Tripe + Drisheen: A Manifesto for Local News
We're about to take a big step and we need your support.
What is local journalism for?
This is a story about Roy Keane and local news.
There has never been so much local journalism. And likewise there has never been so little.
What do we mean?
We are overwhelmed by high-speed information and entertainment, but so much of it is the opposite of what we think quality local journalism should be.
When local journalism works well, it serves its community. For the journalist, it is bounded by a strong sense of service to their community. Its role, when working, is to inform the people in an area about the issues affecting their lives, to empower them to join the conversation and to have agency in the decisions made about their area.
But we believe local journalism is surfing towards broken on a wave of clickbait.
To give you an idea of why, let’s return to Roy Keane. We should preface this by saying Roy the person is not the problem. It’s what Roy Keane represents as a source of content, packaged as journalism.
In the weeks before Christmas 2020, Roy made several trips back to Cork, often to show support. He made a surprise visit to a primary school near Kinsale, dropped by a hairdressers that had reopened after being burned down, and he even popped into Penny Dinner’s last Christmas. You could file those stories under the “Local boy does good, giving back” category.
But there’s also another substantial category of Roy Keane stories, which has nothing to do with “local boy does good,” which arguably is local journalism, and everything to do with “famous celebrity does something, and we need to create content to get clicks.”
I (JJ) should know. I wrote several of these pieces. Usually, these stories are sourced from an Instagram post. Sometimes Roy’s only link to the story is his celebrity, as with 'Roy Keane' dancing to latest TikTok craze is the best thing you'll see today. It’s all just a bit of fun. But is it good local journalism? We don’t think so.
The ad-supported model of journalism is premised on engagement, reach and eyeballs. It’s all about numbers.
For national publications, this might make some kind of sense, but for local news, for which there is a natural, geographical limit to those numbers, it doesn’t.
To feed the beast, you need to keep churning out content. The dogma is that readers have an insatiable need for new content, especially shareable and viral content. Thus journalist becomes “content creator,” chained to their desk, unable to do real-world reporting or spend the considerable time that is needed on verification and research.
Digital journalists on local news sites might have to publish anywhere between five to ten stories a day in an ad-supported, click-driven model. How do you reach those targets? Writing puff pieces about celebrities is one way, “turning around” (ie thinly disguising) press releases is another. Scouring social media for stories is another.
Powerful analytic tools allow editors and publishers to track how stories perform; the more clicks and shares a story gets (ie. how it “performs”) and the more people that follow a title on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter et al, all the better for the publisher for pulling in advertisers.
Roy Keane is just one of the celebrities that keeps on giving us content. He doesn't ask for clickbait to be written about him. I’m fairly sure he doesn’t read it. And The Echo and Cork Beo are far from alone in creating Roy Keane content. Countless other news and sports websites in the UK and Ireland churn out the same fluff. At each of these outlets, more time is likely spent on the headline than the article. Because the headline is where you pack all your keywords to win the search engine optimisation (SEO) wars.
That’s not to say local media outlets don’t also do notable local journalism. They do. We have both worked with savvy journalists who do excellent reporting, and our beef is not with them. Far from it, it’s with the model of journalism that guides editorial decisions in the race to the bottom.
If the current model of journalism wasn’t dictated by the need to feed the numbers beast, journalists would be able to devote time to reporting on the issues that face us as citizens and residents of Cork.
Because let’s not kid ourselves, there’s only so much local journalism you can commit to if you have to push out stories about Ice-T and Dr Dre.
Six months of quality reporting
Since we published our first Substack article on city centre dereliction on February 11, Tripe+Drisheen have published a weekly “long read” in which we’ve reported in-depth on a massive array of local topics, from the Debenhams workers’ strike to UCC’s live animal experimentation, from an incisive look at plans for the Docklands development to the Gaelgeoirs hoping to form a mini-Gaeltacht in Cork city centre.
We’re very proud of this work, not least because we’ve done it all for free, while making ends meet in the cut-throat world of Irish freelance journalism in the meantime.
We’ve launched a weekly community news round-up and are experimenting with the podcast platform. And there’s more to come.
We’re not alone in using Substack’s newsletter as a platform to publish local journalism. In setting up Tripe+Drisheen we talked with journalists Joshi Hermann at The Manchester Mill and Natalie Bloomer and Sarah Ward of The NN Journal in Northamptonshire. Both publications have built an audience by publishing in-depth, independent journalism that is ad-free and reader supported.
Slow News is Good News
Good reporting takes time. Verifying information takes time. A constant stream of uncertainty and minute-by-minute “breaking news” is probably not only bad for your state of mind, but also mostly unnecessary.
The constant competition for attention and eyeballs for advertisers that online publishing and social media have led to frequently slips up when it comes to the truth.
News reporters learn that they should be covering “The five Ws and the H,” but often, the “why” and the “how” are now lost in the noise amidst the constant drive to publish a story first.
Our motto is “Slow news is good news.”
Just as there’s been a “slow food” movement, we believe it’s time for a Slow News movement: that many readers are ready to move from a diet of junk information to a diet of well-sourced, thought-provoking and incisive information that actually enriches our understanding of the world around us, instead of eroding attention spans and feeding a cycle that is detrimental both to journalist and reader. This cycle feeds only the advertiser.
At Tripe+Drisheen, we’re going to focus on publishing an in-depth article covering an event or issue, than adding to the endless anxiety-inducing cycle of breaking news.
