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Pineapple juice

Posted August 26th, 2011 by debritz

A media release announcing the sale and relaunch of Queensland's iconic Big Pineapple tourist attraction notes:

The Big Pineapple burnt down and was rebuilt in 1978, and during its life has been owned by various operators, including Rupert Murdoch during the 1880’s ...

Oh, come on. Rupert's not that old.

PS: It's good news that the new owners, Big Pineapple Corp. Pty Ltd, plan to "rejuvenate the site, restore the Heritage-Listed icon and create a market hub for locals and visitors alike".

Movement at the stations

Posted August 26th, 2011 by debritz

As revealed exclusively on this blog 10 days ago, Nova 106.9's Meshel Laurie, Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell have confirmed they are moving to the network's drive shift. Drive incumbents Fitzy and Wippa will move to the Sydney Nova 969 breakfast show, replacing longtime host Merrick Watts, and will be heard on other Nova stations in a daily 6-7pm highlights spot.

The drive move will occur on September 12, giving Nova a headstart in the race for the 2012 ratings crown. Meshel, Tim and Marty - who will be broadcasting from Melbourne, not Brisbane (as I also predicted) - will name their Nova Brisbane breakfast replacements on Monday. I've long been tipping Camilla Severi and Ash Bradnam for the job. I also understand that former breakfast team members Kip Wightman and David "Luttsy" Lutteral have been in talks with Nova over the past few weeks.

As I have repeatedly stated here, there will be more changes to come, on both Nova and at other stations, as the battle for listeners' and advertisers' hearts, minds and dollars continues apace.

Update: In other radio news, the Fairfax press is reporting that Fairfax Media's "plan to sell its radio stations ... are in an 'advanced' stage". The assets include 3AW, 2UE and 4BC, and John Singleton's Macquarie Radio group, which owns talk stations 2GB and MRT, has long been tipped as as the buyer for all or some of the stations.

Private equity group Ironbridge Capital has also been named as a potential purchaser. Whatever happens, belt-tightening, including changes on air and behind the scenes, is inevitable.

Choppergate: 3 sacked, boss quits

Posted August 25th, 2011 by debritz

Two journalists - Melissa Mallet and Cameron Price - and producer Aaron Wakeley have been sacked, and Channel Nine Queensland news director Lee Anderson has resigned over what's become known as the "choppergate" affair. (The Courier-Mail has the story here.)

The decision to broadcast twice from Mt Coot-tha while pretending to be on location "near Beerwah" clearly embarrassed Nine News, which is trying to reclaim its No. 1 status on the back of qualityand trustworthy reporting.

I have known Lee Anderson for a very long time (we met while studying journalism at different universities) and I have always known him to be a man of integrity and great ability. According to reports, Anderson was not on duty when the decision to fake the "live crosses" was made, but he has fallen on his sword - perhaps in protest at the sackings, as Channel 10's Hugh Riminton has suggested on Twitter. However, Nine's media release says the sackings happened "subsequently" to Anderson's resignation.

Update: Price has tweeted: "Thanks for all the support. I believe what happened today is completely unfair .. And I am seeking advice on the matter." Mallet has called it "a difficult day to fathom". (Thursday pm)

Update 2: Price's Twitter status has been changed to "Walkey and Clarion nominated Journo. With a clear conscience." (Friday am)

Exactly how the decisions to fake the crosses came to be made may never be known, but the incident highlights not just a lack of professional judgment and breach of ethics (by whom?), but also the pressures under which journalists operate. In the case of TV reporters, the mantra is to have "vision" at all costs.

As one of my Facebook friends wrote earlier tonight, will the spotlight now fall on the practices of some other TV news and current affairs reporters and producers?


Posted August 25th, 2011 by debritz

From ninemsn:

It's Labby, Stav and Abby

Posted August 25th, 2011 by debritz

Brisbane's B105 has announced that Abby Coleman will replace Camilla Severi on the breakfast show. The timing of the announcement on Wednesday night would seem to have been designed to steal some of the thunder from Nova, which is announcing nationwide changes on Friday morning.

My understanding is that this will involve new breakfast shows in Sydney (with Wippa and Fitzy) and Brisbane (with Camilla, Ash Bradnam and Kip Wightman) and a national drive show with the existing Brisbane breakfast team of Meshel Laurie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold.

