Newspapers
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Newspapers

A job worth paying for

Posted April 4th, 2012 by debritz

My father, like his father, was a house painter. He wanted to be a teacher, but times were tough and he had to leave school at a young age to help support his family.

Still, he was a very wise man. He read widely in areas that interested him and he held strong opinions.

I remember him saying, about his own trade, that anyone could paint a house to suit himself, but not everyone could paint a house to the satisfaction of the people paying for it.

I'm a journalist, and I feel the same way about my own profession. Plenty of people can write but not everybody has the full set of skills a professional needs.

I think this approach to the craft is especially relevant at a time when the news media is desperately trying to reinvent itself in the digital age. In doing so, we must not forget our core skills.

When I tweet or blog about errors in spelling or syntax in media reports, I'm sometimes accused of being pedantic -- as if accuracy was no longer a prerequisite for the practice of journalism.

Recently, I've been having a minor rant on Twitter about journalists who misuse the word "allegedly". In news reports you will often hear or read about an "alleged robbery" when the reporter is referring to a robbery, pure and simple. What's alleged in the story is the identity of the person or persons who committed the crime.

If the court reporter and the sub-editor who handles his or her copy doesn't know how to use "allegedly" properly, then they don't know the law, they don't know the language, or they simply don't care. That is unacceptable.

I rail against people who confuse "deny" and "refute" -- words that have distinct meanings -- and those who believe there are degrees of uniqueness. Why? Because getting it wrong dilutes the power of the English language.

Oh, but language changes, I'm constantly told. Yes, but it should change to become more robust, not to become weaker. We should be adding words to the dictionary to make communication easier and more exact, not tweaking the meaning of existing words to the point where they lose potency and create confusion.

I'm by no means perfect. There are many errors on this blog, probably even in this post. But I'm working on my own here.

If professional news organisations can't leverage the huge resources and large staff they have to ensure that they get the basics right, how can they realistically hope to compete against the online aggregators and other cut-price operators?

The thing about being professional is that you do your job properly, you are acknowledged for it, and you get paid for it. Nobody's going to pay top dollar for a slap-dash paint job, and nobody should have to pay for consistently sloppy journalism.

When I point this out to other journalists, they say that budgets are tight and they can no longer afford the checks and balances that used to be put in place. I reckon that's a false economy that could ultimately lead to the demise of the established news media.

In the future, there'll be plenty of digital detritus but not a lot of solid, well-researched, well-written and well-edited journalism. What there is of any quality will be worth paying for, either directly or indirectly (through advertising).

It's my belief that, after a period of playing around with the amateurs, enough people will come back to the fold to make well-run professional news media organisations viable. But that's only if they are worth coming back to.

Guide to go?

Posted March 25th, 2012 by debritz

Back in the day when newspapers were king, one of the big circulation boosters for Sunday titles was the weekly television guide.

The insertion of the A4 TV Extra magazine, which listed the week ahead's programs spiced up with celebrity profiles and gossip, was a bold experiment that sent Brisbane's Sunday Sun soaring ahead of its competitor more than 30 years ago.

It also played a part in the launch of the Daily Sun and the subsequent News Ltd purchase of Queensland Newspapers.

Other papers followed suit, and now most Sunday papers in Australia still have a dedicated TV liftout.

But not for much longer, I'd wager. There is one sitting under the remote control on the coffee table in the lounge room now, but I doubt I'll be consulting it.

Why are these guides endangered species? Because they are expensive to produce and insert, and in the age of electronic program guides and the internet, they are not necessary. With their early deadlines -- up to five days before publication -- and the TV networks' renewed fondness for last-minute schedule changes, they are increasingly inaccurate.

On top of that, Sunday papers no longer have a stranglehold on "breaking" TV news; the networks are much more likely to take direct control of these scoops through targeted webpages, viral videos and social media (sometimes disguised as "leaks".)

That's not to say that television gossip will be absent from the papers. If anything, there'll be more of it -- but in the "news" pages and other features sections, rather than in a dedicated space. With the exception of highlights, the listings will eventually disappear altogether as they no longer justify the space they take up.

It will be a brave editor who first pulls the plug on the weekly TV listings, but I think we'll see it happen within a year or two -- and the sky won't fall any more in terms of lost circulation than it already has.

