When a Tassie Devil resembles a badger you have to wonder what it’s hiding

October 23, 2016

Over the last couple of days I’ve had an interesting exchange with someone calling themselves ‘Lushington Dalrymple Brady‘. this person acknowledges that the name is a pseudonym, and the avatar that ‘he’ adopts is supposed to be a Tasmanian Devil; to me it looks like a foppish badger imitating an 18th century dandy. What do you think?

Looks like a badger 'toff' to me

Looks like a badger ‘toff’ to me

‘Mr Brady’ calls himself a ‘liberalist’ and I must confess it is a political label I’ve never heard of. I immediately assumed ‘he’ meant libertarian and perhaps that is what ‘he’ is. But, I’m willing to take ‘Lushington’ at his word, here is a definition of liberalist. It is apparently an adherent of the philosophies of John Locke.

liberalist-2016-10-23-10-15-07OK, so I went to the source — American Thinker — to see what this is all about and yes, ‘libertarian’ is probably a good synonym. It is certainly an anti-left, anti-Marxist position that has everything in common with modern right-wing libertarian thinking that argues ‘Today’s a liberal is in fact a socialist [sic]’. Why are these batshit-crazy folk also grammar-challenged?

The ‘liberalist’/libertarian is anti-state, pro free-market, and adheres to a total buy-in to the myth of individual supremacy over the social totality. In short, as I told ‘Mr Brady’ in an email, a ‘Fascist with manners’.

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Malcolm in a muddle:Media reform for the big end of town

October 20, 2016

The journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), is concerned that the government’s proposed media regulation reforms will lead to a loss of jobs in the news industry and less choice for media consumers.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016 is currently before a Senate committee; but even before it has taken effect, the MEAA says the current rules that are supposed to ensure a variety of news ‘voices’ in the marketplace are not being properly observed.

The MEAA estimates that over 5000 jobs in the media industry have disappeared in less than a decade. According to the union’s submission to the Senate review of the Media Reform legislation, the government’s mooted changes favour existing providers, will entrench the near-monopoly power of existing players, and will see less diversity among news outlets, not more.

For example, last month, the so-called ‘consumer watchdog’ (actually a government lapdog) the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) approved NewsCorpse’ sale of Perth’s Sunday Times newspaper to the Kerry Stokes-owned SevenWest Media.

When the deal is completed next week, it will give Stokes a virtual monopoly over print media in Western Australia, it has created a mood of fear and apprehension among Sunday Times staff.

MEAA’s WA regional director Tiffany Venning says her members are ‘deeply disappointed’ with the decision. There were 37 editorial jobs lost at The West Australian in the lead up to this transaction being approved, and Venning says there is ‘considerable concern’ for the jobs staff at Sunday Times and its online affiliate PerthNow.

It’s no surprise that union members are concerned. The entire printing staff at the Sunday Times are about to lose their jobs. That’s about 100 people, some of whom have been at the paper their entire working lives.

Tiffany Venning told EM that out of the 60 editorial staff at the Sunday Times, ‘less than half’ are likely to have jobs once the merger is complete. Rumours crossing the newsroom floor at the Times are that as few as seven existing editorial staff are likely to make the transition.

In an interview with EM, Ms Venning described this as a ‘bloodbath’ that will see over 100 people unceremoniously dumped onto the already depressed WA job market. However, it is unlikely that either Kerry Stokes or Rupert Murdoch will lose any sleep over adding to the west’s unemployment queues.

The Sunday Times was one of Rupert’s first purchases when he began to expand his empire in the 1960s, but he is hardly the most sentimental billionaire on the planet. He needs to sell the Times to fund the purchase of a cartload of regional newspapers in Queensland.

The ACCC has expressed some ‘concerns’ about the American mogul’s proposed $36.6 million purchase of Australian Regional Newspapers from APN. However, the ACCC’s remit does not include being concerned about the further potential loss of journalism jobs in the Sunshine State; it is only interested in competition in the local news market.

Given that the regulator didn’t allow similar concerns to stop the Sunday Times deal, printers, journalists and sales staff at the 76 newspapers and 60 websites affected by the APN deal should probably start looking for another job.

As I have written previously in Media Sauce, the media owners don’t have to be so worried. For them it is likely to be ‘business as usual’ and it seems that they can carry on with the government’s blessing.

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Bleeding the ink from newspapers: How long have we got?

August 29, 2016

I have to say it: “I have a grudging respect for Chris Mitchell, the former editor-in-chief of The Australian.”

Under Mitchell’s leadership from 2002 to 2015 The Australian cemented its place as the go-to source of news and opinion from the centre-right perspective.

