Sunday, 29 November 2009

I wonder if I feel sorry for newspapers. Here we have online editors busting a gut to push out stories that people will want to click on, and all the while those same people are clicking on a hundred - or a dozen - different websites as they negotiate their way around the web. The agony of chasing clicks, while browsing readers simply follow their interests. It's a sad tale.

But I have little sympathy for newspaper owners who use dishonest language in their effort to combat the revenue losses. In the case of one newspaper owner, who is very vocal in the debate about eyeballs, the hypocrisy is jarring. Search engines "encourage promiscuity" rather than facilitate broad-ranging interests. Search engines are "stealing" from newspapers by profiting from the way people use the web to find things they care about.

In the case of this news proprietor, who is a political conservative, the irony is thick. That's because the conservative side of politics in Australia has secured ownership of the notion of "choice" through repeated use over a period of many years.

So while I sympathise with online editors who are trying very hard to make their front pages attractive and compelling, I do not like the way that this particular proprietor is trying to fight against 'choice' by complaining that his stable of newspapers has missed the boat.

Nobody told him to put news up for free, in the first place.

But freedom of information - in the economic, as well as the legal, sense - has always been part of the technology paradigm.

I'm reading a book right now - between bouts of social networking - about the pioneers of computing in the US. The book focuses specifically on the major players in the art of computer programming. It takes us back to the days - before the microprocessor - when computers filled entire buildings. But the underlying principles were the same.

It was an era of excitement and discovery. People like Grace Hopper, who was one of the first computer programmers ever, were not impressed by notions of property and commercial-in-confidence, as we learn by reading what author Kurt W. Beyer writes on page 238 of his biography:

The fact that Hopper wholeheartedly welcomed non-UNIVAC personnel to learn about the A-2 compiler sheds some light on her beliefs concerning intellectual property. Hopper did not view software as a commodity to be patented and sold. Rather, she took her cue from the mathematics community. Like most other academics, mathematicians shared information universally, in order to advance knowledge. Though individual efforts were acknowledged by colleagues, advancement in the field was contingent on a communal view of information, community validation, and evolutionary advancement based on previous work. In the same way, software, according to Hopper, was a public good to be shared freely among all users. Complicating software development with secrecy would only inhibit innovation. Learning from the Harvard Computation Laboratory's tendency to isolate itself from other computer developments, Hopper came to realise that a distributed network on inventors, each with his or her particular technical perspective, could sustain a faster rate of innovation in the long term compared to an individual inventor or even an isolated team of inventors.

Beyer takes his understanding of the historical record - gleaned by studying Grace Hopper and her colleagues in detail over a long period - to the next step, as we read next.

The freeware and open source movements of the present day preserve this doctrine. The roots, however, go back to Hopper and her team of distributed inventors.

Likewise, in an online emporium of distributed news-makers, each person circulating - using their web browser - on the complex grid, has opportunities to learn that our forebears never did. This raises certain ontological questions, such as the nature of the modern consciousness.

If we're all connected to this grid, and if we read broadly, what sort of citizens does that make us? Rather than sticking to one outlet, one newspaper with its ingrained viewpoints and biases, we're able to surf along the top of the swell of news. We end up back at the beach, of course, but we've had possibly a better ride.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

A new poet! Emma Jones is a poet to watch, we're advised by Peter Wilson writing in The Australian. A few things stack up to make the claim credible, the most important of which is that she's had a book published by the legendary British press for poets, Faber.

It's called The Striped World, and it's available now if you can tear your eyes away from the wide-screen in the lounge room and its images of Tiger Woods swinging his clubs. Didn't you know? The world's No. 1 golfer has had a minor traffic accident in Florida.

And don't get distracted by reports from the rugby field that the coach of the Wallabies is to front the board of the Australian Rugby Union to justify himself in the light of the team's poor on-field performance.

Don't get distracted by the myriad foibles and glories of professional sport, because Emma Jones - from Sydney's grimy inner west, no less - has nabbed the privilege of spending a few months sojourning in a cottage not far from where the king of Romantic poetry, William Wordsworth, lived and wrote 200 years ago. Yes, she has been "chosen ahead of 30 other applicants as this year's writer-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust at Grasmere in the Lake District", writes Wilson.

Are we up-to-date on poetry? Are we awake to the dynamic of the regular reading circuit in Sydney and Melbourne? Are we aware that Jones won the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2005?

Do we care that she has now won the Queensland Premier's Literary Award as well as Britain's top award for debut poets, the Felix Dennis Prize?

While we're kept informed of the minutiae of professional athletes - their groin injuries, sex pecadillos, drunken car crashes, DUI charges, and marital troubles - the poets beaver away in complete obscurity until one day they are brought to light.

Hopefully, at this point, they don't just fade into the ink-stained background of the struggling publishing sector in Australia. No wonder Germaine Greer was acerbic when asked about Jones. Greer knows that Australians care not a fig for high culture, or the accolades those hoity-toity poms heap on our best and brightest.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull was confronted yesterday by the mass defection of frontbenchers protesting his soft line on carbon trading. He presented a strong persona during an ad-hoc press conference held at 7pm.

Journalists are sceptical he can survive.

In the heat of the moment, a string of frontbenchers resigned their portfolios. Barnaby Joyce, seasoned climate denier, appeared on Sky TV to slam Turnbull and the “massive new tax” that would eventuate if a carbon trading scheme were introduced.

He couldn’t see how introducing the “new tax” would help to reduce carbon emissions, and pooh-poohed Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong, labelling them “omniscient” – with a practiced sneer – for wanting to ‘do something, anything’ in advance of the COP-15 meeting in Copenhagen.

“This is about the future of our planet,” said Turnbull in the press conference.
By the end of the conference, Turnbull seemed confident that the amended climate change bill would pass in parliament. If he could retain the leadership, that is.

“My leadership was confirmed only yesterday,” he said. He tried to diminish the importance of what had happened in the Liberal Party room until a few minutes before the press conference began.

“We have to have a reshuffle anyway. What I’m going to do is assess all of that after the parliament rises, and I’ll let you know in due course.”

He came out punching at the beginning of his appearance, his trademark smile intact. He defended his position with the full weight of his native eloquence.

Turnbull said that he was asked to improve the CPRS, and he did. “We achieved enormous concessions from the government,” he said. “Many of you were surprised that the government made the concessions that they did.”

“Then the shadow cabinet endorsed that deal, the party room endorsed that deal.”

“We must maintain our credibility; we cannot be seen as climate sceptics.”

Turnbull admitted that it is a difficult issue for Australians, even those who only doubt the science. But the emissions trading bill is a matter of risk management, he said. He quoted Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch on risk management. Murdoch had said that we have to give the planet the benefit of the doubt.

“Australians expect their political leaders to act responsibly on climate change, to safeguard the future of our planet for our children. Anything else is irresponsible.”

Pundits and journalists dissecting events in the aftermath of the press conference speculated as to which would happen first: passing of the climate change bill or a change in the Liberal leadership.

Turnbull was asked by a journalist about the chance of another leadership spill motion.

“I came here to make Australia a better place,” he said. “And one of those issues is action on climate change. I am committed to real reform. You guys write about the numbers, I’m focused on the policy, I’m focused on our future.”

We’ll see what happens today. It’s unlikely it will be one of Turnbull’s best days.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

I wonder how Bill Hauritz, executive director of Queensland Folk Festivals, is taking to the news that the Splendour in the Grass music festival is moving from Byron Bay to Woodford, in the Sunshine Coast hinterlands.

Woodford is home to the annual Woodford Folk Festival, which this time runs from 27 December to 1 January. 'Splendour' runs for three days from July 30. So although there's no overlap, large crowds will come for both events.

While some Byron residents must be jubilant the massive event has located elsewhere - at least for two years - Bill must be uneasy. A recent report that ran on Queensland ABC News showed Bill walking unhappily around the venue complaining about roads, swereage, and other amenities.

"To just simply build electricity, roads, that I've talked about, has been a cost that's forced our debt levels up," says Hauritz. The festival raises $300,000 each year in profits, but maintenance costs are double that, organisers say.

Organisers have asked the public to pledge money to a fund for amenities investments, including a sewerage treatment plant. They want to raise $1 million.

