The Irish Times started the Generation Emigration project in 2011, when the numbers of people leaving Ireland in search of new opportunities after the recession had grown considerably.
At the time, one journalist worked to collect, edit and publish first-person accounts of life overseas, as part of the title’s network of blogs.
“The Irish Times was faced with a challenge of how we were going to cover this mass migration out of Ireland,” said Ciara Kenny, online news reporter and feature writer, The Irish Times.
“So with Emigration we wanted to set up a platform to allow them to tell their own stories of what it was like to live overseas, rather than having a journalist here in Ireland writing about it or interviewing them over the phone and writing pieces.”
The project started out as an initiative on a very small scale, designed to run for two weeks or a few months depending on the response from readers.
But in 2016, it was expanded into a much bigger section and rebranded to Irish Times Abroad. This development is part of an initiative to better connect with readers in the diaspora, a project funded through the Google Digital News Initiative for two years.
“The number of people leaving the country has dropped quite considerably as the economy has recovered,” said Kenny. “We still have a very strong overseas readership so we know that the traffic coming from Irish people living around the world is increasing – even though there are fewer people moving abroad, the type of content they are interested in reading about is changing.”
As well as the website rebranding and a shift in focus from first-person essays to stories that better represent the changing interests of Irish emigrants, the team also established the Irish Times Abroad Network at the end of 2016.
The title asks readers to offer demographic information such as the number of years they have been living overseas for, where they are originally from, or their profession.
“It gives us a lot more information about who our readers are and where they're living, what their interests might be depending on when they moved away from Ireland, how they describe themselves, if they're second generation Irish or first generation Irish who emigrated maybe two years ago, with very different interests to someone who left 20-30 years ago.“
Kenny was working on the project part-time when it started in 2011, but she is now full-time and works alongside a small team including a part-time marketer and a part-time project manager looking after the technical infrastructure. Staff members from different teams, both technical and editorial, also collaborate on the project when needed.
The Network also comes into play in breaking news situations when the Irish Times is looking to get in touch which people in the area and source eyewitness accounts.
In the aftermath of the attack in Manchester on Tuesday evening, The Irish Times published reactions from Irish residents of the city.
Counting some 24,000 members at the beginning of May, the network is involved in other editorial projects as well. Kenny explained that a current series of features from the 'home and design' section proved to be an opportunity to engage readers abroad and ask them about the interesting homes they have lived in.
The Irish Times is also working on a voting platform to poll its readers abroad about various political issues. There is currently no mechanism for the Irish diaspora to vote in elections, although Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced plans for a referendum to allow Irish emigrants to vote in presidential elections.
Until then, The Irish Times plans to create a “virtual voting platform”. “When we launched the blog five years ago was we were getting a lot of feedback from emigrants saying ‘this is the first time I’ve ever been asked for my view on that’”, Kenny said.
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