When I first started working in journalism, there were elements of the job I assumed would take precedence over others. Grammar was probably my first concern – writing ability, when working in print journalism, is obviously important. Being able to research, fact check and accurately quote interviewees also loomed large in my mind (it still does). Telling stories in an interesting and understandable way is also important; particularly for lifestyle journalism. One thing I didn’t think about, however, was the diligent, consistent effort it takes to build trust with viewers, listeners and readers, and this is probably the most important element of any journalist’s career.

Trust is paramount when it comes to journalistic integrity. In recent weeks, and as news continues to develop around the pay details of RTÉ executives and top presenters, we now know what it looks like when a respected media source betrays that public trust. When news like this breaks it is always disappointing – but when it relates to a network largely funded by Irish taxpayers, it can reach crisis point.

Media which is free from Government involvement is an important element of any functional democracy. For most democratic societies, this means a mix of coexisting privately-owned and state-funded media bodies. The idea is that there is no such thing as 100% unbiased media (you’re always owned by someone, or have a political allegiance of some kind), so a variety will hopefully provide the balanced news needed to help avoid or uncover any corruption.

I can’t say I was terribly surprised when I learned the annual incomes of some of RTÉ’s top presenters. The disappointment I felt was more due to the seeming lack of care or control of the executives – especially coming from a place of journalism. I understand the huge amount of work which goes into a news piece or show, and much of it likely happens before it reaches any high-paid presenters. When you consider who is doing this work and how little, by comparison, they are probably paid, that is where the betrayal is most acutely felt. After all, those affected are the faces behind that all-important trust which, in turn, contributes to our Irish democracy.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t so long ago we were living without smartphones or Twitter feeds and we weren’t receiving news updates by the minute or via other social media streams. When I read this week’s backchat column by Margaret Leahy, I smiled envisioning the local shopkeeper running to her mother-in-law’s to share the news of Margaret and her husband’s first baby (a son, who – should I say it? – is now the same age as myself).

My own kids are satisfactorily shocked when I explain that “a hundred years ago” when I was their age, we only had one phone in the house – and it was attached to the wall. I can still remember all of my friends’ and family members’ phone numbers from the early 1990s, but for the life of me can’t recall my husband’s current mobile number (it’s saved on my phone, so why would I need to?).

So much has happened in relatively little time. We don’t always have room in our busy minds for all the facts and figures, so I want to end this editorial by thanking you, dear readers, for having trust in Irish Country Living’s content and approach to journalism. We don’t take it for granted.

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