Between Fairfax and News, it’s going to get ugly

I feel like I should write something intelligent about Fairfax’s announcement that 1900 people will get the boot over the next three years.

But you know me, so I don’t know how intelligent it will be.

Vagina.

There are, however, some things that are worth pointing out here.

1. Yes, this makes me sound naive, but how smart is it to sack the people who create the product – the journalists and the printers – but to keep the sales people and management who clearly aren’t very good at their jobs? Declining ad revenue and mismanagement got Fairfax into this situation, but no, let’s make sure those people stay with the company.

2. Between now and 2014, will Fairfax be re-training workers at the Chullora and Tullamarine printing plants? Can the company be forced to do this?

3. The freelance market is already filled with good journalists, good writers, bad journalists, bad writers, and lots and lots and lots of people who accept low rates of pay because they need the money. This is a massive win for publishers because they can get away with offering fuck-all money and they don’t have to pay super or sick leave or holiday leave. Unless you’re already a big-name writer, or you’re willing to write so much soul-destroying advertorial that there’s no time to work on anything else, then it’s almost impossible to make a living this way, let alone a decent one. And News Ltd is rumoured to be sacking 1500 people very soon, so it’s not going to be pretty.

4. When news is free at the ABC (that should be their slogan), it just doesn’t make sense to think that paywalls are the answer. Particularly when most of your content during the day comes from wire services. You need to get people hooked on your product by the time you put up that paywall, not have them shrug and just go to the ABC.

5. The other problem with paywalls is that no one is doing online journalism well in Australia. No one. Both News and Fairfax clearly think online news just means putting your print stories on a website (Nguyen (2008) calls this “new bottles with old wine” but I call it “painting shit silver”), and that including a video of exactly the same story adds multimedia value. It doesn’t. It’s just shit. And most days it’s not even painted silver.

6. The Government has bailed out Holden and Ford (and even BlueScope Steel got $100 million). We import cars so it doesn’t matter all that much if we don’t make them here. It does, however, matter a great deal if we don’t make our own news here. I’m not going to argue that jobs are sacred. They’re not. What I’m asking is, why does an industry that creates a product we import deserve public funding when it’s in trouble but an industry that, for all its faults, is key to our democracy, does not?

7. Journalism is important. Newspapers are not.

References:
Nguyen, A (2008), ‘Facing the “Fabulous Monster”: The traditional media’s fear-driven innovation culture in the development of online news’, Journalism Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 91-104.

28 responses to “Between Fairfax and News, it’s going to get ugly

  1. I feel like I should say something intelligent about this. I agree with everything you say. Um … vagina. More seriously, if Fairfax do end up making everyone pay to subscribe then this will be great for the ABC, but the general increasing corporatisation of what used to be freedom of speech scares me witless. Sad, sad day.

    • Enid Bite’Em, welcome to the News with Nipples. Not sure I get your point about freedom of speech. Can you elaborate?

      • I wouldn’t have got my point either, b/c it doesn’t make sense. Sorry! I’m pleading sleep deprivation on this one (I have a new baby who thinks sleep is optional)… anyway, I meant to say ‘narrowing’, not ‘corporisation’ (which is obviously a different issue entirely) … the narrowing I meant was referring to everyone’s need for immediate gratification (which in turn is feed by our increasing use/reliance of technology) and how what should be primary issues, e.g. Rinehart, who is famous for distrusting the media, having such control of it (and the effects on freedom of speech) become secondary issues as consumerism and business decisions seem to override everything. The cynical may say it was always this way, but I think the digital age is increasing some of these problems and showing the results of how ‘money talks’ much more quickly, and not enough attention is paid to what to do about it.

  2. Pingback: I think it would be fun to ruin a newspaper | Pure Poison

  3. No 1 Agree, I only bothered to read the stories and when necessary job adds
    2 Doubt it and if they do it will be nearly meaningless
    3 Maybe they just want to pay writers less, management get to keep their jobs and perks
    4 Agree, I stopped reading hard copy because of woeful content now don’t bother with online for same reason, can’t see a reason to pay online
    5 If the stories were not worth reading in print probably not much better online, with or without the paint
    6 As long as journalism is taught at high levels via education the skill set remains and as you say no need for newspapers. Good journalism will attract readers. Look to your blog and others they will grow. An app on tablet with price per read for quality writers will fill the market. A good journo with credibility will pull many readers.
    The future with NBN should give dedicated journalists more freedom to ply their craft, less interference and possibly a good living if they are able to inovate on how they distribute their product.
    We can only wish those who lose their jobs the best of luck and those who sacked them jobs with murdoch and gina with bolt the standard.

