As a freelance journalist, I was looking forward to watching ‘Obituary’, a new comedy from RTÉ, and enjoying seeing the life of a freelancer on screen.
The story, a dark comedy, follows Elvira Clancy, a struggling writer who compiles the obituary column for a local newspaper. She decides to supplement her income after her editor jokes that she should “start killing people” when she complains about being paid just €200 per item.
Unfortunately, I was unable to suspend disbelief, not at this outrageous premise, but at the idea that a freelance writer would receive as much as €200 for an obituary. As my colleagues can tell you, in real life a freelance gets paid a fraction of that. Many would have to die at the journalist’s hands to pay the average mortgage.
There is a serious point here. Beneath the comedy, the series does demonstrate the effects of continuing hollowing out of local and national newsrooms. In the USA, some regions are now known as “news deserts”, because of the lack of reliable local reporting. There have been some pieces of good news, such as the promised local democracy and local court reporting grants proposed by Coimisiún na Meán, but while the Coimisiún part-funded ‘Obituary’, the promised local reporting funds seem to be mired in administrative red tape.