Saturday, November 29, 2008

Luddite-lite Murdoch spurns technology

Michael Wolff spills the beans on tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who apparently covets the ownership of the New York Times, in the current Spectator.

To be with Murdoch, to view him, to get inside his head, and to understand how he does business, you have to take away all technology — that is, all the web-searches, all the data, all the correspondence, all the communications resources, that executives everywhere rely on. Murdoch, at 77, can’t use a computer, doesn’t get email, can’t get his cell phone to work properly, can’t even imagine changing the variables on a spread sheet. (The fact that News Corp, which owns MySpace, often bills itself as a technologically farsighted, aggressive and clever company is amusing to everyone there.) During the campaign to take over the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch’s spies and surrogates would email Murdoch’s 39-year-old wife, Wendi, and she’d read to him from her BlackBerry. Indeed, while many people at News Corp were trying to talk about the cross-platform synergies at the Wall Street Journal and the future of electronic publishing, Murdoch was only ever talking about a newspaper.

Psychologically, he is far from modern too. He can’t question his own motivations (a curious problem for a biographer). He truly doesn’t believe in interpretation. His face draws back, and he scowls in a remarkably dismissive way if you try to suggest that there might be a deeper pattern to his actions — that there might be meaning beyond living to fight another day. (When I asked him if I could interview his 99-year-old mother in Australia, he said, ‘I guess you need colour.’) Accordingly, he has surrounded himself with a cadre of unanalysed people who believe it’s best to act before thinking too much. Curiously, his children are reasonably nuanced thinkers, which is perhaps one reason he thinks they are the most brilliant people in the world.

He has no historic interest — even in himself. This sets him at odds from most men of accomplishment, who generally cherish all their achievements. Murdoch hardly remembers his. The past has receded. He cuts himself off from it. In conversation, he often loses or transposes decades. This is only partly age. More to the point, he obviously has no use for memory. That’s a distraction. He is not demoralised by defeats. He’s not aggrandised by victories. When you interview him, you can’t, profitably, ask about what has occurred, you can only engage with him if you talk about what’s going on now. What’s on your mind this morning, Mr M? Who are you feeling competitive with today? What fly is buzzing near your face?

He is, and runs his company like, a newspaper man. He’s a city editor. No more, no less. No better, no worse. What he values is the ability and inclination to make split-second decisions. He’s rather proud when that ability is not slowed by too much information or explanation. He is most motivated by the last interesting thing someone told him — whether it is true is not as important as how it will read. Sitting with Murdoch for so many months, I’d regularly see the odd bits of information come in (my stock obviously went up when I offered him a tidbit), and be directed to a news desk, or become part of his world-view or some instant business decision-making process. (At a cocktail party, he meets someone from Afghanistan, who suddenly informs his view of that conflict; at another party he meets someone who knows a policeman on Long Island, and that colours his view about buying Newsday, the Long Island newspaper.) He has no interest in understanding himself, because he sees himself as an everyman. He’s Mr Basic, Mr Uncomplicated; he has no airs, no fancy aspirations. He can trust his own gut. And why should he remember the past, he has to get out tomorrow’s paper? And once again beat the competition.

I have sometimes had the feeling, over the past year of talking to Murdoch and News Corp executives, that his people are humouring him. That he is not so much, in Andrew Neil’s formulation, the Sun God, who people cannot question, but instead a sort of long-running joke in which everybody at News Corp — so many of them career employees — is complicit. The joke is that this greatest of modern businessmen, the architect of the synergised, cross-platform, integrated, global media company, has no vision, no method, no strategy. Nor, likewise, does this man, perhaps the individual with the single most powerful political voice of our time, have any politics — save for what makes for good newspaper copy (‘Vote for Obama,’ he advised me, during the presidential primary season, ‘he’ll sell more papers’), or puts money in his own pocket. Rather it’s all made up — what he buys, how he spends, what he believes, who he supports — on the fly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't count on a pay parachute if you're fired by USA Today

Now USA Today will eliminate 20 positions next month, according to
Romenesko. These absolutely mad paper cuts keep stinging.
A memo sent Sunday evening says those whose jobs are eliminated will receive severance consisting of 1 week of pay for each completed year of service, with a minimum of 2 weeks and a maximum of 26 weeks of severance.

Talk about a lead parachute! This paltry compensation is a far cry from the usual package of one month's pay for every year as a staffer.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Associated Press will cut 10 per cent of jobs

Hatchetmen are everywhere as the year draws to an end
With perhaps a bit too much glee, the rival wire agency Reuters has reported the impending job slashes at the Associated Press. At least 600 jobs will be axed, about ten per cent of their employees. Whatever next?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Murdoch disses worried journos for 'self-pity' and shrugs off 'cruel future'

In Rupert Murdoch's Boyer Lecture, delivered on Sunday night, the Crikey! website pointed out

He is clearly as enthused about the opportunities presented by digital technology as anyone and, judging by Friday's announcement that David Penberthy has been lined up to run a wholly new, integrated multi-media product that is unlike anything seen in Australia, he is prepared to act on this excitement.

Where others see doom, Murdoch appears to see opportunities, which is what you would hope for in a chief executive. While he is also preparing to make cuts to cover revenue shortfalls (although we would counsel him against savaging his editorial teams), Murdoch is clearly also prepared to invest in journalism, which is refreshing to see.