The big question is: has B105 released Camilla from her contract to work immediately at Nova 106.9, or will she be on the bench until January 1?

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?

Ruled by ratings

Posted August 22nd, 2011 by debritz

A contestant is singing on a TV talent show and suddenly, in the middle of the first chorus, she is yanked off the screen and we cut to another vocalist singing a completely different style of tune. On another channel, a newsreader introduces a report, but when we come back, there's somebody else in the anchor's chair; we never see the first guy again.

Welcome to a possible not-too-distant future when television ratings don't just come in the next morning - as they did in Australia today, showing huge numbers for The Block and Underbelly - but can be viewed in real time by the station's programmer, who will make instant decisions on the future of a show. If viewers start to change stations, the program will change immediately

Fanciful stuff? Well, perhaps not. Back in February this year, not long before Live from Planet Earth was axed after just three episodes, host Ben Elton complained that it wasn't being given enough time to bed in. He cited a list of extraordinarily good programs that rated very poorly in their first few episodes or seasons.

In today's economic climate, time isn't on anybody's side. If a show doesn't rate on TV (or radio for that matter), it will be pulled sooner rather than later*.

Does that mean we'll be missing out on some great TV that wasn't allowed to find its niche? Probably, yes. But then, as an old newspaper editor of mine once said, what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve.

* There are some exceptions to this rule, driven usually by a broadcaster's personal or political agenda or by the laws dictating Australian content.

Shannon's royal routine

Posted August 18th, 2011 by debritz

One of the reasons I love radio is that is (or can be) a "local" medium. However, whoever's tweeting as @B105Brisbane on behalf of the Brisbane FM station right now doesn't seem to know the Queensland capital very well. When was the last time anybody north of the NSW border called the Ekka the "Royal Show"?

Through the looking glass

Posted August 16th, 2011 by debritz

This blog is starting to look like a one-topic wonder, but it's all happening in the Australian radio industry right now. The latest regarding 2012 is that Meshel Laurie will be hosting a national Nova drive program, from Melbourne, possibly with Marty Sheargold but maybe with Merrick Watts and an anchor (Tim Blackwell?).

Breakfast on Brisbane's Nova 106.9 will be Ash Bradnam and Camilla Severi, maybe with Kip Wightman as anchor and David "Luttsy" Lutteral as roving reporter (speciality: sport). Fitzy and Wippa, who currently host the national Nova drive show, will be parachuted into breakfast on Sydney's Nova 969, to replace the Merrick and Dools show.

Meanwhile, there's a growing rumour that if John Singleton's Macquarie Radio Network succeeds in buying the Fairfax Radio network, 4BC in Brisbane will be basically relaying 2GB in Sydney. If true, in my humble opinion, it's a big mistake. While BC isn't currently setting the world on fire, talk radio is a very local thing. To my mind, replacing Greg Cary, who is BC's best performer ratings-wise, with Ray Hadley would be madness. Singleton and co. only need to look at the performance of MTR in Melbourne to know this is not a good idea.

Still, the elephant in the room is the fact that things are tight in the radio world, and the revenue gained through national marketing and sacking local staff might be worth the loss of ratings points through networking. In this case, of course, the listeners (and the jettisoned loyal workers) will be the losers.

Brisbane radio update

Posted August 15th, 2011 by debritz

Updated @ 12.38pmAEST
The Brisbane radio rumour mill has been running overtime over the past few weeks, with contract negotiations in full swing. Today, B105 has denied a report in the Courier-Mail that Jason "Labby" Hawkins is following Camilla Severi out the door. I've been told by a station spokesperson that Labby is definitely "not going anywhere".

Meanwhile, Meshel Laurie, who has been rumoured to be leaving Nova 106.9 at the end of this year, denied on air this morning that she was moving to Sydney. I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that Meshel Laurie is definitely leaving Nova 106.9 and Brisbane, but not going to Sydney. Also, I've heard that the names of Kip Wightman, the former Nova breakfast anchor now heard in the afternoons on 97.3FM, and David "Luttsy" Lutteral (now an ambassador for Fourex), have been linked to those of Ash Bradnam and Camilla Severi in relation to the Nova breakfast show next year. (If they all signed up, it'd be back to the future, reinstating the original Nova Brisbane line-up with Severi replacing Laurie -- although Laurie comes from a standup background Severi doesn't.)

