Tag Archives: Fairfax

Silly women and their silly shoes

Oh hey look, here’s another “news story” based on a media release from a marketing company that says women are silly for spending money on some stereotypical thing: Some home truths about that shoe addiction of yours, by Jessica Martin. Well, it’s not by Jessica Martin. The article is by Bianca London for the Daily Mail and published a month ago. Martin did a re-write for Fairfax today.

The flimsy argument is that the amount of money women spend on shoes over their entire lifetime adds up to a house deposit:

Women wondering why they don’t have enough savings for a house deposit could do well to look in their cupboards for the answer. A survey has revealed women will spend more than $57,800 on shoes in their lifetime – almost $3400 more than the 10 per cent deposit needed for an average $544,000 mortgage in Australia.

So, if you never ever buy shoes, by the time you die you’ll have saved enough for a house deposit. Presumably so your corpse can rot in it for a month or so until the bank repossesses it because you’re not making any repayments because you are dead. Never mind the fact that you’ll have a hard time getting a well-paying job to save that deposit if you don’t wear shoes. ManFriend and I tend to have pizza on Friday nights (today, hooray!) – if we don’t do that for the next 70 years, we’ll have a house deposit. We’ll also have died from old age, but I won’t let that get in the way of the re-write of a re-write that I’m gonna pitch to smh.com.au.

There’s another problem with the calculations. From the PromotionalCodes website:

This results in an average annual spend of £570 which, over the course of 60 years, equates to a massive £34,200 spent on shoes.

It’s ridiculous to suggest that a woman in her early 20s who has bought 12 pairs of shoes in the last year will be doing that for the next 60 years. It just doesn’t make sense. Also, most flats will only last one season because they’re made of cheap pleather with crap soles, and don’t get me started on how hard it is to find a pair of boots that look like they’ll last more than a few months.

Mindy has a great take-down of this click-bait at Hoyden About Town:

To say that women frivolously buying shoes is the only thing between them and home ownership is really crap. Structural inequality might have a little something to do with it too. Also, for the majority of women just try and get one of those $100K per year jobs (I don’t have one) without being well turned out with nice shoes and see how far you get.

What Martin doesn’t mention in her re-write is that the survey was conducted by PromotionalCodes.org.uk – a URL that should have made a journalist think, ‘hmm, this survey is probably a load of bollocks and if I pretend it’s newsworthy then I’ll be adding to the whole pile of stinky bollocks that we call stories about women on news sites’.

Fairfax’s fact-checking failure

The editors and journalists at Fairfax just don’t get how to use their fact-checking info.

Ok, so it’s mind-boggling that Fairfax has said, yep, we don’t fact-check the news we publish, so for the election, for a gimmick, we’re going get PolitiFact to do it for us. Apparently that doesn’t bother people like it bothers me. But at least they’re checking things, unlike News Ltd. So there’s that, I suppose.

But they really don’t understand what to do with the information PolitiFact gives them.

Take this story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme to begin July 2015. In the paper it’s on page 8, with the headline “Liberals smooth out the bumps with $6b paid parental leave scheme”. It’s buried deep in the bowels of smh.com.au – I had to google the first sentence of the story to find it. Below the story (in the paper), running across pages 8 and 9, is the fact-check statement from PolitiFact – Working mothers won’t be $21,000 better off under Coalition plan – which labels Tony Abbott’s claims as “mostly false”.

So, you’d expect that information to be mentioned in the story, right?

Right?

BAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Of course not.

Instead, we have 476 words from Jacqueline Maley about the scheme, including the claim that women will be $21,000 better off under the Coalition’s parental leave scheme, with no mention that the claim is nonsense. Honestly, what is the point of partnering with Politifact if you don’t put that information in your stories? I don’t understand how any journalist and any editor would think it’s ok to put the news in one section, and the facts over there in a different section. It’s just bizarre.

