On Disruption: An insider’s view of the collapse of journalism

July 19, 2018

Can journalism and the news industry survive the perfect storm of digital disruption? Dr Martin Hirst reviews Katharine Murphy’s essay On Disruption.

Katharine Murphy’s brief essay On Disruption lays out for the reader a useful insider’s view of how the news industry and journalism are struggling to cope with the changes wrought by digital technologies and collapsing business models.

If you have any interest in understanding how the news establishment sees itself, and its prospects for surviving the crisis of profitability and trust, it is worth reading this pamphlet.

At only 120 pages, it would be unfair to expect Katharine Murphy to provide fully-articulated solutions to the almost panic-inducing problems confronting the mainstream media. Having said that, On Disruption is an insight into how establishment journalists see themselves, their mission and the state of their industry.

The key theme that Murphy explores is that the internet and social media instituted a period of disruption that has unsettled the news media and left it in a state of uncertainty that persists today.

This is true enough, but my criticism stems from the technological determinism that frames her view:

‘… the boss has decreed this is the future, not because he or she necessarily wants it to be, but because it is the future, and we are powerless to argue with it.’

This is a classic trope of technological determinism: the belief that technological change is the root cause of everything. In this case, it is the pessimistic, and ultimately passive, view that the future is somehow pre-ordained by the technology and that we are “powerless” to shape the future for ourselves.

Inevitably, Murphy argues, journalists must adapt to the new ways, rather than challenge them. The second telling point about the quote I’ve used here is the reference to “the boss”. This metaphorical figure is present in a long anecdotal metaphor that Murphy uses to explain how disruption has affected the news industry.

The analogy involves substituting the car industry for journalism. In the analogy, the reader is asked to imagine themselves as a worker in a car factory that is confronting technological change. Okay, it’s only a metaphor, so perhaps not be taken literally, but it is a key section of the first half of Murphy’s argument, so it is worth deconstructing.

Murphy begins by suggesting that the car analogy is ‘possibly psychic penance on my part’ for her previous work on ‘structural adjustment’, which emphasised ‘disruption as an economic homily’ while ignoring ‘the human dimension of the story’. As Murphy acknowledges, when there is personal interest involved, the human dimension suddenly becomes very real.

The take-away from this is that the structural adjustment process now being applied to journalism is a necessary corrective brought about by digital disruption. Read the rest of this entry »

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​Canberra Press Gallery black bans Nauru forum coverage (except for News Corp)

July 18, 2018

The Canberra Press Gallery has announced its members will boycott the Pacific Islands Forum in solidarity with banned ABC journalists. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst says this is an historic decision by the Gallery.

The Republic of Nauru — pretty much all of it (Image by Tatters via Flickr)

THE CANBERRA PRESS GALLERY has announced its members will boycott the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in September in an act of solidarity with ABC journalists refused a visa by the Nauruan Government.

I’m very pleased about this. You could say it’s something for Gallery members to be proud of, but my only fear is that news organisations will find a work-around to make sure some reporters can break the black ban.

It’s not a surprise that the pro-Nauru, pro-gulag Newscorp papers have announced they will be sending a team.

In a strong statement, Press Gallery President, <a

The Nauru Government’s decision to block an ABC journalist from joining a media pool to cover the Pacific Islands’ Forum has been widely condemned by media rights organisations and by the journalists’ union, the MEAA. But it seems that, for some, it is difficult to condemn something that they secretly condone and would love to do themselves. It seems that, for some political leaders, free speech is great — but not for the ABC and not in Nauru Yes, I’m talking about the Prime Minister. All that Malcolm Turnbull could muster is that the decision is “regrettable”, but that it “must be respected”. In other words, I love freedom of the press, but not for the ABC and not in relation to Nauru.

If you watch the clip you can see that Turnbull is very uncomfortable with the words coming out of his mouth. His vocal cues show that he is insincere and suggest that he’s really delighted with the actions of the Nauru Government.

Clearly, you know, we…

We regret…

It’ll be regrettable if the ABC is not there. We’d love to have you there with us…

But we have to remember and respect Nauru’s sovereignty.

It is up to Nauru who cones into their country just as it is up to our Government – my Government – as to who comes into Australia.

And that’s the nub of it really. Turnbull is powerless to say or do anything against Nauru because his Government is totally dependent on the Pacific island nation as an offshore gulag in which to imprison women, children, and men who are refugees and who – according to international law and human rights convention – should be allowed to enter Australia.

