Monday, January 31, 2005

Trackback and good journalism

Jack Shafer at Slate has reviewed the Blogging, Journalism and Credibility conference and basically decided that bloggers are guilty of overstating their case by a country mile.

In a piece titled Blog Overkill he warns against "fetishising" a new technology or new media wrinkle (which apparently is what a blog is) and concludes: "... we owe it to this prodigious new communications form not to demand too much too soon."

Before then he managed to infuriate Jay Rosen whilst generating a helluva good discussion, both the original and Rosen's response are worth checking out. Here's a sample from one of Rosen's readers:

"I think the very existence of Jack's article is a tip of the hat to the increasing influence of blogs, and the future promise of a Journalism affected by the blogosphere. He's essentially added a Trackback to the end of his column that has enabled his readers to follow the discussion in the blogs and see for themselves where Shafer got it wrong or where he got it right. He didn't have to do this, and had he not, your response to the article would not be as center-stage as it is."

This bloke is right. The trackback feature is interesting, and its use in this instance points to some serious questions, as well as opportunities, for journalists.

Why shouldn't daily news sites publish trackback code on every story? The overhead is a lot less compared to the editorial requirements for comment pages, but the reader value would be high. The combination of the two, though, would be quite powerful. And the loop back to the reporters, in terms of seeing the ways in which their work is used, would undoubtedly enrich their writing.

The intricacies of coding have never been my strong point, but it seems reasonable to expect that any decent content management system could handle this sort of modification.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Still in print ... for now

Today's Oz Media has a round-up of projections for the industry in 2005. The main piece by Mark Day looks at the legislative landscape and the likelihood of change, as well as a quick summary of the major players and their probable courses of action. This is packaged with five accompanying breakout pieces looking at the divisions of print, radio, magazines, digital TV, advertising and marketing. Only one of these is online.

In a piece headed "Not yet out of print", Errol Simper writes:

"... Newspapers will spend the year setting the majority of news agendas, just as they did last year. Radio producers, news directors and talkback hosts will continue to scan the papers every morning as bountiful providers of program content. Sometimes the newspapers will receive attribution, more often they won't. The executive producers of any number of television programs will, likewise, comb the papers for stories that can be moved on a metre or two and served up at 6pm."
This is not nearly as true as it once was. And don't forget print editors pay just as much attention to what stories are running on TV and radio.

I wonder if Simper has heard of Newsgator?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the section, News advises Fairfax, via the wisdom of JP Morgan's media team, to go tabloid and reap millions. Who are these nameless "analysts", and what real value do they add to a debate about newspaper formats? I mean seriously.

The best minds in the business of newspaper design don't automatically favour the tabloid - it suits some markets and some papers, but not all. There are other design options to attract readers and maintain ad revenues.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Silly and unworkable"

hmm ... This probably seemed like a good idea - just before she said it out loud.

Newspapers, blogs and Technorati

There's a good discussion going on at Morph under the topic heading "Why newspapers still matter". Guaranteed to pique my interest.

It ties in nicely with an earlier Morph discussion on Open source media. The writer, JD Lasica, wrote:
"Good story, except the company that is in charge of the watermarking process isn't returning my phone calls (perhaps understandably). I don't have days to spend on the phone tracking this down to nail it - and if I blog what I've got so far nobody will care."
Maybe, maybe not. Funnily enough it provoked this response from one reader: "I shudder at the idea of blogging a 'draft' post based on a single source to find out if the story is true or not."

To which Lasica replied:

"It already happens dozens of times a day. (It may not rise to the level of a traditional news story all the time, but it still happens all the time.) When it does, readers who may have inside knowledge of the veracity of the report can contribute to the report or disavow the shaky part -- mostly out in the open.

Bloggers who do so should take pains to point out that the information hasn't been confirmed -- but I see no harm in doing so. (The alternative is to sit on the information.) And readers by now should be savvy enough to recognize an unverified report for what it is. (Not all do, but that's an ongoing educational process.)"

So bloggers get into discussions with readers about the finer details of a story. Or readers add their own details. Either way, this is clearly a departure from the traditional definitions of journalism. Jay Rosen has been making this point for a while, and it goes to the reason for holding a conference like the one that took place last weekend (even if the voices were somewhat limited) on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility.

Related to this is the issue of aggregator sites and the role they will play in the distribution of news. It's definitely a whole area for discussion itself, but it's worth noting that some major news sites are recording dropping visitor numbers to their front pages as readers follow deep links from blogs or aggregator sites directly to articles.

