OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Meet your new overlords + media conference

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  • Graeme Edgeler,

    AA Directions? Naturally - isn't it our biggest circulation magazine.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2994 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    We bring it on ourselves, I think. As an industry, we talk ourselves up as bearers of a civic duty, how fantastic the job is, how we'd hate to sell our soul to become a PR hack. It's all true, but damn, it makes for a lousy bargaining position.

    That was the sense I got. Like teachers and nurses, journalists think of their profession as "a calling" and see it as serving society. And like teachers and nurses, this belief is ruthlessly exploited. Unlike teachers and nurse, though, they can't just go around their employer and bargain directly with the people with their hands on the purse strings - and neither do they have the level of unionisation necessary for effective collective bargaining.

    An interesting idea suggested was that next time the journalists of a major daily went out on strike, they could simply not come back; iven the cost of web publishing, it would be possible to just set up a website and create a serious rival to a former employer overnight (there's a parallel here with the formation of medieval universities, many of which were established when masters and students got into a spat with the local Bishop, moved elsewhere, and took their university with them (a university in that time not being the buildings, but the people)). It's an interesting idea, but I don't think the economics quite work out yet - web advertising revenues are probably too low to fund a serious paper, even a purely virtual one. But that should change (or rather, with the demise of printed classified advertising, it is going to have to change if newspapers are going to survive), which makes it possible.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1630 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Easterbrook,

    We've armed the robots? Is it too late to shutdown Skynet?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 244 posts Report Reply

  • Josh Addison,

    We've armed the robots? Is it too late to shutdown Skynet?

    It's worse than that - they've called them SWORDs. Hasn't anyone seen Screamers?

    Onehunga, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 297 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    From No Right Turn:

    Finally, Dominion-Post reporter and Parliamentary press gallery chairperson Vernon Small gave an entertaining talk on "mapping the crossroads between new media and ethics" and where the profession was headed. Like Judy Macgregor before him, he was pretty scathing of the blogosphere, calling bloggers "biased and unfair" and saying that they were way out on the fringes of the media solar system …

    The discussion also saw an explanation from Audrey Young on her John Key post (apparently, the title was added by her sub-editor). Young argued that "one of the best ways we can ensure journalistic standards in blogging is for more of us to do it". Vernon Small argued that the blogosphere's "rush to instant opinion" invited trouble in the form of errors born of swift judgement (something I'll ruefully admit to); he thought journalism had a requirement for considered opinion. Chris Warren chipped in with some very interesting points about blogging culture: the problem he thought isn't that bloggers are acting unethically as journalists - the problem is that blogging is fundamentally contemptuous of journalism. We've seen the development of a key communications technology which is fundamentally contemptuous of journalism, with that contempt being driven in part by a belief that journalists are not living up to their own standards. However, he also argued that journalists have "terrible glass jaws" and were perhaps excessively sensitive to criticisms from bloggers.

    There are some unhelpful generalisations there. Blogging isn't "fundamentally contemptuous of journalism" any more than television is fundamentally contemptuous of radio. Some bloggers might operate on a built-in contempt for journalism; the very large majority don't. Blogging might manifest as a critique of journalism, it might be indistinguishable from journalism, or it might regard journalism as irrelevant. It's just a different voice.

    Whether Small likes it or not (and I'm sure he doesn't), the newspaper columns of Michael Laws or Jim Hopkins manifest as journalism, but, as we have noted here lately, rarely seem to observe "a requirement for considered opinion". And the next time Steve Cook stitches up someone at the Herald on Sunday, I may well be unimpressed -- but I'm unlikely to make the mistake of making universal judgements about newspapers on the basis of it.

    I am frequently in awe of good journalism. But in the real world, it sometimes falls down on the presentation and interpretation of factual information, especially where it's technical in nature. When it does, it defaults to a talking-heads model; a tit-for-tat listing of opposing claims. The GE "debate" remains the classic example.

    One of the most useful benefits of the rise of blogging is that it has provided a gateway for expertise. Expert blogs, crafted by people who (a) can write, and (b) know stuff are a boon to us all. And as Keith ably noted in the Aotearoa Ethnic Journal, blogging enjoys some advantages with format:

    Good opinion pieces are, in fact, torturous to write. Mainstream publications expect a coherent argument in 600 to 800 words, complete with epic hyperboles, pithy invectives and evidence. Of course, it’s often the evidence that’s left on the cutting room floor.