"That's out there a bit, and hopeful," says Hauritz, "but we've always been an optimistic crew."

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Gavin Larkin, an advertising executive with Sydney-based marketing agency The Brand Shop, has turned to promotion to raise awareness about suicide - the great taboo. On opinion website The Punch, Larkin states that he wants to "directly address the 'taboo' and get people to confront and talk about suicide".

Elsewhere, on the website of digital marketing company Alpha Salmon, Larkin reiterates his message in a 24 November news release.

“Suicide is such a massive issue, but no-one talks about it. It’s a taboo subject. The irony is that to tackle it, we need to talk about it – that’s the idea of the campaign."

But I fear that Larkin is going to find entrenched views about the reporting of suicide in the media, where it is believed to be a no-no.

It's great that Larkin has decided to launch the R U OK website, which contains stories from people who have experienced suicide - everyone will come up against it at some point in their life.

But without the media on board, I can't see this initiative really 'taking off'. Every time there's a suicide, why don't we hear about it? Larkin personally spent time researching the problem, and this is what he found:

Every year it kills almost twice the amount of people than die on the roads. It has no prejudice - old, young, male female, rich, poor, city, country, black, white, Christian, Muslim, mentally ill, sane. It touches everyone.

But the stat that really pisses me off - which I find the most abhorrent for a place that can rightly claim to be the “Lucky Country”- is that for every person who takes their own life it is estimated between 10 to 15 try.

I remember when I was a young man, helping to put together a poetry magazine around the traps in Glebe, Sydney. There were a dozen or so of us, lead by a school teacher with a love of writing. We met above bookstores and in the first - as far as I know - combined bookstore/cafe. We edited, replied to correspondence, applied for funding, talked, wrote, distributed, organised printing, and completed layout in the days before computers arrived to automate the process.

It was a fun time. Nevertheless, one of the young men in our group killed himself. There was a sweet sadness around the ways as this piece of information was communicated to everyone who knew him. But did we ever talk about why? Were there stories in the local press to explain what had happened?

Nothing at all.

Changing this mindset would require something like proof that more information can help. I wonder if Larkin's push for greater transparency will contain enough momentum to shunt out of the way the accumulated prejudices of hundreds of reporters, editors, and publishers.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

An ambitious astroturf campaign by the American Petroleum Institute (API) was uncovered by Greenpeace in August during a Congressional recess. A front group called 'Energy Citizens', which has the same street address as the API, was manufactured by API using a widely-circulated memo to its membership.

The Energy Citizens website lists 285 organisations, including companies and peak bodies, that received the memo and decided to participate in rallies across the US. In the memo, the API promises to pay for transportation so that individuals representing members can minimise their up-front costs.

To be clear, API will provide the up-front resources to ensure logistical issues do not become a problem. This includes contracting with a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns, corporations and interest groups.

The events management company would also provide public relations services, "providing a field coordinator in each state, conducting a comprehensive communications and advocacy activation plan for each state."

Company heads are encouraged to support employee participation.

What does the website say about this concerted, back-room effort to stimulate the fight against climate change legislation? Nothing. It provides a piece of predictable spin:

Energy Citizens is a nationwide alliance of organizations and individuals formed to bring together people across America to remind Congress that energy is the backbone of our nation’s economy and our way of life.

When Greenpeace got hold of a copy of the memo, it wrote a letter to the API asking for clarification and explanation. Of particular interest here is its request for help in understanding how its members had sought to support the Waxman-Markey Bill, while actively working to subvert it.

Naturally, large companies that have come out in favour of Waxman-Markey, such as Shell, BP America, ConocoPhillips, General Electric and Siemens, are not listed as participants. Greenpeace notes, however, that they are members of the US Chamber of Commerce, which is listed on the website.

The Spinwatch website has also posted on the subject, announcing the Angry Mermaid award, "set up to recognise the perverse role of corporate lobbyists".

The winner of the award will be announced in Copenhagen during the UN climate talks.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Review: Samson & Delilah, dir Warwick Thornton (2009) 

The film builds pace slowly and there is little dialogue to alleviate our puzzlement as Samson (Rowan MacNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) negotiate to secure a private space in a hostile world. Samson, especially, seems almost pre-verbal in his capacity to communicate with those around him.

People are poor not just because of how little they earn but because they are discriminated against and deprived, because they live in insecurity and are marginalised and excluded, and because their voices are not heard.

So says Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International, addressing the National Press Club in Canberra last week.

Khan's piece is published online for those wanting to read it in its entirety.

In the film, Samson and Delilah are a young man and a young woman living in an outback settlement, in poverty. They are forced out of the settlement by adversity, in Delilah's case due to no failing of her own. They hit the road and land under a bridge in Alice Springs.

Samson, at one point is asked his name by a vagrant they cohabit the place with. "Sa ... sa ... sn" he says, forcing out the words against their will. Cut off from his community, he is rendered mute.

When walking down a street, a car stops and Delilah is accosted by two men, who force her into the car. His mind muddled by the petrol he sniffs as he walks, Samson doesn't hear a thing. In any case, Delilah doesn't cry out. Cut off from her community she, too, is rendered mute.

The two young people love each other but do not verbalise their feelings in a way that enables us to latch onto them, and share them, easily and readily. We are filled with unease, and we are perhaps not yet ready to face the implications of the problems the film presents to us.

It is only through glances, brief moments of physical contact, and the sobbing we hear as Samson sits, alone, beneath the concrete, that we appreciate the strength of feeling present in the relationship.

Thornton has done an extraordinary thing in making such a silent pair appealing. He has given a voice to those who are so marginalised as to be almost invisible, except in the form of disturbing headlines. It is time that we come to terms with this entrenched marginality. The movie can only help us to do this.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Review: Scoop, dir Woody Allen (2006) 

Set in a privileged version of London, the film successfully marries a crime thriller with classic Allen stand-up comedy, this time with the added boost of Scarlett Johansson doing excellent stand-up against Hugh Jackman's straight guy. The romantic drama between Sondra Pransky (Johansson) and Peter Lyman (Jackman) is a necessary device to propel the crime thriller, and helps to produce a lot of good gags that play on the rich-guy-dates-eager-ingenue trope, complete with expensive bauble and champagne between the sheets.

Johansson is surprisingly good in the role of the earnest student reporter, Pransky, who meets up with dead investigative reporter Joe Strombel (played with comic brilliance by a handsome, if slightly gnarled, Ian McShane). Strombel has met up with the ex-secretary of Lyman on a boat crossing the River Styx in the afterlife, and she has given him a potential scoop. While waiting inside the magic booth of The Great Splendini (Allen), Pransky meets Strombel's ghost - the dead journo is stubbornly "cheating death" in order to make the scoop real - and is given a few details about what could turn out to be a big story.

Pransky and Splendini (whose real name is Sid Waterman) kick into gear, with Waterman pretending to be Pransky's dad while they con Lyman into inviting Pransky (who adopts the name Jade Spence) to his country estate. A romance develops between hunky Lyman - who Strombel believes is a notorious killer called 'The Tarot Card Killer' - and Pransky/Spence.

It's a Shakespearean plot, with extra nuts and a generous dose of Allen's best whacky-syrup. The comedy is excellent from both Allen and Johansson.

All the pretending and false relationships makes you think, inevitably, of Allen's own saga, relating to his wife Soon-Yi.

There's further interest in his treating journalism as though it were some form of magic act. Waterman's inevitable schtick of sincere gratitude toward his audience - played out in the same way each time and at every opportunity - sits uneasily against the business of reporting. It's as though journalists are some sort of performers who never play to their audience without injecting a solid dose of flattery.

Allen has had a lot of experiece with journalists, so I assume that his 'take' on the profession - as expressed in this movie - contains more than a grain of truth. It should be noted that the worker's union that covers journalists, in Australia, also caters to clowns and prostitutes.

Enough said about THAT!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Bringing attention to an unpleasant fact can make you unpopular. In this case, the unpleasant fact is discrimination faced daily by Egyptian Nubians, as we discover by reading a story from The Guardian published on the website of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe has included racist lyrics in a song, Where Is Daddy?, we are told by the Egyptian Nubian Association for Law, which has brought an action against the release.

