The Spinoff and RNZ “sharing our journalism” – and also sponsors?

There were some heated exchanges on Twitter last night over a just announced arrangement between RNZ and The Spinoff to share news – “we’ll be sharing our journalism”, but there are issues over whether RNZ are also sharing The Spinoff’s sponsorship and advertising.

RNZ is a long serving non-commercial Government funded media organisation based on radio, but with a growing online presence.

The Spinoff is a a relatively new online media enterprise which relies on sponsorship for funding. They have just launched a premium prescription service – “the best stories from around the NZ media hitting your inbox at 7 am weekdays”. That sounds similar to a service Bryce Edwards has provided free for several years.

Yesterday (12 March) RNZ announced RNZ and The Spinoff announce content partnership:

RNZ and The Spinoff are delighted to announce we’ll be sharing our journalism.

Under the arrangement material from rnz.co.nz will appear on thespinoff.co.nz and vice versa.

The new arrangement maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations.

Glen Scanlon, RNZ’s head of digital, said The Spinoff team had blazed a path for independent websites and the partnership extended RNZ’s proactive approach to make news and information available to more New Zealanders.

“The Spinoff is the source of some of New Zealand’s wittiest, and well-thought, journalism and we’re very much looking forward to being able to feature it.

“Duncan Greive and his team are a creative force, and they have helped bring issues to the forefront of people’s minds in many new ways.”

Greive, The Spinoff’s managing editor, said he was “extremely stoked to be entering a partnership with RNZ”.

“It’s an organisation we admire immensely. The work it does feels thoughtful, urgent and agenda-setting, and we’re privileged to be able to share it with our audience.

“We’re particularly happy that we were able to design a pioneering relationship for RNZ – one which sees our work available for syndication on their sites, as well as theirs on ours. It’s our way of supporting a cultural and journalistic giant which does so much to sustain the rest of our media.”

The Spinoff made their own announcement, quoting from the media release and trying to add some humour: Spinoff and RNZ announce conscious coupling

The juggernaut of quality New Zealand journalism is teaming up with friendly local website The Spinoff, it was announced today to nil fanfare.

According to a media release from RNZ, both parties are delighted about the arrangement, which provides that “material from rnz.co.nz will appear on thespinoff.co.nz and vice versa” and “maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations”.

“Sixteen seems a lot,” said one unnamed source at The Spinoff. “Are there even 16 media organisations in New Zealand?”

According to Spinoff sources, staff were excited about adding more top RNZ content to their website, but more importantly they were motivated by the opportunity to get a mention from New Zealand’s most consistently funny parody Twitter account.

A story shared yesterday led to a heated exchange on Twitter last night.

The original article was posted on The Spinoff on 7 March: 30% cheaper to build and pre-consented: is this a solution to the housing crisis?

An old cigarette factory in Masterton, a remnant from the Think Big era, has been re-purposed to tackle our affordable housing crisis. Rebecca Stevenson caught up with builder Mike Fox to find out how a plant in the Wairarapa is producing modular, kitset homes on the cheap.

That is from Rebecca Stevenson, and looks almost like an advertorial for a house building company, but there is no suggestion it was paid for publicity. However like other Spinoff stories, it has a sponsorship message:

The Spinoff’s business content is brought to you by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.

Check out how Kiwibank can help your business take the next step.

That’s how The Spinoff pay their wages and bills, and it is open disclosure – similar to commercial TV stations have sponsors associated with programmes or news segments like business news and the weather.

On 9 March RNZ republished this article – note that this is prior to them announcing their sharing arrangement with The Spinoff. They acknowledged at the end of the article:

This article was first published on The Spinoff

Bryce Edwards got suggested potential problems with this approach for RNZ, and was confronted by Duncan Grieve from The Spinoff:

Touchy from Grieve. I thought the Spinoff article read like an advetorial too, and that was before reading Edwards’ tweets.