Disclosure: I briefly edited the Queensland TV Guide in the mid-Noughties, when part of my brief was to cut costs.

The elephant in the room

Posted March 5th, 2012 by debritz

If you've been following this blog, or you've heard me speak on radio, or you follow me in social media, you'll already know my stock response whenever anybody tells me how a television program attracted a large audience.

Other person: "My Kitchen Rules had two million viewers last night."

Me: "Well, that's 20 million people who didn't watch it, then."

Now, I'm not dissing MKR, or the rugby league, or whatever else it is that Australians want to watch in great numbers. What I am saying, however, is that when, on an average night, fewer than two million people in the country's five biggest cities are watching the same program -- and, importantly, the same ads -- at the same time, can it really be referred to as "mass media" any more?

Take a look at the excellent research by popular culture historian David Dale.

According to Dale, at least three programs in the history of television have been watched by more than half the Australian population. They were all special events: the wedding and funeral of Diana Spencer and the 2000 Olympics opening ceremony. Now that's a mass audience.

But amid these one-offs, and a swag of hit movies and miniseries, you have to run your finger a long way down the list to find a regularly scheduled program that has captivated anything like a genuinely huge audience slice. And, as the years go on, fewer and fewer people are consuming the same thing at the same time.

So far this year, the top-rating show has been MKR, which has been watched by about one in 10 Australians. Of course, they are the same people night after night. From an advertiser's perspective, it's a matter of reinforcing a message to those people over and over again, but not reaching anybody new.

The figures are nothing to sneeze at, and television remains the biggest show in town for now. But while the number of eyeballs and ears glued to the goggle box is getting smaller and smaller, things are rather different on the internet. The growth is all online.

The internet is a wild and strange place, and advertisers and their bookers are rightly wary of it. Most importantly, rather than a choice of a dozen or so channels, there are hundreds of millions of websites.

However, some sites are cutting through big time. How can you ignore this burgeoning medium when one of the biggest players, News Limited, claims it alone attracts about 7.7 million unique viewers to its sites every month?

Now, there are big difference between banner ads (or even splash ads and video) on the internet and TV commercials, but the former do have some significant advantages.

While it is possible to block ads on a website, most people don't, and indeed can't, do it. They do see web ads (and, increasingly, hear them), but they can and often do choose not to see television ads (via time-shifting, or by changing channels, or by simply leaving the room for a few minutes).

Like newspaper ads, web ads are always there for most of the audience. Unlike newspaper ads, they can be directly targetted to the particular person viewing the page, thanks to technology that stores our personal information on our computers and, increasingly, in the cloud.

I can, and almost certainly will, write more on this subject, but the simple point I'm trying to make now is that the TV networks, and other "traditional' media for that matter, can't afford to ignore the elephant in the room. They have to ramp-up their own online offerings if they are to stay in the game.

And they have to realise that their competitors are not just the other television networks. Everybody with a web page is now a potential broadcaster, and television sets are not the only (or even major) means by which people tune-in.

At least, a program like MKR is a step in the right direction, because it's popular, original content that the Seven Network can exploit in other media. Other networks are relying on sport -- to which they have only the telecast rights (which they risk losing) rather than actual control -- and imported programs which audiences can access through other means.

Whatever the weather

Posted January 29th, 2012 by debritz

Dear Weather Bureau,

First of all, I would like to genuinely and sincerely thank you for all your hard work in times of disaster, when your skill, your radars and your other technology have warned us of weather emergencies. Without doubt, you have saved countless lives over the years, and you have prevented a great deal of property damage by warning people of violent weather events. Along with many others, I truly value that aspect of your work.

However, isn't it about time you acknowledged that all your training, and your technology, simply does not equip you to predict anything other than an imminent threat?

I know I am not alone in saying that I am sick of seeing "seven-day forecasts" on the TV news, online and in newspapers, that are wildly inaccurate.

Please, can somebody from the Bureau of Meteorology make a clear statement that, by and large, the weather is unpredictable.

Shock, horror, probe! Words on the way out

Posted January 1st, 2012 by debritz

I believe the much-heralded death of newspapers is a long way off -- but it has occurred to me that, when newsprint does disappear, so, too, will a wonderful slice of modern English usage.

I'm thinking about "headline words": impactful, monosyllabic alternatives to words in more common usage that have the advantage of being short enough to fit into the small amount of space provided by tabloid newspapers.

