A first draft of history

One of the most rewarding things about journalism is being there as history is made, and nowhere was that more apparent than in Dublin this weekend as the Eighth Amendment was repealed.

But at the same time as it was fascinating to be there and to witness it, it is also mildly depressing to see 35 years of campaigning stuffed into the narrative grinder, and an easily-consumable but not-entirely-satisfying sausage of a story emerge out the other end.

This all happened in the country I grew up in, but it’s a place I haven’t lived in for almost 20 years, and while my perspective is  far from unique, it is certainly different.

That’s what made it all the more surprising as we fumbled with our first drafts of history on Friday night and Saturday morning, and I found myself questioning whether or not everyone else had seen a different battle to the one I witnessed. 

I was amazed to see politicians who arrived late to the party get so much credit, far more than was commensurate with the effort they expended.

I was amazed that, even in the aftermath, far-right Catholic fringe groups were still being asked for their opinions, despite having been resoundingly rejected by the electorate.

I was amazed that the camera people and editors focussed on the celebrations and the prosecco and paper cups, and not the aching, teary, exhausted relief after a nasty, degrading battle that no-one wanted to have to fight in the first place.

On polling day I started with breakfast in Marino, not far form the three Catholic schools where I received my education. On the radio, down the road from the Mount Temple school where they were formed, U2 sang, and when that song was over Sinéad O’Connor took over.

Sinéad also spent part of her youth wandering these streets, up toward the middle of Griffith Avenue, and here she was singing “She Moved Through The Fair”.

“It will not be long now,” she sang, and I headed out the door, looking for the best vantage point to watch our country change before our eyes.

On polling day I walked the streets of my city form north to south and back again, and I spoke to literally anyone who looked like they wanted to talk to me.

I stopped at Edge’s Corner in Fairview to talk to the women with the “Together For Yes” banners placards. Mothers pointed proudly to their daughters as passing cars sounded their horns.

Further up on the pedestrian bridge in Fairview the No side stood, their grim placards with foetuses on them garnering little in the way of public sympathy.

Struggling to read the phone screen in the bright sunshine, I translated an article from Norwegian for a woman who had been interviewed for it. She was satisfied that she had been quoted correctly.

In the meantime, my phone started to light up in my pocket – my 800 words about the referendum for Sweden’s biggest newspaper had been published, and there were tweets and e–mails and the odd threat and bit of abuse to respond to.

Into and around the city I went, talking, talking, talking.

The No side were still confident that Ireland would come to its senses, but the arrogance and argumentativeness of the previous day on Henry Street was gone. It was more hope than expectation now.

As the afternoon wore on I met Sarah-Maria Griffin, a fierce lioness with a pen like a pickaxe that chops mercilessly away at the facade of our existence through her poetry and fiction.

In 2016 she raised that pickaxe of a pen high over her head and carved out the words of “We Face This Land,” a clarion call for Repeal that became a film that lit a fire.

Not all of us have survived.

The waves do not part.

There are no miracles here.

Bubbling with nervous excitement early Friday evening, she ordered a gin and told me about her writing and her life and being chased with her mother as they canvassed for the Yes side on the northside of the city.

It was terrifying and uplifting at the same time, and then the lioness jumped into a taxi outside the Shelbourne Hotel and was gone, leaving a dusty cloud of powerful words behind her.

By then. the throngs of canvassers on Grafton Street and O’Connell Street had thinned out, the last of the voters sent to the schools with the names like St Brigids and St Josephs and Holy Faith to cast their sometimes unholy ballots before the interminable wait for the exit polls.

And then they came through, two to one, and Ireland was a changed place forever.

The following morning was not an anti-climax, but the tension had been ripped out of the air before it even began.

There is no exit poll with a margin of error of nigh-on 20 percent.

It was like turning up to a sporting event knowing you’re the only team that can win it, except that the prize is the end of 35 years of hurt and shame and invisibilty.

The Yes side flocked to the RDS, some joyful, some celebratory, but most just bone-crushingly exhausted and relieved that, finally, after 35 years, after the rights to information and travel, after X, after Savita, after Tuam, after symphysiotomy, after everything, this, at least, was over.

At least for now.

Even at the RDS it was over quickly, and the women who faced this land along with Sarah-Maria streamed to Dublin Castle to stand in front of the nation as something approaching equals for the very first time.

