Why I Loved The Irish Times’ and TCD’s National Media Conference

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) played host to the National Media Conference on Saturday November 10, in conjunction with The Irish Times.

The idea was devised by TCD students, with tickets only €7, and was aimed at showcasing the abilities of young Irish journalists and to highlight the challenges facing the media today.

From 11am to 6pm, we gathered to hear from representatives of Ireland’s leading media outlets. The subjects of the main speeches included ‘The Future of Media’, ‘Instant Reaction: Social Media and the Modern Mob’ and ‘Beginnings’. The subsequent talks were subdivided into print, radio and screen.

With a giant screen in front of us that displayed tweets from conference delegates, we took to our phones to give our opinions on and quote from the talks. It was a brilliant way to engage media-savvy students and to encourage online interaction with others at the Conference.

Editor of The Irish Times, Kevin O’Sullivan, opened the Conference as the keynote speaker. He spoke about the changes in look that his newspaper has recently undergone. As online content is now “sharp and shareable”, The Irish Times has chosen to reflect that, he said, by becoming a more dynamic, digitally driven company. “The role of the journalist is much more demanding,” Mr. O’Sullivan stated. “I’m a digital optimist, though I was honed out of print journalism.”

Mr. O’Sullivan (seated) is introduced by Conference Director, TCD student Jack Leahy

Many familiar faces from the Irish media landscape were honoured guests, such as RTÉ News: Six One presenter Bryan Dobson, internet law expert Simon McGarr, Director of News Services for Storyful, Claire Wardle, and radio presenter Orla Barry. Not only were insight, advice and tips provided by the esteemed panel members, we were also given the chance to mingle with them at a wine and canapé reception afterwards.

Jessica Thompson (Co-Founder of The Daily Shift), RTÉ presenter Bryan Dobson, and me

What stood out for me was the Irish Times Feature Writing Workshop with Conor Goodman – Features Editor of The Irish Times – and Ciara Kenny, freelance feature writer and Curator of The Irish Times multimedia project, ‘Generation Emigration’, discussing how feature writing has changed and is continuing to do so. They gave us tips on how to pitch succinctly, using ideas that we had submitted before the deadline. Goodman joked how a combination of “blagging and nepotism” landed him a job at The Irish Times, but spoke seriously about what makes a great feature: it has to be based on your own original research, backed up with the legwork you’ve done and enhanced with what you’ve discovered from talking to the people involved. “Research is the essence of good journalism,” he told us.

NMC 2012. Photograph courtesy of National Media Conference Facebook page.

Goodman highlighted how editors respond to pitches on a “need-to-publish” basis, and indicated that we should build up our writing profiles and specialist experience to attract an editor’s attention. “The more skills you can develop that will differentiate you from other journalists, [the better],” he said. Kenny emphasised the financial realities of freelance journalism and the importance of time management.

Tom Lowe, previously Editor of TCD’s The University Times and now employee of Newswhip, gave a very insightful presentation on the best way to make your student newspaper internet-friendly. Stating that you should consider your online content first and your print edition second, Lowe’s advice was to focus on the ways you can reach your audience. Merge your “high quality” print with “a good online infrastructure”, he said, particularly as the latter offers a faster output to push your most engaging articles.

The NMC Directors with The Irish Times Editor, Kevin O’Sullivan. Photograph courtesy of National Media Conference Facebook page

The Directors of the Conference were: Chairperson of Trinity Publications, Damien Carr; Media and Communications Officer for the Union of Students in Ireland, Ronan Costello; Video Editor of The University Times and student filmmaker and videographer, David Cullinan; Station Manager of TrinityFM and Opinions Editor of The University Times, Matthew Taylor; and News Editor of The University Times, Jack Leahy.

Mr Leahy exclusively told me: The five of us sat down in May to plan this Conference when we saw at the Smedias [National Student Media Awards] what enthusiasm and quality exists in the student media in Ireland. That’s been reflected in the number of professionals who have absolutely delighted to be asked to take part; they really respect student media and are eager to enter with students into discussion as to the future of the media industry. The Conference’s general principle of putting student representatives on an equal platform with professionals [excited me]. One particular panel discussion included representation from student, community, and professional radio as well as a radio executive. That’s what this is all about.”

Mr Leahy was delighted that such esteemed journalists came to participate in the Conference, adding that he’d noticed they were still chatting to everyone even after it had finished. “We contacted all these professionals on our own. […] Bryan Dobson was fantastic – but they were all great. Claire Wardle of Storyful, especially given that she agreed to do her talk yesterday [due to Mark Little being unable to attend], was pretty epic. I think everyone really liked her. She had very little time to prepare and she delivered that [high] standard of a talk. It really speaks volumes about how good of a professional she is.” Asked why he thought the Conference had been such a success, he said: “There hit a point at about quarter to eleven where I thought I was going to explode, but that rectified itself. […] We planned it very well, I think. There were no hitches on the day.”

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