Friday, December 31, 2004

Bloggers in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Fred Robarts is blogging from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.

Sarath Seneviratne, also in Sri Lanka, reports friends dead and missing.

Primary0 is blogging from the Maldives - eyewitness accounts and pictures.

More photos from the Maldives at Vakaruge.

Galle, Sri Lanka

Bodies line the corridor in a hospital in Galle, Southern Sri Lanka. Photo: Jason South

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Smart mob donations

Amazon tsunami donations have hit $3.2m. Driven wholly by online promotion - Glenn Reynolds has been instrumental in spreading the word - this is a terrific response. Hit 'refresh' and watch the numbers click over.

Keep it coming.

Small miracles

Some relief comes with the small miracles of survival and cooperation amidst the horror stories of death and destruction following the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Robert Phillips from Bermagui was propelled through the collapsing walls of his hut and swept about a kilometre through a nearby lagoon.

An Australian couple diving off the Maldives in the Indian Ocean were dragged about a kilometre out to sea before being rescued.

A Swedish toddler has been reunited with his father after the boy's picture was posted on the internet.

Anonymous acts of kindness.

A pair of Israeli newlyweds described how a Palestinian couple came to their rescue, paying for them to fly back home after they had lost all their cash.

An Indian teenager was found after clinging to a door in heavy seas for two days.

About 3000 Sri Lankan villagers believed to have died in the island's tsunami disaster were found alive yesterday.

A 20-day-old baby survived, thanks to a floating mattress.

A Canadian survived for 10 hours by clinging to a dead fisherman who was wearing a lifejacket.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Death toll continues to rise

Relief efforts are stepped up and calls for donations become more urgent as the extent of the catastrophe continues to unfold.

Group blogs at and are providing continuous news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts.

How the shockwaves spread

The New York Times has a useful graphic that shows how the wave spread across the Indian Ocean.

Computer simulation by the NOAA based on seismic data from the event.

Papers losing the web war

While readers turn to online for breaking news media organisations are struggling to adapt their business models to the new environment:

Newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area have been hammered by to the tune of $50m to $65m in job ad losses alone, according to a new report.

Consulting firm Classified Intelligence has issued a 57 page report that tracks how the four major Silicon Valley newspapers were caught off guard by Craigslist and have largely lost the classified advertising wars.

"(The Bay area) is the first major metro market where, with great certainty, the newspaper industry no longer controls the classified advertising marketplace," Classified Intelligence said in its report.

Australian newspapers will face their own battle with which opened for business here in mid-2004.

Susan Sontag, 1933-2004

Susan Sontag, 71, the American intellectual who engaged and enraged equally with her insights into high and low culture, died yesterday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

In their own words

Message boards about the tsunami disaster at and and eyewitness accounts at and reflect the grief of many, the relief of some at finding their loved ones, and sheer horror at the magnitude of the destruction.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Covering the destruction

Tim Blair has done a great job of pulling together the latest updates on the killer tsunamis that have devastated the Indian rim. He's been on it since the story broke. IMO, it's an example of blogging at its best.

The nature of this story doesn't lend itself to bloggers as newsbreakers. But alert bloggers, like Blair, can aggregate stories and photos and point readers to more remote web sources.

Wikipedia also has comprehensive coverage.

There's some chilling amateur video here.

Not surprisingly, though, there isn't much in the way of live blog reports from the scene. Blogger Dare Obasanjo criticised Robert Scoble for questioning this lack of live blogging when the disaster was unfolding.

But the New York Times sees it differently:

For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.

The so-called blogosphere, with its personal journals published on the Web, has become best known as a forum for bruising political discussion and media criticism. But the technology proved a ready medium for instant news of the tsunami disaster and for collaboration over ways to help.

[...] Howard Rheingold, the author of "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution," about the use of interactive technologies like text-messaging to build ad hoc coalitions, said that using blogs to muster support for aid was a natural next step. "If you can smartmob a political demonstration, an election or urban performance art, you can smartmob disaster relief," he said.

