From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Fears for ABC’s ‘churnalism sweatshop’. Yesterday’s story by Andrew Dodd on the ABC’s currently unreleased report on the News Gathering Review — plus our own recent tips of life as an Aunty employee — has brought a plethora of media insiders coming forward to spill on changes at the national broadcaster. One of the central ideas is a multimedia hub for all news gathering, an idea inspired by the BBC. But success in the UK shouldn’t be overestimated, considering staff have to bring their own computers to work, says one spy:

“I have a friend who works in BBC Scotland’s Glasgow new facility (it was new five years ago anyway) which I visited. The building looks amazing, but apparently it’s functionality — based on this “new system”is woeful. This facility is seen by the BBC to be the way of the future along he lines that your article reports is happening in the UK. International visitors often visit the Glasgow facility because BBC sees it as a jewel in the crown of the BBC, but they rarely hear of the terrible problems. The central news desk is reliant upon a central digital technology portal and all journos are supposed to use it, but the technology is an absolute lemon. It’s incredibly slow and impossible to use when facing deadlines. For years now, everyone brings their own PCs to work on because the BBC computer system is totally useless. The IT has been outsourced and the company takes a long time to respond to support requests mainly due to insufficient funding of the IT infrastructure. Still years after the facility’s opening, this situation hasn’t changed. The new system makes it extremely hard for individuals to work but management seems to care little about how the changes have impacted upon the journos. UK experience has shown that management is more interested in looking as if they have been innovative, cutting edge yada, yada, than actually producing a functional facility. The evidence of the “new way” is that it’s not working but I’m sure the “experts” won’t communicate this to the ABC.”

The issue of a central hub is worrying local staff too. Another ABC worker notes the issues with the multimedia centre and offers up an idea of how else funding could be diverted:

“In the spirit of the ABC’s open mindedness with staff and subcontractors the safest way to comment on it is anonymously. But it is a shame that the ABC’s chief executive and board don’t appreciate that makers of particular news programs bring different issues to different and sometimes the same stories. The central hub becomes the de facto program maker and the particular program makers are forced to fish from the same pool. This will only bring sameness and accelerate the general decline of ABC program standards. A better alternative: close ABC News 24, divert all children’s programs from ABC1 to the specialist children’s channel ABC3 and fill daytime on ABC1 with hard news and a soft news/entertainment show or two. Allocate all savings to expand budgets to existing ABC shows to employ more senior journos and to develop an elite cadet level entry scheme for young journos. Jim Spigelman take note, quality is far preferable to quantity. A comprehensive and transparent review of the ABC by the ABC board, aided by industry experts, akin to what the BBC Trust has just done is way overdue. Such a review should also include a qualitative assessment of programs across all genres including documentaries, drama, comedy and light entertainment. It is urgently required. It would be a sensible thing to do given the increasingly reality of a Coalition election victory.”

But one communications spinner, who deals regularly with ABC journos, notes that it may not be a terrible idea to put resources together:

“I work in media for a government minister and it’s not uncommon for me to receive up to 10 phone calls in one day from different ABC journalists (local, national, radio, TV, online) asking for the same comment on the same story. This doesn’t seem to me to be a good use of resources or taxpayers’ money. Better use of resources and reduced duplication of content may actually be a good thing.”

How to write an OECD report. “You are aware of how the OECD reports get written, aren’t you?” asks one economic tipster, we assume in regards to yesterday’s OECD story by Glenn Dyer and Bernard Keane. Well of course we knew, but it’s nice to give everyone else a reminder. The bean counter continued:

“Essentially, the OECD (and IMF and World Bank, etc) have very few experts on each country, much less the sectors in each country. The OECD asks for input from each country’s Treasury (in our case) and then writes a first draft, then sends it back to the country for comment and correction. I know this because I edited several OECD and IMF reports when I was at PM&C. If this is not still the practice, I would be very surprised. And it’s surprisingly why the OECD report lines up so nicely with the rhetoric from the budget, including the line about fiscal consolidation.”

Stay tuned for further Crikey investigations into how the OECD numbers stack up with the predicted forecasts …

The water wars? Yesterday we ran a tip about the continuing milk wars and what kitchen supplies different government bodies offer their employees. Other government departments only wish they could have a milk war like yesterday’s …

“Within the past year, I went from the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research — where our staff kitchen had milk, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, an excellent espresso machine, and reading material that included The EconomistThe Bulletin and all the major dailies — to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, where absolutely nothing was provided except hot water.”

Baillieu’s budget slashes sees lecturers leave. The latest Victorian budget saw Ted Baillieu slashing $300 million from the TAFE sector. Yesterday we published the letter sent to Swinburne staff and students outlining that budget cuts resulted in the university losing $35 million funding and redundancies and restructuring were now required.

A University of Ballarat student pointed us in the direction of UB announcing its losses of $20 million in TAFE funding, which compromises 40% of its current $50 million funding. “Staff redundancies were also mentioned and from talking with a few of my lectures it appears they could not be the voluntary kind,” the scholar told Crikey.

University of Canberra flogs its students. In other high education sector news, one University of Canberra student isn’t too impressed by their university offering her a “reloadable, prepaid MasterCard” rather than the standard student ID card. “UC’s best income stream … selling its students to companies! We get emails from UC on nearly a daily basis detailing great products we can buy,” they wrote:

We’re sure UC isn’t the only education facility that flogs crap to its students. Does yours? Send it to Crikey

*Do you know more? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed-anonymous form.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey