One down, more Whale Oil sites targeted

Yesterday Matt Blomfield took control of the whaleoil.co.nz website after purchasing it from liquidators. he has it redirecting to his own site which has a postscript to the Margie Thomson book Whale Oil. It concludes:

This site — whaleoil.co.nz — now serves as a perpetual memorial to the injustices inflicted on all those people, and to Matt’s long battle to curtail falsity, bullying and manipulation.

That is a very fine ending.

It is a fine ending to the original Whale Oil blog site, which became too nasty and too toxic, with Cameron Slater and those who supplied, aided and abetted him abusing the power of media while they could get away with it.

But the website had moved onto other sites.

Some of the recent events are traceable within the records of the Companies Register. There, the dry accumulation of company names, name changes, changes in shareholdings and directorships whispers of the sheer human drama and desperate planning that has gone on behind the scenes as Slater and his supporters seemed to do everything they could think of to rescue something from their sinking ship. Social Media Consultants, then-owner of the whaleoil blog, went into liquidation. A new company, Madas 114, was set up and then shortly after became WOBH; whaleoil.co.nz became whaleoil.net.nz before morphing, chameleon-like, into a completely new blogsite. Slater passed all his shareholdings and directorships to his wife, to his accountant, and then back to his wife.

The liquidator quickly took issue with what she identified as the illegal transfer of assets away from creditors and into new entities.

In short, the estimated claims against Slater and his company so far total more than $4.7 million.

‘Fill your boots,’ Slater said a few years ago. ‘When you’ve got nothing to lose, you’re dangerous.’

His problem now is that Blomfield has nothing to lose by finishing his goal of shutting down Whale Oil – all of it.

Blomfield’s lawyer, Felix Geiringer, tweeted yesterday afternoon:

Actually an attempt has been made to distance ownership of whaleoil.net.nz and thebfd.co.nz away from Slater and his wife Juana Atkins.

One is  registered to Regan Cunliffe, a long time associate of Slater (a few years ago they had jointly planned to set up some great new media site but I think funding fell through).

The other is registered to Andrea Parkes (who provides a whaleoil.org.nz contact email address).

Blomfield has proven he has determination and tenacity. He has a very capable lawyer who also seems to have determination to see this through. And they have widespread popular support to bury a dead horse.

Slater may feel he has little more to lose, and Atkins may also be similar.

But I wonder how willing Cunliffe and Parkes may be to be dragged into the legal mire.

And for what? Trying to give life support to a toxic, failed brand? And potentially being parties to attempts to misappropriate assets in a bankruptcy and in a liquidation?


Actually, Atkins may have quite a bit to lose.

Juana Atkins did not reply to the liquidator; neither did she comply with demands to relinquish control of the assets. On August 5, the liquidator who, remember, is an officer of the Court, wrote to the police for assistance, citing six sections of the Crimes Act she believed Atkins may have breached. The police replied briefly, telling Toon she should take her complaint to the front desk of her nearest police station.

Things may be yet to catch up on her.

That same day, a link to a nasty website was circulated, devoted to taunting the liquidator in the most horrible ways.

That is dumb – and I know someone who is trying to do this. They have been a significant contributor to attacks against Blomfield and to the the downfall of Slater. And they seem intent on continuing in their destructive behaviour. That may well catch up on them too.

Freed trying again

It looks like attempts are being made to get Freed, a news/media alternative, off the ground again.

Slater pal Regan Cunliffe is back looking investors in Freed and railing against journalists.

It was over two years ago that Cameron Slater announced that Freed would be up and running by the last election – CAMERON SLATER’S NEXT MEDIA VENTURE.

We’ve been signalling that there is something in the wind that would see Whaleoil expand and grow without being specific about it.

At this stage we are not going to expand on any of the detail, suffice to say that instead of replacing Whaleoil, this new venture will implement similar strategies and draw on the same talents that is driving the unprecedented growth behind this site.  It will complement and run alongside Whaleoil, but is a completely separate venture focussed purely on “the news”.

