The Big Interview: Rob Munnelly

Dave Ryan talks The Print,, Ents, Aengus and all the rest with Maynooth’s VP Comms/Dev

The sun was burning brightly, but it was also lashing rain. It could only be Ireland. But it was in this bizarre climate that The Observer made it’s triumphant return in person to Maynooth, sans black suit. Aside from the awe-inspiring sight of the new building dwarfing everything it’s surrounds [more on that next week], not much has changed. And so I found myself loitering at the coffee machine in the Arts Block for this year’s first big interview. Of all the victories in last years SU Election, the position of VP Comms and Dev was the most decisive, as Rob Munnelly raced past the finish line. Now, two months into his job proper, you would expect to meet a man who has had enthusiasm drained from him by the day-to-day work of the Union. But to my surprise, I found a man still incredibly enthusiastic about almost every issue you can think to discuss(Though this may, in some small part, be attributed to the cup of coffee he was nursing.).

After a brief stroll and some typical “woeful weather ” chat, I sat down with Rob to talk at length about the last two months, and the year ahead:

It’s been about two months now since you took over [on July 1], how has the whole experience been so far?

It’s been unbelievably good. As a team, it’s actually hard to believe how well we work together. We all have our own very clear job titles, and in some senses they overlap, but not too much. There’s some things that we have in common, to better the union. [For example] I have the paper, the website and the handbook, and I obviously needed some information from Aengus on that, we talked about it together as a team. But the jobs are so well divided, and so well suited to each of our kind of talents and personalities, it actually works out really really well….There’s a great sense of trust in the team. We can all trust each other to do different tasks.

In your job so far, is there any difference between what you thought the job was going to be like, and the reality of it? Was there any sense of grounding?

What was hard at first was personal management of things. I learned very quickly that you can work very hard all day, and have nothing done, because you end off-putting off the bigger picture by doing lots of small things first. So what I do now is do two things every day. Focus on one thing from morning to lunch, then it’s done, and something from lunchtime on, and then that’s finished. And if somebody needs my help, they can take a ticket, because there’s a massive queue. That’s the only way things get done, it’s how we were able to get the website up so fast. We also have by miles the best 1st Year handbook we’ve ever done. I wish I could show it to you now, what we’ve done. It’s gorgeous, and we try to make it as relevent as possible. I think people will be really pleasantly surprised when they see it.  It’s miles better than anything we’ve ever done. It’s really good.

How do you think Aengus is doing?

I think he’s doing very well. It’s phenomenal to see him at work. It’s like he was born to be SU President.

It seemed during hustings that that’s true, that he was the born politician, and that was what really won over the electorate

[nodding] That might have been true at the time of the election, but I think at the same time, his day-to-day work of being President has been so good. He handles the Bureaucracy so well, without being lost in it, and keeping his eye on the ball as well. Everything is done as a means to an end. There’s a couple of things coming up, that I can’t talk about of course, that are going to be phenomenal.  Great things.

….The Print is going to be excellent. You won’t have seen anything like it. It’s going to be the best student newspaper you’ve ever seen. It’s going to be so good.

It’s going to be better than the University Times?

[nodding] It’s going to be better than The University Times, going to be better than the University Observer, and the College View. It’s unbelieveable. We’ve done some work on it, and there’s a lot of work left to do, with regards picking out designs. We’ve had phenomenal writer interest. I’ve got a massive folder of writer profiles, details of anybody who wants to write. The folder doesn’t fit anywhere now, it’s huge. Of course, some of those writers will fall away as it comes to it, but there’s almost no section we haven’t got an editor for.

Yeah, I had always thought, more so than the layout of the paper, that the actual content was really in need of overhaul. This is the direction you’re taking then?

Absolutely. Each section will have an editor, someone who is responsible for getting content in from two or three people, so there’ll be word commitments. We think this is the way to go for the future so that whoever has my job, or whatever form my job takes in the future, won’t have to manage 120 people to be a successful newspaper. We want to run this like a genuine successful newspaper. We looked at which ones work, which ones are still going, and structuring it like that.

You had said during Hustings that moving from laminated paper of the old Print, moving it to proper newspaper format would mean printing costs would be a third of what they were last year?

Yeah, it’s one of these things. When (and this sounds unrelated, but it’s not) Pixar made Toy Story….

[laughing]Hell of a segue there….

No, really, when they made Toy Story it took something like 30 minutes to do one frame, because the computers back then weren’t nearly as fast as they are now. And now, when computers are more than ten times faster than back then, you’d think it would take less time, but it doesn’t. It takes nearly twice as long, because now they can do so much, and they love their job, they end up doing so much more in every frame. The cost of a sheet of newspaper vs. Laminate paper is about one-third, but we’re sepending nearly the same amount because we’re going to have so much more content than ever before! Content is what we’re focused on. Wait til you see it. It’s going to look amazing.

Are you still sticking with the name ‘The Print’?

I’ve no comment at this time, you’ll know more about that closer to the date.

With regards content for the paper, are you sticking with just NUIM news, or are you planning to go broader, like the way DCU or Trinity’s newpapers will not only discuss things directly related to their college, but they’ll talk about notional issues?

There’s going to be a bit of everything in it.

