Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Jackson in the Middle East

Not much to say on Michael Jackson's life and death that others haven't said, but his circualtion as a global symbol of ... something always fascinates me. Enthusiasm for Michael Jackson in the Middle East continues to surprise and interest me, along the lines shown below.

My favourite Michael Jackson moment does not in fact feature Michael Jackson. It is the interrogation scene from Three Kings, where the Iraqi soldier questions a puzzled Mark Wahlberg about what has been happening to Michael Jackson.

NB: transformation of MJ's face at end of clip added by person who put it on You Tube - not part of the original film.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Best Job in the World" as successful social media

Interesting discussion today in The Australian about Tourism Queensland's "Best Job in the World" campaign for Hamilton Island, and how to get value for money for promotional campaigns using social media.

TOURISM Queensland has massively outstripped the performance of Tourism Australia's $40million sponsorship of Baz Lurhman's movie Australia, despite being run on a budget of just $1.7m, according to the chairman of Tourism Queensland.

The Best Job in the World advertising campaign set a new record at the Cannes International Advertising Festival last week when it took an unprecedented three Grand Prixs for public relations, direct advertising and cyber websites.

Tourism Queensland chairman Don Morris said the campaign had evolved into a case study on how to use emerging social media and keep taxpayer funding of such campaigns to a minimum.

"No one has done this as a simple business story," Mr Morris told Media. "This is a seriously interesting case study of how to use social media.

"Tourism Australia put $40m into the Australia movie and it is ranked something like 469. The Queensland government put $1m and partners another $700,000 into the Best Job campaign."

By the end of the campaign last month, when 34-year-old charity events organiser Ben Southall was named the winner, the campaign had outstripped Tourism Queensland's wildest expectations.

More than 34,000 entries from almost 200 countries were submitted and media coverage about the campaign has been valued at more than $200m. At the same time, an estimated three billion people have been exposed to the campaign.

The campaign, which began with simple press ads in newspaper classifieds looking for applicants for The Best Job in the World -- being a caretaker on Hamilton Island for six months -- used websites, YouTube and was an extension of the government's existing Islands of the Barrier Reef campaign.

Mr Morris said that the campaign had attracted attention by offering an experience money can't buy. "It was a hook to gain media and consumer interest," he said.

Mr Morris said while the campaign had been launched in one of Tourism Queensland's core target markets, the UK, it has transcended international boundaries by bringing a massive return on investment in Europe, North America and south east Asia where travel partners such as airlines offered special deals linked to the campaign.

Hamilton Island has already benefited with increased tourist numbers and Amway Australia choosing it as the destination for its 2010 conference.

Last month, Amway Australia general manager Michial Coldwell said publicity surrounding Best Job had tipped the balance in Hamilton Island's favour.

Mr Morris said interest in the outcome of the promotion was so high 22 international and domestic media crews attended the announcement of the winner on Hamilton Island.

He said one of the reasons the campaign attracted so much attention was the simplicity of the core message.

"The whole world gets obsessed about segmentation with tourism," he said. "But you just have to find the right button to press. It hit that button with the universal appeal of The Best Job in the World.

"It trebled the press coverage of the G20 conference in Sydney and the only comparable reference point online was day one of the soccer World Cup. This is really about how to be smart with taxpayers' money."

For information about how Tourism Queensland did it, see here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Celebrating with a Powerpoint

In the aftermath of 'Ute-gate', sections of the media and the blogosphere have enthusiastically taken to psychoanalysing Malcolm Turnbull (see here and here), focusing in particular on the relationship between an absent mother-figure in his childhood, poor political judgement, and a failure to check the source of emails before using them as evidence.

Its good to see the tradition of undertaking amateur psychoanalysis of key Liberal party figures has not disappeared with the departure of Peter Costello, perhaps the most psychoanalysed figure in Australian political history.

Nontheless, why does the Labor Party escape scrutiny in all this, or why is it confined to the likes of Mark Latham? Annabel Crabb offers a corrective to this, with her observation that Kevin Rudd celebrates political victory over his foe Turnbull with ... a Powerpoint presentation.

DIFFERENT people celebrate victory in different ways.

Formula one drivers tip champagne all over their heads. Football players smother each other in hugs. And Kevin Rudd, when he's riding high on a week of political triumph, indulges himself by putting on a PowerPoint presentation.

