In conversation with Cunningham

RTE correspondent Paul Cunningham launched The Colloquium last night with a Q&A session regarding the state of modern journalism

Last night, the Colloquium launched their second volume. Hosted in the Hist Convo room of the Graduate Memorial Building (GMB), the evening was centered on a Q&A with Irish journalist Paul Cunningham. The attendance of the RTÉ correspondent set the scene for an engaging evening that explored Cunningham’s diverse experiences in the field and the wider world of media today.

From the get-go, Cunningham was aware of the world of media and journalism through his childhood friendship with Barry Hanlon, the son of the editor of the Irish Independent. Their friendship spanned primary and secondary school and all the way through college. As they both developed aspirations in media, their passion took fruition in their establishment of a magazine in secondary school. Eventually, Cunningham landed a job as a runner for RTE broadcasting. It became clear that Cunningham was always a driven character who sought out opportunity and grabbed it with both hands, telling anecdotes about knocking on doors at the RTE studios with stories about the Student’s Union in UCD where he had been studying classics, and catching trains and boats to Germany to sit on the ruins of the Berlin Wall upon hearing of its fall. His zest for life and thirst for intrigue has led him across the world, covering political turmoil and natural disasters in over seventy-five countries throughout his career.

Addressing questions on the modern age of media and the supposedly dying breed of journalism, Cunningham tackled this head on and sought to view these changes as predominantly positive rather than negative. When he started working in the media industry, the consumption of news was found in radio, newspapers and television broadcasting in the evenings. He notes that ten years ago, the Irish Times was printing 120,000 copies of their paper, now that only comes to about 59,000 on average. The introduction of the internet was a major transformation in the way news is consumed and whom it is communicated by. Cunningham notes that no longer do people have to wait for him to appear on the television or in the paper to tell them what’s going on in the world, it is suddenly at their fingertips. It also allows for those experiencing events on the ground to give immediate, first-hand accounts. On the subject of resources which allow for the tailoring of one’s feed of news and stories, Cunningham seemed to have no issue with this. He believes that as long as the material is factual and fairly represented, he has no fear of people becoming unaware of that which they have no interest in. In particular, he noted the positive side of social media as a news force, a platform for mainstream media to push and flesh out content in a more formal way.

Paul Cunningham is a known face to the public, more recently to the younger population following his appearance in a video that explains Brexit to Irish children. What started as a simple idea presented on the programme News2day, quickly went viral and stirred conversation in British media as well as gaining over 630,000 views online to date. The clever concept has expanded Cunningham’s reach to a new audience, one that is eager and impressionable. On this point, the journalist humorously quipped, “the one day I wear what I don’t like” in reference to the shirt he wore which he could only describe as an “awful balloon shirt.”

Finally, Cunningham provided the crowd with some advice for those who wish to pursue a career in journalism. He simply stated, write. Experience and exploration of different topics and scenarios are key to developing positively as a writer and journalist. He himself has covered many areas during his own career, working as both the environmental and European correspondent at different times. Especially with the rapid movement towards professionalism in journalism, much has changed in the ways in which one may go about breaking into the industry. For Cunningham, it was running around broadcasters and publications giving them stories and hoping they’d take a shine to him and his work. Nowadays, with academic credentials becoming a necessary part of the process, having experience and versatility as well as formal qualifications is the way forward.

The evening ended with a wine reception where individuals had a chance to converse with Cunningham and mingle with other members involved in the publication and launch. The fascinating content and level of knowledge of the speaker sparked an interesting opening to a greater conversation on the current state of media, the role it plays in conveying truth and providing commentary on society in the public arena.