Where is my teddy bear and the Nubian monkey?

Her dismay and a denial "has not stopped a group of Nubian lawyers submitting an official complaint to Egypt's public prosecutor and calling for the song to be banned".

She says that 'Nubian monkey' is the name of a children's game in Lebanon.

People on the street claim that the song has meant their children are fearful of attending school as they will be called "monkeys".

But the problem does not lie with the attractive singer. According to Jack Shenker, who wrote the story, Nubians are not portrayed positively in popular culture. They "remain largely invisible on television and film, except as lampooned stereotypes".

Egypt's government, he says, "has traditionally promoted a monolithic brand of nationalism, sometimes to the exclusion of religious or ethnic minorities".

So a beautiful singer from a foreign country (where 'Nubian monkey' is the name of a children's game, she says) is attacked by minority rights activitsts because the minority they represent is routinely denigrated in their country of birth.

They are throwing rocks at a mirage, ignoring the atmosphere that is its real cause.

Friday, 20 November 2009

While federal Labor takes credit for Australia’s stellar economic performance compared to other OECD countries, the government continues to rubber-stamp development of the coal mines that are responsible for the country’s economic strength.

A week ago, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said ‘No’ to the Traveston Dam, due to be constructed in SE Queensland against solid opposition from locals. But The Australian reports today that:

THE resources industry has shrugged off the world downturn, increasing the value of committed resource projects to a record $112.5 billion.

And there is a big increase in the number of new projects undergoing feasibility testing.

The story on page 6 details new coal developments, including the Kevin’s Corner thermal coal project, in Queensland.

Despite the global focus on climate change, coal developments dominated the new listings, with 18 new projects announced.

Big projects designed to ease the bottlenecks that choked exports during the boom are close to commissioning, including a new $1.1bn coal terminal and the $456m expansion of an existing terminal at the Port of Newcastle.

The $818m expansion of the coal loader at Dalrymple Bay in Queensland will be completed in 2011.

On the same page another story, ‘Mining boom spills into rents’, tells us that rents in the NSW country town of Gunnedah have risen by $50 a week since last year. The influx of engineers is due to the size of a coal seam in the Gunnedah Basin.

The basin has one of the world’s largest underground coal seams and is regarded as being on par with Australia’s largest offshore find, the $50 billion Gorgon gasfields off Western Australia.

It’s a pity that these stories are located in page 6. Placing them on page one would seem an ideal way for the conservative broadsheet to attack federal Labor in a sensitive spot.

Even more ironic, perhaps, is that a third story on the same page talks about the Victorian government’s successful public-private partnership capital raising exercise, which closed recently. The refinancing of Victoria’s desalination plant was the largest PPP in the world since the GFC started last year.

As a result of federal Labor stopping the Traveston Dam development in Queensland, it seems likely that the Queensland government will move to build two desalination plants. Sunshine Coast residents are already planning a counteroffensive. I wonder if the federal minister will stop them going ahead.

It seems unlikely since the successful construction of a desal plant in Sydney last year.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The good news about news and the bad news about news continue to emerge. While media academic Dan Gillmor ponders a new Hawaii news startup backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, we hear that New York has lost nearly 60,000 communication jobs since 2000.

In that year, communications employment peaked. Then the Internet dragon started to bite. Elsewhere, we learn that newspaper ad spend dropped by 50 per cent from 2000 to 2009.

No wonder News Corp is upset. The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that "web users [of The Times of London] will have access to the newspaper's website as part of their general subscription fee or pay a fee to download as many stories as they like during a 24-hour period".

The paper's editor is quick to express reservations about the scheme, possibly in an effort to head off expected criticism.

''You have to be very careful with article-only economics. You will find yourself writing a lot more about Britney Spears and a lot less about Tamils in northern Sri Lanka,'' Mr Harding was quoted in The Guardian as telling an industry conference in England.

Fear of tablodisation is hardly something that News Corp watchers would expect to hear expressed, but we remember that The Times, after all, is a quality broadsheet. We'd expect the editor of such a vehicle to be sensitive to reader concerns.

News Corp is leading old media's sallies against the Internet's gradual erosion of profitability. The announcement represents hard evidence of what is in store. But fear among publishers of further erosion even of slim web advertising revenues means they are likely to tread gingerly.

The New York city comptroller's report about job losses also points to similar declines in other US cities.

On the positive side of the viability equation, the Hawaii-based Peer News has yet to announce concrete moves.

Peer News will operate in the leanest possible way compatible with doing solid journalism and community information. It will involve social media in a big way as well. (The Omidyar Network, the investing and charitable arm of Pierre and his wife, Pam, has been deep into socially valuable media for a long time. Count on them bringing what they've learned into Peer News.)

Plainly, the Hawaii launch is a test bed, in part. If it works, expect more local versions in other places.

Laid-off US journalists will greet such developments with sceptical interest, I'm sure.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

My mother has given me a set of cutlery that she doesn't want any more. The design is heavy in the handle. I noticed the difference when I had lunch at her place today, during which we used a new, slim style set of knives and forks.

Mum is 80 this year and has severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine). It's pushing her organs out of alignment and in the past week or so has started to cause her pain in the shoulder. She takes pain killers daily to combat the unease it generates. It's hard to sleep with chronic pain.

But she still visits dad in the nursing home, where he was placed a few months ago due to advanced Alzheimer's disease. She prefers to go there in the morning, as sometimes he gets a bit nasty after lunch is over and the afternoon has started to wear on.

Mum has started to plan her first solo voyage, but she's talking with her best mate, Georgette. They would go together. The idea is to take a cruise liner to Western Australia and travel back by train.

I'm not sure when she plans to do this, but I'm already planning what to do over the quiet time around Xmas and the New Year. Dad's memoir, titled 'Growing', is dated 2002. Tonight I picked up a selection of CD-ROMs mum had stored away. Each has a version in it. It's my plan to compare them to find the most recent version, and offer it to a publisher.

Then there's dad's old Toshiba laptop, which contains a bunch of files he used to work on until he became unable to concentrate on anything too demanding.

Mum is planning to ask a local computer guy to put the editable files onto CDs so that we can take stock of the computer's contents. Then we'll just put the old machine back in the garage.

It's full of stuff, plus mum's new Toyota. It's a silver Corolla and she seems to enjoy it. The pain makes enjoyment of anything problematic, however. Let's see what the publisher says, I tell her. We'll talk to them and decide how much editing we want to subject the manuscript to.

I think dad would be sorta chuffed to know that his words are destined for print. Tho he may have had something to say about wasting a perfectly good set of cutlery on a grown man; but that's another story.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Today was my first time to visit the University of Queensland and we arrived by car at about 9.30am. But we missed the activity that must have accompanied the drug raid that took place early in the morning.

In fact, we drove along Sir Fred Schonell Drive, where part of the raid occurred, to get to the campus.

Located at the tip of a promontory created by a typical bend in the Brisbane River, the University of Queensland is full of space and green swards. You go up and down a series of hills as you negotiate the roads running over the campus.

It's just odd that this raid should take place today. Odd in an eerie way, that is.

Monday, 16 November 2009

I got to thinking about non-profit journalism and its possible future impact on the profession recently. A number of elements combined to spur this train of thought, which is centred around resuscitating journalists' flagging reputation.

We all know that journalists are among the general population's least-favourite citizens. They consistently rank low on the popularity scale. In fact, last time I looked, they come in just above politicians, lawyers, and used-car salesmen.

Isn't it time something was done to address this dismal record?

Maybe now that Rupert Murdoch appears so concerned about the massive drop in his newspapers' profitability, we can anticipate a return to acclaim. But wasn't it ever thus, you say? Weren't hacks always reviled?

You can point with as much unrestrained pride, if you like, to the essential service that journalists provide in the community. After all, the freedom of the press is enshrined, in the US, in the constitution's first amendment. In Australia, legal recognition came later - as part of the high Court's 1997 ruling in the Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation case.

It was found that press freedom is implied in the constitution. Without press freedom to publish at any time, representative democracy cannot exist.

