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Live and kicking

Posted February 9th, 2010 by debritz

When is live not live? When it's on television and on delay, of course. It's something we in Queensland put up with every summer, when "live" shows from Sydney and Melbourne are, in fact, an hour old. So what's the big deal? Well, last night a lot of my Twitter friends were furiously tweeting for an hour about the ABC's Q&A program, featuring Kevin Rudd answering questions in Old Parliament House, Canberra. Meanwhile, Four Corners and Media Watch were playing on ABC TV here in Brisbane. After that, a promo came on with Q&A host Tony Jones announcing that the program would soon be coming up "live". If we're not going to win the battle on daylight saving in Queensland, at least we should be able to watch "live" programs as they happening - especially if we want to join in real-time debate and commentary online.

Bigger's not necessarily better

Posted February 4th, 2010 by debritz

The Telegraph in the UK is reportedly moving away from chasing more and more hits. Media Guardian quotes the Telegraph Media Group's digital editor, Edward Roussel, as saying:

The big focus for us now is yielding a sustainable business model. Rather than focusing relentlessly on the aggregated numbers of unique users and page impressions, we are now looking more at channels.

The Telegraph's mantra, apparently, is "content, commerce and clubs".

Murdoch's strange love of newspapers

Posted February 4th, 2010 by debritz

"How Rupert quit worrying and learned to love the iPad" is the title of this opinion piece by the ABC's Media Watch host, Johnathan Holmes. He says the big issue in media this year "will be whether the so-called heritage media - and especially those substantial bits of it owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation - will start charging for content online, and if so, how". But, as Holmes points out, when Apple boss Steve Jobs launched the iPad, it was with an app designed for the New York Times, not part of the Murdoch empire - although News Corp was very quick subsequently to jump on the iPad bandwagon. Drawing on Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff, Holmes argues that Murdoch's apparent strategy is flawed. News Corp, he says, wants to sell an electronic newspaper compiled by his journalists and editors to an audience that has already become too used to setting its own news agenda. And, of course, he wants to sell news to people who are accustomed to getting it for free. I guess the question is, will Murdoch - who has survived and prospered longer in the cut-throat media world than anybody in modern times - prevail again, or will he ride that bomb towards extinction?

A legal matter

Posted February 2nd, 2010 by debritz

A man - who I won't name for reasons that will soon become obvious - has appeared in a Brisbane court. The same man appeared in court many years ago. Briefly, Brisbane's two major internet news sites mentioned the man's "prior" before realising that to do so was prejudicial to his right to the presumption of innocence and, consequently, to a fair trial. They would also have been aware that publication of the information could be a breach of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The ABC television news and the print edition of The Courier-Mail's coverage of the story was limited to the matters now before the court. However, at least one commercial television news service either deliberately decided to flout the law, or its reporter and editors were unaware of the law, and details of the man's previous conviction were broadcast. Astounding.

