Last Ones Standing

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Photo by Nick Ryan, Fairfax

The slow-motion death of newspapers as a vehicle for quality journalism rolls on, with periodic announcements of new waves of redundancies prompting anger, soul-searching and recrimination.

For those of us who escaped the industry years ago, there are feelings of both relief that we got out when we did and sympathy for journalists laid off by companies who still appear clueless about how to make the business work in a digital age.

But while the journalists’ mass walkouts and calls for public solidarity are completely understandable, the market realities facing the industry that has sheltered them for long can’t be ignored.

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Approved Targets List

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One consequence of the death of the mainstream media’s business model and the commodification of news is a corresponding increased reliance on provocative commentary that generates page impressions.

News Corp’s Andrew Bolt is the poster child for the success of professional trollery as a revenue generator and brand differentiator. He has clear targets, strong opinions  and he succinctly expresses them. He has a fiercely loyal audience and equally fierce enemies who despise him with similar force. Bolt is now parlaying this approach of calculated outrage on commercial television. And good luck to him. Continue reading

Old Empires New Legacies

Journalism isn’t like any other business. And that’s because journalism isn’t a business at all.  The great newspaper empires now being dismantled in Australia and elsewhere were actually advertising businesses supporting cultural institutions.

Industrial era journalism was a craft subsidised by the advertising. When advertising separated from the newspapers, the journalism lost its subsidy. Now, companies like Fairfax Media are seeking to put a market value on journalism itself. Good luck with that. Continue reading

Shrink Wrapped

“Buy a slice of history!’ The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age flooded the streets with old fashioned paper boys and girls recently to exploit the novelty of these long established broadsheets making the transition to tabloid (‘compact’ in Fairfax-speak).

“The compact print edition launch is a significant moment in the history of Fairfax Media, enabling readers to engage with both mastheads in a more user-friendly print format,” the company quaintly trumpeted in a news release which hailed a “new era” in newspaper publishing. Continue reading

Safety in Numbers

The self-mythology of journalism is that its practitioners are dissidents, contrarians, professional sceptics and iconoclasts. But the behaviour of our media through the so-called AWU affair reveals an easily manipulated, compliant and cowardly press pack. Continue reading

Death Notices

Many journalists, while naturally inquisitive about the world, have a curious blind-spot about the economics driving the industry supporting their trade. If only the public would buy newspapers again, they say, the advertisers would return and the industry would be saved. Yes, and if only kids would stop downloading music online, record stores might reappear.
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Turning off the Noise

It was the great English journalist Walter Bagehot who said that an inability to stay quiet was one of mankind’s most conspicuous failings. The irony is that the only way of appreciating the wisdom of that observation is to turn off the noise for a while and see how it feels in contrast.

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The Forgotten ‘Poeple’

The Americans call them copy editors; the English and Antipodeans call them sub-editors. Whatever you call them, they are traditionally the most under-valued and under-appreciated people in journalism. And with Fairfax’s latest bout of self-mutilation, they take one step closer to extinction. Continue reading

That’s Entertainment (Revisited)

At what point does journalists’ dedication to ‘neutrality’ obscure their obligation to reveal the truth? My post about a public form about ‘false balance’ in reporting on climate science, run late last year, has sparked feedback from one of the quoted forum participants – the Sydney Morning Herald’s environment’s editor Ben Cubby. Ben’s complaint, and I quote him in full below, is that I had taken him out of context.

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