Thursday, November 4, 2010

The age of the publisher

SOME words of wisdom from a Reuters editor well worth sharing:"The old one-way relationship between editor and audience has no place in the world any more. There’s huge learning to be had from the audience."

Changing journalism; changing Reuters
By David Schlesinger

Think back a century and news needs and news methods were completely different.

Just think that the first airmail flight between Britain and Hong Kong did not land until 1936. And yet today at my home in London I get a rich and vibrant stream of news, photographs, stories and gossip from Asia into my home via Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader and then all the more long-established methods of journalism. It is a cornucopia.

But the problem with any over-flowing horn is that it is really only scarcity that creates the awareness of value.

And in fact, the profession of journalism is losing both value and respect.

The latest Gallup poll showed a record-high 57 percent of Americans saying they had little or no trust in the mass media to do what the media has always proclaimed to be its primary mission – to report fully, accurately and fairly.

Instead people look to the friends – their community – for information, for validation, for argument and for illumination.

What is great about 2010 is that technology has created a completely new concept of community. And it has given that community new powers to inform and connect.

Facebook status updates become a newsfeed created by people I know and even often like.

A Twitter feed is a news service of facts, opinions and referrals from an ever-vigilant army of people with similar interests and proclivities.

They alert me to news and articles that are almost guaranteed to fit my interests because we are a group that has formed around each other.

And it is a self-correcting group, where each of us has the ability to fire, replace and refine the membership at will.

No reader selected me to be editor-in-chief of Reuters – I was selected by the corporation to lead the news service in its interest.

Conversely, no corporation selected the people whom I follow on Twitter, no board set my blogroll, no executive committee befriended my Facebook pals. I did those things.

What technology has done is it has upended the power equation to give control to the end consumer.

The beauty of that is obvious – control is always satisfying.

Hermetically sealed
The danger is that without care it becomes an information universe that is too hermetically sealed.

The days of the all-powerful paternalistic editor may be dead, but what can’t replace them is the era of people only having their preconceived ideas reinforced.

What’s needed is a new model, one that combines push and pull.

What’s needed is a publishing model that embraces both the professionalism of the journalist and the power of the community.

The great press critic A. J. Liebling wrote that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. Today’s technology means that the means of production and the means of distribution actually belong to anyone with access to an internet onramp.

If you ask the public, “What will you pay for?” The answer is certainly a yes for tools (ipad, iphone, blackberry, android). The answer is certainly a yes for broadband and access.

But what about the content? And what about those who create that content?

Far too often the answer is “no”.

Ideal ratio
I know even when I last lived in Hong Kong 15 years ago this was an issue the FCC itself had to wrestle with – what was the ideal ratio of full-time correspondent members to journalist members to associate members to corporate members.

I guess from seeing the special promotional offer the club has been running for new correspondent and journalist members that this is still an issue, both because there are fewer people who fit the bill, and also because those who do can’t necessarily PAY the bill.

I’m lucky to be leading a journalistic organization 3000 professionals strong – that’s an extraordinary figure at a time when other organisations have been shedding staff.

By comparison, in 1987, the year I joined Reuters in Hong Kong and the year I first became a member of this club, I was one of 1581 journalists in the company.

We’ve survived and thrived by changing.

We aren’t the agency we once were; tomorrow we will be even more different from today.

My job is to ensure that survival and to ensure that the journalistic tradition of yesterday melds with the social media ethos.

Let’s start by thinking back two years.

Confused bankers
The photographs of distraught, confused and angry bankers leaving their offices jobless helped symbolise the seismic shifts in the financial system 24 months ago.

During the same period, thousands of journalists lost their livelihood too as the profession and craft changed almost beyond recognition.

If we have learned anything from these past two years, it has been that pure facts are not enough.

Pure facts don’t tell enough of the story; pure facts won’t earn their way.

The arguments about whether the factual seeds of the financial crisis had been adequately reported are ultimately meaningless. The facts were there. But they weren’t put together in a way that was compelling enough or powerful enough to change the course of events.

We’ve been drowning in facts, and that deluge continues to threaten.

How different from October 1851 when Julius Reuter set up his pigeon and telegraph shop, sending out facts to a world starved for them.

Today, it’s context, connectedness and community that matter.

That’s why the traditional agency or “wire” pouring out a never-ending stream of “more” can’t be the answer.