Some of the most popular sites are Blogdex and Technorati. These sites harvest millions of blogs and display the most popular ones - calculated by incoming links - or the most recently updated. And they can be sorted by topic into real-time feeds. Readers might continue to check their favorite writers, but these aggregators give every blogger a chance to be read if they write something worth reading. And it means that the brand value of particular mastheads will continue to be broken down unless major media organisations react smartly.

As an illustration of the power of aggregators, a search on Technorati this morning for "Academy Award screeners" has Lasica's post on Morph at number two. So while Lasica wrote that no one would care about the story, such as he had it, it's already out. You can imagine that post prompting enough online discussion to get closer to the truth before the LA Times gets the story published.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Growing demand for online news pages

What do you do if you're a big media company looking to expand your online presence? You could employ more people to produce more stories. Or you could look around the marketplace and size up compatible online publications for purchase.

A looming crunch issue for some sites is a revenue squeeze that's partly a result of their own success. According to the New York Times (reg rq'd) news and information web sites are back in town.

The problem is that advertisers want prime page positions, but the available inventory of pages is in limited supply. On the spectrum of problems for online publishers this is up the friendlier end of the scale, but nevertheless it's real.

So bidding wars are happening over businesses that only a short time ago were seen as undesirable.

"Online advertising is expected reach $9.7 billion in 2004, or about 3.7 percent of United States advertising spending, according to a recent Merrill Lynch report. Still, that number is expected to grow 19 percent this year as the nation's largest advertisers shift budgets from print and network television to cable and the Internet, the report said.

As a result, publishers are being forced to confront a potential advertising inventory crunch. There is no physical limitation to the number of Web pages, of course, but advertisers want to be placed on the most popular pages and those which cater to their most profitable audiences. And those kind of pages are in shorter supply. "

Monday, January 24, 2005

Looking for common ground

To time with the Harvard webcred conference, this piece in the Wall Street Journal continues the mainstreaming of blogs. ABC radio were on the phone this morning for a comment on a morning drive program (for the Northern Territory) - at least they recognise it's a genuine phenomenon.

There's a bunch of stuff in response to the conference on aggregators here and here. But the best one-stop roundup comes from Jay Rosen. Jay lists six key moments he took away from the two day meeting:
  1. Public involvement leads to information hunger
  2. Profitable for whom? How blogging makes money
  3. There is no continuum on which journalists and bloggers fit
  4. A passion for neutrality and the challenge from Wiki News
  5. The podcasting era dawns for Powerline
  6. Keep Your Eye on the Open Archive.
Number 3 came from Dave Weinberger. Dave is a respected authority on blog matters and co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, but I'm inclined to think that insisting there is no common ground between bloggers and journalists relies on an overly narrow definition of both.

I'm in full agreement with Jay on Number 6, though.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Marked man

In what can safely be described as a copout, former opposition leader Mark Latham took a swipe at the media as he exited the top ALP job:

"When I was hospitalised in August, for instance, the media frenzy was over the top, with photographers shooting through my hospital window. Accordingly, I have done everything I could to keep subsequent episodes as private as possible.

Unfortunately ever since the recent bout became known, and even though I was on annual leave, the media has been harassing people in our street, forcing our neighbours to call the police on several occasions."
Bad behaviour by individuals in the media is inexcusable, but Latham was the alternative Prime Minister. What did he expect?

Max Suich unravels some of the Latham angst:

"Latham was seriously ill and tried to hide it. When his illness was reluctantly revealed (after a suggestion from the Government that his absence deserved inquiry) he offered no intelligent explanation for the secrecy and the true seriousness of the illness was not revealed.

He appears to have had no members of his office who were competent - or, more likely, perhaps, trusted - enough for him to rely on to manage the essential affairs of a leader while ill.

Once a crisis blew up, largely because of this inept and secretive management of the news of his illness, almost the entire party leaked the desire for him to go. "
And the MEAA reported today:
"On Tuesday NSW police threatened to arrest journalists waiting for comment after Mark Latham's resignation announcement. Police attempted to use Section 28F(b) of the Summary Offences Act to restrict the movement of journalists covering the major political event. The Alliance wrote to the NSW Police Minister demanding that police immediately stop threatening journalists with a law generally used for harassment or to disperse gangs."

Photo: Penny Bradfield /

Explode the newsroom

Great post from Tim Porter on First Draft about the failure of current newsroom structures to deal adequately with changing media technologies, reader expectations, and the needs of reporting staff for clear direction and resources so they can "go out and commit some journalism".

Porter writes: "It is time to explode the newsroom and remake it in ways that bring flexibility, creativity, awareness of audience and collaboration to the forefront."

