Last weekend Ballybunion became the Mecca for writers, journalists and politicians. Who would have believed back in 2013 when Kilcooly`s Country House Hotel hosted the inaugural Women in Media conference that this event could not only get bigger but that it could get even better.
The “Mary Cummins award for women of outstanding achievement in media” is now firmly fixed as not to be missed in the annual calendar of media events. Last year`s recipient, Geraldine Kennedy was on hand to present the award to the 2015 winner, Olivia O`Leary. Both women worked together at the Irish Times and the mutual respect was evident to all when each spoke at the Gala Dinner on Saturday night, April 18th. We as a society have come through some dark times and owe a huge debt to brave women like these who stood up for what they believed in. The inaugural winner, Miriam O Callaghan was not just on hand for the passing on of the baton, but was amongst the panel of some of the most influential women in broadcasting in Ireland. Fellow panellists were Moya Doherty, Dearbhail McDonald and Dee Forbes. Geraldine Kennedy initiated a lively debate with her acceptance speech in 2014 and Chair, Katie Hannon, posed the question, if it is harder for women to succeed in the media and if gender made a difference to the panelists careers.
Legal editor at the Irish Independent Dearbhail McDonald spoke with passion about the fact that the problems that women face in the media industry is just a facet of what women face in life in general. She pointed out that media is a difficult game for both genders and that hard work, flexibility and availability are key elements for any success.
President & M.D of Discovery Networks northern Europe Dee Forbes agreed with Dearbhail on the importance of a strong work ethic but emphasized that women should be helping women more. Dee explained that she felt that women were often not confident enough, even when they had a higher level of competence compared to their male counterparts, and how that needs to change.
RTE’s Prime Time Miriam O’Callaghan talked about her personal experiences and how important it is to remember what the media can do to change lives, so picking stories and subjects that are important is vital. Miriam was very clear on not dwelling on past mishaps or failures but to remember to keep going, pick yourself up and keep at it.
RTE Chairperson Moya Doherty (Co-Founder of Riverdance) was adamant about how women treat language and the importance of not using words like ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’, not to belittle ourselves. She spoke with passion about finding what suits you and to not fall into the trap of behaving like men, but to be strong, competent and confident women, echoing Dee Forbes words.
After this explosive symposium a lot more was in store. Natasha Fennel and Irish Times Journalist Roisin Ingle introduced their recently published book The Daugherhood, a book about the unique relationships that women have with their mothers, be they good or bad.
The next point on the program was an interesting political forum asking the question: Working in the Media and Politics – are women treated differently? Chaired by the head of journalism from the University in Limerick, Mary Dundon. Mary introduced an impressive panel: former Tanaiste Mary Harney, Journalist and Broadcaster Olivia O’Leary, former Tanaiste Dick Spring and journalist and academic Dr. Tom Cloonan.
They all agreed that women are seen differently, the comments on how they look, what they wear and who they date often seems to overshadow their work. And the statistics that Tom presented from his research were staggering and surprised everyone. It seems that young female journalists suffer a high level of abuse (both verbal and physical) from both their employers and the people they report about, in politics in particular.
With so much food for thought it was only fitting that the last point of the day was a five course Gala Dinner filled with lots of engaging conversation. The delicious meal was followed by the presentation of the Mary Cummins Award for Women of Outstanding Achievement in the Media to Olivia O’Leary. Both Olivia and Geraldine shared some of their life experiences with the other guests.
But the weekend still wasn’t over! After a great night in the pub, a hearty breakfast and some time on the beach the conference was rounded off by an Online Media Symposium. The panelists, Breaking news Editor of the Irish Times, David Labanyi, Reported.ly journalist Malachy Browne, Managing Director of Drury/Porter Novelli Anne Marie Curran, Image and Licensing Officer of the National Gallery of Ireland Marie Mc Feely and Cyber Psychologist Patrick Kennedy all spoke about how the future is mobile.
It was clear that they all believed that while the traditions of journalism remain the same (verifying sources and stories, writing good content, informing and educating readers) the way this is done is changing faster than many think. It was obvious by the statistics that most readers chose to access their news in a manifold way, but that the main area of growth is in mobiles. This also influences how, when and what the reader chooses to read, changing the way we should approach news production Feedback from both contributors and the audiences has been phenomenal.There are two burning questions, who will receive the award in 2016 and can the bar be raised even higher?