There are also (possibly mischief-making) rumours on Twitter about further changes at 612 ABC next year (in addition to replacing Richard Fidler in the afternoon slot.) I have asked some more questions, and will update the situation if I hear more.

As one source told me this morning, "This industry is weird." One thing I will repeat with authority is that radio in Brisbane won't quite sound the same in 2012.

Buy the book?

Posted August 14th, 2011 by debritz

It's common broadcasting wisdom that one way to know which radio stations are going to do well in an upcoming ratings survey is to count the number of billboards, TV commercials, sponsorships and taxi-backs the various stations have bought.

Those ads are not just there to get you to listen to the station, they're also there to get the name of the station uppermost in the minds of the anonymous individuals who are actually completing the survey. You see, some people aren't too bright and/or they don't really take the survey seriously, so they'll just tick off the box for the station whose name they remember, rather than the one they were actually listening to (if, indeed, they were listening at all.)

It's one of several flaws in the diary system of radio ratings, and the networks are not too shy to exploit it. You'll also notice that the stations throw around a lot of cash prizes at strategic times during the survey, with the hope of getting a good "book". So, when there is an unusual result, as there was in Brisbane last survey, some people in the industry are bound to accuse some other people of "buying" the book.

Now, I wasn't around in Brisbane to count the billboards or add up the value of the giveaways, so I coudn't possibly comment on that. In any case, this method isn't guaranteed to work -- perhaps it never has -- and, for its many faults, the survey generally gets it right in tracking trends, if not in putting absolute numbers on who's listening to what. Even if it didn't, it guides advertisers and ad agencies on how much they should spend with each station, so it's extremely important to commercial radio. The stations also do their own research, and they know what's working on air and what isn't.

Of course, knowing is one thing, being able to fix it is another thing altogether. Nevertheless, there's already a lot of manoeuvring behind the scenes, some of which has spilled over into the public arena. Camila Severi has been poached; Meshel Laurie is (reportedly) leaving; Ash Bradnam is back. And, as I've repeatedly said, that's not the end of it.

One theory is that most, if not all, Brisbane commercial stations will take the opportunity next year to reinvent their line-ups, especially in the breakfast shift, and tweak their formats. Some of them have to, to replace the people who are moving on, but others may take the opportunity to change, too, on the basis that it's going to be a whole new ball game, and there'll be a lot of audience 'sampling" of stations early in the year. Something entirely new, from left field, might just click.

The other factor over-arching all this is that times are tough. The networks simply don't have a lot of cash to throw at their talent. While some people obviously have very good deals in place, others might be forced to take pay cuts or be priced out of the market altogether. Good news if you're a rising star who doesn't want to earn a fortune straight away, or if you're an established name who's already got a deal in place. Not so good if you don't fall into either of those categories.

Whatever happens, radio in Brisbane won't quite sound the same in 2012.

Exciting, isn't it?

A social occasion

Posted August 14th, 2011 by debritz

It's three years since I signed up for Twitter. In that time, I've sent out more than 6000 short missives, and had quite a bit of fun along the way. The first big thrill was getting an email, in December 2008, announcing that "Stephen Fry is now following you on Twitter!"

Since then, I've used Twitter to keep in touch with people in far-flung places, to let family and friends know what I'm up to, to keep in touch with events back home during my many travels, to exchange ideas about the things that interest me, to promote this blog, and to discuss many other matters both trivial and profound.

In the past few weeks, I've had a fun exchange with British actress Sallly Thomsett (I had a crush on her when I was a kid and she was the star of Man About the House), and a quick conversation with the Seven Network's social media boss Adam Boland about his decision to quit Facebook in favour of Google Plus (I've joined G+ too, but I'm still updating my Facebook page).

I suppose a lot of what I've tweeted has just been more unnecessary "noise" on an increasingly crowded channel, and, arguably, I could have spent the time taken up tweeting in more profitable ways. But I've never held a virtual gun to anybody's head and made them read what I have to say, and it seems that, without my really actively seeking followers, there are 1644 "people" (yes, I know some of them are bots) interested in what I have to say - or, at least, they see some advantage in connecting with me.

