Everyone Failed Social Media : Except Mark Colvin

I knew Mark Colvin (and his kidney!) purely through Twitter! And sad at his loss.

I did read some of his interview transcripts: a gentle questioner able to get a better answer! But in the maelstrom that is Twitter, he came across as funny, intelligent, curious, never ever patronising, clever and subtle, a joy to read.

And his last tweet!!

I think every one failed social media except for Mark Colvin.

Don’t Blame the Media

I arrived at work last Saturday. In the corridors, I heard the cleaners talking about the Paris attacks. I went into the tea room and the TV was showing a rolling coverage. I stopped and watched but as time was short I left.

After I finished my training session, I checked the latest news. I was drawn in by the coverage. I was interested in Paris. My sister and her husband had only been there a few weeks ago. My cousin is visiting now. I have friends who have lived in France. I have friends now living in France.

Since then there have been articles decrying the media focus on France. One article led to a discussion about the lack of focus on Beirut or Sinai or Kenya or even the events in Mali: that it was the media’s fault that attention was mostly focused on France. I did know about the Beirut car bomb and was following the latest information on the downing of the Russian airliner in the  Sinai and remembered the Kenyan atrocities from earlier this year. But I still focused on France.

And today the topic recurred with the media coverage of the Reclaim Australia and UDP anti-Islamic rallies and the corresponding counter rallies.

Again the same comment was offered that it was the media’s fault that these rallies were getting unwarranted publicity. My response to both was this:

It’s easy to say it’s the media’s fault : they’ve done their market research and focus their message accordingly. Much like market researchers for the low-end Australian current affairs shows such as A Current Affair (ACA) or Today Tonight : their focus was to find the right people and stories to satisfy that given audience: journalism doesn’t come into it at all.

The truth is the media are following the audience. The other stories were there : it’s just that less people were interested. Me included.

All the media does is reinforce our existing prejudices. For example, if Reclaim Australia, UDP, Trump, Carson, etc, etc want to find facts that denigrate Muslims and Islam, they will. The media following the audience will report that.

There’s a passage in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 that describes it perfectly. In it the hero’s boss describes how the media gives people exactly what they want to hear.  At first it appears that the media does the thinking for its audience. But the audience doesn’t want to think for itself! Read it.

For me as an adult educator, it’s no surprise.

It’s exactly the way we learn : we fit facts to what we already know and believe.
Until we chance on information that doesn’t fit our prejudices. Then and only then, we choose to change or ossify.

The media can provoke our thoughts and feelings enabling us to confront our prejudices as good journalism and good education (dare I say it) should.

But for the media really to change, our prejudices must as well.

A True Internet Fable: Don’t Mention the War, We’re Too Busy Collaborating

Last week, at work, the Aarnet (Australian Academic Research Network) is mentioned.  In my mind I slip away from the meeting and go back in time. To 1990, in fact, where I was witness to a remarkable episode of collaboration.

My then work colleague had done the unthinkable. He had talked management into connecting to the internet. But the only way to do so was through the Aarnet.

We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. The internet wasn’t the sexy World-Wide-Web as we know it now.  The internet seemed to be like a fairly disorganised library. It was made up of e-mail, news groups, search tools and file servers, all great tools that worked separately but never together.  That was to wait until the advent of the World Wide Web. 

Some of us used email. My colleague used the search tools and file servers to find software. Everyone else used the news groups.

We could find out anything. We also could share anything too. But not just in our area of expertise, or interest or locality but internationally. This level of collaboration was best shown by an incident which could not happen now.

It wasn’t long after connecting to the internet that the first Gulf War began. We had the radio on to follow the latest updates. It was then we heard that Scud missiles were being fired at Israel. One work colleague spoke up and said he had a friend in Haifa.  We became nervous as events might have escalated very seriously.

But on the news groups it was a different story. Iraqi students had no idea what was going on. They were asking questions. American and Israeli students were answering them. It didn’t matter that a war was going on.

That’s what happens when you give people the ability to collaborate.

Journalism After Murdoch : What Now?

Amazing! My inbox changed again! That hadn’t happened for at least 45 seconds. But this time the email was actually interesting. In the first place, it wasn’t spam and secondly, it concerned a subject of interest to me: journalism. While not a journalist, I’m a writer, and my keen interest came from a close observation of my father, Kevin Whalan, a journalist.