The gays were there, and the singers, and the human rights campaigners and the broadcasters and the politicians.

A broadcaster, burdened by a lifetime of being in front of the camera as the debate raged but never once being allowed to have an opinion, looked relieved as they went by me in one of the narrow corridors.

No more false “balance”, no more pretending that human rights are something that can or should be debated.

The world’s press gathered and talked about the Catholic Church, but politely declined to listen long enough to learn how Ireland had changed and in what ways over the last 35 years.

“Chalk it down as a loss for the clergy and let’s get ourselves to the airport lads.”

The drink and the ink began to flow and the first drafts of history were written, and while for the most part they contained similar elements, the ordinary people who were the real heroes were already slipping away.

For journalists it is always easier to point to the politician with the pearly-white smile and the pithy sound-byte as the harbinger of change – they attract the cameras and the microphones and make us turn our backs on the truth.

It’s like we cannot – or will not – believe that change can be brought about by ordinary people doing extraordinary things, no matter how often we see it.

It’s like we need the fallacy that our leaders are somehow better than us, somehow in control to sleep safely at night, when in fact much of our insomnia and worry is their creation.

My first draft of history is this:

“On Friday May 25 2018, the women of Ireland repealed the Eighth Amendment.”

And that’s it.

It may have taken them 35 years, and in that time they were scorned and laughed at and belittled and abused, right up until Saturday morning and in some cases beyond, and yet they did it.

Nothing else is relevant.

Through the day I saw women, from teenagers who had just cast their first vote to political veterans who started out on this trail 35 years previously, gradually realising what they had done.

One by one, it dawned on them the immense power that they now wield.

They banded together, and over the weeks and months and years, they changed a country.

And they’re not done yet.

They cried with relief, and some cried knowing that this is a new burden to bear – the burden of knowing what is possible, and that they cannot back away from it now.

As I walked away from the courtyard in Dublin Castle I began deleting some of the interviews I had done with different men over the last four days – they were no longer relevant in this story, if they ever were.

Of course, at some point we need to talk about how a tiny far-right Catholic sect is able to hijack the media every time the human rights of others are up for “debate”.

We need to ask ourselves what is the purpose of the Catholic Church, if they do not have the courage to stand up and argue their case before our people, instead outsourcing it to a collection of crackpots and American evangelicals.

We need to ask why our old-fashioned media are never seen on the streets, writing instead from the Dáil bar or with their feet up on their desks, rather than wearing out their shoe leather on the streets where the lives of our citizens play out.

Though many in the media, especially the younger brigade and the online outlets, were outstanding, many in the older generation and the majority of the male politicians who are now anointed as saviours had little to do with the outcome of this referendum.

At best, they were bystanders; at worst, active obstructors.

But we know that already.

We’ve heard their story time and again since the dawn of our state.

We’ve watched, enthralled, as they achieved precisely nothing.

But the women of Ireland repealed the Eighth Amendment.

And that, now, is the only story that needs to be told.


Reporting from a changed place

Heading to Dublin next week to report on the referendum to remove Ireland’s 8th amendment to the constitution, which effectively bars abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances – packing the bag with the right kid is always a problem, as is being allowed to have neither a vote nor a public opinion.

In fairness, a lot of people know what I think of the amendment itself, but I doubt anyone could tell me where I stand on the substantive issue.

To maintain a semblance of impartiality in reporting (not that it makes any difference, as everyone reporting on such an issue gets dragged through the mud by one particular side), I’ve been restrained in airing any of my own views.

That’s not to say I haven’t commented on the strategies in use, or indeed some of the lies being told and underhand tactics being used.

Contrary to the popularly-held belief, particularly among those of a conservative nature, being impartial and fair is not the same as being an unquestioning doormat or platform-provider.

The best hosts and interviewers are capable of asking each side the questions they would rather not answer, shining a light on areas they might rather were ignored and taking them into the deep water where they don’t want to go. 

My job next week will be to try to set the context for international viewers, readers and listeners. As yet I’ll be working for radio and a newspaper with audio, text and pictures, but what usually happens is that I end up doing a whole lot for TV while I’m on the ground too.

I’ll have my video camera and a couple of microphones, as well as something for taking stills. If nothing else turns up (and experience tells me it will), I have a few people I’d like to interview for a podcast idea I have.

