On the 7th of November, Vincent Browne received the Literary & Historical Society’s prestigious James Joyce Award. Browne is a highly acclaimed investigative journalist, Editor-In-Chief and news broadcaster/talk show host. The event took place in UCD’s Fitzgerald Chamber. Browne was highly influential in the founding of this newspaper. I sat down with him to chat origins of the Tribune, university life, and the state of affairs in the media today.
I asked him about how he came about forming the College Tribune all the way back in 1989 (see pages 8 & 9 for a special 30th anniversary spread): “I was out in the Sunday Tribune at the time, and I had been to UCD and was doing courses in UCD at the time. And I thought it would be a good idea to establish a presence for the [Sunday] Tribune newspaper in UCD. Along with Art Cosgrove, who was later President of UCD, […] we decided to set it up.” At the time, Browne was Editor of the Sunday Tribune. “We then advertised for an editor and we were looking for someone who would be radical and could take on the college establishment. We had difficulty finding one, but we did and that was it.” Eamonn Dillon was selected as the first Editor of this new university-based Tribune.
I asked Browne on why he thought UCD needed a student newspaper: “I think it’s a good idea to hold lecturers and professors to account, because often lecturers don’t do their jobs properly. There is no way of holding them to account. I was personally of the view that College Tribune should encourage students to rate their lecturers. That was an idea, but it wasn’t the purpose of it [tribune].”
In a 2008 statement, Browne said: “The surest way of knowing whether the College Tribune was doing its job was how much the college “authorities” disliked it, deemed it “irresponsible”, and wanted to shut it down. That’s the test. Go to it”
Talking on what production was like back in the late 80’s, Brown said: “It was produced in the Sunday Tribune office and it was a fairly primitive production arrangement then. Though it had come on quite a bit, compared to now it was laborious, [and] now things have changed.”
Browne is notorious for his relentless charge to hold institutions to account. I asked him about how he thought UCD was doing today: “I wouldn’t know enough about the administration, but I know that one of the difficulties they have is the state doesn’t fund universities properly. It depends greatly on getting funds from outside from corporate sources and instead of spending the time improving the academic and teaching of subjects, the University’s senior executives […] spend their time raising money. Which is a pity. […] That has a corrosive influence, because universities get drawn into the corporate world in ways that are unhealthy…”
Apathy is a hot topic today amounts young people, and a go-to scapegoat for the unenthused attitude of students towards various extra-curricular activities. I wanted to hear what Browne thought about it, and he didn’t hold back: “When I was in UCD, which was in the early to mid-60s, people were complaining [similarly] about student politics at the time: ‘there is too much apathy.’ I actually think there isn’t enough apathy. Because, what’s there to be interested in? Student politics achieves nothing, and it’s mainly a form for show-offs. People should be more apathetic and this you should keep up apathy as much as you can.”
I asked for his advice on aspiring young journalists today. Browne simply responded: “Don’t.” He went on to say: “The media scene has changed very drastically there [are] very few jobs. It is probably going to get worse, but in 10/20 years’ time things will change and I assume that new media will evolve which will be credible in journalistic terms. But I don’t see that at the moment. And it’s a problem. People are going to get the information about what’s happening in society from questionable sources.”
Browne went on to talk about the issue of the media today and their lack of coverage on the issues that matter: “There’s so much to find out from the internet and to use. Like the Dáil debates are often very boring, but some speeches some contribute to Dáil debates or often very good. They try very hard and their ignored.”
The L&H event consisted of Browne opening with a speech about many things he learnt in his long and fruitful career, sharing insights he wishes he knew earlier. His main argument surrounded his frustration with the large inequalities that are sweeping Irish society today. This was followed an audience Q&A and the presentation of the James Joyce Award.
Conor Capplis – Editor