Toby Manhire (from The Spinoff) also seemed aggrieved:

It may have not been paid content on The Spinoff (just openly sponsored), but it is odd content for RNZ to choose to share.

Remember that The Spinoff has just launched a subscription service that sounds similar to Edwards’ free daily round up.

Another Twitter exchange on the topic:

@GeoffMillerNZ – and have announced content-sharing deal. Seems fairly dodgy from RNZ’s perspective, given much of Spinoff’s content sponsored by corporates/PR. You can’t spell “Spinoff” without “spin”

@DCohenNZ – I support what RNZ is doing with content sharing. It’s one of a number of impressive decisions that have been taken on the watch of . Whether other participating media have a “spin” (or political tilt) isn’t important as long as the RNZ content is used extant.

@fundypost (Paul Litterick) – My concern is the problems arising from RNZ taking The Spinoff’s content. The Spinoff runs on sponsorship. It also has an ideological slant.

@GeoffMillerNZ – What’s different about this deal is that RNZ for the first time is reproducing another outlet’s content. Other content-sharing deals were one-way, i.e. other outlets paid a nominal fee to use RNZ content, but the arrangement was not reciprocal.

@DCohenNZ – So the question will be what content is used. Presumably, there will be vetting. The concern you raise is reasonable, but my point is about the need for new ways of thinking about the ongoing good health of media (which I’m sure we both agree is important).

@GeoffMillerNZ – Agree on your last point David, the question is how we get there. As it stands we have RNZ republishing sponsored content without even the disclosure that the Spinoff provides (e.g. see the housing article today, sponsored by Kiwibank but no mention of this on RNZ).

@zigzagger2 (John Drinnan) – In which case RNZ was smart enough to remove the mention because it would undermine the story, but loose enough that it did not see the sponsorshp an issue for the state broadcaster,

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly – they are in an unsolvable bind here. Provide disclosure and it’s free advertising for sponsors on RNZ, don’t provide it and it’s arguably even worse. Hence why the deal should not have been agreed to in the first place.

@fundypost – RNZ does not need to trade. It produces high-quality stuff that other broadcasters want. Why should RNZ want anything from the Spinoff; what does it do that RNZ cannot do?

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly. Content needs to be paid for somehow, so I am not totally against the sponsorship models The Spinoff and Newsroom are pursuing (although still problematic). But RNZ gets public money (& more under Labour) precisely to stay out of this murky area. So why go there?

I suspect that RNZ will be somewhat more careful about what content they share from The Spinoff – the housing article was a very strange choice and I think poor choice, republished before the sharing arrangement was announced.

It appears to be the only article republished at RNZ so far (as indicated by a site search of ‘The Spinoff’).

But the links to sponsored news publications (along with advertising) remains a problem for RNZ.

 

 

Colin James on journalism

On his retirement from “his relentless weekly scribblings” Colin James provides some good insights and advice on what may sadly be a dying craft, journalism, in A lifetime learning. There comes a time.

Journalists live two lives: the inner and the craft.

Journalists are close in to events but never part of them. They meet the powerful and the celebrated. Some are seduced into thinking themselves their equals. They are then lost to journalism.

Journalists make no momentous decisions. Celebrity ill-becomes them. They are a channel through which the powerful and celebrated talk to the people and the people talk back.

To others, the journalist seems greatly privileged to be alongside power and stardust. And the journalist is privileged. But not in the way most non-journalists think.

The privilege is to spend a lifetime learning.

I suspect that many modern journalists don’t understand that privilege. Some of them are too much in it for themselves, fancying themselves too much as celebrities. This is a problem that has been largely introduced by commercial television, where money and brands and attention seeking become more dominant.

A journalist can ask questions of almost everyone and almost all will answer: the powerful and celebrated, the knowing and skilled, the repositories of arcane science or ways of thinking and the “ordinary” guardians of understanding of a community or of a simple truth or of a good way to live an “ordinary” life.

