Innovate or …..

Newspapers are dying, so let's get on with it.

Newspapers are dying, so let’s get on with it.

Innovation and journalism are not two words you usually associate together. But in order for journalism to survive it needs to innovate. I’ve said it before on this blog – this is actually a good thing and creates an exciting time for journalists.

As old models and formats struggle for audiences – and relevance – it is time for a new wave of journalism to step up and take hold of this opportunity. And that’s exactly what it is, an opportunity.

I was fortunate recently to experience the opportunities available to us. A few weeks ago the MEAA held a two day workshop with Lisa Williams the Director of Digital Engagement for the Investigative News Network. Her expertise is working with startups and helping them take their idea to fruition.

Over the workshop we teased out our pitch, created a plan to move forward and strategise finding investors. Sharing the workshop with journalists and programmers who are finding new ways to present the news was actually exciting.

Following are three key things I came away from the workshop with.

1. Be clear & concise

We often hear about the elevator pitch as the tool you use to sell your idea to that key investor in two sharp sentences. While this is true what I found is it actually refines your idea, distils it to something anyone can get. My idea, a dedicated site for freelancers to pitch work, has often left my friends glassy eyed when I explain it to them.

Now you should always have your elevator pitch ready for when you get stuck in one with Richard Branson. But just in case that day never happens, still take a moment to get your idea down to two sentences for no other reason than to bring it down to the essence of what it is.

2. Don’t be afraid of being first

For two days I shared ideas with a dozen or so people who had ideas that I’d never heard of before. In fact some were so left of centre if I didn’t meet them I could very well have never heard of them at all. While all our ideas were different and unique we had one thing in common – they were all original.

And that was our strength, there was nothing like what we had in the marketplace. That also became our strength and not our weakness because pioneers shape the world.

3. Be passionate

When I got to the workshop I was panicked by the idea of exposing my undeveloped idea in front of a room of strangers. But the moment they began quizzing me about my idea I knew why I was there – to passionately argue for what I believed in. It was my idea and I knew it had legs.

Nothing compares to your own enthusiasm for an idea and the tenacity to make it happen. We can be precious about intellectual property but at the end of the day, whoever tries to steal your idea is missing a key ingredient – your passion to make it happen.

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ANZAC Girls Through Rose Coloured Glasses

Behind the scenes of ANZAC GIRLS by Matt Nettheim

Behind the scenes of ANZAC GIRLS by Matt Nettheim

It’s no secret I love a good period piece.

I’ve watched every season of Underbelly just for the art direction. And don’t get me started on the Miss Fisher series. Nostalgia with a twist of feminist history, my kind of Friday night.

So of course there was much delight in my household when ANAZAC Girls finally appeared in the TV guide.

Shot here in Adelaide at the Adelaide Studios I literally watched it come together around me. The northern side of my office block became a 1915 Greek Village and undeveloped rooms upstairs in to a Cairo hospital. Passing streams of extra’s dressed as World War 1 patients was just a trip to the post box some days.

But it did not stop there. ANZAC Girls is the perfect advertisement for film locations in SA. In fact I’ve recognised so many in this series I’ve started a drinking game. And just as well, because I am starting to think I need a stiff drink to get through it.

There are many ways you can tell the ANZAC story and ANZAC Girls had the makings for something really special. The cast is  strong, loving Anna McGahan as Olive and Caroline Craig does well too. Unfortunately the script’s not giving them much to really sink their teeth in to.

Then there is the cinematography which feels to me unimaginative and the edit almost formulaic. But aside from the issues I have with the lack of storytelling, there is a much bigger problem with the series.

ANZAC Girls highlights the problem with celebrating a major event like the Gallipoli landing on such a grand scale and what it does for our understanding history.

The ANZAC story is thick with nostalgia, full of stories of legend, loss and love. And with so many ways to tell it series like this sadly falls through the quality control cracks.

Of all the ANZAC series that will be coming out in the next 12 – 18 months, ANZAC Girls was the first. Admittedly there were high expectations – how often do we talk about women on the frontline when we talk about Gallipoli?

Unrecognised by the Army, they too did it hard with their own casualties.

World War 1 was a terrible campaign that we suffered from dearly. Yet remembering it through the filter of ANZAC Girls it does what Lieutenant General David Morrison was concerned about. It romanticises war and creates a myth around it.

In the world of ANZAC Girls the injured were treated and we assume survive as they die only occassionally. But more amazingly in these harsh conditions the Sister’s uniforms stay clean, their hair is washed and no ounce of dirt makes it on their face.

I have not seen such staid television like this in years. And I know why. It is an outdated history lesson, sentimental yet lacking emotion and just like the Sister’s uniofrms, everything is sterile.

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Is Seeing Believing?

When news of the MH17 crash came to light journalists and media outlets were on the ground, commenting from Australia and sharing every detail they could find.

