Noirín Hegarty may be in the business of world travel as Managing Destination Editor with Lonely Planet but the well-known journalist considers her family’s holiday home in Liscannor her ‘refuge’.
Her mother Carmel Vaughan and her father Sean Hegarty hail from the West and North of the county and although reared in Dublin, Noirín spent many happy holidays here as a child visiting her 60 cousins. Not only are her ancestral roots here, it was also in Clare that the seeds of her interest in journalism were planted.
“My uncle Martin Vaughan still lives in Miltown Malbay. He was always involved in what was going on in the community. He knew what was happening around and that sparked my initial curiosity for journalism,” she said.
“I remember when I was a child and Martin was in the civil defence and he would be out looking for bodies after a bad storm and I thought this was fascinating and that goes back to when I was five or six years of age, so there was that curiosity there. I would trace it back to that,” she added.
“It was only ever journalism for me. As far back as I can remember, there was no other career for me.”
Noirín studied journalism in what is now Dublin Institute of Technology before working in the Irish Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and Independent Newspapers. She was deputy editor of the Evening Herald before becoming editor of the Sunday Tribune in 2005. As editor of the title, Noirín recalled “the most fantastic time in her career” and attributed this largely to the team of “really talented, really committed people” around her.
“I miss it terribly to this day,” she said. “We all miss it. It was really special. Despite the fact we had no money, despite the fact we were always going from one crisis to another and it was inevitable that we would eventually close but it was still magic and we won awards and broke really significant stories including the story on John O’Donoghue’s expenses that led to his resignation, Real IRA stories, really significant work in terms of what I think is good investigative journalism but unfortunately it was not enough and we never made money. That ultimately led to our closure.”
“Looking back, with hindsight we never had a chance. We just didn’t have the money,” she said.
That closure of the paper had a serious impact on Noirín.
“I view it as a scar on my life. It was very traumatic,” she stated.
“The thing is the team was so talented that they have all gone on to other things since and that is very reassuring. It shows you that talent outs. But anyone who has ever gone through receivership and then liquidation will tell you that it is an appalling time, very difficult,” she said.
Noirín was offered a job as editor of www.independent.ie and remained in the post just 18 months, because in her own words she “just didn’t fit. I had changed a lot in myself having been out in an entrepreneurial environment for the last six years and I realised that nothing else had changed and I found that a much more difficult period if I am honest about it. I found that the toughest time of my career.”
Noirín believes there remains a future for journalism, despite changes in the media through which it is delivered.
“There is no security in journalism anymore. I spent 10 years basically doing more with less – constantly. It takes you a period to break out of that mindset and I think it took me moving to London to get out of it and realise there is opportunity for investment. Other things are moving on. It is not all about doom and gloom and reduction which is what my experience of journalism in Ireland was in the later years.
“The danger with people paring back is what you are getting is a cheaper and inferior product so you are getting mediocrity and the only way you are going to survive is if you are doing something that is better than everyone else is doing. Then you have something unique to offer. That is partly why I came to Lonely Planet. I think the future is in expertise whether that is hyper local content or content that is so good that no one else has it and you can charge your consumer for it or an expertise that no one else can offer. That is where I see the future,” she outlined.
Noirín was recruited as part of a digital transformation in Lonely Planet and in her current role she manages more than 20 editors who in turn manage more than 200 writers worldwide for all the company’s media platforms.
Ireland was recently selected by the Lonely Planet as one of its top countries to visit next year and Clare received prominence in the review. Noirín is keen to point out that despite her soft spot for the place, the county, and indeed the country, made it on to the list on its own merit.
“I was a voice in it. I may have had some influence but ultimately it is a fairly rigorous process and we take suggestions from everyone who works in the company and then we whittle it down. It can’t just be my voice, it has to be backed up by other voices,” she said, before adding: “We recommend it because we have had fantastic experiences in it.”
In Noirín’s opinion, the economic hardship endured by many people and businesses over the past seven years has led to a greater appreciation of the importance of tourism and tourists.
“People recognise how important it is to have tourists come to Ireland. The welcome is warmer than before. I think another factor is that so many Irish people have emigrated and are giving a fantastic impression of the country all over the world and they are educated people and I think we take for granted the charm or chat or wit, but not every nationality can claim that,” she concluded.