Colette: "Romance? Are you mad?"
The ratings battle for Irish news programming was stepped up a notch this week as TV3 announced that it would be launching a new bulletin at 8pm. The thinking is that by 8pm people have had the opportunity to get in from work and get settled but won't have to hang around for the standard 9pm bulletin.
That might seem like sound logic, but evening news is very much about personalities, and much of the success of the new time-slot will hang on the slender shoulders of Colette Fitzpatrick, TV3's charismatic and highly competent chief news anchor.
"Right across Europe the standard time to have the evening news is 8pm", she told the Sunday Independent. "I guess they got the abacus out and had a look at the ratings and said now is the right time to do it. The idea is also to try to head off the 9 o'clock at the pass. Our earlier news slots will remain the same but it's quite exciting that they're doing this. The 8pm time slot won't be a carbon copy of the earlier two bulletins."
The changing time-slot has also brought about welcome changes in Colette's own schedule which, with two children under the age of 6, is a constant juggling act, she says. She will do "four long days" instead of the standard five, which will provide a welcome opportunity to spend more time with her family.
"It's the same for parents everywhere across the country, there is always guilt to an extent", she sighs. "In real life it affects men and women but do male presenters get asked about that as much as female presenters? Our children will say, 'What's happening today? Who's picking us up today?' They are in childcare. We also have granny down the road, and Niall's [McDermott - her husband] sisters and my own sisters all live within a mile or two. We're in a lucky situation."
Does the hectic childcare-work balance allow time for romance as well? "Are you insane?" she laughs. "There was a piece in the paper about myself and Niall out for a romantic dinner and we were pictured. We don't have time for a date night, most of the time we just want to go to bed. I'll be off on Good Friday for the first time for a long time.
"I absolutely hate gyms with a passion. I've never gone to the gym in my life. I've never done a 5k. The only way that I control what I weigh is by watching what I eat, although I understand that at the age I'm at now I might need to rethink that!"
Neil is a technical director for television, and Colette says that his experience in media means she always has someone to talk to about the vagaries of work stress. "He understands the personalities and what to say and what not to say to certain people. In the same way that we have a rule about phones at the dinner table, we have to make a conscious effort not to talk about work all the time."
As you might expect of two media professionals their kids are technology savvy: "Well, my five-year-old knows how to turn on Netflix on the iPad and we made a conscious decision about that because we don't like him looking at ads. And he has his own little icon - he knows the ones he's allowed watch. We probably don't give kids enough credit, we just have to try to limit the time."
It's a turbulent time in the national media, but Fitzpatrick is bullish about the future. "I think news and sport are two areas that are really safe", she says. "This week was a case in point. You had two big court cases (Mark Nash and Graham Dwyer) that the whole country was watching. They need to be able to have faith in where they are getting their news from and that's where we come in. People are consuming media more than ever, it's just a question of who the public will trust to deliver that news to them."
TV3 News is on weekdays at 12.30pm, 5.30pm and 8pm.