The race to become RTÉ’s Washington correspondent has begun, with a number of high-profile names lining up for interviews next month.
The current Washington correspondent, Brian O’Donovan, will not end his four-year term until December, but several colleagues have already approached him for advice.
Although refusing to reveal names, he told the Sunday Independent he gave the same warning to everyone: “One of the biggest things anyone going for the job is going to have to consider is family. Are you married? Are you in a partnership? What will they do with their job? And how will it impact your children?
“My wife Joanna is a primary school teacher, so she was able to take a four-year career break, but not everybody is in that position. I know there are colleagues in RTÉ who would love this job, but often it’s the family consideration that comes into it.”
Recalling his predecessors’ work-life situations, he said: “When Caitriona Perry was over, she didn’t have her child, she had her daughter afterwards; Richard Downes came over with teenagers, Robert Shortt had very young children. For the others, I don’t think kids were on the scene.
“Does it break down along gender lines? I don’t know, but what I would say is, male or female, if they have children, they’re going to need an understanding spouse because — as my wife can attest — the nature of breaking news means family plans will change and you need flexibility.”
Recalling one instance, O’Donovan, who has just published a book, Four Years in the Cauldron, said he was on a family holiday in South Carolina “after a particularly hectic period” when news broke of the George Floyd murder.
He had to deliver a report from the balcony of his hotel room “in a suit jacket and shorts” before ending the family holiday early to return to Washington DC in time to see then US president Donald Trump brandish a Bible outside St John’s Church.
The RTÉ Washington job is one of the most sought-after roles in Irish journalism and a springboard to household-name status, all the while working on the frontline of world news stories.
As well as having a guaranteed job when they return to the newsroom in Dublin, the new correspondent will be handsomely rewarded — the package includes a salary worth between €66,000 and €90,000.
O’Donovan said: “RTÉ are very good to look after your out-of-pocket expenses because you’re living abroad. Financially, you’re not put out by being abroad, that element is looked after.”
Although a shortlist has not yet been drawn up, applications are now closed. Potential replacements for O’Donovan include Samantha Libreri, Fergal O’Brien, Fran McNulty and Dimitri O’Donnell. There are rumours that Caitriona Perry, who held the role from 2013 to 2017, could return.
Asked if he would like to become a news anchor, O’Donovan said: “I will keep an open mind. I won’t rule anything out. The only thing I will ask for is that I am Dublin-based because my wife’s job is here and she has already taken time out to support me.”