It will be interesting to see how it pans out – most of the work I’m booked for is prior to the vote, which will give me plenty of time to observe the reaction to the vote.

What is for certain is that the genies released during this campaign, good and bad, will not be going back into their bottles, no matter what the outcome.

Ireland will be a changed place when the sun rises next Saturday, and I’m privileged to be able to be there to tell the story, regardless of the result.

Media organisations seeking coverage of the Irish referendum on abortion and the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution form Dublin can contact philip at eblana.se or call +46707217715. 


Back to my roots…

philip-7It’s been ages since I updated this site, but there’s a very good reason for it now.

Last week I was working for TV Asahi from Japan, and it struck me that, as a freelance journalist, all I have is my name.

For years I’ve had a corporate website but the other day I came to the realisation that literally no-one cares about it.

The only reason people hire me is because they know me or they are familiar with my work.

I originally registered this domain to stop anyone else from impersonating me (something which happened on Twitter recently, and I had to get them to remove a fake account pretending to be me), but I’ve decided to place my journalistic eggs in this particular basket for the future.

As a freelancer, there’s no point in having a “brand” (ugh!) that isn’t directly related to who you are. There’s no point in having a company when people want to hire the individual

With that in mind, I’ll be updating these pages more regularly to reflect what I’m doing in my working life – and with the wWinter Olympics done and the World Cup coming up, there will be plenty to choose from.

McGregor’s defeat puts UFC on brink of mainstream

I spent the last week in Las Vegas at UFC 196, finally getting a chance to size up the sport and its protagonists up close. It is fascinating, brutal and very much here to stay. 

DSC_0143 (1)

Conor McGregor meets the press ahead of UFC 196

With the certainty that the odds-makers front of house at the MGM would agree, the best outcome at UFC 196 was what eventually transpired – Miesha Tate choked out Holly Holm, Nate Diaz did the same to Conor McGregor, and all of a sudden the UFC is on the verge of truly breaking into the mainstream.

Long derided as the “human cockfighting” of John McCain’s memorable yet erroneous description, the addition of the revelation that McGregor is human to the bonfire of the vanities that already contained the ashes of Ronda Rousey’s invincibility has turned the sport into an irresistible force.

Had McGregor won, his juggernaut would have rolled on, crushing every weight class in his path. Instead, he faces a steady diet of humble pie as he slims down to featherweight to defend the belt still in his possession.

Similarly, Holly Holm’s short-lived sojourn as bantamweight champion that came to an end in Tate’s grip opens up the kind of intrigue that the UFC could only have dreamed of at the start of the week.

There are now three women in the bantamweight division with little to separate them and plenty of scores to be settled. Whatever way the fighters are matched up for UFC 200 and beyond, it is a fascinating prospect.

The victory of Nate Diaz, a junkyard dog with a head like an anvil, over McGregor exploded across the UFC. The divisions of featherweight, lightweight and welterweight went from being a Notorious one-man show to a kaleidoscope of names all vying for a piece of the action.

And therein lies part of the problem. Until Saturday Diaz was a journeyman from Stockton without too many decent paydays to his name, and now all of a sudden he is another millionaire at the top of the pile.

In the shadow of the shimmering gold facades of the Mandalay Bay and Trump’s Casino there is substance abuse, homelessness and poverty.

On East Tropicana Boulevard, opposite where the Lincolns and Suburbans of wealthy fight fans pull in to park at the MGM, is a vacant lot where winos gather, seeking out a scrap of shade for somewhere to hide from the scorching sun and drink.

All of happens a stone’s throw across the street from the grandeur of the Grand, where a select few fighters – Diaz now among them – can make millions from half an hour’s work.

But the peculiar Las Vegas dichotomy between splendor and deprivation is also reflected inside the octagon, where there are those of great riches like McGregor and those struggling to get by.
Further down the card, the fighters train and toil and battle for a relative pittance, scrambling to get a foot on the slippery, elusive ladder to the top of the UFC.

The lucky ones will get a sum in the low five figures for fighting, most of which will be sucked up by their costs.

Sweden’s Ilir Latifi fought a tremendous bout at light heavyweight, but I sincerely doubt that his haul from the sellout event will have the private bankers beating a path to his door in Rosengård to advise him on his future investments.