Mitchell’s ‘take no prisoners’ editorial style and his willingness to pick fights with anyone to his left (that’s a lot of people) has helped The Australian to survive for many more years than it should have.

Apart from a brief period in the 1980s and 1990s, The Oz has been a loss-making paper for most of its life. As early as 1975 Murdoch complained bitterly about the cost of producing a national daily broadsheet. The printing, transport, newsprint costs and the wages of journalists were all out of control in those days.

It’s not much different today. But, ever optimistic, Chris Mitchell was bravely spinning the line that all is well at The Australian. According to Mitchell’s latest comments, The Oz is still making money on its subsidised sales to hotel guests and airline customers and News Corp is committed to keeping the title alive, even though it appears to be shrinking before our eyes.

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The future of newspapers – ABC podcast

March 8, 2015

I recorded this interview with Glyn Greensmith of the ABC on the future of newspapers.

All you have to do is click and listen.

future of news


The view from Disneyland — you can see the Newscorpse bunkers from here

February 8, 2015

There have been two important speeches at the National Press Club in the past week or so. One of them got bucket loads of media coverage and has turned into a national story of gargantuan significance. EM covered it here.

The second NPC speech received some coverage, but there have been few ripples across the pond and the story has died. However, EM can’t let it go because it is a subject dear to our heart — Freedom of the Press.

Just two days after Two Punch delivered his wooden and self-wounding speech on Monday, perhaps fatally injuring his own prime ministership and his political party in the process, the chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney, gave an address to the gathered scribes and interested onlookers.

Disney’s speech won’t kill off the Press Council, but he is leaving soon anyway and his replacement has been announced, Professor David Weisbrot; so, in some ways, the address was a valedictory.

Disney also used the speech to make some thinly-veiled comments about the role of destabilisation and undermining of the Council’s authority by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorpse.

newscorpse log

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Yahoo! Here comes the new news

November 30, 2013

It’s been an interesting week in the new business, both globally and here in Australia.

At home some new start-ups, including another import from the UK. This time it’s the Daily Mail announcing an Australian edition. One Twitterati quipped that this would at least provide some much-needed competition in the right-wing junk journalism stakes currently dominated by The Australian.

But on the downside, one or two less happy stories of ailing start-ups and mooted closures.

On the world stage, it seems that Yahoo’s new business model is taking shape, following the surprise announcement that the NASDAQ-listed search and mobile App tech-giant has hired a group of well-known and high-profile journalists and editors to staff its own news portal.

The key hire is the award-winning and sometimes controversial Katie Couric, who will leave the American ABC network to join Yahoo. According to Yahoo, Couric will host a monthly interview program on the portal, but few details are available beyond that.

But why would a second-ranked search engine and internet portal want to buy into news and serious journalism?

The investment in Katie Couric and senior reporters from The New York Times signals that Yahoo wants to move into Web TV and take on the the giants of American network and cable television, and perhaps even Netflix, which is rumoured to also be looking at an Australian launch next year.

In recent months Yahoo, which is valued at around US$35 billion, has made a series of takeovers, mainly of Internet start-ups like the picture-blogging site Tumblr. But analysts think that it is still figuring out how to turn a profit from these acquisitions.

Tellingly, Yahoo’s share of online advertising (about 7%) is still behind Facebook (8%).

Recruiting Couric to be the new face of Yahoo’s news operation is an attempt to get a stock market bounce and attract eyeballs, which in turn should attract advertisers.

The key question though is where will those eyeballs be? In recent statements Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, has said the company’s future is in mobile delivery.

However, mobile is “the right path” to be on according to Mayer, rather than an instant boost to advertising revenues. Digital plays take a while to turn from money sinks into profit centres.

Australia: following the leader?

Australia is following the bigger US and UK markets in seeing a wave of new start-up news providers both entering and leaving the market, which is creating both excitement and apprehension among journalists looking for new opportunities and among news consumers looking for something a bit more palatable.

Here at home this week, a new news start-up arrived and one recent entrant is in difficulties. In the past ten days or so, three new news publishers have announced their arrival in the Australian news market.

The biggest fish to enter the Australian news pond, since The Guardian six months ago, is the British-based conservative tabloid, The Daily Mail. Just this week it announced the imminent arrival of dailymail.com.au. It is a joint venture with Nine Entertainment, the Mail’s online arm dmg media and mi9 (a digital spin-off from the Nine group). There’s been very little said so far about who will head up the Australian operation, but its reported that up to 50 editorial positions will be created.

