Wednesday, July 1, 2009

John Hartigan, paranoia in the mainstream media, the intertubes and Pollyanna predicts a bright future for newspapers

(Above: John Hartigan).

(Correction: this is not the John Hartigan referred to below).

(Correction: above is the John Hartigan who appears in the graphic novels entitled Sin City. See, finally got it right. Wrong, but not for long).

Dearie me, is John Hartigan feeling the heat or what. 

The poor stressed thing delivered a speech on the future of journalism to the National Press Gallery today (no doubt you'll be able to catch it online at the ABC in due course, and it was full of fear and loathing about the intertubes.

Why he could have been the CEO for Sony.

A few of the lines that caught the eye:

Then there are the bloggers.

In return for their free content, we pretty much get what we’ve paid for - something of such limited intellectual value as to be barely discernible from massive ignorance.

Fuck me dead. Nailed it in one. But I'm not sure whether he's talking about Tim Blair or Andrew Bolt, who by an irony of ironies is on the same page as the faithful Herald Sun's report of the speech boasting about 1 million hits a month. I can't begin to quote the massive ignorance you find there, right under John Hartigan's pious, righteous nose.

Oh yes, from the team that brought you the news that wacko Jacko is still alive.

Pray tell me more:

Andrew Keen, in his book The Cult of the Amateur, cites Hurricane Katrina as an example when:

“reports from people at the scene helped spread unfounded rumours, inflated body counts and erroneous reports of rapes and gang violence in the New Orleans Superdome – all later debunked by mainstream news media”.

Ah yes Andrew Keen, prize dork and intertubes hater. Funny, you could actually turn to the mainstream news media, which in the early days of Katrina were as hopelessly disorganized as the Bush administration, and quote all kinds of facts they got wrong, exaggerated or fed erroneously out into the ether. Fair enough. Shit happens. But the next time I see News Ltd refer to bloggers or run some YouTube video, or proudly announce the launch of a piece of crap like The Punch, I think I might choke on the vomit of hypocrisy.

But wait, there's more, as the poor besieged Hartigan can sense his business model wafting out the window. Let's have a bit more of Keene:

Citizen journalists, he says, simply don’t have the resources to bring us reliable news. They lack not only expertise and training but access to decision makers and reliable sources.

Um actually bloggers aren't citizen journalists in the usual run of things. They're bloggers. They do it as a hobby. There's a few who do it more seriously and make money from it, but they're an extreme minority.

If that's the best straw dog you've got, you really are stuffed (and no, the fact that I once earned a living as a journalist means nothing when you just have fun writing a blog).

But let's have a little more paranoid victimization of the hapless mainsteam media to set the tone of the debate:

The difference, he says (Keene), between professionals and amateurs is that bloggers don’t go to jail for their work – they simply aren’t held accountable like real reporters.

Like Keating’s famous “all tip and no iceberg”, it could be said that the blogosphere is all eyeballs and no insight.

As Robert Thomsen of The Wall Street Journal says: “The blogs and comment sites are basically editorial echo chambers rather than centres of creation. And their cynicism about so-called traditional media is only matched by their opportunism in exploiting it.”

WTF. Now we're talking about Frank Browne? That was back in the fifties under Ming the Merciless. How many journalists in Australia have lately done a Judith Miller? By golly, has Deep Throat got a lot to answer for when it comes to delusions of grandeur for journalists.

As for the criticism, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. And take your squillions with you.

Oh dear, and then it gets personal, though Hartigan for some reason doesn't even have the guts to name the site in question:

One of the best known comment sites in Australia matches this identikit.

It started as a moralising soapbox; boasting about its lack of standards. Positioned as an underdog, it lectures mainstream media every day.

In the blogosphere, of course, the mainstream media is always found wanting. It really is time this myth was blown apart.

Blogs and a large number of comment sites specialise in political extremism and personal vilification.

What, like Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and Piers Akerman?

Or you mean like citing a mysterious site on the basis of 'you all know who I mean' - snigger - but meantime let me indulge in a little vilification of this unnamed site.

Radical sweeping statements unsubstantiated with evidence are common.

Dang there you go again defaming Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt.

One Australian blogger who shoots first and checks facts later is proud to boast that his site is “Not wrong for long”.

Mainstream media understands, most of the time, that comment and opinion is legitimised by evidence.

Opinions, however strongly held, draw their legitimacy from the factual accuracy that underpins them.

Many of these sites and bloggers say their radical new approach is a modern form of participatory democracy.

But as Andrew Keen says, amateur journalism trivialises and corrupts serious debate – it degenerates democracy into mob rule and rumour milling.

For the love of god, stop defaming Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt, and while you're at it, leave Piers Akerman alone. We love the lads. Surely you have a kind word for the tabloids, just as they've broken the story that wacko Jacko might still be alive and in hiding:

Take this list of important stories of recent years:

- John Howard’s leadership promise to Peter Costello;

- Marcus Einfeld’s downfall;

- Bundaberg Hospital’s trail of death;

- Tougher restrictions on P Plate drivers;

- New laws that mean rape victims don’t have to give evidence in open court.

These stories had two things in common.

First, they had serious impact and influence – on everything from a change of government, to the conviction of criminals to new legislation.

Second, they were all broken by tabloid newspapers.

Tabloids have also run most of the important campaigns in recent years.

Perhaps the best, was the Sunday Herald Sun’s campaign that led to an incredibly expensive breast cancer drug being listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

It meant the women who needed it could afford it – potentially saving their life.

Great press campaigns shape new laws and change history. They build a bridge between public opinion and public policy.