Since web-page designs are often more flexible, and the common online practice is to use a lot of words in headings for search-engine-optimisation purposes, it's likely that many headline words are on the way out.

Here are some examples:

Hike: as in "price hike". (The more common word "rise" has the same letter count, but hike conveys more urgency, or even sinister undertones.)

Raft: not your basic boat, but a "raft of new laws".

Bid: attempt. Often used as a verb, as in "Brett bids for title."

Probe: inquiry.

Grab: theft (real, or as a result of a tax hike).

Nab: when "grab" is too long.

Lash, slam, blast: to criticise.

Wanted: staff for closed business

Posted December 25th, 2011 by debritz

The Wear Valley Mercury in County Durham has become the 32nd newspaper to close in Britain this year. I'm not sure how hastily the decision was made, but on the paper's web page, the announcement of the closure is under an advertisement seeking an advertising sales executive for the title.

Wait Wait ... it's Brisbane

Posted December 19th, 2011 by debritz

Brisbane is officially on the radar of one of America's most popular syndicated radio shows and podcasts. The Queensland capital was mentioned in a question on the "Not My Job" section of the National Public Radio news quiz Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!

After also exhibiting some knowledge of cricket, the contestant, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, correctly answered that Brisbane is the home to the world championships in cockroach races.

The question also gave Wait Wait host Peter Sagal the opportunity to make a joke about the drinking habits of the crowd for the event.

No doubt McCarron, Sagal, judge Carl Kasell and the Wait Wait panel would be welcome guests if they decide to pop in for the races at the Story Bridge Hotel, Kangaroo Point, on Australia Day.

Audio of the segment is here.

Gone ... and forgotten

Posted December 17th, 2011 by debritz

Spot the difference. From the same smh.com.au page within minutes:




Don't stop the presses

Posted December 1st, 2011 by debritz

The controversial Civil Union legislation passed through Queensland State Parliament at 11.10pm yesterday.

So, you'd expect it would be all over the capital's only daily newspaper this morning. Um, well, no - at least not in the home-delivered editions received by people I know who live as close as 4km to the Brisbane CBD, and surely no more than 15km from the paper's presses.

The story in the edition I saw said - on page 9 - that gay couples (and the rest of us, presumably) would "know this morning" if the bill had passed.

When I worked for the now-defunct Daily Sun, the deadline for the final edition was 1.30am on the day of publication - and for a big story, it could be pushed even further. Interestingly, even back then a colleague noted that every time new technology was introduced - such as the conversion from hot metal presses to "cold type" - the deadlines moved earlier, not later as you might expect.

P.S. You can read about the passage of the bill here and here.

The real Big Harto bows out

Posted November 9th, 2011 by debritz

I couldn't let today's resignation of News Ltd CEO and chairman John Hartigan go by without comment.

Harto, as he was universally known to everyone who worked for and with him, gave me my break in metropolitan newspapers by hiring me as one of the foundation staff of the now-closed Daily Sun newspaper in Brisbane.

He and the brilliant team he assembled - many of whom rose to great heights in News and elsewhere - taught me much of what I know about the media (but don't blame them for my failings).

Harto is a great networker, and he exudes great charm. It's difficult not to like the man - even those who have had battles with him concede that point.

Although one of the inside jokes at News Ltd is that everybody is called "Mate", one of Harto's great talents is remembering names and faces, even as the years go by. Whenever he walked into the Queensland Newspapers office, he'd remember everybody he had worked with by name and he would always find time for a chat with the workers on the "shop floor".

The last time I saw him was at a Daily Sun reunion four years ago, where he was especially generous with his time and his words.

While not everybody was a committed fan, many a glass will be raised as a toast to Harto tonight and on November 30 when he steps down.

According to online reports (here and here), Harto will be replaced by Foxtel's Kim Williams as News CEO and by Rupert Murdoch as chairman. Richard Freudenstein will take over at Foxtel.

In a message to staff, Mr Murdoch said : “John’s decision will end a distinguished 41 year career with News in which he has given us exemplary service and incredible leadership.

“John was an outstanding reporter, an editor with few peers and has been an inspiring executive, initially as Group Editorial Director and, later, as Chief Executive for 11 years and Chairman and Chief Executive for the past six.

