Colm Williamson, the founder of the Irish satirical news site Waterford Whispers, discusses his team's approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
Journalists are among the thousands of people in Ireland who are now out of work as the nation imposes tight restrictions to keep citizens safe during this pandemic. Johnstson Press, Reach Plc, and Newsquest have all furloughed or laid off reporters while the freelance community is struggling.
As mainstream and established media fight for and against paywalls and dwindling advertising revenue during this global crisis, that same pinch is being felt by a small but influential Irish satirical journalism outlet, Waterford Whispers.
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Founded a decade ago by former publican Colm Williamson, Waterford Whispers employs four comic journalist writers and has recently switched to a subscriber platform. I caught up with Williamson via Facebook video call from his studios on the south coast of Ireland earlier this week.
"It's always a challenge what we do, we are trying to dance on the line," says Williamson, whose satirical journalism has gotten him in hot water, from legal complaints to fooling national and international news outlets with his convincing comedy that is deliberate "fake news."
During the coronavirus crisis, thousands of quarantined Irish readers eager for a laugh and to escape from lockdown have turned to Waterford Whispers for its COVID-19 coverage, which has been "on the line." Williamson and his team, whose outlet had previously recorded over a million readers a month, have seen surges and engagement from readers across the world. He told IrishCentral he just wants "to make people laugh."
Last year, Waterford Whispers became a live comic show touring the Emerald Isle, culminating in a sell-out show at Vicar Street in Dublin. The demand for their edgy comic humour during times of great challenge draws on the dark humour of Irish society coupled with the nation's passion for storytelling.
Brexit provided extensive material, but, as Williamson says, "COVID-19 is the only story in town" now. Recent coverage includes their quirky take on how the Middle East is no longer worth invading due to low oil prices and how Matt Damon, who is quarantined outside Dublin, is considering changing his name to Gaelic.
Williamson outlined the double-edged sword that social media plays in content distribution. Facebook's altered algorithm have reduced his site's reach, but Twitter and Youtube have allowed his content to reach different and emerging audiences. He advises young journalists to "break through" on social media and encourages budding reporters to "make people want to hear what they have to say."
Before we concluded our call, Williamson highlighted that the successful subscriber paywall platforms of the New York Times has been a path they had to follow as advertising revenues dwindle during the crisis, ironically as their reach grows.
For more information on Waterford Whispers or Williamson, check out the full video interview below:
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