It is time for a “New media” news service and a bit of a shake-up of the old media club.

It is not going to be right or left, but it is going to be a properly resourced new media venture with all the news, all the time.

 The post quotes from an NBR article:

[Cameron Slater] will start a news website before this year’s general election.

NBR ONLINE understands Instra managing founder Tony Lentino is funding
the news website which Cameron Slater says will have 10 staff.

There were job interviews in late 2014 but then things stalled.

In April this year on Whale Oil: IF YOU ONLY READ ONE THING TODAY…

For more than a decade I have been building online communities. I began by creating one of the first Olympic Games blogs with an average of 250,000 visitors each day. In recent years, I’ve worked on award winning TV-centric sites.

The one project I have constantly wanted to tackle is news. I’ve watched as media companies struggled to come to terms with the arrival and dominance of digital media. I’ve laughed and shaken my head in disbelief at what their reactions were. I’ve watched copious amounts of money be thrown at poorly executed attempts at second-rate delivery platforms. My frustration at what a real difference those resources in the right hands could make was palpable.

Knowing what to do and being able to do it are quite different things. In order to challenge the mainstream media, any new player needs a certain level of resources. Finding someone who recognised the opportunity in the media market and was willing to back it financially was the first goal.

In early 2014, Freed was incredibly close to launching at the end of that year. We’d had a great development run and a very successful round of interviews with potential job candidates and were weeks away from going live when it all changed. Tony became unwell and was diagnosed with cancer. This is public knowledge due to a Fairfax article.

Freed is an important project because we desperately need to change how journalism is done. I believe Freed has the answer. Careful preparation has been made and we’re ready to launch. Freed will monetise news without the need for advertising or paid subscriptions to access it. What we need now are a few more people who are prepared to put $50k+ on the table.

As established media organisations continue to diminish and devalue their newsrooms by eliminating the single biggest asset they have, their staff, I am of the belief that it is those who are investing in news who will not only survive, but become the new leaders in journalism. The incumbents are wandering around aimlessly like zombies as the world crumbles around them. We are young, excited, and full of vision for the future.

If you’re ready to help launch the next big thing in New Zealand, I’d love to hear from you and have you join us for the next leg of this incredible journey.

Regan Cunliffe
CEO Freed Media Group

 Yesterday SB posted at Whale Oil: DO YOU WANT BETTER NEWS COVERAGE IN NEW ZEALAND?

I follow Freed Media and received the following e-mail yesterday. Freed wants to give readers the news they want, when they want it. You can help them with their planning and staff allocation by answering the questions and telling them what news coverage you want.

That’s an odd comment. SB implies she was advised by email but then appears to reveal details about Freed’s progress that are not mentioned in the email, which says:

Do you want better news coverage in New Zealand?

Hello friends!

In preparation for the launch of Freed, we’ve published a survey online to help us better understand how you currently consume news and how you’d like to.

You can find the survey here:http://freed.nz/survey.html

Please share this with anyone you think is dissatisfied with the current state of media in New Zealand.

The survey page at Freed:

FreedSurveyPage

Oddly the main page at freed.nz remains unchanged with a ‘subscribe’ option and no sign of the survey or any other information.

The SB post also appeared to repost Regan Cunliffe’s letter posted in April but it is an updated version with a number of changes, including:

The media landscape has continued to decay with their shameless pursuit of clickbait, and idle and malicious gossip.  Much of what passes as headlines and “breaking news” now is paid-for content that protects brands from ever having a bad thing written about them because they’re funding the survival of these clickbait engines.

Freed is an important project because we desperately need to change how journalism is done. I believe Freed has the answer.  Careful preparation has been made, new investors have been found and we’re gearing up for launch.  It’s not too late to be a part of history so please contact me if you’d like to learn more about how you can invest in the future of not only Journalism, but New Zealand.

Freed will monetise news without the need for advertising or paid subscriptions to access it.

