Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Photoshop ethics ...

As part of my media communications degree, I do a unit called Journalism Ethics and Issues. Today's lecture was by a member of the Australian Press Council (APC), Gary Evans [2nd from top].

Gary discussed an instance where the Cairns Post newspaper decided to publish an photo of a scene where two people had been shot after an all-day seige on 17 March, 2001 [can't find the story online -- comment if you want the story and photos and I'll email them to you]. The photo was taken from a helicopter and showed one dead man lying on the front patio and the leg of another man visible through the doorway. However, in publication, the CP whited out the pool of blood around Man 1's head and enhanced the brightness of Man 2's leg so it was more defined.

What an interesting decision: to, in a way, sensitise the gore of Man 1 by making the blood less visible but also bringing out the fact there is another dead body in the image by enhancing the leg of Man 2 in the doorway.

The photo was published in the Saturday (highest rating) edition of the paper and took up all of pages one and two, and the photo in question was printed in full colour, occupying over half of the text space on page one. The headline read `Two gunned down: DEATH HOUSE`.

The CP was chastised by its readers so much that the editor devoted the next Tuesday and Wednesday letters pages solely to letters about the Ravenshoe photograph. All but one letter were against the decision to publish the pic.

There are so many factors that come into this debate: Ravenhoe is a small town and people could recognise the identity of Man 1, but the photo was published in the CP, which circulates in the wider Atherton region so the majority of readers would not associate with the victims; the CP had a duty to cover arguably the biggest story ever out of Ravenshoe, but how much coverage is too much?; this was the first such instance in the region and the CP was giving it the attention -- as far as news value is concerned -- it warranted; what if young children picked up the paper and recognised the corpse? How much sensitivity should the CP show to such a small minority of readers?; in the interests of free press (this was basically Gary's perspective) the CP had a role to play in providing information to the community it serves, and the CP readership would have wanted appropriate coverage of the seige and an important part of that coverage is a photograph that represented the horror which took place; the idea that the CP, as a news service, reports significant happenings in the region, the double shooting is a significant happening, therefore the CP will report in full.

Yes, the CP had an obligation to cover the story effectively and provide the community with information of the significant event, but this information can be communicated without using images of the dead bodies. In my opinion, what is wrong with publishing a photo of the front of the house (the dead bodies were out the back) to show where the shootings took place and then describing the scene to the reader through text: "the body of one man was lying on the pavement with a large pool of blood next to his head. Another corpse was visible through the doorway of the squallarly shack ...". This way, the carnage is not in your face like it is with a photo. A picture does tell a thousand words, but sometimes words are more accurate and sensitive in describing a stressful scene.

There is also the impact the photo would have on the closely associated readers. Although they represent a shaving of the overall readership, the potentially damaging effects of publishing the photo would outweigh the decision to publish. The victim would have had a mother and father, possibly siblings, friends, a partner. To find out your loved one is dead as you eat your Saturday morning bacon and eggs would be traumatic alone -- to see a picture of their undignified corpse would be utterly sickening.

The Press Council eventually upheld the complaints against the CP:

The complaints to the Press Council wrote of the 'ghoulish portrayal of a tragedy' and the 'sickening visual image', of the possibility of many in Ravenshoe and Cairns knowing and being able to identify the victims, of the paper's poor taste and the 'extremely offensive and repugnant' photograph. [full transcript of the adjudication]

There has to be a medium between an unrestrained free press and an influenced coltrolled one. If every photograph of a horrific scene were published, people would simply turn against the press and its purpose would be obsolete. Yes, photographs which best describe a traumatic scene are often the most gruesome, but the information can be portrayed in less confronting and affecting ways. Resistance to publish does not kill a free press. On the contrary, if done ethically, I believe sensitivity can reinforce it.

picture: photobucket

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Silicon Valley humour ...

Have you heard about the latest innovations from Google?

Well, there's the `Toilet internet Service Provider` (TiSP), a new wireless broadband service that connects you to the web via your household plumbing. It's the latest in `dark porcelain` research. Here's how it works.

But if you already get enough sewer content through the internet, you can always try Gmail paper. Sick of annoying pop-ups, Defence Force ads and strained eyes from reading off the computer screen? You should try the latest service from Google!

Get all your online documents mailed to you in full courtesy of the good people at Gmail Paper. (Please allow 5-10 working days for deliveries outside USA. Paper may contain traces of machinery that may have been used to produce products containing nuts.)

Happy April Fool's Day to you and yours.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

It's just a jump to the [L]eft ...