“Few people have contributed as much as John to the quality of journalism in Australia. He has earned enormous respect among both colleagues and competitors.”

Gone and forgotten?

Posted October 30th, 2011 by debritz

From couriermail.com.au:

Sir John Bjelke Petersen? Surely it was Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

What the public wants

Posted August 30th, 2011 by debritz

One of the first things I learned in newspapers is that an editor should not pay an undue amount of attention to the content of letters to the editor. Mostly, I was told (and later discovered for myself), they were written by the same people grinding the same axes, and they were in no way indicative of the consensus of the general (or targetted) public.

The fact though was that, if you wrote to the newspaper enough, the chances were that you'd get published often and you'd have a disproportionate say. The same is true of callers to talk radio - ring in a lot and, especially if you're provocative or a bit simple (so they can poke fun of you), or it's a slow time of day, you'll get to air. Now, the same is true in the online world - post a lot of comments and no matter how awful, inane or inflammatory they are, they will appear.

However, letters to the editor are almost always read carefully and edited by professional journalists who understand the laws of defamation, contempt of court and sub-judice, and have a fairly well-honed sense of what is appropriate and fair, and what isn't. Many papers also go to the effort of confirming the true identity of the writer.

On radio, producers vet callers before they go to air, and "live" broadcasts are on a 5-to-7-second delay, meaning the announcer or panel operator can press a "kill" button if things get out of hand and the offending words won't be heard by the listeners.

But, as I noted on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, it seems that some media websites are not paying enough attention to the comments being posted on their websites. I wrote this in regard to Sydney's 2UE, which was still publishing comments referring to allegations about Prime Minister Julia Gillard which The Australian newspaper had already acknowledged were false.

I asked: Where was the moderator? To my mind, many of the comments on that issue, and many other issues, should have been edited or not published at all. It's got nothing to do with my political views, it's the simple fact that if any media site publishes a defamatory remark and it does get sued, it will only have itself to blame.

Meanwhile, over at the Nova 106.9 website, a potentially more dangerous game was (and, as I write, still is) being played. They were running a Twitter feed displaying any tweets using a particular hashtag, plus Facebook comments from a fan page, about their new breakfast show. I'm assuming the process is completely automated, which may be cheap but it is in no way in the station's own interests.

As it's turned out so far, it's meant that Nova has been "publishing" some rather unflattering and potentially hurtful comments about its own new breakfast star, Camilla Severi. I feel sorry for her but I'm also tempted to say, good on Nova for allowing people to express their views freely, even if they are at odds with the company's own commercial aims.

Presumably Nova's research indicates that the comments are wrong, and the new show will be a success. Maybe they think any publicity is good publicity. (However, I'm sure if somebody rang in and started bagging the station or its stars, they'd be "killed" pretty quickly.)

But there's a more serious issue here than simple abuse: what if somebody were to tweet an extremely defamatory or racially offensive remark using the Nova-nominated hashtag and it ended up on the company's website for a sustained period of time? What if somebody sued? Who would be responsible: the author (if they could be identified) or the publisher?

Surely a test case on this issue is not far away.

PS: I've posted some of the comments here.

Faking it

Posted August 24th, 2011 by debritz

One of the great criticisms newspaper and radio journalists often make of their television colleagues is that they work by the mantra that "if we haven't got pictures, it isn't news".

Some news, however, is too big to ignore - and that was the case for Channel 9 in Brisbane, which twice faked live crosses to the scene where remains believed to be those of missing schoolboy Daniel Morecombe were found. While the news crew pretended their helicopter was "near Beerwah", it and its crew were, in fact, at or near the station's studios on Mt Coot-tha.

Of course, TV news isn't the only culprit in the faking department. Newspaper journalists have been accused of making up quotes and facts, and, well before Photoshop made it oh-so-easy, doctoring photographs. Radio also has a long charge sheet in this department. As I was reminded just recently, ABC cricket commentators used to do "live broadcasts" of the game from the studio, using cables that gave the scores and other bare facts, then making up the rest.

As we progress in the digital age, where anybody can provide "news" online, one thing professional journalists have going for them is their integrity and sense of ethics. How can "real" journalists rail against the bloggers and aggregators when they themselves are found wanting?

From the glasshouse

Posted August 7th, 2011 by debritz

Oh, the dangers of filing quickly ... this is from The Australian online directly after the MasterChef grand final:


Even the Oz's Twitter feed was saying the same thing:

Puccini for the passengers?

