Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is it time for us to come clean about what we really do?

I wonder if it isn't time that we come clean and admit that the purpose of journalism isn't actually to give 'a voice to the voiceless'? That it isn't about 'keeping the powerful ccountable'? That publishers and editors don't set out to every day to serve their communities? That, instead, when all is said and done, journalism is simply about creating wealth.

That, at least, would seem to be a reasonable conclusion if Pelle Anderson is to be believed. Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age, recently asked Anderson and three other designers to rethink how the New York Times ('the Grey Lady') coulld adapt to "the new consumer realities of the 21st century." Anderson made this point:

The core business idea of any newspaper (although the publishers and editors tend to avoid admitting to this) is to deliver a number of readers to the advertisers, or, more precisely, a certain exposure of the ads to a specific audience. The time the readers spend with the papers is the currency the newspapers sell to advertisers, and that time has been steadily diminishing since the '60s. What to do? To just go on producing what to a large extent is an increasingly irrelevant newspaper, like the New York Times does, is not a good idea.

The laws of the market apply to the New York Times as well, and species that don’t adapt will eventually perish. The future is coming, and it's coming fast.

If Anderson is right, then perhaps it could be argued that if those quaint notions about the public purpose of journalism have any use at all, it would be to keep pesky legislators at bay and to allow us to insist that (for the most part) we deserve free access to the raw materials of our enterprise (information)? Perhaps, too, the so-called 'Chinese Wall' that once divided newsrooms and their their public-service ambitions from advertising departments with their profit motives was simply a useful construct by owners and bonus-driven managers to keep a steady flow of talented idealists working long hours for low wages?

Or am I missing something?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Making media matches

The World Editors Forum weblog reports that a recent survey has shown that almost every second American television station has a tie-in with a newspaper, which got me in the matchmaking mood.

My fist choice for a South African media match would be the SABC and Daily Sun. Why? Well, both Dr Snuki Zikala of the SABC and Dion du Plessis of the Daily Voice seem to be taking their journalistic mandate of "giving a voice to the voiceless" seriously. Du Plessis says the Daily Sun gives a platform to people you've probably never heard of (citizens), while the SABC has been under fire for being a mouthpiece of those to whom you seldom want to listen (government officials). I'm sure the two giants of the local media market will be able to find lots of ways to share resources.

Any suggestions for other media matches?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The (other) N***** who caused all the trouble

Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi says the coverline of the August 7 edition was just a bit of fun (see left). "It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek," he says, "and provocative, but never to offend." But offend, he did. The phone rang off the hook, he says in his latest "Editor's Note". The mailbox was flooded with letters. "Some of the callers were apoplectic with anger."

Mbthombothi must be relieved that Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs ruled on 27 May 2005 that South Africans have a constitutional right to laugh. (Case CCT 42/07 was about the squabble between Laugh It Off Inc and SAB, who didn't think the 'Black Labour, White Guilt' T-shirt was a laughing matter at all. For more background see: ) .

Paragraph 107 of Sachs' judgement is particularly relevant:

...The Constitution cannot oblige the dour to laugh. It can, however,
prevent the cheerless from snuffing out the laughter of the blithe spirits
among us.
Indeed, if our society became completely solemn because of the
exercise of state power at the behest of the worthy, not only would all
irrelevant laughter be suppressed, but temperance considerations could end
up placing beer-drinking itself in jeopardy. And I can see no reason in
principle why a joke against the government can be tolerated, but one at the
expense of what used to be called Big Business, cannot
[emphasis added].

So, yes, Mthombothi has a Constitution right to kid around a bit. But did his joke make for good journalism?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

TIP: A really simply way to keep up with the news

The other day I was asked, once again: "How do you keep up with the latest news from around the world?"
The answer: RSS or Really Simple Syndication software which automatically pushes the latest news from a variety of my preferred news sources directly to my desktop. Of course, the sites must be appropriately enabled. I use SharpReader v0.9.5.1, but there are many other free programmes available for download here.

These are on my list right now:

SA news - Independent Online & Mail&Guardian Online

UK news - The FT (recently named the best paper in the world), the Guardian and, of course, BBC Online

US news - the New York Times and Time magazine

Other news - I also follow a number of blogs to keep up with news and gossip in the journalism industry and a couple others besides.

Those I'd like to subscribe to - but can't because they don't allow RSS feeds - include: News24 and TheMedia .

