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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FEIJOA Awards 2013

What happens to media critics when the media disappears? Your blog host has lost count of the conversations he’s had this year with journalists seeking a way out of the smoking ruins of the old industrial word factories of the mainstream media.

Yes, Rupert’s cartoon sheets keep pushing on, but no-one of any integrity sees them as anything other than propaganda tools for the evil empire that is News Corporation. The shameless partisanship of their “news” coverage in the federal election certainly disqualifies much of their output as anything close to journalism.

But outside the fantasy factory, there was journalism to celebrate in 2013. And so with great fanfare (insert piccolo blast), these are the 3rd annual Failed Estate International Journalism Awards – the ‘FEIJOAs’. In the absence of the delicious and fragrant fruit, this sour old bugger grants you a smile. 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

Reinventing Journalism

It is a painful time for many journalists. Cast aside from the failing industry that used to provide them with a secure living, they are confused, frustrated and in some cases downright angry that society no longer seems to put a dollar value on the skills they worked so hard to perfect.

That the wounds of mass redundancies are still raw was rammed home to me last week when I took part in a panel at an inner Sydney hotel organised by the Public Interest Journalism Foundation (PJIF) to “share ideas and experiences around innovation in journalism”. 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

FEIJOA Awards, 2012

Good journalists are troublemakers. They ask questions that others feel too uncomfortable to ask. They ignore the spin and seek inspiration from something other than the prefabricated fodder that forms the foundation of 90% of the PR masquerading as news that you see in the media most days.

With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure to announce the second annual F.E.I.J.O.A  awards (The Failed Estate International Journalism Awards), sponsored by ________ (insert non-compromising and appropriate commercial enterprise here). 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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Reimagining Journalism

If you were starting a journalistic enterprise today, what would you do? You could sink $50 million into printing, marketing and distribution, hire 30 staff  and pray that Murdoch doesn’t destroy you before your credit runs dry. No thanks.

Or you could start from first principles, ask what journalism is for and go from here. For most of us who sought to make a living from this profession/craft/trade in the last few decades, it’s been about hitching our aspirations to a mainstream media company. But given the grim plight of industrial era journalism, that’s not a career move one would recommend to youngsters today. Continue reading

Going Analog

It is less than 20 years ago that the US financial news organisation I then worked for started asking journalists to put an email address at the bottom of every story. I remember snorting at the presumption that our readers were as nerdish as our tech-head editor in Washington.

Move on two decades and we find journalists doing the bulk of their work over the internet – through research, finding contacts, sourcing background, remote editing and doing interviews. Technology has transformed the craft from one-to-many publishing to many-to-many. But for all the ease that digital newsgathering has provided, there is still something to be said for getting out from behind the screen and into the analog world. Continue reading

The Mega Perspective

Good journalists still exist. It’s just that these days,with few exceptions, they tend to exist despite, rather than because of, the media organisations that employ them.

One is Laura Tingle, who continues to write penetrating and original analysis of politics. Another is George Megalogenis, whose sober, measured style and grasp of historical detail make him one of the few remaining reliable chroniclers of Australian political economy (and one of the few reasons, if any, to read The Australian).
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