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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Typecast

Cast your mind back 17 years. A Reuters journalist prepared a report on the jobs data. loaded his script on the autocue, turned on his TV lights, positioned the ISDN camera, loaded his DIY graphics and went live to air on a digital feed to Tokyo. Afterwards, he wrote 800 words for the wire, recorded and cut a radio interview and turned around a 2-minute package for conventional TV.

Yes, that ‘multimedia’ journalist was me, which is why I’m surprised to read that “everything has changed” in the last 10 years and an entire new skillset is now required of journalists. Writing quick updates for the web is a huge imposition, it seems, and a radical departure from what came before.

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Burying the Lead

Much of the discussion around the future of mainstream media journalism is about money. Who’s going to pay the journos’ salaries? What’s a viable business model? Will the revenue generated by the erection of paywalls be sufficient to make up for the loss of audiences?

ABC Radio’s Saturday Extra took that angle recently, in an item entitled ‘Newspapers and the Media of the Future’. Norman Swan, standing in for regular host Geraldine Doogue, explored the issue with a single guest – Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy, a representative of the advertising buyers. Continue reading

Convergence or Submergence?

The history of media regulation in Australia is one of the communications bureaucracy playing a no-win game of catch-up with technology. Just as a regulatory regime is nailed down, another revolutionary distribution mechanism appears out of nowhere and rips up the floorboards again.

The final report of the government’s Convergence Review is an attempt to future-proof the rules for a digital age in which standalone notions of print vs broadcasting have been rendered obsolete by technology that allows media to deliver text, audio, and video over wired and wireless connections.

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Nowhere Man

One of the shorthand criticisms of the internet by the mainstream media is that it is almost wholly populated by paranoiacs, single-issue fanatics, stalkers and sundry geeks. Thank God, they say, for the reasoned professionals in the nation’s newsrooms.

Given what the internet (and bad management) has done to the legacy media business, it’s understandable that some journalists are defensive about ventures outside the mainstream. Continue reading

Blogalism

A US court’s $2.5 million ruling against a blogger for defaming a businessman has sparked a flurry of new attempts to define journalism in relation to blogging. My view on what constitutes journalism is similar to what someone once said about por**graphy – I know it when I see it.

While this won’t help the judges, you can be certain that earnest attempts to define a journalist in legal terms will lead to nothing but confusion. The Americans, with their black letter law pedantry, just love debates of this kind because it keeps much of the legal profession in business.
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I’ve Seen That Movie Too

As the ABC mulls the falling ratings for its flagship 730 current affairs show, it might want to consider whether the problem isn’t so much the presenter or the physical set or the stories – but the conventional television narratives that have become so hackneyed that no-one can be bothered paying attention anymore.
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Fast and Fatuous

The first the Australian public heard of the now infamous Say Yes television advertisement on climate change action was when The Sunday Telegraph told its readers that “Carbon Cate” Blanchett had “sparked outrage in the community” by fronting a campaign that no-one had actually seen at that point. Continue reading

Noise Vs Signal

First it was the nightly weather, then the finance report and now it’s politics. There is a creeping conspiracy in television news of people standing in front of charts, taking the daily temperature – of meteorology, of markets and of members of parliament – and trying to persuade us that it all means something. Continue reading

Enclosing the Digital Commons

The great showdown between Rupert Murdoch’sĀ global media interestsĀ and public broadcasters looks set to intensify as the News empire joins forces with Apple in launching the world’s first iPad newspaper.

The $30 million tablet-only publication The Daily, whose launch has been postponed a few days from the scheduled date of January 19 while subscription software details are sorted, is being sold as the possible saviour of mainstream media journalism after more than a decade of decline. Continue reading