I remember the Friday night before the weekend papers were out reading one harrowing account from a journalist who was walking through the crash site in the Ukraine. Aeroplane parts, toys, books, clothes, luggage and bodies. Lots of bodies.

One description of a child stayed in mind for hours. It unnerved me so much I dreamt about it that night. The following morning I was still unsettled by an image that was now in my subconscious. It was an image put there by words, not pictures.

That Saturday I was horrified to see The Weekend Australian had put on the front page a photograph that had dead bodies in it. Not inside with a warning or with the feature pieces – but on the front page.

As Media Watch pointed out this week this decision, and that of other publications, to graphically show images of dead bodies caused much debate. While some of us are disgusted by it there are those who believe the only way we can truly show the inhumanity of what has happened is to show it in its full force.

Would family and friends of the victims agree?

After knowing the words of one well written piece was able to infiltrate my dreams and wake me sicken by what had happened I questioned whether we need pictures.

This week the news has continued to report on Israel’s attack on Gaza.

One morning I heard reports on the radio that an Israeli strike hit a UN school where women and children were sheltering, killing 15 people. That report alone did not need images I could already see it in my imagination. There they were cowering for protection, praying for the shelling to stop and then being hit. Left in rumble with stains of blood. I’ve seen enough to know what this looks like.

One argument for showing graphic images is that it is our responsibility in the media to “reflect what is reality”. I couldn’t agree more but once I again I ask does a barrage of graphic images do this, especially when we as a society are becoming so desensitised by it?

As Paul Barry pointed out. Regardless of our outrage or support mainstream media’s use of these images now is just trying to keep up with social media.

NB: I have not used any images in this article or links which contain them as a decision not to perpetuate the saturation we have experienced in recent weeks.

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Murdoch vs Murdoch

Image courtesy of Simon Howden

Image courtesy of Simon Howden

Today I had a guilty mum moment. Not one of those moments where the media told me to go out and buy something to quell it. No this guilty moment happened when I saw an advertisement for a children’s sponsored fundraiser.

Called Step-a-thon it is an event where children register and receive a free slap on pedometer. They then ask friends and family to sponsor them for the amount of steps they take in one week.

My first thought was, ‘wow, my son would get in to that, have a good time, be healthy and do something for charity.’ Then I saw this event was a fundraiser for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

I went off the idea. And so here comes the guilt.

All big Corporations have a charity arm and some of them do good work. Just take the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundationa. Stopping polio around the world, it’s the type of philanthropy we need.

Yet somehow when you see a segment like this on MediaWatch I’m left wondering where is the good will?

How can a Murdoch owned newspaper construe the truth about cancer killing cigarettes then expect us to believe a foundation which carries the same name seriously cares about healthy children?

Of course media should be independent. But it should also be telling the truth. If it did then perhaps I wouldn’t be associating a charity’s good work with one rogue newspaper.

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One of Us

An image on Facebook of Australian journalists protesting.

An image on Facebook of protesting Australian journalists.

The day after Peter Greste’s seven-year sentence was handed down I watched Balibo. I had recorded it some weeks ago when it was on SBS on a Saturday night. It really brought home to me in a graphic way the risks Australian journalists take as foreign correspondents.

It also reminded me how being an Australian journalist and citizen means nothing in some countries, especially in times of conflict.

Back in March this year Mona Elthaway, an Egyptian-American freelance journalist and commentator was on QandA. When talking about Egypt and their judicial system she referred to a case where a judge ordered the death sentence for 529 people after only two sessions in court.

“We don’t have a jury system in Egypt,” she said. “So by no stretch of the imagination did they have a free and fair trial. I don’t care what group they belong to. They can belong to Satan worshippers for all I care. Nobody deserves to have a trial like that.”

She went on to talk about the incoming President Field Marshall Abdul Fattah el-Sisi and their military regime.

“We want a very, very clear denunciation of what happens in Egypt, because we’re trying – we’re trying very hard to fight the military regime under incredible odds,” she implored. “There is no justice in Egypt. There is no fair trial in Egypt. And what you saw happen, unfortunately, is a result of that, that this one judge thought he could get away with that. Hopefully he won’t because the world, I hope, is paying attention.”

Was Australia paying attention?

The same day Elthaway was on Australian television condemning the Egyptian courts Greste and his two colleagues had been denied bail. They had now been held in custody for three months.

QandA, a forum for which I am sure will have plenty to say about Greste’s sentence next week was silent that evening in March. Greste’s name was not mentioned once. However journalists were well aware of his name the MEAA was posting regular updates about his arrest and trial in their bulletins.

Like Balibo, it felt like this was happening to some other journalists in some other country and only other journalists cared about it.

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The Art of Blogging…..

Working Mum In Action

Working Mum In Action

I shocked myself the other day when I looked at the archive list on my blog. Wow, December 2010 was when I published my first blog – almost 3 and half years ago.

