“The country’s finished,” someone suggested to this column during a quick chat on The Quay a fortnight ago.
“Is it?” I wondered – and it got me thinking. I don’t see people running around with wheelbarrows of near worthless notes just to purchase the essentials, as was the case in Weimar Germany eight decades ago.
Apart from the small number of people who regularly roam through Waterford city centre looking for a couple of bob, there aren’t any more homeless people in our locality now there was in, say, 2005.
If there are (no doubt someone will tell me otherwise over the next few days), then such people are doing a good job in hiding themselves away from the daily view of passers-by.
Times of course are difficult and testing, as last week’s unemployment figures served to underline, but there are a few things worth considering. For starters, we’re not waist-high in either water (Pakistan) or rubble (Haiti).
Just imagine facing into winter (yes, even in the Caribbean) with you and your family having nothing more than a tent canvas for shelter – it simply doesn’t bear thinking about.
The guns that dominated life in Northern Ireland for over 30 years remain largely and thankfully silent. Peace mightn’t pay the bills, but what a joy it is to have it.
Of course, many an editor will tell you that stories containing a hint of beige won’t sell – that we need to get our readers snorting editorial lines of complete misery and negativity. Get them hooked that way, and we’ll never lose them. Well, that’s a sales pitch I ain’t buying.
However, as consumers of news, there’s no denying our appetite for tragedy and being compelled by it. After all, what else can explain why newspapers the world over sold out on September 12th 2001 despite round the clock TV coverage of the collapsing twin towers?
Why, for instance, does the Daily Express newspaper still regularly afford front page coverage to Princess Diana, despite the fact that she’s been dead for 13 years?
Why is it that radio programmes such as ‘Liveline’, which regularly descend into a national whinge-fest, so much so that it becomes virtually impossible to listen to (for me anyway) attract so many listeners?
Because due to some as of yet unidentifiable quirk in our psyche, bad news (or someone else’s misfortune) tends to prick up the ears of millions around this bizarre planet we inhabit. It shouldn’t sell, it shouldn’t interest, but it does.
Yet such stories and such realities are not the only ones out there, and that’s where responsible journalism has a part to play.
Two weeks ago, Mayor of Waterford Mary Roche saluted this newspaper for its positive reporting approach. She did so at the South East Heritage & Culture awards, which has catalysed reams of good-vibed column inches in its own right.
She said: “As a newspaper, The Munster Express has always treated its role in a very positive light, with none of the negativity that we sometimes associate with other media institutions.”
Providing a “level playing pitch” to use the phrase of late Editor JJ Walsh has been something this newspaper has long prided itself on.
Supporter and dissenter alike have always been given a fair hearing at 37, The Quay, as will always be the case, – for example, the comments board on our website is testament to that policy.
While a positive ethic has long coursed through the editorial veins in these parts, such an approach has not been at the expense of dealing with the issues which households across the south east must face daily.
Depression, drug abuse (the escalation of heroin use in recent months, for example), anti-social behaviour, the uncertain futures facing many of our rural communities, the scourge of unemployment, etc – have all been discussed here.
Community worries about the future of development projects that have been created, moulded and loved like a newborn child, the dereliction of many city centre buildings, the ‘brain drain’ out of the region – all discussed here.
But such stories have not been researched and written at the expense of those characters and communities who refuse to buy into the notion that “the country’s finished”.
For example: the 100 new Waterford-based entrepreneurs who’ve entered into business since the start of the year, the opening of the House of Waterford Crystal and the ongoing development of the Viking Quarter.
I can and will go on: there’s the ongoing success of Flahavan’s in Kilmacthomas along with the brilliant and essential work conducted by those behind Solas, Waterford Hospice and the Carers Association.
And what about the wonderful annual successes which Spraoi, the JFK Dunbrody Festival, the Sean Kelly Tour and the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing have become?
One critical element threads all of the above, along with innovations such as the Portlaw Heritage Centre and the Clancy Brothers Festival of Music, firmly together: people.
As one Heritage & Culture award recipient put it to me: “I can think of dozens of people that would deserve public recognition more than myself – doing behind the scenes work that precious few people know about and in many cases, never will.”
And therein lies the proof of our editorial pudding, which, as legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee famously yet simply put it: “There is a lot of good news out there.”
Why? Because of people doing remarkable things day in, day out all around us. And such people and their deeds are worthier of headlines than those tales which confer plagues upon all our houses. And that’s something that we journalists and our editors should never lose sight of.