One veteran of the online medium said he was initially "a little disappointed" in the reports he got from the blogs. Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future in California, said that with the widespread use of digital cameras and high-speed digital access, he was expecting to see more raw video and analysis.

He said that upon reflection he realized that it was difficult to get information out of hard-hit areas and that putting digital video online is still the domain of "deep geeks" with significant resources. "This brought home to me just how far we have to go," he said.
For my money the wires and various foreign bureaux led the running. Media organisations have encouraged firsthand reader feedback via email on their websites, but you can expect blogs to kick up a gear when more witnesses get safe and get online access.

The occasional exceptions are photo blogs. The Age used pics from here on the front page today.

Ocean swells along the flooded coast of Kalutara, Sri Lanka in a satellite image taken shortly after the area was hit. Photo: Reuters

The aftermath

Bodies of victims laid out in the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh
Photo: Reuters /

The wave hits

People fleeing the tsunami at Koh Raya, Thailand. Photo: John Russell /

Monday, December 27, 2004

2004 online review

OJR's wrap of online highlights and lowlights by Mark Glaser describes 2004 as the year bloggers made a difference, while hyperlocal citizen journalism made inroads. Includes top 5 lists and predictions for 2005.

Bertrand Pecquerie at takes issue with Glaser's "self-congratulatory" tone.

Meanwhile, Steve Outing believes mainstream journalists could learn a few things from bloggers, but bloggers can also learn a few things from journalists.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Paper wars

In The Oz this weekend Robert Gottliebsen gives a tough assesment of the challenges facing Australian metro daily newspapers in the face of new competition from Sensis:

[...] the outcome of the ferocious war over the Sydney residential property market will play a huge role in determining the future of newspapers such as The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age in Melbourne, the Brisbane Courier Mail, the Adelaide Advertiser, The West Australian and, in time, similar titles in Tasmania.

[...] Is Akhurst right that papers such as The Australian, the SMH and The Age have had their day? In my view there is little doubt that high-margin, large-volume conventional non-display classified advertisements now have a limited lifespan.

The great strength of the traditional newspapers is that they are capturing high-spending consumers better than any other medium, and if they can retain them with attractive editorial they will gain substantial advertising revenue.
At CJR Phillip Meyer offers his own advice on how to weather the storm:

We need to keep genuine journalism alive long enough for the successful media entrepreneurs of the future to find a way to capture and sell the influence that traditional media are abandoning through their cost-cutting strategies. Those who understand the influence model and apply it to the new, more specialized marketplaces could start to look very much like journalism's philosopher-kings of the twentieth century.
Michael Miner at the Chicago Reader has a different approach:
What the newspapers of tomorrow need to tap is the full potential of alternate reality. Facts alone get us nowhere. True insight demands a healthy dose of make-believe.
The single biggest question, though, revolves around the type of journalism that readers are attracted to. How can newspapers be better in all possible ways - producing better reported, better edited and better designed papers?

Gottliebsen hints at the answer:

To continue to prosper, the papers will need to swing hard to other types of classifieds and display advertising, where there is a rapidly growing market, and perhaps rely more on the attraction of their journalism.
Meyer's solution follows a similar, quality-driven path. Is it just wishful thinking?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Ho ho ho ...

So how does the big man do it?

Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Free to speak your mind ... or not

The media in poor countries are freer and more influential than ever before, which is why so many journalists are being killed, says The Economist.

That may be so, but old-fashioned despots are still in vogue in North Korea, Turkmenistan and Togo, and still busily repressing the media. The same issue of The Economist investigates these remaining personality cults and asks: Why do they survive, how long will they last, and why do those who build them always have such vile personalities?

Iraq, the press and the US election

Michael Massing asks:
With President Bush preparing for a second term, what can we expect from the press in Iraq? The initial signs, from Falluja, are not encouraging. Even allowing for the constraints imposed by embedding, much of the press seemed unduly accepting of US claims, uncritically repeating commanders' assertions about the huge numbers of insurgents killed while underplaying the devastation in the city. And little attention was paid to the estimated 200,000 residents said to have fled Falluja in anticipation of the fighting. Amid US claims that the city had been "liberated," these refugees seemed invisible. But, in light of the coverage in recent months, this should have come as no surprise.

