Category Archives: The Media

Media as business: In defence of Fairfax

As Australia’s journalism depth becomes ever shallower with the sacking of 150 Fairfax journalists, the big question to ask ourselves amid all this argy-bargy is “What on earth did we expect?”

The entire Fairfax focus is not on ensuring you and I have are informed and educated Australians; that in many ways is the role of the ABC. The entire Fairfax stable including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Financial Review and 2UE, is essentially media as business. Like any business, its primary mission is to make profits for shareholders…the dominant one being John B Fairfax himself.

This is a markedly different role to that of the ABC whose role it is to educate, inform and entertain in a way relevant to the broad spectrum of Australians. If a similar cost cutting occurred at the ABC we should and would be upset. Yet if a similar cost cutting occurred at Ernst & Young or perhaps Coles Myer would we be as concerned? Not on your life.

The emotional lynchpin in all of this is that The Herald, as one of Australia’s first newspapers, has a social responsibility to bring us ‘quality’ investigative journalism not stifled by  a lack of resources or the need for profit. What rubbish! The Herald is no more a social service than Pizza Hut or McDonalds. It exists to make money, and if we want ‘quality’ we may have to look elsewhere.

This ‘responsibility for quality’ we hear bandied about is the responsibility of the individual journalist, not of the media entity that presents itself as business. While it has been the case that Fairfax employed journalists who maintained ethical and responsible levels of journalism to bring us a ‘quality’ product, there was no guarantee this would continue. In the world of slipping media profits and greater competition from web-based media, there is no way that the Fairfax business could maintain its old-world standards in the face of real-world profit decline.

The truth is that Fairfax missed the boat when it failed to snap up online media products over the last 10 years. A greater online presence in its stable may well have provided the buffer it needed to maintain quality broadsheets like the Herald or the Age.  In the wake of poor past leadership, its flagship products,  the ones that bleed most money, need to be realigned. Like it or not, that would be the decision that any modern management team, a team that leads a business, not a social service, would make.

Most media watchers have known for some time that Fairfax has been piling money into its online entities like Domain, RSVP or SMH.com at the expense of its old-world broadsheets. A simple look at the Herald website shows a dumbing-down of intelligent discussion and a rise in celebrity-driven guff. In the world of business, this shallow ‘fast-food-journalism’ clearly makes more money than the serious stuff we used to digest.  Sad but true.

So should we be horrified at the sacking of Fairfax staff? No. Media as business has the right to do what it likes. The real reason for our horror, and a reason that should shake us all to the core, is that as our flagship quality broadsheets make their initial slide into mediocrity, we have nothing left to fill the void.

Ode to Colin: Suckling on the tabloid teat

Australia, and in particular Sydney, has witnessed a fascinating human spectacle this week. While the rest of the world has been obsessed by the performance of the Jamaicans in Beijing, we’ve been preoccupied with the health and eventual death of a humpback whale calf named ‘Colin’.

Now Colin (AKA Collette; a closer examination revealed he was actually ‘she’) had somehow become orphaned and was snuggling up to large boats in a stretch of water we call ‘Pittwater’. Supposedly a highly intelligent animal, this small humpback thought one of these boats maybe his mother. As he became increasingly hungry, he became increasingly snugly in trying to suckle whatever piece of racing yachtware he could find.

While this piece of animal delusion was interesting in itself, what was even more interesting was the vast array of whackos that came out of the woodwork as ‘experts’ or ‘friends’ of Colin. Odd-bods from all over Australia were putting in their bit, getting their faces on commercial news condemning authorities for “not doing enough to fix this dreadful tragedy”.

There were whale whisperers, whale chefs (who thought they had the ideal recipe for whale milk), Aboriginal whale callers and whale psychologists all thinking they had the answer. They all believed they knew better than the scientists who concluded that euthanasia was the best and only course of action. Sad but necessary.

What was even sadder was that commercial broadcasters gave these over emotional do-gooders airtime. People whose sole connection with animal health was possibly the ownership of some Skippy videos or a statue of a dolphin, were given the same airtime as our Parks and Wildlife professionals.

Yet the whole shebang doesn’t end with the fast and assisted death of Colin. There are now some in Sydney who are lobbying for a memorial to Colin…a statue or fountain that would help us remember his (her) trials. Oh dear.

In a week where we’ve witnessed the pinnacle of sports achievement at the Beijing Olympic games, the tragic death of hundreds in a Span-Air plane crash, and TV images of tanks rolling through the towns and villages of Georgia, the death of Colin is a very unimportant bleep on our evolutionary and historical radar. In the big picture, the death of any living thing – human, whale or chicken – is minor. Life isn’t always fair, cute or important.

As the ill-considered blatherings of a few become newsworthy, our myopic view of what really is ‘news’ funnels even more into something parochial and inane. Our increasingly irritating tabloid news becomes fixated on individual teardrops rather than national or world ones.

Yet there’s an even greater concern. By raising the insignificant to something worthy of prolonged media attention, we somehow dilute and devalue the truly significant. While a focus on the small issues maybe benign, a lack of focus on the substantial issues of our world creates a malignant state indeed.  It’s a state that higher mammals like humans – and whales – can do without.