Quick Post: Holmes uses the wrong framework to discuss @TheNewDaily_ #auspol

Over on the Sydney Morning Herald, Jonathan Holmes — former host of ABC’s Media Watch — has analysed the relationship between the new media service The New Daily and its financial backers, three Australian industry super funds.

In the past few days, critics and their own members have been asking the super funds how they can reconcile this risky investment with their duty to maximise their members’ assets. The New Daily’s co-owner, Eric Beecher, has responded that it’s no different from the funds investing in a TV advertising campaign: ”The funding is not from the investment fund itself, but out of overhead costs and marketing budgets.” And that’s been confirmed by Australian Super. ”This is not a private equity investment, but a marketing expense”, a spokesperson told The Australian. [Source]

The problem — according to Holmes — is that this blurs the line between news and advertising: ‘Either it’s an independent news website, or it’s a marketing exercise on behalf of its owners. It simply cannot be both.’

The problem with this dichotomy is that it isn’t accurate and relies questionable assumptions about the nature of journalism.

Continue reading “Quick Post: Holmes uses the wrong framework to discuss @TheNewDaily_ #auspol”

Let’s build ourselves an island… @TimDunlop thinks small about trolling

Oni netsuke front
The Japanese troll: the Oni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At some point, we will reach critical mass of articles about Internet trolls written by baby boomers, containing pictures of troll dolls.

Tim Dunlop has a piece up on The Guardian‘s website about the often confusing deployment of the word ‘troll’.  Here’s the key paragraph:

The word once had quite a specialised meaning limited to a particular sort of disruptive behaviour, but it has now become a catch-all term to describe any behaviour that some journalists and editors deem inappropriate. Their responses to what they call “trolling” often seem less about combating abuse than reasserting their role as gatekeeper, to restore to themselves the right to decide who gets to speak in public and who doesn’t. It is what US academic Susan Herbst calls “the strategic use of civility”. [Source: Dunlop, T. ‘How the word “troll” has been redefined by the powerful’, The Guardian 16 August 2013]

Dunlop has — for a number of years — concentrated on the social world of communication through the lens of the media.  What is the relationship between changes to the front page of the media (in whatever form the ‘front page’ takes) and the change in the public’s way of discussing issues.  It’s due to this background that Dunlop misidentifies the (ab)use of the word ‘troll’.  This is the journalists and editors taking its cue from common discourse — not the other way around.

Continue reading “Let’s build ourselves an island… @TimDunlop thinks small about trolling”

No colours anymore, I want them to turn black… Rinehart is good for Australian media #auspol #ausmedia

My Twitter feed has turned into a sea of boohooery over Gina Rinehart’s announcement to buy into Fairfax.

The problem, it seems, is that rich people are not allowed to buy media companies.  Media companies are a sacred trust, a public good, a pillar of democracy, and therefore ought not be owned by the wealthy.

There is a lot of mythology about the media, most of it cooked up and spread by the media itself.  A healthy, independent, fierce media is essential to a functioning democracy… apparently.  I have no idea why this is believed to be true.  Every ‘essential’ element to a functioning democracy is regulated to ensure that power isn’t unchecked.  These checks and balances do not always work well, but no institution is unfettered or unrestrained.

To even criticise the press will cause tut tuts.

No other profession in the West receives this kind of kids’ gloves treatment.  Politicians will happily savage the Church, the military, and even the police before it takes a long hard look at the press.

Rinehart’s purchase of part of Fairfax might prompt some people to question whether the Specialness of the Press is justified, or whether it’s just the spin of a deeply insecure profession.

Further, Rinehart’s purchase has highlighted the question of media ownership.  At least now we know mining stories might not be 100% kosher.  Until now, I had very little idea who was behind Fairfax.  If I read a story in The Age or SMH, I don’t know what commercial interests are behind the ventures.

For instance, until I looked it up, Fairfax is behind RSVP.com.au.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read articles about online dating on SMH; was the article influenced by Fairfax’ commercial interests?

Finally, Rinehart’s purchase might prompt people into getting a bit more serious about supporting alternative media.  If the major newspapers are bought out by disliked commercial interests, people will have to turn to the newly emerging outlets which support the next generation of journalists and writers.