If you were an alien who had crashed into Earth and, for some reason, decided to read today's Australian, you would be forgiven for thinking it's a dominantly Left-wing journal in cahoots with the US Democrats.

On page 15, you'd see at least half the page devoted to a piece from the by Andrew Sullivan - `America in a Right awful mess` - about the damage the Scooter Libby conviction has had on the Republican party.

Next to that is a story about Dick Cheney (fair to say he's no favourite among Aussies) and the civil case he and Karl Rove now face after illegally revealing the name of a CIA agent, which led to the Scooter case. `Plame suit puts heat on Cheney`.

[These first two stories received front page teasers, by the way.]

Under all that is a story about senator Barack Obama (`Angry Democrats pursue Fox over Obama remark`) and the collar-residing heat over an Obama/Osama joke made by Roger Ailes on Fox News. Naughty foxes of the Right and shame on their `supposed conservative conspiracy`, it says.

Finally we have a whole piece devoted to how George Bush is `ignoring` comments made by Hugo Chavez that the old-eyed republican is `political dead meat`. The president can ignore it as much as he likes, but the papers obviously didn't, and now you're all reading about (remember, you're the alien) how the Venezuelan socialist wrecked George's chances of making friends with Latin America. (I guess Bush is nowhere near as good at ignoring as Mr Howard).

All this in an allegedly centre-right newspaper - what a time-warp.
Has anyone seen the road signs that read `turn left at any time with care`? ...

image: iStockPhoto

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Back on board

After a massive three month break I'm finally back at uni and my nose is back where it feels safe - pointing at the spine of an open book.

I'm not going to bore any of my zero hundred readers with mundane details about my holiday - let's just say that after three and a half months off I'm glad to be using my brain again.

Loads of interesting issues have come to the media foreground since the end of 06, and with an Australian election at the end of this year and the US Mardi Gras/presidential election at the end of next year there should be no shortage of blogger ammo to keep me going.

This is my final year of uni and in first semester I'm taking Persuasive Writing, Political Communication, Journalism Ethics and Media Audiences.
I'm going to try and tee up some work experience as soon as possible this year so after I graduate I can just sidle into a full-time job.

It should be a fun year and, once again, feel free to contribute any comments you may have to my editorials and I promise I'll extend you the same courtesy.

Fire up the espresso machine!

photo: Shore Coffee

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Come on save your soul ...

If you have any doubts as to whether Saddam Hussein's death sentence was delayed by the Bush Government to boost voter support for the upcoming election, then have a look at this prediction in The Notion by Tom Engelhardt.

It's not the first time George Bush has PR'ed his way to the polls. But will it work this time??? - well I don't give a rat's kak; I'm just amazed the amount of spin that goes into US politics. I'm not saying Aus politics is fluff-free (ref: current QLD premier), but we seem to have cynical bones in our spines, more refined bollock-filters if you will. Most Americans eat up PR like a ... like a ... umm ... just a sec ... one's coming ... uuhh ... an up-sized BullShit Burger meal with extra cheese -- hold the socialist fries.

photo: mattbooy.com

Friday, October 27, 2006

Customer comes first -- especially in media

There's so much debate in Australia about the future of our media landscape -- media laws, media regulation, media delivery platforms, media ownership and content production and consumption -- that it's hard to keep track of what decisions are being made about what.

But the media is not just going to be a new landscape, in fact, it won't be a landscape at all. The Australian media industry will no longer be analogised by planes of land and mountains and rivers -- this will no longer suit. Instead, the media will be like an entire continent, with governments, citizens, transport and communication networks, cities and oceans -- and complaints departments. What I mean is `media` will be everywhere, and incorporate everything, and central to that will be the Australian population.

However, within the political and commercial melee that is the Australian media debate, the most important aspect is being forgotten. That is, whatever decisions are made about content production, media ownership and technology, it is you and I -- the `consumers` -- who will ultimately determine how the media is received and used. Coonan can have her datacasting (whatever that is), Channel 9 can buy out Fairfax and we can be given Wolfmother concerts on our mobile phones until our eyeballs turn blue, but if there's one beauty in current media it is the choice citizens have to use or not to use what we're offered.

Newspapers can become so small and smutty they can fit into your iPod sleeve, but they will lose the core demographic of people who read newspapers for information. News broadcasting can become so fickle and shallow that the TV promo's feature nothing but topless Brazilian women and rabbits that make friends with lions (oh, I think that already happens at FoxNews) that people who actually want news will simply turn of and go elsewhere for their information. The real media-lovers will be able to identify disgraceful media content and will know where to get what they want and, as a result, merchants of poor quality content will suffer.