Of course, we all know that Australia’s inhumane and potentially illegal incarceration of legitimate asylum-seekers is at the heart of the Nauru Government’s visceral hatred of the ABC.

Unlike the compliant Murdoch hacks who’ve been given access to Australia’s prison camps on Nauru, the ABC has covered the refugee issue and other human rights abuses by the Nauru Government accurately.

Which, of course, leads to the Nauruan accusations of “fake news” against the ABC.
Free press, but not you, or you, or you Read the rest of this entry »


Class war? Yes please!

July 18, 2018

According to senior Press Gallery journalists, Bill Shorten is guilty of class war for exposing Malcolm Turnbull’s unearned wealth. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst disagrees and argues public figures are legitimate targets when they duck for cover.

First published on Independent Australia.

HOW SEPARATE are the public and private actions of politicians and their high-profile staffers? Is it “class war” when the Left exposes the hypocrisy of the conservatives, but not when the Right wants to attack workers and welfare recipients?

We have cause to consider these questions this week, because several examples are presented to us from the White House and from our own domestic politics.

Let’s take the American cases first. They involve high profile staff in the Trump White House — staff who are controversial and who were in the spotlight this week for having aspects of their private lives exposed.

First, consider Stephen Miller, a speech writer and confidant of the President, who was profiled recently in The Atlantic as “Trump’s Right-Hand Troll”. The kindest thing one might say about Miller is that he’s a very well-dressed White Nationalist. He’s widely known as the architect of Trump’s infamous “Muslim ban” and the policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Miller was apparently trying to keep a low profile this week, but to no avail. First he was heckled in a Washington DC restaurant – a Mexican restaurant, would you believe – and then protestors started texting him after his mobile phone number was published on news website Splinter.

Following the publication of Miller’s phone number in a number of places a reporter for The Nation, David Klion posted it to Twitter. Twitter’s response was to suspend the journalist for a violation of the rule prohibiting the posting of private information.

Klion defended his actions in an interview with The Wrap; it’s worth considering his justification.

“This is war,” said Klion. “I think that what is happening right now at the border is child abuse. It is systematic child abuse. It is racist child abuse. It is being carried out for cynical political purposes.”

Klion also said that Miller’s status as a high public official made him fair game in a way which was different from the many right-wing doxxing campaigns against journalists.“Power differentials matter here and Stephen Miller is one of the most powerful people in the country. He is the architect of these inhumane policies. There is a power imbalance,” said Klion. “Anything that allows us to speak directly to the most powerful people behind this is something I would support. Doxxing a random person or a journalist is not something I would support.”

I must admit I have some sympathy for this position. Miller’s role in the White House must mean that his actions should be open to public scrutiny, but they are too often shrouded in secrecy. Pulling back that veil is sometimes necessary in order to make a point.

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The democracy deficit: It’s an economic problem too

June 29, 2018

WE LIVE IN a democracy, right?

It just seems like common sense, something so secure and simple it’s hardly worth thinking about, right?

But what if I told you that what we have is not a democracy?

Would you be outraged? Would you think I’m some sort of unhinged leftie? Or would you be prepared to at least consider my arguments?

I’ll assume the latter, because you’re still reading. Aren’t you?

My argument, in a nutshell, is that despite the formal features of our political system matching most aspects of the dictionary definition, any sense of real democratic practice is an illusion. This is because our apparently democratic institutions are functionally designed to give power to money, not people.

Let’s start with an example from last week.

We will, or we will not, sell the ABC

I don’t know about you, but I was not at all surprised when the Liberal Party’s Federal Council voted overwhelmingly to sell-off the embattled national broadcaster at its annual conference on the weekend of 16-17 June.

The Liberal Party apparatus has been captured by conservative forces inspired by the Institute of Public Affairs and loyal to factions led by Tony Abbott in NSW, Peter Dutton in Queensland and Eric Abetz in Tasmania.

We can only expect this rightward drift to continue into the future, too. Moderates were roundly defeated in votes for the incoming executive and the Young Liberals grouping engineered the vote. The overlap between wealthy student apparatchiks and the besuited, bespectacled cadre of the IPA is very evident in the ranks of the Young Libs.

No delegates spoke against the sell motion, not even the several ministers who were present.

So, we can assume from this that the Liberal Party rank-and-file are committed to privatising the ABC and probably SBS as well.

Okay, we might disagree with this policy position (here at IA we certainly do), but in a democracy, the people have spoken.