Should scientific articles be available free online?

The movement for free online access to science research dates back as far as 1991, before most of us had even heard of the Internet. But now, as Slate reports, the US National Institutes of Health has thrown its considerable weight behind the notion of free access to biomedical research.

"How should we harness the enormous possibilities of the digital world while trying to reckon with vested interests that stand to lose in the transition? Ultimately, the potential benefits of open access, for both scientists and the public, are too significant not to pursue aggressively. At a time when technical material is accumulating more quickly than ever before, extensive online databases can help scientists do the most informed work possible. At a time, too, when patients are asked to participate much more actively in health care decision-making, better access to information is crucial."
Part of the argument goes that the public would benefit directly from greater access. For patients who have rare diseases or are considering controversial therapies, access to cutting-edge medical research may be vital—especially since new work is developing so quickly that even the most assiduous general practitioners may have a hard time keeping abreast of it all.

Don't ask me, I just work here

Dodging the question is one of the most important (and most-used) weapons in a politician's arsenal: "I'm glad you asked that question. Let me answer by saying ..."

But President Bush has dispensed with this old trick. Having invited reporters to ask him questions on live television, Bush repeatedly told them that their questions would be better directed at someone else.

Q: How long will U.S. troops be in Iraq?
GWB: Ask Generals Abizaid and Casey.
Q: What's the broad framework for Social Security reform?
GWB: Ask Congress.
Q: Has the Iraq war improved the prospects for peace in the Middle East?
GWB: Go ask the Palestinians.

Every time he was confronted with a difficult question, Bush answered, Go ask someone else.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Goodbye Bill

Slate has a new owner. The online news magazine with an eight-year history of critical acclaim and financial struggle has been bought from Microsoft by The Washington Post Co. for an undisclosed sum.

Slate's editor, Jacob Weisberg, said in a message to readers,

"Although the move creates exciting opportunities for us, especially on the business side, neither the new publisher nor the old editor (who is also staying) envisions drastic editorial changes."

Free at last

After 124 days in captivity two French journalists have been released in Baghdad. Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, are expected back in France on Wednesday.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Walkley Awards 2004


Hugh Martin, Matthew Absalom-Wong, Simon Johanson and John Silvester,, Gangland

In 2004, Melbourne was spellbound by the continuing saga of underworld killings and police corruption. Gangland was a 13-part package of audio slideshow accompanying a web archive that told the story of a series of related murders in Melbourne between 1998 and 2004. Broken into chapters, the interactive site looked at the families, the victims, the major hits, the locations and the ongoing investigation.

Judges’ comments

Age reporter John Silvester takes the audience on a tour of “murderous Melbourne”. This is an amazing work that delivers on the powerful potential of internet journalism. The mixture of Silvester’s untrained, but so real, crime-reporter voice with great music, photographs and a seemingly endless supply of background information delivers a thoroughly engaging news presentation. Key to the success of this piece is its clear, easy navigation and the perfect mix of design, music, content and very human reporting.

SBS coverage of the 49th Walkley Awards

Thursday, December 02, 2004

How do you get your news?

Crystal ball (navel?) gazing is a popular media pastime. Speculation about the influence of technology and media consumption trends rank high among the various anxieties of editors and news executives. So it's interesting to take an occasional snapshot of various predictions and projections. Here are today's:

1. One of the most interesting new developments is Wikipedia's move into news. Members of the open-source community who write and edit Wikipedia's encyclopedia entries can test their skills as journalists at Wikinews. The news site follows a similar set of rules as the encyclopedia, which allows anyone to edit and post corrections to entries, as long as each change is recorded.

