Monthly Archives: January 2009

The future of print journalism is social

Traditional print media’s attempts to embrace an online presence has been lacklustre, and in fact has helped kill their brands.

Most print MSM have incorporated blogs as part of their delivery mechanism. They have made their existing, print-trained reporters produce content for a medium they are not familiar with. It’s like having a trained print journalist produce television. There are differences. Traditional journalists who are already overworked due to company lay-offs have had varying degrees of ethics and purpose when producing content for their blogs. Most appear to not really know why they’re doing it other than ‘to show we’re in that space’. And because of the time involved, the overall quality of everything they do can suffer.

When blogs are put up by traditional media, the masthead appears as the banner to the blog. Anything produced under that masthead reflects on the brand. For a media brand, if it’s not journalism or well produced, that’s damaging. MSM has treated the internet as though it’s a massive printing press and anything and everything can run. At last, there’s no restrictions of cost of paper, distribution, etc. Stories which perhaps shouldn’t be written or run are given a second chance online.

Recognising the Web 2.0 social aspects, print media has incorporated Reader Comments sections in their online brands which allow all manner of diatribe, ill-informed opinion and complete drivel run for pages and pages – often longer than the stories themselves. Most of this ‘reader comment’ would never have seen the light of day if it were offered to print entities, but due to lack of staff, it runs away with itself unless flagged by another reader. I would suggest if it’s not fit for print under your masthead then it’s not fit for online publication under your masthead either – and as news organisations of many years’ standing, you have a responsibility to control these comments before your readers – particularly on hard news. By making the reader comments section open slather, it’s as if a peanut butter brand opened the lid and said “got anything you want to add? Sure thing, just chuck it in there.”

Online should be giving print media the opportunity to give readers a more in-depth experience with the type of quality reporting often limited by cost of paper and distribution. It should be expanding their brands. All stories should be including internal links to sources, further information, etc that are well researched and allow the reader a complete experience.

Print media believes writing for the web means writing all the information in a shorter way and presenting it well. Often simply repurposing content. For example, J-schools train up and coming reporters in how the eye looks at a screen, and gets them to rewrite a print story for the web. That’s kinda like getting a print reporter to rewrite their story for tv. It’s garbage. Great print media, in adopting an online presence should be all about giving extra information through the links they provide. It’s about being truly transparent. And in a Web 2.0 environment, it’s about being social.

Being a social media entity does enable everyone to be part of your efforts. Web 2.0 is community. But when you add that masthead to the top of your online efforts, then you have a responsibility to the survival of your professional brand as a business as well.

If you want to use Web 2.0, you need to do so responsibly to help your medium survive. Recognise that you have a community of readers who regularly want to respond. Why not approach those people to see if they’d like to have their own blogs rather than sullying up every story you run? Only add reader comments if you can moderate them, and only to particular stories. Invite people to provide additional links rather than simply their opinion! Identify exactly what it is that is driving you to make your print journalists write blogs too, when you have a whole community of people out there? There are plenty of ways to be effective in Web 2.0. It’s social. It’s about people you don’t employ. And they’re a community who could add value and credibility to your brand when you control the infrastructure within which they contribute.

If your masthead isn’t that important to you, then you deserve what’s happening to you.

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Climbing with Harry

This week we went indoor rock climbing with a friend of mine who took time out to show us how it’s done (thanks!). While I stupidly forgot about my fear of heights (remembered when I looked down from about 8 feet up), and Charlie decided it hurt his hands and feet too much at just one foot up, Harry proved once again that he’ll give almost anything a go. Here he is having a go at the 30 foot wall!

Has Rosemeadow forgotten Dean?

Once upon a time, there was a big lake that crossed two suburbs, Ambarvale and Rosemeadow. Surrounded by ticky-tacky public housing, the murky lake was home to eels and ducks that those local residents who couldn’t afford the cost of movies for entertainment would feed with stale bread. The children of the areas would group up with friends and hang out around the lake, playing in the marshes and poking random things found floating in the reeds with sticks.

Until one day a few kids found a suitcase floating in the lake.

They dug it out, opened it and discovered what they thought was a dead pig – but it wasn’t. As time and months of police investigation would reveal, the kids had found a child. A 2-year-old named Dean Shillingsworth who had been beaten to death by his own mother.

If truth is stranger than fiction, then this news story was. However, what makes any story like this even more shocking is when it happens close to home. On one level, that means it could happen to you, or someone you directly know. On another level, it means it could happen where you live. And this happened at our local big park in Rosemeadow and Ambarvale, NSW, really close to my own home, just one suburb away.

Rosemeadow has a large amount of public housing. Small 1970s townhomes and condos, all the same, bunched up together, populated with people who cannot afford to buy or rent in a competitive marketplace. It’s choc-a-block. And what makes it even more garish is the fact that it is bordered by what is sold by local realtors as the best housing estate in the Macarthur region – Glen Alpine. The estate where the Labor party’s champion couldabeen Prime Minister, Mark Latham lived while he was pitching for the land’s top job. Glen Alpine has 1200 houses and a small community shopping centre with tennis courts for hire – all in great condition. Instead of the McDonalds of Rosemeadow, Glen Alpine features McMansions. And the only real thing separating the two areas is one road, Englorie Park Drive. Oh, and quite a few thousand dollars.

The discovery of this poor neglected child saw media reports that ran the story into the ground. The locals began to refer to him as The Lake Angel. Local clergy attempted to bring peace to the area, and saw this as an opportunity to get the people of Rosemeadow to hold those dear to them, and create a sense of community sadly lacking from an area where people were basically living on top of each other. There were candlelight vigils around the lake for the child, attended by over 1000 people. Stuffed toys, flowers, memorials that stayed for many months after the discovery reminded the community of the type of tragedy that can happen in our own backyard.

