Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Music of 1989

The Guardian has a retrospective on the music of 1989. While noting that the year had its fair share of dross, it was also the year of The Stone Roses, The Pixies, Happy Mondays, De La Soul and Soul II Soul, as well as Madonna's "Like a Prayer" and New Order's "True Faith". All up, a pretty interesting year for music - and also for fashion and drugs, as the middle picture reminds us. While you may not want to be reminded of it, an American version of such a list would also give a high profile to Motley Crue and G'n'F'n'R - 1989 was also a big year for hair metal.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Are academics better bloggers than journalists?

From Andrew Sullivan's blog:

Felix Salmon, using a Brad DeLong post as a springboard, explains why academics have taken to blogging more easily than many journalists:

“Situating your work and your contribution in the ongoing discussion” is exactly what bloggers do — and it’s something that journalists find very difficult. Being original (the fetishization of the “scoop”, even if it’s only by five minutes) is vastly overpraised in journalism, and journalists as a group tend to imbue everything they do with an incredible amount of secrecy. Try asking a magazine writer what she’s working on: she probably won’t tell you. After all, you might scoop her!

I think Brad’s insight helps explain to a very large extent the reason why academics took to the blogosphere with so much more alacrity than journalists, and why journalists-turned-bloggers can be pretty stingy with links and hat-tips, at least when they’re starting out. And of course it helps explain the otherwise inexplicable decision by Bloomberg to bar its reporters from even discussing “media competitors”, let alone linking to them.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Internet downloading increasing in Australia

The Age reports that the use of Interent downloading of movies, TV, music etc. in Australia is on the increase, and the economic downturn seems to be a factor. Note the quote from Sony Entertainment, which points to the prevalence of "two cultures" in the entertainment media industry about the Internet and the future of providing content to audiences.

Hundreds of thousands more Australians have turned to illegal download sites in the past year to save money on movies, music, software and TV shows during the economic downturn, new figures show.

Total visits by Australians to BitTorrent websites including Mininova, The Pirate Bay, isoHunt, TorrentReactor and Torrentz grew from 785,000 in April last year to 1,049,000 in April this year, Nielsen says. This is a year-on-year increase of 33.6 per cent.

The figures, which do not include peer-to-peer software such as Limewire, are in line with a Newspoll survey of 700 Australians in April, which found almost two-thirds of respondents said they were more tempted to buy or obtain pirated products in tough financial times.

The movie and music industries are battling revenue declines because legal downloads are not yet making up for the drop in physical disc sales. They have ramped up the pressure on governments and internet providers around the world to do more to prevent online piracy.

"I'm a guy who doesn't see anything good having come from the internet. Period," Sony Pictures Entertainment chief executive officer Michael Lynton said this month.

Lynton complained the internet had "created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time ... and if you don't give it to them for free, they'll steal it".

For more read here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New York Times Creates Social Media Editor

Jennifer Preston, the former editor of the New York Times regional sections, has been appointed as the paper’s first social media editor. Preston will not be handling a new section. The job, which entails coordinating the newsroom’s use of social media, sounds similar to the one Shirley Brady was hired to do when BusinessWeek Online tapped her as its first engagement editor last year. Among other things, Brady has helped the edit staff become more conversant with using Twitter and blogging, as well as working with readers on blog posts for the site. (On Twitter, Brady also pointed to other social media editors, such as’s Andrew Nystrom and Mathew Ingram, who is the communities editor at The Globe and Mail, as other examples of how pubs have been carving out new newsroom duties.)

The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) flagship is full of very active Twitter users. Interestingly enough, the news of Preston’s appointment was first publicly conveyed by NYT deputy managing editor Jon Landman on Twitter. Incidentally, Valleywag pointed out that Preston’s own Twitter updates are private.

I spoke to Landman briefly, and he denied Valleywag’s speculation that Preston’s role will be to clamp down on the newsroom’s after several reporters revealed the details of an editorial meeting a few weeks ago using the microblogging site.