    Blogs can have it all. Most importantly, you can reference massive statistical tomes with a simple hyperlink. By linking to relevant sources, you are demonstrating that your figures were not plucked from the ether (or from the back of a napkin, which is often the case with many politicians and even some journalists); that you are confident that your analysis will stand up to scrutiny; and finally, you allow journalists to use your analysis while quoting from your original, respectable source.

    Hyperlink referencing can lend instant credibility to your argument (provided, of course, that your analysis actually does withstand the subsequent scrutiny!), and it can do so without creating excessive material for casual readers to wade through. Huge volumes of information can be embedded without interrupting the flow of the prose.

    In this way, it is a uniquely effective tool for presenting factual arguments. This is especially true when the alternative is a three-paragraph letter to the editor, a medium which requires immense skill and discipline to make an effective point.

    But more than anything else, Small and Macgregor make the classic mistake of believing political blogging to be synonymous with blogging per se. It isn't. But it would be redundant to go on, given that Stephen Johnson has already nailed it in his required-reading Five Things All Sane People Agree on About Blogs and Mainstream Journalism.

    I lead pretty much every presentation I give with a walk through those five things.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18693 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I was also surprised that Audrey Young seems to have been given quite a hard time over her foray into blogging. She discusses that in her latest post, with reference to my Listener column on the topic. I thought it was evident that Young nailed the big political stories of two successive weeks via her blog.

    It's also worth noting that the blog voice allows Young to do something virtually prohibited by convention in a normal column: refer explicitly to the writing of other journalists. That seems like a feature rather than a bug.

    And one more thing: show me where in the conventional media the proceedings of the conference are being discussed with the depth and seriousness that they are on blogs, mailing lists and websites.

    Vernon? Care to join the conversation?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18693 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    At the risk of making a terrible a faux pas and linking away from PA in a self indulgent manner, I blogged about this the other day...

    The point I am trying to make is that internet readers are as real as newspaper readers. Treating them as second class citizens is just nuts for media organisations and if journalists like Small don't realise this then their days are surely numbered.

    Oh, and sure, give them all more money :-)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1615 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    There are some unhelpful generalisations there.

    Commendable understatement there, Russell. If I wanted to respond in kind, I could point to 'Asian Angst', 'Operation Leaf', John Manukia, and ask how many times has the Herald on Sunday had to retract stories about Sharon Shipton? When it comes to being "fundamentally contemptuous of journalism", I'd respectfully suggest scapegoating bloggers is dodging the issue.

    I was also surprised that Audrey Young seems to have been given quite a hard time over her foray into blogging.

    Well, certainly. I found Judy McGregor particularly bizarre on that score. Sure, I really think Audrey and John Key need to bury the hatchet - preferably not in each other's heads - but let's be quite blunt. I don't blame Audrey for taking very strong exception to, basically, being accused of just making shit up. That's not a trivial charge, in my book - just as I'm sure McGregor would respond strongly to public claims that she falsified research data or distorted another academics work in a paper.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11858 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This just in: journoblogger Philippa Stevenson raps the MSM for something that's all too common - the dutiful transcription of claims of expertise by foreign visitors.

    Also on Rural Network: a guest expert blog on the same visitor's claim to glory in the field of soil science, which helped get him in front of a Parliamentary select committee.

    Dr Arden Andersen turns out to be, um, an osteopath, and his academic resume is, frankly, rather odd. Now tell me again how useless blogs are ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18693 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Now tell me again how useless blogs are ...

    Well some blogs are thoroughly useless. Just as (sorry Vernon and Judy) there are any number of newspapers and academic papers I wouldn't wipe my arse with, for fear of catching stupid cooties.