He offers six suggestions as starting points for a newsroom revolution, and concludes:

"There are principles of journalism that should remain inviolate, but there are no permanent rules about how to put those principles into practice. Nowhere is it written that the current structure of newspapers is the only way to do journalism. In fact, we've arrived where we are more by happenstance than by purpose, often by mimicking a singular innovation that moved the industry in a new direction. The introduction into newspapers of comics, of photography, of color, of editorial pages, even of the notion of objectivity, each broke a rule of its day and eventually enticed others to follow.

The future of newspapers belongs to those bold enough, and skilled enough, to invent their own rules. Who among the traditional newsrooms is going to lead us into tomorrow by being the rule-breaker of today?"

Jeff Jarvis makes some similar observations:
"Thanks to the internet - and the consumer control and choice it enables - the mass market is dying ... How do we serve a mass of niches instead of the mass audience? How do we afford to do that? How do we assure we do not ghettoize and marginalize those publics?"

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Getting the story straight

Here's a New York Times (reg req'd) story from yesterday about a blog run by three Baghdad brothers. The article is free here.

Jeff Jarvis is highly critical of the reporter for sloppy work and for the decision to name the bloggers in full and then speculate on their relationship to US authorities in Iraq.

Interestingly, there's a conference at Harvard University this weekend titled Blogging, Journalism & Credibility. Jarvis will be there and promises to thrash this one out with the other participants. The conference will be webcast live. Check out the tagged page for updates.

Also attending is Jay Rosen who has written a terrific essay on Pressthink as part of his contribution to the conference. Jay says the blogging v journalism debate is over, not so according to Red Herring.

Malcolm Gladwell: guru or scribe?

New Yorker journalist Malcolm Gladwell is always worth reading, and now Fast Company has elevated him to guru status:

"Gladwell has, as his editor Henry Finder puts it, 'essentially invented a genre of story.' A 'Malcolm Gladwell story' is an idea-driven narrative, one focused on the mundane rather than the bizarre. It takes you on a journey in and out of research through personal, social, and historical moments, transports you to a place you didn't know you were going to end up, and changes the way you think about an idea. The result is articles such as 'The Talent Myth: Are Smart People Overrated?' published in 2002 and still circulating today."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Allawi allegations redux

In July last year Fairfax correspondent Paul McGeough wrote a damning story about the Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, in which he claimed that Allawi had personally executed as many as six suspected insurgents. The story ran on the front page of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, July 17. And then it sank like a stone.

A few short wire pieces ran in the following days, but no major US news organisation picked up the story. Newsweek touched on it in order to dismiss the allegation. McGeough publicly defended his story, but there was still no reaction.

Despite not getting the attention it might have the story has never really gone away. And now the New Yorker has picked it up. Jon Anderson writes:
"During my visit to Jordan, a well-known former government minister told me that an American official had confirmed that the killings took place, saying to him, "What a mess we’re in—we got rid of one son of a bitch only to get another.'"

What's good for the goose ...

Egoli reports:
"Following a meeting held yesterday, a spokesperson for John Fairfax Holdings Limited (FXJ) yesterday advised that while the group is not standing still, it has no developments to report to the market at this time. The comments come as speculation that the group could buy CanWest’s stake in Ten Network Holdings Limited (TEN) intensifies."
Sounds like Fairfax's enthusiasm for a deal with Ten may be waning. Shareholders didn't like it, which may have been enough to scotch an agreement which also hinged on regulatory approval for transfer of the Canwest ownership structure and would have been an advance bet against the likelihood of favourable changes to legislation later this year.

Too many variables, perhaps?

An editorial in today's Oz took the 'we can't do it, so they shouldn't be allowed to' angle:

"Perhaps Fairfax and its friends think the Government will allow them to get a start before the law changes ... If the Government is committed to fair reform, it must let Fairfax and Ten know it will permit no more cunning company structures that avoid the intent of the rules. Any opportunities that are open for Fairfax and Ten should also be available at the same time to Kerry Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Limited and News Limited."

Sour grapes anyone?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Aceh's daily miracle

In a truly inspirational example of the 'daily miracle' that is newspaper production Aceh's daily newspaper was back on the streets just days after the tsunami killed many staff.
"On January 1, just six days after the disaster, Serambi Indonesia was back in circulation, albeit on a drastically reduced scale. It is now printing 10,000 copies a day, compared with 100,000 daily before the disaster. It has been reduced from a 16-page to an eight-page edition, as there are not enough journalists to produce the original size. The new edition is being run by 10 people - six journalists and four production staff - and is being printed in Lhokseumawe, the second city of Aceh province, and distributed free. "

Digital radio's star is rising

They took the credit for your second symphony
Rewritten by machine and new technology
and now I understand the problems you can see
- The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star

Garage Band is gathering steam amongst my musician friends - most of whom still play instruments that were made in the fifties and sixties.