  4. Yes, yes, vagina.

    We still get a deadtree newspaper in our house, because I like getting it, and because our children are starting to read it. But it is noticably thinner than it used to be, mostly because there’s much less advertising content.

    I continue to read the SMH from across the Tasman, but I won’t once it’s behind a paywall. I’ll just swap to the ABC website instead.

    • I still get it delivered every morning. And complain about how blah it is: too many stories with just one voice; too many stories that start “The Opposition says” (which isn’t holding the Government to account, it’s just giving a free kick to the Opposition); too many stories where even the basic claims made by interviewees haven’t been checked.

      • I don’t think it will change news habits. People will just continue on as they used to. But fewer working (ie paid) journalists means fewer stories being told, fewer claims being checked. There was a story in the SMH today about Barry O’Farrell’s claim that 10 per cent of National Parks will be open to shooters is actually going to be 40 per cent. O’Farrell’s announcement was made at the end of May, so it took 19 days for a journalist to check his claim. And it was probably done by the Greens anyway, who gave the info to the journalist.

  5. Well said Kim.

    All this makes me wonder which major media outlets people will turn to in this country for news if both print and online content are not up to standard? Radio? TV? There is a lot of vapid, crappy stuff on those mediums too.

    I’m not too hopeful on it, but I wish this gives a kick up the bum to the general public and tell them that there are good independent outlets out there doing good for journalism (community radio, Crikey, etc).

  6. That ABC slogan is pure gold.

  7. I know that the news media is a channel between the rulers and the ruled and that the integrity of that process is sound in theory. But from the point of view of the rulers, was it ever meant to be? Would the powerful have allowed a process to ever develop if they didn’t think that it would serve more than diminsh their interests?

    I’ll quote Rodney Tiffen:

    “At least was typical the attitude of John Pascoe Falkner who, when advising of his intention to start a newspaper in 1828, promised the colonial governor that it would be ‘devoted to the Support of the Government and in which nothing shall be suffered to appear which can in nay way offend his Excellency or any Member of the government’. Moreover, even in newspapers which valued independence, their editors and publishers were typically enmeshed in a Byzantine network of relationships with politicians. Nor were they immune to temptations of power. In 1896 The Bulletin sarcastically suggested that Australia’s greatest 19th Century editor David Syme should have a brass plate on The Age’s front door reading ‘D Syme, Saviour of his Country. Ministries constructed while you wait. Upper Houses removed at shortest notice’.”

    Tiffen, R 2004, ‘The news media and Australian politics’, in P Boreham, G Stokes & R Hall (eds), The Politics of Australian Society: Political issues for the new century, Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, pp. 201-220

    This suggests that the situation we have now is just a new incarnation of an old problem.

    Enid Bite’Em I love your name.

  8. Coming from the perspective of a communications person working for a non-for-profit, I can say that I won’t be paying for online news from Fairfax, or any other major media corporation in Australia. Here’s why:

    I have learned through my own work that you cannot expect when you issue a media release or article to a journalist that feel any obligation to:

    a) read it to the end
    c) visit your website (or any other source) to gather even the smallest bit of background information

    This would all be fair enough if they weren’t going to publish a story based on the first three sentences? headline? of your media alert.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know journos won’t (and indeed shouldn’t) write an “on message” piece for every communications manager who feed them a media release. I also know they get paid little, and little pay begets little incentive to give your all to every piece.

    I should also concede that my experiences of such lazy journalism are as much with trade publication journos (who I don’t doubt are even more Dickensian-ly destitute than their mass-media counterparts) than with mass-media journalists (if I only I could get their attention… *sighs*).

    I would say however, that my experiences have made me unwilling to part with my pocket money for (bad) copying and pasting. If this is what they do with my media releases, I can’t really expect that they are going to step up their game anywhere else now can I? And if I’m going to be reading news that is (I’m going to be mean and say) semi-fictional, I’m going to be doing it for free thanks very much.

