A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a journalism student who wanted to talk about a blog post I’d written on the subject of citizen journalism. I used to write regularly about media issues on this blog and her call reawakened my interest. That and an issue that was raised on RTE Radio One’s Liveline this week.
A couple rang in and spoke together about the devastation they felt in the wake of their son’s brutal murder. Irish radio listeners will know that this is grist in Liveline’s mill (for international readers, Liveline is a radio call in show). But there was a central question the couple wanted answered, a question which compounded their distress.
Why didn’t the media cover their son’s murder trial?
This was a two-week murder trial and the verdict was murder. There was plenty to attract media interest: the murder was particularly savage and senseless and a verdict of murder was returned, which to my knowledge is quite rare. But the trial only got coverage in a local newspaper.
I’m going to attempt to explain why it didn’t receive more coverage, based on my own experiences in the journalism world.
1. Lack of Resources
There are plenty of freelancers who would have travelled from anywhere in the country to cover this trial – but not if they’re not paid. Media organisations are no longer investing in their journalists, freelance or staff, so won’t commit resources to sending someone to cover a trial for a number of weeks. Nobody should be out of pocket for doing their job, and journalists are no different.
And this ties into the second reason.
2. The Location of the Trial
Ireland has a population of four million, and over a million of those live in Dublin. Therefore Dublin tends to be at the centre of activities. It’s where most big media organisations are based. This trial took place in Monaghan, which is at least an hour north of Dublin. If the trial had been in Dublin, it would have been easier from both a time and a money perspective, for media organisations to send journalists.
3. Journalists Decide What’s Newsworthy
People are inclined to tell journalists what they should and shouldn’t cover, and become annoyed when journalists don’t cover the stories they consider important. Journalists determine what’s newsworthy based on a number of complex factors. It’s possible that relevance to a wider audience may have come into play. A murder is hugely relevant to the family, and the community where it happens. At the time of the trial, the trial of three Anglo Irish bankers and the issue of direct debits for phone bills were in the news. These have relevance for the entire nation.
Do you think the media should have paid more attention to this trial? And why do you think it was not covered more widely?