And, in keeping with the Australian journalism approach to online news, the two damn pieces aren’t even linked on the website. Nope. If you’re reading the fact-check statement, you can’t click to the story that it’s about. If you’re reading the story – if you managed to find it – you can’t click through to the fact-check statement. How can they be so clueless?

It’s a crazy idea, I know, but isn’t the point of fact-checking to put that info inside the story?

The ethics of re-writing someone’s personal story

When a famous actress writes a really personal piece about having a double mastectomy, is it ethical to do a detailed re-write to boost traffic to your own news website?

This is a tricky post to write because I could easily be accused of doing the thing I’m criticising. For this reason, I haven’t tagged this post with the actress’s name, I’m only mentioning her name when necessary, and I’m doing bad SEO (search engine optimisation) practice with my links – other than the link to the original piece.

That piece is My Medical Choice by Angelina Jolie, in the New York Times. You should go read it. I have no idea if the decision to tell the world was easier or harder than the decision to have the procedure, but I tell you what, that’s a pretty fucking tough year she’s had.

So. Given that millions and millions of people will want to read it – and that she wrote it for a particular news organisation, rather than, say, putting out a media release – how ethical is it for other news organisations to write their own highly-detailed versions so they get a piece of the traffic?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s just an ethical question. What makes me uncomfortable is different to what makes other people uncomfortable, and regular readers will know that I probably think too much about this stuff.

Fairfax’s Daily Life writer Natalie Reilly has done a re-write, with a screaming headline that includes all the terms people would be searching for. It’s good SEO practice and therefore it’s good for traffic to dailylife.com.au.

However, it isn’t until halfway through Reilly’s re-write that she tells the reader the info comes from a piece in the New York Times. When you’re doing a re-write, that information should be mentioned – and hyperlinked – in the first or second sentence. No later. You need to make it very clear that you are writing about someone else’s work. These are the rules I stuck to when I was a journalist and they are ones I stick to now. On top of that, there’s so much detail in Reilly’s piece that there’s little reason to read the original. To me, that’s unethical. You might feel differently.

(Oddly, Sarah Berry has also done a re-write for smh.com.au, so they have two versions on their website. Berry’s is better, in terms of clearly and prominently telling readers to “click here to read Angelina Jolie’s piece in full” at the start and end. It also gives information about the procedure in Australia, so it’s not solely a re-write. However, I think it also gives enough information that readers won’t go any further. I’d be interested to see their stats on how many readers did click through to the original, but of course they will never release that info.)

Re-writes are common practice in newsrooms. It’s how you share another organisation’s work with your audience when you don’t have permission to use it. Wire services send them out all the time. I don’t think re-writes are necessarily bad, but you need to be clear that it’s a re-write. You also need to be really obvious in pointing your readers to the original, in a way that makes them want to go to it, and part of that is not telling the whole damn story in your re-write. Otherwise, you’re essentially just passing someone else’s work off as your own.

I don’t want to single Reilly out, because News Ltd sites also have re-writes of this story, but they aren’t bylined. The piece dailytelegraph.com.au was running this afternoon has been replaced by the news.com.au version. It’s worth seeing the story on dailytelegraph.com.au, just so you can see what happens when you don’t pay attention to your images. Just like the Fairfax pieces, News Ltd’s re-write also leaves the reader with little reason to go to the original. Plus they throw a million links and galleries at you to make sure you’re too distracted to leave the website. Clever, I suppose, but very messy.

Now, I’m not so naive that I think online news is just about reporting news for the good of the people. Of course it’s about boosting traffic for advertising purposes. I’m also not so naive to think that a story about Angelina Jolie and her breasts wasn’t going to make news around the world. But given the highly personal story she’s telling, a better approach would be to say “hey, here’s a few lines of it, go read what she wrote, in her own words and not in ours”. Yes, you still get the traffic, but you don’t look like a jerk.

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.

The conversations women have

…because men don’t get to see the articles.

I want to revisit my criticism of Daily Life (Fairfax’s site for women), in light of a conversation I had on the weekend about taking parental leave when you’re the relationship’s highest earner. I have no doubt that my friend talks about this with her partner, but it got me thinking about how public conversations around parenting are always put in women’s spaces.