With regards editorial control of The Print, there is some question as to who really is in charge of editorial control. Do you have any comment?

I am the editor of The Print.

[Laughs] That’s a nice political answer there. Do you, or do you not, have full editorial control (within reason)?

I can’t answer that properly yet. What I will say is that in the history of the paper here, definitely in the last ten years, there has been only one time something had to be taken out, for legal reasons. Obviously I can’t discuss what that is, but it was to protect the Union and staff legally, and the University’s image in general, it couldn’t go in. It was quite a serious thing, but that’s the one time in ten years where someone’s said “We can’t do that”. We take on advice from lots of people, people who would have a good idea what’s safe and what’s not, so we’ve very careful about what we put out there. We want to be sure we’re not offending anyone, we’re not getting anyone in hit water when it’s not necessary.

Do you feel that the fact certain parties may be watching The Print may hamper your ability to report one hundred per cent what’s going on?

I don’t think so. As long as we tell the truth. Same rules as any paper: Can’t do libel, can’t do slander.

So do you then feel that, your quote at Hustings that “an effective student newspaper is the lifeblood of any college”, which may become your epitaph…..

[chuckling] Yeah, I’ve read those words about a hundred times since that speech, in various forms on the internet, and they’ve changed slightly each time.

So you think you’re going to deliver?

I do. I think it’s true. I think that an effective student newspaper can be the lifeblood of a college. It’s a place where people can come together. The most important thing to me next year is not the dimensions of the newspaper, or the colour of the logo or whatever, it’s the sense of ownership about the paper.

A major concern of last year’s newspaper, that we heard about in several emails we received, referenced specifically the Election Special issue of The Print. The coverage in terms of word count was far less than we did ourselves. I say this not by way of promoting ourselves, what I mean is that for most people, who wouldn’t be online, who wouldn’t go out-of-the-way to find sites like ours, that none of them were really aware of what was going on. It was essentially “These people won”, with a few pictures and a little paragraph, that kind of thing. Are you going to look to improve significantly on that level of coverage?

I’ll tell you one thing I was going to keep quiet. Now,  we have our source for printing. If we get these people, they do next day delivery. So imagine this: the election is on the Wednesday, the count is on the Thursday, we have content constantly being sent in, to fill half the paper  over those few days: from the run-up to the election day, with people on the ground with what’s going on. We’ll get contributions from all the election and SU people who are around. We also get in on the count, the story of the count as it goes on what went right, what went wrong, everything. So that goes off at about 10pm on the night, and when you come into college on the day after everyone’s been elected, the paper is out. So, less than 24 hours between the time the winners are announced and the paper arrives here.

So you say you’re going to be in getting updates from the count?

Well, I can’t talk about how we’re going to do that. I know how, but I can’t promise it yet, but I think I know how it’s gonna work. It should make for a good time for anyone who is interested in the election this year. We think we’ve found a way to circumvent the problems had last year, with people not being allowed in…we think we’ve found a way around that.

Indeed, people had said there should have been more transparency in that count…

Mm-hmm. Now, we’re not saying that they’ll be allowed in the room, they won’t, but we think we’ve found a way around it.

Have you thought much about an online dimension to this new newspaper?

I don’t know what from it’s going to take yet, because it’s tricky. We have to get the current website out-of-the-way first.

Will it have its own dedicated website?

Eh, I spent about a day thinking about it, and all I know is that is already owned by someone else. or theprint.moby are the only ones left. So I don’t know how it will work just yet. I imagine that it will integrate into in terms of news… the question is, does that make the paper redundant? It’s an interesting question we have to sort out. It’s one the western world is trying to sort out in terms of where we get content, and does having one form make the other form redundant? Some would argue that the website is better because the on the website you can comment…..

….And news can get out quicker, but then you risk making the paper redundant. On the other hand, if you wait for the newspaper to be printed, you’ve been scooped online by certain people *ahem*

[nodding] Exactly. Now, my argument for the newspaper is this. It faces competition of purpose from so many other different places. So if we are going to have a newspaper, and it’s going to be a success, it has to be better than everything else at a certain number of key things, and that’s the only way it’s going to work. We must figure out what these key things are. One is news, I think, because…..have you ever read the Onion?


Do you ever actually read the stories, or just the headlines most of the time?

I read stories the odd time that I’m on there, yes.

You see, most people just read the headlines. The same is true of stories on the web Because you get ]the headline], a small summary, then the full story, but with news on the net, people don’t generally read the full article. [Ed’s note: They damn well better……]….One thing The Print can offer is to immerse you in the news, because you take the time away from your computer, there’s no distractions. On a computer, you’ve got links and different tabs open; you’re usually doing a few things at once, whereas on a newspaper, you can sit down and really immerse yourself in it. If that’s not for you, we’ve got other stuff in there as well. Sort, quick stuff. Almost magazine style. But that’s one thing the paper can offer: serious, in-depth things.

Another thing it does too is create opportunities for people who want to work in that industry.


That includes the first part of our interview with Rob. Part II will follow tomorrow.

-Dave Ryan, just search ‘The Student Observer’


2 thoughts on “The Big Interview: Rob Munnelly

  1. Pingback: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! « The Student Observer

  2. Pingback: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! | The Student Observer

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