That's what he did yesterday when he faced his colleagues at the regular caucus meeting, after the bizarre and turbulent fizzing cocktail of events that was Monday.

Such was his excitement about the previous day's vanquishing of Malcolm Turnbull that Rudd allowed himself 20 minutes and many, many transparencies, dealing with bank bond issuances, household consumption, employment patterns calculated with and without the effects of the stimulus package and so on.

A comparison of major country credit spreads showed Australia's position to be very competitive, he explained to his comrades, as their congratulatory cries died upon their lips.

Call this "nerd hubris", I guess.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Social Media and Journalism in Iran

Interesting piece by Brian McNair on social media and journalism in post-election Iran:

Current events in Iran exemplify what I called in a 2006 book, ‘cultural chaos’. A ruling authoritarian elite struggles to maintain control of information and political dominance in a world where online media and satellite news threaten to make everything it does visible to a global audience.

Internally, Iran’s protesters Google, Twitter and Facebook around the censorship, countering the propaganda which fills state media coverage and organising their opposition. The oppressive order of Islamic fundamentalism becomes the dynamic chaos of emerging democracy, and culture - communication - is the catalyst for that phase change.

As I write, the outcome of the protests is uncertain. But there is no doubt that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hold on power has never been more fragile. The Iranian state tries to disrupt email and social networking sites. Mobile phone networks are blocked and satellite dishes confiscated, but those attempts merely add more fuel to the story as reported by a globalised, always-on media, stirring up further revulsion and anger at home and abroad.

In this sense, the globalisation of news media, and the explosion of online means of communication which are, by design, very difficult for authoritarian regimes to control or destroy, is a democratising force. It erodes the barriers which those regimes erect around their countries, breaks their quarantine, raises the global political cost of their behaviour. It brings chaos, but in a good way, the way that leads to the birth of something better.

The presence of new kinds of media is not enough in itself to guarantee progressive change, or to create the public mood which demands it. In the case of Iran, the arrival of Barack Obama and his conciliatory overtures appears to have strengthened the opposition. The parlous state of the Iranian economy has been a domestic issue for a long time, and the sheer extremism of Ahmadinejad’s version of Islam can only provoke resistance in a country with Iran’s cosmopolitan history.

But the impact of these underlying factors is amplified by the globalised media, which give them heightened visibility and force. Everything plays out before a global audience, in BBC and CNN bulletins, or on Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera. Iranians themselves, many of them, are part of that audience, and take strength from the knowledge that the eyes of the world are upon them as they fight for personal freedom and human rights.

This is what happened in Tiananmen Square twenty years ago, when Kate Adie and her media colleagues covered first the pro-democacy protests, then the massacre which followed. The Chinese communists won that battle, but they lost the war, and to this day are still shamed by their actions.

The global media were in Eastern Europe in the velvet revolutions, and in Moscow during the failed coup of 1991, lending their publicity to popular uprisings.

But in Iran, two decades on, there is another factor at work. Alongside the professional journalists and foreign correspondents are armies of ordinary people, armed only with mobile phones and digital cameras, Twitter and Skype accounts, Facebook and MySpace profiles.

While John Simpson and the rest are locked in their hotels, effectively prisoners of the regime, young Iranians keep a flow of uncensored news pouring out of the country – citizen journalists if you like. They are connected to the world beyond, in a way that previous generations of protesters have not been.

Brian McNair is Professor of Journalism & Communication at the University of Strathclyde.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Milne Watch 4 - Worst of the Worst

All that is wrong with national political reporting in Australia could be summed up in two words: Glenn Milne. While there are people who periodically write worse columns, Glenn Milne is the exemplar of the three worst traits that pervade the scene:
  1. Uncritically passing off whatever they have been told by a MP/minister/political staffer as their own thoughts;
  2. An inability to think about any issue in terms other than its immediate tactical advantage to whomever it was they last spoke to;
  3. Absurdly self-righteous commentary about others that are completely unwarranted in light of their own conduct.
The 2007 column about a pissed Kevin Rudd going to the Scores strip club in NYC being in the public interest as it "went to the heart of questions of character" had been the high/low point of this genre of political reportage thus far. But as "Ute-gate" unravels and the questions surrounding the forged e-mail are investigated, we should record these two Milne contributions from 22 June as - we would hope - an epitaph for a style of reporting national affairs, and the time to clean out the stables at News Limited in particular (Insiders needs a look at as well).