They are all at the journalist’s call. They all teach a journalist who listens.

Yet the journalist need not be expert or knowing or complete. The journalist needs understand only so much of a topic as readers-viewers-listeners want or need to know. The journalist has only to light on and illuminate an idea or project or nation or technology.

No other occupation offers that intense opportunity — to learn but not to have to know, to learn a little and move to the next learning.

A journalist is sceptical, alert to lies, deceit, backside-covering and charlatanism. But not cynical. A cynic has stopped listening and learning. A journalist is open. If not, the communication channel that is the journalist will choke.

It must be difficult to keep cynicism aside as a long time political journalist.

For some, expression is journalism’s pleasure. They are would-be writers and journalism is as close as they can get.

For me, writing it down was the grind. Words shuffled off the keyboard or sat stuttering. They often said to readers different things from what I thought I had said. Words, I found, are wilful and wayward.

And in politics, words can be wilfully be distorted, exaggerated and misused by politicians.

People with an interest in politics (that excludes most people) often seem to have their minds before they read something, they want to only see good in their favoured politicians, and seem to only see bad in unfavoured politicians and parties. This is despite an observation from James:

Almost all in politics mean well.

That includes journalists. Some do better than others.

 

An old school reporter retires

A lot of things have changed significantly in New Zealand and in the world over the last fifty years. One of those things is journalism along with the means of distributing news and views.

Dave Cannan started as a cadet reporter for the Otago Daily Times in 1970, moved on to work for newspapers in Christchurch and Timaru before returning to the ODT where he rose to the position of chief reporter in the first decade of this century.

To mark his retirement from the newspaper business the ODT has a profile of him and his career as a reporter.

ODT: It’s news to us all

”The Wash” wound up on Friday last week. In a strange twist of timing, it also marked the 65th birthday of Cannan, who is putting behind him a career in journalism that has spanned almost five decades – specifically, since January 20, 1970, when a 17-year-old Mosgiel youth started as a cadet reporter at the Otago Daily Times. Back then, New Zealand had yet to hear of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe (killed six months later at Pukekawa, Waikato). The same year, John Rowles sold a million copies of his single Cheryl Moana Marie, and Hogsnort Rupert claimed a Loxene Golden Disc Award for Pretty Girl.

I was still at school then but remember those things – I followed the Arthur Allan Thomas trial in the ODT, but I wasn’t a fan of either Rowles or Hogsnort Rupert.

Anyway, after being sent home from Wanaka by mum, I saw an ad in the ODT for an apprentice photo-lithographer. I got an interview – which was in the old ODT building at Queen’s Gardens – and basically got offered the job. But I mentioned I was interested in a job as a reporter and was taken up to the editorial department to see [then chief of staff] Clarke Isaacs.

”(In those days – and until the early 1990s – the ODT took on youngsters as cadet journalists; they started on the bottom rung of the ladder, typically learning their craft from a variety of industry veterans.)

”It was pretty rough and tumble and not particularly politically correct, you might say. But you got to learn from people like Clarke and from senior reporters.

”Once I got the job I had to get my head around what reporters actually do. As a cadet you’d get some menial tasks – the fruit and vegetable column,  the fire calls, the shipping news – but they were a good way to learn the basics of the craft, from ringing people up to checking your facts and figures.”

Details of his reporting career follow that, to:

Appointed chief reporter in 1999, Cannan looks back with some pride on his tenure of what is, typically, one of the most challenging positions in daily journalism.

”I’d been deputy for a while, so had a taste of it, but, when I think about it now, I had no managerial training. In journalism, if you are any good, you just get pushed up the ladder.

”I was chief reporter for nine and a-half years. It’s an emotional, passionate job. You live and breathe it. And sometimes, perhaps, I rode rough-shod over someone’s feelings.

