremely successful promotion they just ran with/for a local animal park that was based on the TV show "Survivor" format but adapted for radio. As the locals like to say - BRILLIANT! They are just starting to use the Web. Their advertising time is limited to 10 min an hour by law.

Next up was Eilish Berry, an Irish speaker, who voices all the required Irish programming, news and PSAs. She showed us some of the tools she uses to help her be gramatically correct since she learned to speak Irish more than studying it. Irish is a required subject in school so most people have a negative outlook on speaking it. She also told us that speaking Irish is starting to develop a bit of a "cool" factor due to the attention comedian Des Bishop is bringing to it.

Colm O'Sullivan is the Program Director and Assistant CEO. He started in college radio and worked at the competing radio station in the market even though they reach totally different audiences. Talked to us about the strict laws governing talking about drinking on the air. Their license forbids it. Much easier to "get away" with swearing! Opposite from the U.S. Have a personality driven format as that's what listeners demand.

We then visited the production control room and met the talented young woman who is both the station voice and the producer. She played a couple of her most impressive, highly produced spots for us.

We left with some handouts, CD's and a Red FM pen for each person.

Then we were off to Blarney to kiss the stone, have some lunch and SHOP!! Everyone did all three and had a grand time.

Tonight the faculty visited the magnificent Cobh Cathedral.....50 years to build and paid for by only the 2000 local parishoners! Dinner at a local restaurant tucked away down a winding road by the water.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Motoring South

After a free day in Dublin that included some shopping and attending a local performance of The Last Waltz at the beautifully restored Olymia Theatre.....we got a quick night's sleep, packed up and met Joe, our "new Rachel" who will accompany us for the rest of our journey. Joe is delightful.

Another beautiful day! Not even a drop of rain!

We left Dublin behind this morning to head south for some sightseeing. First stop was Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains. A beautiful former monastery where St. Kevin "set up shop" to bring christianity to Ireland. We saw beautiful Celtic crosses over a thousand years old, a round tower that is centuries old, as well as some other ruins and a few sheep. We had a delicious lunch at the hotel there before setting off again for the 3 hour ride through beautiful Irish countryside, twisting back roads and the modern motor way to arrive in Cobh.

Cobh is a pretty harbor town with colorful houses on steep slopes, a magnificent cathedral that was ringing amazing bells upon our arrival, and is the site of the departure of the Titanic. Our hotel - the Bella Vista - is a charming former convent (!) with beautiful suites and lovely appointments. Not to mention some jaw dropping views of the harbor.

We met up with Michael Martin, a historian and author and creator of Titanic Trail. For about 90 minutes he gave us the history of the area via a walking tour with lots of anecdotes and interesting facts about the Titanic. The last living survivor of the Titanic passed away last year.
A yummy Chinese dinner at the hotel this evening. Tomorrow we're off to visit a radio station in Cork and to kiss the Blarney Stone!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Took a train 2 hours north to Belfast along farmlands, water and beaches. Beautiful.

Pulled into Belfast about 10:30 am and we were met by most delightful guide named Michael whose enthusiasm and knowledge made our day there fascinating and special.

Our first stop was Stormont - the home of the Irish Assembly. A most impressive approach from the bottom of a mile long hill. We had a chance to go into the rotunda area decorated with beautifully painted ceilings. The views of the countryside from the porch was amazing.

Next stop was beautiful Belfast Castle with its lovely flower gardens and many cat images including a topiary cat, cats in frescoes on the plaza, statues smelling tulips and relaxing on the edge of a fountain. Quite charming!

Lunch was at the shipyard where the Titanic was built. The well is HUGE. They are preparing for the 100th anniversary of the event.

We toured the areas of "the Troubles" - which was serious, sad and a little scary. There are huge murals everywhere along both Shankill Road, the Protestant area and Falls Road, the Catholic area. Some of the murals are in memory of various leaders.....some seem to be warnings to the "other side." Even though the peace accord went into effect in the early 90's it seems to be somewhat tenuous. There is a Peace Wall that is still locked at night. All the police stations are heavily fortified and secured.

We had a chance to walk into beautiful Christ Church were there is a painting of a madonna that is worth millions of pounds!

