A bigger problem with News Ltd

There are two bumper stickers that always make me laugh, no matter how many times I see them:

Is that the truth or did you read it in the Telegraph?
Is that the truth or is your News Ltd?

Politicians and Fairfax/ABC journos are asking if Murdoch’s Australian newspapers have the same culture as the UK’s, but there’s a different problem here. One that won’t be solved by John Hartigan saying someone is going to check three years’ worth of receipts to see if anyone paid a private investigator. (And if someone did, as if they would make that info public. The journo would be given a nice big cheque and quietly shown the door. And then snapped up by Fairfax for their ability to break big stories.)

On the Daily Telegraph‘s homepage at midday, we have the following stories:

Daily Telegraph homepage 15 July 2011

Daily Telegraph homepage 15 July 2011

Since you need to scroll down the page to see any other news, most readers will assume that these are the most important stories:

A Herald Sun story about a truck driver who says he once met a man who is now in jail for murder.
Advertorial for Myer.
A swimmer losing weight.

At the Herald Sun we have this:

Herald Sun homepage 15 July 2011

Herald Sun 15 July 2011

A car accident.
An AAP story about a man being jailed over a car accident.
An AAP story about Keating saying something colourful.
A Courier-Mail court story.
And the Myer advertorial.

And at News.com.au we have this (sorry it’s so tiny but it was the only way to get a full screen-grab):

News.com.au 15 July 2011

News.com.au 15 July 2011

The Daily Telegraph Falconio story.
A carbon tax story from The Australian that appears to be based on a media release.
A Murdoch story from The Australian that only includes quotes from Murdoch saying it’s all lies and rubbish.
A tourism story from AAP.
A talking doll story from AP.
A Daily Telegraph story about a tv show.
And, of course, that Myer advertorial.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The problem in Australia is not that we have journalists and editors doing dodgy shit, but that we have too much sharing of trivial content. That instead of using their journalists to chase stories, and to fact check claims being made by politicians (which is particularly important at the moment and something that journalists are supposed to do), News Ltd tabloid websites are all running the same sensationalist stories. Online editors will say that no one wants to read “worthy” or “serious” stories, but that just shows their lack of imagination. That they lack the ability to present everyday stories in any way other than a long page of text.

About half of the traffic to news websites comes from links to individual stories (through Google, Facebook, twitter etc), and most of those readers just check out that story and then go. Of the half that comes through the homepage, many of those readers don’t bother clicking on anything. And, to my knowledge, in discussions in newsrooms about how to get readers to click on more stories and stay longer (for ad revenue purposes), no one questions whether there’s a problem with the quality of stories being presented to audiences.

You know, I wish we had problems of criminal behaviour by journalists and editors. At least then we could have arrests and court cases and parliamentary inquiries. Sadly, it’s not a crime to bore your readers to death.

56 responses to “A bigger problem with News Ltd

  1. That’s why I read The Guardian Weekly.

  2. Kim
    I think that you have a mistaken belief that most people read the paper’s and their websites to find out about politics. Whereas I think that most people read them to fill in time and to be entertained by the very trivia that you find so annoying. Its all about light and shade as far as I’m concerned because we would all be totally burnt out if all the news sites contained was dour and serious analysis of the political machinations of our leaders.

    • Actually, I think most people don’t give a shit about politics. The point about fact-checking was just one thing that journalists should be doing but aren’t. I think most people read/watch the news to find out about what’s going on in their world, whether that’s politics or sport or entertainment or accidents or medical news or any other form of social news. And yes, there is room for trivial stuff. The problem is, most of the news these days is trivia. I know it’s a political example, but from Gillard’s very good speech at the National Press Club yesterday (who’s her speechwriter?), all that was reported was the teariness and the “don’t write crap” comment. Trivia. Of course, the “don’t write crap” comment wasn’t trivia – and her speech included several well-justified digs at the MSM – but the MSM turned it into trivia.

      But my point about the stories on these News Ltd websites is that they’re all the same, or they’re wire copy.

  3. That is a great point about needing people to click on the stories so that ads can be targeted. Each day I scan the news.com site and fail to see anything much that triggers me to read on. So I am a wasted viewer and surely I cannot be the only one. I spend significantly longer on the age site and not necessarily reading erudite matter, I simply want to be educated and entertained.

    • And it’s possible to be educated and entertained at the same time. I just don’t see it with News Ltd sites.

      A few years ago I was a judge in the Walkley young journalist of the year awards, in the online category. Almost all of the entries were just print stories that happened to be online. The medium is currently wasted on Australian news organisations. No one is thinking seriously about the possibilities for everyday journalism. All of the multimedia specials are saved for “special investigations”, rather than being a part of everyday news. And look at The Guardian’s data journalism project. So simple and so useful.