Exhibit A

MALCOLM Turnbull has told close colleagues the prime ministerial adviser at the centre of the ute affair admitted to him he was troubled and had not been able to sleep.

According to colleagues briefed on the Opposition Leader's version of his conversation with Andrew Charlton at last week's press gallery Midwinter Ball, it was Charlton -- not Turnbull -- who raised his own role.

The two men were seated next to each other at the ball. After talking about a mutual friend, Turnbull says he gave the generic career advice as "one old man to one young man; always tell the truth".

According to Turnbull's version of events it was Charlton who admitted to worrying about the advice he had given Kevin Rudd.

Charlton was "clearly anxious and stressed" but concluded he had given the Prime Minister the correct advice on OzCar.

Exhibit B

This would be a good time for Kevin Rudd to uphold the standards he expects of others, writes Glenn Milne

LET'S strip this down to its bare basics, shall we?

In a supposedly mature democracy in the 21st century, the leader of an opposition political party uses a newspaper report referring to a leaked email to raise questions about the behaviour of the government and on that basis calls for the resignation of the prime minister of the day.

The same prime minister responds by immediately ordering a police investigation into the opposition leader and the journalist who wrote the story using the full force and authority of the office of the attorney-general and the commissioner of the national police.

And where did this take place -- Tehran, Cairo, Singapore, perhaps? No, in Canberra last week, the capital of Australia, the country whose same Prime Minister is in the middle of a global campaign to secure a seat on the UN Security Council, the ultimate guardian of international human rights. And who at home campaigned during the most recent election campaign for more protection for public service whistleblowers and journalists.

At the same time, the Treasurer in the same government repeatedly refuses a public invitation to explicitly submit either himself or his department to a parallel investigation by the national Auditor-General into the same issue.

Let's take stock here; these are at root seriously worrying developments in the conduct of both our politics and the process of our democracy.

Especially in light of Kevin Rudd's own behaviour. Who can ever forget the basis on which Rudd eventually convinced his own colleagues that he had what it took to lead them? I speak here, of course, of his assiduous demolition of the Howard-led Coalition over its behaviour during the AWB "wheat for weapons" scandal.

During that time Rudd relied repeatedly on information leaked to newspapers to attack Alexander Downer, then foreign minister. And to call for his resignation.

The government of the day did eventually order an inquiry into the issue -- the Cole commission -- but it was into its own behaviour and that of AWB, not Rudd's.

Downer at the time was under enormous pressure and often -- and unconvincingly -- used the defence that he hadn't read relevant emails involving the role of his department. Much as Wayne Swan is now saying he didn't necessarily read the emails sent to his home fax by Treasury officials, Godwin Grech and Andrew Thomas, regarding John Grant Motors.

And while we're at it, what happened to the accepted legal convention that once a police investigation is on foot, politicians should cease making public comments about the case? Rudd whistled up his Attorney-General Robert McClelland to authorise a made-to-order police inquiry (and knowing McClelland to be a thoroughly decent man, I'm sure he's uncomfortable with all this) on Saturday.

Yet there was the Prime Minister, fresh from reconciling himself with God at St John's Church in Canberra yesterday, and here is what he had to say before again calling on the Opposition Leader to resign: "I believe (Malcolm) Turnbull has a fundamental case to answer here. This email is something he and the Liberal Party have boasted of now, for some time."

Well, under Australian law -- assuming that still applies -- the conclusion of whether or not Turnbull has a case to answer is now surely one for the commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to reach based on the evidence provided to him by the Australian Federal Police.

And it's not only in the area of police inquires that decent process and standards are going by the board, sacrificed to the government's attempts to defend Swan. It also goes to public service standards and threats to public servants themselves.

Its hard to top the observation of blogger Possum in Crikey today (written before the whole story unravelled in Parliament):

The political analysis at The Australian has been sliding down a notch or two in the quality stakes recently – but honestly, you’d have to be a lead poisoned crackhead to believe that horseshit.

Binge drinking on the rise among U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

The level of binge drinking, and alcoholism generally, among US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has spiked considerably. It is particularly marked among those on second and third tours of duty. The social consequences of this engagement within the US when all troops return will be truly alarming.

