Thursday, May 28, 2009

Open Thread

OK, you've seen some of our ideas and actions for stopping (or denting) Murdoch's odious influence over our world and democracy. Now it's time for you. Have you done anything suggested here? Do you have any ideas for action?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is There Any "Independent" Media Here?

"The pin-striped men of morning,
Are coming for a dance.
With pure Egyptian Cotton,
The kids don't stand a chance."
'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance', Vampire Weekend [2008]

F*ck national broadband and funding for digital, why not just retain the analogue signal?

Imagine if there was a degree of solidarity between Brisbane's so called independent and community media organisations such as 'The Westender', 'The Independent', Briz 31 (QCTV), high profile blogs such as 'Larvatus Prodeo' or FM radio 4ZzZ - not to mention the numerous small, suburban based, radio stations?

It obviously can't be concrete "solidarity" in the old union sense, it should be more like a finding of commonality between them: "Why are you 'independent'? What are you all independent from? Why can't you all share with each other and why is it impossible to mention each other?"

All of these supposedly fiercely independent media come with their own complex baggage, such as misplaced ALP, Rupert Murdoch or Developer allegiances (yes, we are specifically talking about you QCTV, Don Gordon-Brown, and Kerrod from the 'West-Ender'), which can hobble them from genuine independence. But if you are unwilling to actually be independent you should surely have trouble living with yourself wearing that label.

'So what', if most of them come with some smelly baggage? Well, everyone has baggage, but would it kill any of them to mention that they are not the only "independent" voice out there? Why can't they promote the independent (ie: non-mono-media-State Government-pro-business-crooked-'deal-is-done'-neo-con agenda) aspect of the world? Why?

Strike us pink and buy us a drink if we are the only genuinely "independent" voice in Queensland! And our only funding comes from our published papers emanating from the Pond's Institute (i.e.: fictional institute, fictional income! i.e. $zero).

"But why bother, if you aren't getting paid big bucks?" Well that is a really dumb question and one that could only be asked by a person who has no idea of how democracy and fascism dance a steamy and intimate tango separated at the hip by the slimmest of silky fabric - accountability for actions.

We think media organisations should be established to provide information to the community, not just to have a poke at your mortal enemies in the ALP and at Bowen Hills.

Idealistic? Unrealistic? Look around you. We are worried about the planet, our society and democracy, which are all going down the toilet. Is that perhaps the thread of commonality that "independent" voices share? We believe so.

On 4ZzZ today, Research Fellow from Swinburne University Dr Ellie Rennie said that the only funding the Federal Government allocated to community media in the budget was $2.5 million for a "national training program".

National broadband is not the solution and neither is funding multi platform, digital or online technology, or a national training program.

The airwaves are public, not private, property and access to information is a democratic right.

Perhaps it would be better to request that the government leave the analogue signal, and the community media outlets alone.

What does your "independent" local media say about it? Can you trust them?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saving The News

Victor Pickard, Josh Stearns and Craig Aaron from ‘Free Press Net’ have authored a report: ‘Saving the News: Toward a National Journalism Strategy’. Identifying the current crisis in journalism, they contend that so far:

“…there has been little discussion about the policies needed to foster quality journalism and give communities the news and information they require. And those
in the position to make changes or with the most at stake in the outcome, whether policymakers, public interest advocates or journalists themselves, either failed to grasp the structural nature of this crisis or failed to recognize it as a policy problem. Further undercutting chances for broad-based support for imaginative alternatives is a dominant frame that sees the demise of newspapers as a natural progression. According to this view, the newspaper, like the horse and buggy, has outlived its utility. The market has spoken, and new technologies will lead the way. Another school — no less adamant — blames the Internet for all of the industry’s woes, as if the Web could be put back in the bottle. And skeptics from across the political spectrum see professional journalism as a flawed system unworthy of saving. Others rightly believe this crisis offers no easy solutions, especially given current economic
conditions. Although it is true that no magic bullet exists to immediately solve the journalism crisis, to resign ourselves to fatalism, given the stakes, is simply not an option. So what is to be done?”

