The Daily Telegraph has no credibility on journalism standards

December 15, 2013

It is simultaneously amusing and sickening to see News Limited newspapers attempting to lecture the ABC on standards in journalism.

Coming from the organisation that brought you the Abbott government, whether you wanted it, or not, it is a bit rich to complain of un-Australian, left-wing bias at the national broadcaster.

The chief stenographer at the Daily Telegraph is gainfully employed re-writing press releases and disguising advertising as news and the columnists are at the bar dictating their arid thoughts to the keyboard chimps.

Read the rest of this entry »


Judging a book by its cover: Did The Age get it right on day one?

March 4, 2013

The first thing I noticed this morning at my newsagent in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs is that the pile of Herald-Suns is twice as high as the pile of The Age. So the first comparison is easy.

Even in this relatively affluent suburb, the newsagent expects to sell more Herald-Suns than copies of The Age.

The second comparison is also easy and perhaps explains the first: the Herald-Sun is $1.20 and The Age is $2.00. Price-conscious newspaper buyers will probably prefer the cheaper product.

The canny Herald-Sun buyer also gets more bang for their buck-twenty. The Murdoch ‘tabloid’ has 80 pages and the Fairfax Media ‘compact’ has 72, plus a 16 page insert that is numbered differently.

But how do you tell a tabloid from a compact? It’s not that easy because technically they are the same size: 30X40 centimetres.

Perhaps it’s in the layout and use of colour on the front page.

Herald Sun4 March The Age

The Age has retained its signature royal blue, but the masthead is superimposed reverse in white on blue. The Herald-Sun uses a verdant green and a superimpose/reverse white, but it’s masthead block is deeper coming 14 centimetres down the page. The Age masthead is a shallow nine centimetres.

The Herald-Sun also uses its masthead to promote a “Superstar Footy DVD” give-away and incorporates action pics of two AFL stars who I don’t recognize, but who I’m sure would be very familiar to Aussie Rules fans.

As you would expect the Herald-Sun has a brighter more ‘tabloid’ front page with a bold headline in four centimeter solid capital letters: “SECRET TAPES BOMBSHELL”        . Over the top of that is a white-on-red banner also in heavy caps: “POLICE CRISIS ROCKS GOVERNMENT”. Just below the headline is a series of three ‘pointers’ also in block caps: “KEY STAFFER PAID $22,500”; “JOB HELP AT ODDS WITH PREMIER”; “BAILLIEU ADVISTER SLAMS DEJPUTY PREMIER”.

The kicker is that readers are invited to “Now listen to the recordings heraldsun.com.au”

The copy itself, across five columns is about 350 words and the story is continued across four pages (4-7) inside.

At the bottom of the page there’s three ‘skybox’ promos for contents inside the paper. This is a great tabloid front page and if you were buying the paper on its shelf-appeal, you would probably go for The Herald-Sun.

By contrast The Age seems dull, if worthy. Read the rest of this entry »


Miss us this day our daily newspaper? Where will the cuts come first

June 5, 2012

The hares are running on the proposition that the Fairfax Media board is considering a medium-term plan to give up on printed Monday to Friday editions of its main mastheads in favour of a digital-only strategy.

And while we’ve all been looking the other way, News Limited has quietly downsized newsrooms and subs benches at several of its titles, including the Geelong Advertiser and the company has outsourced some backroom functions.

The newspaper industry is quietly dying.

But will it matter to most of us? Avid readers will miss the pleasure of print, but the news will still be available in other formats.

It is fears about the dwindling bottom line that is driving talk of abandoning daily newspapers at Fairfax and the paywall strategy at News Limited. We can perhaps get an idea of the future from looking at recent events in the United States.

Closures, shuttering and digital only “newspapers”

At least 13 large US newspapers have closed since 2007 and 10 or more have cut back two or three editions a week, instead of publishing every day.

The argument is that by eliminating high-cost low-return editions the more profitable days can be continued and the newspaper brand survives.

Read the rest of this entry »


Who’s got a short memory? Like limitednews, I forget

November 18, 2011

I’ve finally been named in a newspaper editorial. I think this is a first for me; others may remember some obscure late 1970s rant against rioting students that noted my presence at an occupation somewhere or other.

A privilege or a punch?

On Friday I was named in infamous company by The Australian in yet another editorial lambasting all and sundry who think an inquiry into the Australian news media has got any merit at all.