Dad ran his own paper (editor, photographer, etc), edited another paper, was sub-editor for yet another, and ran a regional office for finally another before retiring. By the way, he still remains a journalist, he just works for himself, which is just the way he likes it. As a young man fresh from high school, I considered following him. But fate acted in another way. That should be left to another blog.

Today’s most interesting email was from Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre. Tonight, Tuesday 5th May 2015, they had spare tickets to their Fifth Estate interview series focussed on media and journalism. Tonight’s guest was Nick Davies the author of Hack Attack. His book had uncovered the phone hacking scandal and worse, much worse, perpetrated by News Limited and other Fleet Street papers.

Nick Davies, author of Hack Attack, at the Financial Times Business Book of the Year award 2014 at the V&A

Nick Davies, author of Hack Attack, at the Financial Times Business Book of the Year award 2014 at the V&A

I clicked through, collected and printed my ticket, and at 6:10pm arrived and took my seat at the back.

Nick Davies was introduced. Up until then, I had never heard of him. Yes, I had heard of the phone hacking scandal. That to my mind and heart broke every rule of journalism. But I had no idea of its ongoing impact. Nor had I any idea of the threat journalism now faced.

Davies detailed the other methods used. He noted the extensive use of private investigators which meant that any illegality was borne by them rather than the journalist.

Then he talked about their dark arts. Phone hacking I understood as it was childishly easy. Then he detailed a technique called blagging which is where information is solicited from an organisation by the contact posing as a fellow employee. Much like the uber-hacker Kevin Mitnick I thought.

Davies then expounded on email hacks, burglary, intercepted phone calls and bribing police. I had only heard diluted whispers in the local media. But now it was starting to resemble a Le Carre novel.

This was a scandal that had existed for years and had wended its way through the Royal family and then celebrities and politicians. Even victims of the July 2005 London bombings, the families of injured and killed soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan had been hacked. On the occasions the newspapers were found out, they resorted to threats and of course the handy out of court settlement.

Despite that, the scandal appeared to be a creeping stain without end. But end it did when a murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone was hacked in 2011 and the actress Sienna Miller refused to accept a court settlement.

Then and only then did the newspapers publish. Speeches were made, enquiries followed and laws passed. But I sensed that Davies implied that things really hadn’t changed greatly.  Certainly the recent UK election was the result the press wanted.

But what Davies talked about was how the politicians, celebrities, etc. lived in fear. Fear of the media (led by Murdoch and News Limited) exposing their private lives. Fear that the Murdoch media leveraged to get what it wanted: freedom to make money and freedom to operate without too many restraints. Fear that other organisations would be targeted to the point of disintegration (see  the relentless attacks on the UK Labour Party much like the campaign against the ALP, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd here in Australia).

And all underpinned by a culture of compliance amongst the editors and journalists employed. Davies stressed that Murdoch was not an interventionist owner, in the tradition of say William Randolph Hearst, but he expected his staff to ensure that the commercial interests of News Limited were paramount. Davies made it clear that Murdoch didn’t operate politically but that he operated commercially.  Having heard that my thought was that would disappoint many of Murdoch’s enemies.

But his most telling points were on journalism itself. His initial comments were that Murdoch through the newspaper the Sun had driven journalism down-market. Due to the Sun’s success, others had followed with a corresponding decline. Certainly as the son of a journalist, this accorded with my father’s comments on the profession.


Old fashioned media

He said that journalism was now an intellectually corrupted profession. The main reason was that the internet has broken the business model of the traditional media.  The traditional media had responded by cutting back on resources. These included journalists but also foreign correspondents, so-called stringers and photographers (especially Fairfax in Australia).

Now there were fewer journalists required to find and publish more stories. Fact checking and investigation had been set aside due to time constraints. Consequently the publication of outsourced stories and recycled PR material were favoured. As a result, newspapers were more likely to put out stories that were distorted, propaganda or untrue.

He summed up by saying that the public may well say good riddance to bad journalism and end up perceiving journalism as an unethical profession.

From the floor, questions began. The first concerned the rise of online and citizen journalism.

Davies’ response was that through the internet, one can now buy news to suit one’s prejudices, for example, right-wing, Christian, socialist, left-wing, etc. The result now was that anyone can produce crap except for some notables such as Eliot Higgins who determined that Syria was using chemical weapons from satellite and other photographs.

