Keeping journos safe: more than a code of practice

May 30, 2010

About a year ago a 16 point code aimed at keeping Australian journalists safe in war zones and other areas of trauma reporting was released at a war reporting conference in Sydney. Last week in Auckland several New Zealand journalists suggested it was about time a similar code was established here.

Award-winning freelancer and producer, Jon Stephenson said that he hadn’t seen any progress in New Zealand in the year since the first Red Cross-sponsored conference on war reporting in Wellington; which coincided with the 2009 Sydney event.

Stephenson made his comments during a panel discussion at a follow-up event held at AUT in Auckland on the 24th of May.

TV3′s experienced correspondent and news anchor, Mike McRoberts, agreed with Stephenson, as did TV1′s Campbell Bennett.

The keynote speaker at the AUT event was former ABC correspondent and now journalism educator Tony Maniaty. It was a great speech in which Maniaty talked about the outsourcing of danger now that most large news organisations in Australia and New Zealand no longer have fully staffed bureaux in many places and tend to only send reporters into hot spots when a story is breaking. He also noted that smaller, lighter digital cameras mean that the safety net of a larger, tightly-knit group no longer exists. Heavy gear and complex camera-audio set ups required three or four people to manage, creating camraderie and support networks:

Today, my students can – and some do – circumvent all that rigmarole by walking around the corner, buying a laptop and HD camera and a cheap air ticket to Kabul, and two days later be filming – alone, unsupported – on the frontline. And in this increasingly prevalent scenario are two more challenges facing us. One, we need to inject compulsory safety training modules into our media courses; and two, we need to address more carefully the vexed issue of freelancers, and what I call ‘the outsourcing of danger’. If networks are not prepared to send staff reporters into hot zones, do they have any right to send others there – for far lower pay, without training or insurance or training, without safety gear?

The idea of running safety training modules in J-schools is an interesting one, but what do we leave out in order to include them? We constantly come up against this “pint pot” problem; I might also add that the news industry needs to take some responsibility here (and shoulder the cost). Though I think that having some sort of safety code is not a bad idea. Read the rest of this entry »


On Twitter size doesn’t count (so much)

May 26, 2010

No doubt you’re into Twitter, but what do you do with your tweets?

Here at EM I use Twitter as a channel to promote the content on my blog and I also own up to the very occasional frivolous tweet. But if y0u ever get a tweet from me that says something like: “Enjoying a mochaccino latte frappe at the delightful hole in the wall cafe Moko in Porirua. Baby Bruce was just sick in Skye’s lap. Yuk!”, for f*ckzake shoot me.

Now there’s some academic evidence that being the biggest twit on the block doesn’t necessarily make you the most influential. That’s good news for those of us who wonder why the hell anyone would want to follow Ashton Kutcher or some anorexic stick insect of a supermodel (who may or may not be real), or even Lady GaGa.

According to a paper written by researchers from the Max Plank Institute, those with the largest Twitter following may not be most influential when measured by the number retweets of posts from certain users.

Believe it or not (it is hard to believe) one of the most influential using the retweet scale is a librarian whose messages are regularly retweeted by her followers.

The dataset for this research is impressive.

  • 54,981,152 user accounts
    These accounts were in-use in August 2009. We obtained the list of user IDs by repeatedly checking all possible IDs from 0 to 80 million. We scanned the list twice at a two week time gap. We did not look beyond 80 million, because no single user in the collected data had a link to a user whose ID was greater than that value.
  • 1,963,263,821 social (follow) links
    The 54 million users were connected to each other by 1.9 billion follow links. This is based on the snapshot of the Twitter network topology in August 2009. The follow link data does not contain information about when each link was formed.
  • 1,755,925,520 tweets
    For each of the 54 million users, we gathered information about all tweets ever posted by the user since the launch of the Twitter service. The tweet data contains information about the time of tweet posting.

You can also download a copy of the paper from the researcher’s website.

I’ve just picked out one table from the paper to highlight some of the huge traffic that Twitter generates around news events. This is from last year and it probably qualifies the death of Michael Jackson as news event of the year.

What we talk about on Twitter

The Iran election and uprising is a close second. But I can tell you that from my own work on that event that the noise to signal ratio was very high. I’d guess the same is true too for swine flu and Michael Jackson. They may well be events that grab people’s attention and create the virtual equivalent of water cooler conversation, but what most people have to say doesn’t warrant retweeting.

It’s official: Size doesn’t matter.


Murdoch’s UK paywall – set to change the world of online news

May 26, 2010

Rupert Murdoch could never be accused of stupidity. Rash behaviour at times, certainly, but he’s ruthlessly smart and totally focused on the bottom line.