So now “new investors have been found and we’re gearing up for launch” but also “It’s not too late to be a part of history so please contact me if you’d like to learn more about how you can invest…”

It closes the same as the earlier letter:

If you’re ready to help launch the next big thing in New Zealand, I’d love to hear from you and have you join us for the next leg of this incredible journey.

Regan Cunliffe
CEO Freed Media Group

The Freed Facebook page now links the the survey, which apart from a message about Lentino’s death is the first activity for about a year there. @FreedNZ has also become active again, promoting the survey.

But on the Whale Oil thread it was pointed out there were problems with the survey, and this was confirmed on Twitter:

It appears there was a DNS issue affecting some people trying to complete our survey today.

Supposedly being about to launch a survey seeing what people want is a curious approach.

While a lot of the public promotion appears to still be via Whale Oil it is interesting to see that, after being announced as “Cameron Slater’s next media venture”, Slater is now sort of out of the picture with Cunliffe appearing to be in charge and fronting things – although Slater does appear in comments.

Filling the Fairfax/NZME gap

Talk of a merger between Fairfax and NZME has prompted discussion about opportunities to fill the gap left by an expected further contraction of MSM news and analysis.

The Daily Blog was launched as a left leaning alternative several years ago, and Waatea news (also driven by Martyn Bradbury) is trying to provide a new way towards a so-called 5th estate. While Waatea is useful it is not providing much new nor balanced.

Regan Cunliffe is still hoping to launch Freed. With a close association with Cameron Slater that will be seen as right wing whether it is or not.

Scoop continues to fund raise for it’s crowd funded model.

In a Scoop post Gordon Campbell on the proposed media merger:

To state the bleedingly obvious: the blogosphere does not have the resources to compensate for the reduction in competition (and the loss of journalistic resources) that will be the inevitable outcome of this merger.

Why not? Sure, online startups are lively, thriving and multiplying : there’sScoop, The Spinoff, the Daily Blog, , the Hard News stable, No Right Turn, The Standard, Pundit, the Dim-Post, Eric Crampton’s Offsetting Behaviour,Paul Buchanan’s 36th Parallel….to name just a few. Theoretically, the merger opens up a market opportunity for them. In reality, all of them will be damaged by the merger.

How come? Well for starters – and as this RNZ report explains here – and also here the blogosphere is poorly positioned to pick up the slack. It is run on a shoestring. It has few resources – or no resources at all, in most cases – to do news gathering. Its strength lies in its analysis and commentary; an essential role that the mainstream has carried out timidly, or not at all. In other words, a genuine symbiotic relationship currently exists between the blogosphere and the traditional . We rely on their news gathering and increasingly, they rely on our analysis and commentary. So… if there’s a decline in news gathering capacity, this will damage the ability of the blogosphere to carry out its valuable contribution to the public discourse.

David Farrar responded to that suggesting he was considering expanding Kiwiblog and has followed that up with Can blogs pick up the slack?

…I have been thinking about what I would do if Stuff and NZ Herald combine and go behind a paywall. The initial impact would be a hassle. Rather than quote stories from their sites, and comment on them, I’d might have to use other sites such as Radio NZ or Newshub. But they have far fewer stories.

But the other thing I can do is start reporting the news more directly. 80% of stories seem to originate for PRs. I know this as I now get all the PRs. They tend to go into a folder I check once a day or so (if I have time). It is rare I’ll do a story based on a PR, as easier to quote a media story already summarising it.

But if two million NZers get blocked from most content on the Herald and Stuff sites, they’ll look elsewhere for it. I doubt many will pay for it.

I could hire someone to write a few news stories a day on interesting NZ issues. I already have good sources for overseas news.

I could also hire someone to cover parliamentary news and try and get them accredited to the press gallery.

Hiring people costs money, so the business aspects of that would be a risk.

If DPF has a crack at it I’m sure who would do something worthwhile and aAny addition to news and analysis is a good thing, even if I can hear the spluttering from TS and TDB from down here.

How ever well DPF does it Kiwiblog News will be deemed by some to be a National/right wing/Crosby Textor mouthpiece with a Dirty Politics smear.