But they are a little slower catching on to digital radio. There have been a few experiments in Australia, notably the ABC's Dig who are now also getting in to podcasting, but the take-up has been slow. I guess we're still watching to see how it plays out in Europe and the US.

I'm late to this, but still very keen to try podcasting which I'm intending to do soonest. It's another strand to the increasingly complex evolution of media we called convergence in 2004.

Turns out investors aren't keen

"A possible John Fairfax investment in the Ten Network continued to receive the thumbs down from investors yesterday ahead of an expected board announcement today about its acquisition strategy."

Meanwhile, speculation continues about the new Fairfax CEO.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A real solution

A US regional newspaper in Greensboro, North Carolina, is leading the blog revolution into the heartland of traditional media.

How long before Australian papers catch on?

Backing off of the north east wind

More on the Fairfax - Ten Network proposal.

Interestingly, there is some disagreement about the motivation for these discussions. The weekend papers reported that it was most likely about reaching an agreement on a deal before any changes to the legislation are decided.

But not according to UBS media analyst Tony Wilson.
"Mr Wilson dismissed the suggestion that either Fairfax or Ten was aiming to protect itself by doing a big deal before the Government's media law changes go through. 'If Fairfax buy Ten, they might close the door to someone like a PBL buying them, but they don't close the door to every other foreign group who might decide they want a major media stake in Australia,' he said."

Journalists, objectivity and the blogosphere

How much freedom should mainstream journalists who blog outside their news organisations have in expressing their opinions? A Wired piece looks at this question, taking the policies of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times as examples.

All major news organisations, The Age included, aim to protect the independence and credibility of their publications through strictly enforcing codes of conduct. But blogging is by nature an opinion driven form.

Within the right, transparent kind of framework, why shouldn't reporters be allowed, even encouraged to write about their views on a range of subject? It comes back to that trust question again.

British journalism is grappling with the issue in the wider context of media generally.

Jay Rosen has an extended piece on PressThink titled "Bloggers vs. journalists is over", argues that the debate has been overtaken by events.
"The question now isn't whether blogs can be journalism. They can be, sometimes. It isn't whether bloggers 'are' journalists. They apparently are, sometimes. We have to ask different questions now because events have moved the story forward. By 'events' I mean things on the surface we can see, like the tsunami story, and things underneath that we have yet to discern."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Everybody's talkin'

Bit of a mixed approach today to Fairfax's mooted takeover of Ten.

The SMH acknowledges that the Fairfax board will consider the question:

"John Fairfax directors will meet on Monday to thrash out the viability of a bid for the Ten Network and what that would mean for the publisher's succession plans."
A piece by the same writer, Wendy Frew, in The Age hedges its bets:

"Rumours continued yesterday that John Fairfax Holdings was trying to buy a 57.5 per cent stake in Ten Network Holdings for up to $1 billion from Ten's major shareholder, Canadian company CanWest Global Communications Corp. Executives from Fairfax and CanWest were unavailable for comment, but it is believed the most likely option would be an equity swap."
The Australian Financial Review took the big picture approach looking at the broader media landscape where a number of companies are jostling for leverage positions in anticipation of legislation changes later in the year. The Fin is a subscription-only site, but has a longish piece by Katrina Nicholas outlining the complex picture that will be filled in over the next year or so.

Basically, Fairfax and Ten - and you'd expect PBL and News are running numbers on a range of possibilities - are trying to get an opening advantage by reaching an agreement on a deal before any changes to the legislation are decided, and they're banking on that decision being favourable. Given the sums involved it's hefty bet.

As one investment banker put it: "Everyone is talking to everyone ... but nothing is concrete."

Former Fairfax journalist Jane Schultz has a fairly comprehensive roundup of the issues. She also throws in a piece speculating on who might succeed Fred Hilmer as CEO of Fairfax. It includes this odd sentence about the subject, Doug Flynn:
"He is believed to have told some disbelieving associates he was once offered the top job at Telecom New Zealand before it finally went to Theresa Gattung."
So, who believed what?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Media manoeuvres

As The Australian reported yesterday Fairfax and Channel Ten are in discussions over a possible sale of the television network to the newspaper group. Ten has had a bumpy financial history but the Asper family have done well after buying in at 10 cents a share and are looking to sell at more than 40 times this price.

But the catch will be the complex structure that Canwest, the Asper's company, devised to skirt Australia's cross media ownership laws. Can it be transferred to a buyer? The MEAA has asked the ABA to investigate, so we should know something before the next election.