    On the paywall – does anyone else find that RSS is a good way to skirt the man? I find that I don’t have any probs with the NYT if I go via their feed – it’s only when I get tempted to click through to other articles once I’m there that I have problems. But perhaps they’re feeding me their news offal and I’m missing the angus steak as it were? Vagina.

    • From my experience, if you take more than 10 minutes to re-write a media release – ie, because you’ve found the original report and you’re reading the findings/recommendations so you can report accurately – you get yelled at in front of the newsroom for being slow.

      And don’t get me started on young journos and editors putting their bylines on re-writes…

      Part of it is laziness. The other part is feeling like you don’t have the time to do it properly – your editor wants it NOW, so you bash it out, submit it, and then spend the next hour on twitter and looking at other news sites to see if there are any clickbait stories you can re-write. So I stress that it’s a feeling that there’s no time. And changing this requires editors to change the way they run their newsrooms.

      • Yes, I should have mentioned the time issue – I’ve come across as a veritable journo-hater. Not so of course. You’re right, and laying so many off will only compound the problem.

      • You’re right about the effect of the 24/7 online deadline and this misguided belief among editors and publishers that to be “first” is everything. It’s partly this imaginary “deadline” pressure that makes online journalism so shitful. I’d like to see online newsrooms just slow the fuck down, give reporters a story to chase and say, “Don’t file until you’re confident of the facts and you’ve got input from all of the stakeholders. And if it turns out it’s a beat-up, boring or irrelevant, kill it.” The effect of this would be two-fold: you’d deliver better content and you’d have happier, more fulfilled staff because suddenly they’re being asked to do their jobs properly. Any journo will tell you how rewarding and satisfying it is to know they’ve covered their beat properly.
        Won’t be holding my breath though …

        • Wouldn’t that be amazing? I’ve had several editors say that’s what they want, but then their actions – and the way they speak to journos – demonstrate that it’s just talk. And that they haven’t thought too deeply. About anything.

  9. more generally – obviously the technology is playing a large part in these media shenanigans. i am not a Luddite or internet hater in anyway, but i feel that we are losing something. and that thing is the ephemeral. the juxtaposition of unrelated articles. would Brion Gysin have created the cut-up method reading from a screen? would my love be able to spend leisurely (pre-children) saturday afternoon half naked and seedy from the night before end of work week reading the birth and death, the marriage notices?
    marx used to say the the bourgeoisie would dig their own grave, he was wrong. the working people are digging their own graves. giving up jobs, giving up democracy, giving up their political power, giving up on a future for their children, and in return, we get ‘content’ delivered to us any time we want.
    we are sold choice, but are given compulsion. i resent being forced to get an iphone, ipad, kindle etc to allow multinationals to increase their rate of profit.
    not to sound too conspiratorial, i resent the 24/7 surveillance machine that julian assange warns us of, i resent the money involved, (how little effort to write a program to turn on the mic of your iphone and listen in, how little effort is required to fraudulently download suspect material onto someone else’s phone) i resent being forced to do this, i resent the tracking software that companies use to try to tailor ads for my desires, and i resent that the weak, the marginalised, the poor in our community are being pushed aside, considered of no account, in the race for novelty and profit.
    i will leave it there, before my rant falls apart in a welter of rhetoric and adjectives. (that is another thing i resent, the way that the media and business have denuded the language with their love of simplicity and their hatred of the passive voice)

  10. Warning: overly long, over-opinionated, under-informed post ahead. Trust me, you won’t miss much if you just skip past it, so please don’t blame me for wasting your time reading it….

    I wonder whether the ABC is a little bit of a case of the left eating its young (with a distinctively Australian flavour). We set up a public news service and national station/broadcaster that progressives favour, but which is nonetheless tied to a charter of objectivity (which isn’t the kind of thing that you can comfortably scrap) and just as liable to being stacked by tories as it is by progressives anyway (I recall a conversation with one of my very few ‘not-so-fondly-looked-back-upon’ relationships, where I tried to defend the concept of an objective public broadcaster (I was a big fan of our local alt-community-radio RTR, and was saying this context of arguing that indie media should be the left’s bastion, not the ABC). Her response (or at least my recollection of it – let’s face it, our recollections aren’t always fair with this sort of thing) was that it was great that the ABC was more-or-less openly pro-Keating because Keating was the bees knees. My concern was that the liberals would win government for at least half the time, and had a voter base that would have no such qualms against openly stacking the ABC’s board in their direction – which is what subsequently happened.