”I probably upset a lot of people because I did it my way. I tried to lead by example and got it wrong a few times. I made mistakes and annoyed a few people. Looking back, I was probably in too much of a hurry to get things done.

”But the buck ultimately stops with you. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, you’re buggered. There was a lot of pressure to that, a lot of long hours.”

From what I’ve heard it was not a glamorous or particularly well paid job, but it was hard work.

This is an interesting profile of an old school reporter.

How good was Newsroom’s journalism?

There is no doubt that Newsroom journalist Melanie Reid extensively investigated the Todd Barclay story that hit the headlines all through yesterday. It has been hailed by many as great journalism, and to an extent that is fair praise.

But I want to raise questions about how the story was published that other media probably won’t say anything about.

The publishing of the story – actually multiple stories – looks like a carefully orchestrated hit.

It will have taken some time to investigate and write up.

It was likely to that they deliberate broke the story on a Tuesday morning, the first day of the week that Parliament sits. Fair enough, they have to decide some time to publish, and that’s when MPs are usually readily available for responses.

They didn’t just publish the whole story. They published the first hit at about 8 am. They held back more details until later in the day. Why? Good journalism? To maximise publicity and website hits? I guess that’s part of the media game these days.

They published two follow up stories late in the afternoon. Why hold those back?

They have promised another story today.  Last night Tim Murphy at Newsroom promised more via Twitter: “There’s at least one more lie to come in the morning.  “.

Is the drip feeding of a story good journalism, or is it trying to catch MPs out in not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

I’ve seen activists describe these tactics for political hit jobs – hold back details in the hope that their targets will compromise themselves.

It is often said (and I saw it yesterday) that it’s not the political ‘crime’ that does the damage, it’s the way it is dealt with by the targets. (Update: Andrew Little was just quoted on RNZ saying this).

The aim is to stir things up with a story and then hope that the target compromises themselves further by lying or reacting badly to try and cover up or minimise their exposure.

Is it good journalism to play this game?

Or, once they have done their good journalistic investigating shouldn’t they just come out with everything they have?

I may have it wrong, but I got the feeling yesterday that Newsroom were not just reporting what they had discovered, they were trying to maximise the impact on the targets of their story.

I got the feeling that they had a dagger blow, but were stabbing for maximum political blood, not just reporting.

The lines can be very blurred between political activism and media.

Most journalists and opponents of the Government will applaud yesterday’s stories as a well researched, well planned and well executed hit.

The media  can be very powerful. They can influence major political outcomes (like US presidential elections and referendums on major changes to the European Union).

Newsroom’s stories will make some difference in our election this year. They could quite feasibly be a significant factor in changing our Government.

Should we just accept that media are as much a part of the political game playing as anyone?

 

Slater “a journalist; I was simply doing my job”

Cameron Slater has started giving his side of the story in the defamation cases by and against Colin Craig.

Stuff: Cameron Slater defends Colin Craig blog posts

Cameron Slater has told a court he was simply doing his job when he published allegations Colin Craig had sexually harassed his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor.

Giving his brief of evidence on Tuesday, Slater said he was just a journalist chasing a story.

“The difference between my conduct and other journalists is that I never write anything that does not agree with my libertarian and conservative viewpoints.”

He said he received payment for individual posts on his blog.

“With regards to payment for posts, this is a standard journalistic endeavour these days. It is commonly called native advertising or sponsored content.”

The sudden resignation of MacGregor two days out from the 2014 election had turned Craig into an object of intense media interest.

“I am by profession a journalist; I was simply doing my job. I investigated along with all political media a sex scandal and Colin Craig’s attempt to cover it up.”

Can you have a sex scandal without sex?

I’m not going to make any judgement on whether Slater was acting like a responsible journalist in this case or not, or whether that matters in a defamation case, but I well  that the way Slater sometimes operates is nothing like a journalist simply doing a job on what his lawyer referred to as “a small blog site”.