Expect more

Posted February 2nd, 2010 by debritz

I heard a story recently about a police officer who pulled up a taxi driver for a minor traffic offence. The cabby pleaded with the cop: "Give me a break. I'm driving all day, every day. I only crossed a double line, it’s not so serious – and I can’t afford to lose any more points." The policeman looked him in the eye and said: “No, you don’t deserve a break. You’re a professional driver; this is what you do for a living. And if you can’t do it properly, you don't deserve to have a licence.” Harsh? Well, maybe. But what if the cab driver in question was a repeat offender who used that excuse every time, and often got away with it? It would mean there’s a dangerous driver on the road. And if the police routinely cut cabbies, truckers and other fulltime drivers some slack, the roads would be full of people who drove as if they had immunity from the law. Now, to the not-so-life-threatening business of journalism ... I’m sad to report that an increasing number of people in my profession are just like that taxi driver: they believe the rules don't apply to them. I’ve done lots of jobs in newspapers, and I’ve worked in the electronic and online media, and I’ve met quite a few cowboys and girls in my time. Now, with resources becoming scarcer, it’s time to weed them out. I’m not talking about the people who make the occasional mistake – we all do that, so please don’t comb through my blog to shove my unedited errors in my face – I’m talking about the people who demonstrate no professionalism whatsoever in undertaking the job they are paid to do. At one prestigious newspaper I could but won’t name, there’s a specialist writer who can’t spell the names of the people involved in the industry he (or maybe it’s she) writes about. The bosses laugh it off as if it doesn’t matter because it’s “the subs’ job” to fix it up. Another person I’ve dealt with blithely ignores deadlines, despite having a small workload and a round where late-breaking news is very much the exception. “Don’t worry,” these slackers seem to be saying, “the subs will just work harder to get it through. Oh, yeah, and I’ll make sure I fire off a complaint when they make a mistake even if I file my last copy more than an hour after the page is supposed to be complete.” Oh, and in case you’re an indignant reporter reading this, there are more than a few slack sub-editors, too. But because jobs – especially subbing jobs – are being cut across the board in journalism, everybody has to lift their game. If you’re in a round, the absolute minimum requirement is being able to spell the names of the people you’re writing about. If you can’t do that, how can anybody trust the other “facts” in the story? If you have a deadline, you stick to it. Preferably, you beat it wherever possible. If journalists want respect – and if they want secure jobs – they have to start behaving in a professional manner. The vast majority of my friends in the media do their job very well, but many of them are moving on. They are retiring, or they are taking up jobs in government and commercial PR. It would be easy for their bosses to replace them with cheap workers who aren’t very good – but that would be a false economy. What I believe should be happening is that the onus for accuracy is put on the shoulders of those who originate the copy, not those who have to handle it down the track and often don’t have access to the first-hand sources of information. This will speed-up the production process and lead to savings all around. If a mistake is made, it is worn by the person who made the error and corrected as soon as possible. Only when journalists are prepared to “own” their work, rather than palm off irritants like spelling and grammar and accuracy, will they be able to distinguish themselves sufficiently from the bloggers and enthusiasts who are threatening the viability of professional media. The punters don’t care what school you went to, who you know or who designed your outfit, they just want to read, and hear and see news and comment that informs and entertains – and is trustworthy and reliable. The time-wasters and amateurs will, hopefully, fade away, but the people who do the job properly and are willing to adapt their working practices will thrive whatever “delivery platform” they end up working on.

Guerilla marketing

Posted February 1st, 2010 by debritz

Especially for those of us who loved Trigger Happy TV, Dom Joly has created this topical take on his most famous skit:

HELLO! - watch more funny videos

Not so think as you dumb I am

Posted February 1st, 2010 by debritz

Are journos getting dumber? That's what Meshel Laurie asks on her blog. The Nova 106.9 breakfast host and standup comic uses an example from where the expression "may of" is used instead of "may have". It's a subject I've addressed a few times in this blog and, to be fair, it's not just the newspaper and online journalists whose standards are apparently slipping. The quality of TV and radio journalism, especially on the commercial stations, is often comically appalling. Here are some of the mistakes that irritate me the most:
+ Confusing "deny" with "refute". One means to simply gainsay, the other is to prove something incorrect.
+ Writing or saying "try and" instead of "try to".
+ Using degrees of "uniqueness". Something is either unique or it isn't.
+ Dangling participles and other errors of syntax that attribute an action or quality to the wrong person or thing. For example: "Having killed the woman, pollice then chased her husband to an alley, where he turned his gun on himself." I'd like a dollar for everytime I've heard this kind of construction on the television news.
Standard escape clause: unlike the professional media, this blog is not sub-edited and is written, often hastily, by me in my own time. May contain mistakes. Headline contains deliberate error.

New look for ABC sites

Posted January 31st, 2010 by debritz

The ABC is promising a new look for its local websites, with the promise that they will "be brighter and easier to read, and the content you want will be easier to find". There's more here.

Cracking us up

Posted January 31st, 2010 by debritz

Mumbrella reports that Macquarie Radio Network is launching a DAB+ comedy channel called The Crack in Sydney. It seems like a logical way to use some of the additional digital spectrum that comes with its 2GB and 2CH licences, but it remains to be seen (heard?) whether advertisers will embrace it. But, wait there's more. The good news for those of us not in Sydney is that you can hear it online - here, at a website that also invites comedians to send in their best material for possible broadcast. Sounds like a win-win to me.
PS: Perhaps 4KQ, 4BC or 4BH could consider a digital comedy channel in Brisbane.

iPad, youPad, will we allPad?