And perched above them all is McGregor with his seven-figure cheque just for showing up, and a shop out in the lobby doing a roaring trade in t-shirts featuring his name and image.

McGregor is often criticized for his attitude towards money, and his inference that wealth brings with it both style and class, when in fact it often hinders the development of both.

McGregor’s attitude is reminiscent of the bling of hip hop and Vegas itself, where your value is measured based on the size of the stack in front of you, rather than your game. It might be vulgar, but it is the reality of the way and the city and the sport in which he made his name.

Wealth, cars, freedom – such are the privileges of being the engine of growth of sport in general and the Ultimate Fighting Championship in particular. You get to call the shots.

Earlier in the week McGregor claimed with the blustering certainty that only he can muster that he would break the billion-dollar turnover barrier for the UFC.

In truth it didn’t matter whether he won or lost on Saturday – if there’s one thing Las Vegas loves more than a celebrity winner, it’s a high-stakes loser.

The whole city is built on the shaky premise that losing is not the end, that you can win it all back in one glorious moment if you just have the courage to double down. Redemption is on offer, twenty-four hours a day.

Rumours of the demise of McGregor and Holm, are greatly exaggerated. They are still great fighters and even though they are now back among the ranks of the contenders (McGregor still holds a belt, but he is a contender at lightweight and welterweight), they are far from done.

Atop all of this is the UFC, an organization struggling to deal with the growing pains as the sport’s acceptance in the public consciousness gathers pace. Though capable of slick in-house video and no stranger to a well-staged announcement, its press operation is lamentably overrun, a fault which limits the spread of news from the UFC to non-fight fans.

“The company”, as it is known, was also briefly at risk of a not-so-hostile takeover by McGregor, who spoke of creating his own belt and made himself an equal of Dana White as the kingpin of the UFC looked on sheepishly, unsure of whether to embrace McGregor or slap him down.

In the end Diaz did it for him, dealing decisively with the threat of McGregor’s burgeoning popularity and ego – for now, White once again holds the whip hand ahead of UFC 200.
And instead of one big name, he finds himself in command of a roster of fighters that has captured the imagination of the public and that is gradually seeping from the online sites that nurtured it all these years onto the back pages of the more respectable broadsheets.

For fans, it’s an easy choice and it is their interest which has seen the papers adopt he sport. Professional boxing is dull and uninspiring – the heavyweight bout between Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury was an insufferable yawnfest, and the most interesting aspect of any meeting of Mayweather and Paqcuiao is to see who can come off as the more reprehensible character.

Not so the UFC. There are plenty of pantomime villains here too, but put simply, there are so many ways to hurt an opponent that a lot more usually happens than in simple stand-up boxing.

Unfamiliar with the finer points of Jiu Jitsu, the casual observer may not always understand what is happening when a fight goes to the mat, but there is usually no shortage of spectacular blows from hand and foot, and a fair dash of crimson in many contests too.

The tension as Holm and Tate circled each other looking for an opening was also as beautiful and explosive a choreography as you will see in any fighting sport, a mix of fine footwork, feints and menace that equaled anything you’d see in a boxing ring.

But most of all the narrative follows the classical Greek tradition; we have heroes and villains, all on various stages of their journeys, all with obstacles between them and their goals.

The visceral nature and often immediate gratification offered by mixed martial arts makes it the sport of our time. It is at once honest and deceitful, rich and destitute, beautiful and brutal.

And the UFC is its flagship.

The future of the company itself is undecided – it may well grow to be a financial sporting juggernaut, and it may yet drown in a pool of its own greed and incompetence.

Either way, the sport of mixed martial arts will continue to survive and thrive, and fans will continue to flock to it in their droves.

Forget the money, and the allegations of steroid use, and the endless trash-talking – when that gate closes and it’s one against one, and the blows start to rain down and the blood to flow, there is currently nothing as dirty or as pure anywhere in the sporting world.

Football unites the suburbs

I did this piece for Swedish state broadcaster Sveriges Radio. The process of getting it made was, to be frank, deeply annoying. We spoke about it for months, but neither a decision nor a budget was forthcoming.

In the end I did it on spec and offered it to them, only for them to make a low-ball offer that was deeply insulting. We got their in the end, but the process highlighted the difficulties of working with big organisations who simply do not understand the realities of freelancing.