In a few weeks time Murdoch’s most valuable (in terms of reputation and cache, if not profitability) media assets in the UK will disappear behind a paywall.

The Times and The Sunday Times will cost you real money from some time in June 2010. Already if you want to check-out the still free content you have to sign-up to go past the front page.

Next time you visit The Times, take a moment to register...have your credit card handy too.

Paywalls are controversial; supporters argue that without significant injection of subscriber funds there will be no more quality journalism, while detractors say that paywalls are anathema to the very ethos of the Internet.

One critic, Future magazine’s CEO Stevie Spring says she wishes Murdoch well, but remains unconvinced that the paywall experiment can work:

“Perishable news – like that News Corporation is talking about, for instance – is ubiquitous,” she said. “The basic rules of marketing say people will substitute and not pay for what they can get free. Good luck to them, I really hope it works but all the norms of marketing say it won’t. [However] it is an experiment they can afford to make.” [guardian.co.uk]

Roy Greenslade also puts the strategy under the financial spotlight, pointing out that subscriber numbers would have to jump exponentially to cover the costs of the newspapers’ £100 million editorial budget:

If 100,000 people agreed to pay £2 a week for access to the papers, it would result in annual revenue of £10m. It’s a sobering thought that the sum is but a tenth of the papers’ editorial budget and less than an eighth of their current joint annual losses. [Greenslade blog] Read the rest of this entry »


Brave Italian newsreader stands up to bully boy Berlusconi

May 26, 2010

An Italian journalist has resigned from the state-run TV 1 network in a protest against editorial interference and bias in favour of disgusting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Maria Luisa Busi

Maria Luisa Busi has more than 20 years experience but dramatically quit her newsreading post last week angrily pointing the finger at her boss Augusto Minzolini. Busi said that Minzolini had consistently slanted TV1′s news coverage to favour Berlusconi and had actively prevented reporting of Berlusconi’s many crimes and sexual indiscretions.

Berlusconi is the Italian Rupert Murdoch (on steroids). Not only does he have political control of TV1 he also owns massive chunks of the rest of Italy’s print and broadcast minister.

Both Minzolini and Berlusconi are under investigation for corruption.

The Independent has the full story.

EM extends a warm hand of congratulations to Ms Busi for standing up and walking out for strong principled reasons. I’d like to suggest that her colleagues at RAI should follow suit.


I’m going to be LATE for the museum

May 23, 2010

LATE 04
Innovate: Media
Thursday, 3 June 2010

This month LATE at the Museum asks what a rapidly-changing digital landscape means for broadcasters, policy makers and of course us as audiences?

The evening will ask what is happening, and what needs to happen, to ensure the independence and profitably of content creators in the age of ‘open source’ media.

Is the Internet the friend or enemy of today’s broadcasters and journalists, and how can we sustain quality programming and reporting at a time when newsrooms are shrinking and people expect to read, hear and watch content for free?

Smart Talk

The evening features a panel discussion with Associate Professor of Journalism at AUT University, Dr Martin Hirst and Brent Impey, ex CEO, Mediaworks NZ (TV3, TV4). The discussion will be moderated by former editor of the New Zealand Listener and award-winning columnist Finlay Macdonald.

Great Music

Entertainment on the evening includes Little Bushman who return to the Museum for an encore following their spellbinding performance at our inaugural LATE, plus Jeremy Toy (Opensouls) with special guests.


With rich friends like these, who needs enemies?

May 23, 2010

We need the wealthy and the talented more than they need us. Their skills are international, their enterprise is universal. They can make more money, live better lifestyles and generally advance their family’s prospects better in countries more developed than our own. Australia, North America, the UK and even the new Asia. [Michael Laws, 23 May 2010]

What’s wrong with this statement? This wasn’t really going to be a post-budget post, but in a way it is. It has to be because this budget has been celebrated in some circles as somehow “fair” in terms of tax redistributions and certainly as being “good for business”. The implication there is that what’s good for business and business owners is good for all of us. In fact, that’s not the case. The budget favours the wealthy and as Michael Laws argues, so it should, because we must be grateful for any crumbs that drop from the top table.

But, how do the rich get that way? Is it really because of their talent? Am I, and are we, as Laws suggests, just envious of their elegant ways and clever business acumen? Or are these tall poppies actually gold-plated jerks in need of chopping down?

Do we really need wealthy people like Mark Bryers — a thief, liar and luxury rooter? Read the rest of this entry »


David Campbell gay-bashed out of office

May 22, 2010

The NSW government minister, David Campbell, who was forced to resign his portfolio after a TV network outed him is the victim of media gay-bashing.