I stand by my first impression of Daily Life. It was disappointing that the editor, Sarah Oakes, left it up to her freelancers to defend the site from substantive criticism on twitter. That’s very poor form. (Also poor form was Oakes’ boyfriend Pete coming on here to tell us we were wrong, without declaring his relationship.)

Anyway, have a look at the topics on the site, and the other Fairfax sites at the bottom of any given page on Daily Life:

Topics covered on Daily Life

Fairfax sections and websites promoted at the bottom of Daily Life

I know they’re a little hard to see, but I’m squeezing the bottom (giggle) of the website into a third of the page.

Now look at what’s promoted at the bottom of the national news section:

Fairfax sections and websites promoted at the bottom of the SMH national news section

Fairfax sections and websites promoted at the bottom of the SMH national news section

And at the bottom of the business section:

Fairfax sections and websites promoted at the bottom of the SMH business section

Fairfax sections and websites promoted at the bottom of the SMH business section

Now, I’m going to tell you something really shocking.

Are you ready?

MEN ARE PARENTS TOO.

I know, I know, ASIO will open a file on me for saying something so subversive on the internet.

And this is the main problem I have with Fairfax’s decision to put all articles about relationships and parenting in a section where men are highly unlikely to see them. If an article about heterosexual relationships is worth publishing, then it’s worth making at least a tiny effort to put that article where some male eyeballs might see it. After all, it involves them too. And until articles about parenting are promoted across all sections, it will continue to be considered a women’s issue, and we’ll continue to have this problem:

Men + work + family = completely normal

Women + work + family = wanting to “have it all”, followed by “being unreasonable” and “probably selfish”

(More on those equations here.)

Likewise, articles about how men demean women should not be filed away in a section for women so that only women will read them and nod furiously. For example, Why women still can’t enjoy sex by Clementine Ford should be in a place where everyone will see it. Particularly those eeediots who call you a slut when you say you don’t want to have sex with them:

“In order to diminish women in our culture, we accuse them of enjoying sex. Worse, we accuse them of wanting it. We talk about them as looking ‘used’, or having ‘done the rounds’, or needing a ‘solid pounding’. It’s no coincidence that the majority of criticisms made towards Yumi Stynes had to do with how much sex she’s supposedly given away for free.”

The article is a week old – I found it today via twitter – but to my knowledge it wasn’t promoted on the smh.com.au homepage.

(I do have to mention Richard Glover’s contribution, All men think all women are beautiful, which comes down to ‘it doesn’t matter how women feel about themselves because all that really matters is that men think they’re hot’. That’s a contender for the David Penberthy Award for Dumbest Contribution to Body Image Discussions. I have no problem with articles about men finding women attractive. Just as I have no problem with articles about women finding men attractive. And women finding women attractive. And men finding men attractive. But I do have a problem when these articles frame body image problems in terms of ‘women are too silly to know that men find them hot’.)

I’m not saying that it is Fairfax’s responsibility to make Australian society a better place. Fairfax is a business, not a group hug. But wouldn’t it be nice if they showed just a little bit of imagination when it comes to getting eyeballs on content that relates to most of their audience?

The daily wife

Fairfax launched Daily Life this morning, their new site for the laydeez, and my goodness it’s insulting. Fashion, beauty, celebrities, handbags, and please kill me now. (The headline for this post comes from the mocking hashtag on twitter, #dailywife. The term reduces women to being nothing more than wives who like to shop, which is an appropriate way to describe what Fairfax has done.)

Editor Sarah Oakes calls it “A smart and irreverent take on the news designed specifically for women”.

I call it belittling nonsense that reduces women’s interests to shopping and famous people.

As @kirstenalex tweeted:

I hope it’s a joke. Otherwise #dailywife is the most patronising, marginalising thing i’ve seen in ages. I’ll keep reading the grownups news.