However he does tend to come over a bit Thatcherite when dismissing the concerns of those in the newsrooms who are worried about their future or concerned they might be left behind as their mastheads rush to new forms of delivery.

He spoke of some journalists as "misguided cynics who are too busy writing their own obituary to be excited by the opportunity". These people he dubbed "doom and gloomers", wrapped in "self-pity", which he says -- rightly -- is "never pretty".

It was all a little redolent of the days when the UK was suffering the worst unemployment for decades and the Tory home secretary advised those who couldn't get a job to "get on your bike" to find work.

Would it were as simple as that. There is pessimism in the industry -- you only have to read any of the news sites -- such as Media Guardian in the UK or Paper Cuts in the US -- to learn almost daily of struggling newspapers announcing plans to retrench more staff. A recent debate about how many journalists you would need to start up a newsroom were all the newspapers to fail in, say, Philadelphia or Dallas (about 35 was the finding of a recent workshop at the City University of New York. That's 10 per cent of the current editorial staff on the Philadelphia Inquirer, by the way).

The Media Alliance recently conducted a survey of newsrooms and found there was a great deal of enthusiasm for new media and the new ways of doing things. Most journalists have accepted that the new landscape means more work, usually over more hours and, again, usually without being paid any more for doing it.

But the biggest concern isn't pay and conditions, it is that their managers, by trying to squeeze a print edition of a newspaper and a constantly updated website out of no extra staff -- indeed, in most cases, less journalists -- risks sacrificing quality.

So it's not self-pity, but pride in their work that is fuelling concern among a lot of journalists.

The other main finding of our research, which we will be releasing in a report on the future of journalism at a major conference in Melbourne on November 26, is that journalists are rarely being given the training they need to face a changing future with any confidence.

This appears to be the main concern of working journalists -- especially our freelance members, but also those actually in the newsrooms: that they will be left behind as the pace of change quickens. For freelance journalists this is a natural concern: their business model has been shaken more profoundly by the digital revolution. They face the double-edged sword of recession, with the concomitant fall in demand for their services, and a revolution in the industry they serve, which is creating in newsrooms a new world at which they can only press their noses against the glass.

But when we talk with members inside newsrooms we get no sense that they are being properly prepared for the way their work is changing. Too often we hear that journalists are "just being given what they need to do their jobs". As our report finds, only a tiny fraction of respondents said they were being given a comprehensive multi-media reskilling.

For all I know our mainstream media is preparing to roll out comprehensive training courses that will turn employees -- in the words of Joanna Geary, a UK blogger on journalism: "from dinosaur to digital natives". Geary has been tasked to design modules to do this over a five-day training course for the Birmingham Evening Post. We could use the same kind of consciousness-raising exercise here.

Next week the Alliance is holding the third of its discussions on the Future of Journalism in Melbourne. We've hosted similar events in Sydney and in Brisbane. Some of what we have heard has been uplifting, some -- frankly -- pretty scary. We've heard Roy Greenslade mourning what he sees as the almost inevitable death of newspapers and Phil Meyer, after more than five decades in journalism, wishing he was just starting out so that he could compete with today's young journalists in using all the exciting new tools available.

Meyer is speaking at our event again next week and he makes for inspiring listening.

You won't hear of doom and gloom from him. But Meyer operates on twin mantras: you must uphold quality if you are to survive and journalists must be given the training they need to compete. He's spent the past twenty-odd years in journalism education doing just that.

And Australian journalists don't want to hear of doom and gloom, either. But like Meyer, they want to remain proud of what they do and they need to be given the skills to flourish in the new world.

Hat tip to Roberta!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Danish Muhammad Cartoonist due back with New Work

What a riot.
One of the controversial Danish cartoonists who sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2005 by drawing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad is set to return soon with new works reflecting on the incident. Kurt Westergaard, the Danish caricaturist forced into hiding after the publication of his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, is set to return with a new set of potentially controversial drawings.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Working hack's hero

Steve Z, aka Adam Smith, has become the blunt-spoken print hack hero of the moment, thanks to a Dutch tv news spot made viral via the blog Gawker. He joined the Obama campaign, mostly to party in a "swinging" state, and by the end of election night, was flat on the sidewalk in Miami Beach and "properly pissed."
Without guile, Steve dmits to being in the debt of the BBC website..."Cut and paste, baby..." Hat Tip to Dion Nissenbaum for the link.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

MSM Coverage of Obama's Historic Win

Some Georgia crackers are still in denial, if this local paper is anything to go by. Get this, the historic victory for Obama, the 44th president and first man of color to win the White House doesn't make it above the fold. But dog bites child in playground makes it. The Brits got a bit more excited, as evidenced by this excitable tabloid spread, below:

Skimming through the usual jumble of headlines on the Drudge Report (Drudgery), the Feral Beast spotted this pair: Republicans Ponder Path to Renewal... Jogger runs mile with rabid fox locked on her arm... and considered briefly whether the featured jogger was a certain keep -fit Sarah Palin, until I realized that she must be back in Alaska, to the first igloo or wherever. Newsweek's snarkiest election line was describing the "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," charging new clothes for Dad and the kids to republican donors. Meanwhile, the Caribou Barbie was sometimes clad in only a couple of towels!

Monday, November 3, 2008

vlad and friend boris presents 'Song for Sarah' for mrs. Palin

Here's a performance for laughter and forgetting before the US election is done...and so perhaps are all of us.

Hat tip to immigration correspondent at the Sacramento Bee for the link!