The number of U.S. Army soldiers enrolled in treatment programs for alcohol dependency and damaging behaviors such as binge drinking has nearly doubled since 2003. Experts believe that the stress of frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan is the leading cause.

On Friday, USA Today reported US Army statistics revealing that the number of soldiers diagnosed with alcoholism or problems relating to alcohol abuse such as binge drinking rose from 6.1 out of 1,000 in 2003 to 11 out of 1,000 in the first six months of this year.

Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, said that he believed the rising number of US soldiers that have developed alcohol disorders could be attributed at least in part to the eight consecutive years of combat that the soldiers have been engaged in.

"We're seeing a lot of alcohol consumption," Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told top officers during a briefing on the Army's growing number of suicides.

Even in Muslim countries where alcohol is prohibited, excessive drinking among military personnel in these war zones was still an enormous issue, according to experts attending a conference in New York last month.

Panelists at the conference sponsored by the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse pointed to multiple tours of duty in highly combative zones with limited contact with family or visits to home as being to blame.

For more read here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Times shuts down blog

Jean Seaton at the University of Westminster has written in The Guardian about a court action undertaken by The Times in the UK to expose who the anonymous blogger was behind the well-regarded Night Jack police rounds blog. This case was also discussed at Larvatus Prodeo.

As soon as the High Court ruled yesterday that police blogger NightJack could be named , the Times triumphantly did so. An earlier injunction, which perhaps was to let an ordinary bobby not equipped with the press defence equipment of a celebrity have time to prepare for the onslaught, was overturned. The Press Complaints Commission to which he had appealed had provided no assistance at all.

We hope that Detective Constable Richard Horton won't lose his job, although he has been through what may be one of the fastest disciplinary processes in police history and been given a written reprimand. He has already been doorstepped by photographers and his award-winning blog has disappeared – and a window that had opened on to the way in which policeman go about their work, bristling with insights into contemporary Britain, has been slammed shut.

In a rather Orwellian way, history is being rewritten – it is as if it had never existed. Horton won the Orwell Prize for blogging because in an increasingly competitive field he offered such a distinct voice. And because it took you to the heart of policing in a gripping way: it was old-fashioned reporting but in the new time frame of an unfolding story. In particular it reeked of somewhere local, regional, a particular part of Britain as well as the particular place of being a policeman.

The Orwell Prize judges – Jenny Abramsky, Ian Jack, Ferdinand Mount and Geoffrey Wheatcroft – pounced on this blog: it was, indeed, in the public interest and fulfilled Orwell's ambition "to turn political writing into an art".

Before Horton's entry to the prize went forward we did, in fact, check rather carefully that he was what he said he was. He did not come to the prize giving, and the money went to the Police Benevolent Fund (I saw the cheque being made out).

Blogging anonymity has to be tested in various ways. But, surely what matters is the accuracy and insight of the information. No one has disputed what this blog said: it was not illegal, it was not malicious. Indeed, in a world where local reporting is withering away as the economic model for supporting it disappears, we know less and less about our non-metropolitan selves and this lack of attention will surely lead to corruption. So this blog was a very good example of reporting bubbling up from a new place.

What is puzzling is the Times attack. The paper has made an intelligent use of blogs, and has been good at fighting the use of the courts to close down expression. NightJack was a source and a reporter. They would not (I hope) reveal their sources in court. Even odder is their main accusation against him: that the blog revealed material about identifiable court cases. The blog did not do this – cases were disguised. However, once the Times had published Horton's name then, of course, it is easy to find the cases he was involved with. The Times has shut down a voice.

Blogs as a form are no more reliable or "true" than any other kind of journalism. That is why we started a blog prize – to try to help people to find the interesting ones. This decision damages our capacity to understand ourselves just when we need new forms to develop. After Tuesday's ruling, would you blog about your workplace?

Jean Seaton is director of the Orwell Prize and professor of media history at the University of Westminster

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran: Views in the Western Media

As it appears that the stand off around the disputed Iranian election result could take some time to play itself out, there is the chance to look at how this is being picked up in the Western media.

As Jason Wilson has noted, a dominant motif is that this is the social media or Twitter-driven revolution. Although some of the claims being made appear premature, this is not stopping some overblown claims being made, such as that of Jeff Jarvis that Twitter is "the keystone in the architecture of the new infrastructure of unstoppable freedom of speech and democracy".

