For a news junkie, Ireland is the place to be in May.
Today Queen Elizabeth begins a visit to the Emerald Isle, with President Obama due to arrive on Monday. The “Month of Welcomes”, as it’s being called, is a bonanza for Ireland’s two national TV news networks, RTÉ and TV3.
“It’ll be absolutely huge,” RTÉ news editor Fiona Mitchell tells TVNewser, as I toured the network’s newsroom and observed a broadcast from the control room during a Dublin vacation last week.
RTÉ — Raidió Teilifís Éireann, or Radio Television of Ireland — is akin to Britain’s BBC as the nation’s principal national public service broadcaster.
News staffers produce three weekday broadcasts (called “bulletins”) — about 20 minutes at 1pm, one hour at 6pm, and a half-hour at 9pm — plus various news cut-ins.
Mitchell says that on average, an RTÉ newscast contains “about 50% Irish news, then 25% Europe, and obviously, as a member of the European Union, European news can actually be Irish news.
“It’s our place in Europe, it’s what the rest of Europe thinks of us, especially with [Ireland’s] ongoing economic crisis. And probably beyond that, about 25% international news.”
RTÉ employs more than 200 people in bureaus across Ireland, as well as in Belfast, Brussels, London, and Washington, D.C. Dublin staffers work at a central newsroom just southeast of
the city center. With no national Irish cable news network, newsroom TV monitors are typically tuned to CNN, Sky News, and Al Jazeera.Compared to American news, Mitchell says Irish broadcasts are “quite different visually”, citing a greater use of graphics in the U.S.
Using graphics “has both its positives and negatives. When you look at it [from an Irish perspective] you think, wow, you’d love to have some of those things. But then on the flip side of it, I think sometimes it can detract from the story.”
Irish news, Mitchell says, is more in the UK mold. “When you watch an Irish bulletin, and a BBC bulletin, there are a lot more similarities than there ever would be with an Irish bulletin and a bulletin in New York.”
What’s similar to the American television news industry, though, are budget cuts due to a tough economic environment. Some RTÉ employees have taken early retirement, and current staffers have accepted reduced salaries, “but then most of the country has taken pay cuts,” Mitchell says. “There is a sense that we’re doing what everyone else is doing.”
And like their fellow countrymen, RTÉ staffers are awaiting the visits of a Queen and a President. It’s the prime focus for the network’s Special Events unit, which during TVNewser’s visit, was knee-deep in planning meetings.
An “absolutely” exciting time, Mitchell says, to be in television news in Ireland.
(Photos: Alissa Krinsky)