Scrolling down the homepage, after the main image (a rotating series of opinion pieces by some good writers) are sections on fashion, beauty, people, entertainment. Yep. That’s apparently the “smart and irreverent take on the news designed specifically for women”. I’m still looking for the news that gets this “smart and irreverent take”.

There is one newsy thing. But what does Daily Life have to offer the public discussion about Rupert Murdoch, phone-hacking and the Leveson inquiry? Can a baby solve a PR crisis? With obligatory references to Madonna’s arms being “scary” and Angelina Jolie being a “home-wrecker”. Anyone still want to call this “smart and irreverent”?

Sure, there is room for stories like these. But they shouldn’t be the only stories. Particularly on launch day when you need to show people what they can expect. And if all they can expect are stories on fashion and famous people, then fuck off with calling it a “smart and irreverent take on the news”. Be honest about the fact that you think women aren’t interested in serious things. Or that serious things can’t be written about in interesting ways.

And there’s this:

Daily Life handbags feature

People don't respect your authority at work? Then buy a stupid handbag and suddenly they'll take you seriously. Seriously.

Handbags express power, really? What, am I supposed to take my handbag to meetings, stupidly hanging from the crook of my arm, so that colleagues know I have power? Give me a break. A “smart, irreverent” way to feature handbags from advertisers would be to just say, “These are handbags. You might like them. But we’re not going to spin you bullshit about how a handbag that you leave under your desk all day is going to improve your job prospects. It’s just a handbag. You put stuff in it”.

Now, @rachelhills raised a good point on twitter about my criticism of the site:

@newswithnipples @clementine_ford shits me how anything pertaining to women or the personal sphere is dismissed as “fluff”.

It shits me that anything aimed at women becomes about celebrities and shopping. I’m not dismissing stories about women as “fluff”. I am dismissing the idea that women are only interested in this stuff. I don’t know what percentage of Fairfax’s audience are vagina owners, but it’s insulting to tell us that “our news” is only fashion and famous people and that it needs to be cordoned off into a special section so that men – real readers – don’t have to see it.

Fairfax had a great opportunity to create an interesting, smart site that combined personal and professional, but instead, decided that women couldn’t possibly be interested in good journalism about politics or finance or world news or domestic news and oh look, shiny new handbag.

The readers’ editor

As you can imagine, I’m quite interested in the new readers’ editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald: It’s about you, and I’m on your side:

Each Wednesday I will write about what you consider pressing matters but I will also speak to and email those who raise pertinent questions.

You will ask the questions and I will do my best to answer them by speaking to editors, reporters, photographers and the production team.

I’m not confident though. I worry that instead of “an advocate in the newsroom for our readers”, it will be little more than a column to justify news decisions when criticised by readers.

As I’ve said here before, I’m a Fairfax reader. I’m a Fairfax reader because you couldn’t pay me to read The Australian or the Daily Telegraph. If the ABC or SBS printed a newspaper I’d buy that. Ooh, that’s an idea. An iPad newspaper, so no printing costs and I wouldn’t have to look at the fucking awful news websites that News Ltd and Fairfax have.

But I digress. As an example, let’s look at today’s carbon tax story: Power price warning ‘based on gouging theory’:

THE NSW government’s dire warnings about electricity price rises are based on the assumption that the state’s generators will ”price gouge” by charging households one and a half times the increased carbon costs the power stations incur, the Minister for Climate Change has alleged.

There are two voices in the story: Greg Combet and Tony Abbott. Greg Combet and Tony Abbott being predictable, predictably disagreeing with each other. Two politicians on opposite sides disagreeing with each other. Woop-di-fucking-do.

Where are the quotes from experts outside of politics? Where is the Herald‘s own analysis? Where is evidence that a Herald journo has looked at the modelling they are arguing over? And I’m none the wiser as to who is telling the truth.

So, my criticism of the SMH and SH is simple: make it better than this. If you want balance and transparency – and to raise circulation figures and UBs and PIs – then stop simply repeating what politicians say.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Let’s see what happens next Wednesday, eh?