What’s missing from these options is a relatively neutral (politically) approach.

I’ve considered what else I could do to expand on what we’ve established here but I’m not in a position to put in much more timer or resources. It’s already equivalent to probably a half time job, albeit unpaid. It will be quite a few years before I can retire and put full time into it.

Trying crowd funding or attracting and managing volunteers also diverts time and attention.

I could only manage it if I could give someone a specific task, like reporting on Parliament, or reporting on political media releases, or reporting on political social media, or aggregating blog posts and Facebook posts, and leaving them too it.

Farrar has already tried some of that and it hasn’t really taken off. There are not many people around with the political interest, time and passion to give it heaps.

Perhaps we just have to accept that media will continue to both consolidate and fragment, and international players like Google and Facebook will increase their growing domination.

Freed eventually?

The first public sign for some time that Freed may be going to get off the ground popped up this week, after initial fanfare nearly two years ago followed by signs of recruitment had then subsided into nothing more than occasional hints.

And notably, while Freed is again being promoted on Whale Oil, it is not Cameron Slater heading the hubris, and it has been presented less as a tack on project of Slater’s.

In July 2014 Freed was announced on Whale Oil as Cameron Slater’s next media venture.

We’ve been signalling that there is something in the wind that would see Whaleoil expand and grow without being specific about it.

This quoted an NBR report:

[Cameron Slater] will start a news website before this year’s general election.

NBR ONLINE understands Instra managing founder Tony Lentino is funding
the news website which Cameron Slater says will have 10 staff.

Mr Slater will not confirm Mr Lentino’s involvement but says one private
investor has contributed a six-figure sum for the site.

He says the investor was motivated to act after being frustrated at the quality
of news and journalism in New Zealand.

Mr Slater’s associate, Regan Cunliffe, has registered a domain name,
freed.co.nz, but Mr Slater said this was only one of many options for the site.

Mr Cunliffe is the founder of TV website Throng.

Mr Slater says the Whale Oil site will continue at the same time and the sites
may break stories together.

Slater added:

At this stage we are not going to expand on any of the detail, suffice to say that instead of replacing Whaleoil, this new venture will implement similar strategies and draw on the same talents that is driving the unprecedented growth behind this site.  It will complement and run alongside Whaleoil, but is a completely separate venture focussed purely on “the news”.

It is time for a “New media” news service and a bit of a shake-up of the old media club.

If done well a major media alternative could have had a positive effect.

But then Dirty Politics happened, severely impacting in Slater’s credibility and saleability. The election came and went and Slater was marginalised.

Recruitment advertisements and interviews went ahead towards the end of 2014, but in 2015 activity quickly faded from sight. It turns out that funder Lentino was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly had different priorities.

Over the next year there were only passing hints of something possible in future.

Then on Thursday an Incite article was reposted at Whale Oil – something Slater had said wouldn’t happen as Incite was exclusive material (“None of the content of the magazine will be available on Whaleoil or anywhere else.”)

It had been promoted as “Regan Cunliffe discusses what motivated him to start working towards building a new media voice in NZ.”

But it was more of a product promotion than a political/media insight and it appears that it needed a bigger market.

IF YOU ONLY READ ONE THING TODAY…

During the 2011 election, my wife Rachel and I had been invited by TVNZ to cover the leaders’ debates for our television website Throng.

Although posted under Slater’s name and it was not made clear at the start it was obviously not Slater. A quick scroll to the bottom shows that it is signed by Regan Cunliffe, CEO Freed Media Group.

Cunliffe gave some background into why he thought alternative media was important to him. He then detailed some of Freed’s history.

The one project I have constantly wanted to tackle is news. I’ve watched as media companies struggled to come to terms with the arrival and dominance of digital media. I’ve laughed and shaken my head in disbelief at what their reactions were. I’ve watched copious amounts of money be thrown at poorly executed attempts at second-rate delivery platforms. My frustration at what a real difference those resources in the right hands could make was palpable.