Two smaller and homegrown publications are launching into the Australian market; The New Daily and The Saturday Paper. The Saturday Paper will feature long-form journalism and will be published by Morry Schwartz (pubisher of The Monthly). Schwartz hopes it will be profitable with an initial printed circulation of between 80,000 and 100,000.

The New Daily recently launched entirely online and is financed by three major players in the Australian superannuation industry. The managing editor is former Fairfax and News Limited editor, Bruce Guthrie. The New Daily is running an advertising model and, like the imported Daily Mail, is not going behind a paywall. The New Daily’s backers hope it will be profitable within three to five years.

On the downside, Politifact, a fact-checking and independent journalism venture founded by former Fairfax editor Peter Fray has announced severe downsizing and possible closure as the sponsors who came on board during the 2013 federal election wind-down their commitment to the project. Politifact was based on an American model that calls out politicians for mis-statements and gives them a “truth-o-meter” rating. If it sounds like a gimmick, maybe it was, as the site only lasted seven months in Australia. Politifact is currently running on a skeleton staff and seeking new sources of funding.

The digital dilemma: How to make money from content

The question of how profits can be made from online news has several answers, but none yet a proven winner.

A recent American news start up NSFW Corp, which billed itself as “The Economist written by the Daily Show”, has this week closed its print edition and folded its digital business into another company, which is, itself, still reliant on angel investors from Silicon Valley.

And here lies the dilemma for the big global brands like Yahoo and The Daily Mail and for the more modest local start-ups, particularly those with a focus on serious journalism. NSFW Corp attempted to combine serious with hip and ironic, but that hasn’t worked out and perhaps the market for serious journalism is not where we think it should be.

On top of that uncertainty, the process for monetising the digital click-stream, whether on the desktop or via mobile devices, is still a large known unknown.

Television still dominates the global advertising market, while print advertising is in decline. On the other side of the ledger, digital revenues are not yet strong enough to support a reliable profit stream. NSFW Corp was offering a niche product and it was behind a paywall; not quite the same as ad-supported content, but another example of trial and serious error when it comes to financially-modelling new news.

Yahoo has a model that relies on volume-selling online and mobile advertising, but at a fraction of the price that print or broadcasting can command. The difficulty is that when you do this, the slice of total revenue you take from the cake has to be substantially bigger than your rivals if you are to survive and make a profit.

So far, no one has come up with a content formula that stacks the eyeballs high enough to satisfy all comers; with or without a paywall. The booking agents currently have the upper hand in setting prices for online advertising.

Over at Yahoo, Marissa Mayer is a smart CEO, she has a strong track record in the digital economy (she was formerly at Google) and her sense is that this expanding digital giant will eventually make money from its investment in Couric and news content. However, it is not a given that her vision will succeed.

There are nervous investors, from Nasdaq to Australian superannuation schemes, that hope she’s right about Yahoo, because their fortunes will also hang on the uncertain success of this bold experiment and others like it.

[This is a slightly longer and edited version of a piece I wrote for The Conversation, published 30 November 2013]


Student journalists are not “journalists”, they are students

November 10, 2013

A few days ago, my English colleague Paul Bradshaw wrote a piece “There’s no such thing as a ‘student journalist'” on his Online Journalism blog. He argues that there should be no distinction between journalists or students of journalism (presumably training to be employed as journalists after graduation) because they are both publishers of information and the students carry out the actions of journalists — they are effectively “doing” journalism — while they learn the skills, technologies and attitudes of the profession.

Students are experiencing first hand the culture of journalism, the experience of journalism and the social consequences of what they do. Paul writes:

There is no such thing as a ‘student journalist’.

Students of journalism no longer practise their work in the seclusion of a classroom. They do not write solely for lecturers, or even for each other.

Any student on a course with some awareness of the modern media world publishes their own blogs; their student media is accessible around the world. They contribute to networks, and build communities.

Even if their course provides no opportunities to do any of these things, they will have Twitter accounts, or Facebook accounts.

All of which means that they are publishers.

I don’t disagree with this in principle. Certainly any journalism course worthy of the name would be requiring students to participate in what I like to call “live fire” news exercises. These are usually done under close supervision. However, writing a blog as part of coursework (and for many students it is an onerous requirement of their study, rather than something they enjoy or immediately see the benefits of) is not journalism. Blogging is not journalism and I thought that debate was settled years ago.

Nor does publishing (in a very loose sense of the word) to Twitter and Facebook constitute an act of journalism, nor does it make reporters out of students.

