athena media weblog

Telling Stories

February 1st, 2017 by Helen Shaw

Telling Stories

Mountain View

In a time when our focus is increasingly on truth versus fake, how we use and command digital communications is critical not just to our businesses but to our reputation online. The ease of sharing content and links online can frequently make it easy for businesses through their social media teams to share or spread unverified and frankly false information.

For 8 years now I’ve worked closely with businesses and professionals to help them become sharper users of digital communications and I am often taken aback when young people working on business social media teams have no idea about how to check or verify content or accounts or the consequences of sharing materials that is not checked out. Someone the other day said “but if it’s an opinion, rather than a fact, surely it’s OK to share that?” and genuinely thought that freedom of speech meant anyone could say anything online once it was their opinion.
The idea that the law follows comment, that comment can be defamatory or libellous, or can be in contempt of court or judged legally an incitement to violence was news to her. Many businesses, including state and private companies, have connected marketing graduates with their digital marketing and that’s brilliant. But the gap is in understanding the power of information and indeed the responsibility of being an information provider.
In my workshops and my support of businesses and organisations online I encourage people to see, and benefit from, the dynamic transformational power of digital to create channels of content with your audiences, users, customers or clients. But I always say
“the opportunity is you are the publisher, but equally the challenge is you are the publisher”.
social media training
Often it is easier for people to see the opportunities and to push the sales and marketing potential of digital and social media but without realising the second half of the sentence the business is at risk. Being the publisher means ensuring digital teams are strong on verification skills, that they have a basic grasp of content online legally, that they understand the framework of copyright online and that they are maximising both storytelling and editorial skills together. Telling a story, even a powerful one that drives the business agenda, without closing the circle of editorial judgement and controls is potentially exposing any business, any organisation and any professional to more risk than any other form of external communications.
Telling stories online is powerful - but making sure they are stories we can stand over, that are editorially connected to facts and values is what turns the key in digital communications.
In 2017 we’re continuing to provide critical digital thinking and skills support to businesses and if you want to talk to us about your digital plans and problems and how we can help give us a call on +3531 4372395 or email helen at athenamedia dot ie

Reading James Joyce

November 8th, 2016 by Helen Shaw

Readers - Barry and Sam McGovern

We’ve a bit of a history in reading James Joyce. A good few years back, in 2009, we began work with UCD Humanities around James Joyce’s memorable short story The Dead (from his collection Dubliners). We created a series of audio podcasts and a website around the story and a few years later for Jan 2014 we added a full reading of the story as part of an iPad application.

In looking for someone to be our voice we went to the source - actor Barry McGovern - who is internationally known for his work in both Joyce and Sam Beckett. McGovern narrated the original Joyce’s Dublin series and the full reading of the story (which won a Finalist for narration at the New York Radio Awards). This year UCD came back to us for the next stage of their digital Joyce project and asked us to make an audiobook around Joyce’s novel ‘A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man’.

Again our first thoughts were of Barry but we wanted to have a young voice for Stephen himself - after all this is Joyce’s own coming of age novel with a strong trace of his own life and experience in it, growing up in Dublin and going to school with the Jesuits. So imagine our surprise when UCD mentioned a young actor someone had seen on stage doing a stage version of the book - Sam McGovern - and we said ‘why that’s Barry’s son’. So was born the idea of a father and son reading of the novel with the two voices carrying the novel but with Sam always bringing out the voice of Stephen Dedalus.

We have been recording now for some weeks and the novel has become almost a second skin we’ve been through it so often. We’re planning to complete the edit by the end of November in good time for the big anniversary for the novel - its 100 anniversary since its publication in December 1916.

UCD plans to use the audiobook as part of its digital outreach around James Joyce and we’ll share details of the digital and online publication then.
In the meantime you can check out the old website

New York Bound

June 2nd, 2016 by Helen Shaw

We’re crossing fingers for the awards ceremony of the New York Radio Festival on June 20th as three of our 2015 radio projects are finalists in this year’s competition. The New York Radio Festival is a bit like an oscars for radio with competition from across the world and this year over 30 countries have entries in the competition. We’ve been fortunate before. In 2012 we won our first Gold New York trophy for our history series Death of an Empire with veteran journalist Seamus Martin. We followed it in with double Gold - a second history award for our series Citizens Lockout 1913-2013 and a gold for the music history series Herosongs - both for RTÉ Radio 1. We’ve won Silver for our Science series for Newstalk Science is Everywhere and last year Silver in music for our Vocal Chords Peter Gabriel special. So New York has been good to us but partly because of the time of year it happens I’ve never got to the event before so this year - with three in the hat - I’m heading to attend my first new York Radio Festival Awards and Gala.

