When Facebook decides to advertise …

July 7, 2018

It’s pretty funny when the second largest advertising company in the world (Google is first) feels the need to do “outdoor advertising” on posters and streetscapes, along with traditional TV ads. So it is with Facebook, which has plastered much of Australian central business districts with the following image (“Fake accounts are not our friends”):

Facebook, it must be said, is feeling more than a bit under fire, after the disastrous Cambridge Analytica affair. (This correspondent had his details swept up by CA, according to FB.) I am not the only one who has noticed this campaign. In this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald (7 July 2018), John McDuling writes:

Facebook really wants to move on from the Cambridge Analytica scandal that shook the company to its very foundations. But its wish is unlikely to be granted…. Facebook launched an advertising blitz this week in Australia (and the US and UK) designed to promote its efforts to clean up its platform.

“Part of the reason the Cambridge Analytica scandal struck such a raw nerve was because it added to concerns Facebook is undermining the democratic process,” McDuling concludes.

Interesting that Facebook focusses on fake accounts, as it appears to be guilty of its own accusation: as part of the Facebook SKAM Austin video series, Facebook has set up 10 Instagram (owned by Facebook) profiles for key characters in this fictional series, causing confusion at least among some viewers. Read more about how this clever series unfolds “in real time” in this New Yorker article (18 June 2018) by D.T. Max.

ABC the most trusted institution in Australia

January 27, 2015

A January 20th report from Crikey notes that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is Australia’s “most trusted major institution” – and this is despite “an ongoing campaign by the Coalition and News Corporation to undermine it”.

The numbers according to Crikey:

  • 53% say that they “have some or a lot of trust in the ABC”.
  • This is the “same level of trust as the High Court” of Australia, although the ABC slightly betters the High Count, because 20% “have a lot of trust in the ABC”, which compares to 17% “a lot” for the High Court. In other words, the ABC’s trust is marginally stronger in feeling.
  • The previous figures: in July 2013, 54% trusted the ABC and 57% the High Court.
  • “The Reserve Bank continues to be the third most trusted institution”, at 49%.
  • At the bottom of the scale: the least trusted Australian “institutions are political parties (14%), religious organisations (22%), business groups and trade unions (23%)”.

A fascinating insight as to what the Australian public really things, and not just the editorial writers of major newspapers.

A Companion to Australian Media now in print

December 30, 2014

The long-awaited book, A Companion to Australian Media, is now in print and available.  Edited by Professor Bridget Griffen-Foley, it is published by Australian Scholarly Publishing (North Melbourne).  I am one of more than 300 contributors to the “Companion“, and wrote the entries on film reviewing and educational media.  I joined an august group in this massive project, which is the result of many years of work by Professor Griffen-Foley, as the result of an Australian Research Council Discovery grant.

The book retails for $88.00 (Aust):  with about 415,000 words and 543 closely packed pages (including an impressive 37 page index), it’s great value.  First entry:  “A Current Affair”; second entry is “Phillip Adams”; and the last entry is “Zines”.

You can listen to Bridget Griffen-Foley discussing the Companion, on the podcast of ABC Radio National’s “Media Report” program, broadcast on 9 October 2014.

A photo of the book cover is below.

Companion to Aust Media cover

Has the “Digital Tipping Point” arrived?

August 2, 2014

Yes, says Deloitte Australia: the “digital tipping point” has definitely arrived, with permanent and irrevocable changes to our information and entertainment consumption.

According to Deloitte, here in Australia this happened some time in this past year. To summarise the main points of their 2014 Media Consumer Survey, the “digital tipping points” here in Australia are:

– Using the Internet is likely to eclipse watching TV as the preferred source of entertainment within a matter of months.
– We have gone “tablet mad” across all age groups – more than half (53%) of Australian survey respondents are now ‘digital omnivores’ – owners of a tablet, laptop and smart-phone, up significantly from 28% last year.
– Smartphone ownership is at 81%, an increase of 21% over the last three years.

Other findings include:
– When we watch hit TV shows, we “binge”: some 72% of their survey participants watch back-to-back episodes (three or more) in one sitting – and more than a quarter of us (26%) are doing this once a week.

