McLuhan’s aphorism rules at The Global Mail, alas

The Global Mail masthead“The medium is the message”, the sole phrase that seems to remembered of Marshall McLuhan’s work, certainly held true in Friday’s story at The Global Mail, Twitter Tackles Open Government.

The piece is a follow-up to an article published on Thursday, Why So Secretive?, by OpenAustralia founders Katherine Szuminska and Matthew Landauer — a stinging attack which alleges that Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is “unlawfully obstructing over 100 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the general public in an attempt to maintain secrecy”.

Friday’s article centres on a subsequent discussion on Twitter between DIAC national communications manager and “avid tweeter”, as The Global Mail quaintly describes him, Sandi Logan.

In 2013, isn’t it just a bit retro to draw attention to someone using Twitter a bit? Particularly when it’s their job to respond to public comment?

Anyway, here’s what I tried to post as a comment at The Global Mail just now, only to be told: “Your comment was unable to be posted at this time. We apologise for the inconvenience.”

The medium truly is the message. The first of Logan’s statements quoted in this story contains 68 words of substantive content, counting the URLs as one word each, and 48 of those are a direct quote from legislation.

Anywhere else this would be a “brief statement”, perhaps even a “terse statement” if the journalist was wanting to pre-judge Logan’s mood on the readers’ behalf — but I was once taught not to do that because it’s editorialising.

But because Logan’s words are spread across four tweets, it becomes a “flurry”. Really?

The Macquarie Dictionary gloss for “flurry”, skipping over the literal weather-related ones, is: “3. commotion; sudden excitement or confusion; nervous hurry.”

Logan’s entire conversation reads to me as a perfectly level-headed conversation with critics. Certainly his initial comment is one simple, coherent paragraph, spread across four tweets only because the limits of the medium demand it.

Now that I’m blogging this, I’ll add my usual gripe about the headline.

“Twitter Tackles Open Government”? No, the San Francisco-based company did no such thing. Nor did the abstract communications network that operates via their servers. People tackled a DIAC staffer. And as far as I can see, all but one of the people quoted was a journalist. The medium through which that happened is hardly relevant.

A handful of journalists and sprinkling of public policy advocates is hardly representative of Twitter users as a whole. If we analysed the level of Twitter discussion about DIAC that night, in comparison with the global firehose of tweets, I doubt that we’d even see a prostate-corked dribble.

Still, a more accurate headline, such as “A few journalists question a media adviser”, would detract somewhat from the “power to the people” theme.

The icing on the cake for me is that the article is about demands for DIAC to be more transparent, and that commenters at The Global Mail are advised that “you have a lot more credibility when you use your full name”, and yet it’s bylined… “By Staff”.

Goose, gander etc, folks.

[Disclosure: I know Katherine Szuminska and Matthew Landauer, and have had dinner and drinks with them on numerous occasions. For what it’s worth, I generally support their calls for more government transparency. Browsing through what I’ve written previously will soon reveal my attitude towards the government’s asylum-seeker policies.]

Talking The Global Mail on 2SER’s Fourth Estate

2SER 207.3 Real Radio logoThe ructions at new media outlet The Global Mail have been in the media a bit, from Matthew Knott’s damning piece at Crikey to my own whinge, Sydney Harbour “giant gambling den” bullshit reportage.

I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when I was contacted by journalist Charmaine Wong from the Radio 2SER media program, Fourth Estate. After all, the outlet has just celebrated its first birthday.

Here’s the full audio of her final story, which also includes comments from Dr Matthew Ricketson from the University of Canberra, publisher Graeme Wood, and a student who didn’t seem to be aware that The Global Mail does actually have a Twitter account.

Ricketson reckons we shouldn’t be too harsh on The Global Mail in its “early days”, but it’s been an entire year now. Some of these problems should have been sorted long ago, in my opinion. What do you think?

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This audio is presumably ©2013 Radio 2SER. This is a re-compressed version of the original on their website.

Sydney Harbour “giant gambling den” bullshit reportage

Map showing "giant gambling den in relation to Sydney Harbour: click to embiggen“Is A Billionaire Former Scientologist Shaping Sydney Harbour Into A Giant Gambling Den?”, asked the headline in an email this morning from The Global Mail. Is he? Let’s see!