“This isn’t about policing, although that is a small function [of the social editor’s role], but as only as a matter of making things consistent. It’s not the main purpose at all,” Landman told paidContent. “It’s really just the opposite of policing. it’s about helping everybody figure out how to use social media as a tool for journalists. A number of people have discovered social media a form for marketing and promotion, but it’s also got explicitly journalistic uses. Some people in our newsroom know and use it to their advantage. Some don’t and could use that know-how.” (Landman’s staff memo on Preston’s promotion is here, via Nieman Labs)

Preston, a reporter and editor for New York newspapers for close to 25 years, is charged with developing new initiatives for the reporters to use, in terms of sharing information and reporting it. This comes as the NYT has been ramping up its social media offerings for its readers, such as the Times Wire, which provides links to the paper’s online articles and blog posts in a headline-based reverse chronological feed that updates every minute, and the second version of its Times Reader e-paper.

Link here. Thanks to Anna Daniel for pointing this out to me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The US Housing Bubble

The map above provided by Richard Florida in The Atlantic gives a sense of how the housing bubble developed in the United States in the 2000s. This was in 2006, at the height of the boom. Note some of the incredible ratios of house prices to average wage on the West Coast - six regions in California reached as high as 15:1+ (Salinas, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Oxnard-Thousand Oaks, Napa, and San Luis Obispo). Los Angeles and San Francisco were both 10:1+.

The Citizen's Voice: Albert Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty and its Contribution to Media Citizenship Debates

Paper presented to the Philosophy of Communication Division of ICA on 22 May, 2009. Full paper available here, and it will appear in the Sage journal Media, Culture and Society shortly.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Chinese Communist Party: why does its membership keep growing?

The Guardian has a feature on the interesting question of why the membership of the Chinese Communist Party continues to grow. The appeal of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought would not appear obvious in 21st century China, and the party would appear to be a long way from its roots in peasant uprisings and the "Long March". But its continued growth continues to pose a challenge for those assuming that democratisation must at some point follow China's transition to a market economy.

Outwardly, the party remains rigidly ideological; members are drilled in Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents and current president Hu Jintao's Scientific Development Outlook. Hu has, in fact, stepped up political education – perhaps because of an evident disconnect: to many, what the party really stands for is personal advancement, social stability and national unity.

For more read here. Information on the Communist Party of China can be found here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Todd Gitlin on Journalism in Crisis

Todd Gitlin's Keynote presentation at the Journalism in Crisis conference being held by the University of Westminster can be found here.

It is called "A Surfeit of Crises: Circulation, Revenue, Attention, Authority, and Deference" and it is a rollicking read.

A section can be found below:

The word “crisis” is overused, as is its anodyne opposite, “problem,” or its cousin, “issue.” (As in the highly flexible, “I have issues.”) Ordinary troubles become inflated into “crises” because crises sound somehow more dignified or electrifying. A problem sounds possibly serious, if hypothetically soluble, but a crisis sounds, well, critical. Yet the overuse might lead us to bend over backwards and fall into euphemism—calling a grave matter “a little difficult,” for example, as is common, for some reason, in American discourse today. There are crises. History proceeds by convulsions, not only increments—or rather, increments build up into crises, and before one knows it, the landscape has changed, one is living in a different world, and the world before it changed is barely conceivable and certainly unrecoverable. It was a foreign country; they did things differently there.

In the case of the murky future of journalism, it is fair to speak of crisis—crises, actually. The landscape has changed, is changing, will change—radically. You must know the parable of the boy who cried “wolf.” Just because the overanxious boy kept thinking the wolf was at the door, and sounding a warning to which others became accustomed, and therefore ignored, did not mean that the wolf was not nearby. When the real wolf showed up, no one was ready.

I shall speak primarily of American journalism because it is what I know best, and leave it to you to judge how much this case is typical. Four wolves have arrived at the door simultaneously while a fifth has already been lurking for some time. One is the precipitous decline in the circulation of newspapers. The second is the decline in advertising revenue, which, combined with the first, has badly damaged the profitability of newspapers. The third, contributing to the first, is the diffusion of attention. The fourth is the more elusive crisis of authority. The fifth, a perennial—so much so as to be perhaps a condition more than a crisis—is journalism’s inability or unwillingness to penetrate the veil of obfuscation behind which power conducts its risky business.