Posted January 28th, 2010 by debritz

Will you buy an iPad to read iBooks, or download iApps or iTunes? Steve Jobs is hoping so and, although there are plenty of naysayers on Twitter and elsewhere today, this looks like being yet another smash hit for Apple. Will I get one? Well, like many others, I'm waiting to hear the Australian pricing ... If I have to buy a mobile internet plan, I'd want it to include unlimited downloads and cover my mobile phone as well.
PS: The official iPad video is here.
PPS: Here's John Birmingham's take on it.
Update: And Stephen Fry, who was at the launch, has this to say.

Paywalls: food for thought

Posted January 27th, 2010 by debritz

According to this New York Observer report, the Long Island daily Newsday spent US$4 million relaunching its website and putting it behind a paywall. After three months, only 35 people have so far paid the US$260 annual fee for unlimited access to the site.

The pain in "reign"

Posted January 27th, 2010 by debritz

I just read a wire story on a news website where the word "reign" was used when the entirely different word "rein" was meant. Now, of course, "Muphry's law" will almost certainly mean I make some sort of error in this post*, but I've got to say (and by that, I mean, write) I'm disappointed that mistakes like this are becoming increasingly common on professional news websites where the copy ought to have been edited at least twice -- by the originating service and by the person posting the story online. The rein/reign distinction is one that every sub-editor ought to be across. Not everything on the web has to be wrong; especially if you're trying to build a credible, paid-for website in the face of free competition.
* And, as always, my excuse will be that I am writing and editing this myself, and I'm reading what I meant to write not what's actually there.

Not enough information

Posted January 26th, 2010 by debritz

A question for traditional media: is it wise to assume that all your audience is also connected to the internet? I was watching a clip from Channel Seven's Sunrise where viewers were advised to check the program's website for details of their guest's stage performances. Sure enough, the details were there, but the advice was not very helpful for people with no net access. Would it have been too much trouble to also scroll the dates and venues along the bottom of the screen?

Paywalls 'a hunch': Rusbridger

Posted January 26th, 2010 by debritz

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, says the push towards paywalls will remove the newspaper industry from the digital revolution. In the Hugh Cudlipp lecture (reported here in The Guardian), said paywalls were just a hunch and they could cut good journalism off from its audience. He attacked Rupert Murdoch, saying the media mogul who now backed paywalls had "flirted" with free newspapers and "ruthlessly cut the price of his papers to below cost in order to win audiences or drive out competition". He continued:

"If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world."

So, how then do newspapers provide free content online and still make enough to pay for the product they are producing? Well, The Guardian editor said it was too soon to write off digital advertising, adding that his "commercial colleagues ... can't presently see the benefits of choking off growth in return for the relatively modest sums we think we would get from universal charging for digital content. Last year we earned £25m from digital advertising – not enough to sustain the legacy print business, but not trivial. My commercial colleagues believe we would earn a fraction of that from any known pay wall model." You can read the full text of the speech here.

Brave new world

Posted January 25th, 2010 by debritz

In an article headed "End of the world as we know it" in The Australian, Robert Thomson examines the future of journalists and journalism. The Wall Street Journal managing editor is furthering News Corporation's arguments about the need for newspapers to charge for access to their online content, and in doing so he takes another shot at Google (not for "cornering the content market" but "over their attitude to advertising and advertisers"). Among many good points, Thomson identifies what I also think is the main challenge for practitioners of journalism:

Journalists have to be flexible, they have to understand that readers' lives have changed and that unless we are responsive to those changes, and tailor content for these new templates, journalists will have made themselves redundant.

I've said on many occasions that, as a consumer, I will pay for content as long as I think the content is worth paying for. However, it seems to me that only a few papers, The Wall Street Journal and The Australian among them*, are doing anything at all online that would tempt me to part with my hard-earned cash. As for the others, well ... exactly what their online strategy is I don't know, because the headline news, celeb rumours and galleries of underwear models that they seem to confuse with good journalism will always be available somewhere else for free. They should be in the business of providing something substantial that can't be had elsewhere - whether it be "hyper-local" news for their immediate community or groundbreaking investigative journalism that brings down governments.
(*The former, of course, already charges for some content and the latter will soon.)