The Communications Minister and Greens leader apparently have short memories, as do academics Robert Manne, Martin Hirst and Margaret Simons, who have also complained about what they perceive to be “campaigns” or “vendettas” in News Limited papers. Dr Hirst said he was “blown away” by the papers’ anti-government bias.

Yes, I did say that and the context (missing from limitednews coverage) is explained here.

The fact of our short memories is then ‘proven’ in the editorial by reference to moments when News Limited papers have attacked political parties other than the ALP.

And, no Virginia, kicking Bob Brown on an hourly basis does not count. The Australian means serious criticism of serious parties.

Several incidents from the Howard years are mentioned; all of which do meet the criteria for giving government the rough end of the media pineapple.

The inquiry has heard nothing, for instance, about the blowtorch this newspaper applied to the Howard government for buying votes with middle-class welfare, the Australian Wheat Board scandal, during which we exposed kickback payments to Saddam Hussein’s regime, and our expose of the “children overboard affair”, in which senior Liberals, including John Howard, wrongly claimed that asylum-seekers had thrown their children into the sea.

I do actually remember these incidents as being significant at the time and if they were so germaine to the media inquiry, then surely John Hartigan and other News Limited folk could bring them up again and again and discuss their relevance.

Rattling off a list like this and suggesting that no-one but News Limited remembers them misses the point. It’s not about individual campaigns or moments in time, it’s about an attitude over time.

I remember too, but have not found it on a Google search, a recent comment from John Howard from his biography, Lazarus Rising, about being grateful for the support he got from News Limited papers during his time as Prime Minister.

[If anyone can find this quote, or definitively show me it wasn’t made, I will be grateful]

I have read the News Limited submission and apart from the opening gambit – there is no problem with News Limited titles – the issue of an even-handed approach is not discussed. The only mention of political coverage is to point out that in last year’s election some News Limited titles backed Gillard and some backed Abbott. If an election was held tomorrow, I’m sure that would not be the case.

In any case, I remember it more like this:

DURING John Howard’s lengthy prime ministership, his conservative Praetorian Guard in the media coined a pejorative term for critics of his government. They were branded ”Howard haters”. The ”Howard haters”, the argument went, occupied the commanding heights of Australia’s cultural institutions (especially the universities), and the Coalition, notwithstanding many other achievements in office, had been unable to dislodge this rag-tag band of liberal-left windbags.

[Politics of hate takes aim at PM]

I also remember, as do many others, News Limited unflinching support for Howard during the second Gulf war against Saddam Hussein, even after the point at which everyone stopped believing in WMD.

Finally, I would just point out to the good folk at News Limited that I am still waiting for my right of reply to the untrue allegations made about me in The Australian, The Herald-Sun and The Daily Telegraph.

Is it the case that their editorial policy is honoured in the breach?

As reflected in 1.3 of the News Code, it is standard journalistic practice that person or persons who are “attacked” would be given the opportunity to provide their views or version of events as part of the original story. The right of reply would form part of the story.

[News Limited submission to Media Inquiry]

In fact, at limitednews and, I’m sure, at Fairfax and others, it is the editorial right that takes precedence. If your views are assessed as being unworthy, then you don’t get to express them.

It is appropriate that a newspaper has the editorial discretion to assess the strength or credit of views and decide the weight to give some views and not others.

As has often been said: freedom of the press belongs to those who own one (or more)

However, there is one point in the News Limited discussion document that I do agree with – though for reasons totally opposite to those expressed here:

Requiring journalists to adopt the MEAA code would make coming under the MEAA umbrella mandatory.

This is tantamount to compulsory unionism.

Of course the collective expression, by a union, of the universal right of its members to assembly and political speech cannot be tolerated in the free market of ideas. Speech in that environment is reserved for the bosses and their toadying representatives in mahogany row.

A closed shop and high density of union membership would put paid to newsroom shenanigans and could very well have saved The News of the World. Have you considered that?

But, before we leave, I would like you to ponder these excerpts taken from the News Limited submission to the media inquiry:

It is incorrect to refer to rights for journalists. …It is the antithesis of free speech that a person wishing to be involved in public debate through a traditional media company or other form of media has to agree to a set of standards.

…It is our strong view there is no alternative model of regulation of the standards of journalists which would guarantee the freedom of the press.

