Inquirer sale – save a paper to kill an industry?

April 29, 2010

The troubled Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister tabloid the Daily News have new owners this week after a fierce bidding war between a consortium of creditors and a billionaire business figure.

The consortium of lenders won with a bid of $139 million, but this price is a fraction of the value in the company the last time it changed hands.

In 2006 the Inquirer and the News were sold for $515 million. That could have been an inflated price at the time, but the fall is indicative of the way that newspaper companies have been hemorrhaging value over the last five years.

The sale removes the threat of bankruptcy from the papers, but as one local Inquirer staffer and union rep said, it may be out of the frying pan and into the fire. The question remains: What will the new owners do with two newspapers in an urban market that clearly cannot sustain them?

“There is certainly a tremendous sense of relief in that this long and complex and rather torturous bankruptcy process may finally be at an end,” said Diane Mastrull, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and a chair of The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. “But we are also somewhat worried because now we enter possibly another new and terrifying phase, and that is new ownership without much of an idea of what their expectations are for their business and what their commitment to the businesses will be.” [Papers sold to creditors group]

The Inquirer group has been in trouble for some time and has been facing closure for months. Even so, the Daily News won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2010.

The new owners are already calling for “concessions” from the newspaper unions representing staff on the mastheads.

You can reasonably interpret this as more job cuts, less staffing and budget for news operations, more advertorial, etc. etc.

The papers seem safe-ish for now, but their long-term future is far from certain. There are likely to be similar fire sales in other American news markets too.

Circulation figures released this week show an overall decline of around 9 percent across most major markets in the US.

The San Francisco Chronicle – already under the threat of closure from owners the Hearst Corporation, showed a decline of over 20 percent.

While the decline has not yet proved terminal for some titles, year on year for the past three years it has been steady and shows no sign of turning around.

That’s why the sale of the Inquirer to creditors could still be dangerous. If they want to cut their losses and get back whatever they can on their investment, closure could still be on the cards.


Murdoch’s parties launch circulation war in Gotham City

April 28, 2010

Rupert Murdoch threw two launch parties for his ambitious raid on the New York newspaper market this week.

The first was a breakfast of bagels, juice and coffee for the industry insiders and speeches talking up the advertising success of the Wall Street Journal‘s new New York supplement.

To be fair, the NYT blogger David Carr covered the breakfast and reported this extraordinary quote from WSJ CEO Robert Thomson:

“Unless journalism is sustainable, it will be inevitably diminished, regardless of the incoherent incantations and the superciliousness of the journalistic elite. That elite has all the ossification of the traditional bourgeoisie, and Baudelaire was definitely correct when he said ‘One must shock the bourgeois,’” said Robert Thomson, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, quoting both Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde to an audience munching on quiche and salmon-dappled bagels. He received the biggest laugh of the day by advising the audience, “If you really must read The New York Times, read it on the Web for free and then buy The Wall Street Journal.” [Media Decoder]

Thomson also hinted at further assaults across America as the business paper tries to compete with local broadsheets. At the same time the paper is offering discounts to advertisers – at least in the initial phase of the campaign to conquer America.

It’s a good job then that Murdoch has deep pockets and friendly (offshore) bankers behind him. It could get expensive.

The second launch party was an evening affair at Gotham Hall and, according to one guest, the food and drink were nothing much to get excited about. Significantly, perhaps. NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was at Murdoch’s shoulder for this event.

Bloomberg was typical of the city’s elite who were celebrating with Murdoch (and at his expense – this type of bash doesn’t come cheap in Gotham, even if the catering does run to “pizza station”).

The power in the room last night was a very specific New York one, presumably the type of people Mr. Murdoch needs to win over with his new section. Henry Kravis and developer Bill Rudin were there, as was an outgoing deputy mayor, Ed Skyler, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and attorney general hopeful Kathleen Rice. It felt like a Real Estate Board of New York party. (In fact, the REBNY chairman, Steve Spinola, was on the tip sheet produced by Rubenstein Associates for reporters prior to the party.) The likes of Graydon Carter and Tina Brown were nowhere to be seen. [Media Mob]

Graydon Carter is the publisher of Vanity Fair. Tina Brown is an institution in New York media and now runs the internet news agregator The Daily Beast. No wonder Murdoch didn’t invite her, he hates agregators.