This is a negative affirmation of a right, but it is critical. Nevertheless, it seems that journalists have always been considered unethical, rapacious, over-eager, and prone to salivating over the prospect of a good story at the expense of everything else, including propriety.

News has been big business for a long time, but not as long as the press has been a public bug-bear. Ben Jonson's play, The Staple of News, was first performed in 1626. Even then, press people had a bad rep to fight.

But with the marriage of big business and the press came further cause of anger, as media bosses with an agenda to promote used their companies and their reporters to push a line. Nobody who reads The Australian today can be ignorant of this.

If business gets so bad that big media companies simply collapse due to lack of cashflow, will we be left with purely non-profit vehicles? Can this help to inject some much-needed credibility into the profession of journalist?

It remains to be seen. In any case, in Australia and the UK, we have viable - and respected - public media companies that will do anything to increase their share of the public's attention. It will be interesting to see if the reputation of the ABC takes a hit when its market-share increases.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Review: Mary and Max, dir Adam Elliot (2009)

"This is telling the real feelings of human beings. And those feelings in real life most of the time are unspoken," says my best mate. "I think everyone who watches the film will be touched by the sensitivity."

I tend to agree with her. It's not often that you both cry and laugh while watching a single film. But Elliot had me chortling, guffawing and snickering. He also had me tearing up and getting rheumy.

Elliot's subtle clay work is perfect for telling this tender story of loss and redemption. Everything is a bit off-centre, bent, twisted, and droopy. Even Barry Humphries' voice - the narrator is one of Australia's most famous comedians (even though, like a lot of famous Australians, he lives in the UK) - slides and rasps its way through the quirky script like an Emery board across the top of a ripe pumpkin.

Starting when Mary - a plain girl from Melbourne's suburbs - is eight years old and ending with the final exit of fat, clinically-unstable Max, the film gives you a lot of reasons to be content. Good art always does.

And this is definitely art, and not merely cinema.

Claymation is a demanding medium, I imagine. But Elliot makes it look easy. I think that he really enjoys his craft. I also think that he doesn't mind spending years on a single project.

Mary's life is full of dissatisfaction and reaching out to a middle-aged New Yorker gives her solace. She copes better becuse of her new friendship. Max, on the other hand, finds Mary's questions alarming. After getting out of hospital, he starts writing again, but Mary betrays their friendship by writing her thesis on Asperger's Syndrome - the condition Max is afflicted with - and then publishing it.

Mary's reaction to Max's anger is equally severe. She descends into a depressive state, loses her husband, and attempts suicide. Finally, she's saved by Max, who sends a large parcel filled with cartoon figurines, as an act of forgiveness.

When Mary visits New York with her baby strapped to her back and loaded down by two red suitcases, she finds that Max was a true friend. Poor, loyal Max has laminated all of Mary's letters and taped them to the ceiling of his apartment.

Mary even finds the bottle of tears she had sent Max once, when she discovered that he didn't have such an ability.

It's a poignant moment. On Max's yarmulke, the red pompom Mary had sent him as a pre-teen, still adheres.

Elliot won an Oscar for the film that preceded this one, and I hope that the world sends out a similar signal this time. The man deserves all the encouragement that we can give him. Hopefully, given enough time and money, Elliot will find inside him the will needed to create another wonderful film for us all to enjoy.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Review: State of Play, dir. Kevin Macdonald (2009)

Russell Crowe is excellent as the hard-boiled journo, Cal McAffrey, in this dark-coloured, brooding, slightly-grungy film that details illegal collusion between politicians and a giant, private defense contractor called PointCorp.

McAffrey's colleague and occasional side-kick in the drama is the perky, ironic Della Frye (played by Rachel McAdams), a society blogger who also works at the struggling masthead, The Washington Globe.

The paper is led by a frazzled-looking Helen Mirren playing Cameron Lynne, the editor-in-chief.

The action opens with an attempted double-murder, with a junkie causing mayhem as he runs to escape his pursuer. He thinks he has got away but takes two slugs. A passing cyclist is hospitalised.

The next morning, congressional researcher Sonia Baker falls under a train and is killed.

McAffrey swings into action trying to tie together the two cases in the face of heavy objections from Lynne, who is trying to hold off pressure from the newspaper's new owners to publish schlock.

The experienced journalist and the fresh, young writer spend a few scenes bouncing off one another as they take stock of their new relationship. In time, they pull together against the common foe: tabloid journalism. McAffrey is lucky; the first break coming when his bag is stolen by a drug-addict who leads him to a set of photos showing the dead researcher from the point of view of a stalker.

Congressman Stephen Collins (played by Ben Affleck) is an old friend of McAffrey's. The two of them settle into a routine of misunderstanding and recrimination as they try to uncover the truth.

Cracking a big story like the one we begin to sniff out as the story unfolds is a reporter's dream. Unfortunately, the characters are just a little too wooden and two-dimensional. Cagey congressman George Fergus (played by Jeff Daniels) doesn't hold enough menace, and the PointCorp executive (played by Tuck Milligan) is not sleazy enough.

The best of the bunch, in my view, is Dominic Foy (played by Jason Bateman), a washed-out PR flack who drives a big, black, shiny car but has no spine. The scenes with Foy and McAffrey in the seedy Americana Hotel are a high point.

It all unravels pretty fast once Foy starts to spill what he knows.

There's also a breathless, long scene in the garage of a large apartment building, with McAffrey struggling to evade a rogue militiaman, Robert Bingham (played by Michael Berresse). He is finally saved by a family of loquacious Chinese-Americans whose SUV's rear window is shattered by bullets as it careens out of the garage with McAffrey clinging stoicly to the window frame.

There's action and there's corruption. What else does a film about journalists need?

Well, there's McAffrey's essential humanity. Despite what he's told, McAffrey doesn't become jaded. He remains able to buy a can of soft drink for an indigent young woman and he seems to have friends all over the city.

He's clearly a man who likes people. It's a good model for a journalist.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Over at The Punch, the recently-launched opinion blogsite of News Ltd, there's a post by Robert Todd, "an Australian lawyer at Blake Dawson who (outside his engaging and challenging legal practice in media and IT disputes) is involved in the debate to improve press freedom in Australia".

It's about compassion and, specifically, a new initiative, Charter for Compassion, that seeks to inject a bit of loving-kindness into international debates. And, presumably, spur people everywhere to act in a more compassionate manner.

The blog post has so far attracted only two comments, one from Brian Giesen, who works at advertising outfit Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence.

The comment contains a link to a video the unit produced showing takes from interviews with various warm bodies. They're talking about compassion. Sometimes they mean empathy, which is different but related to its more warm-blooded confrere.

A number of the people interviewed are social media mavens and the unit, in any case, has as its raison-d'etre the development of online - specifically, social media - ties.

I didn't set out to test whether social media types are more compassionate or empathetic, but it happened that, as I took a lie-down this morning, a thought recurred which has been trying to imprint itself in my mind for a few weeks.

So I tweeted it.

I lie down in bed and my thoughts become moist with the spray of my dreams.

I guess it occurred to me that this sally might attract some censorious replies. I don't really remember. However, I wasn't surprised when I got two replies:

10:14am, Nov 13 from Tweetie ewwww ...

10:19am, Nov 13 from Web oooh, yuk!

I wasn't surprised, but I was disappointed. This isn't empathy, I thought to myself as I hung out the washing to dry on the line at the back of my building. This is something else. It's something I read about recently but ... no, I don't recall the place.

People may behave online, in social media, in a way that does not accurately reflect their normal, day-to-day personas. Because it is all about persona: those simulacra of ourselves that we project - in this case - into the twitterverse or whichever social media platform we prefer.

What is this manner? How can we characterise it? Is it cruel? Is it unkind? Is it flippant and unthinking? Is it a sort of teen bumptiousness? I recall a DM I got recently.

7:14am, Nov 09 Sometimes social media reminds me of high school. Have to have a thick skin. Post, no one responds, u wonder if you're wasting time.

Going back to the new CFC initiative, we read:

In our globalized world, everybody has become our neighbor, and the Golden Rule has become an urgent necessity.

The 'golden rule' being, of course, that you treat others as you would have them treat you. I wonder if my recent interlocutors had this principle in mind when they disparaged my earnest tweet.