For more read here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Frontera Grill: TV Chef runs Mexican restaurant in Chicago

With some free pre-ICA conference time and pre-conference paper finished (but not Powerpoints), I went off for dinner at Frontera Grill. Chicago wouldn't seem the most obvious American city for Mexican food, but this restaurant was set up by Rick Bayliss. Rick Bayliss is a TV Chef whose program, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, has run for six seasons on PBS.

The food was fabulous. No over-cheesy nachos here. Importantly, what I was impressed by was that Rick tends his own restaurant. A bit greyer than he appears on the books for sale at the front, he was nonetheless watching over the booking desk, and came over to the bar table next to me and fast-tracked a couple over to a table at the main dining area.

This guy isn't having affairs or advising the President on school lunches. When not on the TV, he actually runs his own restaurant. Doubt if I'd see Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay having time to do that.

Be warned tough: it was a 90 minute wait for a table by 6.30pm on a Tuesday, and they don't take advance bookings. You may well be having a pre-dinner margharita.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Economist on the future of news media

Good analysis from The Economist about the future of news media:

The internet is killing newspapers and giving birth to a new sort of news business

THE race is crowded, but San Francisco stands a fair chance of becoming the first major American city without a daily newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle, founded in 1865, is trimming its already pared-down staff in an attempt to avoid closure. And if it does disappear? “People under 30 won’t even notice,” says Gavin Newsom, the city’s mayor.

Most industries are suffering at present, but few are doing as badly as the news business. Things are worst in America, where many papers used to enjoy comfortable local monopolies, but in Britain around 70 local papers have shut down since the beginning of 2008. Among the survivors, advertising is dwindling, editorial is thinning and journalists are being laid off. The crisis is most advanced in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but it is happening all over the rich world: the impact of the internet, exacerbated by the advertising slump, is killing the daily newspaper.

Does that matter? Technological change has destroyed all sorts of once-popular products, from the handloom to the Walkman, and the world has mostly been better for it. But news is not just a product: the press is the fourth estate, a pillar of the polity. Journalists investigate and criticise governments, thus helping voters decide whether to keep them or sack them. Autocracies can function perfectly well without news, but democracies cannot. Will the death of the daily newspaper—the main source of information for most educated people for at least the past century, the scourge of corrupt politicians, the conscience of nations—damage democracy?

A newspaper is a package of content—politics, sport, share prices, weather and so forth—which exists to attract eyeballs to advertisements. Unfortunately for newspapers, the internet is better at delivering some of that than paper is. It is easier to search through job and property listings on the web, so classified advertising and its associated revenue is migrating onto the internet. Some content, too, works better on the internet—news and share prices can be more frequently updated, weather can be more geographically specific—so readers are migrating too. The package is thus being picked apart.

The newspaper’s decline is both cause and effect of the worrying finding by the Pew Centre that the number of Americans aged 18-24 who got any news at all the previous day has dropped from 34% to 25% over the past ten years. But that figure may be less troubling than it looks. Because newspapers pack together all sorts of different content, many of those who claimed in the past to have seen some news probably did so for a few seconds before turning the page to the sports scores. Acquaintance as shallow as that with the news is probably no great loss to society; Pew surveys of general knowledge suggest that young people are about as well (or badly) informed as they used to be.

And the newspaper companies’ tribulations do not necessarily presage the demise of the news business, for they stem in part from the tumultuous and expensive transition from paper to electronic distribution. News organisations are currently bearing two sets of costs—those of printing and distributing their product for the old world, and providing digital versions for the new—even though they have yet to find a business model that works online.

Up to now, most have been offering their content free online, but that is unsustainable, because there isn’t enough advertising revenue online to pay for it. So either the amount of news produced must shrink, or readers must pay more. Some publications, such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, which has more than 1m online subscribers and has just promised to develop a new system of micropayments for articles, already charge for content. Others will follow: Rupert Murdoch, the Journal’s owner, has said he expects his other titles to start charging too. With news available free on Google and Yahoo!, readers may, of course, not be prepared to pay even for deeper or more specialised stuff; but since they do in the paper world, where free-sheets and paid-for publications coexist, there seems no reason why they wouldn’t online.