Posted July 17th, 2011 by debritz

This from The Courier-Mail Twitter feed:


Sadly, while the actual story mentions the possibility of free drinks, newspapers and wi-fi for commuters who pay more, it doesn't appear to mention opera.
PS: Of course public transport in Brisbane is already overpriced compared to many other "world class" cities, but that's a whinge for another day.

A question of ethics

Posted July 12th, 2011 by debritz

The escalating phone-hacking scandal in the UK has made one thing clear: it's time for journalists and other media professionals everywhere to talk about ethics openly and frankly, and for all media organisations to formulate (if they haven't already done so) and clearly state their policies to staff.

While I know that most journalists are honest and decent people, I can also confidently say that some people I have worked with over the years have never even considered the moral or ethical implications of what they do on a daily basis. (See my previous post for more on that.)

Sure, they can mostly hold their head high and say, for example, that they've never stolen a child's medical records, but have they ever, for example, given undue prominence to a story on the basis of a gift or free service they have received? Did stories make it into the paper, or on air or online, simply because somebody offered a low-level bribe? Did something not make the cut because of a favour offered or owed?

These are extremely important questions that all journalists have to address - especially in jurisdictions where politicians are looking to change the law to make it harder for legitimate journalism to take place. If we want to avoid draconian privacy legislation that will shield the real wrongdoers, then we must get our house in order.

A matter of honour

Posted July 10th, 2011 by debritz

In common with millions of people around the world, I have been stunned, again and again, by the revelations made about the extent of phone-hacking and personal intrusion by private investigators and journalists hired by The News of the World in Britain. We are told that there are more, worse revelations to come, and that there are allegations to be made involving other newspapers.

As a journalist, and one who has spent much of his working life at News Corporation titles (including a very brief stint at The News of the World), it’s extremely painful for me to see the profession I love being dragged, yet again, through the mud. Journalists consistently rank lower than used-car salesmen in polls about trustworthiness; now there is concrete evidence to back up those public suspicions about our integrity. This time, it’s entirely of our own making – or, at least, the making of a few journalists who were prepared to do anything to get a story and of management that, at best, turned a blind eye.

It’s about now that I should rattle off all the good things that journalism does. It can bring down dishonest governments, it can expose corruption and hypocrisy, it can keep people informed about issues important to them, and it can keep them entertained. Sadly entertainment, or more to the point, titillation, was the News of the World’s main stock in trade. It shifted the news agenda away from what really matters to what’s happening in the bedrooms of the rich and famous. Was it, as The Jam noted in their song News of the World, a matter of the public getting what the public wants, or the public wanting what the public gets? (A lot of other factors, the rise of the internet being one of them, are involved but it’s interesting to take a look at the correlation between newspaper sales and the extent to which revelations have become more salacious and intrusive.)

Now to my main point: A lot has been said and written about journalistic ethics over the past few days and weeks, much of it by people taking the high ground even though their own ethics have undoubtedly been compromised. The fact is that there’s not one journalist I know who has not taken what other people, in other industries, might interpret as a bribe. A free trip, concert tickets, a meal and more than a few drinks – we’ve all taken them, and I’ve had my share over the years. Now, of course, we don’t call them bribes, we call them hospitality that’s part of the job. If somebody wants to give me a drink, of course I’m going to take it. Who wouldn’t?

For the record, I believe I have always acted within the industry’s ethical guidelines and so have the vast majority of my journalistic friends and colleagues. I’ve accepted hospitality and travel relevant to my round, but always on the basis that I would be free to write it as I saw it – for the benefit of my readership – not just regurgitate a media release. From memory, I only ever once actually asked for concert tickets – and that was on behalf of a superior – and when I really wanted to see a show, I bought my own tickets.

However, I know of one entertainment journalist who always tried to “blag” tickets for himself and often his friends, who had no involvement in journalism and who were, therefore, occupying seats that the promoters could have otherwise sold (or used for actual promotional purposes). Other individuals I have met in the course of my work would routinely try to organise free holidays for themselves and their friends, hoping to “pay” for it through the newspaper columns. (On more than one occasion, much to my delight, these attempts were thwarted by a vigilant travel editor.) These journalists see freebies as not just a perk of the job but an entitlement. To me, that attitude is distasteful and an embarrassment to the profession. (What has also become apparent is that many journalists believe they are entitled to use any means necessary to get whatever story they want, however trivial it may be and regardless of who may be hurt in the process.)