Our final three are as diverse as the stories we tell. There’s the five part music story series with RTÉ Lyric fm Vocal Chords presented by Iarla Ó Lionáird. The series has already been a commended finalist in the Celtic Media Festival 2016 and its just been repeated on RTÉ lyric fm in the lyric feature slot Fridays at 7pm. Then there’s the science series Bright Sparks presented by scientist Shane Bergin which ran on RTÉ Radio 1 and its episode on the environment ‘An atmosphere for change’ is a finalist in the category on programming on climate change as an issue. Its competition is one of the biggest and best funded broadcasters in the world - the BBC via the BBC World Service and the stunning debate series it hosted during the climate change conference in 2015. Our third finalist is a project very special to our hearts ‘The Kinder Letters’ a history documentary for Newstalk which tells a story of post World War 2 Europe through the prism of a widower’s search for the story behind a children’s hand-made book kept by his late wife. The Kinder Letters came about, like all great stories, because of a chance conversation between our associate producer and former staffer Robert Hope and a man he met casually in his German language class Tony O’Herlihy. I’ll leave you to listen and find out what happened !

We’re hoping that New York will be good for us again and we’ll post the news after the results and awards on June 20th. But as always you can hear the winning stories and audio as podcasts and make up your own mind about their merit. Do share if you like them and do tell us what you think

A Short Trip Around the Sun

January 25th, 2016 by Helen Shaw

Telling science stories is one sure way to expand your brain activity. Last year we produced Bright Sparks for RTÉ Radio 1 with presenter Prof. Shane Bergin and in that 8 part series we criss-crossed the cutting edge of research in Ireland, meeting the best and most innovative scientists working to solve some of the most challenging problems and questions of our time.

We went from stem cell engineering behind bone joint replacements to nanotechnology creating droppable smart phones and faster trains. From the new Darwinian biologists cracking the causes of disease and disorder to Irish scientists behind space technology in rockets and the International Space Station’s food.

Since then we’ve spent some time on the brain itself for the Newstalk series The Brain Box with neuroscientist Prof. Richard Roche where we charted the mysteries of our brains from intelligence and creativity to the challenges of brain trauma and dementia.


The good news so early in 2016 is that we’re back in the midst of science again and in the wonders of the solar system. Our latest project ‘A Short Trip Around the Sun’ with Prof. Peter Gallagher the solar scientist from Trinity College Dublin has just been greenlit for Newstalk by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Sound & Vision Scheme under the TV licence fee. It is a two part documentary series, similar to The Brain Box, but this time we’re going from the universe we carry around in our heads to the wonders of our solar system.

“The Irish LOFAR station at Birr builds on Ireland’s great scientific heritage of the Leviathan Telescope of Birr and will connect us to the largest low frequency radio telescope in the world. I-LOFAR will also inspire students to study science, engineering and computer science, and attract additional visitors to Birr. It will also act as a magnet to attract technology companies to the area.” Peter Gallagher

Gallagher is a passionate science communicator. He loves his field - the Sun - as he explained to us in a short audio profile:

The new series will broadcast on Newstalk later this year and we’ll keep you posted on our ‘Short Trip Around the Sun’.

What Is Your Digital Strategy for 2016?

December 3rd, 2015 by Helen Shaw

We’re thinking digital and disruption for 2016. And as one digital leader told us recently the best mantra is ‘disrupt yourself before someone else does it’. In January 2015 we launched a new digital communications workshop tapping into the thirst for brand narrative thinking. Our Telling Your Story Online has proven extremely timely and popular. We’re helping companies both big and small shape their digital thinking about how they represent themselves, their digital identity online and how they focus the ‘why’ of their story and unpack it using content from text to photos, short form Vine videos to blogs. We’ve been experimenting with all the platforms trends ourselves and its interesting to see the number of brands using both Instagram and Snapchat for their business marketing, outreach and client relationships. In August 2015, 59% of Irish people used Facebook, 28% used Twitter and 19% used Instagram (Ipsos MRBI Social Networking Quaterly, August 15)