Campbell had done nothing wrong. He had not breached any government protocols; he hadn’t acted corruptly; he hadn’t done anything inappropriate with children.

The only thing that could be pinned on Campbell was that the use of his ministerial car to drive himself to the gay sex club where he was videotaped might be “inappropriate”.

But Campbell resigned in disgrace. What’s the disgrace?

That he had the temerity to be a closeted gay man living in a marriage with a wife and two children. This is not unusual, nor is it grounds for dismissal from office, but the more homophobic elements of the news media can’t leave this scabby drama alone.

Channel Seven, the network that spied on the minister and ran the story, behaved appallingly and this sleazy justification for destroying the life and career of David Campbell is absolutely fucking pathetic. [Yes, I'm angry about this]

Channel Seven said it was right to broadcast the story because the minister’s private conduct was at odds with his public persona.

Seven’s news director Peter Meakin says Mr Campbell has been hypocritical.

“I think you’ve got to look at the aspects that apply in each case,” he said.

“In the case of Mr Campbell, here was a guy who had been minister for police, which is a very sensitive portfolio, who had been presenting himself and gaining re-election as a happy family man – sending out Christmas cards with his wife and sons pictured on the card and portraying himself as a loving father and husband.

“Now all this time and apparently for the last 25 years he has been acting otherwise. I think the electorate have the right to know that.”

Meakin you are an asshole insensitive jerk, plain and simple. What the fuck gives you the right to determine what Campbell’s electorate needs to know about his private life?

And what shitful fucking logic and homophobic thinking leads you to conclude that Campbell is not a “happy family man…loving father and husband”? Read the rest of this entry »


Outrageous misfortune(s)

May 21, 2010

On occasions I am gobsmacked by the awful things that happen in the world. There’s an outrage every day that can be upsetting, or make me angry; but of course I don’t just wander around in a slack-jaw daze. For the most part, I am able to moderate my outrage with a quick “Fuck you,” when some prick comes on the TV news to tell me how much better off I am now that GST is at 15 per cent and my rent’s gone up.

We tend to shield ourselves from “the horror, the horror”; then again, most of the horrible things don’t come to our attention. The news self-censors to ensure that we don’t get too depressed and turn on our masters.

Those awful things that do come to our attention are now so commonplace we are almost psychologically immune. When was the last time you were angered by a new wave of senseless killing in Baghdad, Kabul or Peshawar? Do you really care if the “red shirts” win or lose?

With this post I want to introduce a new category “outrageous misfortune”. A summary reminder that despite our ability for magical thinking there’s “shit happening” that we should be conscious of. Stuff that reminds us that there’s still a long way to go to make this lump of rock a really “wonderful world”.

Campbell quits amid gay sex club claims

A New South Wales government minister has been forced to resign his portfolio after a Sydney TV station revealed that the married man was visiting gay sex-on-premises venues.

That of course is not a crime in sexually-liberal Sydney, but David Campbell drove himself to the venue in his ministerial car. “Outrageous misfortune” indeed.

Channel Seven justifies its surveillance of Mr Campbell because he was seen as a “family values” politician. The serious implication here is that somehow family values are incompatible with being gay. Campbell was “accused” of visiting the gay club as if it was some sort of crime. It’s not illegal to be gay (even a closeted married gay)  in NSW; but the fucked up holier-than-thou moral police in the media sense blood in the water around state politics and so Mr Campbell is just meat to them.

He wasn’t a very competent minister and the Labor government in NSW is an electoral stinker, but outing Campbell in this cruel way is really not part of the game.

Emirati woman reports gang rape, hit with legal sex charge

We are no longer shocked by stories of woman being victimised and abused in Islamic countries, but we should not lose sight of the issue just because it is no longer unusual.

This is a particularly awful case. A young woman pack-raped in the backseat of a car. She is then charged with “sex out of wedlock”. The young woman had the outrageous misfortune to be born female in a disgustingly patriarchal society dominated by a fundamentalist clerical elite. However, we won’t be seeing any “Operation Emirati Freedom” anytime soon. This religious backwater is a glutton’s haven of oil reserves and a strong ally of The Great Satan.

Gay couple in Malawi sentenced to 14 years

Two young men expressing their love for each other. That’s OK right? Unless you’re a nasty bigoted God-botherer you should not have a problem with same-sex “relations”. This is the 21st century after all.

Apparently not in Malawi (nor in many other countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia).

Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, and Steven Monjeza, 26 were convicted of unnatural acts and gross indecency under laws dating from the colonial era. That last bit is the most worrying. The hangover of repressive laws from the colonial period that are still used to persecute locals.

Tiwonge and Steven had recently been through an informal “engagement” ceremony. They had the outrageous misfortune to be gay in a nation that won’t tolerate homosexuality. 14 years in jail is as good as a death sentence for these two young men.

One bright spark in this outrage though; Amnesty International is going to adopt the boys as prisoners of conscience and campaign for their release.


Flying Air New Zealand? Bollocks!

May 15, 2010

Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe is signing a giant chuckle all the way to the check-in counter.

Now that several media organisations have piled on to ‘report’ the airline’s new marketing campaign as is if was really ‘news’, Fyfe can have his crumby little biscuit and eat it too.

How is it newsworthy that an executive (advised by an agency creative) launches an advert taking aim at a magazine editor for criticising his business? And really, the criticism reads more like the whinging of a woman accustomed to travelling first or business class, most probably at someone else’s expense; suddenly thrust in among the plebs at the back of the plane:

The public can rightly ask: is Air New Zealand on a path to become a mostly budget airline, and will that come at the expense of the quality service, superior food and wine, safety and courtesy that it offers at the high-margin non-budget end of its business?

[Turbulence ahead, The Listener 15 May, 2010]

Superior food and wine? Please, most airline food is totally unpalatable and the drink offerings from the budget bin.

How many people even read Pamela Stirling’s editorials in The Listener anyway? I gave up  recently after reading one that was an ugly riff on the “I’m not a racist, but…” theme. You know, Chinese are stealing “our” dairy industry and that sort of thing.

In this debate, New Zealanders must ensure their objections are not simply racism in another guise. Would we have the same reaction if the entrepreneurs were Australians? Well, quite possibly, yes, if the proposal was identical.

[Selling the farm: Should we tell the Chinese to get off the grass?, The Listener, 10 April, 2010]

Who cares what Ms Stirling thinks about anything really.

I bet Rob Fyfe doesn’t give a flying proverbial. Air New Zealand just saw a marketing opportunity; pitched a clever little viral campaign and are now quite happy that it has been legitimised as a news story by TV One and the NZ Herald.

Fyfe's loony grimace scares babies

And look at Fyfe in the video, he’s roaring mad (in the insane way).

Let’s just recap some journalism 101 principles here:

News has to have a ‘Who cares’ factor. So really who cares about Air New Zealand having a pretend bust-up with The Listener?

News has to be something of interest to the public. Where’s the public interest in this story; it’s fake news. It’s a media advertising campaign dressed up as a spat between the company and the editor.

There is no public interest here.

News needs to have news values. Conflict’s a good one, so I guess the manufactured conflict (the theme of the Air New Zealand advertising spot) fooled some journos and news editors into thinking they were dealing with a real issue here.

The only thing this whole farce has got going for it is that once again we get to see Rob Fyfe acting badly, showing off and grimacing like a hyena on acid.

Not pretty, not funny, not news.

Bollocks, anyone?


A singer must die – sometimes; or at least leave the band

May 12, 2010

We have a Canadian colleague (and now friend) staying at Chez WhiteHirst this week and she brought with her the sad news that Steven Page has left the Bare Naked Ladies.

I know sometimes news travels slowly and I seriously thought this was something that just happened, but no; Google tells me it occurred in February 2009.

That says more about my interest in fandom than I’d like.

However, MC also went to JB and bought Moac and me a copy of the “new” Bare Naked Ladies CD, All in good time, which features a track (You run away) in which Ed laments the betrayal of a friend. It seems to refer to Page.

Where's Mr Page? Exit stage right.

The speculation when Page left BNL was that it had something to do with his cocaine bust in 2008.

Whatever the cause it seems that both Page and the band have moved on. All in good time is a pretty good BNL CD, the vocals and arrangements are similar, but perhaps without the band’s famous sense of fun, except on one or two tracks.

Page has an album out too; a collaboration with a funky and contemporary group of classical musicians called Art of Time Ensemble.

Page’s record with the ensemble is a series of covers, including this classic, ‘A singer must die’, from Leonard Cohen.

I really like ‘You run away’ and the first time I heard it – in the car on the way to work – I had to wipe away a nostalgic tear. I love BNL and I like Steve Page too, I will be going out to get A singer must die later today.

And, I would argue that this is still martini music. Rock for grown-ups to be enjoyed in a cool bar, or even at home. But remember, it’s not the drinking, it’s how we drink and I would be careful with the martinis here. Too many and you could get all maudlin and pine for the past. Tears before bedtime, not good.


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