Sure, every university student has a Facebook presence and some, but not all (and perhaps not even a majority) have a Twitter account, and even fewer are blogging with any regularity, if at all. Despite the hype, the digital natives continue to be social users of social media and rarely do their tweets or Facebooking or other encounters with social media (Instagram, etc) reach what we might call acceptable professional levels. (See for example, Hirst, M., & Treadwell, G. (2011). ‘Blogs bother me’: Social media, journalism and the curriculum. Journalism Practice, 5(4), 446-461. doi: 10.1080/17512786.2011.555367, the pre-publication version is available here).

So, on a purely practical level — that is the stage of professionalism achieved and achievable in the three years of an undergraduate degree — most of our journalism students are not operating as professional, or what I might describe as “real” journalists. Another practical point that we have to consider: not everyone in a journalism course wants to be a journalist and, even among those who do want to be, not all of them will make it for a variety of reasons.

Therefore, our role as journalism educators is more than producing the next generation of newsroom fodder, or even the next Pulitzer prize winner. It is a broader academic role: that of critic and theorist as well as cadet wrangler on behalf of News Corp or whomever the employer is likely to be.

The newsroom is a classroom; the classroom is a newsroom

For 20 years I have operated my journalism courses according to the principle that the classroom is a newsroom, but also that the newsroom is still a classroom. I believe that this is an important point to make in this current debate because, at the end of the day, we owe it to our students to recognise their status as students first and foremost.

To assume that we can (and should) treat them like fully-fledged working reporters does them a disservice and it could also be dangerous for them and for us. I do not want to seem like an old fogey, or as someone who thinks that the average 18-year-old is not mature enough to be treated like an adult. Of course they are and they deserve respect from their teachers and from members of the public that they interact with when we send them out into the world beyond the campus to practice their journalism.

And that word practice is the key. It is practice, to do something repeatedly in order to gain the skill; rather than practice as the performance of the work of a trade or profession that students are engaged in.

In my view, if we do not acknowledge the student status of our students (no, that’s not a tautology), we are not being diligent in our duty of care (the pastoral role of all teachers at all levels) to ensure that we “first do no harm”. Yes, we have to, as Paul rightly points out, engage our students in the daily routines and socialisation of newsroom practice and we have to move beyond the newsroom model too; but in doing so, we have to be constantly mindful that our pupils must be kept safe.

It is true that often the best way to learn is by failure — trial and error — and getting your hands dirty in real journalism exercises is valuable and effective pedagogy, but our students also need to know that the consequences of their failures are not catastrophic.

I have no problem with most of Paul’s points. Putting students in touch with local news outlets which might take their work is a key part of their learning experience. That is also why we offer internships and other work-experience opportunities. At my university we even give it a fancy name “work-integrated learning” and the acronym WIL. It is integrated into everything we do.

The same logic motivates us (journalism academics) to provide students with in-house publication outlets, from newsprint, through collaborations with local community radio and television stations and, increasingly, an online presence edited by tutors, or “journalists-in-residence”.

I think the danger in Paul’s assertion that there are no student journalists is that it might encourage us to forget that we are no longer in the news business. We are, first and foremost, in the education business. The job of the journalism academic (at least in the teaching side) is to educate, not to chase the news.

We can sometimes forget this and can get caught up in the day-to-day excitement of the hunt for news and chasing the story of the day.

But my advice for journalism academics who think this is the main game is simple: Go back to the newsroom.

It is not our job any more to get the “scoop”, we should not be thinking that the best way to influence the news process is to become part of it again from the sanctuary of the ivory tower. Sure, we need to act as editor, sub-editor and mentor to the student journalists in our classrooms,  but we should do this from the perspective of teaching and learning, not from the view of an editor whose job is to rundown the news and satisfy the public demand for information.

Any publication that arises from the work our students do while learning journalism is secondary to the real goal which has to be ensuring that the student experience of journalism education is a good one; that the learning outcomes are met; that the assignments are suitable to the level of study and that the students do not leave our institutions scarred for life because of a bad situation that could have and should have been managed more effectively.

One final point, which is also a comment on Paul’s reference to the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education which is based on the premise that university journalism programs should be covering local communities as a matter of course and as a priority at the top of the list of all the things they should be doing.

The key argument in favour of this is not one of pedagogy but of pragmatism. The reasoning advanced by supporters of this model is that the mainstream media is failing both in terms of garnering and holding public trust and also in terms of business modelling.

This is no doubt true and has been for a while. I wrote extensively on these issues in my 2011 book News 2.0 and I gave it the subtitle “Can journalism survive the Internet?” However, it is not, in my view, the fundamental role of the j-school to substitute for a strong news media outside the campus.

Maybe our graduates can be part of the solution to the declining popularity and profitability of the news industry, but not while they are students. To expect that of them is to place too much pressure on their shoulders at a time when they should be engaged with learning and critique.