Interest in news is down in Ireland in 2022, according to this year’s Reuters Digital News Report; but it is down from a high point of news engagement which focused on COVID-19 stories, beginning with the first lockdown in March 2020. To put this into context, in comparison with figures from the UK, North America and the EU, only 9% of those surveyed in Ireland are ‘not very interested’ or ‘not at all interested’ in news. And when the morning alarm goes off, the largest number of Irish consumers reach for their smartphones (35%) for their first news contact.
Radio news in the morning is still very important. Radio comes in at second place (31%) as the medium for first news engagement. While only 13% of those aged 18-24 listen to radio news first, this number rises to 37% for those aged 55-64 and 46% for those aged over 65. In the early morning, in broadcast news terms, there is less competition from television than there is in some other countries. Early morning television in Ireland is a confusing media space: while Virgin Media offers a solid menu of news and light entertainment on its ‘Ireland AM’ show, RTÉ’s offerings are a mixture of teleshopping, recycled programming and Euronews. Printed newspapers come in last as a first point of news contact and COVID-19 lockdowns have not helped in this regard.
Radio news is an agenda setter for the rest of the media, in the way that printed newspapers used to be. RTÉ’s Morning Ireland is the place for politicians to ensure their messages get aired, despite robust interviewing by a host of forthright and probing presenters. It would be informative and interesting to hear more radio correspondents’ on-the-road reports on air, but these are heavy on resources and early morning radio news in Ireland is mostly covered by multiple phone interviews.
Radio – and audio generally – benefits from being a medium you can listen to while getting dressed, showered, and grabbing breakfast. Now that commuting is back on the agenda, you can keep listening to radio news on the bus, in the car and while walking or cycling. In this year’s list of most frequently used traditional media brands, RTÉ Radio News comes in second (after RTÉ TV news) and has retained its market share over the past six years. Today FM comes in sixth, local radio news is seventh and Newstalk is eighth.
People also have a very high degree of trust in radio news. When asked to name the news brands they trusted most, the ‘local/regional radio’ category was trusted by 70% of those surveyed, coming in third being RTÉ news, and the Irish Times. In the trust category, Today FM scored 65% and Newstalk 64%. We all hope COVID-19 is waning and yet, should it continue to play an important role in our lives, our respondents care about how it is covered. In our survey, it remains the subject our respondents say attracts the most false or misleading news. This is a higher number than news about politics, celebrities, climate change or immigration. Setting a trustworthy agenda on this issue therefore remains a core necessity.
Aside from listening to traditional radio news programming, Ireland also continues to demonstrate a strong interest in podcasting. The number of people who say they have listened to a podcast over the past month rose five percentage points this year to 46% with the most popular categories being ‘specialist subjects’ (science and technology, business, media and health). This was followed by ‘lifestyle’, ‘contemporary life’ (including crime), ‘news, politics and international events’, and finally ‘sport’. The highest number of podcast listeners are found in the 25-34 year-old cohort, but the highest jump in numbers is in the 45-54 year-old group.
Podcasting is seen as a more intimate way in which to listen to audio programming, in the belief that people listen to podcasts on their own and through headphones, while out on a walk or commuting. With anxiety about the general state of the economy and the health service in the wake of the pandemic it is perhaps not surprising that business and health are top of the list of interests.
Most podcasts in Ireland are in the chat or interview format, rather than the narrative format, unless related to cold case crimes. Popular podcasts can be found in all sectors – public service media, commercial media, and increasi ngly on the online sites of print newspapers. Many are hosted by big names in the Arts and comedy worlds – such as the ‘2 Johnnies Podcast’, ‘The Blindboy Podcast’, or ‘An Irishman Abroad with Jarlath Regan’. For podcasts more closely associated with news, you can switch to RTÉ, commercial radio stations such as Newstalk or Today FM, or newspaper sites. At RTÉ, podcasts can be weekly stand-alone series, such as ‘World Report’ or ‘Your Politics’, or they can be snippets from radio programmes such as ‘Today with Claire Byrne’ that are repurposed and then rebroadcast as ‘podcasts’. Similarly, on Newstalk or Today FM you can find podcast series but also podcasts that could be classified as ‘programmes streamed later’.
Irish podcasts do not tend to feature as highly as they should as winners in global awards for podcasting that specialise in the narrative and storytelling formats. At the New York Festivals Radio Awards 2022, there were only a handful of finalists in the podcast section and two Silver awards for ‘Unusual Suspects’ by GoLoud and Doc on One for the ‘Gunplot’ series. There were winners and finalists from Ireland in other sections such as in Documentary, Culture and the Arts, Features, Profiles/Community Portraits and National or International Affairs – but these were all for radio programmes rather than for podcasts.
In the 2021 annual Journalism Awards, sponsored by NewsBrands Ireland, there was only one category of ‘podcasts’ for awards, with no separation between subject categories or formats. However, in 2022, the brand new Irish Podcasting Awards are open for applications in multiple podcast categories. According to the website of this new organisation, it will ‘work closely with the British Podcast Awards and Australian Podcast Awards to share best practice, and all have similar aims to grow awareness of podcasts from their home countries’. There will be 20+ categories and awards and all formats are welcome. Here’s to celebrating a burgeoning creative future for Irish podcasting. Colleen Murrell is a Full Professor in Journalism at the School of Communications at DCU.
Colleen Murrell is a Full Professor in Journalism at the School of Communications at DCU
This essay originally appeared as part of the 2022 Digital News Report Ireland. The full report can be accessed Here.