And, hey, I thought it was so you could find out about Lindsay Lohan's breasts or where Ashton Kutcher is right now.

But we've been here before. From Rupert Murdoch's claims in the early 1990s that satellite TV could bring down the Chinese government to more recent absurd claims about Twitter triggering the "Moldovan revolution", the idea that media technologies force political regime change has had a run on many occasions and been found wanting. According to his blog, Jarvis is pronouncing the end of dictatorships on Al-Jazeera:

I recorded a Skype video interview for Al Jazeera English that will air at 20000 GMT today and looked at the camera and said, “Despots, beware.” Your days are numbered. This is more than a revolution. It is an evolution in the architecture of speech and freedom.

I am reminded here of this famous warning to sceptics, from the legendary Criswell in 1953:

But Jeff Jarvis is certainly open to the possibilities of people taking matters into their own hands, even if he overstates the global significance of You Tube and Twitter. Not so Seamus Milne in The Guardian, who seems to see the whole thing as an orchestrated campaign by the US and its Western allies against Mahmoud Ahmedinijad.

That is also reflected in the western media, whose cameras focus so lovingly on Tehran's gilded youth and for whom Ahmadinejad is nothing but a Holocaust-denying fanatic. The other Ahmadinejad, who is seen to stand up for the country's independence, expose elite corruption on TV and use Iran's oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority, is largely invisible abroad ... If Ahamdinejad was in fact the winner, then there is an attempted coup going on in Tehran right now, and it is being led by Mousavi and his western-backed supporters.

One consequence of the Bush administration's foreign policy was that it reignited a Cold War world-view on the left, where reflex anti-Americanism and the sense that the US was behind everything would lead to routine support for whoever was opposed to the US and to Western foreign policy. Ahmedinijad is a very unlikely figure for the Western left to align with - his quite vocal anti-Semitism would seem to present at least one obstacle - but "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" mindset can be a hard one to break with.

As I noted in an earlier post, we will never know the actual result of the Iranian election (Ahmedinijad could have actually won), but enough analysis can be done of the official dats to reveal that it is fraudulent, and that is what has been the trigger for the protests. Yes, Teheran is where the mobile phone owning, Internet accessing, Twittering urban middle classes are, but the line that such people are the stooges of U.S. foreign policy is predictable and vacuous. Iranians are quite capable of demanding democratic accountability from their leaders without help from the U.S. State Department.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How reliable is the information from Iran?

Good article from The Guardian about the issues arising about how to determine the reliability of information coming through from Iran via social media sites.

The internet is a brilliant machine for spreading information. Data shoots across the network at the speed of light, passing from one node to another. It's unmotivated by fear or repression or greed, and can shine a torch into the darkest corners to help bring what was hidden to the world.

The uprising in Iran has been a perfect case in point - despite state censorship, the suppression of journalists and the shutdown of communications - the story has been covered from almost every angle: and the internet - as I've written before this week - has played a vital part in getting the information out.

(Some of the public nature of the information has been sparked in part, it seems, by the surprisingly robust design of Twitter and the fact that instant messaging services from Google, Microsoft and AOL have been turned off in Iran as part of US sanctions. Would an uprising have commanded so much of the internet's attention if conversations were happening privately, between Iranians, in Farsi?)

For more read here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Innovative blogging on the Iranian election

I am pleased to see that Aussie expat Craig Bellamy has put together an as it happens blog on the events in Iran in the aftermath of the disputed elections. I noted yesterday the minute by minute reportage coming from Andrew Sullivan's blog, and The Guardian has put together an excellent news blog on this.

In Australia, the bloggers themselves can be their own worst enemies. In a generally self-congratulatory discussion on Larvatus Prodeo about what a fool Christian Kerr from The Australian was, I put up this post:

Just to take the conversation out of the realms of the Canberra cognoscenti for a moment, I can agree with all of this about the likes of Christian Kerr and David Penberthy BUT…

At the moment I think what is happening in Iran is very interesting. It confirms that social media is not just apolitical fluff and chasing around Ashton Kutcher, but may have a political significance at certain moments. At the same time, I am quite glad that there are “journos as hard men of the streets” like John Simpson, who are employed by places like the BBC, and who have a very clear understanding of how to cover events like those currently happening in places like Teheran.