The authors analyse a range of strategies and possibilities for the future of journalism: not for profit, low-profit and cooperative models, community and municipal models, foundation and endowment support, public and government models and new commercial models.

They also outline the possibility of fostering new ownership structures by: the establishment of non profit and low-profit news organizations through tax exempt and low-profit limited liability models; incentives for divestiture creating tax incentives and revising bankruptcy laws to encourage local, diverse, non profit, low-profit and employee ownership; journalism jobs program funding training and retraining for novice and veteran journalists in multimedia and investigative reporting; R & D fund for journalistic innovation; investing in innovative projects and experimenting to identify and nurture new models and new public media transforming public broadcasting into a world-class non commercial news operation utilizing new technology and focused on community service.

This American report is quite a long read but is worthy of consideration and discussion in Australia given that we are the 51st state. Plus, the journalism crisis is far worse in this country given the concentration of media ownership.

Some of the ideas we liked are:

Non profit ownership or low-profit alternatives:

“Indeed, the L3C promises advantages from both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. “The L3C is different from a typical nonprofit because it can earn a return, but the social purpose must trump the financial purpose,” explains Sally Duros, a former Chicago Sun-Times reporter, writing for The Huffington Post. “The idea of the Newspaper L3C is to bring back those journalistic contributions like neighborhood reporting, music reviews and book sections and make them part of the community service. And ads are part of the mix, too.”
Worker-Owned Media and Cooperatives

Among those most dedicated to preserving local media institutions — and the hardest hit by the current downturn — are working journalists themselves. In this light, the interest in employee-owned newspapers is gaining traction in the United States. Without the pressure to satisfy shareholders’ desire for higher returns, employee ownership may result in a higher premium being placed on sustaining jobs, preserving high-quality content, and service to the local community. A number of U.S. papers have been worker-owned at some point in their history. A contemporary example is the Omaha World-Herald, the largest daily in Nebraska, which has been employee-owned since 1979. Internationally, employee-owned models include prominent magazines like Der Spiegel in Germany and newspapers like Le Monde in France.
Community-Based Projects

Across the country, new local reporting projects are bubbling up to fill the gaps left by shrinking newsrooms at local papers and broadcast stations. These new projects share a public service mission, and many focus on sending reporters to cover beats that have been long forgotten or neglected, including coverage of city halls and statehouses. Capturing the unique role of these community-oriented projects, as well as the challenges they face, one article notes: “These tiny nonprofits — from Chicago and Minneapolis to New Haven and San Diego— are, at the very least, trailblazers. Some have become an integral source of information for their respectivecommunities. All share a challenge: growing an audience while learning to break even.”
Municipal Ownership

A glance at the history of newspapers shows a number of interesting alternatives that often have been overlooked, but that may hold lessons for addressing today’s crisis. Although more research is needed to understand why most of these models ultimately failed, there are several that are worth noting here. Compelling historical examples of ad-free, subscriber-supported newspapers include New York’s PM and Chicago’s The Day Book. Ultimately, these pioneering newspapers folded for want of adequate funding—in the case of The Day Book, a sudden increase in the cost of paper sank what had been a sustainable model—but both maintained enthusiastic audiences until the end. Similar non profit models were seriously considered by the Hutchins Commission, a blue ribbon panel of experts in the 1940s that grappled with a crisis of the press bearing many similarities to the one facing us today and presented a landmark report on the role of media in a democratic society.
Foundation-Supported News Operations

Foundations already play a key role in supporting investigative journalism. The Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting are both impressive, longstanding models that depend at least in part on foundation money for their operations. Two newer examples of this model are the recently announced Huffington Post Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Kaiser Health News initiative. There are also several university-based reporting projects like the University of Maryland’s Journalism Center on Children and Families and Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.
Private Endowments

Instead of relying on the ongoing support of foundations, some commentators suggest that newspapers ought to build up their own funding through endowments. David Swensen and Michael Schmidt of Yale University, writing in the New York Times, suggest that those who care about the future of journalism should consider modeling newspaper endowments after those of colleges and universities.
The Public Media Model