Got any suggestions for other sites to keep tabs on?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Page 3 girls and other questions about tabloids

The phenomenal rise of South Africa's tabloids has got tongues wagging within the country's borders - and beyond. For a summary, see this recent post on World Editors Forum weblog.

Perhaps we should build up a reference list of research on tabloids? What about a list of tips on how trainers can better prepare would-be journalists for positions in this fast-growing segment of the industry?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Want to know your EQ?

There weren’t many options when we got to Groovy Movies & Take-Aways in the West Coast village of St Helena Bay on Sunday. So, after negotiating with my partner, we settled on “Spiderman 2”. It gave me another chance to watch my new favorite movie newspaper editor, J.K. Simmons as the cigar-chomping Daily Bugle boss J. Jonah Jameson. He's a crass, cynical sensation monger and he doesn't care who knows it. Like everything else in "Spiderman," he's a homage to the prototype.

Stricter labour laws and union watchdogs have probably cut down the numbers of those who follow the “J. Jonah Jameson Approach to Editorial Management”. Not too many editors working today can get away with shouting, "You're fired!" Still, anecdotal evidence suggests that more than a few newsroom managers (and others) could use some help with developing their Emotional Intelligence (EI) quotients.

The first step, of course, would be to know where one stands. One's EQ, if you will. Well, here’s a chance. A colleague of mine is looking for participants for research into (EI). The research is all online and involves completing a number of questionnaires.

Taking part has several benefits. It’ll give you a chance to actually experience some of the standardized measures of EI that are used for both research and assessment, and for developmental (i.e., educational or occupational) purposes. Those who take part in the research will also get an assessment of their emotional intelligence, happiness and satisfaction with life, as well as interpretations of these scores.

If you want more information, contact of Kathryn Gardner, at the University of Central Lancashire's Department of Psychology.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Just what we need

Such a forum is just what we need. Well done Francois for starting one.


Hi Francois and all
Just to let you know I also joined the blog - looking forward to following the debates here.
Herman Wasserman

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Some gossip about Gilbert

A little hearsay from the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) Annual General Meeting this week: '... a more committed journalism trainer you couldn't wish to meet.'
And who was being gossiped about? Gilbert Mokwatedi of Tshwane University of Technology.

Now, I've never actually met Gilbert, but the Oxford University Press editors knew that he had been using an earlier version of Writing for the Media and got him to write something nice about the latest edition for the back cover. Unfortunately, they could only use a few sentences of it, so I thought I might be a good idea to publish the whole piece here.

Over to you, Gilbert:

The world is changing and the media can't be left behind. For the media, the change is visible with regard to technology, culture and the treatment of information itself. Journalists should accommodate new thinking. What worked 10 years ago might not work today.
Walker Lundy, an editor and executive vice president of the Philadelphia Inquirer summed it up with these words: "If you are not in a newsroom that's trying to change, you should be worried".
Education and training are some of the forums and mechanisms enabling journalists to meet the tide and pace of changes.
François Nel's third edition of Writing for the Media comes at the right time when media and non-media practitioners are complaining about the state of journalism in the country and looking for solutions. Computer Assisted Reporting and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are some of the buzzwords in the media industry. The book comes in handy as it includes a list of available resources relevant to each chapter and also covers new developments in information technology.

PS. The Pew Centre's comprehensive 'State of the Media' report details some of the changes in the US media. Wouldn't it be a good idea to roll out comparative reports elsewhere around the world? Anyone keen?

Friday, July 08, 2005

Mind the media

Starting this blog on a Friday afternoon in July doesn't really seem logical. Then again, that might just be appropriate. After all, if Mail & Guardian columnist Tom Eaton is to be believed, "the media has no mind, only a nervous system, and any direction it goes in is merely a reaction and not the results of a decision.” The media, Eaton suggestions, scurries around like little worker ants scrapping up specks of nourishment to feed the insatiable blob of idle consumption: “the royal reader, the queenly subscriber, whose every whim must be pandered to, whose interest must be sustained…” Well, despite what Eaton may think, there is indeed a smidgeon of intention, of actual rationale, in the inception of this blog. It is to be a space for people who care to talk critically about the media, in general, and exchange ideas about how to ensure the news media keep on, and keep on getting better. Perhaps starting that conversation on the day after bombs ripped apart lives along with parts of the London public transport system - and those who can and care are glued to the media for updates – has some kind of logic after all.