I’ve been following Andrew Sullivan’s blog, among other things, on this, and his observation on the MSM and the blogosphere and MSM-bashing is interesting in relation to these events:

Some of it is overblown. The NYT’s Lede blog has been outstanding, as I’ve said for the past several days. PBS and NPR are doing important work. Many MSM reporters are risking their lives to report this story from within Iran and we bloggers should honor their courage and work. Most of the photos I’ve published come from Getty and the remarkable Olivier Laban-Mattei. Cable news is useless, but we knew that already. But the future is a fusion of MSM tradition and new media open-source news gathering, aggregating, editing, filtering.

While some responses were well thought through, others were of the stock standard "You can't trust the mainstream media" stuff:

Terry yes, there are plenty of journalists still out there gathering primary data and reporting it, which is what I think we would all like journalists to do. However an increasing number of these ‘news’ stories consist of little more than summaries of what various anonymous people allegedly said, all written to support the journo’s evaluative opinion piece … one usually presented in the context of an argument full of assumptions about causation and implications for a particular interpretation of likely future developments.

Ken Lovell - well said. I also note that these unsourced reports are usually chockablock full of loaded epithets, of which my particular fave is ‘moderate’, closely followed by ‘reformist’. Both are usual in discussions of ‘hot spots’ in foreign correspondentdom and denote, if not actually paid agents of the CIA, at least willing Quislings.
As there is little point in being poster #60 responding to poster #40 responding to poster #25, I thought I'd reiterate a few points about what seems to be happening in Teheran:

  1. The West is not behind these protests. Iranians are making their own judgements, and taking matters into their own hands. Barack Obama's foreign policy strategy in the region was premised upon the idea that he would still be dealing with Ahmadinejad after the election, who was the devil they knew. The U.S and others like Britain are basically playing catch up, and decidedly unsure on whether to support the uprising;
  2. Blogging, You Tube, Twitter and other social media have been central to getting the messgae out to the wider world. The idea that this is all apolitical fluff that is about following Ashton Kulcher around and "are not terms that signal any form of collective intelligence, creativity or networked socialism [but] are directives from the Central Software Committee" (to quote a recent pooh-poohing manifesto from the land of Digital Media High Theory) is actually being exposed in a sharp light on the streets of Teheran right now;
  3. The mainstream media are not a monolith in relation to these matters. Several people have commented on the appalling lack of coverage on the U.S. cable networks, the BBC has been great, as has The Guardian and the New York Times news blog The Lede. Moral: don't write off media outlets that invest in serious coverage of international affairs. Bloggers are not filling this gap at this stage.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Understanding what is happening in Iran

In trying to understand what has happened in Iran since the election results came through, there is a need to avoid two temptations of the Western observer following this through the Western media:

  1. The temptation to assume that people in countries where there is anti-Western feeling only vote for leaders who express that feeling because they are manipulated by the media and the government. Not only does this ignore the extent to which manipulation occurs in Western democracies; it also obliterates the significance of the history of colonialism and the manifest inequalities in the global system;
  2. The temptation to align with the candidate who people support who seem to be "most like us". This can become particularly easy if they also make use of the Internet, Facebook, My Space, You Tube, Twitter etc. Not surprisingly, this will be the younger middle class.
While both of these are possibilities with the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran this weekend, the extensiveness and spontaneity of the uprisings that have followed suggest that a real fault line has emerged in post-1979 Iranian society, and that the suppression of popular feeling has reached a critical mass.

Soem of the online coverage of this has been excellent. Via Andrew Sullivan's site, there is an analysis of the official figures from Nate Silver that suggests that these figures verge on the completely impossible. Juan Cole points to problems with the assumption that the poor voted for Ahmadinejad, and the vote for Mir-Hossein Mousavi is an urban middle class phenomenon (which has become the quasi-official line). Interesting discussion on this site as well.

Excellent coverage from the BBC and John Simpson in Teheran. Not so CNN which has been attacked for failing to pay attention to the story as it was breaking very publicly and very visibly.

Aside from SBS, the Australian coverage has generally been poor, despite the significant number of Iranians living, working and studying in Australia.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Aged News?