…If print and online media companies were to be subject to government oversight of whether or not their content is accurate and balanced, then equally so should Richard Flanagan or Christopher Hitchins giving a public lecture on women’s rights or climate change and so should a tax‐payer arguing against climate change policy on the ABC’s Drum blog website.

…We strongly contend that the case for continuing regulation to ensure media diversity has not been made out.

…Newspapers are not limited by scarcity or high barriers to entry.

…News Limited submits, the need for cross‐media regulation to achieve diversity no longer applies. The market has delivered diversity.

Does that puzzle and worry you? More on this and other thoughts of [ex]Chairman John later.


A new broom for News Limited and an interesting couple of days

November 10, 2011

The substantive text in this piece was published on 10 November 2011 on The Conversation. It was my first commission from them and I appreciate their creative commons approach to republishing. Eager readers will also know that I was involved in the Australian government’s media inquiry this week.

A transcript of my comments is apparently going to be made available, I will post it to EM when I can. I read through it yesterday to proof-read it. I think I did OK; but others will judge that. Speaking of which…

I have been attacked by the Daily Telegraph  twice and The Australian (several times) for being a Trotskyist, which they “revealed” (ha ha)and some how managed to make sound like I am deranged. How come they never attack libertarians for their views…and they are deranged!

I also made my cherry-busting appearance on Andrew Bolt’s blog. I did seek a right-of-reply by posting comments online to both places; but as of 6.18pm today, they have not been taken out of moderation. Unlike the 50-odd comments calling for me to be burned as a witch or sacked from my job.This is an interesting observation about the free speech fundamentalists. They bleat and moan and scream and shout about their own “rights” and then vilify those who dare critique them. But they will not extend common courtesy to their opponents.

In fact, there is no right of reply at News Limited as this lovely little ‘thank you notice’ makes very clear.

Contrast this with the pumelling I received on an anonymous blog, Bunyipitude written by someone who I only know as ‘the professor’ – it’s what he calls her/himself – after coming after me with both barrels he/she at least had the decency to post my response. The comment stream hasn’t been very complimentary, but I can take it. My only concern is that most posters there hide behind anonymity. It makes the whole experience surreal. They know who I am and can comb the interwebs for what they see as damning evidence of my perfidity, but I don’t know who they are. Then they get up set when I suggest they might be trolls.

On the other side of the ledger, I am grateful to News with nipples for a spirited defence of sanity. I note too that the author, Kim Powell is happy to identify herself. In fact she seems quite nice and I’d like to meet her. She is doing a PhD on online newsrooms so we’d have stuff to talk about.

Anyway, all I can say to my haters and detractors is: “The Devil made me do it.”

Read the rest of this entry »


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.


Some hope for the news industry yet

September 23, 2009

It’s only been 24 hours, but I think I’ve got a bit of post-writing depression.

I sent the manuscript for News 2.0 to my publisher yesterday and this morning a friend sent me a link to Michael Massing’s piece in the New York Review of Books from a couple of weeks ago.

It’s depressing when you work for two years on a project and just when you think it’s finished some new information comes along that you’d love to include. But I guess it’s the nature of books written about contemporary events; at some point the author and the publisher have to call a halt. Books that survey recent history and the process of ongoing change can never be more than a snapshot.

In this case Massing’s piece is about the financial health of the American news industry and the growing interest in paywalls (or, if you like “pay walls”) around online content. It seems that a number of publishers are now introducing them with some effect, though it’s not all beer money and skittles.

I’ve done a chapter on this issue and I’d have loved to get just one punchy quote from Massing’s piece in there; maybe I’ll get a chance during the editing process.

Either way “A new horizon for the news” is well worth reading, particularly if you have an interest in the future of journalism and the news.

“Hat tip” to Dave for the link; better late than never.


Global news meltdown and Kiwi exceptionalism

May 17, 2009

I’ve just come in from the New Zealand Writers and Readers’ Festival. I was on a panel this afternoon with Rhonda Sherman of the New Yorker and Pamele Stirling, editor of The Listener. The chair was Nicola Legat and the crowd was great. I reckon about 300 people; which was more than I’d expected. So, if you were there, “thanks for coming”.

And, if you were there and you want to take up my offer for “citizen journalism” training or would like to help kick-off the “Let’s buy the Herald” coffers with a donation, get in touch.

