GAA Football

Kicking Out: If there's nobody about to tell the stories, do they even exist?

The GAA needs full press boxes and correspondents covering local angles to survive in this increasingly complex world. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

ORDINARILY the thought of a two-hour work meeting conducted over the background noise of rumbling tummies as lunchtime comes and goes without a morsel passing your lips would be man's idea of hell.

My sentiments would be no different. Arguably moreso, given retirement-related expansions to said torso.

Yesterday, however, we met Lisa MacLeod.

Lisa instantly struck me as someone who deserved to be listened to.

As we'd say around here, she knows her onions.

Lisa has been working with The Irish News to help direct strategy when it comes to the world of online journalism.

The internet will eventually replace print newspapers altogether.

You didn't need to come here to find that out.

I mean, I could easily lie and try to convince you that papers will be around forever, but that would be to treat you as though your intelligence was absent without leave.

The majority of people reading this are reading it on a phone, not getting their hands blackened by newsprint.

That trend may move on elsewhere as technology continues to evolve, but it will not reverse.

Time changes the world. Yesterday is never coming back and tomorrow is coming fast.

Yet the GAA finds itself in a uniquely difficult position.

Its media coverage has always been roughly split in two very distinct halves.

The national media cover the inter-county scene in great detail but have traditionally cared little for the club game.

At that level, local newspapers didn't just pick up slack.

For many people they have long been the first port of call.

If someone wants to analyse why Antrim footballers are conceding 2-13 per game let them, but what a lot of readers really want to know is who's taking Lámh Dhearg next year.

In local papers you can get your club and your county. It may not always be written in Pulitzer-winning prose but the fact that coverage existed at all was enough.

There is plenty of space on the internet for coverage of the club game.

There just isn't any money for it.

The future is very bleak for local newspapers. The GAA has been the crutch on which many of them have leant for this long. But the ground beneath is softening.

These outfits are often far too small to break the online market, where the advertising revenue on which the old model depended is stripped from them by Google and Facebook.

Even the big ones feel really small in that pool.

We watch these papers die and their loyal correspondents disappear into the abyss, yet we're no closer to sourcing an alternative outlet.

The GAA needs local newspapers for two reasons.

The first is that they give you things you cannot get anywhere else.

They chronicle the sporting lives of every nook and cranny they service, which builds the histories of the future.

The second is that they're the platform for careers in journalism.

Why is that important? Well, just look at the weekend past.

Malachy Clerkin is a man I'd like to be able to write like when I grow up.

Again, we could lie to you and pretend that the world doesn't exist outside The Irish News. My own colleagues are all fantastic journalists, on a par with anyone in the country. But there's quality elsewhere too.

On Saturday, Malachy published an interview in The Irish Times with the parents of Red Óg Murphy. He was a blossoming superstar of Sligo football. In April, at the age of 21, he took his own life.

It came completely out of the blue to everyone that knew him.

You just stop in your tracks reading about it.

The weight of pressure on young people now is extraordinarily heavy. Frighteningly so.

A lot of that weight derives from either what they compare themselves to on social media or the culture of actual face-to-face conversation it has stripped us of.

As well as being a superb piece of writing, it was an important piece societally, particularly for young men and women in that age bracket.

We sometimes present that demographic as being uncaring of what's around them because they aren't reading newspapers but they consume more news than any past generation. They just do it in a different way.

It's really important for the GAA that its stories – good, bad, sad, joyous and everything in between – continue to be told with the sensitivity that such a community organisation demands.

There's also the other side of things, the need for a critical voice at times to hold power to account.

In the grand scheme of the world right now, what the GAA is doing feels unimportant, yet it's never been in greater need of protection too.

Galway are after announcing that they've spent €2m on their inter-county teams, for instance. There are always threats to the equilibrium of the entire operation.

If there aren't people out there to question how deep the well of finances are, or whether next summer's planned group stage in the football championship is a terrible idea, or even who should start for Down hurlers then it all becomes a shop full of yes men with potentially catastrophic future results.

Please don't mistake this as the self-indulgent plea of a journalist.

I detest the idea that the public have to support newspapers any more than they have to support bricklayers.

No brickies means no houses. No houses equals no work for electricians, plumbers, joiners, painters, window salesmen, gardeners. They're infinitely more important than any of us.

No newspapers shouldn't really mean no journalists.

There's a distinct lack of government support for the media in this part of the world except the BBC, who then have the resources to swallow everything else up.

There are a million GAA podcasts but only a very small few of them making any money.

Local blogs and websites like Saffron Gael in Antrim and The Sideline Eye in Armagh are invaluable local services but unsustainable in the long term without some form of financial assistance.

Where that comes from is important too.

Direct funding from the GAA is neither financially viable nor good for the independence of the outlets being funded.

Governments north and south have enough to be paying for, especially at the minute, but if the DUP can burn £500m worth of wood pellets and think we've forgotten, there's bound to be a bit of spare change lying around.

Newspapers won't see out the 21st century no matter what any of us does, but journalism should and must.

It would be understandable if the GAA didn't feel like this was its fight. They'd be half right, really.

But it's like the bear in the woods.

If there's nobody about to tell its stories, do they even exist?

GAA Football