  4. The only actual paper newspaper I read is the free one that gets pushed in my postbox each week. It deals only with very local news – mostly politics and business – and that’s actually interesting. It is extremely right-wing and obsessed with religion, but there isn’t a left-wing, atheist free paper, so there you are.

    It’s sort of nice to see Murdoch and his cronies squirm a little but they’ll be fine I’m sure. And I agree with Iain that papers are mostly read for entertainment. It’s just a shame that, on the back of all that entertainment, unpleasant types like Murdoch get to promote their political agendas.

  5. My biggest problem with News Ltd is that the husband reads it! He only reads the sports section….but that’s still enough to make me grind my teeth in frustration.

  6. A quick question to NWN readers. Do you favour as they do over at New Matilda and Greens head office (or is that head tent?) the regulated silencing of News Limited?
    In my eyes this would be censorship which is of course evil.

    • I don’t support it at all (as in silencing a media organisation). But I do support some of the issues being raised, like giving people the right of reply. And I think corrections should be in a more prominent place – front page if it was a front page story – and added to the start of the original story online, so it’s always there.

    • They aren’t asking for the silencing of News Ltd. They are asking for an enquiry, which, if there is nothing to hide, will not do them any harm whatsoever.
      Also, I think calling for different regulations (I gather, like we had before the Howard era) about concentration of media ownership is hardly censorship. Surely it is more democratic and less dictatorial to have the media in as many hands as possible?

      • I have to ask though who will take on the newspapers that Murdoch (presumably) has to offload so as to reduce his share of media ownership? I also wonder what will happen if he says bugger it I’ll just shut down my papers and concentrate on TV etc. That would leave Australia with exactly two capital city daily papers.

        • APN might buy them, but they’ve just shut down NZPA so it doesn’t look like they’re that interested in news. West Australian? One of the TV channels? An equity group?

    • “While there have not been any allegations of unlawful or unethical behaviour by any of Australia’s newspapers similar to that which resulted in the closure of News of the World, the potential for such behaviour and the breadth of the allegations in the UK indicates it is timely for a closer look at Australia’s media regulation,” said Senator Brown.

      An Inquiry would consider:

      Whether there is sufficient regulation of major newspapers, radio and TV licences. TV and radio broadcasting requires a licence, however there is no licensing or independent oversight of major newspapers.
      Should the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have some oversight of newspapers?
      Should there be a “fit and proper person” test for owning key media assets in Australia?
      Should Australia’s media ownership laws be subject to a comprehensive review, in light of the domination of News Limited in print media?
      The media landscape in Australia is primarily self-regulated through the Australian Journalists Association’s Code of Conduct. Is this self-regulatory regime sufficient or should there be independent oversight and enforcement of standards?
      Are Australia’s privacy and criminal laws sufficient to protect individual privacy from behaviour such as phone and internet “hacking”?

      They are reasonable questions, I would think. And questions are all they are at this stage anyway.

      • Yep, they are reasonable questions. In my earlier comment, by ‘I don’t support it at all’, I meant that I don’t support silencing a media organisation. I do think we need to have an inquiry into the media in Australia. For starters, the Press Council needs to be given more teeth. News organisations don’t give a shit about the Press Council.

        • We would be naive to think for a moment that Brown’s intent is to talk about ownership of media assets aside from Rupert Murdoch’s ownership of those assets. Brown has seen the opportunity here to kill off his most vocal critics and frankly imagine the outrage if JWH had tried that with Fairfax.
          It is telling that Brown has so little reaL interest in his topic that he has referred to the Australian Journalists Association which hasn’t existed for nearly 20 years.
          I really do question the logic involved here. British Journalists did something illegal so for the Greens feel that is a trigger to investigate journalists here. That would be like Sandhurst investigating possible abuse of female cadets because it had happened here.

          • I can understand why Brown is so pissed off at News Ltd though, because they’re not reporting, they’re campaigning against him with the aim of destroying the party. But I think you’re right about him being opportunistic about it, and using the timing of the UK issue to investigate News Ltd here.

            • Yes but the ABC (a public asset) campaigned heavily against JWH for eleven years and to a lesser extend so did Fairfax. Having the pressure applies as a politician is part of the job. If Brown can’t handle it he should retire (as he should anyway) Now that he is in charge I really think it’s about time the Greens produce a policy document more than two pages long and you know grow up as a party.

              • The ABC was biased towards the Coalition.

                I don’t have a problem with media organisations campaigning – and running editorials about how they want to destroy the Greens – as long as they are upfront about it in every story about the Greens and don’t pretend that their stories are objective.