But within a few short months, media reported the local bus company declared it would not run buses through parts of Rosemeadow due to people throwing rocks at the drivers. There have been regular incidences of fights in the streets, and today the Sydney Morning Herald reports on another massive escalation of violence.

It is clear to me that if Australia had the same gun laws prized by America there would be many more dead people in Rosemeadow to date. Anger appears to run through the veins of people living in this suburb full of public housing.

But with the same breath I would assert that the type of sense of community I have seen in Boulder could do much to assuage this anger and pain. This Christmas, the amount of goodwill shown by the community of Boulder to those in need was remarkable. The collections for charity in retail stores were overflowing with goods donated by the general public – I saw them everywhere. And many retaillers added an extra dollar to your purchase which went directly to charity over the season. And everyone was happy for it to happen.

I am left wondering if only Australia could combine this sense of community, of general concern and caring for other people, with its admirable gun control laws…. perhaps there’d be less tears.

Breastfeeding in America

Recently many Twitterers (and their associates) contributed to my survey on American women’s attitudes to breastfeeding and its representation in the media. I promised to share the outcomes of my research and the survey, which this post seeks to do. For those interested, the entire paper (30 pages plus 15 page complete survey result appendix) is available by emailing me or asking on Twitter and I’ll get it to you straight away. If you’d like to see the summary of survey responses, this link takes you to the final Survey Monkey summary.

American Breastfeeding Rates

America has a dismal breastfeeding rate. The World Health Organization and the US’s own CDC recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and then breastfed with additional food until they are two years old and beyond. The American Government then worked with the CDC in 2000 to develop the Healthy People 2010 initiative. It includes breastfeeding goals which fall short of the WHO and CDC’s own recommendations – that rates of breastfeeding be targeted to 75% initiating breastfeeding at birth, with 50% at six months and just 25% at one year.

Each year since 2000, American media has been fed press release diatribe on how successfully this plan is being implemented. And mainstream media have unquestioningly spurted it back at the general public. Headlines like “Breastfeeding rate soars” (USA Today 2002) and Reuters 2007 story headlined “US breastfeeding rates rise to record high” disguise the real issue – that even after 8 years of a government promotion to increase breastfeeding in America, 25% of women never even try. In 2005 only 11% of American women exclusively breastfed for 6 months (as opposed to the WHO recommendation of 100%) and in 2007 a quarter of women who initiate breastfeeding at birth have introduced formula within the first week of their child’s life.

So what’s the problem?

Media loves boorolling-stone-janet-jackson-coverbs – as long as they’re shown in a sexual way. We’re all familiar with advertising and other images of breasts. For example, this 1993 cover image of Janet Jackson on Rolling Stone won critical acclaim. The story focuses on Jackson and her embracing of her sexuality. The focal point is her breasts.

But a full 13 years later, BabyTalk magazine’s cover created outrage. No less than 700 complaints were sent to the editor over a cover promoting breastfeeding. So getting it straight, a magazine committed to mothering and babies, getting flak over a cover which promoted – mothering and babies.

babytalk_cover_2006-08

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my paper I explain how I believe this has occurred. The movement of women into the public sphere has seen them embrace their femininity in a new way. There’s a whole “look, I’m in the boardroom and I have breasts” ferocity which has been associated with feminism. Women don’t like being confronted with images which remind them of the roles their mothers had. Feminism’s abject failure through the 1980s and 1990s was its devaluation and disempowerment of the importance of nursing.

Yes, I argue that the feminist movement has contributed to a sociey where even women more readily accept images of breasts that celebrate them on a sexual rather than a mothering level. This is reflected in media too. TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal feature women who embrace their sexuality and power as successful. Women who hold traditional mothering roles are less successful, frustrated, angry or just plain stupid.

And then to have the audacity to bring those breasts, feeding infants, into the general public? No wonder women in general lead the call for ‘discretion’ and ‘hooter hiders’.

The survey

I hoped to get about 30 responses. The survey went viral and in three days I received 128 responses. More than a third of respondents added extra information to each of the basic four questions asked. Women have strong views. In my paper I relate this passion to religiosity. The religion of breastfeeding meets all the academic standards of definition. No longer is breastfeeding normal, usual practice. And I find that distressing.

While 95% of respondents did not believe media has any influence over their own ideas about breastfeeding, more than half believe media should show it more often. Clearly, women believe media has an influence over someone (if not themselves). One key response was along the lines of “media doesn’t influence my ideas about breastfeeding because it’s not shown in media.” My assertion is that this absence has just as much influence as if it were shown.

Moving forward

So what does this mean for feminists who embraced the bottle as their key to freedom from the ugliness and backward past? It means that the general public can look at American women and say “hey, are you women so stupid that you need to be told to breastfeed? And after eight years, you still aren’t getting the message?” It means that heck, if you’re an educated woman you need to recognise everything about you that’s powerful, not just breaking through the glass ceiling.

 

If media showed breastfeeding as part of normal life on television and other media. If it made it present and normal – not a focus of a storyline, but just part of the everyday life of families with babies on tv, then could we begin to see this overtly sexual obsession with breasts change? Could we begin to see women being more accepting of their breasts as being a special part of a relationship with their child, not just as part of the relationship with their sexuality? If, in a similar way to Hollywood reducing smoking in movies, we began to insert breastfeeding into them… what would happen? And what about the international impact this could have? Hollywood movies are seen worldwide.

Certainly our only hope can be to improve on dismal American breastfeeding rates – and who knows where it could end.