It was called Mia Puglia and was about the South Australian government, then under Mike Rann, investing thousands of dollars in to the Italian village Puglia. The fact the family of the Premier’s wife was from there was no coincidence.

Reading it made me I cringe. Not so much because of my writing but because of what I was writing. When I started blogging I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just had one objective, to write regularly.

It took a few master classes to understand what that really meant but I got there and now writing a blog once a week is part of my work schedule.

You see as a freelance journalist I can’t rely on an Editor to publish my work consistently – yet I can.

Keeping my own blog not only guarantees I am published online once a week, it also keeps me writing.  And the only way I can improve my writing is to write, then write and then doing some more writing.

With a blog I can vent, share an opinion, ask my readers for their perspective or just use it to publish an article that no one bought.

But blogs don’t have to be just about writing opinions or thoughts. They can be how to guides, photographs, short movies, poems, creative writing or all of the above. The beautiful thing is, a blog is whatever you want it to be.

Often the biggest hurdle to blogging is starting.

This coming July I will be, on behalf of mindshare, running a blogging and social media workshop at the Adelaide City Library. Every Tuesday from July 1 to 22 at 10:30-12:30 I will teach you how to start a blog, populate it with content and advertise it through social media.

If you’re interested email me at mindshare@mhcsa.org.au, places are limited so get in quick!

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It’s Time We Had THAT Talk

film-can-6016117

Are we making art or a profit?

Before the budget the Australian media whipped itself into frenzy around the Government’s Commission of Audit. And rightly so we had been waiting months for its findings and being delivered prior to the budget meant newsrooms had plenty of fodder to make predictions by.

As a producer I was keen to read the Commission’s suggestion for the film industry. It argued we streamline arts organizations to create efficiencies, this included in Screen Australia.

It said; “Bringing together the Australia Council, Australian Business Arts Foundation Ltd, Screen Australia and the Bundanon Trust into a single arts council would also reduce administrative costs and support closer collaboration within the arts community. It will provide improved capacity for grant and procurement processes to be centrally and professionally managed.”

Now the idea of merging Screen Australia with the Australia Council was bound to be controversial. Here are two separate bodies that deal with two fundamentally different streams of work.

Yet before we scream ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it’, let’s take a look at the current state of play.

In the budget the Government proposed the Australia Council lose $30m over the next three years. Meanwhile Screen Australia will lose $38 million over the next four years. The prediction is the fall out will mean smaller pools of funding for the arts and film sectors.

Perhaps if the two organizations did merge we could soften the blow. They could find efficiencies in staffing, programs could have an overhaul and those filmmakers who argue they are making art will be right at home.

As for the rest of us, we’d have to find more private investment, get our broadcasters (who are profiting from our work) to pay a bit more and we’d become comfortable with the word commercial.

At least in a commercial world if we made bombs at the box office we’d have investors to answer to. Right now if we make bombs we’re not shun from government or state agencies. Instead the opposite happens and we’re given another go at it because it’s about how many screen credits you have not how many dollars you earn.

Now I’m not shirking the problem we have with getting audiences to see our films. Hollywood does have a lot to answer for. Their blockbusters have marketing budgets bigger than our production budgets and that’s hard to compete with. But there is something else we’re competing against – investors.

Private investors and big corporations back the Hollywood system and they demand a return.  A box office flop will not make you in that town – it will break you.

The do or die attitude forces filmmakers to make movies that reach wide audiences, with stories that are universal and engaging.

And here in lies our problem. Cinema has the potential to be a huge income earner for producers and investors in Australia yet we are falling well short of the mark. Unlike other art forms, films can actually make a return. But we’re not and theory is that’s because we are not looking at ourselves as a commercial proposition but art.

You see when art does not make a return we argue its importance based on cultural value. Sure Australian cinema has cultural value and we love to see our stories on the screen. All of our broadcasters have their own break out Aussie series or mini-series to prove that.

So why isn’t this translating to cinema?

We have an industry full of talent in front and behind the camera. Our audiences should be smashing box offices, but they won’t while we persist in making art and not profits.

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Only If It’s Free

will not work for free

On the weekend I was reminded of ways in which people will try and get you to work for free. I was relaying the story of pitching to an editor a feature piece. It was a 1500 word article and with my pitch I sent him my body of work with the same word count.

To be rejected because the idea was not strong is fine.

To be rejected because they had already covered that subject, I get that.

To be rejected because “….space is limited in coming issues. Too limited for me to commission first-time contributors, I’m afraid. That said, I would consider anything sent in on spec.”

So you think the idea has merit, but only if it came for free?

Well, yes.

This kind of exploitation was akin to a piece Eleanor Robertson wrote on The Guardian recently. While it was a timely reminder how internships are a means of free work under the guise of ‘experience’. She actually went further and did the maths. What she revealed are large corporations and broadcasters actually accumulating tens of thousands of dollars a year in savings in their labour force.