It will be up to Craig to make his case, and for Slater to defend his actions, and vice versa given that they are claiming defamation against each other.

It would be good if the judgment could result in getting some idea about what is acceptable and what isn’t in blog journalism, especially when it crosses over onto political activism and business.

Traditional media tends to separate put journalism and story writing from revenue gathering – payments are generally made for advertising rather than stories for a fee, but the lines are getting blurred in the modern world of media survival.

Damn journalism

c08dyfaxeaueu36

Can the dam be repaired?

They aren’t the only problems feeding the journalism malaise. There has also been an onslaught of reported trivia, created ‘news’ (polls and programs like Q&A and The Nation are designed to create stories), a lot of crying wolf, the ‘breaking news’ banner is broken, the list goes on.

And that’s just old media, the digital algorithms have also been proven to be seriously flawed, accentuating old media sewerage into the social media system.

We don’t have one big dam any more, news has become fragmented as it rapidly moves and morphs from one platform to another.

 

Obama and legacy of journalism

From Twitter:@jswatz: Obama said this tonight about journalism.

If anyone remembers smart investigative journalism then.

People are also not likely to remember who was number 1, or 2, or 3 on the Open Parachute blog pecking order either. But they are more likely to remember significant turning points like Dirty Politics.

In response to the above tweet:

Heidi N Moore@moorehn Related: ‘The Greatest Enemy of Press Freedom in a Generation’ (David A. Graham at The Atlantic):

A New York Times reporter’s accusation that the Obama administration engages in censorship raises questions about when journalism slides into advocacy.

Many reporters have contentious relationships with sources and with the government, but James Risen is in a class of his own. The veteran New York Times national-security reporter has scored some notable scoops the authorities didn’t want him to—most notably about a failed CIA sabotage operation on Iran’s nuclear program. When Risen got the story the first time, the government convinced TheTimes to quash it for national-security reasons. (He eventually published it in a book).

The CIA thought it knew who leaked the info, and it subpoenaed Risen to reveal his source. Demanding this of a journalist is technically legal, but is highly unusual and often frowned-upon. Risen refused to divulge the source and said he’d go to jail instead, setting up a long showdown with the Justice Department. Ultimately, Risen won. Under pressure, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed, ambiguously, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” Risen testified, refusing to name his source, and the Justice Department still managed to convict Jeffrey Sterling for leaking. Everyone else lived happily ever after.

A number of tweets from Risen:

Given Holder’s speech today, I repeat: The Obama Administration is the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.

Eric Holder has been the nation’s top censorship officer, not the top law enforcement officer.

Eric Holder has sent a message to dictators around the world that it is okay to crack down on the press and jail journalists.

Eric Holder leaves behind a wrecked First Amendment.

I plan to spend the rest of my life fighting to undo damage done to press freedom in the United States by Barack Obama and Eric Holder.

Graham:

Whether or not Risen is substantively correct about the Obama administration being the worst on press freedom in a generation is a different question, and the answer is likely to vary based on who you ask. Besides political activism, reporters tend to stay away from stories in which they’re directly implicated, since it tends to shape their perception.

But Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan took the somewhat counterintuitive stand that this makes it more important for him to lead: “Because of his personal experiences, someone like James Risen has an obligation to speak out strongly on press rights.”

There are of course good reasons why the government would wish to reduce leaking, but it’s also an essential outlet for whistleblowers. Leaks lubricate the machinery of free press.

Meanwhile, the White House has been working on a whole slate of methods for bypassing reporters—or at least national political reporters. That means disseminating information directly to the public through videos, White House blogs, and Medium, and granting interviews to late-night shows, local journalists, and YouTube celebrities rather than to folks like, well, The New York Times’ James Risen. President Obama has given notably few press conferences.

How does this compare to New Zealand?

Prime Minister John Key seems fairly accessible to media and to the public – but is this just when it suits him?

How much does he and his comms team play the media and suppress information they don’t want aired in public?