I can’t help wondering though if the irony in Robert Thomson’s breakfast speech would be lost on these well-heeled bourgeois.

Will Murdoch introduce Bingo and page 3 girls into the WSJ? It’s unlikely, but there may well be other gimmicks that might shock the bourgeois of Gotham.

However, I doubt very much that they’d be shocked by Murdoch’s business tactics. If he succeeds they all stand to benefit.

The real issue is what impact this fight between two old media heavyweights will have on the newspaper market in New York – arguably one of the most important on the planet – and whether it will spread to other American cities, or to global markets.

Murdoch’s presence in both the UK and Australia is well established. In London, Melbourne and Sydney he is in multi-paper markets (like NYC), but his market-share is strong.

What’s also not clear is whether the brawl between two aging print dinosaurs will hasten the death of newspapers, or breathe new life into them.


Another test of US shield laws for non-MSM reporters

April 28, 2010

A second case that will test shield laws for American reporters is under way in California. The court action follows a police raid on the home of Gizmodo staffer Jason Chen.

Police allege Chen had stolen property – a prototype of the next Apple iPhone – and that he had committed a felony by having it in his possession.

Gizmodo, published by the Gawker group, is challenging the warrant on the grounds that Chen is a journalist and his home is his newsroom.

Under California law, a warrant cannot be used to seize the work items of a reporter. Read the rest of this entry »


Monetizing UGNC: Is this how the news industry will survive?

April 27, 2010

I’m in that usual happy-anxious phase that authors get into when their manuscript is in the production process, but the first pages have not come back with editor’s queries and comments.

It’s a double-edged feeling because you are happy to have the MSS off your hands, but anxious because you don’t really know what the editor thinks and, even worse, stuff keeps happening. Stuff that would be good in the book. “Damn!”

This is really obvious in the world of News 2.0. The rate of change has not slowed, just because I’ve reached my contracted word length.

However, I’m also feeling a little smug (dangerous, hubris inducing, I know) because I see evidence again that one of my key theses is correct.

In my exposition about why I’m arguing for the term User Generated News-like Content (UGNC), rather than “citizen journalism”,  I make the point that the once radical posture of Indymedia and citizen journalism and the innovative use of collaborative technologies has been superceded by the MSM’s attempts to monetize the stream of cheap and free content they get from consumers – iReport on CNN is the best example, but not the only one.

Now I am a bit disappointed, but not surprised, that one of the world’s leading media and journalism research institutes is touting a conference for news executive at which they can learn how to exploit UGNC for profitable ends.

Stretching your news budget with user content will be at Poynter’s HQ in St Petersburg Florida and no doubt it will be a fun-filled affair.

Participatory journalism. Crowdsourcing. Pro-am. Whatever you call it, you’re probably debating how to create or expand user content for your organization.

Explore the benefits (and drawbacks) of enlisting volunteers or semi-professionals to cover the stories your professional team can’t. Learn how to maximize impact and create a system that makes sense for your newsroom.

Another interesting development from Poynter is a scheme to give some training to these UGNC newsroom volunteers.

Yes, lift your jaw up off the floor. It’s actually about training them to a level so that they can attain a Poynter Institute “certificate of understanding of journalism basics and skills”.

That is, turning them into real “journalists”. Perhaps not, it will be a low value qualification; probably more aimed at making your volunteer feel special and to not really mind being exploited.

In News 2.0 I suggest that monetizing and exploiting UGNC is going to become more common and that it totally undercuts any suggestions that UGNC will be a real defining challenge to the mainstream.

The MSM is fighting for its survival – this is no more than the dynamic of global capitalism – and it will do so by any means necessary.


When is a citizen not a journalist? Court decision clear on blogger

April 24, 2010

Oh poor neglected blog. I haven’t updated EM for a week or so. I think my writing juices were used up in the final push to get the News 2.0 manuscript off to the publisher. It’s gone and this weekend I thought, “toe in the water Marty.”

And this bit of news is too “good” to miss out on. A court in New Jersey has made a landmark decision that may well help us to better define the concept of citizen journalist.

In a decision that attempts to better define who is protected by New Jersey’s shield law, the court said Shellee Hale’s writings about Too Much Media LLC, which supplies software to online pornography websites, amounted to nothing more than a letter-to-the-editor in a newspaper.