In this case, the people are members of the Liberal Party — they elect a leadership, set policy and pre-select party candidates to stand in elections.

Yep, all totally democratic — except for the fact that the parliamentary grouping of the Liberals have said they will ignore the party’s rank-and-file.

The parliamentary wing of the Liberal Party has apparently been wedged by the conservative wing of the party. In the days after the Federal Council, senior Liberal ministers, from the PM down, were publicly vocal in claiming the Government has no plans to privatise the ABC.

What?

That’s right, the Liberal Party representatives in Parliament – those whose positions on the comfy leather benches depends on the party rank-and-file – have no intention of carrying out party policy as set by the Liberals’ highest decision-making body.

Well, that’s one interpretation if the loud protestations of “never, never” from Turnbull cabinet are to be believed.

But are they to be believed?

I think we have earned the right to be cynical and wary when it comes to the COALition and honouring commitments.

It’s no secret that this Government hates the ABC and would love to see it sold off. The Minister for Communication, Senator Fifield, has demonstrated his loathing of the national broadcaster in a series of vexatious, but nevertheless damaging, complaints. The Government stripped out over $100 million in funding to the ABC in the 2018 Budget, forcing cuts in news and other divisions. The appointment of former Murdoch executive Michelle Guthrie as managing director is also widely seen as a Trojan horse for dismantling the ABC.

None of us should be surprised if the Dutton/Turnbull Government moves to chop up the ABC if it wins the next Federal election.

The take out from this is that either way, democratic processes – both inside and outside of party structures – are a sham, a veil of decency to give a shred of respect to an otherwise broken, decrepit and corrupt system.

And, just so you don’t think I’m being one-eyed about this, the ALP deserves some criticism in this area, too.

In May this year, the so-called “left” unions (a block of bureaucrats and careerists) procedurally shut down the Victorian conference of the ALP so that a motion on ending offshore detention of refugees could not be debated. But it’s actually worse than that: motions on several key issues were blocked by the suspension of business.

On Sunday the industrial left teamed up with the Labor right to close the Victorian state conference, shutting down urgency motions on live exports, gender inequality in superannuation, closure of offshore detention centres, the right to strike, the rate of Newstart and recognition of Palestine.

The same grouping also combined to vote against senators being preselected by an equal vote of rank-and-file members and affiliated union delegates to state conference.

How is this different in principle to the Liberal leadership ignoring the wishes of the rank-and-file over privatising the ABC?

Read the rest of this entry »


Full Nuremburg: Trump versus the Press

June 24, 2018

This week, after a quick stopover in Singapore, Donald Trump was keen to return to his favourite topic (beside his own greatness): his feud with the American news media. Political editor, Dr Martin Hirst, argues that journalists need to continue pushing back, or risk being swamped by Trump’s aggression.

[First published on Independent Australia]

ANYONE WHO’S HALF-AWAKE would know that Donald J. Trump has a very conflicted relationship with the American news media.

He loves Fox & Friends and is more than willing to sit down to be interviewed by his good friends on the Murdoch-owned network.

On his way back from the “tremendous” tete-a-tete with mass murderer Kim Jong-un, Trump did a one-on-one with Fox News. He hasn’t done a sit down interview with any other media outlet for over a year.

Despite the very controlled access, many U.S. (and Australian) news outlets were initially quite excited by the Trump-Kim PDA in Singapore. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the lipstick to wear off and the true piggishness of Trump to re-emerge.

Within 24 hours of touching down in the ever-deepening Washington swamp, Trump was up to his old trick of lambasting serious and critical journalism as “fake news”. Luckily, we have former journalist and current conscience-pricker Dan Gillmor to remind the shell-shocked American news media of their true purpose.

In fact, I was so drawn to this Trump tweet, I actually also retweeted it myself, with the appropriate commentary.

Yes, we’re all used to the Tangerine Fascist’s unhinged tweeting but, as I argued in July last year, we need to take Trump’s tweets seriously.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Supporters of the “ignore the tweeting” camp say that Trump is deliberately pumping out the outrage and confected offence in order to keep the media occupied and away from the more serious and nefarious plans he has to turn the United States of America into the Principality of Trumpistan.

On the other hand, there’s an argument that Trump’s tweets represent the “thoughts” of the United States President and should be taken seriously. His own staff are now also running with this line, arguing that President Trump is taking his message straight to the American people and needs to do this because the news media distorts his words and does not report the great things he’s doing to “Make America Great Again”.

As Trump himself wrote, nearly a year ago, his tweeting is “modern day presidential”.

