The Irish Media vs The Catholic Church

Apologies for my absence in recent weeks. I know you’ve all been suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. But I am back to replenish you once more with regular blog posts. I’m going to return to my roots on this blog and explore an issue that has pretty much bothered me ever since I first trained as a journalist: what I perceive to be the inherent prejudice shown by the Irish media against the Catholic Church.

Media Perception of the Catholic Church

When I was studying for my Masters in Journalism in Dublin City University, I was fascinated by religion and felt much more of an affinity for religion than I do now. I completed a thesis on Opus Dei. I was able to clarify what the Immaculate Conception actually meant. I expressed belief in the idea of divine justice.  as a result, I became the go-to person for religious issues.

Though nothing was said, there was a definite vibe that my classmates considered belief in the Catholic Church to be quaint at best and ripe for scorn at worst. And I have seen this vein of thought carried through in pretty much all the coverage I have read and heard since then, aside from contributions made by well-known Catholic commentators.

Catholic Cross

Examples of Recent Coverage

This issue was brought back into my consciousness recently by three items on radio stations. On Today FM, Ray D’Arcy made the sweeping, catch-all statement that the Catholic Church had “f***ed up this country.”. This remark won him a lot of praise on print media.

The other two incidents were on my local radio station. One priest was accused of warping children’s minds by reading a pastoral letter about the abortion referendum. Another presenter began a discussion about a thorny issue relating to burial rights in a reasonable, measured manner, but the discussion soon descended into a broadside against the Catholic Church as a whole.

What Right Have I to Comment?

After all, I have now become one of those wishy washy Catholics who frequents churches on special occasions and for what I call ‘sexy masses,’ Masses held in the open, or with lots of singing, which makes worship easier. But I believe you can’t ever wash away the faith you were born with. And that is why this unbalanced coverage of Church issues in the media bothers me.

There is an awful lot wrong with the Catholic Church in Ireland, and it is brilliant that the media has played such a strong role in holding the Church responsible for its actions. But I feel that because of these scandals, the media sees ordinary priests and believers as fair game, and that media coverage takes a tone that it would not take with representatives of other religions. I believe journalists simply wouldn’t get away with it.

The fact that I’m less of a believer now may weaken my argument. After all, there’s nothing more tedious than people becoming offended on behalf of people who might not necessarily be offended. My view is simply that of a human being who doesn’t like to see the genuine beliefs of others being disrespected. I don’t think they deserve to be treated as if they are simpletons. And I know a lot of good priests, who are already doing a hard, lonely job, and whose job is made that bit harder by media coverage that tars them with the same brush.

Why the Scorn?

This is not an academic article; I would have to do a good deal of research to pinpoint the reason. I can only surmise that it’s an ongoing backlash against decades of oppression. Look at us, the coverage seems to gleefully say. We can get away with writing whatever we want about the Church.  Aren’t we cool, the way we can kick over the traces of the old Ireland?

What Can the Media Do?

I’m not looking to go back to the days of censorship and pro-Church coverage. I would just like to see a more balanced approach to media coverage of the Catholic Church. I want to read articles that offer neutral coverage of Church events. I would like to hear radio interviews that show respect for the other person’s opinion. I want to see media coverage that makes intelligent efforts to address the question of whether the entire Catholic Church has ‘***ed up the entire country.











Three Traits of Good Proofreaders

I’m about to submit my exercises for Unit 4 of my proofreading course with The Publishing Training Centre. I’ve already written about things I’ve learned on my proofreading course. I was further reminded of how much is involved in proofreading when I posted on Facebook that I’d become more alert to typos since starting.

‘Have you seen this?’ an experienced editor replied. She pointed me to an article by an editor who was exasperated by wannabe proofreaders approaching her, saying they were great at spotting typos in books. Yes, I was guilty of this thinking too, and now I’m nearing the end of my course, I’ve come to see that there are other traits and skills that you need. Here are the three main ones, as I see it.

1. Strong Visual Awareness

As a proofreader, you need to have a sense of how words should look on a page, as well as how they’re spelt. You need to develop a strong inner eye, so you can spot inconsistencies in spacings between paragraphs and headings. This inner eye will also help you detect errors in font style and formats like bold, italics etc, or letters that have been wrongly capitalised. This strong visual sense is particularly useful for sections of the text that follow a specific layout, like bullet point lists and references.