Jon Stewart's The Daily Show is already writing the obituary for newspapers. Check the question here about whether the New York Times only has "aged news", and the Woodward and Bernstein questions.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
End Times
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

Monday, June 8, 2009

Eighteen Challenges in Contemporary Literature

Bruce Sterling in WIRED online projects on the difficulties faced for literature and book publishing today. Below are what he sees as eighteen challenges for contemporary literature:

1. Literature is language-based and national; contemporary society is globalizing and polyglot.

2. Vernacular means of everyday communication — cellphones, social networks, streaming video — are moving into areas where printed text cannot follow.

3. Intellectual property systems failing.

4. Means of book promotion, distribution and retail destabilized.

5. Ink-on-paper manufacturing is an outmoded, toxic industry with steeply rising costs.

6. Core demographic for printed media is aging faster than the general population. Failure of print and newspapers is disenfranching young apprentice writers.

7. Media conglomerates have poor business model; economically rationalized “culture industry” is actively hostile to vital aspects of humane culture.

8. Long tail balkanizes audiences, disrupts means of canon-building and fragments literary reputation.

9. Digital public-domain transforms traditional literary heritage into a huge, cost-free, portable, searchable database, radically transforming the reader’s relationship to belle-lettres.

10. Contemporary literature not confronting issues of general urgency; dominant best-sellers are in former niche genres such as fantasies, romances and teen books.

11. Barriers to publication entry have crashed, enabling huge torrent of subliterary and/or nonliterary textual expression.

12. Algorithms and social media replacing work of editors and publishing houses; network socially-generated texts replacing individually-authored texts.

13. “Convergence culture” obliterating former distinctions between media; books becoming one minor aspect of huge tweet/ blog/ comics/ games / soundtrack/ television / cinema / ancillary-merchandise pro-fan franchises.

14. Unstable computer and cellphone interfaces becoming world’s primary means of cultural access. Compositor systems remake media in their own hybrid creole image.

15. Scholars steeped within the disciplines becoming cross-linked jack-of-all-trades virtual intelligentsia.

16. Academic education system suffering severe bubble-inflation.

17. Polarizing civil cold war is harmful to intellectual honesty.

18. The Gothic fate of poor slain Poetry is the specter at this dwindling feast.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Chaser - Offensiveness or Satire?

Now that the ABC Chaser team have been sent to the sin bin by ABC management for two weeks after the "Make a Realistic Wish Foundation" sketch, and the offending material has been removed form the ABC web site, thank goodness for You Tube so that we can preserve the material and make our own calls on it. With everyone from Kevin Rudd to Miranda Devine saying this is inappropriate humour, you can make your own calls on it.

The most dubious claims of being offended come from the Seven and Nine networks. The Nine news in Brisbane on Thursday night made this the lead story, ahead of the State of Origin game, the resignation of Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Barack Obama's speech in Eqypt. Given that both Seven and Nine are rumoured to have offered contracts to the Chaser team, and that poking fun of Today Tonight and A Current Affair was a staple of their show last year, do I sense a whiff of vengeance going on here?

More here on comedy and offensiveness. Interesting point made by comedian Dan Ilic about whether people would be as offended if the joke was made by a character, as with shows such as Little Britain. Or, even better, when offensive jokes are made by animated characters, as with South Park.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Umbrellas in Tiananmen - June 4, 2009

When I was young, I thought it odd that my mother would put up an umbrella on a sunny day. Well, it appears that Chinese security personnel also think its a good idea. Particularly on June 4, 2009 - the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square incident.

Update: somewhere between 63,000 (police estimate) and 150,000 (organiser estimate) hold a commemorative rally on June 4 at Victoria Park in Hong Kong. Surprisingly little international media coverage of this rally.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Twitter blocked in China before June 4

There are a range of news stories about (here and here and here) about how the Chinese authorities have blocked access to social media sites including Twitter, You Tube, Flickr and MSN Hotmail prior to the 20th anniversary of the Tiannemen Square crackdown on June 4, 2009. This story won't be blocked, as my understanding is that Blogger is always blocked in China.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

News goes for The Punch

News Limited went public on Monday June 1 with its new online site The Punch.

According to editor David Penberthy (former editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph):

The Punch is a new opinion website aimed at every Australian with a love of ideas, discussion and debate.

It’s not a fancy, la-di-dah site aimed at people with three university degrees, nor is it a site for yobbos who want to engage in mindless abuse.

It’s a place for spirited, sleeves-up, energetic, engaging commentary, written by people who enjoy writing, for people who enjoy reading.