[Blogger not pro]

Well, well. I wonder what NYU professor journalism Jay Rosen – famously the author of the quip about the people formerly known as audience will say about this?

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

[Jay Rosen, PressThink]

In News 2.0 I actually go to some length to nail down the whole Cit J thing because I believe that the term is tossed around without any really solid definition beyond what Jay Rosen has offered. I contrast that view with the idea that to be a citizen journalist, one has to actually be engaged in an act of politically or ideologically-motivated citizenship.

Otherwise, you might really only be an amateur, an eye-witness or an accidental reporter. My take is that all of those categories – including citizen journalists – can be better understood as sub-categories of what I am calling “user-generated news-like content”.

Of course, you’ll have to read the book to get the full account of this. I’m sure Allen & Unwin would not want me to give it all away here – tempted as I am.

The legal fight over who is and who isn’t a journalist is an aspect of the techno-legal time gap. That unresolved contradiction between the technology – the means of journalistic production – and the social relations of production – in this case the legal framework of shield laws designed to protect “journalists” from forced disclosure of sources, etc.

The New Jersey decision goes to some length to create a working definition of a journalist that I think is very interesting and reflects some of the arguments I use in News 2.0 about the economic relationship that journalists are engaged in – a relationship of salary or other payment for their work.

Hale, a former Microsoft employee and a mother of five from Washington state, contended she was acting as a journalist when she posted comments to a message board about a security breach at TMM and allegations that its owners had threatened her. She argued the postings were part of her research into a larger story about the online pornography industry.

TMM sued for damages, claiming Hale was not working as a journalist and was not covered by the shield law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources.

In an age where technology has far outpaced the law, courts have conceded there has been no clear decision on whether writings on the internet, particularly by bloggers, are protected by the First Amendment or New Jersey’s shield law.

Maybe the court’s got this wrong and I am sure there will be some who think I’m an old Trot with too much invested in political economy.

I think I’m right on this issue. Some background in my review of Atton & Hamilton Alternative Journalism


Yankee stay home!

April 13, 2010

New Zealand is world famous in New Zealand for its long-standing policy of refusing to host visits from American naval vessels. Now the conservative John Key government wants to reverse this position and re-open New Zealand ports to US gunboat diplomacy.

American sailors have not been able to visit strip clubs and brothels in New Zealand since the late 1980s and to be honest, no one really misses them [except maybe Steve Crow].

Read the rest of this entry »


“Fugly?” Not with my clothes on. Yeah right!

April 10, 2010

Australian government says Afghanistan safe for refugees

The Australian government is suspending refugee applications from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, saying the security situation in both countries is now good enough and no one should fear for their lives.

Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen says security conditions in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are improving to the point where less refugee applications from these two countries will be granted.

“We are seeing signs in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan that the situation has improved enough to lead one to the conclusion that less refugee applications will be granted,” Mr Bowen said told Lateline.

Yeah right!


An honest mistake – right under their noses too

Oh dear Mr Marshall, what a lucky honest mistake you made at the District Court.

Accidentally picking up some papers you weren’t supposed to have; conscientiously using them as the basis for a story and then returning them with an apology.

In response to the incident, Sunday Star Times publisher Mitchell Murphy said, “This was an honest mistake. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Anyone else might call it dishonest, but we know, it was just a lucky break. Yeah right!


We can make money from this fugly’s humiliation

  • K-Pick impresses judges with song

    Kim Pickering - the new SuBo Daily Telegraph

  • She says she’s a shy account clerk
  • Inspired by SuBo

SHE is shy in public but comes alive when performing musical theatre in Sydney retirement and nursing homes – now Susan Boyle doppelganger Kim Pickering Jones is trying to replicate her hero’s success.

The single 42-year-old woman from Mt Kuring-gai blew away producers, judges and a 1000-strong live audience with her rendition of the George Gershwin classic Summertime while auditioning for TV show Australia’s Got Talent.

She’s a fortune star in the making. Yeah right!

Not fugly, just f#$%&*g ugly

“Whilst a long time ago it might have been short for … two words … it is now being used regularly, particularly in entertainment circles, as simply an adjective. For example it is being used to describe an attitude or a dress,” said TVNZ news spokeswoman Andi Brotherston.