Many people have begun to look to public broadcasting as a viable model for saving journalism. “The most successful hybrid of old and new media comes from the last place you’d expect,” entrepreneurial business magazine Fast Company recently wrote. “NPR’s digital smarts, nonprofit structure, and good old-fashioned shoe leather just might save the news.” The article notes that “NPR’s listenership has nearly doubled since 1999, even as newspaper circulation dropped off a cliff. Its programming now reaches 26.4 million listeners weekly — far more than USA Today’s 2.3 million daily circulation or Fox News’ 2.8 million prime-time audience.

When newspapers were closing bureaus, NPR was opening them, and now runs 38 around the world, better than CNN. Despite their continued success, public media aren’t immune from the economic recession, either: In December, NPR canceled several shows and let go 64 employees.
New Government Programs & Institutions

As talk of bailouts and stimulus bills dominated the headlines last fall and winter, discussions picked up steam on whether federal funding should be dedicated specifically to rescuing journalism and journalists. One New Deal-inspired proposal was the creation of a new “Federal Writers Project” to employ reporters who had lost their jobs. The original FWP, a core initiative of the Works Progress Administration, employed more than 6,000 writers, artists and historians who produced a range of important, local projects such as regional guides, plays and oral histories.
Journalism Experimentation Fund

One of the strengths of the national endowment model in addressing the journalism crisis is its potential to foster experimentation and study replicable best practices. While few agree on the solution to the crisis in journalism, there is nearly universal agreement on the need to experiment with new models. Just as government invests in medical and scientific research and development, it could establish a fund to support innovative journalism projects and foster new models for news and information. Based on models that already exist in the sciences, transportation, energy, defense and health, the federal government could establish a Federally Funded Research and Development Center. Funding for such centers comes from different agency budgets and is often distributed to academic institutions and other nonprofit research centers.

Insisting that this funding go to institutions like universities, however, may actually hinder innovation and development of individual projects that are unaffiliated with those institutions. Ideally, such a program would include two funding streams, one focused on research and the other on new models. This second funding stream would function like a public-interest-oriented venture capitalist. Some new journalistic initiatives may be attractive for investors given that quality information will always be in demand. Back in 2007, Wired reported that citizen journalism was “red hot,” with Associated Content landing $10 million in financing from Canaan Partners;
NowPublic receiving $10.6 million in financing from Rho Ventures; and OhMyNews
landing $11 million from SoftBank. However, funding for this kind of experimentation has since become mostly the province of a few foundations like the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, whose Knight News Challenge plans to invest “at least $25 million over five years in the search for bold community news and social media experiments.” It is possible that such a model could be replicated on a much larger scale at the federal level.

Journalism Jobs Program

Given that Congress has voted to dramatically increase funding for AmeriCorps, an independent federal agency that aims to “foster civic engagement through service and volunteering,”105 Eric Klinenberg of New York University has proposed earmarking some of these funds specifically for a program to train the next generation of local journalists. These “journalism fellows” would most likely be recent college graduates who would be trained to do multimedia reporting for outlets in their cities and towns. Such efforts may be done in partnership with local media organizations, and foundations could provide outlets for the content or office space.
Public Subsidies and Policy interventions

Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, two of the co-founders of Free Press, say journalism is so important that it should be considered no less a public policy priority than national security or education:
“Only a nihilist would consider it sufficient to rely on profit-seeking commercial interests or philanthropy to educate our youth or defend the nation from attack. … Just as there came a moment when policy-makers recognized the necessity of investing tax dollars to create a public education system to teach our children, so a moment has arrived at which we must recognize the need to invest tax dollars tocreate and maintain news gathering, reporting and writing with the purpose of informing all our citizens.”
International Subsidy Models

When Sweden faced a newspaper crisis 30 years ago, the government taxed newspaper ads to create revenue for a fund that was administered by an independent agency to support struggling newspapers. The government introduced press subsidies to broaden the bounds of news discourse by supporting smaller newspapers and staving off the increasing number of newspaper bankruptcies. Distributed by an administrative governmental body known as the “Press Subsidies Council,” money is automatically calculated according to circulation and revenue and then allocated to newspapers other than the dominant paper in a particular municipality or region.