Knowing what to do and being able to do it are quite different things. In order to challenge the mainstream media, any new player needs a certain level of resources. Finding someone who recognised the opportunity in the media market and was willing to back it financially was the first goal.

A difficult goal. Any major investment in media would be a major gamble as old media companies struggle to adapt and shed staff and credibility.

The big growth in media is with major international enterprises like Google and Facebook. They are substantially changing and taking over news distribution channels.

In early 2014, Tony Lentino provided that necessary financial backing that would launch such a project. Freed was incredibly close to launching at the end of that year. We’d had a great development run and a very successful round of interviews with potential job candidates and were weeks away from going live when it all changed. Tony became unwell and was diagnosed with cancer. What immediately became the priority was Tony’s very survival. The stress of launching such a large, and important project, just wasn’t what he needed. Tony wished us the best and walked away to focus on staying alive and making sure he was around to watch his young family grow up.

During 2015 we hoped and prayed for a miracle for Tony as we continued to refine our plans for Freed.

Very tough on Lentino, and frustrating for Cunliffe.

The media landscape has continued to decay with their shameless pursuit of clickbait, and idle and malicious gossip. Much of what passes as headlines and “breaking news” now is paid-for content that protects brands from ever having a bad thing written about them because they’re funding the survival of these clickbait engines.

I agree with all of that. But ironically Whale Oil has also become synonymous with paid-for content and click baiting, so their association with Freed is an issue.

Freed is an important project because we desperately need to change how journalism is done.

I think that is a bit optimistic. Sure you can try to change it in some way by doing journalism differently, but influencing journalism as a whole significantly is highly ambitious and probably unrealistic.

I believe Freed has the answer. Careful preparation has been made and we’re ready to launch. Freed will monetise news without the need for advertising or paid subscriptions to access it.

Subscriptions would severely limit the chances of success, especially for a new media enterprise. But no advertising as well limits options substantially.

What we need now are a few more people who are prepared to put $50k+ on the table.

Hence the repost at Whale Oil – which makes fund raising challenging.

Whale Oil has done quite a bit of fund raising already, but not on this scale. Slater and Whale Oil are not a particularly marketable commodity or medium these days.

But with Freed being closely associated with Whale Oil and Slater since the initial announcement there are probably limited alternatives for them to promote themselves. Other major media are hardly likely to promote a competitor.

David Farrar seems to have in part at least remained supportive of Slater but I haven’t even seen Kiwiblog helping out.

As established media organisations continue to diminish and devalue their newsrooms by eliminating the single biggest asset they have, their staff, I am of the belief that it is those who are investing in news who will not only survive, but become the new leaders in journalism. The incumbents are wandering around aimlessly like zombies as the world crumbles around them.

It looks quite a bit like that.

We are young, excited, and full of vision for the future.

It’s not clear who the ‘we’ are he is referring to. Slater is not particularly young and has sounded quite jaded lately. Perhaps Cunliffe has other young excited people lined up.

If you’re ready to help launch the next big thing in New Zealand, I’d love to hear from you and have you join us for the next leg of this incredible journey.

Regan Cunliffe
CEO Freed Media Group
regan@freedmediagroup.com

If you share Regan’s vision and optimism and have a few grand to spare then go for it.

A venture like this must be a big risk financially. It may be just what the media market needs in the future, but it is a very competitive market that’s in turmoil. There are opportunities but also risks.

And one risk is being closely associated with Slater, who while breaking significant new ground with Whale Oil is finding the going tough as his dirty (and proud of it) approach has taken it’s toll.

Cunliffe may be able to pull it off, he has substantial web and media experience and doesn’t have the baggage that Slater has.

Any new media venture has to be worth supporting with some hope that it will shake things up and provide something better. Whether Cunliffe can find the financial support he needs will become apparent in the coming months.

There has been no sign of change at freed.nz for some time, with the same “Be the first to know when we’re live” subscription message that’s been up there for months.

And the last post on Freed’s Facebook page is from 19 August 2015.

