Media

Making fun of disability for fame and profit

It’s a wonderful world where overpaid, over-exposed radio personalities can ridicule a disabled baby for fun, fame and profit.

That’s what a number of radio personalities did recently when commenting on a baby born in Pakistan with six legs. On this occassion the almost-always-vile Kyle Sandilands was actually outshone in his awfulness by his Sydney colleagues Ryan Fitzgerald and Michael Wipfli. You can read about the investigation – into Sandilands at least – and hear the comments (I’m not going to repeat them but trust me when I say they were awful) here.

I can’t boycott the Sydney stations but I can boycott their sister stations in Brisbane – Nova, B105 and Triple M.

Significantly, I doubt if either station would have gotten away with the comments – and probably not even attempted them – if the baby was from Australia (or probably any other western country for that matter). So as well as ill-considered comments about disability I think there’s a healthy dose of racism in there too.

It’s time to start switiching these idiots off. 

Why Q&A is bad for democracy

Q&A is one of the ABC’s flagship programs – generating a lot of kudos and occasionally some controversy for the national broadcaster. Since it started it has featured some of the country’s smartest people talking about some of our biggest issues. It regularly helps set the news agenda for any given week.

 It is also, bad for democracy.

 The format is pretty simple – host Tony Jones leads five other people in an hour-long discussion about issues of the day. Questions can come from a live audience or from people who have submitted online.

 The problem for Q&A is how it structures its panels.

 Since it began in 2008 Q&A has aired 94 episodes. Only four those episodes have featured a panel entirely devoid of politicians. A massive 96.75% of episodes have featured one or more politicians (or former pollies) on the panel.

 And tonight kicks off in a similar vein with two prominent former politicians included.

 The messages this sends is pretty clear – all issues need political solutions. An informed citizenry can’t solve problems on its own.

 Too much of our daily lives are framed by expectations that politicians ‘will fix it.’ Too often we look to politicians – and just to politicians – to solve our problems. Q&A reinforces this.

 I wouldn’t suggest politicians don’t appear at all, or even that politicians don’t appear on a significant number of episodes. But once you invite one politician on, you invariably have to invite someone from the other side on to balance things out. And political dialogue is a very particular kind of dialogue that isn’t always suited to illuminating a topic inside the space of an hour.

 So here’s a humble suggestion, Q&A. Instead of only having one episode out of every 25 as a pollie free zone, how about you aim for one in every four. I’m sure people would watch the show if the episodes featuring politician panellists dropped from almost 97% of the total to just 75%.

 It’s important to hear from our political leaders, and that we get to question them about the issues of the day. But Q&A could play a bigger role encouraging broader social discourse if it refrained from taking the easy option when putting together its panels. Let’s hear from more business leaders, more young people, more writers, more internet entrepeneurs about their thoughts on solutions to our problems. It will actually help imp[rove our democratic discourse.

Citizen journalism the winner in News Ltd vs Google

There’s a lot to chuckle about in Gordon Farrer’s piece about how much of a threat News Ltd poses to Google.

In no particular order, they are:

  • content aggregators care much about Rupert Murdoch putting content behind a paywall,
  • increasing the amount of media content in controlled spaces (ie the iPad) could significantly undermine Google’s business model,
  • it will become easier to stop people breaking DRM and other copy-protection measures in the future, not harder, and
  • the implication that radio stations, TV channels and other internet sites don’t read newspapers and re-use the content.

They’re all worth having a laugh at for various reasons. I’m surprised a technology writer doesn’t make more about how Google structures its search algorithim. I’m also surprised a technology writer thinks the golden age of copy protection is apparently ahead of us, not behind.

But the most interesting thing in Farrer’s piece is that citizen journalists, bloggers and tweeters have more to fear from News Ltd and other old media organisations locking up content than the other way around. Farrer makes the not unreasonable comment that if traditional news content was successfully locked away, tweeters, bloggers and citizen journos would have to go elsewhere for content to ‘riff’ off. It’s a big if but even if he was right in saying it could be done successfully, it doesn’t matter. News Ltd, Fairfax and other big media outlets should be more afraid of citizen journos having reduced opportunities to riff off their content than the other way round.

People are already paying less attention to traditional media, they’re digesting less traditional media and diversifying their sources when they do. They’re paying more attention to their Twitter feeds and Facebook updates than ever before because they feel that the content is relevant and that it matters. Locking conternt up further encourages more of that, not less. News Ltd and Fairfax et al should do everything they can to encourage bloggers and tweeters to hang off their every word.

To do otherwise risks speeding up a virtuous circle that has already begun and risks leaving old media out in the cold.

Rupert Murdoch wants to hold you hostage in a room with 1000 open doors

Rupert Murdoch thinks you’re a hostage to news.com.au.

He thinks that because you’re a hostage you’ll happily fork over funds to read content on his website (this is despite the fact you’re already contributing through the advertising he puts there) that you used to get for free.

His announcement today that News Ltd’s announcement will start charging people to access content on all its website is an interesting one. As others have already pointed out, it’s not paying readers leaving News Ltd papers in droves that are causing so much of the problem, it’s paying advertisers – especially classified advertisers.

Fine, Rupert, it’s your content. Charge for it if you want. But I’m not sure if your model will work. Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. RSS – I already get my news feeds dumped onto one page for easy access. Now I’ll have one feed less.
  2. abc.net.au, brisbanetimes.com.au, cnn.com, ninemsn.com.au, Crikey (okay I do subscribe but it has a lot of free content as well), the Huffington Post, Twitter…
  3. Finding a model that works for mobile devices, not just desktops.

I might pay for some News Ltd content – a new feature from Trent Dalton or a column from Kathleen Noonan. But their general news reporting is often so atrocious that it’s almost worthless in the marketplace. And that’s why I found this quote from Murdoch so amusing:

“Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting.”

Except, you’re generally not giving us quality reporting. Some of it’s outstanding. But most of it’s not. And people won’t pay for it.

If they understood the web better they might aready have signed up to AdSense and been done with it. You can read the whole story over at the news website (while it’s still free) if you’re keen. But for some reason, they’ve switched off comments on this particular story. Sure these people get the web enough to make this work. Sure they do.