Q: When did the idea for The Press Gang (New Island) first come about? Tell us a little bit about why you wanted to share the various stories.
Well, it’s the 20th anniversary of the paper’s closure and I wanted to mark it. I was one of the people who occupied the building for five days in May 1995.
My original intention was to do a documentary, but after mulling it over I realised that you couldn’t tell the story of the golden age of newspapers in 55 minutes.
The industry has changed beyond recognition. The core values are the same, but the ‘environment’ is a lot more sterile – and a lot less chaotic.
I contacted my former colleagues and it snowballed from there. My brief was simple: tell your own story as if you were sitting in Mulligan’s over a pint. Make it personal and informative but – most of all – make it entertaining. The result was a collective memoir which is both poignant and funny. It recalls the days when the boozer was the real office and newspapers were full of insane, and insanely talented, people.
There are stories of IRA gunmen in the front office; the reporter who broke his leg in two places (Mulligan’s and the White Horse Bar); Mary Kenny challenging the old boys network; tea with Prince Charles; the journo who ate money; Johnny Rotten in a Dublin jail cell; the Concerned Criminals’ anti-drugs rally; the hunt for Don Tidey; the turd on the MD’s windowsill…
The book paints a unique pen-picture of an industry that has now changed beyond recognition and is now, globally, in decline. It’s the story of newspapers’ gilded age. An age of characters, chancers, bizarre work practices, geniuses and above all, brilliant journalism.
It’s also an important social document. But mainly its’s poignant and funny.
Q: How willing were the writers and editors to opening up and becoming the subjects of the stories? Did you encounter any resistance?
Those who contributed to the book were as passionate about telling their stories as I was. Some colleagues didn’t want to revisit the past. Others just didn’t respond to my Call-to-Arms. I tried not to take it personally!
Q: In an industry that has changed so much do you think their could be another version of The Press Gang in the future?
Not like this. The Press Gang spans five decades from the 1950s. Ireland was an entirely different place. You didn’t have newspaper owners suing journalists, for a start.
We had a national inferiority complex and a war waging in the north of our island. Today, we’re one of the most liberal, open societies on the planet.
We’re also obsessed with being politically correct. You could not replicate the work hard/drink hard culture that existed 20 years ago. ‘The Press Gang II – 40 Years On’ might be a very thin book.
The Press Gang – Tales from the Glory Days of Irish Newspapers is the only book of its kind. No-one else has done a collective memoir about the newspaper industry. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to the reader to decide. I’m very proud of it.