Sunday, June 24, 2012

If wouldn't be Monday without Paul Sheehan blathering on about bureaucrats and progressives ...

(Above: but if she didn't start the fire, how to cook the sourdough?)

First up, a note in honour of the Duffster.

Michael Duffy inspired the pond to get underway long ago, by scribbling columns for Fairfax designed to provoke. But over the years, either he or the pond has mellowed, or perhaps both.

His allegedly right wing ABC program Counterpoint, designed to irritate lefties and right wingers like Gerard "It should have been me" Henderson, long ago began playing music designed to shock the average conservative, and its guest list has become increasingly polymorphic perverse.

Today's the Duffster's last program, and it seems he might now be covering the day and night crime beat for the Sun-Herald.

If he keeps delivering stories like How a stolen mobile phone brought down a brutal killer, he'll be doing much more useful work than posing as a neo-con amongst the cardigan wearers. The only (minor) thought is that he misses opportunities when he follows up the fate of some of the minor players. True crime is a morality tale, and there needs to be a full accounting.

Speaking of useless neo-cons, today of course is Paul "Generally Grumpy" Sheehan today, and he's in fine form mounting a stirring defence of Gina Rinehart in Rinehart didn't start the fire.

Well it sort of starts off as a weird kind of defence of her, but there's also an argument it's more anal-retentive naval-gazing from Fairfax by an expert in anal-retentive naval-gazing, as Sheehan gains an easy half-column by doing a cut and paste from the transcripts of Q&A on the subject of Rinehart, with a few bonus cut and pastes from the Herald.

Who knew journalism could be so easy? Call it a snapshot of a combat zone - lordy that sounds impressive - and you're half way there. Why it's worthy of good old Alan "Scissorhands" "Cut and Paste" Ramsey, the absent lord bless him ... (Journalism has changed forever, says Alan Ramsey).

Strangely, at the point that Sheehan stops cutting and pasting, he directly contradicts the header to his piece, by grandly announcing that Ms Rinehart has also lit a fuse.

So maybe she didn't start the fire, but instead somehow set off an explosion.

But then you can never expect coherent analysis from Sheehan, though to be fair, the fate of Fairfax seems to bring out all sorts of emotional rhetoric. It's simply not possible, for example, to work out what Jonathan Green is saying in his naval gazing Don't just blame the web for Fairfax's failure.

From the sound of it, the problem hasn't been the internet, but marketing people, demographics, focus groups, revenue streams and advertising. Bizarrely Green concludes:

... there was never a business model for quality broadsheet journalism in this country, only a media company that simultaneously sold a lot of little ads and by coincidence produced thoughtful well-reported newspapers.

There never was a relationship between the two things, and in the end, as it turned out, precious little readership for the journalism once the little ads walked out to the door to a brighter, more sympathetic and compelling environment online.

Which is of course a nonsense because just as the little ads walked out the door, so did the journalism, which found itself on line and available around the world ... for free ... in a brighter and more compelling environment online ... for free.

Advertising has always been the basis for tabloid and broadsheets. The purchase price has always been a token towards production costs, but the gravy has been in the advertising. When you give away your content for free, losing your token dollar or so to the production cost, and you also lose your advertising base, it's beyond the bleeding obvious to say you've got a problem. Sadly Jonathan represents the new lightweight ABC ...

But back to Sheehan, and an understanding why he should stay a columnist and never be given a role in the business:

None of what has transpired has so far addressed the structural problem that has obliged Fairfax to make extensive job cuts to staunch losses at its flagship newspapers.
The company's deepest structural problem is not the internet, nor changes in technology that are obliterating the distinctions between television, computer and phone. Its deepest structural problem has been the bureaucratisation of the company.

Read that and weep. Now the cynics out there might argue that the biggest structural problem Fairfax faces is paying a large retainer to Sheehan to write nonsense on a bi-weekly basis - how can that be a value for money activity? - but others might say that without Sheehan Monday would be short of a laugh.

All the same, how could anyone write with a straight face that the internet isn't the company's deepest structural problem, it's the bureaucratisation and the bureaucrats? What's the bet in the next minute or par the ABC will be invoked?

Fairfax has behaved like the ABC except that it does not have the almost $1 billion a year in annual government tax-funded subsidy.

Ha, you lose. Resentment and envy will always win the day ...

Of course in an indirect way this is an attempt to justify the management's attempts to cut, or at least contain costs - so many cardigan wearers lurking the corridors wasting the money that could have been spent on Paul Sheehan's salary - but finally Sheehan makes a choice between analysis and loyalty:

The portrayal of this ominous stand-off between Fairfax Media and its biggest shareholder has seen self-absorption on both sides. The narcissism of the metropolitan media in reporting about itself has been evident, especially at Rupert Murdoch's subsided ideological mouthpiece The Australian.

So what are we to make of Paul Sheehan, a subsided ideological mouthpiece if ever there was one?

Oh I know, it's too cruel, but he could have meant subsided, and not subsidised, and have they shipped all the subs to NZ yet, and does Sheehan ever read his own copy, or is it beneath him? The rot, they say, starts at the head ...

And so for the rest of the piece, Sheehan trots out a conventional line about how Fairfax is one of the biggest newspaper groups in the world, and how it is far from a sunset company and how it's got at least a billion dollars of enterprise value trapped inside its current structure and not reflected in its market value, and how it's got a big, profitable and growing internet operation, and how it has more readers and reach before, and how it can go on forever if its costs are contained, and then comes this furphy:

Most of the Fairfax newspapers and niche publications are small and humble but profitable and sustainable. They are below the radar of the internet. They are key information hubs for their local communities. They are thus the sort of newspapers that the world's most successful investor, Warren Buffett, has begun buying.