Reader service
That’s why we must be a service to our customers and to our readers.

That’s why this is the age of the publisher.

Journalists who understand this will survive. Those that don’t will become irrelevant.

A publishing ethos is not defined by the number of stories we deliver. It is defined by our ability to keep our clients tuned in and returning. We will do that with a heightened knowledge of what they need, and with focused breaking news and insight that is fast, relevant, actionable and engaging. Deploying all our multimedia assets allows us to tell stories compellingly via packages of interlinked news and information. And we will enable clients to connect to each other, and to us.

I’m as excited about content that gets created in a chatroom by journalists and readers interacting together as I am about a good story being pushed out. Sometimes I’m even more excited because the intelligent interaction between people who all know something about a topic can create a much smarter product than any one writer struggling at the computer alone.

Is it journalism?

Sometimes it is pure journalism. Sometimes it’s commentary. Sometimes it’s just a sharing of ideas or the annotating of a graphic.

But whatever you call it, it is an intelligent service between the journalist and the customer and that’s something we should be aiming for.

Insight, transparency
Why? Because like the “pure” journalism of old, it helps makes sense of the world.

Why? Because it is news, data, content and information that is actionable because it adds insight to transparency.

It’s the community that interacts with information and in that interaction creates yet more and better content.

It’s the context and analysis around the news that helps people make better decisions, helps them do their jobs better, and gives them an edge in making sense out of the confusion around us.

It is also the humility to know that the old one-way relationship between editor and audience has no place in the world any more.

There’s huge learning to be had from the audience.

Some of it comes from listening to its expertise. Some of it comes from watching its behavior. Much of it comes from enabling the conversation you get when you combine facts, data, journalism, analysis and fact-based opinion in a really smart way.

The rules of today’s journalistic world are these:
  • Knowing the story is not enough.
  • Telling the story is only the beginning.
  • The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.
  • The more you try to be paternalistic and authoritative, the less people will believe you.
  • The more you cede control to your audience, the more people will respect you
  • The more you embrace new technology as a platform, the more your ideas will compete.
  • The more you abandon the faceless and characterless, the more you can set the agenda
  • The more you look beyond the story for connections, the more value you will have.
  • And if you have value and no one else does, you will get paid.
Simple? No.

But it is exciting and transforming.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Samoan side to Campbell Live - Tuilaepa's 'Kiwi nemesis'

HOW IRONICAL: While a four-day International Federation of Journalists-organised training workshop for media freedom monitors was under way in Apia last week, an intrepid “investigative” journalist from New Zealand was feuding with the Samoan prime minister.

TV3’s John Campbell was staking out a local restaurant in an ill-fated attempt to corner the prime minister for a response to his controversial “missing aid millions"story on Campbell Live on September 29. When his lame door-stopping attempt failed – “we don’t do door-stopping in Samoa,” insisted one senior local journalist at the IFJ Pacific workshop – Campbell didn’t hesitate in branding Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi a “coward” for canning a promised interview at the last moment. The New Zealand Herald followed up with the same insult. (Actually, this isn’t the way Tuilaepa sees it. According to local media reports, the PM’s version of events is that the interview was lined up for November 4 and Tuilaepa wants to take Campbell and his crew on a tour of the inland aid areas where considerable progress has been made. He also wants Samoan TV journalists in on the act.)

Campbell told the country’s only daily newspaper, the feisty opposition publication Samoa Observer:
We had a formal agreement [with the PM, reportedly arranged through an Auckland legal go-between]. This is a man who has slagged us off for the past month. He slagged us off on Samoan TV, on TVNZ and on Australian radio – and Australia hasn’t even seen the story. When it comes to the crunch, he is too much of a coward to do an interview – he pulled out at the last moment.
In an Observer editorial, editor-in-chief Savea Sano Malifa branded Campbell Tuilaepa’s Kiwi nemesis”, explaining the TV journalist’s assignment in Samoa. He described the “real mission” as one to find out about how the millions of dollars donated in aid had helped improve the lives of tsunami victims since Campbell Live had reported on the disaster on 29 September 2009. Some 143 people died in the tsunami and 4000 were left homeless.
What [Campbell Live] saw shocked and distressed. Aleipata was torn apart, people had been killed, others were swept away by the wave and were never found, stories of survival were sad and heart-rending.

Back home when they returned, they told their story on the screen across New Zealand and people went silent.