The story in TGM, the philanthropic media project of Graeme Wood, also a key investor in The Guardian’s forthcoming Australian edition, is obviously about plans by James Packer to build a casino at Sydney’s Barangaroo development.

The proposal is controversial, certainly. But Sydney Harbour becoming a “giant gambling den”? FFS! If it’s not immediately obvious why this is complete bullshit, I’ve drawn a picture for you. A special kind of picture called a “map”.

The black bit is Sydney Harbour, traced from Google Maps. The red bit is the entire proposed casino complex, assuming this report in the Sydney Morning Herald is still roughly correct. You might have to click through to the full-size map to see the red bit.

Sydney Harbour is clearly not becoming a “giant gambling den”. Sydney Harbour will be changed in a way that will be barely noticeable, at least if your global perspective manages to make it any further west than Glebe Point Road. And I’d have thought that the intelligent, well-educated people at TGM would be able to figure that out for themselves.

We were told that The Global Mail was about “quality journalism”, but apparently it’s just another in a long series of comfortable colour supplements for Sydney’s whining middle class, with bonus points for waving the good ol’ Scientology scare-stick.

The story itself is by Nick Bryant, whose work I like. He’s got a biography of Packer coming out, so I assume the article — which I haven’t read yet — is an extract from that book and somewhat better than the promotion it’s been burdened with suggests. I’ll let you know once I’ve read it.

Guardian Australia not the droid you’re looking for

The Guardian masthead: click for media releaseThere’s something weird and creepy about the way journalists and other media tragics have been fawning gape-jawed over this morning’s official announcement that The Guardian is launching an Australian edition. Mummy England will save us from the evil Mr Murdoch!

What, like some weird hybrid lefty combat nanny droid, constructed in the UK’s finest media laboratories out of the Queen, Sigourney Weaver (as Ripley) and Brooke Vandenberg, strapping itself into the drop ship to bring quality journalism back to the colony planet?

I even saw one highly-experienced media professional say it was great to see people trying new things. “New”? Which bit about this is “new”, exactly? Words and a few pictures on a website, written by the same kinds of people that have always written them?

It’s all being spun as a positive thing, of course, and the reporting so far seems to be swallowing the party line. The Guardian expands, challenges existing operators, media diversity quality journalism democracy commitment innovation groundbreaking unique take blah blah effing blah fuck it kill me now.

Knowing nothing more than what’s in the media release, let’s do a bit of old-fashioned follow-the-money…

Continue reading “Guardian Australia not the droid you’re looking for”

Talking “The Global Mail” on Radio 2SER

I thought I’d be too busy today to pay much attention to the new quality Australian news outlet The Global Mail. But then around 2pm I got a call from Radio 2SER in Sydney asking for a comment.

And so it was that at 2.30pm I was interviewed for the station’s current affairs program The Wire by Calliste Weitenberg, along with The Global Mail’s managing editor Monica Attard.

If you haven’t caught up with this yet, The Global Mail has no advertising and no subscription fees. It’s funded entirely by philanthropy — in this case $15 million over five years from Wotif founder Graeme Wood, a man I previously called an arsehat over another matter.

The radio story includes my approval of the new masthead’s long-form journalism and the experience of the editorial team, and notes that it’s easy to differentiate between Wood’s open philanthropy or the similar position held by Al Jazeera and the more power-hungry approach of Rupert Murdoch or would-be media magnate Gina Rinehart.

What it omits is my observation that despite Attard’s claim that everyone is their audience the staff seem almost entirely white middle-aged middle-class types, that you can’t possibly be everything to all people, and that I’m hanging out for things like database journalism and innovative storytelling techniques.

And don’t get me started on the custom sideways scrolling that simple doesn’t respond to trackpad gestures on my MacBook Pro.

But all that said, it’s only Day One for The Global Mail. I wish them well.

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The audio is ©2012 2SER-FM 107.3, and you can download a podcast of the entire episode. But as usual I’m archiving and mirroring the relevant segment here.