The Prime Minister has said that media legislation reform is on the agenda, but not high on his list of priorities. It's high on some people's list, though.

The major Australian media companies include:

* News Corp which is now US-based. With a market cap of $65 billion it can afford to buy whichever Australian media company it chooses, but any expansion plans will be limited by ongoing foreign ownership limits.
* PBL is Australia's largest domestic media company with a market capitalisation of $11.3 billion.
* Fairfax is the next largest at $4.53 billion. This makes it too large for PBL to pick up unless it offers a scrip deal.
* Ten is the fourth largest media company with a market cap of $1.7 billion followed by Channel Seven at number with a market value of $1.4 billion.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Live from the vlogzone

Lots of reaction to the phenomenon of vlogs following the tsunami disaster. BlogPulse has released an in-depth analysis of tsunami-related coverage in the blogsphere. BlogPulse's analytical tools tracked the coverage of the tsunami and relief efforts and the site produced maps showing how discussion spiked considerably in the affected countries and the Southern Asia region.

A piece I wrote for The Age ran on the oped page yesterday. It really only scratched the surface of the issue, but Mark Glaser has done a more thorough job here.

The big questions include -
1. What is the best distribution mechanism? Browser interface? BitTorrent? Something else?
2. What is the best commercial distribution model? Hosting high traffic video content costs money which localised bloggers can't afford. Who pays?
3. And who owns the content? What are the copyright implications?
4. How can news organisations work most effectively with bloggers in a breaking news environment?
5. As things like mobile phones become more loaded with viable video, audio and camera equipment, how can news web sites position themselves to take advantage of the next wave of public generated news content?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The trust question

AP President and CEO, Tom Curley, in his much quoted speech says "content will be more important than its container" in the next phase of journalism's development on the internet. No argument there. Wire services are uniquely placed to take advantage of changing reader habits in the evolving media landscape.

But then he adds:
"The expanding 'blogosphere' is indeed huge, but the bloggers need a baseline of facts and professional analysis on which to base their work. And that's where the AP and many of the other organizations you all represent come into play.
Imagine Drudge without somebody to link to, or Wonkette without somebody to poke fun at."
This might be an oversimplification of what bloggers do. We'll cut Curley some slack here, his speech was delivered before the latest major story broke and bloggers took on an expanded role.

While everyone who works in the media for a living might wish to hang on to the privilege of always breaking stories and shepherding the analysis of major events and issues, it ain't going to be like that. It's clear that while the Drudges and the Wonkettes might make a lot of noise and gain a hefty readership by linking and commenting, this represents only a limited view of what blogs are doing. Some blogs, perhaps many, will break news as it happens. I get the sense from Curley's speech that he thinks AP reporters have a buffer of expertise or reputation or something protecting them from the mass of bloggers who, because they lack the training or profile of a professional reporter, cannot have the same impact.

Jay Rosen made some similar comments on Curley's speech:
"The American newsroom never went to school about the Web. That remains true to this day. Instead, it took what it was doing and 'moved' it online. The results gave birth to the generic news sites we see today, as well as the Online News Assocation. But they also delayed a day of intellectual reckoning, and the costs of doing it that way were a subtext in Curley's speech."
The problem is that while Curley is able to recognise the flaws in news organisations' early web strategies, he might just be making a similar mistake by assuming that only pro journalists can provide a "baseline of facts and professional analysis".

Where the type of news story relies on access to powerful institutions and individuals, maybe this is still the case. Big politics and business stories remain difficult for unknown bloggers to break, but you would expect this to remain the case only as long as the major news organisations were able to deliver stories to exclusive audiences. It's not clear how long that is going to continue. If newspapers and TV can't deliver the audiences but bloggers can then access privileges are going to change drastically. In fact, it's already begun.

In event based news the barriers are down. As the Asian tsunami story showed, citizen reporting is gaining traction. The issue then becomes ... trust.

Small miracles, part 5

"An Indonesian man swept out to sea by the Asian tsunami has described how he survived adrift for two weeks, living on coconuts and chancing upon a leaky boat and a raft."

Photo: Reuters via

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Will charge for access?

"The New York Times, like all print publications, faces a quandary. A majority of the paper's readership now views the paper online, but the company still derives 90% of its revenues from newspapering. 'The business model that seems to justify the expense of producing quality journalism is the one that isn't growing, and the one that is growing -- the Internet -- isn't producing enough revenue to produce journalism of the same quality,' says John Battelle, a co-founder of Wired and other magazines and Web sites."

via Simon Waldman

The NYT has simply hit the nub of the dilemma earlier than most. My own feeling is that charging a cover price or subscription fee won't be the answer. I don't believe online advertising has come close to its potential in terms of creative and when it begins to - and broadband will have a serious impact in this context - we should expect to see business develop.