Soon afterwards, New Zealanders started giving. Moved by
Campbell Live's story they donated generously towards helping Aleipata's tsunami victims.

However, when John Campbell visited on the tsunami's first anniversary he was disappointed. Aleipata's broken homes along the coastal villages were still there. Some homes had neither running water nor electricity. Village after village, sadness and depression reigned.

And so this time, the images and story
Campbell Live put on the screen across New Zealand were hardly flattering. Instead, they might have inspired disappointment and even revulsion.

He even suggested that "up to $US45 million in aid had been misappropriated, while many tsunami victims are left without water or electricity".
However, this was a very different story from Pacific Scoop's Alex Perrottet who recently did a compelling series on aid and development in Samoa. Tuilaepa retaliated by branding the Campbell Live report as "stupid and uninformed" in a Radio Australia Pacific Beat item. He told interviewer Geraldine Coutts the claims were "all ridiculous and based on the report by this amateur reporter, Mr Campbell, who came here and spent all his time talking to the Observer newspaper - and then, in his own words, spent much time on the coast. People have moved inland, and therefore he could not have seen what has taken place." Talamua also carried a story describing the Campbell report as "sensational" based on very few interviews and information.

For many of the Pacific journalists who watched and discussed the Campbell Live report during an ethics and democracy workshop at the conference, the item was stunning for its crassness, cultural arrogance and ignorance and lack of evidence underpinning the sweeping allegations. No doubt there is a story there, but Campbell Live hasn’t yet exposed it.

A follow-up story inevitably featured the door-stopping incident on Campbell Live last night. And again, the question was posed – “Where has the tsunami relief money gone?” – and yet again failed to offer any real answers. Once again, not much balance and fairness in sight. The story said:
In New Zealand, the government would be compelled to answer it – and would do the same as a matter of course.

But the Samoan government was outraged by it and embarked on a sustained campaign against Campbell Live’s story – including making a formal Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) complaint.”

Yes, there are new roads and electricity is back in the region. The Samoan government says it has spent 68.74 million tala so far, but many tsunami victims feel deserted by their government and wonder why so little of the money has made its way back to them.

Documents obtained by Campbell Live suggest many millions more dollars have been received than have been spent around the coastline.
Nevertheless Café Pacific reckons the “investigation’ will need a lot more hard facts and evidence to get anywhere.

Last word - from a blogger who, while acknowledging the money trail is worth following, dismissed the original report as a “shocking abuse of his viewers”.

Describing Campbell’s visit to a typical fale, offered by the journalist as "evidence" of the misuse of aid – including an extraordinary “houses without walls” comment, the blogger, Pervach, wrote the situation was portrayed out of context:
[Campbell] knows that most of his viewers in their cosy western houses in New Zealand will compare this shack to what is normal in New Zealand. Now, I have been to Samoa – I have seen normal Samoan villages, where people live in fales.

There are no toilets, bathrooms, kitchens, windows made of glass [and] water pipes. We are talking about Samoa here – a Third World country. It is normal in Samoa to have none of these things.

In Samoa, if you have these things, you are rich.

Friday, October 22, 2010

McCully and NZ media's moral failure over West Papua

PACIFIC SCOOP led the way in reporting and backgrounding a horrendous video exposing - yet again - Indonesian human rights atrocities against West Papuans. Here, Scoop's duty editor Rory MacKinnon analyses in his column Deadline the week's events in an indictment of Foreign Minister Murray McCully's inept response, lack of media coverage and a pattern of failure by the New Zealand governnent over human rights in East Timor and West Papua.

With all the Hobbit-chat of late you could be forgiven for thinking it was a slow newsweek – but here at the Scoop offices it was nothing of the sort. On Monday, the independent West Papua Media network released video it had received of Indonesian soldiers torturing two Papuan men: punching and kicking them, running a bayonet over one’s throat and burning the other’s penis with a charred stick. [WARNING: link features real and graphic violence]

Within hours the horrific footage made the headlines of Al-Jazeera, the BBC, CNN and the Sydney Morning Herald, while Amnesty International and other NGOs demanded an independent investigation by Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission.

Meanwhile, coverage here in the Shire was practically non-existent, other than here at Pacific Scoop and the equally tiny newsroom at Radio New Zealand International. Even MFAT didn’t bother to brief our foreign minister Murray McCully on the video – despite his going on a two-day trip to Indonesia the very next day.

