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Media briefs: Crikey and pictures … Tharunka prank … hand-drawn newspapers …

Tharunka’s prank landed a big fish, and other media tidbits of the day.

Nice prank, Tharunka. Every year on the University of New South Wales’ Foundation Day, students pull pranks. The tradition has a fairly rich history, and this year, UNSW’s student publication Tharunka decided to get in on the fun by targeting media outlets.

On Tharunka’s website yesterday, they ran an article claiming UNSW students had occupied the local Max Brenner chocolate cafe in protest about the war in Gaza (Max Brenner was founded in Israel and delivers chocolate to IDF soldiers, though the Australian operation is licensed to a local owner who has nothing to do with that).

Approximately 30 protesters marched into the Max Brenner store on the Kensington campus less than one hour ago, shouting ‘Free Palestine from the river to the sea!’, ‘Max Brenner, come off it , there’s blood in your hot chocolate!’, and ‘Netanyahu listen well, your Zionist soldiers will burn in hell’,” the student rag reported under a breaking news headline. The prank, its editors told Crikey this morning, was that this never happened, but they wanted to see whether news outlets would report on the story, or seek to confirm it first.

The Daily Telegraph, regrettably, fell for it. Here’s a screenshot of the Tele article, since removed.

Tharunka even captured some reporters on the scene, hoping for their grabs:

Tharunka told us this morning that a quick call to UNSW Max Brenner or UNSW Campus Security — all information easily obtainable via the university website — would have revealed there was no protest:

The Daily Telegraph ended up running with the story, lifting entire parts word for word from the hoax Tharunka article. They later took it down after multiple news crews and journalists arrived at UNSW quite bewildered at the lack of chanting protesters, and have since taken the prank in good humour after telling one of our journalists that ‘it became a bit of a joke’.”

It’s not the first time UNSW has, on Foundation day, fooled the press. Two years ago, its student union sent out a press release saying it had approved a $1.2 million bid for the Sydney Monorail, “should the State government place it for auction after its deconstruction”.

That announcement made it to 2UE, ABC NewsRadio, and Mx (to be fair, the last two did call up UNSW’s student union president about the release — and he lied to them). Still the issue got onto Media Watch, so you’d have thought everyone knew to beware things coming from UNSW in August.

We suggest Sydney editors and producers put “UNSW Foundation Day” in their diaries. There’ll be more pranks next year, no doubt. — Myriam Robin

The curious case of the “stolen” photograph. Listeners to the ABC’s Media Report program last night might have heard Fairfax photographer Andrew Meares make a passing reference to Crikey plagiarising press gallery photographs. But we don’t — apart from one instance of an error, which we quickly corrected.

Here’s the allegation. The segment focused on the difficulties of monetising photography in the digital age and the rise of websites that make money by using other people’s photography without permission. After a broad discussion of the issue, host Richard Aedy asked: “Who are the offenders here? Can we talk about that?”

Meares responded with: “Often they’re surprising people, like Crikey, who have an esteemed colleague [Bernard Keane] just down the corridor from me, so they should know better. And there’s been a succession of people who are keen to enter the political discourse …”

Pushed again on who these were, Meares said: “Mia Friedman’s website [Mamamia] started to do it.”

Crikey and Mamamia were the only two websites identified in a segment about building commercial businesses off other people’s photography, though Meares did also say there were other offenders he didn’t name.

No one put the question to us, but we’d like to clear our name. Yes, we do know better. We have a paid subscription to Getty Images for the photographs on our site, and we would never deliberately use another photographer’s work without permission. In mid-July, a piece by Guy Rundle was illustrated with a photo owned by Fairfax that we did not pay for. The photograph had been widely circulated on Twitter (including by news site Junkee) without attribution, and we were not aware that it was copyrighted. This was, of course, a mistake, and we removed the image immediately, and profusely and repeatedly apologised. Meares told us this morning that it took us more than five days to remove the photo after we apologised. Unbeknownst to us, it remained on our cached server for several days thereafter, meaning it appeared on the landing page when non-subscribers clicked on the link. But as soon as we were made aware of this, we deleted it manually from the cache.

Crikey asked Media Report host Richard Aedy why we weren’t contacted, and he said the program was distracted by production issues. “But there’s no excuse — we should have,” he told us. We also should have checked the photo’s provenance before using it — our bad. But we always endeavour, as all good journalists do, to make sure these things don’t happen.

Andrew Meares told Crikey the discussion was a broad-ranging one about industry trends. “I don’t think it was particularly aimed at Crikey,” he told us this morning. “There was a recent example that came to prominence … That’s why you were mentioned in that one instance.”

Australian newspapers hurt News Corp profits (again). The Murdoch family’s News Corporation finished its first full year as an independent company showing all the strains of being a major print operator, especially in Australia. News Corp’s Australian newspapers were once again a major drag on the wider company’s financial performance in the June quarter and the 2013-14 financial year.

News CEO Robert Thomson said there were “green shoots on the Nullabor” in local advertising in Australia, but the national advertising market was “more difficult”. He also singled out The Australian (and The Times in London) for improved performances, especially in the fourth quarter.

The company’s net profit for the financial year more than halved to US$237 million (A$256 million), down 53% from the US$506 million reported for 20212-13. The fall wasn’t as large as it looks though, because the 2012-13 result was boosted by the one-off profit from the sale of the company’s stake in Sky TV in NZ ahead of the split in the Murdoch empire into News and 21st Century Fox at the end of June 2013.

The company reported a 4% fall in total annual revenues to US$8.57 billion (A$9.24 billion), which was about in line with market forecasts. Fourth-quarter revenues fell 3% to US$2.19 billion. These are large amounts of money, but the results raises the question of whether the June 2013 split in the Murdoch empire went far enough, especially at a time when American media companies are spinning off pure newspaper companies (for example Gannett and the Tribune Co, in the past month).

The big stars for the company in 2013-14 were REA Group and the publishing business of Harper Collins. They boosted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) significantly, compared to a sharp fall in the contribution from newspapers in the year to June. REA lifted revenues 31% to US$457 million (it reports in Australia today), but boosted EBITDA 41% to US$237 million (giving it a gross profit margin of more than 50%). Harper Collins and Thomas Nelson, the bible publisher, lifted revenues 6% to US$1.4 billion, but EBITDA jumped 32% to US$198 million. Fox Sports revenues edged up 2% to US$331.

But the newspaper businesses in the US, UK and Australia recorded a 5% fall in revenues to US$6.258 billion in the year, and a fall of 13% in EBITDA to US$676 million.

Video of the day. Sam Newman managed to expose himself to a national audience on The Footy Show last night. Those damn draughty hospital gowns. Just a warning — this video is not safe for work.

Front page of the day. There’s something charmingly homemade about a hand-drawn newspaper …

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  • 1
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Friday, 8 August 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Amongst all the bad news nowadays there is also some good news: …Australian newspapers hurt News Corpse profits (again). May this trend continue at an exponential rate into the future. Bad news for the Corpse is good news for all Australians and democracy.

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