I like Twitter because it allows me to do what I've always done: to jot down ideas as they occur to me, and to broadcast things that interest me. I also like to know what others are thinking and how they're feeling. It's the perfect tool for a journalist with broad interests, so I'm going to carry on tweeting.

I'm also going to embrace the next thing that comes along, and the one after that - and I guess that, like that Bebo account I signed up for but never really used, my Twitter account will one day go quiet. But I won't.

Nova's new show: Camilla and Ash

Posted August 12th, 2011 by debritz

Radio sources say Ash Bradnam, who left Nova 106.9 nearly two years ago due to personal problems that led to his arrest on drink-driving charges, has been re-signed to the network to front its breakfast show with Camilla Severi next year. Severi quit Austereo's B105 last week amid rumours she would be going to Nova, and Bradnam has recently been heard on B105's sister station Triple M as weekend breakfast host. I am told he will not be heard on the Ms tomorrow. Nova breakfast lynchpin Meshel Laurie is said to be serving out her notice, and if the latest reports about Severi and Bradnam are true, it leaves her co-stars Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell in the lurch.

It's a friendly business

Posted August 9th, 2011 by debritz

Here's an interesting instance of social networking (the Meshel in quetion is Meshel Laurie from Brisbane's Nova 106.9):

Interesting, that is, given the rumours about where Camilla, who just quit B105 (presciently on the eve of not-so-flash ratings news), will be working next year.

97.3FM tops Brisbane radio ratings

Posted August 9th, 2011 by debritz

The champagne corks will be popping in the Brisbane suburb of Stones Corner, with 97.3FM celebrating a win in the radio ratings. In second place is B105, which last week lost one-third of its breakfast trio, followed by Nova. In fourth place, in a tight field, was Triple M (based on by-session results) or 612ABC (on demographics). 612ABC's Spencer Howson remained the No.1 choice for breakfast listening, followed by 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher, B105's Labby (Jason Hawkins), Camilla Severi and Stav Davidson, and Nova's Tim Blackwell, Marty Sheargold and Meshel Laurie.

In another surprise, 4KQ's Laurel Edwards, Mark Hine and Gary Clare overtook Triple M's The Cage with Ian Skippen, Greg Martin, Greg Sulivan and Emily-Jade O'Keeffe, to claim fifth place in breakfast. 4BC's Peter Dick and Mary Collier held steady to be be seventh place, and 4BH claimed the wooden spoon among commercial stations, both in breakfast and overall. (It was also beaten by ABC youth network Triple J.)

The results are especially good news for the Australian Radio Network (ARN), which owns 4KQ and half-owns (with DMG) 97.3, but not so good for Fairfax which is trying to offload its radio network, including the lowly ranked 4BC and 4BH. While commercial talk stations are blitzing the field in Sydney and Melbourne, BC is being outgunned by 612ABC in every session except mornings (where Greg Cary has a slender lead). And while 3AW is the bolter in Melbourne, it's the John Singleton-owned 2GB that's winning in Sydney, with Fairfax's 2UE taking another hit in the latest Nielsen survey. Back in Brisbane, Farifax's 4BH is clearly losing the battle for the golden oldies to ARN's 4KQ. (While BH is claiming an increase in cumulative audience to 190,000, its audience share is down.)

Austereo, owners of the once all-conquering B105 and Triple M, also has cause for concern, with the departure last week of Camilla Severi adding to its woes. The new management following Austereo's merger with Southern Cross was probably expecting a better outcome. While it's far from a dire result, I think there will be some retooling of both the B105 and MMM breakfast shows.

DMG-owned Nova 106.9, which led the way in breakfast for several years, is holding steady, mostly gaining listeners across the day, but will be keen to regain the top spot in breakfast - especially, if rumours that Laurie is leaving, to be replaced by Severi, are true.

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:

Camilla's move is just the beginning

Posted August 6th, 2011 by debritz

In his comments on Camilla Severi's move from B105 Brisbane to "a competitor station", Austereo Brisbane boss Richard Barker noted that the erstwhile breakfast star would remain with B105 until December 31. What exactly will she be doing?