It might not have been evident in my reporting, but I could sympathise with McCully’s situation. Imagine the midnight phone call; the gut-churning realisation that the complex system of memos and digests and reminders that diplomacy depends on has utterly failed you; knowing that the ‘Friendship Council’ you launched just hours ago will come across to many as a cruel joke and the knowledge that tomorrow morning you will have to walk back into the meeting room and make a very lonely choice about New Zealand’s foreign policy.

But McCully’s choice was a poor and predictable one, and that’s where my sympathy ends. McCully allowed his counterpart Dr Marty Natalegawa to feed him the usual canned response: the Indonesian government took such incidents “very seriously”, their military had already begun an internal investigation and so on and so on.

But as any MFAT official worth his salt would know, the promise of an in internal investigation means absolutely nothing in the context of human rights abuse in Indonesia. Christ, we don’t even trust internal investigations here. But the notion of an Indonesian internal investigation is especially laughable, because we’ve played this game so many times before.

Consider the case of the Balibo Five, a group of journalists killed during the 1975 invasion of East Timor – a group which incidentally included a Kiwi cameraman, Gary Cunningham, and a sixth Australian reporter, Roger East, who was killed two months later while investigating their deaths. In the 35 years since the Indonesian government has refused point-blank to mount any kind of inquiry, even refusing to cooperate with a 1997 Australian coroner’s inquest which implicated Indonesian special forces commander Yunus Yosfiah in the shootings.

Yet despite the court’s findings and pressure directly from the UN, the Serious Crimes Unit in Dili refused to press charges, making extradition impossible. [It should also be noted that despite literally decades of petitions from Cunningham’s own family, no New Zealand government has ever demanded Yosfiah’s arrest either.] Today Yusfiah is the most highly-decorated member of Indonesia’s army, a former Minister of Information and a senior politician, while the foreign journalists he murdered lie in a mass grave in Jakarta. If there was no justice for them, what hope is there for two unmourned villagers in the backblocks of West Papua?

Consider also the Santa Cruz massacre of 1991, when Indonesian soldiers gunned down a Timorese funeral procession for a young man killed by militia. 271 killed, 278 wounded and a further 270 ‘disappeared’ – and again a New Zealander died in the crosshairs; this time the 21-year-old Kamal Bamadhaj. The response from both the New Zealand and Indonesian governments is farcically familiar, as summarised in human rights activist Maire Leadbeater’s secret history Negligent Neighbour: New Zealand’s Complicity in the Invasion and Occupation of Timor-Leste.

[Lack of New Zealand response over both East Timor is also extensively analysed in David Robie's Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific (Zed Books, 1989) and in an article about the Dili massacre in NZ Monthly Review]

It was clear that a cover-up was under way. The Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs sent a preliminary response to the New Zealand Embassy that referred to Kamal’s “accidental death” and insinuated that he should not have been taking part in the demonstration. The official inquiry would conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation but would also look into Kamal’s ‘activities in Dili during his stay there as well as the nature of his presence among the demonstrators in the incident leading to his death.

Publicly, New Zealand diplomats stressed that they were vigorously pressing for a full explanation of Kamal’s death but the cabled reports suggest the diplomats were resigned to being fobbed off.

The Indonesian government did indeed mount an internal investigation, forming a “Council of Military Honour” and court-martialling nine soldiers and one policeman in 1992. But as Timor-Leste’s president Xanana Gusmao noted, none of those convicted had ordered the shooting, buried the bodies or participated in the attempted cover-up, and neither the report from the National Commission of Inquiry nor the Council of Military Honour’s report have ever been released in full. This was a massacre of literally hundreds of people, caught on camera by foreign journalists. Again, what hope is there for the two men in Monday’s footage?

Yet there is hope: McCully and his prime minister can publicly insist on a genuinely independent investigation. They can join calls in the Pacific Islands Forum for a fact-finding mission into human rights violations in West Papua. They can withdraw their joint training exercises with Indonesian law enforcement until the law is actually enforced in the region.

There are all sorts of things they can do to give Monday’s victims and the people of West Papua hope. But trusting the butchers in Indonesia’s military to sort it out among themselves is not one of them.

Rory MacKinnon is Scoop’s duty editor and political reporter. He also writes about journalism and social issues at

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