Is The Oz going online only?

Posted January 23rd, 2010 by debritz

The big rumour doing the rounds in the Australian media biz is that The Australian, which was recently separated as a business unit from other News Ltd newspapers, will soon become an online-only, but still paid-for, product. For those of us who love newspapers, that would be a great shame, but it could guarantee the survival of the title in difficult times and prove to be a blueprint for other publications. And, as I've already speculated (here), the expected announcement of Apple's new tablet computer next week could provide the perfect delivery platform for internet newspapers.
PS: There's a thread on Twitter about newsagencies closing down in Brisbane -- a sad casualty of dropping sales of papers and magazines, and of rising retail rents.

It's just wrong ...

Posted January 20th, 2010 by debritz

The Times website,, is going to have to do a bit better than this if it hopes to start charging for content.

Never mind the ratings

Posted January 19th, 2010 by debritz

Yesterday, the Seven Network in Australia unveiled its online catch-up service. About the same time, a British broadcaster has written in Media Guardian that such services, plus time-shifting channels, are the ones to watch when it comes to measuring TV programs' true popularity. BBC Vision director Jana Bennett writes that we should not longer get excited just by the overnight veiwing figures but measure a show's popularity by taking into acccount how many people are seeking it out on catch-up services. An example in the UK is the Doctor Who Christmas special, which was "time-shifted" (i.e. recorded on a PVR and viewed later) by 2.6 million people and watched by 1.4 million on the BBC's catch-up service, the iPlayer. Bennett writes "gone are the days when a programme lives and dies by its overnights".
PS: Meanwhile, Channel 9 released figures, also yesterday, showing that its summer-holiday offerings out-rated Seven's and Ten's overall and in the age breakdowns.
Update: The Australian has a story on time-shifted programs (here) in which media buyers Mitchell and Partners' John Alderton (presumably not the bloke from Please Sir!) says they will ignore time-shifting when negotiating advertising prices.

Is big media finished?

Posted January 18th, 2010 by debritz

"The future is individual journalists, not big media."

So said Greg Hadfield in announcing his resignation as head of Telegraph Media Group's digital development during a keynote speech to a conference in the UK. Many in the media would agree with Hadfield's assessment - although probably not those running the big media companies. Roy Greenslade's story for Media Guardian is here.

Telstra bites tourists

Posted January 16th, 2010 by debritz

I just received an email from BT Openzone saying that "Telstra is unfortunately withdrawing its wireless hotspot service to roaming partners so you'll be unable to use this network in Australia." Presumably, the Australian carrier wants international roamers to sign up to its own, almost certainly more expensive, service. Give the genius who came up with that one a promotion!

A new Australian

Posted January 14th, 2010 by debritz

Update: Just a thought: I wonder if The Australian's announcement is in any way connected with Apple's expected launch on January 26 of a tablet computer that, among other things, will be an e-reader capable of displaying newspapers in a reader-friendly fashion?

Changes to the structure of News Ltd mean The Australian has become a separate business entity. As the paper itself reported:

The move will position The Australian for further growth in print and online, as well as through emerging digital platforms such as smartphones and electronic readers, at a time when the media group is looking to charge for online content.

I suppose The Australian is best positioned among the group's Australian mastheads to succeed as a paid online product, but there are still no guarantees that the strategy will work. It pains me to say that newspapers are dying but, as I have said before, I currently pay for subscription television, so if the right news product is offered online, I will probably pay for that. The real challenge is for the online "news" sites that currently derive most of their hits from constantly regurgitated gossip and pictures of Jennifer Hawkins/ Megan Fox/ [insert name of currently desirable supermodel or movie star here], which will always be offered for free by somebody somewhere.
PS: Part of the problem is that many people believe that by paying for internet access, they have already paid for the content. Changing that mindset will also be difficult.

Google takes a stand

Posted January 13th, 2010 by debritz

Google has said it is not willing to continue to censor its search results in China and may pull out of the country altogether. The official statement is here and is well worth reading.