Better mobile devices may encourage them to do so. Apple’s iPhone is the first reader-friendly mobile phone, and the latest update to its software, due shortly, will enable news providers that currently give away content on the iPhone to start charging for it. Amazon has just unveiled a new, larger version of the Kindle, its e-book reader, better suited to displaying newspapers. Similar devices are available from other firms, with many more on the way. Better technology coupled with new payment systems will not solve the acute problems faced by newspapers today, but should eventually provide new models to enable news to flourish in the digital age.

And already, there are signs that it will (see article). New sources of news are proliferating online. Many, it is true, are unreliable. Most are badly funded. Some are the rantings of deranged extremists. But some—like Muckety, an American site which enriches news stories with interactive maps of the protagonists’ networks of influence, and NightJack, the revealing and depressing blog of an anonymous British policeman, which won the Orwell prize last month—enhance society’s understanding of itself, and could not have existed in the old world.

But the only certainty about the future of news is that it will be different from the past. It will no longer be dominated by a few big titles whose front pages determine the story of the day. Public opinion will, rather, be shaped by thousands of different voices, with as many different focuses and points of view. As a result, people will have less in common to chat about around the water-cooler. Those who are not interested in political or economic news will be less likely to come across it; but those who are will be better equipped to hold their rulers to account. Which is, after all, what society needs news for.

Note: they don't think pay-per-view news will work. At all. Interestingly, they find evidence that partisanship does work commercially, at least on the short term.

For more see here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Media Business: Seeing through the Haze Surrounding Websites, Blogs and Social Media

Media economist Robert Picard provides some notes of caution about easy assumptions that blogging and Twitter are the future of media.

Seeing through the Haze Surrounding Websites, Blogs and Social Media

Communicating regularly is hard work. It takes skill; it takes a voice; it takes having something to say; it takes time. Making money from it is even harder.

The functions provided by websites, blogs, and social media clearly make it possible for people to express themselves in ways never before imagined, to share their opinions, to express their hopes and dreams, and to share the details of their lives. Media companies are watching these developments and many are rushing to provide content on any communication technology or application the public uses.

Although large numbers of people are trying the new technologies, they are reacting to them in different ways. Some find them highly useful and satisfying; some find them worthless and disappointing; some find them a worthy pastime; others find them a waste of time. What this means is that—like all technologies—they are more important to some people than to others. Consequently, managers need to be realistic in assessing their potential, the extent to which they are being used by the public, and the extent to which they provide opportunities that media companies should pursue.

Because those promoting the technologies are self interested, uptake figures are easy to come by. Finding out who has tried the technologies, but decided they were undesirable is harder. However, research is showing some interesting results in that regard. We now know that 60 percent of the people who try Twitter stop using it within a month, that only about 5% of blogs are regularly updated, that more than 200 million blogs have been abandoned, and that about 37 million web domain names are deleted every year.

Most people and organizations who try these new communication opportunities make limited use of them or give up on them altogether because of boredom or because the opportunities don't provide sufficient results. This is not to say they are not unimportant, however. A good number of individuals and companies are using them to create new abilities and opportunities to communicate with friends, colleagues, and customers and to establish new businesses and revenue streams. Doing so, however, takes commitment that most people and firms are unwilling to make.

From the business standpoint one has to be realistic when evaluating the opportunities presented. Media executives need to ask hard questions: Do all media companies need to provide content across every available platform regardless of the cost and effort? Are all types of news and information appropriately carried on all platforms? In what ways is branding and marketing for the company actually served by these engagements? How are these monetized? What are the returns on the investments? What are the risks of not engaging these technologies?