Another question followed on regarding the future of new newspapers. He did state that newspapers ultimately will be electronic as newsprint, ink and distribution would be too expensive.

The final questions concerned what should a person making a career in journalism do? Davies said that there were many good journalists working for bad organisations that were run by executives who cabal beforehand. He reiterated that they relied upon news already published rather than investigative content. He emphasised that the future of journalism required good investigative content such as Higgins and Vice. He suggested finding a good mentor.

With that answer, I left with a sense of disappointment. If anyone worked for a newspaper where the culture was as clear-cut as Murdoch, it would be extraordinarily difficult to find good investigative content even though it is achievable and is occurring. And a mentor?

My misgiving concerned the future of journalism itself. From Davies’ perspective and my own perception, journalism is in mortal danger. Some of the comments from the audience as they were leaving suggested that it was the fault of the Murdoch Empire. But that’s too easy and too glib a reason. Yes Murdoch has made short-term gains and dominates media world-wide. And yes that has created a long-term malaise for and probable demise of journalism as we know it.

But as Davies pointed out earlier, that’s not the only reason. He suggested a new model is needed and it is still evolving via the internet.

The most telling point for me was that with the decline in journalism, people will be only told what they want to hear. It is true that we only choose facts to suit our prejudices but that can only lead to our demise.

It is vital that we are informed without prejudice. It is vital that we find out the unbiased facts. It is vital that we hear what we don’t want to hear or don’t want to know about. Otherwise we cannot learn, we cannot grow and we cannot teach.

That is why journalism cannot be allowed to become comatose and die. That is why a new model is needed.


Towards a Better Funded NDIS

During the to-ing and fro-ing over the 0.5% income tax levy for the NDIS,
I made a comment on a well known news site. I thought nothing of it until
I received an email confirmation that the comment was published.

I decided to check the well known news site for my comment. I couldn’t find it.
What I did come across was a trail of vitriol that rivals Twitter in melt down.

Nearly all of the comments about the NDIS were unfailingly negative. Most people wrote that it wasn’t about the money, but they were paying for asylum seekers, the NBN (which funds itself) and the carbon tax!

One person posted that he wasn’t going to pay for the disabled and that he was voting Liberal. Another suggested life Insurance for the disabled not knowing that they would be ineligible. Another troll on twitter said the disabled should look after themselves not take his money.

Even Andrew Bolt criticised the levy in similar terms in his column. Similar comments emanated from the CEO of Myer, which were apologetically withdrawn.

Nearly none of these commentators mentioned the NDIS by name!! Nor was it clear whether they were for it or against it (even Andrew Bolt was unclear)!!! The disabled were mentioned barely at all!!

To me it was an exercise in public selfishness : people stating openly that they would not pay a pittance to help those less fortunate than themselves. Had these people looked into the NDIS further they would have found it was an initiative of the Productivity Commission and will actually be economically beneficial.

Then yesterday Tony Abbott changed his mind. He said he would support the levy conditionally. However, Joe Hockey late yesterday had still not come on board and was still expressing misgivings.

Despite the ongoing Opposition confusion, they did raise a good question. They asked how the rest of the NDIS would be funded. Of course the Budget will reveal that information! Presumably that will be greeted by even more howls of protest from the previous complainants again with little or no mention of the disabled.

So rather than rail at these selfish people and embrace their negativity, perhaps another suggestion is in order.
Perhaps we should look at a different way of funding the NDIS!

As a former charity founder (Volunteer Funders), I had a small idea. The idea didn’t work for me but was expanded by another (Volunteer Forever). The idea was crowdfunding! Perhaps the NDIS could be crowdfunded much like Kickstarter or Pozible! Perhaps optimistically, it could fund itself! Why not?

Who would benefit?

The disabled, their carers, their families, their service providers and the economy!

Those who don’t want to pay the tax levy who would spend it at Myer or enjoy that extra coffee guilt free!

Trolls and Insults….If all you can do is call me names then you have run out of facts!

Often on Twitter I am witness to many different conversations both great, good, bad and truly vile.

One I just witnessed was the use of the insult:


Unfortunately, the insult landed. VanBadham’s father recently died (of cancer on the 19th March 2013).

Her response to my (and many many others) sympathy and to the insults was one of grace and courage.

My response might help. This is how I won my one and only argument.

After being really insulted I was exasperated.

All I said was: “If all you can do is call me names then you have run out of facts!”

