Cork Beo’s Joe O’Shea on bringing digital news to the rebel county

cork beo
"We do stuff that seems to be fairly straightforward, but it's done with thought, with care, and a bit of flair. Nobody's done that down here before," O'Shea told his audience of budding journalists. Photo courtesy of Cork Beo

Cork Beo‘s team of just five clock up almost 250,000 website visits daily, editor Joe O’Shea told UL students on Tuesday

By Rachel Petticrew

“We brought colour TV to Cork”.

Back in 2019, established journalist Joe O’Shea – who has worked for countless national publications across the UK and Ireland – decided to bring it all home, as the inaugural editor of online news platform Cork Beo

At a University of Limerick seminar on Tuesday, March 28, O’Shea imparted heaps of hard-earned knowledge on budding journalists, who eagerly quizzed the industry veteran on the ins and outs of publishing local news, digitally. 

The decision to create such a platform in Cork was indeed rebellious; a small estimated audience is why no such outlet existed prior to 2019, O’Shea explained.

“Cork, I found, was very offline,” he recalls, having moved back from London to take on the role. “People weren’t used to getting their local and regional news on their phones. We almost had to introduce that to people, and get people comfortable with the idea of that.”

With young Cork Beo’s rival websites springing from local newspapers born in the nineteenth century, its editor recognised that the platform had big but important shoes to fill. 

“We built an audience on Facebook first, and on Twitter. We had to get our name out there and get people used to us and accepting of us as a brand. We had to get Cork people trusting of us, in a way.”

O’Shea spoke passionately about digital news, and what sets Cork Beo apart from the newspapers. 

“For us, it felt like we brought colour TV to Cork. I felt that what was being done in Cork was black and white. People were putting newspapers on the internet. You can’t just take what you have in the paper, slap it down on a webpage, put a picture on it and say, ‘that’ll do fine’,” he stressed.

“It’s a different animal. You have to be conscious of the rules and how to make things work.”

Cork Beo offers more than just the news. The platform is content-heavy across both its website and social media presence; providing light, accessible content that most newspapers don’t. 

“We do stuff that seems to be fairly straightforward, but it’s done with thought, with care, and a bit of flair. Nobody’s done that down here before,” O’Shea declared.  

His enthusiasm shines through as he acknowledges the advantages of such a young, fast-paced industry and advises his student audience on how to get ahead:

“The direction media in Ireland [is going] is towards digital journalism. Digital has to be the main toolbox your carrying, no matter what area of the media you work in.” 

He continued; “The crossover between traditional media, digital media, content creation and marketing is huge now. I think there are some very interesting opportunities, to take what you know from journalism and apply it in that wider area. 

Having spent decades working within the industry – joining a national newsroom at just 19 years of age – O’Shea can see the difficulties 24/7 news now brings, even at regional titles. 

“It’s hard not to be always on,” he told his audience. “I start at six o’clock in the morning, and I’m still in contact with the team at nine or ten o’clock at night. That’s probably six days a week. 

“Part of the problem is that it’s hard to know when to stop. When we had the newspaper, you stopped at 10 o’clock at night, because that was the final deadline. Feeding the beast of a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week digital news site is a tough job.”

Clearly, though, the long hours have paid off for Cork Beo, as its team of just five currently bring in almost a quarter of a million daily page visits. 

O’Shea puts this down to providing news in a recognisable and consistent fashion, speaking several times about a strict house style and the importance of optimising content. 

Despite the complexities of today’s news industry, the Cork man believes it’s easier than ever for young writers to get a start – telling his audience to just “pitch”.

“It’s a very fluid industry, and it’s changing every day. If you’ve got a good idea, it doesn’t matter how young or old you are,” he said. “If the story is good, and it’s well packaged, just pitch it.”

This get-ahead, think-outside-the-box attitude shines through in Cork Beo‘s content – from a booming TikTok account to articles written entirely in the languages of an increasingly-multicultural Cork. 

“We make noise, we disrupt, we do things that people are not expecting. A lot of what you have to do in the business today is about trying something different and coming up with a new way of doing things.”

The Cork Beo team are looking forward to their fifth summer in the rebel county, and according to O’Shea, have a busy schedule lined up for when it “finally stops raining”.  

“We’re planning on a very busy, but very successful summer. Where we are on the south coast, with the best food in Ireland and the best beaches in Ireland, we’re in a target-rich environment. There’s a lot going on, and it’s a good time for us. The one thing that we have to do is keep pushing it forward.”

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