Success is not easy in this technological environment. It requires investment, effort, regular activity, and provision of content that people want. Media managers choosing to use these new technologies must be clear-headed in their decisions and pursue well-founded strategies or they will be lost in the maze of competing and alternative opportunities.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Declining classified advertising for Fairfax mastheads

Report from Eric Beecher on Crikey about classified advertising decines at Fairfax. I doubt if the problem is largely cyclical.

Here's a story you won't read in The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald tomorrow:

This newspaper is publishing 50 fewer classified advertising pages each week than it was a year ago, according to the latest research by Goldman Sachs JB Were. This reduction in advertising translates into at least $1 million off this newspaper's profits every week compared to a year ago.

That is the picture that emerges from the latest Goldman Sachs JB Were page-count statistics of Fairfax's major newspapers, released today. They present difficult reading for anyone who cares about the future of newspapers, and raise further doubts about the competence of the Fairfax management and board as trustworthy custodians of Australia's two greatest newspaper mastheads.

According to Fairfax CEO Brian McCarthy, speaking three months ago, the problems afflicting newspapers are purely cyclical.

"I have been around long enough to know this is only a short-term thing," he said.

"The law of economics will take place ... It's just a matter of working through the cycle."

He also argued that Australian newspapers are not affected by the same structural problems afflicting US and UK newspapers because Australian newspapers are better managed.

Today's page-count numbers -- continuing a trend that has been unfolding throughout this year -- show that average classified advertising pages in The Age, SMH and Financial Review were down 55% year-on-year in April, following declines of 47% in March, 41% in February and 40% in January. At the SMH, employment ads fell 60%, real estate 50% and autos 80%. At The Age, employment and auto ad pages declined by around 65% in April, while the decline in real estate pages fell 65% compared to last year. At the AFR, display classified property ads fell 62% and employment fell 49% on a year ago.

Another alarming trend to emerge from today's Goldman Sachs research is a large reduction in the total pages being published by the three Fairfax flagship newspapers. Each paper is running around 100 fewer pages each week than it did a year ago -- supporting the anecdotal evidence that as well as lopping off pages they no longer fill with ads, The SMH, Age and AFR are cutting hard into editorial pages to save costs (and deprive readers).

Every stakeholder in Fairfax -- readers, staff, shareholders and Australians who value their newspaper institutions -- should be praying that the company's CEO is correct in his thoughtfully historic analysis that the collapse in profits at his flagships "is only a short-term thing". And that he is also right about his contention that great management will save Australian newspapers from the maelstrom that is decimating the American press.

They should also be praying that Rupert Murdoch was wrong in his prognosis of newspapers last week:

There is no doubt the traditional newspaper business model has to change, even though the present situation I think has been greatly exaggerated by the current recession ... classified revenues are undoubtedly migrating to the web, probably not to return.

If Murdoch is right about classifieds never returning to newspapers, the $100 million+ that has evaporated from the annualised profits of The Age and SMH will also never return -- and that would raise a troubling question about the viability of the two newspapers that used to be the best in Australia.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Smoking for the Economy

In Hubei Province in central China, local government issued a regulation determining quotas of cigarettes to be consumed by all public employees. They must be local brands to stimulate the local economy. It is estimated that quotas requiring consumption of 230,000 additional cigarettes a year will generate 4 million RMB for the local economy.

For more read here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

African mobiles from Chungking: Low-end Globalization

One of the world's fastest growing mobile phone markets is sub-Saharan Africa. But apparently 15% of mobiles that find their way to the continent pass through the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong.

Anyone who has been to Kowloon knows the foreboding, chaotic presence of Chungking on the Nathan Road. May a backpacker has stayed there - the cheapest, and seediest, accommodation on Hong Kong. And the 1994 classic Chungking Express was of course a worldwide film hit.

This facinating global "grey market" for phones made in China going to Africa has even been tracked by an anthropologist. Professor Gordon Matthews of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has looked at this phenomenon as a case study in what he terms "low-end globalization".

This work can be checked out at:

2008 “Chungking Mansions: A Center of ‘Low-End Globalization.’” Ethnology XLVI (2): 169-183.

(Apologies for lack of a link. Journal web site not up to date at time of posting).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Britain's Tories take to creative industries?