But, according to some, if the headline type is too big and the page size too small, they don’t qualify as quality journalism.

Great, well you won't have to worry about falling readership and a drop at the box office. People will be lining up to pay to keep tabloids alive.

What a pity you started giving all the content away for free.

Oh I get it now, here's the argument for payment for online content:

Which brings me finally to the future of journalism being the journalism itself.

Demand for news – in print and online – is much larger than it was for print on its own.

In the past year, the Beijing Olympics, Obama’s election, the GFC, the bushfires, the British expenses scandal and Michael Jackson’s death have all shown how large the audience can be for big stories with huge consequences.

I believe the appetite for quality news and information will grow dramatically.

People will pay for it if it is good enough.

Think you can stuff that genie back into the bottle? Good luck.

If I could see a show of hands - is there any journalist in this room who hasn’t heard of The Punch?

The Punch has taken off like a rocket since it was launched in May – our target was to achieve traffic of 80,000 users in the first month. It’s actually achieved almost 200,000.

I know it’s early days. But I think the success of The Punch is because it’s different; it’s surprising, it’s entertaining and it’s relevant.

Er, it's actually just a blog - you know, the kind you just reviled - and for one so heavily financed and promoted by main stream media a pretty feeble one, which relies way too heavily on YouTube and other intertube connections to spice up a motley collection of generally feeble columns. A hit is a hit but isn't a finance plan. And worse, I can't use it to line the bottom of my canary cage.

On and on Hartigan rants, but I lost interest. If you want to read it in detail, you can go here to John Hartigan address to the National Press Club.

For free. Unless of course you watched it for free on the FTA ABC.

If you click through, there you will read an opimistic Pollyanna in full denial mode, full of the joys of News Limited without understanding the form of future things which will replace the current dinosaur model.

And in full scale 'it can't happen here' denial, after running through a litany of newspaper disasters in the UK and the USA:

It has been assumed, without any rigorous scrutiny, that Australian newspapers will go the same way as their US and British peers.

Some say the trends are the same; we are just a year or two behind.

Frankly, I’m dismayed at how many Australian journalists seem to accept this. Some are even willing to stick their byline on this opinion.

I mean, at its most basic, it’s just bad reporting. There’s almost no evidence.

For starters, newspaper ad revenue in Australia has been growing – not declining over the past five years as it has in the US and the UK.

Even in the past year, the decline in ad revenue in Australia is a fraction of what’s been happening overseas.

Good, keep on with the ostrich head in the sand routine Mr. Hartigan. If you don't get it, you don't get it. And when you have to get it, it might well be too late.

And slagging off the online opposition and the bottom feeders won't help you get it either. The more you slag off the opposition while celebrating your own web 2.0 strategies, I wonder which brother is from another planet:

But, what drove readership and web traffic was the content.

Readers embraced the opportunity to sign online condolence books and write tributes to victims.

We set up online forums so readers could search for news of those lost and those rescued.

In the past year, The Wall Street Journal lifted its cover price and circulation went up 3 per cent.

Traffic to the Journal’s website has doubled in 18 months - to 23 million unique visitors a month. A large number of them are paying for customised premium content.

The Journal is not achieving these numbers by sacking journalists. It’s been hiring them.

So, whether its business, travel, food or major news stories I can't subscribe to the view that newspapers don’t have a future.

Ah the hope of the WSJ. Why we even have the AFR here charging for its specialized content. But here's the thing, for all you talk of the wonders of tabloids. Will people pay for the dross of the Daily Telegraph, or the Herald Sun, or even a once proud broadsheet like The Adelaide Advertiser, reduced to tabloid pap in the Murdoch years? When they can hop over to the ABC or the BBC for basic news, minus a lot of the excruciating drivel and trivia, for free. 

Good luck. But now how about a bleat about spongers and leeches and spivs who are sucking the marrow from the trailblazing mainstream media:

So it’s worth examining what’s happening.

Obviously plenty of people are reading journalism online. But is it any good and what will make people pay for it?

The most profitable sites, in fact the only ones making serious money are the sites that aggregate news, like Google and Yahoo.

They pay nothing for content produced by newspaper journalists but make money by supplying it in easily searchable forms online.

The major media outlets have encouraged them to take a free ride on our content. It’s called search engine optimisation.

And when we started our own sites, we didn’t charge anyone to read them, even though the content is produced at massive cost.

The problem is, an online reader generates about 10% of the revenue we can make from a newspaper reader.

So, for every reader we lose from the paper we need to pick up 10 online.

Then there are the news commentary sites, like The Huffington Post, Newser and the Daily Beast and in Australia sites like Crikey and Mumbrella.

Most of the content on these sites is commentary and opinion on media coverage produced by the major outlets.

These sites are covered in links to wire stories or mainstream mastheads. Typically, less than 10% of their content is original reporting.

The sites that produce a high proportion of original content aren’t making a profit. Almost anyone can start one of these sites, with very little capital, no training or qualification

Ah the aggregators, who right now no doubt are circulating a short Reader's Digest version of your speech, spreading it out on the intertubes and paying you nothing for your intellectual content. Filthy beasts, but let's see how you go shaking them down to pay for what they get for free.

Meantime, can I be presumptuous and summarize the content in your speech?

News Limited great; initiatives great.
Bloggers bad.
On line aggregators bad.
Commentary and opinion sites bad.
People must pay for content to keep us afloat.

Talk to the hand, or maybe talk to the music and film industries ...

Oh and yes, I did nil research on this piece, and sucked the marrow from the bones of your speech and regurgitated it for free on the intertubes. So it goes ...

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