It would seem unlikely that she will be on air, as that would only help keep her voice fresh in the audience's mind and help her new employer (rumoured to be Nova 106.9). And, while there are plenty of jobs behind the scenes at a radio station, that would mean keeping her "in the loop" on strategic decisions being made about her replacement and other planning matters.

She may be excluded from key meetings, but the Austereo Brisbane offices aren't so big that she could be completely kept away from whatever it is they are up to. So, assuming that she won't be making the tea or driving a Black Thunder, I wouldn't be surprised if Camilla will sit out the rest of her contract at home. Oh, and if her new bosses have any sense, she'll be back on air on January 1.

In light of this, there will be even-keener-than-usual interest when the latest round of official ratings results are released on Tuesday. B105 will almost certainly be at or near the top of the tree and its breakfast show will most likely be No.1 among FM stations, if not overall. How, I wonder, will the B105 spindoctors laud this success without acknowledging Camilla's contribution?

Meanwhile, although Camilla's announcement came as something of a surprise, I expect many more major changes in the Brisbane (and Australian) radio scene in the coming weeks and months. With new ownership structures already in place at Austereo (the merger with Southern Cross is complete) and DMG (Nova), 4BC and 4BH up for sale (along with other Fairfax Radio assets), and belt-tightening across the board in light of fairly ordinary advertising spending in all media, interesting times lay ahead.

I predict more line-up changes on air - not just limited to the afternoon slot at 612ABC, which Richard Fidler will vacate to concentrate on his national Conversations programme, or the expected departure of Nova's Meshel Laurie (to be replaced by Camilla Severi) - and some fairly brutal "consolidation" behind the scenes.

Camilla Severi: B105 statement

Posted August 5th, 2011 by debritz

B105 has issued this statement regarding the departure of breakfast show memeber Camilla Severi.

“Camilla has made a decision to leave the B105 breakfast team and to work with a competitor station next year,” said Southern Cross Austereo General Manager Richard Barker today. “We’ve had a great four and a half years with Camilla as part of the B105 family, and have loved working with her. She will stay with B105 until December 31, and we wish her all the best and every success, and of course we’ll miss her,” he said.
“We have some exciting plans for the B105 breakfast show, and will be trialling some friends of the show over the next few months. Labby and Stav are looking forward to having some fun, and there’s a couple of surprises in store. So stay tuned Brisbane!”

As I reported here, there are rumours swirling around about where she is going (I'm told she has not given this information to B105) and who she might be replacing (the word is that Meshel Laurie is leaing Nova 106.9 at the end of this year).

Camilla decamps from B105

Posted August 5th, 2011 by debritz

B105 Brisbane's breakfast trio is now, apparently, a duo. The two male members of the team, Labby and Stav, sent this Facebook missive:

Hey Guys, Camilla is no longer on the show as she has left to work at another station. We will miss her and wish her all the best. Meanwhile, the fun will continue with Labby & Stav for breakfast!

Camilla is, of course, Camilla Severi, the former Big Brother contestant who has been on B105 for the past four years, and her presence is being removed from the B105 website as I write this. The good news for aspiring female radio talent is there now a vacancy. Labby (Jason Hawkins) and Stav (Stewart Davidson) commented on Facebook that "we'll be looking at replacements [sic] soon".

Update: A source tells me that Camilla may be going to Nova 106.9 to replace Meshel Laurie, who is reportedly leaving at the end of the year. Also, I'm told one of the contenders for the B105 gig is Katie Clift, the daughter of Ian Calder, a former writer for B105's Morning Crew and now co-host with Jamie Dunn of the 98.9FM breakfast show.

Not saving Amy

Posted July 24th, 2011 by debritz

Amy Winehouse is dead at age 27. Oh, well, never mind, there's plenty more where she came from -- and more than enough greedy entertainment industry executives lined up to squeeze their talent, their future and their very lives out of them.