Hmm. Not sure what to think here. There will be a change of government in Britain in 2010, so knowing where the Tories are on the creative industries is of interest. At the same time, interestign to see where the Britart generation are ending up.

Are the Tories having their Cool Britannia moment?

Reports that Tracey Emin may declare her support for the Conservatives could finally give them the cultural credibility they crave.

For more see here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Will Higher Education be a GFC Casualty?

Professor Simon Marginson from the University of Melbourne predicts that Rudd Government promises on higher education will be a casualty of the budgetary deterioration from the global financial crisis (GFC), and the worsening budget deficit. Marginson points out how this involves a significant breaking of promises, and a failure to reverse the patterns of the Howard years.

He also points out how underfunding of Australian universities has driven behaviour, espeically
in relation to research and international student enrolments.

The real story is the education export industry and what drives it. This is a key weakness in policy, that began in the Hawke and Keating years, worsened under Howard and has now trapped the Rudd Government.

Since the late 1980s, when there were 25,000 international students, Australian education exports have grown by leaps and bounds. Last year there were 543,898 international students, half in higher education. They generated $15.5 billion in export earnings through tuition fees, accommodation, food, living expenses and entertainment. Education was our third largest export sector in dollar terms, behind only coal and iron ore.

Education earns more than wheat, beef, wool, gold, tourism and other staples. The growth of commodity exports has been slowed by the recession but education exports will grow in 2009 and look recession-proof, for the time being at least.

The Government does not want to do anything that would hurt education exports. Therein lies the problem.

What has driven the remarkable growth of education exports is not the fabulous quality of Australian education but its under-funding, the very under-funding that Kevin Rudd has promised to correct.

Australia was the only OECD country to reduce total public spending on higher education in 1995-2005, while student numbers grew by 30 per cent. Rudd used these facts repeatedly in the 2007 election campaign.

In universities, only about 70 per cent of the real costs of government-supported research projects are funded. Teaching is also funded below real cost levels. And the Government's subsidies for teaching are not fully indexed for cost increases.

Three things follow from this "structure of financial incentives", as the business management literature calls it. One, universities lose money on every local student and on most of their research. Two, each year the gap between funding and costs gets wider. Three, each year the universities need more non-government revenues to fill the gap.

For more read here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

E-democracy strikes

Interesting how the use of the Internet, You Tube etc. by governments can bite back, as they seek to open up. This being the latest to strike the walking corpse that is Gordon Brown's New Labour government in Britain:

There have been many joyous postings on the Downing Street website in recent weeks to show the world that No 10 is a happy place.

Scores of pictures of the Downing Street garden in bloom have shown that staff are enjoying the wonders of spring. And of course there are lots of pictures of Gordon Brown holding earnest meetings with world leaders as he works hard to save the world economy.

But what is this? A suggestion has slipped on to the website that all may not be well beyond the iron gates of Downing Street. In fact there is a demand that the prime minister should be evicted.

By 7.00 last night nearly 10,000 people had signed a petition on the Downing Street website calling for the prime minister to resign. The petition, only posted five days ago, simply states: "We the undersigned petition the prime minister to resign".

The petition was posted by Dr Kalvis Jansons, an academic mathematician, who describes himself as a disillusioned "traditional Labour supporter". The "final straw", which persuaded him to post the petition, was the prime minister's initial reluctance to apologise for the emails by his former special adviser Damian McBride smearing the Tories.

Jansons, from Hitchin, Herts, who has taught at University College London, deliberately worded the petition in simple and brief terms to avoid it being blocked by No 10. In a message on the site, he wrote: "There are many reasons why we might want Brown to resign, but rather than having lots of narrow petitions on this topic (most of which have been rejected), I wanted one for all of us."

Jansons told the Press Association: "I wanted a simple, clear, generalised petition which would cover all the bases and comply with their rules. I wanted it to be something that could unite the country."

For the full story, link here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Governance as Social Networking

Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on the Internet and news, politics, governance and citizenship.

Governing as social networking
View more presentations from PewInternet.