I started my career in Belfast, working for a small design bureau and publishing house, one of the first in Ireland to use computers in their work. I worked for several years designing trade magazines, organising major international exhibitions in both Belfast and Dublin, managing IT and networks and building databases and websites.
In 2003 I decided that it was time for change. I moved to County Mayo in the west of Ireland, a geographically huge but sparsely populated and extremely beautiful area on the very edge of Europe.
I got work as a jobbing designer for The Mayo News, a small family-owned Westport-based weekly newspaper.
I moved rapidly from part-time designer to Head of Design, and, with the backing of some forward-thinking editorial staff, I transformed this traditional publication into a modern, easily readable and design-focused newspaper. In 2007 The Mayo News won the prestigious Europe’s Best Designed Newspaper award for local papers, a first for Ireland and a first for any newspaper in English. The Mayo News has won prizes for its design every year since 2006. This added value helped the paper to achieve circulation increases to almost 11,000 in 2008, no mean feat in a county with a population of 110,000 and a total of four newspapers competing for readers.
Alongside the transformation of the offline product, I managed the complete overhaul of mayonews.ie and it is now one of the most popular hyper-local news websites in Ireland. In 2005 we moved to the open source Joomla! Content Management System with the assistance of Avenir Design in Castlebar, a move that was well ahead of the current trend for open source CMS news websites. The company embraced new ideas like podcasting, audio interviews and AudioBoo as well as new ways to communicate with its audience with Twitter and Facebook.
In a rapidly-changing news market, this small paper on the edge of Europe embraced new ideas to grow its audience and communicate with its readers in new and more immediate ways.
While I was with The Mayo News, I was very much involved with the management of the paper, in particular strategy and in analysis of circulation trends. I also turned my hand to writing, sub-editing and photography, whatever was needed to produce a great product. I have had involvement in every area of newspaper, magazine and website content creation, production, development, sales, marketing and management. This experience has given me great insight into news and news organisations and has taught me that content is king.
This year I’ve been asked to be a member of the jury for the European Newspaper Design Awards, to judge the best designed newspapers and news websites in Europe. It’s an honour, richly undeserved.