Convinced yet?

Just take a look again at the last sentence in this week’s “fake news” broadside:

‘Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!’

Does this remind you of anything?

It is a not-so-subtle reference to a rallying call of his neo-Nazi supporters, who have adopted Trump as their Great White Hope.

This is very inflammatory language from the President, but it is also very deliberate. Trump is on record as saying he uses Twitter to make an end-run around a hostile media and to speak directly to his base in language that they will easily understand.

This is also clearly the reasoning behind his almost-daily tweeting about the Russia investigation being a “witch hunt”.

Nobody outside of his inner circle and his welded-on supporters actually believe any of this. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to just ignore Trumpers — they are heavily-armed, overwhelming angry white, and disenfranchised, and still capable of electing more Trump-like politicians to Congress and the Senate.

Trump’s base is increasingly limited to the hardcore – and quite ignorant – racist and conservative rump of the Republican Party, and a few Republican members of Congress, who are rightfully scared of decimation in the upcoming “mid-term” elections.

Trump needs the woke Nazis and the small but tight coterie of ordinary Americans who think that Mexicans are stealing their jobs, and that the European Union is most likely a George Soros-funded conspiracy to weaken America before it can become “great again”.

The Nazis are just cynical thugs with vague hopes that Trump would deliver them a racially pure homeland.

Trump has a history of appeasing them. Remember his disgusting support for the white supremacist cause following the Charlottesville murder of civil rights activist Heather Heyer by a neo-Nazi fringe-dweller, who weaponised his American-made car in August last year.

Fake News is the new “Lügenpresse”

Trump supporters began calling the critical mainstream news media “lügenpresse” during the 2016 election campaign. It became a feature of his campaign rallies to direct the anger of his supporters towards journalists in the venue, leading to exchanges like this from October 2016.

Rosie Gray is a White House correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, which will certainly be a target of the Trumper’s hatred — it carries some good journalism and has taken a consistently anti-Trump line editorially.

Gray interviewed Trump supporter and avowed white supremacist Richard Spencer following the incident she tweeted out from the Cleveland rally and he gleefully told her that lügenpresse had become a buzz word among the so-called “Alt-Right”.

The term has a long history in Germany, where it emerged in a government propaganda booklet during the dying days of World War One. The Nazis appropriated it after their ascension to power in the mid-1930s. It was a powerful weapon used to mobilise the Nazi party supporters behind anti-Jewish pogroms.

It is regarded as a taboo word in Germany today, but it is still used there by the hard-right nationalist parties. Trump has cleverly adapted it by using the term “fake news”.

He thinks this gives him plausible separation from the neo-Nazis, while dog-whistling them and gaslighting the more gullible members of his base.

He’s fooling nobody. The links between Trump’s use of “fake news” and the neo-Nazi chants of lügenpresse are blindingly obvious. Or at least they should be.

However, it seems that, to some extent, Trump’s constant attacks on the news media are working for him.

The strategy is designed to raise doubts in the public mind about the credibility of the news media. Trump knows that most of the critical reporting about him is based on extensive research and – often – interviews with some of his closest advisors. He is also a proven leaker in his own right, often creating the narrative thread that he then denounces as fake.

But Trump doesn’t have to disprove the facts; by simply throwing chump bait into the water, the feeding frenzy takes over, amplified by Trump-friendly outlets like Fox and the other conservative outlets, who either support him or see value in exploiting his presidency for their own white nationalist ends — think Breitbart and so forth.

These are indeed difficult times for the news media trying to cover Trump. However, there are lessons to be learned and past mistakes not to be repeated.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that the news media needs to be aggressive in its coverage of the Trump White House and the many Trump surrogates – such as Rudy Giuliani – who do the rounds of the talk shows blowing smoke and covering for their master’s gaffes.

If journalists try to treat the Trump presidency as anything but abnormal, they risk giving him the control he craves. We saw the normalising of Trump begin to take hold during and just after the Singapore summit.

Headline-hungry reporters were offering their praise and hot-takes about peace on the Korean Peninsula; I was one of the few who held out against this by carefully parsing his media conference and pointing out the obvious anomalies.

The 60 per cent of Americans who instinctively know that Trump is a monster and underserving of his elevated position need to know they can rely on journalists to continue to pursue the stories of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and sheer idiocy that emanate from the Washington swamp under Trump’s watch.

