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Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Manic El Masri? A new column in a new vehicle in a new way. This is what The Sydney Morning Herald reports today in a story from AAP. This is the third time I've posted about www.manictimes.com.au and each time we get a little more info.

Founder Charles Firth now says the paper, to be launched on 25 August and to appear both online and in print, will be "unashamedly populist". The El Masri column is part of this desire for broad appeal. Other writers will include Erin O'Dwyer, with a Media Watch-type column and, the Herald's story tells us, Pinky Beecroft, who is (apparently) known from her time singing in a band.

The 'g' word appears again, with Firth saying "the weekly publication will use the gonzo-style of journalism". Now, gonzo was pioneered by Hunter Stockton Thompson in the mid-sixties and so it has always had an irreverent element as part of its public persona. If done well, it can be at the same time both entertaining and deadly serious. So how can a football player and a rock musician fare against this, frankly astonishing, standard?

O'Dwyer told me during class tonight that they are seeking contributions.

The platform that launched Firth, The Chaser's War on Everything, is nowadays extremely popular. So part of his work is already done. But I've never read any serious analysis of how the TV program operates. So I'll put here my opinion. Its irreverence is partly a response to ethical and moral dishonesty.

Here's Firth today:

"We should say straight away that it will be proudly pro-worker," Firth said.

"The best of The Chaser is when it takes on political stuff in a larrikin way, bagging those in power. So we're taking that to another level."

The main point of difference between Manic Times and The Chaser comes in the fact that rather than fabricating news stories for laughs, Manic Times is actually getting "real" stories.

"The idea is we take a stupid idea and actually put it to the people in charge," Firth said.

"In the media, spinmeisters are constantly spoonfeeding stories to journalists so our tack is that we want to go to the spinmeisters with our own spin."

Having just read Bob Burton's new book on the Australian PR industry, I feel as if I have a bead on Firth's target.

Burton basically says he wants three things:

  • More regulation of the PR industry
  • Closer examination especially in the media (for example, The Australian newspaper runs a supplement every Thursday on the media)
  • More disclosure by clients of PR operatives (in the same way that an advertisement by the government always closes with a screen identifying who paid for the ad)

The ABC's Media Watch is an important institution in terms of regulating the media and associated industries. But it only screens for ten minutes on one night a week: Monday (the starting time of 9.20 is, further, a bit inconvenient). Many people would rather miss the last train than miss the program. Nevertheless, we must honestly declare its demographic to be somewhat higher than that which Manic Times is aiming for.

It launches in less than two weeks, so be sure to pick up your copy of issue one!

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