But it can get worse than that. What if this hospitality was offered purely on the basis that a story was written in a certain way, or that certain facts went unreported? When I worked in China, I was shocked to learn about the system of “red envelopes” offered to journalists. A friend who works in PR and was organising the opening of a bar in Shanghai was told that, along with free drinks and food (so the guests could sample and write about the bar’s offerings), she would have to pay the reporters just to turn up. Worse still, I was told that, in some parts of that country, journalists would rush to the scene of a tragedy, not to get the story but to take a bribe not to report certain details of the story (ironically, it was usually those aspects that involved corruption). I know there have been great efforts in China to clean up this sort of abuse – perhaps they are doing a better job of it than the bumbling British officials have over the phone-hacking scandal.

In a perfect world, the media would pay its own way – they would buy the tickets to the theatre and pay the airfares, the hotel bills and everything else associated with getting a story. The reality is that this won’t happen. PR people know their story will go unreported or underreported unless they offer hospitality, and they have a budget to do this. For journalists, it’s a matter of understanding their code of ethics and to know the boundaries of decency and public interest.

When all journalists behave honourably – and are seen to behave honourably – then we might, one day, make it higher up that list – at least higher than used-car salesmen.

Shome mishtake, shurely

Posted June 14th, 2011 by debritz

Muphry's* Law strikes again. Bob Cronin is a solid old-school journalist I used to work with at the Shanghai Daily. I'm not sure that he'd approve of the headline to this story in The Australian, which refers to him as the "edito-in-chief" [my emphasis] of The West Australian.



* Yes, I do mean Muphry's. Follow the link.

Tune in, drop out

Posted May 22nd, 2011 by debritz

Fairfax has confirmed it is getting out of the radio business, and is seeking a buyer for its Australian network, which includes 2UE, 3AW, 6PR and, in Brisbane, 4BC and 4BH. I've written quite a bit about this, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much. Instead, I'll refer you to my thoughts here and here.

Now I'd like to address the delicate matter of money. Although Fairfax says it's confident of attracting several bidders, analysts predict the whole network of 15 stations may raise $250 million to $300 million. Fairfax paid $480 million less than four years ago. I don't know how much profit was made in that time, but it doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

And any potential buyer or buyers (if the assets are split up, which seems likely) would need to work hard on answering the question: Exactly what is a broadcasting licence worth these days? Free-to-air broadcast radio has certain advantages in terms of delivery, but it certainly doesn't have the game to itself any longer.

More and more people are choosing to listen-on-demand to podcasts on their computers or mobile devices rather than to scheduled services, and the radio stations are by no means the only ones pumping those out. Anybody with a half-decent PC can produce a broadcast-standard podcast - and it's clear to anybody who's taken the time to search that there are many "civilians" out there who have better program ideas than some of the professionals. (Ignorance of tried-and-tested formats, and freedom from highly paid consultants and their recycled branding concepts can be a very good thing.)

And while much is made of the success of the likes of Alan Jones and Kyle Sandilands, the fact is that big stars are costly to maintain and their continued success - or their portability to other markets - is not guaranteed. (I've noted many times before that Eddie McGuire isn't setting the world on fire at Triple M in Melbourne, which is also where even some of the big names of Sydney's 2GB and the much-touted input of Andrew Bolt are falling flat at talk station MTR.)

Having said that, while I wouldn't be rushing in to be a buyer, there is a chance that somebody will grab a bargain or two in the great Fairfax fire sale. But they'll have to be smart enough to set a low price and stick to it, and to truly understand the changing radio scene to turn a decent dollar. It's a very different market now to when most of the existing players (on air and off) got started, and copying stale formats with recycled celebs and other usual suspects just won't cut it. It'll take smarts, courage and a lot of passion to survive and thrive. More on that later.

You can fool some of the people ...

