It’s endgame for 2012. How has it been for you? In this the final days of December 2012 we’ve been taking a look and listen to some of the things we got up to in this year. Our life here at Athena Media is marked by content - radio, television and online audio and video and despite its ups and downs 2012 has been a stunning year for story-telling. This time last year we were in the midst of finishing our modern history and politics series ‘Death of an Empire‘ for RTE Radio 1. This five part series ran across the early part of the year and told the story of the fall of the Soviet Union, over twenty years ago, and brought the story from Stalin to modern-day Russia and Putin. The series weaves archives, interviews, locational recordings done by presenter Seamus Martin and some wonderful music to create an audio journey through time. The series went on to win Gold at the international radio festival the New York Radio Awards, beating off competition from some of the best resourced history radio units in the world, including the BBC. Death of an Empire later went on to win silver at the PPI Radio Awards in Ireland and our radio trophy cabinet also had to make room for an Irish national award for our series Made in Ireland with Ella McSweeney, which went out on RTE Radio 1 over Christmas and New Year last year. Made in Ireland’s episode on craft butchers won Agricultural Journalist of the Year for Ella and the series has been running across the year in Australia in its Top of the Pods series.
We were extremely lucky that one of our ex Athena Media staffers, Paula Cunniffe came back to us in Spring 2012 following her sojourn in the US doing a journalism Masters in Florida. Paula became the reporter and assistant producer on The Media Show - the 8 part series on media matters presented by Brenda Power - which went out on RTE Radio 1 from April and covered the Primetime Investigates crisis for RTE and the subsequent BAI report. (We’re hoping The Media Show comes back in the Spring so watch this space for a news alert …..)
Paula went on to be the Assistant Producer on our ground-breaking TV documentary Beyond Limits which followed the lives of seven elite athletes heading to the Paralympic Games in London. The documentary dominated our lives from May to August and was the outstanding highlight for all of us in that we got to work with the incredible Mark Pollock and a cast of amazing athletes including Mark Rohan, Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop, Darragh McDonald, Catherine Walsh, Helen Kearney - who all went on to win medals under the Irish flag. The documentary was broadcast on Setanta and made with the support of the BAI Sound & Vision Scheme and we’ve just been told, this week, that we’ve been fortunate enough to win a second grant award from the fund to do a follow-up documentary called Beyond Limits - The Next Generation where we work with the winning athletes mentoring the next generation of new talent coming forth inspired by the achievements of London 2012. We can’t wait to start this and get into production with Mark Pollock who is himself making headlines by his plans to take on his first adventure expedition to Siberia. Mark - who is blind since his twenties - was a champion adventurer and author before a tragic accident two years ago left him paralysed. He is now training using bionic technology - bionic legs - and has taken up hand-cycling as an exercise since meeting double gold Irish paralympian Mark Rohan.
Paula left us to work with the Taoiseach’s Department from September and she’s been working on the EU Presidency which begins in Jan 2013 and supporting the website and online life of the project but she came back for a weekend to help us make a launch promo for other new Tv series Get Off the Couch! with Teena Gates. This is a series (again supported by the BAI and broadcaster Setanta) which aims to get people active and participating in outdoor sports like walking, hiking, cycling and swimming.
A significant portion of our broadcast work is supported by the BAI Sound & Vision Fund and we’re extremely grateful that it has allowed us to help some important stories this year including the Winning Women series on Irish women Olympians for Newstalk which ran across the Summer and culminated in a one hour documentary featuring Sonia O’Sullivan. We’re just finishing a second series with Newstalk called Grassroots featuring short form documentaries on positive action from communities across the country. Grassroots producers are Rob Hope and Lisa Essuman and the final one hour documentary goes out on New Year’s Day on Newstalk at 8am.
But that’s not all our radio work this year. Audio engineer graduate Brendan Rehill joined us in mid year to work on Winning Women and has stayed with us full-time since then working on all our radio projects including our major arts/music production for RTE lyric fm on Wide Open Operas’s first production of Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde. We produced a short form series for daytime called Re-Imagining Opera and a full one hour documentary called Taking on Tristan which went out in late November just before the full broadcast of the opera itself. Our recordist and narrator on that opera project is Michael Gallen, a young composer who is working with us on a freelance basis. Michael heads up the band Ana Gog and we’re lucky to have several musicians around the company at present including Rob Hope himself who is the lead singer and song-writer with Senakah. We’ve used Rob’s music in Beyond Limits and Michael’s music featured in the Get Off the Couch! promo and in our documentary on Fighting Words which went out in late 2011 on RTE Lyric fm.
Michael is also helping me on our new big history radio project called Citizens: Lockout 1913 which tells the story of the Dublin Lockout one hundred years after the events which shaped modern Dublin and Dubliners. The series has been in production since August 2012 but wont go out until September 2013 on RTE Radio 1 so there’s a lot of work to be done yet and Michael will also be working on the music soundtrack of the project.
Other radio projects already started and running into 2013 include a new science series called Science is Everywhere for Newstalk - and Louise Denvir, freelancer, is helping us on that series while Lisa Essuman (who as everyone knows holds the company together) is working on Herosongs with musicologist Therese McIntyre in Galway. Herosongs is a wonderful music series which in many ways grew out of our big music history series High Fidelity as Therese was a listener and series fan who got in touch with the idea of telling the stories behind folk songs which have in themselves become history stories. Herosongs is again for RTE Radio 1 - and once again thanks to the BAI for supporting it.
So some amazing stories which have come our way - told by inspiring people - and we’re lucky to have had a great crew across the year including Lisa, Paula, Rob, Michael, Brendan and freelancers Stephen, Louise and our cameraman and editor Barry MacNeill. We’ve had several great interns across the year - Joseph Pelan was with us for the first six months under an Erasmus Scheme and helped enormously while we’ve been gifted to have recent graduate Leon O’Neill working with us supporting Social Media Training and our productions. We’ve expanded our output under Athena Media Training with the support of Sinead Kennedy and under the ever careful leadership of Lisa Essuman. We’ve been back in full swing running our half day social media workshops this Autumn and Winter and in Jan 2013 we move to The Gresham Hotel as our new venue for the workshops and we’re starting on Jan 21 with a new offering - the half day workshop on Linkedin. We’ve currently got four half days in the offering; twitter,facebook, linkedin and social media strategy & online content and we’re back working with the Dublin City Enterprise Board from the Spring with Twitter for Business. We spent the first part of the year working with the Irish Times training its entire newsroom and journalist staff on Twitter for Journalism and we’re keen to continue our research and work on the future of journalism, news and digital media. Some interesting things on the cards on that front and again we hope to have some details here soon.
So a busy year - a tough year in terms of ever reducing budgets and a declining advertisement market for many of our broadcast clients. A busy but challenging one and 2013 promises even more challenges for the media landscape as digital and online continues to disrupt every assumption the media business model sits on. For us 2013 already has so many deadlines and projects but our big ambition remains to tell true stories well and hope you enjoy them.
Happy Christmas and a very warm New Year wish to everyone - Let’s hope 13 is a turning point for the better (we know a few black cats who can cross the path just in case…..:)