    To be fair, I can get over my knee-jerk hostility to the EPMU and acknowledge there's some interesting and provocative food for thought coming out of the Journalism Matters conference. But the air of navel-gazing self-pity about how the evil bloggers are the barbarians at the gate isn't it. I'm personally quite thankful that Russell and the likes of Ben Goldacre are fisking the arse off junk science and innumeracy disguised as journalism. If media outlets don't consider basic scientific and statistical literacy to be an essential skill set in the contemporary newsroom, I'm quite happy for informed bloggers to fill the gap.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11858 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    There are some unhelpful generalisations there. Blogging isn't "fundamentally contemptuous of journalism" any more than television is fundamentally contemptuous of radio. Some bloggers might operate on a built-in contempt for journalism; the very large majority don't. Blogging might manifest as a critique of journalism, it might be indistinguishable from journalism, or it might regard journalism as irrelevant. It's just a different voice.

    To be fair to Mr Warren, he did do some degeneralising at first, and noted that not every blog is about politics ("there are three types of blogs: catblogs, newsblogs, and opinionblogs"). At the same time, he has noted an important feature of political blogging culture, and while its not true of every blogger, its certainly a strong presence which spans left and right (though in different forms).

    One of Warren's points (which I left out) was that "most bloggers deny being journalists". Which is true, but it can be for different reasons. Your average foam at the mouth sewerblogger denies being a journalist because they are contemptuous of the "MSM". I deny being a journalist because I don't think I'm good enough (but I aspire to journalism on my better days).

    As for strengths of the medium, I was trying to make some similar points to someone from AUT, who is doing a piece about "blgs vs journalists" for their journalism school newspaper. Keith however has said it a lot better than I did in my muddled state.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1630 posts Report Reply

  • Kim Griggs,

    Just a note on the EPMU list of rates. I put this together about 2 years based on rates as reported by freelancers. It's now a tad out of date but we are updating the information, again by surveying freelancers and/or editors. On the SuveyMonkey site, I've listed every major magazine, from the ABC list, and the metropolitan newspapers.

    If you'd like to plug in any freelance rates you've been paid, please go to
    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=VWPJ3H0jBd_2boKuolLNPotg_3d_3d

    We'll be reporting the rates in the Freelance Market newsletter, and also on the EPMU site and via journz.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Craig:

    I found Judy McGregor particularly bizarre on that score.

    So did I. Yes, I know journalists and sources need to get on, but you can't just go around saying things on the record and then deny that you've done it. Key burned her, and tried to use her as a vehicle to lie to the NZ public. I'd have thought that any journalist worth their salt would burn him right back by exposing exactly what had been said.

    To be fair, I can get over my knee-jerk hostility to the EPMU and acknowledge there's some interesting and provocative food for thought coming out of the Journalism Matters conference. But the air of navel-gazing self-pity about how the evil bloggers are the barbarians at the gate isn't it.

    And to be fair, I think the sensitivity of bloggers isn't that interesting either. Vernon Small said the blogsophere as an institution was biased and unfair and full of wingnuts. And any honest appraisement would say that he is absolutely right. That's not to say there isn't good stuff out there, but Sturgeon's Law applies, as it does to everything. And I cannot blame people who profesionally maintaina solid commitment to quality from being a little uneasy about this.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1630 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I deny being a journalist because I don't think I'm good enough (but I aspire to journalism on my better days).

    At the risk of sounding like I'm giving you a virtual hand-job, you're perfectly "good" enough. It's a stupid as saying The Nation or The New Statesman are somehow second-class citizens of the print media, or their reporting is somehow suspect, because they're clearly and explicitly journals of opinion with a certain editorial POV. Of course, that doesn't give anyone a pass to just make shit up, but it does help if you're a little careful about not basing an argument on straw men.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11858 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Fitzgerald,

    Over hype the Robot or what!
    Like the anti-bomb version it springs from it may be of value if you are happy to stay in one place and wait patiently for some kid who never had a remote control car to come and shoot you, but remeber you must stay absolutely still.
    Good old Lincoln is just the venue for Doc Andersen and hasn't been asked to speak by the Uni itself - whew.

    Since May 2007 • 631 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    There is a much wider debate on the future of media / especially newspape such as this piece

    "It's easy to say that the New York Times and other newspaper companies are screwed, but sometimes it helps to actually run the numbers. Do you know why they're screwed? It's actually not the cost of paper, ink, trucks, printing plants, and other physical distribution expenses. Rather, it's the cost of content creation.

