Political economy now: “Obey ye the market” [not]

May 30, 2009

In the shadow of my previous post I bring you Frank Stilwell and Political Economy Now.

I actually helped design and produce this badge. It’s a collector’s item now. I wear mine with pride.

Our badge of honour - 35 years, still strong

My roots go deep and the history of this struggle has recently been published.

Players of



Frank Stilwell | May 06, 2009

Article from: The Australian

THE International Monetary Fund recently revised its global economic projections downwards. The global financial crisis has created the most difficult economic conditions for more than 70 years. Australia, though better placed economically than many other nations, cannot avoid being adversely affected by the global downturn.

These are circumstances in which we may expect some fundamental rethinking by economists. It was their confidence in free markets producing efficient outcomes that gave legitimacy to the neo-liberal policies of the past two decades. Those policies, including privatisation and financial deregulation, reduced the capacity of the government to directly influence economic outcomes. During the boom years this did not seem to matter, but with the benefit of hindsight we can see that it was a fools’ paradise.

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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.

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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.

Epic 2015 – what’s beyond the horizon?

September 13, 2008

I was fortunate today to meet and interview Matt Thompson. He’s a journalist, blogger and thinker. He’s also the guy behind the wildly successful viral flash videos Epic 2014 and Epic 2015.

The premise of these 8.5 minute creations is to predict the future of the media in our digital world. They were both created a few years ago now and they tried to look ahead 10 years from when they were produced.

Epic 2014 was made in 2004, but a year later Matt decided it needed updating.

While I was in Columbia, Missouri at the Missouri School of Journalism 100th anniversary celebrations I met Matt and heard him talk about a new project. He calls it “Wikipedia-ing the news”, but admits the name doesn’t really capture what he’s doing.

Matt is a visiting fellow this year at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU that was also launched today.

I was able to grab a few minutes with Matt between his break-out session and the official launch where he and the other RJI fellows were announced.

I asked Matt why he had changed some of the content from Epic 2014 in the second version, a year later.

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Postmodernism and the Bonaventure Hotel

September 10, 2008

[Updated 10 September 2008]

I’ve just stayed for two nights in the Westin-branded Bonaventure hotel in downtown Los Angeles. I was keen to stay there and explore the hotel because it’s something of an icon in architecture and also a building that evokes strong reactions in people.

Some of the hotel’s history is recorded at Wikipedia. The Bonaventure is a bit of a star in the city of stars. It has appeared in loads of movies and TV series since construction was finished in 1976.

I was fascinated by this hotel because it features in the work of Marxist cultural theorist Fredric Jameson and has been something of a touchstone for postmodern cultural theorists ever since, such as Jason Berger, who re-examined some of Jameson’s argument that the cultural logic of postmodernism reinforces the hold of capitalism on the popular consciousness:

Using a reinterpretation of Jameson’s own work, I will argue that his analysis of the hyperspace within the Bonaventure Hotel in his original 1988 essay provides evidence that postmodernism does create a resistance to late capitalism through spatial “deterritorialization.”[Berger 2004]

I’ve never really agreed with this idea. To me postmodernism is a capitulation to capitalist relations of production and a celebration of crass, kitsche consumerism as the new revolution.

So is the Bonaventure a celebration of capitalism, or does the building condemn consumerism?

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Journalists, politics and the union movement

September 1, 2008

[Note: updated 7 September]

An interesting piece on Jafa Pete’s blog about the rights of journalists when it comes to trade unions. Particularly if their union, like the EPMU in New Zealand, campaigns on behalf of a particular political party during elections. [The freedom to belong]

The question is about union membership affecting the ability of reporters to be fair and balanced. Alternatively you could pose this as: Are journalists compromised by their membership of a union that aligns itself to a political party?

As you can imagine [dribblejaws alert] I don’t think it really matters. In fact, I’d go a step further and say that journalists natural class alignment is with the workers. Even more, journalism would be better if reporters recognised this basic class instinct and acted on it at all times.

My argument’s a simple one, journalists are proletarians. They have a typically proletarian relationship to capital and to capitalism. The ideology of professionalism masks this and creates all sorts of confusion.

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Fairfax cuts journalists’ jobs – global trend is down

August 28, 2008

The decision by Fairfax Media this week to cut another 100 jobs from its New Zealand news operations continues a downward trend in journalists jobs that’s worldwide.

One small bright spot though; Fairfax journalists in Australia are not lying down over this. They are organising union meetings and have a good website at Fair go, Fairfax.

Alan Kennedy, a long-time Fairfax employee who recently retired, is scathing of the company’s management and he’s right, of course:

[Fairfax journalists] are seeing an increasingly incompetent management team still paying themselves astonishing salaries, cutting and then cutting again as they pursue a model that is bringing diminishing returns. The one-trick ponies in management cannot see past making savings through retrenchment, non hiring and in their current manic campaign to slash the salaries and conditions of the most experienced staff.  [Alan Kennedy]

Newspapers like those owned by Fairfax are reacting to changing circumstances, but it is a short-term response. It is really a “cut nose,” “Take that face!” exercise. Profits are sliding so cost-cutting measures are put in place. This leads to a further decline in quality – despite what the company says – which can only mean further losses in sales and advertising and a bigger drop in profits.