Mighty Quinn can strike Swedish gold with Eskilstuna

This piece on Irish defender Louise Quinn and the Swedish Damallsvenskan title race is published here under a Creative Commons License.

It may be reproduced in whole or part and the images and video re-used with attribution, and I would request that in return, any commercial media outlet seeking to reproduce it, or indeed any reader enjoying the chance to follow a successful Irish international player close up, make a suitable donation to the Marie Keating Foundation or the Rosa Bandet campaign here in Sweden.



“But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here/Everybody’s gonna jump for joy” – Louise Quinn in a chilly Eskilstuna.

Come all without

Come all within

You’ll not see nothing

Like the Mighty Quinn

The once-ubiquitous chant at Irish football matches echoes once more across the terraces – but this time it’s for a different Irish international.

And it’s a long way from Landsdowne Road.

For one thing, the fans singing it and waving flags are dressed in the blue shirts of Eskilstuna, title contenders in Sweden’s top-flight women’s league, the Damallsvenskan.

Quinn in action against AIK

Quinn in action against AIK

The object of their affection is Louise Quinn, that rarest of breeds of Irish footballer – a centre back with a chance of winning a league title and qualifying for the Champions League.

Quinn will be crowned champion if her side can beat Gothenburg and rivals FC Rosengård lose to Linköping on the last day of the season.

“We just have to go and win our game on Sunday and hope that other games go our way,” Quinn says following one of the final training sessions before the season’s deciding game.

With a few days to go before the title decider, Quinn is in the horrors, and not just because her side were held to a goalless draw against Linköping a couple of days earlier.

She expends so much energy on the pitch it takes her days to recover.

Louise Quinn downs a recovery drink at training

Louise Quinn downs a recovery drink at training

“It’s always worse on the second day after a game. The first day is not too bad but the second is awful,” she explains.

That goalless draw handed the initiative to FC Rosengard, the southern side with four league victories in the last five years.

Having blown their own title ambitions with the draw against Eskilstuna, Linkoping will have to do Quinn’s club the favour of beating the title favourites.

But Eskilstuna haven’t given up hope – “Linköping are their bogey side,” says virtually everyone I meet at Eskilstuna’s home ground of Tunavallen, one of the venues when Sweden hosted the World Cup in 1958.

Either way, the single-minded Quinn doesn’t care what happens in that game.

“We can’t think about that. We’ve just got to make sure that we at least seal a Champions League spot which we can do if we win or draw on Sunday, but we’ll be going for the win.”

Eskilstuna have been one of the surprise packages in a tight, thrilling season, with Quinn and her teammates dominating opponents in a manner few predicted before the season began.

“It’s been amazing, it’s changed me as a player,” the Wicklow native says of her move north.

“This is my third season, and especially this year I’ve learned so much. We have a great coach and a great set of players. My game has just developed so much, it’s done wonders for me.”

Eskilstuna coach Viktor Eriksson is full of praise for his defensive lynchpin – and not just this season.

“Louise has been an important player for us for several years,” he says. “She has developed her play enormously since her first season in 2013, and she is now one of the best defenders in the Damallsvenskan.”

Well able to read the game and not afraid to stick a head or a foot in where others might think twice, Quinn seems to thrive in Eriksson’s training sessions – virtually everything happens with the ball, urging her to take responsibility when starting attacks.

“She contributes first and foremost with her play, but she’s also a leader who is important for the group,” says Eriksson.

"Leader" Quinn can be better offensively, says Viktor Eriksson

“Leader” Quinn can be better offensively, says Viktor Eriksson

He is quick to praise the 25-year-old, but he also hints at a need for the six-footer to be as dominant in the opposition penalty area as she is in her own. It is this attention to detail, the constant striving to be better, that has brought the team to the top echelons of the table.

For Quinn, leaving Ireland and coming to Sweden was a gamble which was daunting at first, but it has paid off handsomely.

“The standard is very, very high,” she says. “The majority of players in the league are professional players, so this is what they do day in, day out – training five and six times a week and then a competitive game at the weekend.”

Every week, it’s the same – when the 25-year-old takes the field with Eskilstuna she meets some of the best players in the world.

Brazilian sorceress Marta, German powerhouse Anja Mittag, Spain’s fleet-footed Veronica Boquete and tricky Swiss playmaker Ramona Bachmann are just some of the names to have graced the Damallsvenskan in recent years.