    Anyway, back on point, we have a pseudo-progressive ABC that gets the support of the progressives despite being centrist at best (and run by a majority tory board). Where on earth is a progressive indie media group going to fit in there? Or even a big business media satire – an Australian ‘Daily Show/Colbert Report’? Centrist-with-the-occasional-prog-opinion-writer-Fairfax can’t survive because centrist-but-sort-of-progressive-in-its-opinion-columns-ABC gives it away for free. Whereas News Corp gets an unconstested tory market AND gets to stack the ABC at the same time.

    If we’re going to have a national broadcaster we need to ask what for. If it’s to produce Australian content, then it needs a MUCH bigger (as in BBC Wales level) budget – these days our young actors/writers/directors go either straight from NIDA to LA, or go to work for Bell or a Foxtel drama, anything but the ABC. I’m not speaking as a pro here, as it’s been 10 years since I got regular prof stage work, and even that was mostly ‘pretty boy’ roles in Perth’s 3-horse-town. But even back then nobody looked to the ABC for opportunities – you’d have a better shot pitching to Foxtel or even straight to the US.

    Is it to have a ‘national voice’? I still don’t really know what that is, but from what I can make out it’s filled more by our authors, researchers, bloggers and artists than having a national broadcaster that gives the same Reuters news as everywhere else (plus British tv and occasionally the token under-budgeted Aussie drama – and sadly in tv, unlike stage, once you’re under a certain budget you’re no longer a hungry indie, you’re just plain cheap and tarty).

    We are in the 2nd round of an ALP government – ABC funding is not going to be any healthier in real terms than it is now. And it can’t meet either of the above goals to the same degree as, say, a beefed-up Australian quota for the private channels. We need to massively – incredibly – increase funding to the ABC, or we need to scale it right down so it stops playing spoiler to the indie sector. By that, I mean focus on the things that the indies and the private channels CAN’T do: truly national news infrastructure and investigative journalism (as much as I love my local RTR, I cringe when its presenters have to resort to getting anti-flouride conspiracists commenting on other authors’ research because they simply lack the know-how and the contacts for a proper science news segment). Less Australian productions, but better quality – we won’t get an HBO budget, but it could aim for a similar niche, making programs for segments that simply couldn’t survive on network television. Indigenous stories by indigenous authors.

    None of this can be achieved while we continue to judge the ABC by either (a) ratings (as it’s board has done since the Howard stack) or (b) its ability to give a progressive-but-not-really-cause-we’re-tied-to-an-objectivity-charter ‘ABC feel’, which a lot of its audience seem to want.

    I was listening to a segment on JJJ where indigenous actors and writers were complaining about how they were always getting the tragic oppressed roles, because white authors couldn’t write them any other way and casting directors wouldn’t see them in general parts. In large part, that’s symptomatic of the ABC in its current form – trying to tell worthy stories – predictable, boring as hell, worthy stories. There’s more than enough guilt-ridden middle-class gits like myself to keep that aspect of the ABC afloat – probably even utterly thriving – as a private enterprise. So unshackle the progressive media audience from the ABC’s charter of objectivity, and let the ABC do the stuff that the private sector and the indie press can’t.

  11. Dino not to be confused with

    NWN,
    No way you cannot have user pays subscriptions!
    In that regard Rupert/ Kings Tribune are correct. Paywalls will work if people want to read the story or the Author. No one reads a whole ‘paper’ or if they do they can afford a subscription if they just sit around all day doin’ SFA.
    (PhD students excepted)
    I had this idea… some people, including I, are opinionated and like to leave comments. They should have subscriptions if they wish to leave a comment.
    I love Fairfax, I will subscribe as soon as I can afford it. It’s not perfect but it’s the best we’ve got.
    I haven’t done a word count but just send me an invoice for this crap.
    The cheques in the mail.

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