How closely  was Key to Jason Eade and Cameron Slater and their Dirty Politics?

How much is the Official Information Act abused by Government ministers?

There is always going to be reason to query what is happening and there is always going to be room for improvement with Government transparency, with eternal vigilance required to hold our politicians to account.

The continuing decline of journalism

It looks like Greg Presland as made use of a quiet time to have a good look at the media in New Zealand in 2015, and how journalism seems to be continuing it’s decline.

The media in 2015 is a worthwhile post to read for anyone interested in where we are headed with media coverage.

This year saw the continuation of a trend that has been evident for some years.  The media became dumber and nastier and more superficial as cuts to spending on serious journalism increased and power was increasingly dominated corporate interests.

A fight for commercial survival by corporate media is cutting back on more left friendly journalists.

While on the left we celebrated the fitting conclusion of the right’s attempt to manipulate the media for their benefit the basic fact is that overall the media has been damaged and is worse off because of what has happened.  There has to be a better way.

Everyone in politics tries to ‘manipulate the media’. Some think they are more successful than others.

The reverberations of Dirty Politics continues although it is noticeable that National, while denying that Dirty Politics is even a thing, is busily taking steps to remove any remaining links that previously existed.

I’m not aware of National denying that Dirty Politics is ‘a thing’. Rather they have tried to bury it (a standard political manoeuvre) because it was a very bad look for them.

It is clear however that National is no longer using Slater to attack its opponents and he is now no longer the recipient of Beehive sourced information.  I am sure that Judith Collins’ return to Cabinet was made on the promise that she will no longer feed Slater with the sorts of information that she used to.  The tip line I suspect is now permanently out of order.

It’s good to see Presland acknowledge that Slater has been dumped as a useful idiot.

I think Collins committed to being seen to separate herself from Slater some time ago. Otherwise she may not now be back in Cabinet.

Overall I would rate the current year as just like last year only worse for those interested in quality independent media.

This is not a peculiarly New Zealand phenomenon and elsewhere through the Western English speaking world similar issues of corporate control and the slide of the media into irrelevance and bias are occurring.

For instance in Australia Jim Parker in a post titled the business of anger recently made these comments:

A perennial tension in journalism arises from balancing the professional requirement to accurately inform the public and the commercial one to actively engage them.

The destruction of media business models, where classified advertising subsidised across a Chinese wall the quality journalism that attracted the eyeballs, has gradually swung that balance from the professional to the commercial imperatives.

Of course, every journalist wants their work to be seen, shared and remarked on. After all, there are plenty of people on the web and elsewhere writing worthy but dull tomes that bury the lead. (And not all of them are tenured academics).

But in the brutal supply-demand economics of new digital media, where an ever growing surplus of content competes for an ever shrinking quota of attention, the only strategy (garage band style) is to turn up the volume….and bugger the standards.

His conclusion appears to be as relevant in Aotearoa as it is in Australia:

The media wants conflict for its own sake. And it doesn’t just want polite and civil disagreement. It wants desk-thumping, spittle-spraying, shoe-chucking tantrums – whether it be on talkback radio or Q&A. The issues in dispute don’t much matter. It’s anger, fury, hatred, and blind incoherent rage as a business model.

An example is what happened to the Herald this year.  Competent accomplished journalists were sacrificed for those able to generate the most noise and clicks.

This is a real problem with no sign of it getting any better or easier for journalism.

It’s not just the dumbing down that’s a problem, the fragmentation of media means reducing resources are spread over a much wider spectrum.

A six edition a week newspaper now has to also keep drip feeding an online presence. Six o’clock television news is now an often glib summary of what’s happened over the last day or two with a bit of ‘breaking news’ if the timing of disasters fits.

The only thing known for sure is we can’t go back to how things were.

Journalism as we knew it is likely to continue to decline. We can just hope that good alternatives get better.