But it’s not just the big names you have to watch out for, says Quinn.

“There is no real weak team in this league. You go into every game if you’re top of the table and you’re playing the teams at the bottom of the table, it’s going to be a competitive game.”

Quinn’s team are no slouches either. She lines up alongside the likes of outrageously talented Swedish playmaker Olivia Schough, midfield motor Malin Diaz,  the vastly experienced Sweden international Sara Thunebro and the mercurial Cameroonian Gaelle Enganamouit, who scored a hat trick at this year’s World Cup in Canada.

For soccer fans in the small city of 65,000 – around the same population as Tallaght – their elite team in the top flight of women’s football is the only show in town, and this year they haven’t been disappointed.

Quinn's chorus line.

Quinn’s chorus line.

Busloads of supporters follow Quinn and her team the length and breadth of the country, and it is these ardent fans who sing “The Mighty Quinn” in her honour at every game.

They have been treated to a thrilling season spent battling it out at the top of one of the world’s most competitive female leagues, and Quinn doesn’t hesitate to recommend it to her Irish team-mates when they gather for internationals in Dublin.

“It’s been a nice transition, they’re very fond of speaking their English here as well, so that’s one part of coming to a foreign country, being able to understand a bit of the language,” says Quinn.

“But you’ve got to be prepared to put in all the work. It is tough to go from training maybe two, three, four times a week to training five, six, seven, eight times a week and them playing a game. You’ve got to be prepared for it.

“Some of the Irish girls would be well able and it’s up to them if they want to make that commitment.”

For Quinn, playing full-time means committing one hundred per cent to the job.

“I was unsure if I was going to physically be able to do all the training that was happening, but you adapt. Now, this is what I can call my full-time job and thankfully I can get a salary off it. It’s not anything major but at least it’s nice to say that you’re getting paid for something that you love doing.”

Quinn is easy company, talkative and friendly, but as committed as they come.

As the autumn chill sweeps in with the darkness over the city, she’s in a hurry to get on her bike and cycle the few hundred yards home.

Standing tall - busloads of supporters follow Quinn and her team around the country.

Standing tall – busloads of supporters follow Quinn and her team around the country.

When she gets there she’ll whip up something to eat before spending the rest of the evening and most of the following day resting and recovering for the big game.

There is time for one last question – would you rather win the Damallsvenskan or qualify for the Euros with Ireland?

“Ah stop…” she says, fumbling for words. She tries a few answers but the sentences tail off. None of them feel like they fit.

Eventually, she laughs.

“Ah no, I refuse!” she says.

The Mighty Quinn wants it all.

And when she gets it, everybody in Irish and Swedish football’s gonna jump for joy.

So many stories, so little time


ÖTILLÖ – one of the world’s toughest endurance races

21 hours after the alarm went off at four o’clock this morning, I have to write these words.

About 75 kilometres of running and swimming.

About three mobile teams with varying levels of coverage .

About 240 athletes of wildly differing ability.

About gale-force winds, slippery rocks and choppy waters.

And about filling twelve hours of live commentary with it all.

Ever since I first commentated on ÖTILLÖ – the world championship race of the fast-growing sport of swimrun – last year, people have asked me how I can manage to present and commentate for twelve hours, almost non-stop.

My answer is that we in the production team from FKDV are storytellers – and in fact, twelve hours is nowhere near enough.

As dawn hid just over the horizon yesterday morning we rehearsed our opening script.

It was exactly 304 words long .

We delivered it live at 0545 – after that, the next twelve hours were a blank canvas.

There is always those few moments of trepidation before the start, but a quick look down at the scribbled notes always reassures.

Because the race that is ÖTILLÖ is not just one story – it is hundreds of heroic narratives, and it is our privilege to be given twelve hours to weave them together into as much magic and drama as we possibly can.

The narratives are classical, modern and almost too numerous to mention – racing in pairs, swimming in jogging shoes and running in wetsuits from dawn to dusk, they tell of man’s battle against nature, against his opponents, and ultimately against him or herself .

The limits of our physical, mental and emotional capacities are explored.

There is science, technology, meteorology.

And as if that is not enough, there are the 240 individual stories of the athletes that make up the 120 teams that gathered on the start line at Sandhamn 75 kilometres away.

