Introducing: Ed Brown

It’s about time I let you know just who I am!

Mainly I’m just a smart-arse geek with a passion for technology, sci-fi and politics. I have some very strong opinions, which will no doubt come out in my writings.

I work in the warehouse of a small but growing industrial hardware business in Melbourne, Australia.

I’ve been a tech enthusiast since I was a kid, writing games and programs in BASIC on my family’s ZX Spectrum. For most of my 20s I was a hardcore online gamer, playing in a few competitive clans for various first person shooters. Late last year, I stopped gaming to work on my fitness and health. I am something of a Google fanboi.

I’m an avid consumer of all sorts of media, from TV and newspapers to social networking sites and video games. The current state of traditional journalism worries me, as I keep seeing examples of old media companies failing to understand the internet. I’m fascinated by the concept of New Media and how social media is shaping the news.

I’m a social liberal, and have previously voted for the Australian Democrats. I am a member of the Australian Sex Party, although I have not yet attended any meetings and I don’t hold any official position. I’m a firm believer in gay marriage, I’m pro-choice and fascinated by human sexuality. I consider myself agnostic – I believe there may or may not be gods, but if there are they either don’t care or are powerless to make the world better.

That’s a fair idea of who I am – I hate filling in profiles and summarising myself! Feel free to contact me on Twitter or Google Buzz, or ask me a question on Formspring!

Mystical Experiences are a Load of Crap!

49% of Americans need a strong dose Wake The Fuck Up. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans say they have had a religious or mystical experience. And by that, we’re talking a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening”.

Really?

Come on. Unless you’ve had a near death experience, discovered a plague of locusts in your living room or seen a bush on the side of the road spontaneously combust, you haven’t had a mystical experience. What you have had, probably, is a straightforward epiphany. You suddenly realised something that your subconcious had been working on for a while. Either that, or you had a piece of toast with a burn mark vaguely resembling one of the Bee Gees.

Why do so many people have a malfunctioning Bullshit Detector? The Pew survey notes that 30% of these ‘experiences’ occured among people not affiliated with any religion. So what mystical events were they experiencing? Seeing ghosts? I call shenanigans on that crap. They were either tripping, or they’re making it up to try and sound cool.

I ain’t buying it.

Anyone here had a ‘religious or mystical’ experience?

Rupert Murdoch doesn’t understand the internet

How the world’s most powerful media magnate doesn’t understand media anymore.

“We’re going to stop people like Google, or Microsoft, or whoever from taking our stories for nothing… I think they ought to stop it. The newspapers ought to stand up and let them do their own reporting or whatever.”

So said Rupert Murdoch, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington. He seems outraged that Google News lets people click on links that take them to sites owned by his papers! Am I missing something here? As far as I know you can’t read the full article on Google News, only a headline and brief snippet. The link to the original publisher is free advertising for the publisher!

In case you think I’m being harsh, or taking him out of context, here’s Murdoch’s exact words taken from a transcript provided by The Independent: “By that I mean that, if you go to Google News and you see stories where it says Wall Street Journal and you click on it, you suddenly get the page or the story as in the WSJ and it’s for free. And they take it for nothing, it’s free… We’ll be very happy if they just publish our headline, and a sentence or two, followed by a subscription form, of course. And that will bring you so-called traffic to your site.” I feel a little sorry for Murdoch. He’s clearly had someone explain in the briefest of terms how Google News works, but nobody’s actually pointed out how it works in his favour.

That he doesn’t ‘get’ the internet was further proven when he commented on the iPad:

“You know I got a glimpse of the future this last weekend with the Apple iPad. It is a wonderful thing … it has brought together all forms of media, music, books, newspapers, whatever… It may be the saving of newspapers. It cuts costs – costs of paper, ink, printing, trucks.”

But if you don’t have paper, ink, printing, trucks… you’ve essentially got a website, right? This is where the Murdoch View of the future crumbles. As Media Watch host Jonathon Holmes observed on The Drum, Murdoch “despite the power and the profits of News Corp’s book-publishing, magazine, television and film production arms, is still a newspaper man”. He still views the world of media as a newspaper magnate would. Wanting to box all his news into one closed off marketable product. The iPad has a Wall Street Journal app – a closed environment – that you pay US$3.99 a week for. The Times Online website has a Pay Wall – a closed environment – that you pay £1 a day or £2 a week for access to.

The media industry is at a crossroads. And companies that go down the Murdoch road of pay walls and closed environments will learn what the music industry kinda learnt the hard way: if you don’t adapt to the internet it will destroy you. For years the music industry thought it could fight the internet’s hippy-like culture of freedom and openness. File sharing sites like Napster and Kazaa took the music Goliaths by surprise and they fought back. Murdoch sees content aggregators like Google and Yahoo as enemies, when it should embrace them as friends. A fascinating study by the Pew Research Group reported that only 7% of people surveyed would be likely to pay for access to a particular news site. “The vast majority of online news consumers,” the report states, “seem willing to browse for news from many sites, do not have a favorite online news source, and even if they do, are not willing to pay for that site’s content”. You can go the way of the music industry, Rupert, and try to force people to pay for your content, or you can go the way of the Huffington Post and Politico – two young, internet savvy media organisations that are making significant growth at a time when news giants are in decline.

Would you or do you pay for news content?

Journalism should be quality, not quantity

As citizens in the Information Age, where we are bombarded every day with vast amounts of knowledge and news, quality is fast becoming much more important than quantity. Today, former Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull announced he was leaving politics, and Google News was showing 256 articles about it within 8 hours. And that’s just for a relatively inconsequential (in world terms) resignation of a Australian politician. On the same day, when a mining explosion in the US killed 25 workers, there were over 2,300 news reports in the same 8 hours. The quantity is there, but I wonder about the quality – the vast majority of those news reports are essentially the same article, rehashed and published for a different organisation. Quality journalism requires two key elements – originality and accountability. Originality is obvious – it’s not quality journalism if you just reworded a few lines of someone else’s story. Accountability, though, is what really makes good journalism. Good journalists will admit when they get things wrong – no matter how minor or trivial it may seem. But how often does that happen? If a journalist reports something that’s inaccurate – or just plain wrong – how often do you see it followed up and corrected? I hardly ever see corrections in newspapers or even online.

Last week I was listening to NPR’s excellent On The Media podcast which had a fascinating interview with Wadah Khanfar, Director General of Al Jazeera, and he had obviously noticed the same thing:

“This is why we are the only TV station that I know of that opens air for audience to phone in and to criticise and to correct our coverage.”- Wadah Khanfar

I may be showing my age a bit but I can remember when the ABC had Backchat, and then later renamed it Feedback and then cancelled it altogether. The ABC now lets you know when it gets things wrong by announcing them on it’s Corrections & Clarifications page, tucked away in a tiny corner of their website. So the ABC no longer broadcasts audience complaints, and it hides it’s own mistakes. That’s the opposite of how news organisations should behave, in my opinion. News, without accountability, is just gossip. Everyone makes mistakes – to pretend otherwise is arrogant and demeaning to the audience. But accurate information is so crucial to a well-functioning democracy that when mistakes are made they should be clearly and loudly announced. Preferably by the organisation at fault, but if not then it’s up to other news organisations and ordinary people themselves to correct them.

How often do you see a media organisation correct its mistakes? Or more to the point, how often do you see media organisations making mistakes?

(In this article “ABC” refers to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the American broadcaster)