The Mandarin Maniac is yet to go “full Nuremberg” (though we have seen the tiki torch rallies), but we might see something of it when he makes the inevitable rhetoric-heavy speech during the planned $30 million military parade that is being prepared for him on Veterans’ Day in November.

If “chaos is the new normal” then the news media has to cut through, stand tough, take Trump’s hits and keep asking the difficult questions.

Fortunately, there are a handful of brave journalists and correspondents who are willing to stand up for what’s right and show no fear.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.


Chaos is the new normal: Trump and Kim PDA in Singapore

June 14, 2018

The mainstream media will now try to normalise Trump’s abnormal behaviour by focusing only on the “optics” of this week’s “historic” Singapore meeting with Chairman Kim Jong-un, writes political editor Dr Martin Hirst.

TUESDAY 12 JUNE 2018, will go down in history as the day that a U.S. President sat down with a North Korean dictator to attempt a settlement of a 70-year-old conflict that has bedevilled the world.

It is impossible to say, just 48 hours later, if there will be success, or if there will be nuclear annihilation when the peace efforts crash and burn. But what is clear so far is that the Tangerine Fascist met his “Mini-Me” in the North Korean Supreme Leader.

Chaos is the new normal. Both Donald J Trump and Kim Jong-un are highly unpredictable, we cannot know what either of them will do next. Both of them thrive on chaos and a dangerous delusion of authoritarian narcissism.

However, this might not be immediately obvious. That’s because this simple truth has been forgotten in the rush to celebrate, deify and mythologise the few hours that Trump and Kim spent together this week in Singapore.

I spent a few hours watching coverage of the “historic summit” on Fox News.

There was wall-to-wall gloating and waves of “I told you so” and “fake news media were wrong about him” smarm as the Fox presenters lined up to kick the non-reverential American news media and bow down before Trump.

It was sickening. But, to be fair, the coverage was not much better on the ABC.

What Fox and the ABC shared was an overwhelming desire to normalise Trump’s self-aggrandising and far from normal behaviour.

The “optics” and the “atmospherics” of Singapore were endlessly replayed because there was very little else to actually report right up until Trump’s extraordinary news conference at the end of the day.

It was extraordinary, but unless you watched it, you are unlikely to get the full weirdness of it. It lasted for just over an hour and Trump’s impatience to talk about himself meant that most reporters didn’t even get to finish their questions before Trump talked all over the top of them.

And it was all about Trump.

He lambasted all the previous U.S. administrations who had not been able to handle the North Korea situation. It didn’t matter that Trump’s historical knowledge is negligible, he just kept on repeating the few simple lines he’d managed to practice with his advisors/enablers.

On the whole “peace regime” thing, (former President) Obama couldn’t do it, but Trump could because he’s such a good deal maker. “That’s what I do”, he reminded the assembled journalists — and by extension the entire planet!

Read the rest of this piece at Independent Australia.


Nasty, brutish and short: Thomas Hobbes and the Coalition’s politics of exclusion

June 3, 2018

Political editor Dr Martin Hirst has been musing on recent political news while re-reading Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. His outlook is bleak.

First published on Independent Australia 2 June 2018.

I’m doing a course at my local TAFE this year; it’s a mixed group. I’m one of three oldies (I’d describe myself as a late baby boomer). Apart from a couple of students in their mid 20s, the rest of the group are all in their late teens. We had a discussion this week about what constitutes the zeitgeist — the “spirit of the Age”.

Some of the responses from the millennials in the class got me thinking. In part, I reflected on what I was like when I was 18; I also began to think about Thomas Hobbes and those famous lines from Leviathan about war of “all against all” and the bleak lives – “nasty brutish and short” – that some of us are forced to live.

I was reminded of these passages – from Chapter XIII, ‘Of the natural condition of mankind’ – by some of the fears and concerns expressed by millennial classmates.

For them, the overwhelming zeitgeist is fear. They are scared about the future that is facing them. More importantly, perhaps, they feel powerless to do anything about it.

They talked about how difficult it is for them to find work — even the precarious work of casual shifts in the hospitality or retail industries. They talked about feeling like they’d never be able to afford to buy a house, and their fear of global warming and the damage that we’re doing to the planet.

But most of all, they felt like they could do nothing about the problems confronting them.

I thought about it for a few days afterwards. Something was niggling me. I finally figured it out. For many millennials, it feels like they are being deliberately excluded from society and from decision-making.

Then it hit me: our whole political culture is built on exclusion and fear.

It is actually blindingly obvious.

Australia is a nation built on exclusion

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