– And there’s very bad (and not surprising) news for newspapers, with 92% of Australian survey respondents unwilling to pay for news online:

Compared with other surveyed countries, Australia has the lowest newspaper subscription rates per household, whether print or digital (22%), compared with the top ranking Japan (53%), the UK (51%) and China (44%). An additional 8% have digital-only subscriptions. Within the surveyed population, newspaper subscriptions have declined by 5% over the past three years while digital-only subscriptions have grown by 26%, albeit from a very low base.

Some interesting good news for print magazines:

We love our printed mags – the printed magazine is still holding its own and remains the preferred way to read magazine content (49% of all survey respondents). Nearly half (49%) of magazine subscribers indicated that if the price of their favourite magazine was the same for various options of physical or digital copies, they would prefer to receive the physical copy only, rather than both.

And here’s a cool infographic that summarises the key findings.

Overstating the facts? Probably, as it’s not likely that their survey reached many of the bottom 20 percent of Australians, who experience “digital exclusion”. But the trends are apparent.

Still not convinced that the digital has changed our communication forever? A recent Time magazine article by Katy Steinmetz (August 4, 2014 here in Australia, published a week earlier in North America), notes, “The total number of words in all text messages sent every three months exceeds the word count of all books ever published, according to text-analytics firm Idibon”, which is a genuinely “new age” company  that is based – where else – in San Francisco.

Food for thought.

Companion to the Australian Media coming soon

June 4, 2014

I am proud to be a contributing author to the upcoming “A Companion to the Australian Media”, to be published by Australian Scholarly Publishing and released in September 2014.  It’s edited by Professor Bridget Griffin-Foley (Macquarie University), and has an eminent editorial board.

It also has a whopping 479 entries totalling more than 415,000 words written by 300 contributors, including Quentin Dempster, David Salter, Eric Beecher, Tim Bowden, Mark Day, Gerald Stone, John Faulkner, Graham Freudenberg, Ross Gittins, Gideon Haigh, Sandra Hall, Jacqueline Kent, Valerie Lawson, Sylvia Lawson, Peter Manning, Bill Peach, Nicolas Rothwell, Julianne Schultz, Margaret Simons, Graeme Turner and Richard Walsh.  I wrote the entries on “film reviewing in Australia” and “educational media in Australia”.

An article by Peter Coleman about the “Companion” appeared in the May 31, 2014 edition of The Spectator.

Here are extracts from the official first “blurb”:

At this time of rapid and revolutionary change in modes of communication, A Companion to the Australian Media provides the first comprehensive, up-to-date historical account of Australia’s press, broadcasting and new media sectors.

Arranged in an accessible A–Z format are nearly 500 articles focussing on both the history and contemporary practice of media corporations, individuals, industries, audiences, policy and regulation since the launch of Australia’s first newspaper in 1803.

Journalism in the digital age rapidly evolves – latest insights in Australia

November 10, 2013

There is possibly nobody else in Australia who has tried to monitor, capture and report on the changing nature of journalism in the digital age than Margaret Simons. A veteran journalist (The Age, The Australian), for some years she lectured in journalism at Swinburne University of Technology and is now director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne.

She also founded and continues as the guiding light of The Public Interest Journalism Foundation (declaration: I am on the Foundation’s Board – I believe strongly in its mission), an organisation that “promotes and enables innovation in public interest journalism”.

Simons’ latest book (as editor) – What’s Next in Journalism? New-media entrepreneurs tell their stories (Scribe) has just been published, and is as definitive as snapshot as you can get – in print, no less – on the rapidly evolving digital media landscape. With a genuine explosion of material on this topic, the big value of What’s Next in Journalism is that it encapsulates what’s happening here in Australia, all within a globally aware context.

Here is an extract from the book.

And while you are on the Public Interest Journalism Foundation website, have a look at a well-written blog post by Dr Tim Senior, a General Practitioner who works in Aboriginal health, who responds to an outstanding recent public lecture by Katharine Viner at University of Melbourne last month (October) entitled, “The rise of the reader: journalism in the age of the open web”.

Whats Next in Journalism book cover

Australian Independent Media Inquiry Reports … and the implications are profound

March 3, 2012

Yesterday (Friday 2 March 2012) the Australian Independent Media Inquiry – headed by retired Federal Court Judge Ray Finkelstein – issued its report.  And what a “doozy” it is.

Here is some background, taken from the report (to access it, click here on the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy web page), which runs a full 474 pages. Announced by the Minister (Stephen Conroy) on 14 September 2011, the terms of reference were to report on:

– The effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms.