    Senior New York Times reporters believe they are underpaid, and, relative to other highly educated folks at the peak of their professions, they sure are. But relative to the online revenue they generate, those talented reporters, columnists, editors, and researchers actually cost a fortune."

    And then they run some number on what is happening to ad revenues for classified etc.

    Running the Numbers: Why Newspapers Are Screwed

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 215 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    oops that reference link was

    Running the Numbers: Why Newspapers Are Screwed

    see also

    The shift in advertising spending from traditional media to online and digital alternatives is taking place across the globe. Already, some forecasters expect newspaper advertising to be overtaken by online spending in the UK and Sweden this year.

    The VSS forecasts also illustrate the lag between changes in consumers’ behaviour and advertising spending.

    The survey also measured the time spent on different media, and in 2007 the amount of time spent reading newspapers is expected for the first time to be overtaken by time spent online.

    By Aline van Duyn in New York in FT.com

    Published: August 7 2007 05:03 | Last updated: August 7 2007 05:03 to read the full version see

    Online ads to overtake US newspapers

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 215 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    Small and Macgregor make the classic mistake of believing political blogging to be synonymous with blogging per se. It isn't.

    If you look at someone like me or Joanna, we've been writing stuff online/blogging for years without making any journalists fear for their jobs. I mean, if I write about something that happened to me on the bus yesterday, or if Joanna writes about a choice party she threw, I don't think many journalists are going to having crisis meetings figuring out how they can top that.

    If wonder if the whole "journalists vs political bloggers" thing has come about because political blogging is the one area where bloggers so often have it over journalists.

    And look at the times when an informative and engaging discussion here or at Kiwiblog is kicked off with a link to a news article to provide readers with some background before the discussion starts.

    Eventually I'm sure these confused journalists will get it, but until it's going to be a little frustrating.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1851 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    If you look at the money connection, it's quickly apparent why journalists are ahem, uneasy about blogging. Journalism is seen as a (semi?) glamorous profession- fuelled by the celeb culture, where getting in print or your name in the paper etc is status enhancing. Many young people are pushing to get a start as journalists, which pushes pay rates down (as well as constantly diluting the talent/experience base). The free lance rates are a joke, and have been for a long time. The salaries aren't that good either.
    Then you get these bloggers, with the temerity to offer opinions and even, on occasion, pull to pieces bad - or any- journalism. and what's worse: they do it for nothing!
    There's a lot of fear in the way journalists view blogging- and journalists who actually blog, are sometimes considered quislings.
    What the fear masks is the way quality tends to help success online too. And there are some great examples of online "bloggingjournalism". PA is one: Scoop, TMPmedia and Young's blog are other examples.
    What's less clear is how such "journalism" blogs will produce revenue, how much they will need to produce, and whether they are financially sustainable. But it's been interesting watching TalkingPointsMemo take off (and PAS, of course!). A few years ago TPM was just Josh Marshall. He started advertising internships, then for staff positions- now it looks like a mini-empire in the making, with a "TPMtv" and various branches, editors- something not unlike a traditional media outlet.
    Nobody knows where this is heading, and fear breeds uncertainty. But odds on some of the journalists currently talking scathingly about the "new media" will end up starting or working for online ventures.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1465 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng,

    I think the fundamental question is whether you can do factual reporting outside the confines of a traditional journalistic format (by that I mean the objective third person voice, not print).

    McGregor, for example, said that Russell was great, but actually, he is a journalist and not really a blogger. (Confusing the content with both the format and the medium.)

    I think Russell's analogy with the opinion pieces hit the mark. Most of the opinion pieces that get printed in the papers, if not for their celeberity by-line, would fit right in to the grey, murky pits of the blogosphere.

    It's a good question, and I had a whole rant prepared (actually, I've had it for the last three years) about how first-person factual reporting can actually be beneficial for breaking out of the talking-heads mode of journalism, where everything-is-just-someone's-opinion, and pointing out objective facts is considered as bias... but I'm going to keep my rant to myself for now, as actions speak louder than words, and I think it's more productive for all concerned if we let our work do the talking.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Jason: yeah, an online-only newspaper is not going to earn the returns demanded by its shareholders.