Trampling on the truth

Andrew Gilligan weighs in with an assessment of the failings of western media in tsunami devastated areas.

"You have to feel sorry for the 24-hour news people. There is an awful lot of space to fill. And since they haven't got time to go out much, they have taken to feeding off each other, producing worthy successors to those legendary media myths of previous big news events - the 'furious Afghan winter', the 'uprisings of the Arab street', the 'siege of Baghdad'."
Top of Gilligan's list of new myths is the "the race against time to feed the hungry story." In Sri Lanka.

Second is the story about how all the dead bodies will "spread disease" and the "new fears of killer cholera".

Third on the list is the tale of the "killer crocodiles" in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands "washed ashore" by the tsunami, who have been "stalking" villagers in the affected area ... (hadn't heard that one)

According to Gilligan, Sri Lanka is doing OK. The devastation is not as bad as the international media is making out.

I supppose it depends on your perspective. 30,000 + people killed in ten minutes sounds pretty devastating to me. To be fair though, Gilligan warns against complacency in the west - perhaps as a result of what he sees as sensational reporting - and corruption from local officials. Fairly standard fare.

But then he finishes with this:

"Before we become too self-satisfied at seeing the rich and poor worlds working together for once, we must add a sobering coda. The horrific death toll was because of a massive failure of the international community.

If the warnings issued in California and Hawaii, hours before the tsunami, had been passed on to the people on the other side of the planet whom it was going to hit, far fewer people would have been killed - though there would still have been devastation."

It's as if he set out to write two stories and halfway through the second one tossed it but kept the lead par and tacked it on to the bottom of the first story. This isn't a logical conclusion based on the rest of the piece, and it's incorrect.

As desirable as it would have been to have adequate warning of the tsunami, it didn't happen for a number of reasons. Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing, but dumping on the "international community" in general suggests Gilligan just wants to blame someone ... anyone.

And it adds an unintentional layerof irony to the heading The Australian's sub-editors have given his piece.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The story in pictures

"Into a million homes came a grieving mother crouched beside the lifeless bodies of tiny children, and perhaps more horrifying, three pairs of feet extending from beneath a white sheet in an upper corner, suggesting the presence beyond the frame of row upon awful row of the tsunami's pitiless toll."

source: New York Times

It's a question pictorial editors everywhere have been grappling with since the news broke. What are the boundaries of acceptable taste? The Times' Public editor, Daniel Okrent, says:

"Mix a subjective process with something as idiosyncratic as taste and you're left with a volatile compound. Add human tragedy and it becomes emotionally explosive. The day The Times ran the picture of the dead children, many other papers led with a photograph of a grief-racked man clutching the hand of his dead son. It, too, was a powerful picture, and it's easy to see why so many used it. But it was - this is difficult to say - a portrait of generic tragedy. The devastated man could have been in the deserts of Darfur, or in a house in Mosul, or on a sidewalk in Peoria; he could have been photographed 10 years ago, or 10 years from now. His pain was universal.

But the picture on the front page of The Times could only have been photographed now, and only on the devastated shores of the Indian Ocean."

It's an important issue, and certainly breathes life into the paper's otherwise earnest debates with readers about political bias and newsworthiness.

ABC's Radio National covered the issue this morning. Unfortunately, there's no transcript yet but I'll add it as soon as it becomes available.

There was a lot of this sort of discussion during the Iraq War. When are confrontingly graphic images appropriate and when are they not? It's not simply a matter of access. One of the arguments about war versus natural disasters is that war coverage is restricted by military authorities. This is true, but there are still many horrible pictures from war zones that are not run in the daily paper because they don't add anything to the story.

That said, we did run a picture of the dead Hussein brothers on in July 2003 and copped some flack from readers. It was a very different situation, of course.

There was also a lot of discussion about the use of images from 911. The Australian Financial Review used a picture of a man falling from one of the towers on their front page a day or two after the attacks. Their justification was that it showed the human side of the horror in a way that longshots of the burning buildings did not.

Pictures are uniquely powerfully and confronting. One of the effects of the desperate images of victims from the tsunami is to help convey the full impact of the disaster to people in far away countries who might otherwise shrug and carry on as if nothing had happened.

Views v News

The Guardian reports a fascinating debate prompted by the Independent's new strategy of remaking itself as a 'viewspaper'.