2. How long before mainstream media begins buying up blogs?

"... established media brands will have no choice but to adopt blog strategies -- and acquisitions will be a part of it."
Blogmeister, Nick Denton, is the man to watch.

3. OhmyNews isn't exactly new but has gathered a good deal of attention recently. Democratic journalism is the new buzzword.

4. Will newspaper websites begin charging for access? OK, some already have begun charging for selected content, but where is this trend heading?

Scotsman's archives online

The Scotsman has launched a digital archive of 19th century material - every issue of the newspaper from its first publication in 1817 up to 1900.

As part of its 150th anniversary The Age recently published a similar, albeit less ambitious, site. The Age has digitised a selection of its archival material going back to 1854.

The attractions are obvious, as is the educational potential. But for anyone with even a passing interest in history these archives are a great tool.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Live from Laughland

Nice bit of forensic work from Andrew Leigh who has dug into the writings of an Age and SMH oped contributor.

John Laughland, whose piece ran in The Age yesterday, has had his credibility demolished in The Guardian for being an apologist for some of Europe's nastiest regimes.

What population problem?

In today's Age Ross Gittins works hard to make Australia's ageing population sound like a good thing.

His first point is "population ageing is good news for everyone who prefers living to dying."

Umm, right. Difficult to disagree (I suppose), but it doesn't really add much to what we already know.

But wait:

"The second most important reason for ageing is the marked decline in 'fertility' (births per woman) since the early 1960s. I happen to think this is the worst part of the news. But I'm perfectly capable of giving it a positive spin.
For one thing, having fewer children to support at least makes it easier for the community to support an increased number of old people."

Read that last sentence again, carefully. According to Gittins, fewer children mean the oldies can have all the attention they want. Really? Well perhaps for a short time. Generations following won't have that luxury. No kids = no working adults = no support for oldies.

"For another, it's possible fertility may be stabilising. It hasn't got any lower for five years.
Even if that's true, however, reduced fertility is good news for all those people who hate children and think there ought to be fewer of 'em."

At this point we assume the curmudgeonly old Gittins has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

And he continues. It turns out a shrinking workforce is really a good thing:

"... the balance of bargaining power is going to shift from bosses back to workers. Unemployment will be much less of an issue, redundancies will be rare, older workers will be valued and their needs accommodated, and bosses will be trying a lot harder to keep their workers happy."

Power to the people, man! Bring on the grey revolution!

But here comes the bad bit:

"The Productivity Commission estimates that, by the mid-2020s, the rate of growth in real income per person will have almost halved to 1.25 per cent a year."

According to Ross, though, it won't really be that bad because we can take solace in the fact that money doesn't make us happy.

"Studies show that in the rich countries, rising incomes don't lead to greater 'subjective wellbeing'."

Phew, that's a relief.

"... because a higher proportion of the population will be retired, the population will be enjoying a lot more leisure. GDP ignores leisure, but people enjoy and often choose to retire voluntarily."

I'm getting a bit confused now. OK, people will continue to live longer, which I agree is a good thing. People will stay healthy longer, which I also agree is a good thing. But because of the reduced fertility rate we're not replacing our working population sufficiently so we have a shrinking workforce, which Gittins argues is not really a bad thing.

OK, I sort of follow him up to that point.

But if a higher proportion of the population is retired (and it makes sense that they would be), then where's the economic trade-off? It's difficult to believe that volunteer work will make up the difference:

"... thanks to the increase in retirees, the value of volunteer labour will increase over the next 40 years from 1.8 per cent of GDP to 2.2 per cent."

Do we really need more lamington drives and lollipop ladies? (At least we know the lollipop ladies will be redundant.)

And then there's this:

"Finally, there's good news for the young. Though they may be paying a bit more tax to support their oldies, their lifetime real incomes will be substantially higher - maybe 90 per cent higher - than their parents' lifetime incomes."

90 per cent higher? Even though "real income per person will have almost halved to 1.25 per cent a year" by the 2020s?

Check the report out for yourself, and see what other submissions to the Productivity Commission have had to say.