2. A Thorough, Methodical Approach

You may have seen an email where words are jumbled up, but the first and last letters stay the same, so you can still read them. Our brains naturally correct errors, which make them hard to spot. Also, when we’re tired, we tend to skip over words. The only answer is to slow down and be methodical in your approach, particularly when proofreading a document with headings where typos may lurk unseen.

3. And yes, you do need to be good at spelling and grammar

You need to be able to distinguish between words that have similar spellings, but very different meanings. If you’ve been asked to use British English (-ise spellings), you need to weed out instances where American spellings (-ize spellings) were used. Drawing on your own general knowledge will also help you spot typos.

Feel free to demonstrate your own proofreading skills and send me any humorous errors you’ve spotted.








Guest Post by Annette Gartland: Writing Creatively as a Journalist

In the early days of my blog, I wrote a post called Journalists and Writers – Two Very Different Species. The post was based on my own experiences with journalists and creative writers, and it’s received quite a lot of hits since it was first published.

Recently, the journalist and poet Annette Gartland posted such an elegant rebuttal in the comments section of that post that I invited her to put together a guest post. This post seriously raises the tone of my blog and I hope you’ll find it a meaty read.

A former colleague once told me that if I wanted to do creative writing I would have to leave journalism; that the two ways of writing were incompatible. I understood what she meant, but now, some 33 years later, I am still a journalist, and I still write poetry.

Are creative writing and journalism incompatible? Are journalists simply news machines, pumping out the latest – often biased – information with no concern for the nuances of language and the beauty of words? Or is there room for creative flair in everyday reporting?

Some would say don’t go into journalism if writing is your objective. I would disagree. I wish more journalists actually cared about writing, and spent time learning about grammar and punctuation. Thankfully, many do.

Journalists of course need to be interested in people and events, but a passion for news and communication and a love for words can go hand in hand.

Good journalism is not just about facts, figures, and deadlines; we need to be fast and accurate, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot also write prose that sings. And good headline writing is not just a technical skill; it requires talent and creativity, too.

Now that I have my own website, I can be much more creative in my journalistic writing than I used to be.  With so many people blogging, and so much of our communication happening via Facebook and Twitter, the line between traditional journalism and other writing is blurring more and more all the time.

I’m at an advantage because I’m a freelance. I’ve adapted the way I work so that I am not on a news treadmill. On my website, I can write lengthy, in-depth articles, blend travel writing with socio-political analysis, and choose my own angles.

Essay-style journalism is nothing new, however; The New Yorker, for example, has always run long-form articles of great literary merit.

In an article for NPR (formerly known as National Public Radio) in the United States, the organisation’s media correspondent, David Folkenflik, says long-form journalism falls into two categories: “investigative or watchdog reporting” and “richly textured nonfiction narratives that delve deeply into the human experience and may have nothing to do with that day’s headlines”.

Many journalists are purely newshounds, with no interest in creative writing. This is particularly true on the tabloids, but I learned as much about writing when working for the tabloid Irish Press as I did on broadsheets. It takes skill and creativity to reduce a day’s events to ten paragraphs.

Radio and TV journalists can get away with being less-than-competent writers, but print or web journalists who write badly are dependent on sub-editors – most of whom have a real love for words and grammar –  to make their work readable.

Any creative writing I now do is all the better for the training I received at journalism college, and as a sub-editor on The Oxford Times. Learning how to sub-edit definitely makes you a better writer.

I wrote from an early age – about my experiences and from my imagination. In my last year at secondary school, I won a creative writing award and, for my prize, I chose Harold Evans’ book ‘Newsman’s English’. It was clear that journalism would be my priority.

(I still balk at Newsman’s in the title of Evans’ book, but the former editor of The Sunday Times certainly knows his stuff.)

There are lengthy periods when I don’t write a single poem, and I would perhaps write more poetry if I weren’t a journalist. But working as a journalist brings me into contact with people, places, and situations that I don’t just report on; places in particular also inspire me as a poet.

Australian researcher and communications tutor Janet Fulton has written a comprehensive paper entitled “Is print journalism creative?”

She says the idea that print journalism can be creative is not universally accepted because “making a story up” goes against the fundamental understandings of journalism. “Further to this, society’s understanding of creativity is that a producer must have no limitations to be able to create and the rules and conventions a journalist works within are seen to constrain their production of creative media texts.”