The sooner they can build an online profile separate to Whale Oil the better.

What’s up with Freed update

Last month I showed that Freed seemed to have stalled in What’s up with Freed? Since then nothing seems to have changed with no updates on their website and no further updates on their Facebook page.

And while Freed comes up in comments at Whale Oil there are no responses from Cameron Slater or Pete Belt. The WO plebs are whistling in the wind.

But there is one interesting piece of additional information, via a response to this comment here from Missy:

About three months ago, my sister applied for the job as Receptionist with Freed, and despite her impeccable credentials, she didn’t even get the courtesy of a reply.

Kim has just added here:

It must be a small world! I applied for a junior reporter job with Freed at the end of 2014. I did get a Skype interview with Cameron Slater and a man by the name of Regan Cunliffe. I had a Skype interview because I am based in Sydney.

After that I was much the same as your sister. I never heard anything further from them. My curiosity got the better of me today so I decided to look into what’s happened with Freed because I was unaware if they just didn’t hire me or what.

From what I’ve seen it seems like it didn’t go ahead. If they contact me again about a job I don’t know if I’ll take it. Sounds dodgy

Slater’s involvement on Freed is we’ll known. It’s also well known that Regan Cunliffe had an interest.

But this is the first time I’ve heard that Slater and Cunliffe were directly involved in the recruitment process.

I don’t know what Cunliffe would be like but Slater has proven to be very selective about who comments on Whale Oil, and has proven to protect his messages via censorship.

Cunliffe runs the very popular Throng television site.

ABOUT

Throng Media is a new media company based in New Zealand which operates online communities serving the production, broadcast and viewing of television in New ZealandAustraliaCanada and the UK.

Throng Media was established in December 2006, following on from the highly successful, award-winning Idolblog.com; a niche site dedicated to commentary on the Idol franchise.

Each website within the Throng Media network is a single, stand-alone site that provides producers and broadcasters of television in each territory with the opportunity to connect with viewers in a neutral social networking environment. Producers, broadcasters and their publicity and PR representatives either publish their own content or submit it to our team for publication. If you’re a production company or broadcaster and would like your press releases, news or weekly highlights published by us, pleasecontact us.

Readers are invited, and encouraged, to participate in conversation about television shows and general television industry news as well as become members and contribute their own commentary and opinion on their own Throng blog.

More than 350,000 people visit the Throng Media network every month.

Cunliffe got some profile (along with Slater) in NZ Herald’s In bed with the bloggers (in February last year, before Freed was announced):

The big fish in the very small pond of blog commerce is Regan Cunliffe, from the Throng television blog. He also brokers ad sales for Geekzone, Kiwiblog and Whale Oil. Most successfully, he ran one for a commercial cleaning company: “Whale Oil dishes the dirt, we clean it up.”

But let us be clear: for all their posturing, the bloggers have only a fraction of the readership of the “old media” they so disdain, and that is reflected in their revenue. Of an estimated $2.2 billion spent on advertising in New Zealand last year, Cunliffe says barely $500,000 would have been spent on blogs – about 0.02 per cent of the total.

It is also because advertisers don’t want their brand tainted by obnoxious negativity. After reading on Whale Oil last month that a West Coast car crash victim was “feral” and “deserved to die”, would consumers feel in the sort of warm, upbeat mood that sends them down to the nearest mall to do some shopping for barbecues and summer frocks? They’d be more likely to go shopping for a gun.

“The big agencies don’t book blogs,” says Cunliffe. “They’re terrified of having their brand associated with content that is often derogatory of politicians and people.”

The blogs’ time will come, he says, and advertisers will recognise they provide access to a small but important readership. “The type of people who are reading these blogs are incredibly influential, and have deep pockets. I mean, the Prime Minister has come out this month and said, ‘I read Whale Oil.’ These blogs are functioning on the smell of an oily rag.

Can you imagine how devastating Cameron Slater would be with a bit of money in his pocket?”

Not very devastating if that money burns a big hole in Slater’s pocket and his grand new media plan stalls.