In Jan and Feb 2016 we’ve once again running Telling Your Story Online but we’ve also introduced some new workshops reflecting those trends and also listening to the questions our clients have in terms of getting their story online. We’ve a new photo and image focussed workshop Snap Happy and we’re once again returning to an audio Podcasting workshop (we used to run them from 2006-2010). How we use audio and photos is critical. Photos remain the most shared content online and any business looking at managing its story online needs to develop strong internal resources around photo and storytelling content including short form videos like Vine and Instagram and audio podcasting. Audio is flying high with the dominance of smart phones. We see the impact of podcasts like Serial in the last year and podcasting is enjoying a second life with many brands once again realising that audio is a great way to get their story into the pocket of their audiences.

Join us for a workshop in 2016 and hope your Christmas and New Year rounds off a good 2015 for you.

Nollaig Shona Daoibh Go Léir from the whole Athena Media team.

Telling Stories

October 23rd, 2015 by Helen Shaw

Digital and social media is often full of buzz words, mostly hype that come and go. We keep struggling to invent a language which catches up with the communications transformation of the last decade. Digital native advertising or content is one of them. Put simply it means matching your story to your audience or framing the story to suit a platform or tool like Instagram or Vine.

In the end the more things changes the more some things remain the same. I always encourage people to think - What’s my message? Who am I talking to? Where are they? What messages are they consuming/hearing?
Be There - and Be Like That. In a digital age it is easier than ever to research your audience and find out what conversations they engage with online and what influences them. The key is always mirroring the audience; being where they are and being embedded in the type of content stories they like to share and shape.

Storytelling is nothing new. We are hard-wired to exchange information and grow knowledge through stories. The Greeks mapped out narrative landscape and we’ve been travelling it ever since. We love stories shaped by people. We engage and learn from heart to head. We want to care about someone and what they do before we get too involved in the story. People follow people. It may seem obvious but look at all the corporate brands that still forget it and lurk in anonymous greyness without a persona shaping a relationship of trust with their clients/customers - their audience.

In my work with companies I roll them back from their current objectives and try to get them to see themselves and their business as stories. Stories shaped and led by engaging people. We know we want to do business with people we trust so why would we doubt that shaping a business around a relationship of human trust - around a people led culture - is not the core of how we live and work in the world?

Digital allows us to built more personal relationships as businesses; to unpack our stories, our legacy, our people and our journey and share conversations with our clients/customers and audiences. Engagement is about conversations. Online communication is as much about listening and hearing as talking.
The opportunity is - What could happen if we liberated our happy customers to talk about us online and found a positive way to manage the unhappy ones? How could that change our business and how we work, how we define success?

In our next Telling Stories Online - The Power of Story in Business - we’ll be sharing case studies and helping people think about how digital empowered business and how to shape and run a successful digital media strategy.

Join us - just 12 places in every workshop - and we’re already 50% booked. NGOs and charities can call us directly on +35314372395 and avail of one of the two discounted charity places we hold on every workshop.

A Decade of Podcasting

August 20th, 2015 by Helen Shaw

It is over ten years since we started using the term podcasting. In Feb 2004 a journalist writing in the Guardian said he was struggling to figure out what to call these bits of audio stories that were going around. Were they audio blogs or, given the new tool of the day the iPod, podcasts? The term podcasts stuck although it was not until 2005 that iTunes launched its podcasting section and became the go to place to find great audio podcasts. Today audio podcasts are back in the news with viral series like Serial putting the art of mobile audio back centre-stage. The resurgence of podcasts is largely to do with the smart phone. Over 80% of us use smart phones now and podcasts are easy to catch via wifi and 4G and handy to take with on our buses, runs and long walks.

We started podcasting back in 2005 and launched our podcasting portal Podcasting Ireland in March 2006 with 02 Making Waves - a new music audio podcast channel - sponsored by 02. We had a big launch with lots of great young bands in Whelans and we ran the weekly free audio series for over 3 years until the reality of the recession cut our sponsorship and ability to sustain it. In March 2006 we also launched another weekly audio podcast channel Vhi Health Club - a radio like short form feature series which was sponsored by Vhi Healthcare and used on its website. For three years, until Spring 2009, we had sponsored channels much like the early days of radio and had downloads of over 100,000 on each service! Podcasting Ireland had a directory of all Irish podcasts and at the peak of it in 2008 we had thousands of entries and hundreds of thousands of users!