CFC was established by Karen Armstrong, a religion writer I've posted about on numerous occasions on this blog. She's normally in the news because they've banned one of her books in some second- or third-world country. It's nice to see her in the news for a positive, rather than a negative, reason. Let's hope that the CFC, which wants to "change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse", can also encourage people to be more empathetic.

It's not enough to believe strongly. You've also got to honestly test your approach against a yardstick, like compassion or empathy, to see if you're not just adding to the problem.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Facebook's 'Home' link is proving to be an enormous FAIL due to the horrendously inconvenient fact that, when clicked, it gives you the 'News Feed' instead of the 'Live Feed'. You don't know the difference? Well, here's the good oil direct from Facebook itself:

News Feed aggregates the most interesting content that your friends are posting, while Live Feed shows you all the actions your friends are making in real-time.

IOW, 'News Feed' is an algorithm-driven subset of the 'Live Feed'. It's what Facebook's mathematicians think is "most interesting" to you. As such, it is perfectly useless.

'News Feed' went out to users at the end of last month. However, I cannot recall experiencing the frustration that I'm subject to now, as a result of continually having to click 'View Live feed' after clicking 'Home'. I'm starting to feel as though I've contracted some sort of behavioural tic.

It's extremely annoying.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Jonathan Holmes said "pwned" (pron 'powned' as in 'Edgar Allan Poe') last night on Media Watch. It was a great moment in the history of convergence, a moment celebrating the point at which the audience comes to participate in the media process.

'Pwned' is a word many will be unfamiliar with. It comes from video gaming, and seems to have begun as a spelling mistake included by a software coder in a game's code. The word that was meant to go in was 'owned' (as in 'totally owned' or possessed, beaten, made subject). So gamers playing would see "pwned" resulting from a completed stage, in the event of victory.

That's my understanding, anyway.

Holmes' final program for 2009 finished with the utterance of this word, which pops up frequently in Twitter hashtag streams, where people dicsuss the program as it screens. I used to participate in the stream, but I find it a bit exhausting and distracting to do two things at once. So I stopped.

I did get the gist. The word "pwned" was also accompanied, frequently, by another hashtag, "pwnednudierun". It seems that the idea is that, if Holmes uses the word on-screen, participants in the hashtag stream promise to go into the street naked and run around the block.

So when Holmes used the word last night, that's exactly what happened. Here's an example: Scott Bridges on Groupthink. More pics at link.

Monday, 9 November 2009

I feel for Tom Tudehope, who has been implicated in a Downfall-spoof video that lampoons a Liberal Party factional battle in language that, frankly, most people would not understand.

It's full of 'in' jokes the meaning of which 99.99 percent of Australians would be oblivious to. Until it was pointed out to them in the Sydney Morning Herald article linked to above.

Tudehope's name emerged in the online world only recently, when Malcolm Turnbull gave it out during the Media140 conference held in Sydney last Thursday and Friday.

As editors handling a piece by Karl Quinn, The Age's entertainment editor, put it, "He who lives by the cutting-edge dies by the cutting edge".

The online world is liable to deliver shocks of this nature, because so much is on view all the time. There's no place here for those who don't stand by their words and actions. Gumption - or fortitude - is a base requirement.

Even for me, running a blog can be a liability. In fact, I've published things here that have come back to bite me. And sometimes it hurts.

This morning, for example, a post I made this year came back to haunt me because I was in the process of getting a piece published when my colloquitor came across it and decided to "hold off". I was shocked because the disagreement chronicled referred to a piece originally pitched to the website that was quite unrelated in subject, and the correspondent was even different.

So I know something of what Tudehope is feeling. The shock this kind of thing produces is physical, not only mental. It causes pain - and it's meant to. But blogging is fun and that's why people do it.

They don't do it to make enemies or to score points. Most bloggers do it because they care deeply about what they write about. It matters that debate be open and fair. It matters that the issues be more important than pride. It matters because - to paraphrase Jay Rosen, who spoke via videolink at the Media140 forum - you "think democratically".

That's why you want to be a journalist.

Maybe that's why Tudehope - who denies involvement in a "trail of emails" - or whoever made the Downfall-spoof, did it. They are passionately invested, personally involved, and committed to something they believe in.

Good luck, Tom, and don't forget to keep tweeting.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Olympus DSS Player is less contentious than sex education in secondary schools, which is the topic I had initially selected for today's blog post. It's a great tool for journalists who don't have shorthand, especially if you buy the model with the foot-pedal controller.

While I fulsomely agree with improving sex education in secondary schools, and deplore objections from Catholic schools head Dan White, I'm just so sick of the media's aggressive language and conflict-driven methodology for stories on social subjects. So instead of writing, at length, about how sick the whole debate makes me feel, I thought I'd try to say something positive.

After all, new ways to improve your worklife are uncontentious, though hopefully not unpreposessingly bland. The DSS Player has changed my life.

I was going to attend j-school for a few months to learn shorthand but then the move up here to Queesland scotched that. Instead, I found another way to alleviate the massive sensation of irritation I used to feel whenever it came to contemplating a large transcription job.

Getting words into a WP file is 100 times easier, now, with the foot-operated DSS Player.

To remove the recording from the VN-960PC Digital Voice Recorder, I just plug it into a USB port. The Olympus Digital Wave Player opens automatically and the file gets transferred by the driver software into a folder that is created automatically for the purpose of holding the file. The folder is dated. The file on the recorder can now be automatically deleted - you must use a pre-set in the Wave Player interface.

Then you open up the DSS Player software and place the window on the screen near the Wave Player window. You just drag the file across to the DSS Player, which has several folders available for temporary file storage.

The foot pedal playback unit sits on the floor under my desk, and is connected to the back of the computer via a USB port. Once you highlight a file inside the DSS Player window, you just step on the right-hand pedal of the controller and playback starts.

So instead of twiddling with the tiny buttons of the VN-960PC Voice Recorder, I can use both hands to type while playing the recording using my feet on the control pedals.

There's a rewind pedal as well. In addition, the DSS Player interface shows with an indicator where you currently are located in the recording, so it's easy to move back and forwards. And it's easy to go back to a location you want to hear again.

After completing a transcription, I drag the file out of the DSS Player interface into a storage folder along with the other files for the story, so they're all stored together, for future reference. This way, if I ever need to find the file again, it's very easy to do so.

Recently, I transcribed about an hour's-worth of recordings in less than two hours. This facility lets me concentrate on writing immediately, instead of breaking off work and coming back to do the actual writing later. It's a huge efficiency.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

An interview with Rupert Murdoch was broadcast on BigPond TV, courtesy - I take it - of Sky News, which is 30 percent owned by News Ltd. I take it that the cross from BigPond TV's normal feed came from Sky because the reporter in the chair made the disclosure before the interview started.

He covered three areas:

  • News Ltd's way of handling structural changes in the economic model of news globally
  • Murdoch's personal opinions of politicians
  • The future of the Murdoch dynasty

Briefly, the second area of the interview merely served to underscore Murdoch's conservative credentials. Murdoch is an unapologetic conservative and doesn’t like US President Barak Obama, doesn’t like Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

In the third area, there's nothing new and I won't touch on it at all.

Murdoch likes being asked questions about the economy. He answers far more readily. The interviewer is clever in starting the interview with the hard questions about the news business, and ending on the dynasty. The vacillating, complex ellipses and non-sequiturs that characterised the early parts of the interview – when the topic was the money aspect of news – completely disappear when the topic changes to politicians and the economy.

I want to focus on what Murdoch thinks - or says - he's going to do in order to improve the economic performance of his media interests. It seems the main thing he's thinking about at the moment is legislation to protect his interests. I was a little shocked - as a blogger - to learn that he considers 'fair use' to be a "doctrine" rather than a principle of freedom of communication.

"Anything that takes peoples’ time and they enjoy ... everything is competition," Murdoch says. In other words, it's the eyeballs, stupid. He made a reference to the way the media landscape changed in the 1950s, when TV entered the arena of public information.

He also repeated elements of earlier communication, where he laments the fickle news consumer's propensity to simply click on the news they want, rather than spending time inside a news site where they can be exposed to more of the advertising that pays for news.