Perhaps we’re all being a little bit uncharitable.  Fairfax has been desperate for cash and now it has one of Australia’s wealthiest people backing it.  Making Fairfax financially viable can hardly be a bad thing.

Two lost souls running in a fish bowl… @OurSayAust, social media, and democracy

Today, I received an unexpected tweet from OurSay:

@clothedvillainy: Have you heard of our project? [Source]

Beyond something about Q&A and something involving Malcolm Fraser, I hadn’t.  So I had an interesting afternoon reading about OurSay.

Although lots of people tell me regularly how awesome social media is for democracy, I’m yet to see a radical shift in how we interact with government.  A few politicians have Twitter feeds, but they don’t tend to engage with it much.  There’s no ‘new media’ conversation with them.

In one sense, this is strange and sad.  Given how disappointed most people appear to be with journalism and the media in Australia, new media provides an opportunity for politicians to engage directly with the public.

In this respect, OurSay is doing something interesting.  It takes the online aspect of social media and bridges the gap to engage with politicians and media personalities offline.  With the slogan, ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport’, OurSay invites the public to propose questions.  OurSay’s community of registered users vote on which questions are the best.  The OurSay crew pursue the winning questions and seek answers.

It gives you the sort of warm and fuzzy feeling most of us get about participatory media activities.  For the community involved, it’s a great way to participate in the political process.  It emulates lobby groups, really; except an online community is the interested party, not a wealthy industry.

So hat tip for that.

At the same time, there are a few things which worry me about it.  The first is that the questions asked and voted upon seem to reflect and echo the vacuity of the public debate.  During  a public presentation on renewing democracy, former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, was asked the following three questions by the OurSay crew:

1. If we know CO2 emissions are warming the planet, if that warming could have catastrophic impacts on our planet, if we don’t act quickly enough to stop these impacts, whose fault is that?

2. Are ‘transfer payments’ and other middle class welfare – particularly those able to be received by the upper income brackets – driving a sense of welfare entitlement in Australia? Are they simply unsustainable masks over the inherent inequalities in our economic system?

3. Knowing that BP have estimated that all fossil fuels will run out in 130 years and that the Australian government has been estimated to provide 32 times more funding towards the fossil fuel industry than the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries combined, why do you think the government invests in the past when they could invest in the future and what do you think is the most effective use of young Australian’s time and efforts to help speed up the transition to a future Australia powered entirely by renewable energy?

Two questions about fuel consumption and a question about Australia’s welfare system.  Really?  That’s what people want to ask a former prime minister at a talk on renewing democracy?

The questions aren’t even provocative or challenging.  They’re basically asking: ‘Here’s my opinion.  Could you please confirm that I’m correct?’

The problem appears to be that there’s not a huge amount of diversity within the OurSay community.  Then again, there’s not a huge amount of diversity within the new media community (as noted by Lindsay Tanner in Sideshow).

On the other hand, is that really a problem?  So long as people realise the limitations of the site (that is, it’s not really representative of the people at large, but a small, engaged, left wing group), there is no fundamental problem with a particular section of the community getting privileged access to politicians and commentators.  As noted earlier, it’s giving to a group of ordinary people what lobby groups already get.

The puzzle for OurSay will be how it evolves.  Will it get to the point where people asking the questions will get challenged by the answers they receive?  That will be a matter of finding politicians and commentators with contrary views willing to engage with OurSay’s audience.  I’m not sure how likely that will be, although — given my post in New Matilda — it would be a creative way for young conservatives to get back into constructive political debate.

Further, will it spawn a neo-con copy, with an online audience asking their libertarian/xenophobic questions about how climate change couldn’t possibly be caused by humans and how asylum seekers are here to collect Centrelink?

Finally, could the OurSay model be used in other ways for political engagement?  In my last post, I said that GetUp-style activities promoted slacktivism.  OurSay, on the other hand, could be used to foster a conversation between party members and their parliamentary representatives.  The onus, of course, would be on the parliamentary representatives to engage with the discussion.

So although it’s not without problems, it’s rather nice that lobby groups are being denied their almost exclusive access to the ears of politicians through new media.