– The impact of this technological change on the business model that has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment.

– Ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to online publications, and with particular reference to the handling of complaints.

– Any related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest.

The result is a philosophical, “folksy”, easy to read and quite comprehensive snapshot of where the Australian press is today – and particularly examining the issues of freedom of the press, media business models and regulation.  It is not every report to the Minister that quotes Thomas Macaulay, John Stuart Mills’ On Liberty (1859), John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), US Supreme Court cases from 1951, Canadian Supreme Court cases from 1957, radical thinker Cass R Sunstein’s Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech (1995), Jurgen Habermas’ The Postnational Constellation (2001) and US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart – and that’s only in part of chapter two (“The Democratic Indispensability of a Free Press”).  I was particularly interested in chapter three “Newspaper Industry Structure and Performance”, about which I will write more in detail in a later post.

I attended one day of the Sydney public hearings of the Inquiry:  Thursday 17 November 2011 at the University of Sydney, in a windowless, featureless and bland small lecture room called the Marjorie Oldfield Lecture Theatre.  I was there particularly to hear Dr Margaret Simons, who is the Chair of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation (of which I am a Board Member) and who (in December 2011) took on the position of Director for the Centre for Advanced Journalism and coordinator of the new Master of Journalism at The University of Melbourne.  Surprising to me (as the Inquiry did not publicly advertise it) were the next people to appear: John Hartigan and Campbell Reid from News Limited.  The press really showed up for that.  I sat right behind them during their “discussions” with Justice Finkelstein (and believe me, Mr Hartigan showed no pleasure at all about his being there).  Here is a photo of me from the next day’s Sydney Morning Herald, sitting behind them (in the gray shirt between Hartigan and Reid):

I have not attended very many of these Inquiry hearings, but this one struck me as rather unusual.  Finkelstein conducted all of the questioning himself and did so frequently in a very informal manner, wishing to engage his participants in philosophical debates at times, and keeping the discussion very wide-ranging (the report certainly reflects this style).  Characteristically, Finkelstein has decided with the publication of his report NOT to engage in public discussion about it (this strikes me as relatively unusual in this day and age), providing the following rationale in his media statement:

  1. While the report is lengthy there is a summary which sets out my recommendations together with a synopsis of my reasons.
  2. The report proper contains a detailed analysis of the issues I thought ought to be addressed. There is nothing I can usefully add to that analysis.
  3. Having completed my task, it is appropriate for me to await any discussion about the report’s contents, rather than to pre-empt that discussion.
  4. I do not think it fair to speak to individual members of the media lest it be thought I am showing preference to some over others.

I don’t think the media is thrilled by this, because they thrive on personalities and conflict and extravagant statements.  This Finkelstein declines to do.  Good on him – although I suspect he will continue to be in a minority in this regard.

Here is a link to the The Sydney Morning Herald article (page 3, Saturday 3 March 2012) about the inquiry’s report, which is entitled “Fears of media showdown if new watchdog wins approval”.  The greatest worry expressed in the article is that the key recommendation – to set up a government-funded “News Media Council” (replacing the voluntary industry regulation through the Australian Press Council) – “would be tantamount to government regulation”.  I am not so certain about this, partly because it seems to be universally acknowledged that the Australian Press Council is not fully functioning as it needs to (at least that was the sense in the hearing I attended).

So far, the reaction has been News Ltd, Western Australian Newspapers and the Institute of Public Affairs all do not like it, the Greens party does and Fairfax Media (publishers of the Herald) were “still digesting” the report.  I am not so worried about the “government regulation” problem, although this would necessitate some changes to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the current regulator of many broadcast and advertising activities.  Let’s see how this one plays out in the coming weeks and months.

The Brooklyn Rail

December 23, 2011

Here’s a publication worth noting:  The Brooklyn Rail, a Brooklyn (New York) based non-profit organisation that distributes its journal free of charge, with all staff, editors, and contributors working on a voluntary basis – and relying exclusively on the philanthropy of foundations and individual donors to meet production, operation and program expenses.  Originally founded by playwright Emily DeVoti in the (northern) autumn of 1998, the original “intent was to create a broadsheet containing a short series of slanted opinions designed to be read on the L train back and forth to Manhattan.”  It distributes 20,000 free printed copies around New York City and is available on the web – no subscription, no charge.