Even the film industry is encouraged to take interns to assist with their low budgets and work flow. At this year’s Australian International Documentary Conference an Australian producer suggested if you need help with publicity and marketing take on an intern to help you with the ‘grunt work’.

While that opportunity does provide experience, there are still skills an intern brings in to a work place that we do utilize. Whether they are contacts, an enthusiasm for social media, ability to write or just plain passion. They are things that we would and should pay for.

The media, for all its wealth is appalling at valuing work. Whether it is expected for free or at rates as low as 0.02c per word, there is a long held belief that we are all so passionate about what we do, we would do it for free. Forgoing any need to earn a living, accumulate wealth or just be valued, as we should.

However while I lament at how little is paid to freelancers or students and graduate exploitation, I will leave the last thought with Kylie.

Kylie has been accused of trying to hire dancers for free for one of her film clips. Apparently there was no budget to pay them, so instead of coming up with a new idea, they sent a call out for professionals to work for free.

Oh dear, only in the media and only in the arts.

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Sure Let’s Talk About Suicide

This week I wrote about the media’s reporting of suicide. It also caused me to reflect on my own family’s experience with it. This was first published on mindshare.

I was 17 when my grandfather died. My mother told me it was a heart attack. It was only a few days later my Aunt mistakenly told me the truth.

She rang to leave a message for my mother, Nonno may not be allowed a Catholic funeral because of the way he died she told me. “What do you mean – the way he died?” I asked. “You know, his suicide,” she replied.

No I didn’t know that and it wasn’t until it was all over I asked my mother for the truth. While it was important to know it, I still kept telling people it was a heart attack.

It was like the shame my mother was protecting me from, I was now trying to protect everyone else from.

When I started working in the media some years later I wanted to do a radio documentary on teenage suicide. I sought the advice of psychologists who said it was a bad idea. They argued it would create copycat suicides.

Then as I learnt more about the media I realised the huge sensitivity behind talking about it. When we cover this subject we do so without any real knowledge of the state of mind of our audience. However over recent years we have all agreed that not talking about suicide is not helping the situation, in fact it could be making it worse.

Then in 2011 the Australian Press Council released guidelines on reporting suicide. After years of discussion it was finally official – we could talk about it. But not in a careless free for all but in a carefully considered manner that did not create more harm. So adhere to some golden rules – you never report how a person died and why.

Recently the media had to deal with two high profile suicides within in a month. The first was TV presenter and model Charlotte Dawson, the other was designer L’Wren Scott. Sadly, some news reports forgot the golden rules and detailed how these women committed suicide, speculating on reasons why.

In only three short years the media had became sloppy and reckless. It was as though the guidelines were never written. Sure we need to look at the who, what, why, when, where, and how. But not always, and especially not now.

When I saw this I became so disappointed. Why do Editors have to be so lackadaisical? Why do they think we need to know the details?

After my Nonno died I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to be openly angry, sad, nostalgic. I wanted to ask questions and search for answers. Instead for years I had to be quiet.

While we don’t have to be quiet any more, we do still need to be careful.

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Declaring Your Vote

Annette Elliott & myself before polling day.

Annette Elliott & myself before polling day.

As journalists we are taught to be apolitical however it does not take long to work out who sits on the left, right or somewhere in between. While impartiality is what is supposed to make us ‘professional’ sometimes it makes me feel like we are inhumane.

In the lead up to the recent South Australian election my company took on a pro-bono project for Annette Elliott and the No Domestic Violence Coalition. We made a series of short viral videos based on the actual stories of women and children who have survived abuse in the home.

Wanting to do more I offered my hand to give them some media advice and used my social networks to raise their profile. But as a journalist that is where it had to end. I felt because I had associated myself so closely with the campaign I could not write a feature about domestic violence policies and each of the parties.

This caused me a real dilemma. Firstly, I have written about family violence in the past so to compare policies would not seem out of place. But because my name had been associated with a political candidate who ran on this agenda suddenly I felt I could not do this.

Yet journalists are forever editorialising their opinions on anything and everything. This is how the status of journalist has migrated to celebrity for some. And the rise of the editorial has influenced straight news to the point it has become had to see stories as objective anymore.

While I know for my own integrity and ethics I did the right thing but I do regret my decision. No one in the media covering the election tackled the issue of family violence. When the Liberal party released a policy on tougher penalties to prevent street violence no one questioned what policies are stopping domestic violence. Even though according to The Advertiser, “Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said late-night violence and public safety was a key issue ahead of the state election.”

With our newsrooms being dominated by men it is hard to get the stories and issues that primarily impact on women on the front page. Sometimes I think only female journalists can change this, and if that means by working in both politics and media, then perhaps that is what it must take.

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