We have available many more sources. We used to rely on, typically, a daily newspaper, a tv news bulletin and radio news through the day if we could listen.

At least now there are many more eyes and ears able to witness what is happening and able to find a media outlet.

Can this be harnessed? Or do we just have to ride with the changes and get what we can out of it.

Ben Rachinger speaks again

Ben rachinger has kept popping up from time to time thrioughtout the year. He popped up here in Whale Oil jumping the Rawshark yesterday

This prompted quite a bit of reaction and discussion. Some tried to discredit Ben, some tried to shut him up, while some tried to push him into revealing things he was unwilling to talk about. Some did all three in various ways.

Here are some of the things Ben wanted to talk about.

I am not Rawshark. Always wanted to be an independent investigative journalist and to an extent I’ve done some good digging in all this. However I’m a young guy with my own upbringing and shortcomings. Those have long been on display.

The reason I’m here on this site now commenting is that I believe if you are going to be politically tribal, you police your own. Rawshark et al should be policed by their own – that didn’t happen. Slater et al should have been policed by their own – that didn’t happen.

So where does this leave us? It boggles the mind.

And:

Due to the nature of the digital skills of the hacker we can only really find out the identity of the hacker from Mr Hager. Hager has stated he met the hacker and knows his identity. No amount of digging can provide info that isn’t there. Whether I was right or not with my initial musings means little.

This is really internecine political warfare writ large. I’ve done my time on both the Left and the Right. Neither is truly for the people in my opinion. So possibly what needs to happen is the writing of a book/story that is balanced and shines the light on all the players involved.

And:

For myself, my ‘Moment of Truth’ was when Hager didn’t provide the details on the journalists who had been working with Mr Slater. To decide that one is a god, in a way, and to control the destiny of the media or a political faction is something that no one person should ever aspire to or want.

That’s the root problem here. Each side has, in their own and distinct ways, tried to play God with our system of governance. The clusterfuck that this represents, in that no side is clean or clear, has only exacerbated the general publics dislike of the political scene.

That is the issue. Instead of a new flag? We should look at what our democracy really is. Who we vote for. How they work. What tactics they use. Examination of their agendas and motives is both enlightening and disheartening. Because truly, we have no champions. Just bad and worse self-styled ‘liberators’.

And:

I’m of the opinion that the identity of RS is a straw man for all of us. We are missing the point. The point is A) whom was involved in the hack and for what motives.. And B) Do we want what Mr Slater is alleged to have done with XYZ people to go unchallenged? I’m of the mind that both are important points but very difficult to balance in your mind unless you’re independent. Mr Hager will end up naming Rawshark or he won’t. But his relationship with Rawshark and the how/why/where and whom is not my story to tell.

Ben has had a chequered short history online but I think there’s some important issues raised here that haven’t been given enough attention, in particular the abuse of power, the abuse of democracy, and the abuse of journalism.

Please in comments stick to the issues raised in these comments, peripheral issues have had plenty of airing on other threads.

The end of newspapers?

An article by Eric Beecher in The Monthly ((Australian politics, society and culture) is predicting the end of major printed newspapers in Australia, and the end of journalism as we have known it in our lifetimes.

The death of Fairfax and the end of newspapers

Where is the journalism we need going to come from now?

As Fairfax owns a number of New Zealand newspapers this has major implications here as well.

Beecher has extensive media experience including a stint as editor of Sydney Morning Herald. His article has been described as…

…the best article I have seen about Fairfax. Ever. lots a journos interested in that one in NZ/Aus

…by New Zealand journo @caffeine_addict (Dave).

The key point made by Beecher is that for decades newspapers subsidised journalism with lucrative advertising revenue, especially the classifieds. This advertising, along with significant shifts online of Situations Vacant, Cars and Property segments, has collapsed in print media. In some papers it is only a quarter of what it was ten years ago and is still shrinking.