It unashamedly leans left-ward and boasts a stellar group of supporters including writer Paul Auster.  Fascinating model of a non-profit media organisation.  Worth checking out.

Public Interest Journalism Foundation

December 21, 2011

The Public Interest Journalism Foundation here in Australia – of which I am a Board Director – has just issued its latest online newsletter, and it’s worth checking out.  Included are links to the address by Jay Rosen (NYU journalism and media), who was an international guest of the Foundation at “New News 2011” conference in August 2011 as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

Click here for the newsletter.

On reading The New York Times and the New Yorker in New York

November 24, 2011

I am a committed reader of newspapers – and mostly the “old school” kind, actual ink on printed paper, even though I spend a large part of my professional life online.  Living in Sydney, Australia, I regularly read The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and even the Australian Financial Review.

But my favourite paper – and I am not alone in this judgment, even here – is The New York Times.  It may partly be a result of growing up in suburban New Jersey – where The New York Times was THE paper to read on Sunday mornings.  And occasionally you could buy the paper the night before (although I never quite realised then that the news was distinctly first edition and was inevitably updated later on).  It was, at least to me at the time – as they advertised – “all the news that’s fit to print”.  In retrospect, that clearly was not true (ALL the news?), but I recall spending many hours happily reading the paper, and continued to read printed paper editions of the “Arts and Leisure” and “Book Review” sections while living here in Australia, courtesy of various libraries which received them (a quaint and now dead tradition, from the perspective of late 2011, yes?).  The online world has made The New York Times more accessible (and I regularly receive at least three alert emails from the paper each week), but the last thirty years has also seen the Times expand to a true global brand, available for purchase all around the USA and widely consulted outside that country.

I am equally enamoured of The New Yorker, a weekly intellectual magazine with the courage to publish extremely long articles (8,000 or more words is not unusual), and with an ability to present some of the best writers,  And it is often been thus, as the recent biography by Brian Kellow  about the late film critic Pauline Kael details.  (Also see Camille Paglia’s analysis of Kael’s writing style and impact.)

So it was with delight that during my recent two month stay in New York City I was able to read the print edition of The New York Times every day and The New Yorker every week (the latter happily – for me – sent to the absent landlord of the flat we were renting in Chelsea).

And here is what I realised: these two media icons are actually fully and thoroughly New York in their being, both in and of that frustrating, exciting, stimulating and maddening city.  While I regard myself as intelligent, surely I would have noticed that ALL of the “events” listed in The New Yorker were actually taking place in NEW YORK.  Well, I guess I did, but I never quite thought it through or made the connection, until I saw a number of people reading the magazine on the subway – easily at least two or three in any one subway journey.  And of course, the covers of the magazine – which are frequently famous – inevitably tell important stories (or commentaries) about New York.  Here are three recent examples, respectively commenting on the Occupy Wall Street protests (October 24th 2011), the World Trade Center Twin Towers (the September 12th 2011 edition) and the tourists who flock to (and occupy) Times Square (October 3rd 2011).

Oh yes – Times Square – renamed that in 1904 (from the previous “Long Acre Square”), named after the newspaper The New York Times.

Indeed, The New York Times stands almost unique in the world, as it serves many functions as a media outlet.  It is THE major newspaper for the New York metropolitan area, which includes more than 22 million Americans (or more than one out of every fifteen Americans).  It is also a national brand, and sold – literally “on the streets” and in newsagents – throughout the USA.  And it is an international brand, with articles extensively reprinted (including here in Australia) and widely quoted as one of the few true “papers of record” (I certainly treated it that way in my soon-to-be finalized PhD thesis).  I have a hard time thinking of any paper in the English (or other) world that operates in the same way.  Certainly, The Guardian (from the UK) is widely read internationally (perhaps even more so internationally than in its home country), The Washington Post is a strong paper (but does not have the same national or international reach as The Times, and papers such as the English edition of Ha’aretz (from Israel, ironically sometimes called “the New York Times of Israel”) are widely read outside its own country.  But none can come close to the impact, reach, reputation, quality and durability of The Times.

So … reading The New York Times in New York City is not just a pleasure, it is a grounding experience – for this is where the paper was born, where it lives and it’s the city which gives it such energy, both a reflection of the intellectual life of that great city and a tremendous addition to it.

(My thanks to Emily Bell, Columbia University School of Journalism, for her helpful thoughts which have informed this posting.)