Belfast has a lot of very modern buildings set among very old ones. The fact that there are glass buildings the locals say in an idication of the mostly peaceful conditions there now.

Our first "real" newspaper visit of the trip came at the Belfast Telegraph which has been in business sinc 1870. Our host was the Director of Digital Development, Gerry Patterson.
He's worked there for 17 years - 14 of those in on line! He told us that Broadband is in virtually 100% of Northern Ireland - quite a contrast to the south. The Web version has a huge global audience. About 5-6 people work on the on line version with 500 on the print side. Not much luck getting user generated content yet but they are working on it. Picture galleries account for about 40% of the page views. Shared his own story of growing up during the Troubles. He is Catholic and his first girlfriend was Protestant. She hid him from her family. In the end their relationship had to end. He sees a billboard on his way to work that still scares him: Prepare for Peace - Ready for War.

Friday, May 14, 2010

DCU and Photo Call - Thursday

The morning was a sleep in time and a leisurely start.

The afternoon took us to DCU - Dublin City University - for a lecture by Dr. Roddy Flynn on the impact of the internet/Web on Irish media as well as a little more background on Irish TV.

We learned that indigenous TV didn't come to Ireland until 1961 - partly to help preserve Irish culture. RTE - the state owned/operated channels - is the most watched despite the addition of hundreds of other channels.

He summed up internet use and interest as "not much impact." Internet penetration in Dublin is only 65% and in the countryside it's about 50%. Personal experience here is that broadband connection is weak and spotty. Only in the last 2 years has broadband become more wide spread.

Newspapers here are mostly just the paper on the Web. Only the Irish Times has experimented with the power of the Web. Although few of their articles contain internal nks!

Next stop was Photocall......a news photo service and PR photography company. Eamon - the owner - is a terrific businessman and shared his business model with the students. He told of the start of the business with his brother. They were off to cover the Viet Nam war but never got farther than Northern Ireland where the protestant/catholic conflict was in high gear. They had difficulty covering it due to their southern accents and were often in grave danger. Two of his young staff photographers joined us to offer advice and share their experiences of working in Ireland. Mark - originally from Texas - told about his first photo shoot at a political event where the other photographers were asking the "subjects" to pose. This was a surprise as in the
US a news photographer would never ask such a thing.....since the "rule" is to not interrupt. They also showed a compilation of their work over the years.....most impressive.

Evening was spent dining with Helen and Bob at a charming hotel restaurant near Christ Church. Yummy lamb stew!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

RTE and Olgilvy

Monday night we jumped on a bus and rode through some lovely residential areas of Dublin where the doors of many homes are painted bright colors and have beautiful glass inserts. We were on our way to the RTE - state owned/operated TV network - studios to be in the audience for a live show called Frontline. Our broadcasting students were able to tape some footage in the audience holding area where they interviewed some other audience members and heard a briefing from the producer. We were dispersed throughout the seated audience and many of us had an opportunity to talk to some locals about the serious issues affecting the Irish economy and political scene - topics debated and discussed during the show with a variety of politicians, economists and journalists as well as some audience "plants" and a few "random" audience members too. Bob O'Gara was on tap to discuss these from an American perspective but alas, the show ran long (by 20 min!) and was too full to get to him. We know he would have been great! I felt like I had just eavesdropped on a private family discussion. Ireland is facing 13% unemployment at the moment.

After a very short night of sleep we gathered at 8 am to walk into town for a presentation by the Chief Executive for the Public Relations Institute of Ireland. Two key issues facing the small public relations professional community are sustainability of the profession and social media. More and more job postings are requiring knowledge of social media......the professionals are behind on understanding this from a communication perspective. The Institute offers courses for their membership to help with this. Almost all public relations experts are based in Dublin.

Next to the beautiful headquarters of Ogilvy - huge world wide advertising, public relations and now digital media leader. Juxtiposition of old architecture and extremely contemporary furnishings and lighting. Fascinating presentations by Jo Woods, strategic planner and Claire Carroll, head of the new digital area. When working on a new brand they learn everything they can and work to uncover the emotional components to link with the consumer. Digital area is brand new but is now being integrated in the creative, research and planning from the beginning. Digital is expensive to develop and manage because it is time and people intensive.