Murdoch says that a future paywall may not replicate the Wall Street Journal model - where some news is free but others is available only to subscribers - and may be up in front of all content on the website.

But he seems to be genuinely troubled by the Internet model of free communication, and he's decided that he's had enough.

"Is this the biggest change you’ve seen?" "Probably," says Murdoch. "But we’ve had a lot of things. In the 50s we had the arrival of TV." The advent of TV, he says, led to a monopolistic newspaper in each city. Each city could only afford a single newspaper because so much of the advertising revenue moved to TV at the time.

But Murdoch also says that he's not against the Internet.

"I love the news business. Contacting, communicating with people. I don’t mind if it’s on TV, on radio, newspapers, the Internet."

As long as he can make money from it.

"It sounds from that like the hard-copy newspaper will disappear," says the reporter. "Not for twenty years. It’s a generational thing," says Murdoch.

The reporter pointed to the words coming recently from Mark Scott, head of Australia's publicly-funded broadcaster, the ABC: Mainstream media is "An empire in decline."

"I think the ABC – I’m not attacking it," says Murdoch. "The BBC is a scandal. Everybody in the UK is compelled to pay 150 pounds a year. I think public broadcasting should be high quality. That I don’t mind."

This seems to be very similar to what James Murdoch said a couple of months ago in Edinburgh. You attack the BBC by implying that its journalism isn't high-quality. As though only a private company can provide high-quality news.

"We’ll be suing them for copyright," says Murdoch. "They’ll have to spend a lot more money on a lot more reporters. They know the law. They’ll adapt."

The reporter changed tack to cover News Ltd's other major interest, in cinema. "If newspapers are going to disappear, what about the big screen?" "There’s big screens coming into peoples’ homes. In a couple of years, there’ll be 3D."

"There’s a constant war and vilgilancy in the entertainment industry about piracy. Look what happened to the music industry," says Murdoch. He points to the recently-introduced French law for media, which don't pay for content that they broadcast, to be subject to a three-strikes rule.

Background from cNet:

France has adopted a strong antipiracy law, one that may mean those who chronically share unauthorized movies and music online will lose Web access for up to a year.

France's top constitutional court approved a revised plan to penalize those accused multiple times of infringing intellectual property, according to a report published Thursday in The New York Times.

In the spring, the court rejected an earlier version of the law.

Dan Glickman, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, applauded the French court's decision.

"And there’s a lot of movement to have that standard in the US," says Murdoch.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Day two of Media140 with Jay Rosen, a big name in the twitterverse, and a peep I follow and frequently retweet. He’s always got interesting things coming online.

Online viewers number 132.

Atomisation has been overcome. Rosen recalls the 1976 movie ‘Network’ and says that the Internet is just as good for connecting a cause to other people as big media. Causes are connected horizontally to other people, not just up through the media. “The ability of people to connect horizontally ... just changes the situation a lot.”

One of the most important things journalists can do is try and reason with this situation. But the media is also still viable, so both directions apply.

Open systems don’t work like closed systems. Twitter is an open system. Anyone cannot sign up for the Sydney Morning Herald and its news staff. Disappointment will result if we expect open systems to behave like closed systems.

For example, checking and refinement happens after publishing in open systems. People in closed systems see chaos, but it’s just a different way of doing business.

Citizen journalism is when the constituency previously called the audience picks up the tools of publishing and uses them. They enter the press sphere even if they’re not members of the press.

There’s no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure. It’s useless to try to prevent people making media. It’s easy to make ‘content’ and people like doing it. We’re going to have more and more content. Not possible to stop or slow the process.

Behind the revolution in content production will come better ways of filtering the content. There’s Twitter and there’s ways to search Twitter. It isn’t a closed environment. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the flood of information – the real scarcity now is mindshare – we need to improve the filters. Filtering the best stuff to the front page is one of the most important ways journalists can operate.

Do what you do best and link to the rest. Every page on the Web is equidistant from every other page. Don’t duplicate what others are doing. It’s a principle of economies, also, not just the Web. It’s important for journalism organisations, too. A lot of content on MSM is redundant. Editorial producers need to link more, concentrate on speciality.

John Wannamaker said ‘Half the advertising I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” This is an inefficient system. Advertisers reach a lot of people who are not ready to buy. The system is limited by its ‘addressasbility’.

Now, we’re starting to focus on the wasted advertising, and eliminate inefficiencies. Price of advertising is dropping, as a result.

The nature of trust online is different from the way trust is built under a mass-media system. It is a more reliable way to generate trust, to tell people where you’re coming from. As opposed to claiming you’ve got no stake, you’ve got no interest. Objectivity is dead.

The view from nowhere is the old philosophy. It’s hard to generate trust by claiming that you have no perspective. It’s easier if you can explain where you’re coming from to people. Transparency is the new objectivity, in social media.

It’s not amateurs vs pros. It’s not old media vs new media. The holy war is a distraction. Hybrid forms will be the strongest forms. Rosen is looking for the people who can develop a pro-am approach. All innovation is going to be in hybrid forms.

Addition through subtraction – people who are not interesting in coming to terms with the new media landscape should just go home.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Media140’s live stream started in silence before sounds kicked in at about 8.50am (NSW time; all times given here will be NSW time). And what did we hear? A sound guy tests the mic over the top of some ambient music.

In the Twitter hashtag we learn about all the peeps converging on the event – by taxi, by bus, on the elevator, down the stairs – and also plaintive tweets from some who are unable to attend.

Wish I was headed to #media140 today. Will have to geek up double hard tomorrow. - @neilwrites

oh no, so many emails this morning and so behind schedule for #media140 hope I don't miss much! - @ suzieis

Arrived at the #media140 centre of the universe at ABC Sydney. The coffee is a lifesaverlp - @ derekbarry

Ok...off we go...my commute to #media140 is short. 14 floors. Speaking at 9.10 http://bit.ly/qI2Fq - @abcmarkscott

‘The autumn leaves drift by my window/The autumn leaves of red and gold/I see your face like summer kisses/Since you went away the days grow long/And soon I’ll hear a ... /But I miss you most my darling/ When they start to fall ...’

Mood music for the frazzled, 9am crowd busy chatting, getting-to-know, and slurping on cappuccinos.

Hashed events are a good way to find like-minded peeps, and follow them. I find there’re always a lot of follow-me-too exchanges during these events.

And at 9.05am the voice starts up at Eugene Goosens Hall, in Ultimo. Fran Kelly, host of the conference, introduces Andy Gregson at 9.10am – he’s a Brit!

A phone call from a friend stopped me listening to Mark Scott, the opening speaker, but I maximised the benefit of my time away by eating a banana. Scott makes lots of noises about commitment to social media, widgets, tax-payers and free access. “Getting the content out to the audience in a form they want, where they want it.”

Online viewer count: 221.

Scott takes questions, including one suggesting putting the Twitter feed at the back of the studio during the ABC’s popular talk program, Q&A.

At 10am Julie Posetti gets up and slams old media – “fiddling while Rome burns”, “bent on controlling”, “sloppy journalism that bordered on propaganda” – and says that anyone can call themselves a journalist. But “credibility will be critical ...”

‘Objectivity’ – SLAM. ‘Trench warfare’ – SLAM. ‘Hamstrung by fear’ – SLAM.

Posetti has been “formally” studying social media and journalism for eight months, and her Twitter summary here (the rising power of social media is a news “cliché”) reflects her work, establishes her credentials.

‘A lot of ignorance and arrogance’ – SLAM. ‘Isn’t Twitter just a platform for narcissism and banality?’ – SLAM.

Twitter is a publication platform, Posetti asserts. Correct.

The biggest detractors among the journalists who have interviewed Posetti in recent months are not on Twitter, she says.

Posetti says Twitter is not a replacement for long-form and investigative journalism. It’s “one of the new essential tools” in the journalist’s “kitbag”. It is a “live contact book”, too. “Journalism is a conversation” and intelligent conversations are happening on Twitter between journalists and sources.

“Journalists are making profitable connections” and are “broadening their horizons”.

All of this is true and needs to be said, but I’m thinking that I want stories. I want the colour and the texture of real activities being undertaken in this new “public space”.