France is considering a similar program to Sweden’s right now. But the idea that has received the most press attention is France’s plan to give every 18-year-old a one-year subscription to one of the country’s major newspapers. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also called for all high school students to receive free subscriptions to newspapers. Asking for a $780 million bailout package for France’s ailing newspaper industry, Sarkozy asserted that it is the state’s responsibility to provide for a free and independent press. More than encouraging young people to learn the value of the
press and to continue to subscribe to newspapers in the future, the government
also implemented a nine-fold increase in the state’s support for newspaper deliveries and doubled its annual print advertising outlay.
Direct Government Stimulus

While the public appetite for major bailouts of the media is unknown, several ambitious proposals have been put forward to prop up insolvent news organizations during the current recession. For example, McChesney and Nichols call for an emergency stimulus for the next three years to buy time to transition to other models. They also advocate for directly subsidizing high school and college newspapers.151 Mark Cooper has also proposed such a fund, though he explicitly rejects the notion of helping existing newspapers.
The authors conclude thus:

“Journalism is a critical infrastructure. It is too precious for a democratic society simply to sit back and pray that the market will magically sustain it. The crisis in journalism is undeniably an economic issue, exacerbated by shifting revenue streams, new forms of content creation, and new methods of distribution. But it is also fundamentally a policy problem. While we explore new economic models for journalism, we must also examine what role government can play in supporting this indispensable institution. It is in large part policy decisions — and the political will to make the right ones — that will decide what is next for journalism.”
The adaptation of any of these initiatives – including self-funded journalism - would be better than what we have at present, but diversity – leading to a range of media voices is the key.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This presents an opportunity for a renaissance in Australian journalism

"A shift to charging readers viewing stories on News Corp's newspaper websites is a step closer after the global media group's boss signalled the change could be in place within the next year.

News Corps chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch said on Thursday the "malfunctioning" newspaper business had to change and the company planned to start charging readers accessing content on its websites...

Mr Murdoch said too many content creators had been passive in the face of obvious violations of intellectual property rights.

"Our content is extremely valuable and the violators recognise that value," he said.

"We are devising clever ways to monetise the content of some of our long established print properties.""

Good riddance!

Less Australians exposed to Murdoch propaganda can only be a good thing. His welcome departure from the internet proper could give rise to some genuine journalism. The TPM model in the U.S. has proven that there is a market for real journalism. There is no reason why this can't happen in Australia.

Why you should never talk to News Ltd.

'Gold Coast Bulletin' [11/5/09] shows it's colours with "pride":

"A year 12 Elanora High student who is embarrassed to wear her uniform in public has called on her classmates to stop giving their school a bad name.

Bianca Hockey last night told 'The Bulletin' she was 'disgusted' and 'embarrassed' by the behaviour of a small minority of Elanora State High School students.

The senior school leader, who mentors year 8 students, said pupils were sick and tired of their school being portrayed as bad.

She said recent media coverage had distracted students from their learning and was not a true representation of the school."


News Ltd. has a demonstrated record of hating women, public education, independent thought, genuine debate and "grassroots" community.

They don't care about you, and they don't care about your school.

More on 'Invisible PR'

Continuing our discussion; why you should always consider who it is that you'll be working for:

Why on earth does a news organisation need PR?

From: 'Inside Spin: The dark underbelly of the PR industry' (Bob Burton):

"To sweeten what could be seen as a bitter pill for asbestos victims, the company planned on announcing the establishment of a new research centre as a part of the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation, which compensated claimants. 'This will enable the Foundation to step forward and talk about the good works it proposes to carry out in the future. We will aim to divert general media attention to the Foundation's aim of ensuring that genuine claimants are properly compensated', the strategy stated. A media release by Hardie's Executive Vice-President of Corporate Affairs, Greg Baxter, reassured the public that the compensation scheme would be a 'fully funded Foundation for both claimants and shareholders'. Hardie's strategy largely went according to plan. There were a couple of upbeat reports by business reporters, and a couple of more critical ones. But within days, the issue had largely sunk without trace."
If you're still attracted to this line of work, as Bill Hicks said, "Just kill yourself."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pat yourself on the back

And keep up the good work:

The global recession and weak advertising markets continue to wreak havoc on News Corporation's balance sheet.