Say that line again: They are below the radar of the internet.

Actually they're not. If anyone outside Armidale noticed the arrival of the NBN in town, they didn't say much about it. But somebody at the Armidale Express should take note, and so should the people at Rural Press, because over the next ten years, the way that country people access information and deal with the world is going to change in the same way that it's changed in the capital cities.

The inherent advantage in this context is the masthead, the brand, the familiarity, which allows the established business to present itself as a focal point, as a way of cutting through the extensive amount of noise on the endless intertubes. But the notion that a tri-weekly like the Armidale Express will keep on relying on a print-based future in the medium to long term is delusional.

Thank the lord that Fairfax management at least understands this and in the annual report for 2011 (here in pdf) promised an accelerated rollout of an enhanced digital presence for our regional mastheads ...

Naturally by end of piece Sheehan has positioned the argument as ideological:

What Fairfax needs most is a proprietor who is a media entrepreneur. What it needs least is a self-appointed priesthood of the status quo willing to fight to the last dollar of other people's money.

Uh huh. But Rinehart isn't a media entrepreneur, and Fairfax's position in the market is as a centre right, rather than tabloid Murdoch ratbag right, publication. If Sheehan thinks disembowelling "progressive" journalists is the way forward, then he will be actively participating in the destruction of the Fairfax group. Oh wait, he does:

If an ongoing public power struggle breaks out between progressive union activists and a libertarian who despises progressive journalists the most likely outcome is that Fairfax Media will be broken up so that its viable elements can prevail and its shareholders can salvage their investments.
As things stand, the Herald and The Age are worth more dead than alive. The market is indifferent to their survival. This is no time to bluff.

No time to bluff? Does that mean lie down and take whatever Rinehart dishes out? And pretend that the radio division isn't a waste of breath, and the future lies in regional rags that are immune from the internet? And that somehow, despite everything, the internet isn't the basic, fundamental, key (are there any more adjectives needed) worm in the structural rose.

Let's just imagine the internet does play a fairly fundamental role.

Here's a different calculation:

ROGER COLMAN: Well we've done calculations on this. And if you take let's say 550 journalists that you might have had in Sydney and Melbourne metros, right? You know, two years ago, and you go completely online with revenues of let's say $50 million, you're down to 250 journalists a maximum - at maximum. You have to get rid of half of them. And that's optimistic. On our analysis of online and ability to spend, you need about 44 per cent of budget for a purely online business to be in journalism. (courtesy the wretched Alan Kohler).

Get rid of half of them? And not a word about the bureaucrats?

Sorry Mr. Sheehan, there's work for the bureaucrats to do, your pink slip is waiting at the door ...

The market is indifferent to blather. This is no time to pontificate in a half-baked, superficial way. Time to get someone who can make more sense, and costs less in the process ...

But there's an upside ... you can always become an unsubsided blogger ...

(Below: oh dear Doonesbury, click to enlarge).


  1. Sheehan really is a freaking dinosaur, but then again the fool has plenty of mates such as creepy Coorey,hopeless Hartcher,gruesome Grattan etcetera.Down here in Canberra their chief political person,Chris Johnson wrote this hilarious article on Saturday saying that Julie Bishop was a whizz and had the measure of Bob Carr as a Foreign Minister.When you read garbage like that you realise the alarming lack of of quality journalists at Fairax and these morons expect to be taken seriously. Fairfax is not that far behind the cretins at News Ltd. What did they teach these idiots at journalists school all those years ago because it obviously did not sink in to their tiny minds?

  2. Here's what you are missing, DP.
    Chris Burns ‏@OneFunnyBastard
    Angelina & Brad called their biological daughter Shiloh. I think we should all pray that little Shiloh Pitt is not dyslexic.

    His latest -
    I asked my wife to get me a newspaper She said to get with the times and use her iPad. That spider never knew what fucking hit it.
    Another good use for newsprint. Anyway, that leads into the angst of Roop. That is, how may he pitch his wares to the YummyMummies? Like, I cannot imagine YM juggling Sheehan while driving little Shiloh to day-care and simultaneously applying the lippie and texting. It is possible, though, with a tablet. Or, in the confines of the home, it will be easy to change a shitty nappy while reading a newsfeed on the iPad.
    Yes, our YM, struggling on so many fronts to keep her nose above water, wants to read Ol' Shanners pronouncing his daily GILLARD-FAIL. Yep, if a woman who is free of husband & family and with heaps of loyal retainers cannot succeed, what hope is there for YM? Keep it up, Old White Blokes, yer doin' Roop proud.
    And, Psssst!, Roop & Sheehan, there may be a few mature women, no longer with perfect skin & tight butts, saying "Good on you, Gina, stick it right up them".

  3. A cheeky devil has drawn attention to the spelling of naval-gazing, above, by way of noting he sees no ships.

    Normally this would be a hanging crime, but the pond, in the approved Fairfax way, is subbed in New Zealand, and the spelling must stand. T

    here was some argument on the pond that it should be spelt 'nevel', as properly pronounced, but enough sed, if we're going to make jokes about 'subsided' we're certainly going to make jokes about the neevy.


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