The recession hit sponsorship and for a time podcasting seems to fall from favour. But today it ease of use and the quality of the content available, particularly from the US, has given a wonderful re-bounce to the art of podcasting. New series are being launched all the time and while we never stopped podcasting our radio and audio work we’ve now launched a new series The Family of Things which is a long form podcast interview series reflecting the changed world of digital where listening to a great story for 40-50 minutes has become the norm through international podcasts like This American Life or RadioLab (both my favourites).

The Family of Things logo

We see audio podcasts as a way of creating and sharing great stories but today it is all about quality, so the audio ones I hear with cheap mics and tons of background noise won’t last. We’re used to radio quality sound and editing and while we want the casual style and open nature of audio podcasting we want to be able to hear them and experience a soundful story.

The scope for ideas and new talent is wide and in a sense the limits are our imagination. If you haven’t explored podcasts for a while check out some of the new and old ones online and some of the ones being produced by broadcasters solely for online use. From broadcasters I love the BBC World Services documentaries which have just this week been re-branded as ‘Seriously‘ a new online podcast series of stories from the BBC World Service. I love Radiolab and its back archive and short cuts is fantastic and it definitely influenced us in the production of our science series Bright Sparks and the additional 10 short cuts we’ve released online via itunes and the rss feed on
Bright Sparks
Explore, listen, enjoy and if you feel like it create one yourself. We’re celebrating ten years as the first podcasting company in Ireland via Podcasting Ireland and looking forward to the next wave of things we may create and release in 2016.

Begin Again

July 16th, 2015 by Helen Shaw

It is July and a quiet sense of relaxation is settling over Dublin. Schools are closed and people are beginning to let go of the rigid time schedule that governs our year. July feels like a deep breath. But while we’re enjoying the sense of fulfilment in having just finished some 15 hours of crafted radio Vocal Chords for RTE lyric fm and Bright Sparks for RTE Radio 1 - we’re also starting to begin again with two new projects we’ve just been fortunate enough to get the green light on. I love the colour green!

The first is a truly engaging idea - what does it take to make a winner; how we be recruit and train elite athletes in Ireland? In the year running up to Rio 2016 we’re going to be tracking the story of sports performance, education and talent management. The documentary, funding support from the BAI and the TV licence fee, is called ‘How to Win’ and will air on our broadcast partner Setanta Ireland in Spring 2016. Some of the people we’ll feature will be the biggest names in sport in Ireland and the UK but we’re exploring what it takes for Ireland to support its athletes across all sport and how can we ensure that we achieve our potential?

The second is quite different and it is that diversity I personally love. We’re also making a radio series called Cross Currents about contemporary composers in Ireland from the 1970s to today and exploring the root of inspiration and influences which shape the sound of people like Gerald Barry, Roger Doyle, Raymond Deane to the younger generation of people like Donnacha Dennehy and Linda Buckley.

This landmark series will be narrated by the acclaimed actor Barry McGovern and it is being made in partnership with the Contemporary Music Centre and with the highly informed and knowledgable Jonathan Grimes. It will broadcast on RTE lyric fm in Spring 2016 and it will be presented online by both the CMC and Athena Media.

We love our work; the ideas and people that fuel the stories we tell. And we’re also grateful to the funds and funders that help people like us make creative digital humanities like these.

Happy to be starting again. Let the stories unfold.

If you are interested in hearing more of Linda Buckley, and her amazing music, have a listen to our audio podcast series The Family of Things as I’ve just recorded with her for episode 7

Bright Sparks

May 5th, 2015 by Helen Shaw

Part of the joy of what we do is that we get to learn new things all the time. This year alone I’ve edited with Avid editor Barry MacNeill our action sports Tv documentary Extreme and just finished the big five part music documentary radio series with Iarla O Lionaird Vocal Chords which is running every Friday in May on RTÉ lyric fm.
But myself and Audio Editor Amy Millar are now buried in science and science stories for an 8 part science radio series Bright Sparks for RTE Radio 1 - starting May 24th.

It’s an ambitious journey to uncover the scientists leading in Ireland and their research which is changing the world we live in. The presenter is physicist Dr Shane Bergin and his passion and love for science as a thing of beauty and essential knowledge in our world drives the series. The researcher and key recordist on the whole project for the last year is Cormac MacAdam and both Shane and Cormac have travelled the country talking to scientists about their work and why they do it.