The session was billed as the “publishing revolution”:

Want to know more about how the publishing industry works? Get the inside word on the pitfalls, peaks and politics of journalism and publishing from leaders in their field. The New Yorker’s Rhonda Sherman, New Zealand Listener editor Pamela Stirling, and AUT Associate Professor of Journalism Martin Hirst sift through the silt of the last decade, and look ahead to the impact of the global economic melt-down and digital age on publishing in the next. Chair: Random House Publisher Nicola Legat. [Progamme note]

Really, given there was a panel of four journalists, it was about the future of the news industry, particularly newspapers and magazines, and therefore, also the future of journalism.

Read the rest of this entry »


Buffett says “No”: Another nail in the newspaper coffin?

May 5, 2009

Investment guru Warren Buffett has made a damning pronouncement on the future of newspapers and, given the authority with which he speaks, it might trigger another downward spiral in the value of news stocks.

Speaking at the annual meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway group, Buffett responded to a question from New York Times business blogger Andrew Ross Sorkin on behalf of shareholders and readers of his DealBook blog.

I (somewhat selfishly) asked this question from Dennis Wallace:

“Given the current economic conditions in the newspaper and publishing business, can you please provide some of your thoughts on its impact on Berkshire. Given, that our investee, Washington Post Company has had a substantial decline in its stock value, is it still a good use of capital? And, given the ‘cheap’ trading prices of newspapers in the current climate, would Berkshire consider purchasing additional newspapers to add to its Buffalo News and Washington Post properties? At what price does it become compelling to invest in the newspaper business? Or is there no price where it becomes compelling in today environment?”

The answers from Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger were not very encouraging for those in the newspaper business.

“For most newspapers in the United States, we would not buy them at any price,” said Mr. Buffett, whose company owns a large stake in The Washington Post Company. He added that he sees the possibility of “nearly unending losses” for newspaper companies. Mr. Munger called the industry’s decline “a national tragedy” and said that “what replaces it will not be as desirable as what we are losing.”

That just about says it all really, but there’s a bit more. This from another American blog with the long and confusing name The end of elite liberal media empires and the rise of citizen journalism:

“As long as newspapers were essential to readers, they were essential to advertisers,” he said. “But news today is now available in many other venues,” [Buffett] said.
“….These monopoly daily newspapers have been an important sinew to our civilization…” said one of Buffett’s executives at the Berkshire investors meeting.

The blog with the long name appears to be some form of rightwing citizen journalism hybrid, but there’s not much info about it.


What will happen to APN?

January 27, 2009

An interesting report in the UK Guardian media pages yesterday (26 Jan) regarding Tony O’Reilly’s troubled Independent News and Media.

INM is a 39% stakeholder in APN, publishers of the New Zealand Herald. This stake was on the market, but INM has announced that it has given up on finding a buyer at the moment because of the shaky gobal financial system.

Globally the INM group is undertaking a series of cost-cutting measures which have already affected APN’s New Zealand titles, including The Listener, the Herald and a range of suburban titles, such as The Aucklander.

According to a statement issued by INM yesterday (26 Jan) the company is committed to shedding “loss-making” assets, but there is no indication of which parts of the company these might be. In Auckland APN staff must be wondering about their fate too. It seems that, for the moment, they’ve had a repreive.

The group’s UK assets, including the Independent, are also in a state of flux as a merry-go-round of moves in the UK newspaper industry continues. A Russian oligarch and former KGB officer, Alexander Lebedev, was able to buy the London Evening Standard newspaper last week for just one pound, which shows just how much of a crisis there is in news media assets.

Perhaps Mr Lebedev’s British staff will have to follow the example of reporters on his Russian paper, Novoya Gazeta,who have taken to carrying guns since a young journalist, Anastasia Baburova, was murdered in Moscow last week (21 Jan).

Anastasia Baburova, a journalist for the investigative newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”, and leading Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelovhuman rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov were shot by a lone gunman after a press conference in Moscow given by Markelov, report the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF) and other IFEX members.

Markelov represented the family of Kheda Kungayeva, whose murder led to the first prosecution for the killing of a civilian during the Chechen conflict, is believed to have been the main target. He had just publicly denounced at the conference the release of Kungayeva’s murderer from prison.

Baburova, who reported on the conflict in Chechnya as well as on the activities of neo-Nazi groups in Russia, had attended the press conference and was talking to Markelov outside a Moscow metro station when the gunman opened fire. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Baburova was shot in the head as she tried to prevent the killer from escaping and died a few hours later. [IFEX.org]