Then argument ended. And I felt sorry like Van Badham for the arguer too!

An opportunity was missed to learn something new. Not just facts that don’t fit their world view. But  grace and courage to disagree and accept disagreement in return.

Which is actually fun!

I Wish I Was A Mummy Blogger

According to the normal media, the Internet is inhabited by mummy bloggers.

As a male mummy blogger I find this a bit hard to take. I did style myself as a male mummy blogger during a mock debate over social media but was politely howled down.

I learnt from that. I’m now a daddy blogger. Which sounds really daggy and unfashionable.

But what I would like to see is this. Either the media embrace the term daddy blogger or even male mummy blogger and then I would receive the well deserved attention I desperately crave.

Or just call us bloggers and read what we write!

Maybe it would be seen that the Internet has diversity and variety!

Another blog is calling!

Why the MainStream Media is Dying…

Imagine you are a journalist in a small country town.

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

You know everyone and they know you.

Any unethical behaviour will in time be found out.

Then you lose your contacts, advertisers, circulation and your newspaper’s reputation.

Imagine you are a journalist in a city.

You know no-one and no-one knows you.

Any unethical behaviour may not in time be found out.

Then you keep your contacts, advertisers, circulation and your newspaper’s reputation.

Unless the city becomes like a small country town (as is happening with the internet, social media creating a confluence between newsmakers and news consumers).

Where personal contact, ethical behaviour and trust is vital. And people will ask their friends for the latest news rather than an untrusted media outlet.

The Boring ALP Leadership Soap Opera!

English: Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Au...

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

Yet again I turn to the political section of the newspaper. Yet again I feel I am reading the script of a soap opera. But the same scene and same dialogue is being replayed.

More stories on the Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard leadership crisis! Should Kevin be leader instead of Julia? Should some one else? It should be newsworthy. It isn’t. It’s boring. I’ve heard it all before. Sorry Michelle Grattan, Peter Hartcher, Paul Sheehan, Katharine Murphy and Stephanie Peatling and your colleagues, I’m not interested any more. Here’s why.

Who leads the country is important, that is true. But changing leaders doesn’t change what politics is really about:

  • What will the leaders and their parties do in the short term and long term?
  • How will they do it?
  • And most importantly why?

The leadership soap opera doesn’t answer these questions. Neither does your coverage of it.

Dining With Strangers (Eat With Me Melbourne)

It’s not speed dating! And it’s not dinner for five! It’s Eat With Me’s Dining With Strangers! Eat With Me

For a small cost, I received one drink, two meal courses and way more than three introductions. All at The Sharing House South Wharf Melbourne.

As it turned out, I almost turned up sopping wet. But I made it. Upon entering the restaurant I was ushered to   the Eat With Me group. A drink was handed to me. Then I was welcomed by Bethany and Liisa (the organisers of Eat With Me) who to their eternal credit remembered me from the July 2011 event! Dining with strangers indeed!!

Lego took the original lego brick and magnifie...

To find our place at the table, we were all given a present. The present unwrapped turned out to be a piece of Lego which matched our seat at the table. After almost mixing lime green and dark green I found my place (amongst the writers’ section).

First course was chickpea chips and tomato sauce which was unique and tasty! The conversation continued. On my leftwas a public relations consultant who worked in tourism, television and film. From her I received some sage advice about my love life! Opposite her a magician and comedian. Next to me was Chelsea who also was a writer, blogger and involved in Eat With Me. When she said she was from British Columbia I said Victoria instead of Vancouver!! And got it right!!

What I forgot to mention was the centrepiece or conversation starter in the middle of the table! Two Duplo and one normal Lego bricks, photo ta...

Duplo shapes with words stuck on them to encourage the writers in us. Funnily enough the writers corner stuck with the words and tried to create something rather than dismantling the shape and creating something completely new!

The next course was Beef Wellington and a beautiful beetroot and walnut salad. No one to the left or right or opposite me had had it before except me (and it was a bucks’ night so my memory wasn’t sound). Beautiful!

As the conversation continued, I met a fabric designer and an intern.

Then came the negotiation part of the evening! Dessert! Strawberries, meringue, cream or chocolate mousse, ice cream, salted caramel. It was all divided equally and there was much left over. And now I know I will eat through chocolate to reach salted caramel!!

And the conversation continued! It was relaxed just like a laid back dinner party with friends and friends of friends! Thoroughly recommended and commended!!