Of course, Fairfax is not alone in going down this slippery slope. Last year New Zealand’s other large news media operation, APN, announced similar cuts to its newspaper staff and the outsourcing of most of its sub-editing operation to a company called Pagemasters. Ironically, Pagemasters major shareholders include APN and Fairfax Media.

Fairfax is hoping for $50 million in savings from its 5 per cent staffing cut. The news was reported in a very straightforward way in the Fairfax-owned Sydney Morning Herald, which concentrated on the share price bounce and finance market reactions.

The copy reads like a close cousin of a media release issued by Fairfax Media announcing a “business improvement plan”.

This is the third wave of business improvement initiatives we have undertaken over the past three years. Over the course of the 2006 and 2007 financial years we achieved $52 million in ongoing real cost reductions. Cost synergies associated with the merger of Fairfax Media and Rural Press and the acquisition of Southern Cross radio produced a further $53 million in savings ($45 million Rural Press, $8 million radio). All of these synergies will be realised by the end of this financial year.

With the new organisation structure in place and line management operating effectively, now is the time to launch a third wave of business improvement which will deliver benefits over the next two years.

Media companies fit for the modern media world need to be lean and agile. This far-reaching program will position us well for the next stage of our growth and development.” [Fairfax media release]

Journalists’ union leader, Andrew Little was less sanguine in his media comments:

“Fairfax’s proposed redundancies will be a huge blow to already strained newsrooms and to New Zealanders’ democratic right to be properly informed about their country’s major issues,” said Mr Little, national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union. [NZPA]

New Zealand and Australia now join the long list of countries in which newspaper companies are shedding staff. A recent post at Julie Starr’s Evolving Newsroom carries the bad news.

And the beat goes on, or blogging a dead horse

July 23, 2008

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Beat Blogging trend in journalism. I’m not sure where it’s going, but, as I suspected, something’s got to give.

Beat blogging is the reportorial art of encouraging, inveigling and cajoling your local contacts to help you out via social networking. It’s a cool idea and one that journalists with a digital brain will one day figure out.

But, if you’re going to do the beat blogging shtick, what are you – as a savvy young reporter, with a job – going to ditch?

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Some reading from Columbia Journalism Review

July 30, 2007

Dear Reader,

For your reading pleasure, as the Bancroft family makes up its collective mind, we offer three recent offerings from
Columbia Journalism Review on the matter of News Corp. and Dow Jones.
Your choice: short, medium, long. We hope you enjoy all three.

The Editors

The Scorpion and the Frog
CJR’s editorial on the Murdoch offer

Why the Dow Jones Vote Matters
Dean Starkman on the mission of The Wall Street Journal

Bending to Power
Murdoch historian Bruce Page on how Rupert built his empire, and how he uses it

Stop the Big Media Takeover! | Canadians for Democratic Media

July 10, 2007

Stop the Big Media Takeover! | Canadians for Democratic Media

If you’re reading this blog from Canada, please make sure you check out the Stop the Big Media Takeover campaign website. Here’s a clip from a promotional video they’re circulating.

Media diversity is the cornerstone of democracy. But media ownership is more
highly concentrated in Canada than almost anywhere else in the industrialized world. Almost all private Canadian television stations are owned by national media conglomerates and, because of increasing cross-ownership, most of the daily newspapers we read are owned by the same corporations that own television and radio stations.

This means a handful of Big Media Conglomerates control what Canadians can most readily see, hear and read. It means less local and regional content, more direct control over content by owners and less analysis of the events that shape our lives. It also means less media choice for Canadians and fewer jobs for Canadian media workers.

We must also be wary of the impacts mergers have on the diversity and neutrality of new on-line media. We need to reverse this trend before big media gets even bigger!

Tell the CRTC what you think.

Rules that truly curb media concentration in Canada are long overdue. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – the body that regulates broadcast and telecommunications systems – is holding a hearing on how to ensure the diversity of media voices in September and the deadline for submissions is July 18, 2007. Unless current policy direction are challenged by the public, Canada could in the long run end up with a vastly more concentrated media and a relaxation of the foreign ownership rules leaving our media susceptible to takeovers by even bigger Foreign-owned media conglomerates. The airwaves belong to the public, and the CRTC needs to hear from you.

Unless the public speaks out, the debate will continue to be dominated by large media corporations. Please forward this message to encourage others to participate in this crucial campaign. Tell your family and friends about this important campaign

Share it on FaceBook:

The New Zealand link is, of course, CanWest, which has a number of media assets in Aotearoa and is a big player here too. CanWest Mediaworks New Zealand owns TV3, C4, and Radioworks.