Mark Sainsbury thinks Nanny McPhee is “fugly”, but the Broadcasting Standards Authority believes  it’s not swearing to say so. Has Mr Sainsbury visited the room of mirrors recently. Yeah right!

Check out Lara’s bingles

Since when did the Australian Football League give itself the power to be an arbiter of what an AFL player can and cannot photograph? Brisbane player Brendan Fevola has not been sanctioned for allegedly circulating a semi-nude image of serial girlfriend Lara Bingle.

Why is Bingle so upset? There are plenty of semi-nude images of her circulating. From my brief survey it looks like she happily posed for them.

League official Adrian Anderson said there was “insufficient evidence” to punish Fevola.

Hang on, he took the photo; how else did it get around to his player mates?

“All AFL players and officials should be aware that taking and distributing private images without consent is unacceptable and can result in sanctions,” Anderson said.

Yeah right!

Bye bye Bebo

Social-networking site Bebo, which has about 630,000 members in New Zealand, is set to be sold or shut down.

Parent company AOL has announced it will not provide new funding to Bebo to compete with rivals, and may sell or shut down the site.

“Bebo, unfortunately, is a business that has been declining and, as a result, would require significant investment in order to compete in the competitive social-networking space,” a company statement said.

The site has lost members to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Meanwhile, somewhere near Little Rock…

The mother of a 16-year-old boy said she was only being a good mother when she locked him out of his Facebook account after reading he had driven home at 150km/h one night because he was mad at a girl.

He’s alleging defamation – by his mom! She says her son’s a dickwad.

Social media is so cool and it’s the future. Yeah right!


Wikileaks – an enemy of the State, just like Little Brother

April 7, 2010

The semi-underground Wikileaks site has become a news story in the last 48 hours thanks to the disturbing video of two Reuters staffers being gunned down in Baghdad in 2007.

Last year the site was named as the Amnesty International new media site of the year.

The April 2010 video released by Wikileaks [available at EM here] shows a group of Iraqis walking in a neighbourhood where the American military was staging a large “counter-insurgency” operation.

The Reuters men were there to cover the story on the ground. Unfortunately two trigger-happy Apache pilots mistook a telephoto lens for an AK47 and opened fire. Twelve people were killed, two children were wounded.

Wikileaks used a crowd source of hackers to decode the encryption on the Apache “gun camera” footage that was leaked to them by whistleblowers.

Now the US military and its Washington think-tank apologists are trying to hose down the story and imply that the Apache pilots were only doing their jobs.

No surprises there; but I didn’t know that in 2008 the American military machine has also listed Wikileaks as an enemy of the State.

This document is a classified (SECRET/NOFORN) 32 page U.S. counterintelligence investigation into WikiLeaks. “The possibility that current employees or moles within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government are providing sensitive or classified information to WikiLeaks.org cannot be ruled out”. It concocts a plan to fatally marginalize the organization. Since WikiLeaks uses “trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers or whistleblowers”, the report recommends “The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the WikiLeaks.org Web site”. [the document is no longer available at Wikileaks]

This is bizarre and shows just how twisted the whole concept of “homeland security” is. It reminds me of the plot in a great Cory Doctorow novel I’m reading at the moment: Little Brother.

In this book, the hero Marcus Yarrow faces down the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist bomb destroys the Oakland Bay bridge in San Francisco. The DHS locks down the city and ups the surveillance in school classrooms, on the street and via electronic devices so that everyone is under their gaze 24/7 (almost).

Yarrow is a 17 year-old school kid who’s into online gaming and computer coding. After his illegal detention by DHS agents, Marcus and his friends organise a jamming campaign using darknet software that plays on the Xbox.

In an interesting twist, Marcus and his family seek the help of a dead trees “investigative journalist” to expose the DHS clampdown on civil liberties.

I find this interesting because it possibly shows the limits of social media in terms of making a really big story public and driving public opinion.

It’s probably also a comment on the age gap. Yarrow’s father is old school so doesn’t understand the jamming culture of his kid.

I haven’t quite finished Little Brother yet; but I can’t wait to get home and read the last 80 pages.

You should get hold of a copy; it’s an interesting book and an important statement about how Homeland Security has become a war against the American people. You can also check out a fan page for the book on Facebook.