                • Come now I can see the problem in this research. It is based upon the idea that people of a similar political bias will talk about the same intellectuals. I talk about Stephen Fry and Clive James a lot (more than any other intellectual types that spring to mind) yet I am not biased towards the left.
                  A better indicator of bias would be to measure the actual bias of individual reporters. Lets start with (now retired) KO’B. Now if you can provide evidence of his bias towards JWH’s coalition I will literally eat a hat… Not just any hat, my stupid teenagerish type hat that I got for free with an energy drink and was moved outside by my dog and peed on.
                  Let’s move on to the milky bar kid (Tony Jones) who simply cannot allow a conservative to answer a question. He doesn’t interview them, he runs an inquisition. Let’s not forget that Bob Carr was an ABC Journo and that JWH was unseated by an ABC Journo.
                  I really don’t mind that The ABC is biased towards the left but the question I have to ask is why is that okay in a public institution and bias the other way is not in a privately owned corporation?

                  • I think Tony Jones allows Coalition MPs to get away with not answering a single question. He drives me mad on QandA because he doesn’t insist on real answers.

                    As for ABC bias, study after study shows that it doesn’t exist. Perhaps it seems biased because, in general, they take an anti-government stance. Well, they did when the Coalition was in power. Now they are running almost every story with “Tony Abbott says”. There’s a big difference between scrutinising the Government and letting the Coalition set your news agenda.

    • I don’t support silencing either, but I do support an enquiry.

      I’d like to see news reclassified based on regular content. So that papers who have a tendency to “report” opinion and print stories that actually don’t inform us of anything will be labeled as the tabloids they are rather than masquerading as serious news.

  7. Oh and did anyone else read how the Guardian made up the story about The Sun hacking Gordon Browns kids medical records and had to appologise? Naughty Guardian http://conservativehome.blogs.com/leftwatch/2011/07/a-guardian-sized-apology-to-the-sun.html
    (sorry it’s a conservative rant blog but the picture doesn’t lie)

  8. Politicians should keep their snouts well and truly out of the media. Sure Murdoch’s papers are predominantly conservative leaning but (and this may comes as a shock to many) most people are relatively conservative.This explains the significantly higher circulation figures for the DT as opposed to the SMH (I read the SMH by the way)

    • Yep, most people are conservative. It’s a shame.

        • Just indicates that a lot of people are uneducated (economically) as big government is a death sentence to a nations prosperity.
          I am a pain in the arse really. Economically I am conservative whereas in social policy I am a bit of a lefty. I believe in the following:
          same sex marriage (insofar as I don’t really care who gets married so long as it doesn’t involve a minor.)
          I agree with doing something to help the environment (just not at the expense of our economic wellbeing)
          I agree with Australia taking it’s share of refugees (although I find a policy which encourages desperate people to risk their lives in shitty Indo fishing boats abhorrent)
          I really think more should be done to assist the homeless and I don’t think of them as bludgers
          I disagree with capital punishment
          and so on.I just think that social wellbeing cannot be maintained with a shit economy and as the Greens are economic mentals, I can never vote for them.

          • Well, you can vote for them since you agree with most of their policies, because it’s unlikely they’ll win government in their own right for a very long time. So, you can use them to show your support for these issues, knowing that the more support the Greens get, the more they can force the two major parties to be better on these issues too.

    • There’s a public interest issue here. Government scrutiny is in the public interest, but hacking the phones of celebrities and civilians is not. Just because the public might be interested in it, doesn’t make it in the public interest.

      • But all wiki leaks did really was embarrass private individuals (viv embassy workers) by airing their views on world leaders. For example finding out that Silvio Berlusconi like the company of prostitutes is not only not news (everyone with even a passing interest in Italy knew this already) but is no different to finding out who Ashley Cole slept with. Same applies to the ‘revelation’ that Gadaffi employs blonde female Ukrainian ‘nurses’ and all female guards, again we already knew this and all Wikileaks did was accept illegally obtained gossip between public servants.

  9. “If the work WikiLeaks does is illegal, it brings into question the very role of the media,” said Senator Ludlam. “If the media can only publish what governments want on the public record, then journalism is reduced to the level of government advertising. The Prime Minister needs to make her position on the role of the free press clear.”

    Yes she does as does Sens Ludlam & Brown

  10. News must contain the truth or people will look at is for what it is washed out diluted lies period. if they want to use the name”news” than start beating the rich up and demand that it all be told not just the want to here part but the need to here part if the open window is for us but cannot be viewed with a tainted glass than call yourselves blur because people will not view it. Smart people will tell the truth and even the hidden truth because a secret is hard to hold onto especially if it means the one holding it will be judged for it in the end.

    • Hi CLOUDS, welcome to the News with Nipples. The problem with news is that it only contains some of the facts. Journalists decide which bits of information we get to know about, and I’m not convinced they get it right all the time. Or even half the time.

  11. Unless your name is satan news to it is all lies!
    “Amen”

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