Did it really have to end like this for Winehouse, and was her own "self-destructive" bent the only thing to blame? Here's something I wrote back in December, 2007:

The Daily Mail has a feature article on singer Amy Winehouse, asking: "Why is no one acting to stop the headlong rush into oblivion?" Liz Jones writes, in part: "Why hasn't her record company, which must have made a fortune from her multi-platinum-selling albums, booked her into a secure rehab facility?" A simple, but cynical, answer: a troubled, or even a dead, singer can make more money for a record company than a clean-living and well-adjusted one. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: many in the music industry tolerate, even facilitate, the use of illegal drugs - and for that they, and the industry itself, must be held accountable.

Winehouse is not the first star to die as a consequence of her drug addiction, nor will she be the last. Just as the media has been put on notice in recent weeks over illegal phone hacking, so should the music, film, TV and fashion industries be read the riot act over its tolerance, and often active enabling, of illegal drug use.

During my many years as an entertainment writer and editor, I've always felt sick about the prevailing casual attitude towards the heavy use of hard drugs. I've been especially sickened by some in my acquaintance who were in the process of f---ing up their own life, and/or the life of somebody they loved, through the uncontrolled abuse of substances both illegal and legal. The fact that they joked about it made it much worse.

It's time for the entertainment industry to take a stand and say it's not acceptable for vulnerable people (often those who've come from nowhere and been thrust into the "glamorous" world of showbiz) to be allowed, and assisted, to kill themselves. And if the industry doesn't do it, then the police should. The next time there's a major awards ceremony, it shouldn't be a tabloid hack testing the restrooms for traces of white powder for a journalistic lark, but the law doing it with a clear purpose.

Those with addiction problems should receive treatment and those who cynically exploit the victims of addiction for monetary gain -- by scoring the drugs in the first place or turning a blind eye to what's going on as long as the cash keeps rolling in -- should be fined heavily and, in the case of serial offenders, locked up.

Doesn't add up

Posted July 21st, 2011 by debritz

While I don't disagree with demographer Bernard Salt's suggestion that the ABC spread its staff around the country a bit more, particularly in terms of TV production, I do note that Aunty has people in places the commercial media never even visits. What really struck me about Salt's piece in The Australian, though, was this:

(If the image doesn't load, it says: By my reckoning, the BBC is four times the size of the ABC in a nation of double the population.)
According to Professor Google, the population of Australia is 21,874,900, and the population of Britain is 61,838,154. Now, I'm not a demographer, but that's surely closer to three times.

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.

Radio rumour

Posted July 14th, 2011 by debritz

It's only July but the buzz at the ABC, coming from outside Queensland, is that 612 ABC in Brisbane will be looking for a new afternoons announcer next year. The rumour has it that Richard Fidler will continue to host the networked Conversations program but that another voice will be heard in the afternoon shift. If this is true, it will be the first change to the Brisbane metropolitan line-up in quite a few years. Stay tuned for more.
Update: When asked for a comment via Twitter (after PM host Mark Colvin had praised his efforts in holding down two jobs all this time), Fidler replied: "... can't... *gasp*... too busy... on-air right now..."

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.

Close race in radio survey

Posted June 21st, 2011 by debritz

612 ABC's Spencer Howson remains Brisbane's favourite breakfast radio announcer, with 12.5pc of the audience cake, but B105's Labby, Camilla Severi and Stav Davidson (12.3pc) and 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher (12.0pc) are breathing down his neck.

The 97.3 trio put on 1.7 percentage points to make the top three in the cornflakes shift, outpacing Nova 106.9's Meshe Lauriel, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold (10.7pc), who put on 0.6 points but had to make do with fourth place.

At the other end of the commercial-radio ratings ladder, both 4BH's Michael Price and 4BC's Peter Dick and Mary Collier lost points, with BH scoring only a 4.9pc share (on par with Triple J and not too far ahead of traditionally low-rating Radio National). 4KQ's laurel Edwards, Gary Clare and put on audience share to draw a respectable 7.9pc. In the middle was Triple M, in fifth place overall on 9.1pc, down 0.8 points.

Overall, the order was Triple M, 97.3, Nova, Triple M, 612 ABC, 4BC, 4KQ and 4BH. The losses for BC and relative stagnation of BH will beof concern to the owner, Fairfax, which has the stations (along with its entire radio portfolio) on the block.

