Monday, July 05, 2010

Mark Day, Jonathan Holmes and enough already with the 24/7 tales of crisis, turmoil and woe ...

With the usual chooks silent, and the pond remarkably quiet, what else to do to pass the time than a little media navel gazing?

And where better to start than Sue Javes, who delivers a sterling conclusion in her study of Julia Gillard roaming amongst the radio talk back pundits, Right is might: search for the next Alan Jones:

Mott is pragmatic about the coming political debate. "With a real leftie in the Lodge like Julia, it will be wonderful copy. The very right-wing Tony Abbott and the very left-wing Julia Gillard. At least there is some dynamic difference between the two."

Gillard a real leftie, as she prepares to swing the party to the right on boat people, and having happily spent time in bed with the big miners?

Dearie me, if that's being a leftie, could someone guide me to Ned Flanders' leftorium shop? And remind me every so often not to listen to Fairfax radio. If their boss Graham Mott can't pick the difference between a real leftie, and a redhead, can you expect his shock jock team to move beyond drivel level?

Meanwhile, over The Oz, Mark Day does the unthinkable, and dares to criticise one of Chairman Rupert's offerings.

Heartened by Jonathan Holmes' Media Watch hammering of the ABC for its tracking of the decline and fall of former Chairman Rudd, Day swings a few shots at the Oz's iPad app.

The result is that your app buys you merely a branch of the tree. And given that as much, or more, of the print version appears online at no cost (at least at the moment) you can be forgiven for asking why you parted with your five bucks.

Raising these issues with those who have laboured long and hard to design the app has the potential to make a critic as popular as a fart in church, but the not-there-yet view is shared by many online users as well as some senior executives at The Oz. (The transition to new technology is never easy and glitches are part of the game).

Well I'll drink to that, having had the chance to compare the Oz app to the New York Times app, and come to an understanding of the difference between chalk and cheese.

But then the piece turns into a bit of spruiking for The Oz:

In time, the entire newspaper, plus the weekend magazine, will be available via apps. The plan is to grow the product from its current "best of" or "editor's choice" status into a full-blown electronic newspaper, regularly updated.

As soon as the publishing system is enabled, the app will deliver static pictures that turn into video with a tap of the screen. When that happens -- and the boffins are thinking a couple of months -- we'll be well on the way to meeting the iPad's promise.

As the capabilities of the app improve, the cost will be adjusted. At present a casual purchase of The Australian's print edition six days a week costs $36.40 a month, so the current $4.99-a-month app price reflects the limited iPad offering. As more content is included, the price will rise.

Yes, yes, Mr. Day, it all sounds grand and quite visionary, and that's a nifty shift from critique to commercial, like any sneaky salesman doing reverse psychology to close the sale, but I can get my news anywhere and for the outrageous charge an ISP lumps on to me simply to stay connected.

What about the actual content? What about the columnists that are meant to be a distinguishing attractive feature of the digital rag, but end up all too often sounding like a right wing ideological zealot rat pack, off to hunt with others of their kind and the hounds ... especially when it comes to anything to do with climate change, domestic politics, world affairs, and Sky News versus the ABC?

Are people expected pay for the pleasure of hitting themselves over the head with a baseball bat of monolithic opinions, when they can do this quite easily by themselves and for free?

And speaking of the ABC, it's interesting to see that Jonathan Holmes has pulled back a little from his Media Watch rant. Day is inclined to be kind:

Criticism of the ABC for its flat-footed incapacity to leap on to a story with profound implications for all Australians is perfectly legitimate. But I am less inclined to criticise the secondary aspect of its failures on the night of the long knives -- the technical glitches that marred the switching between studios as the ABC attempted to bring us updates to the story. Jonathan Holmes on Media Watch made much of this and pointed the finger of blame at the ABC's new digital play-out centre, the Media Hub. Sure, it looked like amateur hour on air, but making the transition to new technology is never easy.

Hence his launch into his forgiving dissection of the Oz app.

But Holmes only seems to have realized he might have gone over the top and far away when Janet Albrechtsen joined in his ABC bashing. Here he is in It's true Janet: breaking news is hard to do, discovering what he should have said during the program:

So what we saw on Sky News was mostly speculation, and the reporting of text messages from "sources", and what-ifs. Visually, it was an absolute mess - five people sitting round two tables consulting their mobile phones.

Never mind. For the political junkies, it was indeed riveting. And if the ABC's 24-hour news channel had been up and running, no doubt Chris Uhlmann and his colleagues would have done the same, or (one hopes) better.

But there was simply not enough happening to justify throwing a mainstream television channel over to live coverage like that. News Division didn't request it. Television Division would have rightly resisted (I assume) if it had. And if Mark Scott had insisted, the immediate effect would have been the decimation of the ABC's loyal television audience.

Yes, the political junkies might want their C-Span, but to hell with them. That's why news radio on the ABC is nothing but a mild mannered re-cycler of parliament, the BBC, PBS, and news broken in other areas of the ABC newsroom, such that if you listened regularly enough, the repetition and cross-promotion would surely drive you insane. And why you need to have world war III imminent before you break into the quiet life of the contented Ultimo fellow travellers watching their Dr. Who ...

Holmes managed to upset Phillip Adams - surely a good thing - read him at Crikey in Phillip Adams hits back - but really when you do a one sided spray, you do leave yourself open to demands for an apology.

Even in his belated recognition that for every viewer that would have been grateful for Sky-type coverage, another nine would have been infuriated and switched off, it's cheeky for Holmes to have a go at Albrechtsen and The Oz for not getting the nature of free to air television:

... Albrechtsen and The Australian reckon that what ABC Television should have done, some time around 8.00pm on Wednesday night, was to chuck away its schedule - The New Inventors, Spicks and Specks, The Gruen Transfer, The United States of Tara - all popular programs, all aimed at the younger audience that the ABC has acquired after decades of appealing primarily to the over-50's - in favour of hours of talk about very little.

Yet that, apart from the grumble about the ABC's technical bungles, was surely the implication of Holmes' own piece for Media Watch.

In his column, he gets a little defensive and a little triumphant. No one in ABC management has uttered a word of criticism of Media Watch for its harangue, and yet:

Janet Albrechtsen apparently found the ABC impervious to her criticisms while she was on the board:

"...I found it endlessly frustrating to hit the wall of ABC suspicion where legitimate, thoughtful criticism is invariably waved away as the ravings of ideological opponents. Yet, the ABC will grow stronger by responding to criticism that is aimed at making it better. It will cement its legitimacy if it can spot its own flaws rather than wait for others to point them out."

Well Janet, if your criticisms were of the quality of those in your column, it's not surprising that they met with resistance. As to spotting its own flaws, would News Ltd ever allow any of its employees publicly to criticise its performance as I did the ABC 's on Monday night? Would Fairfax?

Oh dear, such a sucker punch. Cue Mark Day scribbling that The Oz app isn't up to scratch, as a way of promising that it will be up to scratch and then we'll be compelled to hand over heaps of moola.

In much the same way, Jonathan Holmes is promising that all will be well when the ABC's 24/7 news channel arrives.

Sure, if you want to waste a life following the news cycle in its ever more frantic quest for crises and turmoil.

Oh heck, never mind, I'll still be tuning into Media Watch tonight. The media need their gadflies and a crisis once a week in the Australian media is more than enough for me, but it'll be interesting to see if Holmes backs down a little in his quest for harmony ... (and let's not get into the Chinese government's love of harmony) ...

(Below: do Chairman Rupert and Homer Simpson share the same dreaming?)

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