A tale of two bloggers

Posted January 10th, 2010 by debritz

Will the real Andrew Bolt please stand up? Now I know there's an hilariously fake Bolt on Twitter, but it now seems even News Ltd doesn't know what the star columnist looks like. As I write, features a picture of Jack Marx where Bolt's head should be on its blogs index page. At least Bolt's direct employer, the Herald Sun, seems to have it right on his actual blog.
PS: also points to Marx's blog, even though the last entry is on December 19, 2008, where he announces he is "going to take my leave of these happy pages for an extended period".

The Australian way

Posted January 5th, 2010 by debritz

This is very exciting. Australian media is now reporting the arts like it reports sport -- i.e. telling us that the Aussie lost before telling us who actually won. Here's how reported the result of the Costa poetry prize (and yes, they did leave off the "d" on award in the headline):

Commisserations to Clive James, who didn't win, and congratulations to Christopher Reid, who did.

Spot the mistake

Posted January 1st, 2010 by debritz

The boy involved in this story committed a terrible crime, but he's not a killer, the headline writer turned him into one.

Van Morrison, hoaxbuster

Posted January 1st, 2010 by debritz

Van Morrison has denied reports that he has fathered a child with a woman called Gigi Lee. He says he has never heard of her and is "very happily married to Michelle Morrison, with whom, I have two wonderful children". Many news outlets, including the BBC, took the story as fact, but Van the man says somebody hacked his website and planted "falsheoods" there. Another example, then, of "news" travelling just a little too fast in the internet age.
PS: Oh, and happy new year.

Oh, what a year it will be

Posted December 30th, 2009 by debritz

So you think you've got nothing to look forward to? Think again. According to various sources, 2010 will be the:
+ year of the Girl Guide (Australia);
+ year of the tiger (Chinese astrology);
+ international year of biodiversity (UN);
+ international year of the nurse (UN);
+ year of tablet computer (or, according to other geek sources, the Linux desktop, the smartphone, the flat-screen TV, cloud computing, mobile phones, better Xbox 360 games, the AMD Opteron or the e-book);
+ year we make contact (blurb for the 1984 film 2010);
+ year of the community manager;
+ international year for the approchement of cultures (Unesco);
+ year of the magazines (Media Guardian);
+ year of the Inuit (Canada);
+ year of the seafarer (International Maritime Organization);
+ year of the lung (Forum of International Respiratory Societies);
+ year of great consequences (Pravda);
+ year of severe economic contraction (Global Research);
+ year of the fertilizer bargain (;
+ year of the Bible (US Republican Party); and the
+ 52nd year of the revolution (Cuba)

Pot and kettle ...

Posted December 30th, 2009 by debritz

It seems hit the wrong note with this story criticising "the younger generation" for using their mobile phones to filming a burning car in which two girls died. As many of the commenters point out, it's a bit hypocrtical of anyone in the news media to criticise others for filming a newsworthy event. And, of course, in commoin with other websites, often solicits readers' photos and videos.

A gem from the web

Posted December 26th, 2009 by debritz

The Making of the Avatar Bootleg. The title doesn't quite say it all.

Another newspaper closure

Posted December 22nd, 2009 by debritz

It's not been a good year for newspapers, especially in America -- and this week has brought more bad news. The Washington Times, which has already announced plans to sack at least 40 per cent of its staff, will close its Sunday edition, becoming a five-day-a-week publication. Several rumours have been swirling around about the paper's future, including a suggestion that it will axe its sport coverage altogether by February. I love newspapers and, having been through and seen a few closures over the years, I hate it when they go to the wall. However, I think we'd be crazy to think it won't happen here again. I also think that the web products that replace newspapers won't necessarily copy their "inclusive" format. News websites are likely to be tailored to suit specific audiences rather than general readers, meaning many of the features we now expect to see -- yes, even sport -- will disappear from some titles altogether. Of course, this will create opportunities for other publishers, but many events and activities will be denied the mainstream coverage they now receive. The big fear is that news will become a popularity contest, and eventually only those stories guaranteed to receive a large number of page impressions will be written and published at all.

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