It was slightly better news for Fairfax in Sydney, where 2UE put on a few listeners but was still thrashed by 2GB, whose Alan Jones remains the king of breakfast. (Ray Hadley's continued strength in the morning shift also puts 2GB in a good place whenever Jones decides to retire.) 2Day's Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O were a distant No.3 in the breakfast shift (after 702 ABC's Adam Spencer), dropping 1.3 percentage points on the back of many rumours about Sandilands' future in radio and the relationship between the duo.

In Melbourne, 3AW remained No.1 overall and in breakfast, but suffered some drops in listenership. Newish talk station MTR had some small gains, as did Triple M's Eddie McGuire, although he remains well off the pace in the breakfast shift, which is dominated by AW's Ross Stevenson and John Burns and ABC 774's Red Symons.

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.

The devil you know

Posted June 4th, 2011 by debritz

The fourth and final episode of the Eddie McGuire-hosted sport quiz Between the Lines has gone to air on Australian television. It's the third show starring the former "golden boy" and onetime CEO of Channel 9 to get the chop this year. The others were Million Dollar Drop and This Is Your Life, which may return as a series of specials later in the year. (The Courier-Mail's Geoff Shearer has the details, here.)

While McGuire's Hot Seat continues to perform well in the 5.30pm slot, executives and shareholders at Nine must be questioning their star's long-presumed status as one of the network's solid-gold drawcards. While the exact details are secret, McGuire is reported to be on a very lucrative long-term contract, and he presumably gets paid handsomely whether he's on the air or not. Right now, the question is: should the man who also hosts a relatively-low-rating breakfast show on Melbourne's Triple M radio station and runs AFL club Collingwood be permanently benched by the TV network?

It could, of course, be argued that the "vehicles" (i.e. the shows) were flawed and it wasn't McGuire's fault that they all failed to live up to expectations. It could also be said they they weren't given a proper chance to find their audience (we all know stories of classic TV shows that took a couple of series to hit their groove). But, then again, it could also be argued that Hot Seat is a winning formula and it would be a success no matter who was hosing it.

From a business perspective -- and that's the way Nine management has to look at things, not least beause it is considering a float -- McGuire would seem to be a liability who doesn't deliver sufficient "bang for the buck". But he's not the only one in the broadcasting industry.

It's very common for TV and radio stations to pay way over the odds (and well beyond market rate) to hang on to certain talent -- if only to keep them away from other neworks. Earlier this year, after rumours he was in talks with Channel 9, the Seven Network reportedly upped the annual salary of The Morning Show's Larry Emdur to "well in excess of $800,000 a year". The Sunday Herald Sun quoted a Seven source as saying the deal "set a dangerous precedent".

It's about here, I suppose, that I should make some sort of comment about what heart surgeons, nurses, teachers, police and fire officers etc. are earning for the very important work they do, but we can take that as read. The fact is that TV stations are commercial enterprises, and it's entirely a matter for the owners of those businesses to decide how much they want to spend and how much they want to earn from their investment.

My real concern is that because they always take the "safe" option of using the same talent on air and off -- how many opportunities are there for first-time writers and producers, for example? -- television is becoming blander and viewers are deprived the opportunity to see something genuinely new and exciting.

Thank goodness, then, for the theatre and the internet -- and for all-too-rare initiatives such as Andrew Denton's $30,000 "disfellowship" for an emerging screenwriter. The TV execs would do well to note that the new ideas -- the ones that will make them money in the future -- are not all coming through the traditional channels.

Support the CEO Sleepout

Posted May 27th, 2011 by debritz

Brisbane Austereo (Triple M/ B105) boss Richard Barker is doing his bit for charity by taking part in the CEO Sleepout to aid the St Vincent de Paul Society of Queensland. "Vinnies" supports 4000 Brisbane families a month, and is working hard to reduce the number of homeless people in the city, especially those who have to sleep rough. You can support their work by clicking here and donating to the cause.
Update: Brisbane coffee king Dean Merlo is also taking part; his donations page is here.
Update 2: My former boss, News Ltd CEO John Hartigan, is also raising funds here.

Farewell, Spicks and Specks

Posted May 25th, 2011 by debritz

In honour of Spicks and Specks, the ABC music quiz which will end at the end of this year, I demand that you watch this:

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