Format changes have boosted sales at the Independent and the Times, but alternative news sources such as rolling TV news stations are also forcing a rethink of editorial approach. Newspapers are no longer the primary source for breaking stories and must adapt accordingly.
"Alan Rusbridger said the Independent's conversion to a 'viewspaper' posed pivotal questions about the future of newspaper journalism. 'If you have got news organisations saying "we are putting news behind views", this is a fundamental statement about what newspapers are for and what journalism is for ... It is radically new, it is not what serious broadsheet journalism was about.'"

Small miracles, part 4

* An elderly Sri Lankan man was miraculously found alive in the ruins of a building devastated by the killer tsunami two weeks ago. He was haggard and dehydrated but semi-conscious, local media said yesterday.

* A 70-year-old Indonesian man has been found alive after surviving for 11 days under the rubble of his home that was demolished in the tsunami disaster

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Not fade away

"There is an old, politically incorrect saying in newsrooms: How do you change a front-page story about massive flood devastation into a 50-word news brief buried inside the paper? Just add two words: 'In India.'"
The story moves on. The players are jostling for kudos.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Small miracles, part 3

A teenage boy marooned by the tsunami clung to a tree for 10 days in India's remote Andaman Islands chain without water or food before being rescued.

Cambellway in the Andaman and Nicobar islands after the tsunami hit. Photo: Reuters

Friday, January 07, 2005

Blogpower to the people

A while back Simon Waldman wrote:
"The more I learn (and frankly, I still feel pretty dumb in these matters), and the more I look, the more I realise that blogging’s great legacy is likely to not be the individuals who sit at the top of the power curve, but the incomprehensible swarm: and, critically, the order that emerges from it."
It's an attractive thesis, and the daily traffic statistics seem to bear out the current churning at the top of the order. Cheese and Crackers is sitting at no. 1 today (up from #588) with 464, 474 daily visitors. Can you believe it! There isn't a web site in Australia that gets that amount of traffic each day - and I don't count ninemsn as one site.

But not long ago Daily Kos was on top. Today it's a distant second with 220,224 visitors. (To clarify, I'm talking about today's standings not the overall rankings in which Daily Kos sits at no.2 and Instapundit at no.1.)

The difference is in the current news cycle. Cheese and Crackers has only been going for a few weeks but site founder, Jordon Golson, made the fortuitous decision to post a large number of tsunami videos. His traffic stats have hit the stratosphere in the 10 days since then.

During last year's US Presidential election it was Wonkette and Daily Kos that were the hottest items in the blogosphere. Both operate as collectives with a small editorial team. Cheese and Crackers is a one man show, in purist blogger style, and even uses the venerable blogspot template. (Bloggers tend to drop blogspot when they hit the bigtime.)

It's hard to see how Golson might parlay this amazing amount of traffic into a steady revenue stream, but he's clearly a sharp guy so we can probably expect him to turn a coin out of it somehow, and equally clearly he's helped identify a major trend in blogging.

Jay Rosen has pointed towards the emerging trend of vlogging as the phenomenon to watch in 2005.

I've got to say it's refreshing to see this sort of meritocracy in action. If your ideas are smart enough and your execution sharp enough, you're on your way. According to Pew blogs are well and truly on the public radar, albeit sitting a little low on the screen right now. That will change.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Small miracles, part 2

An Indonesian tsunami survivor, who was swept out to sea, drifted on debris in deep ocean for eight days surrounded by dead bodies "left and right".

Quick thinking
10-year-old Tilly Smith is being hailed as a hero after saving her parents and dozens of fellow vacationers from the deadly tsunami - thanks to a school geography lesson.

This is the end

According to Steven Winn,

"Endings once seemed a more straightforward matter than they do now. Shakespeare rounded off his sonnets with rhyming couplets and his comedies with a comforting final speech or song. Victorian novelists married off their heroines. Composers sent their listeners off with a resounding resolution from dominant to tonic chord."
Or as Jim Morrison once wrote:

"This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end"
It all sounds a bit easy. Surely it wasn't always like that? I wrote a little about novelistic endings for a project some years ago.

According to George Eliot "beginnings are always troublesome, but conclusions are the weak point of most authors ... some of the fault lies in the very nature of a conclusion, which is at best a negation". Alternatively, endings can be described as endings "only when they are not negative but frankly transfigure the events in which they are immanent".

In a 1934 letter to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald described his own sense of an ending, and also Hemingway's and Joseph Conrad's:

"The theory back of it I got from Conrad's preface to The Nigger, that the purpose of a work of fiction is to appeal to the lingering after effects in the reader's mind.... The second contribution...was your trying to work out some such theory in your troubles with the very ending of A Farewell to Arms. I remember that your first draft - or at least the first one I saw - gave a sort of old-fashioned Alger book summary ... and you may remember my suggestion to take a burst of eloquence from anywhere in the book that you could find it and tag off with that; you were against the idea because you felt that the true line of a work of fiction was to take a reader up to a high emotional pitch but then let him down or ease him off. You gave no aesthetic reason for this - nevertheless you convinced me."