Rupert Murdoch's global media empire has just posted a 17 per cent slide in revenues for the first three months of the year - and his newspapers are doing it particularly tough.

The top-line profit figure came in at $3.6 billion for the quarter, although that was helped by one-off tax gains.

Earnings for global newspapers and the News group nosedived by 97 per cent from the same period a year ago to just $9 million.

His Australian newspapers the Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Australian suffered a collective 42 per cent drop in quarterly earnings.

That was on the back of a 16 per cent fall in ad revenue, especially because of the virtual disappearance of both employment and real estate ads.

So bleak is the situation for newspapers that Mr Murdoch is now fast-tracking moves to plug that financial black hole and he is looking very seriously and potentially very quickly at other revenue sources; in particular, charging people to look at news websites.

There is much work to be done as their influence is still too pervasive - take this upcoming event (Media at the speed of light - the time battlefield with Shane Rodgers, Group Project Manager News Ltd.) hosted by the Brisbane Institute:

Over the past 20 years human beings have been presented with an explosion of options to fill their lives but their days are still confined to 24 hours. The result is a major shift in time-use and profound changes in life habits. The changes have coincided with an explosion in “instant” media and a rewriting of the rule books on journalism, advertising and the currency of information.

At the same time economic change and environmental concerns have snapped many Australians out of their complacency and created a new hunger for quality reporting and analysis. This presentation examines the state of play in what was once referred to as the newspaper industry, and the instant information mindset that is revolutionising the definition of news.

No Shane, 'time' is not the problem. The problem is crap journalism.

Monday, May 4, 2009

This Town Is Full Of Battered Wives

While we support the Greens' campaign for effective climate action, you are wasting your time by writing to certain publications:

"You can support the Greens by writing to the newspapers in your state to show the Prime Minister that Australians support an emissions trading scheme that protects the environment, not polluters...
Send to: *
The Australian (National)
The Financial Review (National)
The Age (VIC)
The Herald Sun (VIC)
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)
The Daily Telegraph (NSW)
The Courier Mail (QLD)
The Adelaide Advertiser (SA)
The West Australian (WA)
The Mercury (TAS)
The Examiner (TAS)
The Advocate (TAS)
The Canberra Times (ACT)
The Northern Territory News (NT) "

There is no way to put this politely, so we'll just have to put it bluntly:


Apart from the fact that at least half of those papers have a single owner and ferociously push his rabid anti-environment agenda, the real point is that none of those newspapers will treat your input objectively.

Don't waste your time. If you want to be active and you really care about the environment, write to the Greens! Tell them that the corporate media is not your friend. Tell them that the corporate media is not, and will never be, their friend. Tell them that they are falling victim to the "battered spouse syndrome" if they keep going back for more bashings.

YOU can help them to help themselves. They have at least 10% solid support in the electorate, if they are brave they could easily raise that to a very solid 20-30%. All it would take is to completely shun the dishonest media shills who only want to own the debate. Don't go begging to them! Make them come begging to you!

Action? Let the Greens know how you feel about their position, 'media advisors', 'media', corporatised PR and the spin industry. It is a lie to say that the only way is via "savvy PR", savvy PR is code for "please keep coming back for more of the same, won't you?"

Further Action: Write to your MP. Local Council, State, Federal and Senate with your view. It doesn't need to be complex, you could simply say:

"Protect the environment, not the Big Corporate Polluters. If the polluters are more important to you than the environment, please tell me why."
Of course, they will either ignore you or lie to you or give you a "spin job". Don't worry! You can send us your questions and the details of their (non) answers and we can keep a running record here. That should give them the shits!