“Accuracy and verification are the antidotes to an overdose on speed.”

‘Trafigura’ – SLAM. ‘Democracy’ – SLAM.

10.40am – 289 online viewers.

Julie Posetti : ‘Objectivity’ – SLAM. Fran Kelly: “Is journalism a profession or a practice?” “What is the fact-checking mechanism?”

More phone calls.

11.55am – 344 online viewers.

Paul Cutler, head of news at SBS gave an interesting talk but, as usual, I had to wait until the name appeared in the twitterstream before I knew who it was speaking. Online video stream #Fail.

FFS Twitter is not journalism, it's a circle jerk to see who gets some gossip of the latest cause célèbre. #media140 - @jonoabroad (Jonathan Ferguson; ‘geek living in Sydney’).

Dr Jason Wilson from Wollongong University speaks. Rhetoric around Twitter resembles what has greeted all new media technologies that have ever appeared. And the “Twitter user base is not as inclusive as we like to think”, so the idea of Twitter ‘democratising’ the media is not a given. Some people are excluded, poor Iranian farmers who support Ahmedinejad, for example.

Camera gets stuck on Jason Wilson, who drinks from his water bottle repeatedly. Poor guy!

Two “very quick questions” come from a New Zealand academic. Hang on, these are not quick questions!

Malcolm Turnbull joins Fran Kelly at 12.30pm (388 viewers). Does he do all his own tweeting? Tommy Tudehope, an assistant, does some of his tweeting, he says. He has 50,000 people on an email list, which he says is one of the biggest ones around. He responds to hundreds of emails each week but doesn’t do a lot of one-to-one correspondence on Twitter.

Essentially, Turnbull uses Twitter as a tool of political communication. He doesn’t tweet personal things. Turnbull has a sense of humour!

Are journalists engaging with Turnbull via Twitter? Hmm, we don’t get a very good answer to this question. Yes, Malcolm, of course all journalists live somewhere and therefore are someone’s constituent.

Politicians are the quarry, journalists are the hunters. Twitter correspondence: “An online press conference.” “Better off pre-advertising it so a lot of people can be aware.” Control the message – this is what he means.

Twitter partly about going over the heads of journalists, Turnbull admits. He says Twitter is only the medium, not the message. “The critical thing, though, is the message.” Yawn.

Anyone can be a broadcaster, he thinks. He quotes Murdoch: “The Internet will destroy more profitable businesses than it creates.” I ask a question (that doesn’t get asked): Anyone can be broadcaster, but not all have leisure (money) to investigate. Costs to be a journalist.

Would love the hear the answer to this one from – if not Turnbull, then some panellist today or tomorrow.

Consistency is vitally important, says Turnbull; you need to publish the same message on all platforms. “The message has to be consistent.” Controlling the message, again.

Turnbull doesn’t follow Kevin Rudd on Twitter. Surprise!

He says ‘discipline” again in the context of politics. Is politics, then, like the armed forces or a sports team? More control of messge.

1.10pm – 371 online viewers.

“I’m in the communication business.” “I’m a bit ambivalent about” Joe Hockey tweeting in Parliament. “I won’t cast judgement on others.” “It’s important for me to be very much focused on what’s happening in the House.” “We’re only limited by our technological imagination.” So many ‘killer apps’ “just died”.

His guiding star for what works on the Internet? OK, he thinks, time to control the message. “People want freedom, they want more choice.” 17,000 people following Turnbull on Twitter. He went over the friend limit in Facebook, so moved to a fan page.

As Fran Kelly says, it’s pretty decent of Turnbull to turn up to a social media gabfest. But nothing really stretched him. It’s not that he looked too ‘at-ease’, just that he managed to easily sidestep the (very) few curly questions coming from the audience.

Lunch – one hour.

What do I remember most about this morning?

Someone – one of the panellists – said something like ‘We can’t have a journalist sitting out in the back room working on a story for three months – and failing.” Translation: we can’t afford to do a lot of investigative journalism, because it’s expensive and doesn’t pay its way.

This implies that newspapers routinely ‘fill’ space with ‘easy’ journalism that ‘does the job’ or is ‘good enough’ but which doesn’t ask tough questions. Are newspapers afraid of making enemies or are they just too concerned – for our good – about the cost of copy. Fewer journalists = overworked as they try to fill the ‘hole’= less time spent researching stories.

Back from lunch – Julian Morrow, ex-Chaser lead, announced prizewinners.

More phone calls.

Caroline Overington: Fairfax is “in a shocking state”. Overington works for Fairfax competitor, News Ltd.

More phone calls.

Chris Warren @mediaalliance: ethical journalism has always been a fundamental struggle. #media140 (@pinglo Thinking social media for Aunty ABC. These ramblings are mine & not those of the ABC.)

Future of journalists as curators, sifters and researchers, rather than creators of content...? #media140 (via @acatinatree) @burntsugar (tweet from @RSColley; IT Trainer. IT student.; Melbourne)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

If you were with a Chinese person and this came up, how amused would your companion be? If they laughed, did it sound genuine or artificial? Did the conversation suddenly flag? Or did your interlocutor raise any of the - no doubt - thousands of cases in her culture where Western tropes are cause for hilarity?

To what extent does casual humour that brings attention to cultural characteristics add to or minimise the ongoing problem of racism?


Now, I've been guilty of this type of humour in the past. I even went so far, in the 90s when I lived in Japan, to send a photo showing the sign of a women's hair salon, to The Far Eastern Economic Review. I haven't seen or heard of FEAR for a good ten years. But I remember when Nuri Vittachi - who has been more recently involved in international literary prizes - ran a weekly column that brought our attention to the unwitting bloopers that occur at the cross-roads of the world's two dominant cultural highways.

It's due to the dominance of the Western ethos in the world. A store, like this one, that aspires to possess cachet will probably turn to writing its signage in Roman letters. A Chinese-language sign projects a lower tone. Asians aspire to the success of the West.

The person who sent this to me is a liberal mother-of-two who works in a library in New York. She recently became involved in blogging for a women's literature website, a fact of which she is deservedly proud. She's also enthusiastically web-connected, and I initially met her online when I was setting up an electronic library catalogue in 2006.

So when this arrived in my email inbox, I took it with a grain of salt.

Yet it points to the ease with which we make assumptions based on ethnicity. Recent studies conducted in Australia found that having a Western name is absolutely, positively an advantage when looking for paid employment. Statistics like this make me frown on my correspondent's email message.

We all need to examine why this is so funny before we let out that guffaw or even before we acquiesce to that pleasant sensation which derives from a feeling of superiority. It's a very small world we live in, today, and we need to be careful that what emanates from our private space is suitable for a very mixed company of neighbours.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

There are several different kinds of retweet (RT) used in Twitter and the software appliations - such as TweetDeck and HootSuite - that have emerged in the wake of the service's surge this year to broad popularity. I've decided to classify retweets here.

If you were to ask me when RTs first started to appear, I couldn't tell you. The story is there to learn, however, and one day maybe I'll find out and write about it. But I do remember that RTs began to be used by users without any prompting from Twitter. Like a lot of web innovations, it just happened to become a convention.

So what is a RT? It's when another person, who sees and likes a tweet you made, repeats the tweet with or without modification. Because a different set of people follow the other person, the benefit to the person who wrote the initial tweet is that a lot of new eyes will read his or her words. This can lead to new 'follows'.

And getting 'follows' is a main part of what motivates people who use Twitter.

So RTs are a method of dissemination of information. If the initial tweet contains a link to other content, and that content is interesting or unique, you can get a cascade effect, whereby several people RT the tweet.

So, to the matter at hand then.

RT 'simple'

The RT 'simple' is a simple RT without any modification or added comment. It's an easy concept to grasp, so I'll just give an example:

RT @macloo: Seeking tips to teach storytelling - NOT reporting - for journalism. Pls. help w/ links. Pls. RT.

It's not immediately obvious from looking at this example that no modification at all took place. I simply RT'd because the tweet was short enough that no trimming was required. Trimming may be required, since RTing adds the tag of the tweet's initiator, which consumes characters. With a maximum limit of 140 characters, some simple RTs need to be trimmed or edited for brevity.