What is this preoccupation with endings? Winn argues that

"Endings took on a special cast in the 20th century, when world wars and the specter of nuclear holocaust gave finality a darker shade. Every ending, however distant, held the seeds of ultimate destruction. Beckett spun out an infinite, unresolved slow fade in Waiting for Godot. Charles Ives composed his Unanswered Question. Joyce spooled the last line of Finnegans Wake to the first, as if to evade the essential anxiety of beginnings and ends. Endings became provisional, fraught and charged with deeper meanings."
This much is true. Robert Musil certainly fits the description. And we can add that as the century drew to a close there was an increasingly shrill attention to and interest in, endings. It fitted a postmodern millenial outlook neatly. It was all about 'closure'. But haven't we passed that stage?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The art of blogging

Joe Carter has put together a particularly insightful series of comments on blogging:

1. How to start a blog
2. The beginners toolbox
3. Become an A-list blogger
4. The art of marketing your blog
5. Owning a micro-niche

Pejman Yousefzadeh also makes some good points on Blogging 101.

And a while back Tim Dunlop had some interesting things to say about the potential of blogs to put the public back in public intellectual:

"Just as punk rock shook a fist at the pretentious, bloated 'progressive' thing that rock music had become, and found a way for anybody with the guts, the inclination and something to say to pick up a guitar and command an audience, so blogging has risen up to challenge the soundbitten, amnesiac, pale little thing that PR-spun democratic politics has become."

The whole discussion around what blogs are and what they can do has started to splinter off into a number of narrower, but related discussions. Tim Dunlop has one angle, and Steve Outing at the Poynter Institute has another. Both interesting and relevant. Something is brewing.

And it's been brewing for a while. The experts have had a lot to say about it.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Video blogs are peaking

Source: Wall Street Journal

1. Tsunami blogging: The curl in the wave, first hand - The National Business Review
2. Blogs' new place at the media table - The Guardian
3. Tsunami Prompts Online Outpouring - Washington Post
4. Video Blogs Break Out With Tsunami Scenes - Wall Street Journal
5. A Catastrophe Strikes, and the Cyberworld Responds - New York Times
6. Internet Sparks Outpouring of Instant Donations - Washington Post

Desolation row

A cemetery in Sri Lanka. Photo: Jason South

The Archbishop of Canterbury's comments on God's role in the tsunami disaster are easily the most sensible after a week of hand wringing and teeth gnashing by various religious identities and commentators.

No doubt for some, though, Dr Williams' comments will ring too true with Humphrey Appleby's opinion of the Church of England: "Theology is a device for enabling agnostics to stay within the church".

Monday, January 03, 2005

Poor taste award

Matthew Parris, writing in The Times, walks away with the prize for most insensitive comment on the tsunami disaster:

"A small, insistent voice in the back of my head says: 'Isn’t this amazing!' A minor but insuppressible part of me has almost relished — yes, relished — those huge numbers. As the newspaper headlines spoke greedily of the numbers of dead 'approaching' twenty, then fifty, then eighty, then a hundred thousand, something undeniable twitched in the back of my brain. It was a sort of excitement as the figures mounted; as though some great auctioneer of calamity were taking bids from the media floor, and I was willing the bidding to carry on upwards. When will it reach a hundred thousand? Could it reach a quarter of a million? Was this a record? How did it stand in the history of these disasters? That high! Wow!"
Can you believe it?

Cognitive dissent couldn't:

"There certainly is something awe-inspiring and humbling about the power of nature, particularly when on such ferocious display, but recognizing and respecting that power is something completely different than hoping that it runs up the bodycount."

Via Tim Blair.

Tsunami aid

Another collection of the best ways you can contribute has been built by
Team Zoo Station.

Plus, AD in Hong Kong has another list of tsunami related blogs and sites.

Amit Varma is in Tamil Nadu with Aid India and reporting on his blog.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Here's to 2005

And a happier new year!

The papers have done their annual roundup of the year. No names, but geez it's been dull reading. The biggest story of the year had to be squeezed in somehow but despite the production schedules you'd have thought they could do a better job.

So what about online?

Not much difference. The local sites have shovelled the print copy online but that's about it. But some sites have put a bit of effort into online features. Check out El, El Mundo, and La

What were you searching for in 2004?