Fulton points out that the Western understanding of creativity implies that a creative idea comes from nowhere but the imagination of the individual. “This understanding is rooted in the Romantic ideal of a lone genius, slightly mad, who must be free of any constraints to be able to Create.”

She concludes: “Rather than using a narrow, person-centred view of creativity, encouraging a broader understanding could lead to better journalistic practices.”

For Fulton, all genres of print journalism have structures, and practitioners of all genres can be creative within their own structures. “In the domain of journalism, the assertion that hard news writing can be a creative endeavour could provide a better understanding of work processes and improve writing practices.”

Fulton notes that numerous journalism awards mention creativity in their criteria.

Middlesex University in London, the University of Bedfordshire, and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland all run combined creative writing and journalism degree courses, and the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey, is planning one. There are similar courses in the US, Australia, and Canada. The London School of Journalism runs creative writing courses, but separates them from journalism studies.

I’m happy that I did a straightforward and very practical journalism course, where I was given a solid foundation for the working years to come. I don’t think it would have served me well to be taught about creative writing at the same time.

It was later that my creative side blossomed again, and, a few years ago, I did try to stop being a journalist so as to concentrate fully on poetry, and a monologue. I realised, however, that reporting is in my blood, and probably always will be. But I also love creative writing.  Thankfully, for me, the two are not proving incompatible.

I’ll keep straddling the two worlds and, when asked, I’ll describe myself simply as a writer.

–        Janet Fulton’s paper:

© Annette Gartland

Annette Gartland is a writer (journalist and poet), radio and video reporter, editor, translator, reiki teacher, and DJ. Her website, Changing Times, is at

The Spring Roll Incident

Children have a very strong sense of fairness. Any parent reading this will know that at the slightest sign of injustice, you’ll hear a plaintive “That’s not fair!” Maybe that’s why the small injustices of our childhood linger long in our memories.

These injustices also make great fodder for writing, and I use them in my creative writing workshops to explore how writing a story from different viewpoints changes that story, because it is seen through the eyes of the teller. I’ve created an exercise based on an incident in my own life, and I call it The Spring Roll Incident.

Spring Roll




(Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

The Incident

Here are the facts of the story. My aunt and uncle were coming to stay the night, but my parents had been invited to a party they couldn’t get out of. My parents went to the party and my aunt and uncle took my younger sisters for a Chinese.

I had to stay home and man the phones, because my father was a vet and these were the days before mobile phones. My aunt and uncle had promised to get me a spring roll, but they arrived home without one. They informed me that the kitchen had been closed when they had enquired.

These are the facts, or as close as I can get to them. But in my telling of it, this is a tale of gross injustice, and I mourned that lost spring roll for a ridiculously long time. My sense of outrage was fuelled by the discovery that my aunt had said, ‘Sure, she’ll be grand.’ A couple of years ago, I decided finally to vent some of that injustice and it occurred to me to write about the incident from the viewpoint of my aunt.

The Scribblings

I imagined all the organising she had to do before she left: giving instructions to the childminder for the care of her babies, finishing off her to do list in the printing firm she ran with her husband. There may even have been a row with said husband as she went out the door. And there was no promise of fun adult company at the other end. There was little room in her head to for lost spring rolls.

The Exercise

I found the process of writing from my aunt’s viewpoint therapeutic, so I decided to turn the story into a two part exercise. For the first part, I ask the students to choose to be one of the players in the springroll incident.

Some have chosen to be me, which is both brave and disconcerting. One chose to be the restaurant manager who said the kitchen was closed. And another particularly inventive student chose to be the spring roll.

For the second part of the exercise, I invite students to think of a small but significant injustice from their own childhoods. They come up with tales of teachers who withheld prizes because ‘their parents could afford to buy them sweets,’ and parents who punished without apparent cause. I ask them to retell the incident from the viewpoint of the person who carried out the injustice. They’re surprised to find that well=worn facts suddenly take on a new sheen.

Knowing what view your character holds of the main events of the story, and of the other characters, makes for a well-rounded story. If a strand of the plot is unclear to you, try telling it through the viewpoint of a character other than your central character. This technique can also be effective if you’re having difficulty figuring out what your central character’s motives are.

Feel free to share injustices from your own own lives, retold from the viewpoint of the ‘perpetrator.’