Posted April 3rd, 2011 by debritz

Among the many traditional April Fools' Day jokes in print and online publications last Friday was this item in The Bangkok Post. The story, claming pop star Justin Bieber was giving up his career and coming to live in Bangkok to be with an unnamed "Thai girlfriend", generated a lot of interest from readers of the paper and online visitors (as I write, there were 208 tweets and 1200 Facebook shares for that story - a huge number for the Bangkok Post site*). What surprised me is that many of the Twitterers and Facebookers believed the story to be true, at least at first. Only one or two tweets that I read immediately recognised it for an April Fools joke, and several others suggested that it might be a prank. Even some people I spoke to who had only read the story in the newspaper said they initially believed it to be true. All this, despite:
1) In print, this huge scoop was only on page 3 of the second section ("Life"), with no pointer from the front page of either that section or the main newspaper. Online, it was not featured on the front page and could only be found through the menu system (or - and I suspect this accounts for many hits - by Google searches*).
2) The story starts off with an improbable premise, then adds some plausible detail, but quickly becomes ridiculous. A reference to Mark Zuckerberg, who did attend a wedding in Thailand recently, adds some credibility (although I doubt that he and Bieber are friends, as the story states), but that's about it. The story then suggests that Bieber and the girl had a chaperoned date, where her mother sat between them at the movies, and that the star would record an album of Thai-language love songs. It also makes fun of his reported use of the Auto-Tune software, and suggests that a superstar who can sell-out stadiums would perform live at a small jazz club and an expat pub.
3) The last paragraph clearly indicates it's the kind of story that could only appear "on this date" - i.e. April 1.
So, what to make of all this?
1) Obviously, it struck a chord with many people. Some readers probably wanted it to be true, or were so shocked that it might be true that they didn't read it in a discerning way.
2) As all newspaper people know, or ought to know, readers seldom make it all the way to the end of even a relatively short story, and they often don't fully comprehend what they read.
3) It was all good fun and nobody got hurt.
4) And for those who are asking the by-now obvious question, the answer is: Yes, it was.

* Bieber was, obviously, chosen deliberately because he's a hot topic online and off.

A league of their own

Posted March 21st, 2011 by debritz

From the London Sun's coverage of Prince William's trip to flood-ravaged Queensland:

The Canberra Rangers? Either the People's Prince - whose efforts in bringing some cheer to the flood victims I wholeheartedly applaud - was badly advised or misquoted.
PS: The Brisbane Broncos beat the Canberra Raiders 20-4.

From the glasshouse ...

Posted March 7th, 2011 by debritz

According to this item on The Drum, by 612ABC's Madonna King, before the Queensland floods, Premier Anna Bligh "couldn't turn a trick". Funny, I though turning tricks was what ladies of the night did; perhaps "win a trick"* -- a card-playing analogy -- is what was meant.



Meanwhile, brisbanetimes.com.au refers to Newcastle as a "northern city". Well, that's true of Sydney, where a similar promo box ran on smh.com.au, but not of Brisbane -- unless they mean one of the two in England (or you want to keep going north until you cricle the globe to get to the one in Australia).


*Update: A correspondent on Facebook suggests "take a trick" is the more common expression in card-playing circles.

It's not what you think it is ...

Posted February 10th, 2011 by debritz

This advertisement appeared in a Thai language newspaper in Bangkok yesterday. Any guesses what it's about?

Wrong, it's a celebration that almost all the apartments in a new development are sold, and the marketing campaign is ending. At least I think that's what it is.

Spot the mistake

Posted December 20th, 2010 by debritz

I think the Daily Mail means Honecker rather than Hitler:


Update: The headline has now been changed.

Battle of the bands

Posted November 25th, 2010 by debritz

A chart battle is about to begin in Brisbane, with radio personalities from across the spectrum involved in different charity musical projects. The Brisbane All-Stars' version of Do They Know It's Christmas will be competing with B105's Labby, Camilla and Stav, plus Alfie Langer and the Faith Lutheran College Choir with the modestly titled Brisbane’s Number One Hit Single. Both will be benefitting charity - the former a musicians' fund and the latter the long-running B105 Children's Hospital Christmas appeal - so, for once, there will be no losers.

Dunn gone, who's next?