I was seeing evidence for a prediction made a decade earlier by media savant Marshall McLuhan. “The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press,” he observed. “Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

An alternative source is now well established. The Internet.

So newspapers are losing money, and are having to cut costs drastically. This means cutting how much is spent on journalism. We have seen cuts in New Zealand too and this is likely to continue.

The incongruity in that business model – profits from ads for jobs, houses and cars bankrolling the journalism that is vital to a functioning democracy – took several decades to play out.

The “newspaper business model”, as it’s now derisively known, has imploded.

People no longer line the streets outside newspaper presses at night to be the first to see the ads. The internet has poached most of Australia’s newspaper classified advertising. The money that financed quality journalism for a century is disappearing, with no likely replacement.

This hasn’t just suddenly happened. It has been obvious for years that there has been a major shift – you only need to see how small the For Sale section has become in your local newspaper, and how the focus has shifted to sites like Trade Me.

The story of how Australian quality journalism fell victim to a commercial market failure has been known to insiders for years, but Australia’s newspapers of record have shown a deep reluctance to disclose or explain that large-scale journalism has become unviable, and no one has yet found a formula to subsidise it in the way newspaper advertising did.

That’s the big problem – while sales activity has moved to the Internet the revenue hasn’t. A few large newspapers were virtual monopolies. Now there are a myriad of options available, many free, and those that charge have to be cheap to compete.

For Australia, the story is more significant than just the demise of an industry business model. In a small robust democracy with relatively little commercial quality journalism, it has the makings of a civic catastrophe.

That’s because the serious journalism of influence in Australia, apart from the government-funded ABC, resides mainly in four newspapers — The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review and The Australian. Between them, these four mastheads provide most of Australia’s coverage of politics, justice, economics, business, science, health, welfare, public policy, international affairs, arts, culture and ideas.

Until recently, these four employed around 1500 journalists. Today that number is closer to 1000. Within two years it could be as few as 500.

That’s a massive change.

The online world provides a wonderful new platform for journalism, bringing the reader inside the tent and, to the dismay of old-school media barons, removing the power of the gatekeepers to use (and abuse) their media to influence society.

It has been a significant power shift, and that is continuing.

There are obvious problems with the changes. Fewer journalists means less coverage of news and of politics. And in politics that means less investigating, and less holding to account.

The Fourth Estate has been seen as an essential part of our system of democracy.

The earliest use in this sense described by Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship:
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.

If that Gallery is decimated, who will keep our politicians open and honest?

We have already seen many journalists move to the other side, employed by politicians, parties and governments to manage the message, to manipulate opinion and perception.

Many of the gamekeepers have become poachers.

The Internet has made it easy for an influx of amateurs. Like me. We can fill some of the gap. We can cover gaps that old school journalists missed, or ignored.

But politics, government and journalism is entering a new world. It has entered a new world already, a very different world. No one can predict what this world will be like.

Rather than wait and see what eventuates – and that will probably never become static, we live in a fast changing world – should we look at what might balance the reduction in journalism?

Do we need more state funded journalism that has a clear separation from politicians?

An obvious (and cheaper) solution is for our politicians and parties, and for our Government in particular, to be far more open and transparent.

Instead of employing people to hide and deceive, they could put in place systems that make information and the workings of Government more open and accessible.

Alongside that they should substantially improve the connection between Parliament and the people.

Have our politicians got enough confidence in what they are doing to be open and honest? Do they have the guts to ditch their smoke and mirrors and be up front about what they are doing?

We still need quality journalism, if that is at all possible in the new world of communications with drastically affected business models.

But we would rely on the Fourth Estate less if our politicians represented us and trusted us – by including us, not shutting us out. By properly informing us and listening to us.

Newspapers as we known them may be dying. The end may well be nigh, for the old informers and power brokers.

If we had politicians with integrity, honesty and openness we could move to a new age of communication, transparency and accountability.

The power of the newspapers could easily become the power of the people.