The first great story yesterday was the wind. Our commentary position – in reality a tent that would grace any decent garden party – was battered by gale-force winds all day.

Indeed, when we arrived at around 0430 the entire scaffolding around the finish line had blown over, and such was the rain the night before one of our crew got a nasty electric shock.

The wind would prove decisive in the race, as well as providing tremendous images of what the athletes had to contend with – high, rolling waves that sometimes flipped them over. The wind became part of our canvas for the day.

The second great story was the island of Ornö.

For 364 days a year it is a sleepy summer paradise for tourists.

But on the first Monday of September it was transformed into a sporting crucible where the race was decided, the excitement almost unbearable as the leaders were slowly, inexorably reeled in and passed by as the competition took a dramatic turn.

Along its 20 kilometres of running trails, the dreams of some were crushed and broken on Ornö, while the dreams of others rose from the ashes, spurring them on.

And of course, the greatest story of all was the people.


Redemption for Paul Krochak and Björn Englund

People like Björn Englund and Paul Krochak.

In 2014 I had interviewed them just past the finish line, and they smelled of damp and dirt and disappointment, having come in second place.

But this year, having mounted a tremendous fightback on Ornö they had gone one better, elation and exhaustion were mixed in a heady brew as they joined me in the studio.

Then there was Marika Wagner and Staffan Björkstrand in the mixed class. Marika’s response to last year’s second place was to come out and smash the course to pieces, becoming the first woman to complete it in less than nine hours and fifth overall, winning the mixed class by an enormous margin.

Staffan told of how Marika had said that only the gold medal would be good enough. They dug deep – very deep – to mine it.

The winners in the women’s class were another classic story – Maya Tesch and Annika Ericsson were thrown together a week before and had trained together once, and very briefly at that.

Then they set off at dawn and hammered the course and all its cruelties, finding themselves in a surprising lead and then keeping up the punishing pace to ensure they never relinquished it.

As broadcaster and journalists it is our job to find stories, to tell them and to put them into their proper context. Nowhere is this easier than in the field of sports, and no race is easier to find stories in than ÖTILLÖ.

There are 10,000 islands in the Stockholm archipelago, and the stories that they form the backdrop for on the first Monday in September every year are almost as numerous and beautiful and exciting as the islands themselves.

So the question is not how to fill 12 hours of broadcasting and commentary – the question is how we can find more and better ways to bring these epic and heroic tales to the audience they so richly deserve.

My thanks to race director Michael Lemmell and to Robin Danehav, Björn Falkevik and the amazing team at FKDV whose superb video production is an essential element in telling the story of ÖTIILÖ.

Reporters At War

My good friend Pat O’Mahony was involved in the production of award-winning documentary “Reporters At War” over ten years ago, but I’ve only got around to watching it now.

Stunning – essential viewing for journalists and media consumers alike.


Go with the flow….

DCU_Three_CastlesI was honoured to speak to the students on the Dublin City University Masters in Journalism program this morning.

I did it from my home office here in Stockholm over Skype, and I often wonder if I’m actually doing any good, or if my head-on way of tackling the subject just frightens the life out of people.

I enjoyed it though, and I hope they did too, and it gave me the idea of reviving this blog, principally as a way of saving time; the more you can refer people to texts, images and videos you’ve already made, the less time you have to spend going through them all again in lectures and presentations, and the more you can answer their questions.

So soon I’m going to pop up a Youtube clip going through my bag to show you what tools I don’t leave home without, and try to illustrate the workflow from some stories I’m doing.


Working across different platforms with text, images, audio and video all at the same time can be stressful, but it can be done with a little planning and research.

In the meantime, feel free to send a mail (philip at eblana.se) or a tweet  (@philipoconnor) if you have any questions or suggestions.

Because one of the things I forget to mention to them this morning is that being a multimedia journalist is not just broadcasting in various forms – it’s dialogue with your audience, your peers and your detractors.

The arc of a story

This week I spent a lot of time following the death of Stefan Isaksson, a 43-year-old father of four who was assaulted and died of injuries sustained while he was on his way to a football match in Helsingborg, southern Sweden.

It led to a series of related stories for Reuters and a contribution to the BBC World Service, so I’ve created a Storify to allow interested parties to follow the arc of the story, from the initial report of Isaksson’s death to putting the event in its wider context and offering deeper analysis in the form of an interview with an expert.