It has a full-time team of four writers (Penberthy, Tory Maguire, Leo Shanahan and Paul Colgan), and an eclectic group of signed on occasional contributors:

Our political contributors include Mike Rann, Maxine McKew, Anthony Albanese, Joe Hockey, Mark Arbib, Nick Xenophon, Barnaby Joyce, Jason Clare, Scott Morrison, John Cobb, Jamie Briggs, George Brandis, Chris Pyne, Michael Costa, Bronwyn Bishop and Peter Dutton, as well as Mark Textor, Peter Lewis, David Gazard and Tim Gartrell.

Our sportswriters include Kate Ellis, Ben Buckley, Anthony Sharwood and Luke Foley, on business and economics we have Clive Mathieson, Steve Keen, Frank Zumbo and Cameron England, and a broad suite of writers including Catharine Lumby, Tracey Spicer, Fergus Linehan, Ed Charles, Clive Small, Matt Kirkegaard and Nedahl Stelio covering entertainment, technology, food, fashion, crime, movies, music and trends.

The Punch will also include exclusive original content from established and emerging News Limited journalists including Joe Hildebrand, Dennis Atkins, Di Butler, Alan Howe, Alex Dickerson, Tory Shepherd, as well as journos from other outlets including Leigh Sales from the ABC and Fiona Connolly from ACP.

Much of our content will be News Limited content. But it will also come from people at independent news sites, from people who aren’t in journalism but are great writers, from people at rival news organisations whose work on The Punch opens them, and us, up to new audiences. And every morning we will link through to content on sites which we own, but also on sites which we don’t own, to give you the most enjoyable reading experience.

Suggesting that Penberthy may be reading this blog, he notes:

Against this backdrop, our hope for the site is this: at a time when every tenured communications academic on the planet is sending tiny urls via twitter, linking you through to wrist-slashing stories about the apparent death of journalism, we want to demonstrate that journalism is alive and well.
Commentary on The Punch can be found online at Larvatus Prodeo, Club Troppo and Public Opinion. Not surprisingly, the blogosphere is not enthised by News's entry into their patch.

Two lines of cricicism have been most common. The first is whether you can make a site of this nature work without some commitment to quality writing, even if that means writing for "people with three university degrees". Hell, I will have five by year's end (six if you see Honours as a separate year!), and my own suspicion is that it is a lot more common than David Penberthy may be allowing for to find people who regualrly read and post to blogs having above-average levels of educational qualification (and don;t interpret that as saying they are smarter, just sayin' ...).

The second is that it is opinion, not journalism, and that most of the contributions come at no cost. All true, and it may be causing some ructions wihtin News, particularly for those who get paid to write opinion, and now face also having to write for The Punch, or perhaps having their work replaced by material sourced from The Punch. This may indeed come to pass - I first became aware of the site by reading Penberthy's piece on Australians abroad on The Australian online - but it does seem odd for bloggers to be criticising other media outlets for drawing on crowdsourced free labour as an alternative to paid professional journalism. Isn't that what many have been arguing is the future?

At any rate, the fact that News has gone for The Punch indicates above all else that the Crikey model (and that of other sites such as On Line Opinion) is getting audiences and commerical traction, and that going head-to-head with them is a sure sign that this is being acknowledged. That siad, we'll know whether this site is getting readers in a way that matters when we see regular postings from the likes of Mike Rann, Anthony Albanese, Barnaby Joyce and Chris Pyne.

Monday, June 1, 2009

ABC Regional Hubs and Hyper-Local Citizen Journalism

Its not often that I find myself in agreement with columnists in The Australian, but Mark Day's analysis of the Federal Government's decision to support the ABC in developing online regional hubs is to me pretty valid. The decision has been criticized by regional media interests such as APN, Prime Television and Rural Press (owned by Fairfax Media) but, as Day notes in relation to hyper-local online media hubs, "Where have the APN and Rural Press people been these past 15 years?".

The decision is consistent with recommendations made by Stuart Cunningham, Axel Bruns, Jason Wilson and myself to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy's Review of National Broadcasting in the latter part of last year. It points to the affordances of new digital media technologies in re-scaling the mandate of public broadcasters to the local and regional and not simply the national, while also opening up new opportunities for including citizens as media participants in ways that Web 2.0 technologies allow.