Writer, blogger and cool geek Cory Doctorow

Doctorow is behind the technology and culture blog Boing Boing and I like him even more now that he’s just published an anti iPad manifesto.

In particular there’s this biting swipe at the dead tree media:

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.

The parallels between the military’s attitude to Wikileaks and the DHS crackdown on civil liberties is eirie.


“They shoot journalists, don’t they?”

April 6, 2010

So, the American military has what it calls “rules of engagement” when active in a combat zone.

Normally these “rules” are to protect the lives of non-combatants, but in the urban battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq there is sometimes very little difference.

At least according to the US military. But how far does the American war machine go to distinguish between friendlies and civilians and the so-called “enemy” – the Taleban in Afghanistan or “insurgents” in Iraq?

Really, it doesn’t go very far at all. In a recent Vanity Fair article about snipers in Afghanistan, one US soldier is quoted as calling the Afghan interpreter in his unit a “stinky”.

A Special Forces sergeant came up and said, “Hey, dude, I got some bad news. I gotta put a Stinky in your truck.” Afghans are Stinkies because they don’t wash.

We’ve all heard the term “raghead” used in relation to Iraqis. When this level of embedded racism is in play, the rules of engagement are not worth wiping your stinky on.

Whenever civilians are killed by “mistake” there are major efforts to cover it up. Details are only released when the families of the dead – you should always make sure there are no survivors – make a fuss, or the media starts nosing around.

But what happens when reporters and news workers are killed? Then the cover up goes into overdrive!

The Wikileaks site has just released some very disturbing video footage of two Reuters correspondents being gunned down in Baghdad. According to the army’s statement, the action that led to their murder was within the rules of engagement.

The attack took place on the morning of 12 July 2007 in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. Two children were also wounded.

Reuters had been seeking access to the video – shot from one of the Apache helicopters that also gunned down the men – for more than two years.

The murdered newsworkers  were local Reuters staff; Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. Chmagh was a 40-year-old Reuters driver and assistant; Noor-Eldeen was a 22-year-old war photographer.

Rule #1: It’s OK to shoot journalists.

Read the rest of this entry »


The last word on religion and atheism

April 5, 2010

So is religiosity on the increase, or is it shrinking on a global scale?

I suppose in the end there’s no real scientific way to measure this, but it’s interesting that at Easter the numbers get rolled out to justify either side of the argument.

Tapu Misa’s column in the New Zealand Herald today makes the claim that the number of believers across all faiths is growing and that secularism is on the decline.

Of the world’s 6.8 billion people, 2.3 billion are Christians, 1.57 billion are Muslims, 800 million are Hindus, and 600 million are Buddhists. [Religion undergoing startling resurrection]

But Tapu does admit that secularism is on the rise in the West and it is this news which motivates fundamentalists like the Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, to claim that atheism is a form of idolatry.

Yeah, exactly: “What?”

Dr Jensen said in his Good Friday sermon at Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral that atheism was a form idolatry.

“As we can see by the sheer passion and virulence of the atheist – they seem to hate the Christian God – we are not dealing here with cool philosophy up against faith without a brain,” Dr Jensen told worshippers.

“Atheism is every bit of a religious commitment as Christianity itself.

“It represents the latest version of the human assault on God, born out of resentment that we do not in fact rule the world and that God calls on us to submit our lives to him.

“It is a form of idolatry in which we worship ourselves.”

Cardinal Pell of St Mary’s Cathedral delivered a similar attack on atheism in his Easter message yesterday. He praised government organisations “paid for by the Christian majority” for helping make the Australian way of life the envy of the world, but noted that atheists sponsored no community services.

The new Catholic Bishop of Parramatta, in Sydney’s west, Anthony Fisher, continued the attack in his Easter message.

“Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating: Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot-ery, mass murder, abortion and broken relationships – all promoted by state-imposed atheism,” he said. [Believers who hate god]

Sorry Cardinal Pell, you nasty piece of swaddled lunacy, but many community services are non-religious. You think you have a monopoly on charity. Damn you, you self-righteous and idolatrous wanker.

Oh, OK, the same crap arguments about religion and ethics. We’ve had this conversation.

Time to move on. Read the rest of this entry »


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