The journey shifts from episode one - How We Learn - which tracks how science is funded and supported in Ireland and shares the public debate over the need to support curiosity or exploratory science as well as science which is directed to industry or practical everyday solutions. In episode 1 Dr Nora Khaldi is a wonderful example of Bright Sparks - a young Irish woman creating and developing a cutting edge food science programme, in bioinformatics, which is now part of the NDRC’s digital start-up companies and will lead to direct commercial impact in the foods we eat - so say a food bar might in the future control diabetes and replace drug dependancy.

The series stretches from the New Darwinians like Emma Teeling in episode 2 where Dr Teeling’s work uses bats as a means of studying genetics and ultimately humans. Our final episode ends in space with the work of Professor Peter Gallagher - an astrophysicist whose fascination for the Sun, our near neighbour and the source of Earth’s energy, drives his globally leading research.

Leon O’Neill and John Howard in our team have created the very lovely microsite for the project and its visual story with John’s poster for episode one giving us that sense that science is integral to our lives, our bodies, our minds. It is as Shane Bergin says all about curiosity and it is that human curiosity which we’ve followed in the series.

Our Family is Growing

March 6th, 2015 by Helen Shaw

Late last Autumn I had a weekend of podcast listening and I guess I fell back in love with audio podcasts (perhaps because the iPhone 6 makes it so use to use them in 3G networks). We launched Podcasting Ireland in March 2006 and its fun to think a full nine years later we’re effectively re-launching our podcasting life.

Helen Shaw

Then we launched two sponsored audio channels 02 Making Waves - a weekly new Irish music channel - and VHI Health Club - a weekly and then bimonthly health podcast. For three years we had amazing growth in podcasting with fully sponsored branded content channels and lots of bespoke audio podcasting work for business clients. August 2008 and Lehman Brothers wiped all that out. Sponsorship and commercial spending on content more of less vanished in the recession and since 2014 we’re re-growing out podcasting and branded content business.

In late 2014 we launched a new audio, long-form podcast called The Family of Things to showcase the power of podcasting. For us the viral success of Serial, the American factual podcast, put podcasting back on the agenda but in reality figures for podcasting were growing rapidly across 2014 showing the mainstream podcast habits which have developed with not just broadcast content from the BBC and RTE but from non-broadcast, digital only content like our own TFOT.

Nessa O Mahony

I called it The Family of Things drawing on an end line from a Mary Oliver poem which speaks to our journey in life and our connected paths and in the podcast I’m talking to interesting people, from diverse backgrounds, about ideas, life and how we live it. We started with the first release in November 2014 with poet Nessa O Mahony and we’ve got to know Nessa because we also released her first collection Bar Talk as an e-book and audiobook .

Another woman writer, Denise Deegan, joined us then. Denise is a highly successful popular fiction writer who has now re-invented herself as Aimee Alexander and published her adult popular fiction as e-books. Physicist Dr Shane Bergin took us on a conversation of learning and life and even played the ukulele for us. Shane is the presenter of our new science radio series Bright Sparks.

Shane Bergin

In January we added a fascinating conversation with Hans Zomer, Head of Dóchas about development, poverty and how we as individuals and societies make this a better world in 2015 during European Year of Development. Last month singer and performer Iarla Ó Lionáird from the award winning ensemble The Gloaming shared a rich journey through music, language and identity.

Iarla Ó Lionáird

The Family of Things is growing. Our next edition is the actor and writer Mark O’Halloran (Adam & Paul, Garage, Prosperity) and as it grows so does our audience. By the close of February we had over five thousands downloads and as word gets out about the project and the people involved its growing are climbing, as well as its global reach.

For so many years we’ve talked in digital about less is more in content, about the need to make short form but with this project I’m playing with the idea that smart phones and audio, as well as improved wifi and 4G, makes listening to a long story not just easy but attractive. I listen when I’m driving and link the phone into the audio system. Others use them instead of listening to live radio. The tools have liberated the limits so why not a long, rich conversation which takes us through someone’s life like an audiobook?

We’d love to hear from you think and if you like it please share the project. If you’d like to talk to us about sponsorship of this or other content project call me, anytime!

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