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News junkie keeps tabs on Northern Ireland

By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer
First published: Thursday, February 28, 2002

Perhaps no person on the planet is better informed about the complex issues and tangled politics of Northern Ireland than John Fay, a transplanted Clifton Park resident who lives near Dublin.

Each morning, Fay, 37, rises before the sun as his wife and three young children sleep. He turns on his laptop computer, dials up an online service and begins a painstaking, two-hour process of scouring newspaper Web sites and vacuuming up any article pertaining to Northern Ireland.

Newshound is Fay's handle. It's an apt moniker for a news junkie offering a daily fix to others similarly afflicted.

Fay's Web site (http://www.nuzhound.com) has been praised for its comprehensiveness in the New York Post, the Irish Times and London's Daily Telegraph.

"It's a tremendous source of daily information on Northern Ireland,'' says Tom Constantine of Niskayuna, the former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. He is the oversight commissioner reviewing sweeping reforms to the six-county province's Protestant-dominated police service called for in the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

"I made it mandatory reading each morning for all the consultants I've assembled,'' says Constantine, who's made 10 trips to Northern Ireland in the past 18 months. In that time, he's printed out hundreds of articles on policing issues from Fay's Web site.

Fay has carried out his early morning obsession faithfully since October 1996. He has missed his daily update on only six days due to illness, travel or computer trouble.

Family feelings: While Fay struggles to explain his fanatic dedication, his family is clear about their feelings toward nuzhound.com.

"It's the bane of his wife's existence,'' says Fay's mom, Anne Fay, of Clifton Park, who emigrated to the United States from Kilcock, County Kildare, in 1959. Her husband, John, who's from County Clare, works for Trustco Bank and she's a homemaker.

"My wife and kids hate Newshound without a doubt,'' says Fay, a 1982 graduate of Shenendehowa High School. He updates the site when he visits his family in Clifton Park each summer and even while on vacation.

"I wasn't their favorite person when we were in Disney World and my kids were dying to get to the rides and I said they had to wait until I finished the Newshound,'' says Fay. He also works from home as a marketing consultant to new media companies.

He began Newshound as a lark.

"I've always loved newspapers and keeping up on the news,'' says Fay, who delivered the Daily Gazette as a boy in Clifton Park (his brothers delivered the Times Union). He later edited the Quadrangle, the student paper at Manhattan College.

As a balm to feelings of homesickness, Fay began regularly surfing the Internet in 1996. At the time, a flood of American newspapers was coming online for free. Fay occasionally downloaded interesting articles, bundled them together and sent them by e-mail to a few friends and family members. He formalized and expanded the offerings after creating his own Web site in the fall of 1996.

"I remember being very excited when my daily hits went up from five to eight,'' says Fay, whose site now receives thousands of hits and up to 100 e-mails each week responding to stories.

Journalists in the U.S. and U.K. are heavy users and Fay was informed that foreign policy analysts in the Clinton administration had the site bookmarked and consulted it often.

Objectivity: What distinguishes Fay's Web site from dozens of others devoted to Northern Ireland politics is its objectivity. "I've made it a point not to let anybody know what I feel about the issues,'' Fay says.

One of his primary motivations is to strike a delicate balance and to neutralize coverage that's often fiercely partisan. "The news I got here in Ireland was completely different from the coverage in America and I had the sense that I wasn't getting the full story from either side,'' he says. "I figured if I gathered all the viewpoints from around the world, a reader could come closer to getting the full story.''

Fay's daily trolling for news is a labor of love and labor-intensive. The challenge begins with a 56K modem and dial-up Internet service. "It's hard to get a decent phone line here,'' says Fay. Direct, high-speed online has not yet arrived in his home of Bray, County Wicklow, a town of 20,000 about 15 miles south of Dublin.

He does not have a program that pulls out keywords or any other form of automation. He scans some three dozen papers and has a kind of internal antenna for his subject matter.

"I go to the same papers in the same order each morning and start reading coverage from Europe and scroll down quickly,'' Fay says. "Anything pertaining to Ireland just jumps off the screen at me.''

Fay then makes links to stories he selects so that a user simply clicks on a headline, which goes directly to the paper's Web site to read the full story for free.

"The newspapers know what I'm doing and they're quite happy to have the extra hits,'' Fay says.

He only scans newspapers with free Web sites and recently dropped Irish News because it started charging. It left Newshound with a gap, but he's negotiating with the paper to bring it back into his fold.

Plenty of potential: Fay's Web site would be awash in red ink if he stopped to calculate his time, phone charges and other costs. The only revenue it generates is $100 per week from publishers advertising a book. "That doesn't cover costs, but the site has a lot of potential,'' says Fay. He's had some interest from Irish companies about acquiring it and hopes his years of toil will pay off at some point with a buyer.

"I can't believe he has the discipline to look through so many papers every day, but he's always been thorough and conscientious,'' says his mother. "We all hope it will grow into something worthwhile financially.''

In the meantime, Newshound feeds Fay's Irish-American soul.

Fay visited Dublin the summer of his junior year of college, and returned for graduate studies at Trinity College.

He met the woman who would become his wife at Trinity. Fay and his wife, Caroline, a high school teacher, have lived outside Dublin since 1991, near her family. They have two daughters, Fiona, 10 and Dearbhla, 6, and a son, Eoghan, 1.

Fay, who has dual citizenship, has no plans to return to the U.S. He keeps in touch via e-mail to family and friends, reading American newspapers and playing rotisserie league baseball with high school friends in the Capital Region.

Fay claims he's at a disadvantage in the fantasy game because Irish TV doesn't broadcast American baseball games. "There's no danger of me winning,'' says Fay, a die-hard New York Mets fan. "I'm just in it for the emotional ties.''

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