RT 'qualified'

A 'qualified' RT is one where you've added some text - usually at the head of the RT - to comment on it before tweeting it out to the world. In other words, you've qualified the RT. Again, it's not a difficult concept to grasp, so I'll straight away insert an example:

Could be worked into a great feature story. RT @CharlieBeckett: Is Social Media Enterprise Changing China's Politics? http://bit.ly/JCm2n

In a qualified RT the initial tweet may have been - in fact most probably has been - edited for brevity, to fit the 140-character limit.

In the case shown here, I've simply added a few words with my ideas about the content contained in the link appended to the tweet. But I made sure to conserve part of the original tweet along with the link and, of course, the tag of the originator.

RT 'modified'

RTing is a type of publishing, and so you want to be careful that you do not associate yourself with content you disagree with or otherwise object to. For this reason, the 'modified' RT comprises a complete rewrite.

You need to include the link contained in the original tweet, and you also want to make sure you acknowledge where it comes from, but you just don't like the text that was associated with it. Maybe it was stupid - in your eyes - or maybe it was simply not accurate. You decide what you tweet. Here's an example:

Editorial laments print media's crisis, deplores quality of language in social media http://j.mp/2dVqNA (via @jeffsonderman)

Here the tag of the tweet's originator is still visible, but it's not at the head of the tweet any more, but at the tail. The verb 'via' is used to indicate the nature of the tweet, and the relationship of the person whose tag appears, to the tweet you have made. I use brackets, as shown here, but they are optional. Instead of 'via' you can employ a synonym such as 'from'.

RT 'radical'

This is dangerous territory. A 'radical' RT can come in different forms, but most commonly it is where you appear to make a simple RT but, in actual fact, you have heavily modified the original tweet's content. I'll insert an example as well as the follow-up to show how a radical RT can ruffle feathers.

Incidentally, a radical RT can be inadvertent. If you omit the tag of one person in a series of RTs using the same content, you can attract ire without even doing anything apart from not including a single tag.

What I want to show here, however, is something else entirely. Watch. First, the original RT from a person whose tag I will edit out here.

RT @Lynchy: Aussie TVC director Wayne Maule killed in Thailand-much admired and loved, another tragedy for the industry http://bit.ly/SgBGa

Then there's my radical RT:

Unfortunate phps. Regrettable, sure. But a tragedy? RT @###############: Aussie adman killed in Thai road accident http://bit.ly/SgBGa

It's a mixture of a qualified and a modified RT, with the added element of one of the originators' tags being removed. This mixture of elements caused the most-recent originator to object:

@matt_dasilva You've edited my retweet. It wasnt me that said that. If you RT, make sure you can still show where something originated eh?

Naturally, I apologised. But it goes to show that radical RTs can be problematic as they may be a surprise to the previous person involved in the chain of content publication. People are very aware of how they exist in Twitter, and any RT will certainly be noted by the originator.

I've put this summary of types of RTs together for my own benefit, and to further the process of description and classification that always occurs when a new phenomenon is observed. Twitter is a fascinating phenomenon, and there are more people every day who choose to participate and join the conversation.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tomorrow is Melbourne Cup day and they're not getting back to me. If they haven't got back to me by tomorrow, mid-morning, it's gonna mean waiting until Wednesday. The 'race that stops a nation', for those of you born outside Australia, is the major event in the horse-racing calendar here.

At workplaces everywhere, staff congregate near TV sets and drink beer, munch snacks, and chat until the winner is announced. Then they go home, because they're too drunk to work any more.

Apart from essential services, that's the scenario I'm facing as the clock on my wall chimes the end of the work-day.

I sent a bunch of emails yesterday - Sunday - for stories I'm working on. Then there's that email sent on Saturday and the guy in Melbourne I spoke to on Friday who promised he'd send me a list of contacts for another story. It all adds up. Journalists are always waiting, it seems, for someone to return their call, reply to their email, or otherwise acknowledge that they exist.

Are we so hateful? Is there an as-yet-undiscovered genetic marker that predisposes individuals living in advanced economies to distrust those who uphold the very democracy they depend on for their happiness and security?

Add this paucity of considerate correspondents to the problems I'm having with Facebook, and you can understand why I'm slightly disgruntled.

I sent yet another missive to Facebook today. I don't know if anything has changed on that front, as I haven't attempted to change my password (again) today. There doesn't seem to be much point to it until some sign emerges from the crusty depths of cyberspace to tell me 'All is now OK'.

Until that happens, I'm going to sit tight and wait. Meanwhile, there are criminals out there who have evil designs on my data. Absent access to Facebook, I spent several hours yesterday and today updating my website. Go and look, but don't laugh. It may look odd, but it's taken me two years to get this far.

I put two loads of washing out to dry this morning. At least I achieved something today.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Day two of my Facebook hack saga opened with further attempts to neutralise the foe. Wishful thinking! So far, the enemy has succeeded in maintaining its forward position and has infiltrated elements behind my lines of defence. But I have co-opted a new ally thanks to advice from my geeky brother, who thinks that Internet Explorer is the cause of many problems online because it is especially vulnerable to attacks.

In Firefox, you can sometimes see provenance information about the site you're looking at. At the head of the URL field, you might see a label that changes colour depending on the reliability of the page being viewed. A green label is the best, it seems. A blue label indicates uncertainty about the page's reliability.

Because of the label, I started to pay close attention to the URLs being displayed in my browser. Matching the type of URL with the content of the Profile page being displayed has enabled me to gauge whether my real Profile page is showing, or a fake Profile page being served by the hackers.

By paying attention to the URLs, rather than just assuming that a plausible Facebook page is displayed, I think I have at least been able to change my password in the authentic Facebook. Having done this, I made sure that I didn't do anything to again give the hackers access to personal details.

For example, after changing the password I received a Facebook message from "John Ryan" to "the members of Network Marketing - How to Build Online", which is definitely something that I have never subscribed to or followed or become a fan of. The message contains a link to a video. I deleted the message without even opening it, because this is clearly a hack attempt.

But there are so many of these. Some are more obvious than others, such as some among the multiple login screens that can appear when you're suddenly logged out (or 'timed out') of Facebook. The suspect login screens have pink labels and too many fields. You can also check the URLs at this point. Even better, just click away from the page. Then go to Google and return to the real Facebook and try logging in at the page that appears in your browser.

Notifying Facebook of the hack - which I did (again) today - can generate some unexpected results, too. And 'unexpected' can mean inauthentic and therefore dangerous.

When I filled out the hack report screen, an email arrived with 'Re: My Account Has Been Hacked' is the subject line. The email contains some unexpected things, one of which is that you should reply to the email confirming some requested information. This sounds suspect.

If you have not done so already, please attempt to reset the password to your account by selecting the "Forgot your password?" link that appears above the Password field. Entering the email address you use to log in to Facebook on the next page will cause a new password to be sent to that address.

If you still cannot access your account or you believe that your account is still compromised, please reply to this email to verify that you are the owner of the hacked account that you referenced in your Facebook support inquiry. Please also confirm that you own the email address from which you are currently writing and that it is not associated with an existing Facebook account. This security step must be completed before Facebook can assist you further.

In the meantime, do not create another account using this or any other email address. Doing so may increase the time needed to resolve the issue.

Finally, please provide a brief description of the issue you are experiencing. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

You can be sure that, after reading this begging message, I did NOT try to reset my password. It may be that the scammers, finding themselves locked out of my account, are working on new ways to again get access.

OK, so I've sent my hack report and decided to avoid Facebook until the genuine administrators in Palo Alto resolve the problem. Just imagine that, at this point, I return to Facebook. Here's the URL I see:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home

Not sure? Me neither. Just to experiment with this a bit more, let's click on the Profile link at the top of the Home page. I get this:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/matthewdasilva?ref=profile

Seem strange to you, too? I thought that my Profile page URL should be:

http://www.facebook.com/matthewdasilva/

You see? You can't trust these pages. I can't say, right now and with my palpitating heart covered by a hand trembling with righteous anger, whether I'll entirely avoid Facebook until the mess is cleaned up. What I can say for sure is that I'll watch very closely where I put my login details, in future.