    I wonder though whether a co-op, or a lean little owner-operated business (like PA, or TPM) has the same management cost structures as an old-school paper. I don't think they do. A journalist in the "screwed online newspaper" model is screwed because they can't support the admin and management staff and make a decent return on shareholders' funds. Josh Marshall just has to support himself...

    Talking Points Memo is particularly interesting. There's no question that they research and break serious, credible stories, in that objective third person voice Keith mentions.

    I don't see why in future sites like TPM can't take the place of newspapers. After all the trust and credibility newspapers enjoy fundamentally rests on their readers' perceptions of their reporting. It isn't inherent to the medium. If that were to happen, such sites would still have journalists. They'd be online journos instead of newspaper journos, that's all.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2933 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    McGregor, for example, said that Russell was great, but actually, he is a journalist and not really a blogger. (Confusing the content with both the format and the medium.)

    Actually, she said I use "old-fashioned journalistic techniques such as research to underpin a point of view," which is most flattering. I must now confess to not having read the whole speech until after I knocked out my first post above.

    I had a whole rant prepared (actually, I've had it for the last three years) about how first-person factual reporting can actually be beneficial for breaking out of the talking-heads mode of journalism, where everything-is-just-someone's-opinion, and pointing out objective facts is considered as bias... but I'm going to keep my rant to myself for now, as actions speak louder than words, and I think it's more productive for all concerned if we let our work do the talking.

    Dude, bust it out. I really liked the analysis in your AEJ article, and I'd like to hear you on that topic.

    I'll buy you some good whisky* if you do it.

    *(I can recommend the "Living Cask" Islay Malt that they bottle on demand at Whisky Galore.)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18693 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I think it's more productive for all concerned if we let our work do the talking.

    Sure - and something else to think about: Does every damn technological or cultural change have to be a zero-sum game and/or the Fifth Horseperson of the Apocalypse? Strange as this may sound, but print as a medium, and the noble trade of hackery, is a damn sight more robust and adaptable than its practitioners give credit for. Radio and television were supposed to drive newspapers and bookstores out of business, weren't they? And not so long ago (historically speaking) mass-circulation newspapers themselves were decried as nothing more than open sewers for the ignorant and the mad to pander to the mob.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11858 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    aren't you guys playing along the line between reporting only being authentic if it's included in a major daily, and reporting being authentic based on content?

    it seems that in russell's case what you have is a slippage away from the medium being the reputable item (i.e. "anything in the NYT is reliable", to the person speaking being the reputable thing.

    i'd guess that you can do factual reporting outside of the traditional format. look at keith's reporting from south asia, not show to me by the major newspapers, but reputable, no?

    perhaps more journalists need to move online to get their stuff read, and build themselves as a brand separate from the straight-jacket of the paper-medium.

    and save some goddamn trees.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Jason: yeah, an online-only newspaper is not going to earn the returns demanded by its shareholders.

    A big part of the problem, especially at the bottom of the food chain in New Zealand, is that newspapers do make money, but instead of being invested, it's siphoned off to wherever the proprietor decides it's needed. Fairfax NZ helps up the company flagship, the Australian Financial Review. (The poor financial performance of many financial newspapers is remarkable.)

    I wonder though whether a co-op, or a lean little owner-operated business (like PA, or TPM) has the same management cost structures as an old-school paper. I don't think they do. A journalist in the "screwed online newspaper" model is screwed because they can't support the admin and management staff and make a decent return on shareholders' funds. Josh Marshall just has to support himself...

    I decided that Public Address had to become the mainstay of my income because print freelancing becomes less viable by the week. Fortunately, that's now the case. Now I get to lie awake nights wondering how many readers are being to the Firefox ad blocker by hostile agency creative ...

    Getting beyond that stage - even to the stage of employing someone or spreading some money love amongst teh bloggers -- is quite a bit harder, especially when your main role still has to be being the content guy.

    I've been doing quite a lot of organising (new Great Blend details early next week!), which is fine, except it's hard to also find time for the writing work that's currently slamming into deadlines all over the place.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18693 posts Report Reply

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