We will break stories, of course, but when we do, we won’t follow the herd: you will read original stories that aren’t covered elsewhere on Tripe+Drisheen. And they’ll be covered in-depth and sometimes at length.
Because we want to bring you the full story.
Transparency and ethics
Here are a few things we’d like you know about how we do our work:
You won’t see paid or advertorial content on Tripe+Drisheen. We want to stay reader-supported so we can guarantee you that our reporting is independent, impartial and free from corporate messaging.
We won’t hide lazy work practices behind cloak-and-dagger attribution. A lot of people don’t know that many stories that cite “officials” or “a source” are actually quoting a PR person. We don’t agree with this. We’ll always let our readers know where our information comes from as precisely as possible. If a source does need to be anonymous, it will be for a good reason and we will protect anonymity to the fullest when needed. We’ll also explain the reason(s) a source is being given anonymity.
We verify everything that we write that is presented as fact. Where the opinions of people are presented, these will be clearly attributed.
If we need to make a correction to an article, we will “backedit” (ie, edit the website after publication) but if we do, you will see a line at the bottom of the article with the date of the edit, and why it was done.
If you contact us with a tip-off, we will respect your confidentiality to the utmost. We will always urge people to go on the record, but if this is not possible, we’ll use tip-offs as leads and find other sources.
We won’t write full news reports based on social media posts without contacting the person who posted.
We won’t “top and tail” a press release and present it as a news story. When information from a press release is used in a story, we will alert you to this fact.
Diverse voices for a diverse city
Cork’s news is currently being written by people drawn from largely similar backgrounds, for a variety of reasons, including news outlets offering unpaid internships, barriers to access to third level, and an erosion of the often working-class “journeyman reporter” who worked their way up from printroom to news in the papers of the past. But the demographics of Cork city and county have changed drastically.
Without any disrespect intended to the excellent local journalists working in Cork, how can a handful of people with mortgages in middle-class suburbs cover an issue like hidden homelessness, Traveller accommodation or surviving in the gig economy with the insight and empathy that experience brings? Or on the conditions in Direct Provision centres, or on disability access to public space?
At Tripe+Drisheen, we are committed to adding diversity of voice when it comes to who gets to write about Cork.
Our Cork 2040: a Cork for all
So one of the first things we’re doing as we launch our subscription model is adding a series called “Our Cork 2040”, where we invite a range of journalists and writers from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise to write opinion pieces for T+D on what they want to see for their city and county in the coming decades.
Expect an array of exciting, fresh work from voices that are often left out of the conversation on our expanding cityscape and county ambitions.
Because we want these voices to be truly heard, Our Cork 2040 will not be put behind a paywall and will remain free to share and free to inform and spark conversation, in the true spirit of public service journalism.
On top of this, our first commitment with the earnings from our subscriptions is to pay this pool of writers a fair and transparent freelance rate. Ideally this would be above the industry average for freelancers as the rate has been gutted.
Yes - we said subscriptions!
We’ve been blown away by the support so far, but now we need to take this a step further.
So that we have more time to give to Tripe+Drisheen, and so we can start offering other freelance contributors a fair rate, we are launching a paid subscription model for those of you who agree with our manifesto and want to support what we do.
€8/month or €80/year - It’s still fine for people to just sign up with their email, but now you can go an extra step and pay €8 per month to help Tripe+Drisheen not only to keep doing what we’ve already been doing, but to offer more and make it sustainable into the future. There’s a bonus two months if you want to support our work for a whole year: a 12-month subscription is €80.
Founding Member - For any noble benefactors (or Founding Members in Substack parlance) out there, there’s the option to make a donation of any size you would like. You can trust that if you do, we will use your donation to fund such things as freelancer fees, Freedom of Information appeals, and the cost of future events we plan on holding.
What will you get if you subscribe?
Your monthly payment of €8 will do a whole lot more than reassure you that you’re supporting journalists whose work you think is valuable.
Because of how much we care about local journalism at Tripe+Drisheen, the news stories that we consider of public interest will remain freely available to all and will be delivered to the inbox of everyone who signs up with their email address. Our weekly “Friday View,” a community news and events round-up, will be free. The “Our Cork 2040” series will be free.
This means that if you become a paying subscriber, you are also supporting other readers who may be interested in these stories but who can’t afford to pay.
On top of this, a range of bonus articles, podcasts and events will be made available to our paid subscriber list.
Paid subscribers will get access to a weekly podcast where we dig deeper into some of the pieces we publish with our journalists and our guest writers.
From next week, new editions of our Thursday Long Read will also be available to subscribers only.
Paid subscribers will also get access to future events we plan on hosting.
Write for Tripe+Drisheen: What we’re looking for?
We’re looking for talented writers and journalists from across the city and county to write for us.
Maybe you’ve written for local and national outlets, or you’re a blogger, but we’re keen to hear from you and your pitches. The internet affords us plenty of space, so we’ll take stories from 600 words to over a thousand. The best thing to do first is send us a pitch of your story idea, this need only be a few sentences long and we’ll get back in touch with you as soon as we can.
Thank you to all our readers. We launched Tripe+Drisheen without any fanfare (or fans), but rather with a focus on providing in-depth and independent local journalism. We’ve gained hundreds of subscribers in a short time and we’d really like to keep this going, to continue growing and bring in more writers to help us cover our city and county.
And Roy, in the off chance you are reading Tripe+Drisheen, we’d love to sit down with you sometime for a profile piece.