Posted October 29th, 2010 by debritz

Update: Ash Bradnam and Chris Adams will be on 4BC breakfast from Monday. All indications are that Dunn and Calder did not jump.
With Jamie Dunn and Ian Calder having quit the breakfast shift at 4BC, the pressure is on station management to find a replacements or replacements who will, in popular parlance, take the station to the next level. AS I've noted before, BC has a long way to go before it matches the success of 3AW and 2GB, which command a huge slice of the listening audience. My feeling is that drive r presenter Michael Smith will lobby hard for the breakfast gig and may well get it, but I'm not convinced that he's the one to take the station forward. I think his strident views will be as much a turn-off as a turn-on, and BC may find itself with a different, but still not large audience. Having said that, Smith has the capacity to reinvent himself -- as he has done many times through his career -- and, perhaps with the right co-host, could crack at least double figures for the struggling station. As for other candidates, I think it unlikely that the high-rating Spencer Howson would be wooed from the ABC, and in any case ABC announcers have had mized success in the commercial media. More soon on this.
PS: I've also heard a rumour that veteran newsman Rod "Mr T" Tiley is leaving BC -- and Brisbane -- to be news director at 6PR Perth, and that Aaron Lucas and Thea Cowie are also moving on from the newsroom; Lucas to Triple M.
UPDATED:Here's the audio of Dunn and Calder signing off today. They speak about what they will be doing next week. Strange for people who allgeedly knew they were leaving.

From the glasshouse ...

Posted October 27th, 2010 by debritz

Is this heading from The Courier-Mail missing a line or has the word "sodden" somehow changed parts of speech?

Social media: The big question

Posted October 14th, 2010 by debritz

Does size matter? And by that I mean, does the number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends you have really make a difference -- especially if you're an old media company trying to make it in the brave new digital world? Without naming names, I've done a quick headcount among newspaper and other media Twitter feeds and discovered that a lot of them really aren't cutting it in social media. While a lot of them boast about the figures they are getting for their websites, some of them have miserably tiny numbers of followers on Twitter. Now I wouldn't read too much into this except that I know they are furiously promoting their Twitter streams in print, on air and online, so having just a few thousand (or in the case of some media, a few hundred, and some individual "stars", a few dozen) followers is a pretty poor result. It's also a danger signal for proprietors. With newspaper circulations falling and broadcasting audience numbers stagnating, they've got to make their presence felt online in every way possible. If their Twitter content is not engaging enough to pull in followers, or they simply just aren't on the radar of social-media buffs, then they do have a problem connecting with a potentially huge audience. And if, for example, my personal Twitter feed, promoted only by virtual word-of-mouth, has more followers than a major suburban newspaper group and not a heck of a lot fewer than a national radio network, it's a serious problem. With Twitter itself and some individual users starting to monetise their tweets, it's all revenue that used to go to the big media groups but isn't any more. And, the way they are going, never will again.

Not the whole story

Posted August 29th, 2010 by debritz

In journalism, it's variously called a "write-off" (or "woff"), a "blurb", a "gofirst" or a "standfirst" - a short, snappy line that summarises or teases a story and, hopefully, encourages people to keep reading. Some sub-editors are very good at writing them, to the point where the standfirsts oversell the story and reading on only sets up the reader for disappointment. Some blurbs, rather like the one I've cut from brisbanetimes.com.au and pasted here, miss the point. Surely the big news about Matthew Newton is not how he worked so hard for months and will now miss the chance to host The X-Factor, it's the fact that he had a spectacular metldown (not his first) and allegedly beat up his (now ex) girlfriend Rachel Taylor, who has taken out an AVO and vowed to press charges, and was consequently dumped by the show and by his own management. I don't think anybody is, as the blurb seems to imply, standing around the barbecue today discussing how unlucky Newton is. (Apart from the one X-Factor wannabe quoted in the story.) In fact, I suspect many people will, like News Ltd writer Paul Kent, vigorously take another tack. My opinion? Newton probably is ill, in which case he needs treatment, but that shouldn't be allowed to overshadow what he's (allegedly) done. We should all take a reality check on who the victim really is.
PS: Yes, the blurb is supposed to summarise the story at hand, but it doesn't even really do that. Maybe "X-Factor contestant defends hard-working Matthew Newton"?

Style counsel

Posted August 21st, 2010 by debritz

A brief beef: I am sick of seeing and hearing news items where local governments are referred to simply as "council" without an article. Would we write or say something like: "Mr Bloggs said bank would put up interest rates"? No. Yet we often read or hear in the media the likes of: "Cr Nerk said council would approve the project." I know public servants and politiicans speak this way but that's no reason for media professionals to follow suit mindlessly.

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