The mistake ACMA, the ACCC, the Minister for Communications, Austereo and PBL are making is they are still treating you and I like idiots. To them, we are still just numbers on a page that turn up on their desks at 8:00 every morning which are forwarded to advertisers as some kind of representation of marketing success. This is an old and ignorant view. Consumers of media (and I'm still calling us consumers for want of a better word -- `users` maybe) are the be all and end all for the media industry. If you can represent us, diversely and respectfully, in media content, then you will be more successful than if corporations just say `oh the Yanks liked that show so we'll buy it and it'll be a sure-fire winner over here`.

Without us, media content means nothing, and the sooner the Australian bourgeois realise this, the sooner they will resolve to the fact that a successful future in media requires, first and foremost, the priority of democracy and freedom of information. The citizens will take care of the rest.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How have the September 11 attacks changed the news?

I was reading this week's edition of the Weekly Spin from PR Watch and it had a link to this study done by ADT Research.

The US study basically shows that news on terrorism and foreign policy have pushed out a lot of the other domestic topics like drugs, crime and technology. It's only logical to expect that such a major topic like terrorism will be given more news focus, even if it is to the detriment of other, seemingly less important issues.

It made me wonder, though. What are we missing out on now that the news is dominated so heavily by just two or three subjects, and with what discourses are these major news items being shown? Fair enough terrorism is a major issue, but journalism provides the first draft of history, and if someone was to look back in 50 or 100 years' time they could be mistaken for thinking that 2001 was the year everything stopped but war and terrorism.

It's just not accurate reportage. Life has gone on [mine has, at least] after September 11, but the news media obviously hasn't. The world news pages of the newspapers are drowning in Iraq/Iran/Pakistan/Israel stories, and most of thearticles from Europe or Asia are wierd and wonderful ones like `German girl eats sand for breakfast`, and `Chinese man dies while on the job`.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

New Media: New Assignment ...

The Economist: “New online models will spring up as papers retreat. One non-profit group, NewAssignment.Net, plans to combine the work of amateurs and professionals to produce investigative stories on the internet.”

Take a look at NewAssignment.net. Looks like a really interesting concept that will colaborate the work of amatuer and professional journalists around the world.

I don't think I'll donate just yet, though ...

Just had a read of today's editorial in The Oz and I agree -- we shouldn't be too eager to say goodbye to the dead-trees. Newspapers have their place and will not be usurped by New Media. Rather, they will work alongside the various internet news services in a process of collaboration.

When I see someone reading a laptop computer folded into quaters while they ride the bus, I will be proved wrong ...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The ultimate journalism software ...

Monday, September 04, 2006

He died as he lived ...

Steve Irwin had a passion for what he did and an undenying belief that Australia was the greatest country on Earth. For that, it was sad to hear of his death today.

His love of the natural world was inspiring.

My thoughts are with Steve's family. The world will be less lively without him.

Photo: ABC

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The final frontier ...

Blogging from outer-space?

And I thought blogging from my local McDonald's was adventurous ...

Monday, August 28, 2006

While we're at it ...

"The gap between predictions and reality has left Americans deeply discouraged."

In the spirit of having a go at US foreign policy [ie; the previous post], may I direct you to Alan Cohen's story just published the NYT. He writes about the pessimism George Bush and his government have preached over the past five years.

Mission abolished ...

Sometimes I just don't know ...

Well, it looks like the US' crosshairs are focusing on Iran now.

And why would they invade Iran? I asked.

Then I remembered -- oh yeah, that whole `unknown unknowns` thing, that explains it all. You know, the US knew they didn't know whether there were weapons of mass-destruction in Afghanistan/Iraq, so they invaded. And now they don't know whether they know if Iran is being naughty with nuclear weapons or not, so they will attack there too.

Having said that, I don't know whether the Bush Government knows if it wants the public to know what they actually do know about what the Middle East knows about what the US does and doesn't know about what the hell is actually going on.

But then, all we need to `know` is that we live in a democracy, and then it will all make sense.

Cartoon by Steve Bradenton, sourced from grow-a-brain

Friday, August 18, 2006

ABC cancer at Toowong

Aside from being broadsided by the mainstream news media, ABC managing director Mark Scott yesterday went to the ABC building at Toowong to discuss the recent breast cancer scares in the studios.

Read the full report of the ABC's progress here [.doc file].

I know a couple of people who work at the Toowong studios. They say positions are opening up for cadetships because people are leaving.

Good news for me, I guess ...