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Government MP Andrew Laming went on a Facebook trolling binge on the weekend, spending all of his Saturday replying to members of the public in the comments thread on a Facebook page called “The Simpsons against the Liberals“. The page is devoted to making memes that mock the Liberal Party and its members, using scenes from TV show The Simpsons. The page has almost 80,000 likes and on the weekend targeted Laming for comments he made about education policy, tagging his official page.

Laming himself went on to argue with many commenters on the page, in a series of screenshots captured by Junkee. The news website also linked to a social media guide by Laming from 2011, which recommended avoiding public arguments. A Crikey tipster tells us he actually attended a workshop by Laming in 2012 when our tipster was a public servant in Queensland. Laming told those in attendance he used the electoral roll to find new voters to connect with on Facebook to increase his reach. We’re not sure how this benefits public servants, but it’s enlightening to see where his expertise comes from — and where it is going.

Media

Sep 30, 2016

5 comments

Josh Taylor, journalist

“The grand tapestry of Pepe” by P.J. Vogt and Alex Goldman for Reply All

“How did a cartoon frog become the icon for the alt-right and Donald Trump?”

Sophie Benjamin, engagement editor

“George Christensen on poverty, priesthood and a flirtation with One Nation” by Joshua Robertson in The Guardian

“Twice, like his political ally Tony Abbott before him, Christensen seriously contemplated becoming a priest.

“At 21, he was accepted into a seminary in Melbourne but withdrew after a couple of weeks.

“‘It’s probably going to be controversial [but] one thing I can say is that there were some blokes you immediately identified as gay and I think there is that element that do go there but then there are other people in there who you were quite sure they weren’t gay,’ he observes.”

Cass Knowlton, editor

“In ‘Hitler’, an ascent from ‘dunderhead’ to demagogue” by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times

“Mr. Ullrich sets out to strip away the mythology that Hitler created around himself in ‘Mein Kampf,’ and he also tries to look at this ‘mysterious, calamitous figure’ not as a monster or madman, but as a human being with ‘undeniable talents and obviously deep-seated psychological complexes.’

“‘In a sense,’ he says in an introduction, ‘Hitler will be “normalized” — although this will not make him seem more “normal.” If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific.'”

Sally Whyte, journalist

“The greatest love of all: what this grand final means to a lifelong Doggies fan” by Lachlan Kanoniuk in Junkee

“I remember being tall enough to just reach the metal pole on the boundary fence while being perched on the wonky plank seating down at Melville Oval. “See the red, white and blue team?” Dad instructed. “That’s the Bulldogs. We go for them, alright?”. Easy. I was a switched on little fella. Sometime later, back at home, we were watching AFL on the telly. “See the blue and white? That’s the Cats. We go for them, alright?” Surely this was a stitch-up. We go for Bulldogs, mate. Despite a sustained effort to explain the differentiations between the Western Border Football League and the elite level Australian Football League, Dad conceded as I stood my ground. A mutation in the family genus was born. A Bulldog for life.”

Myriam Robin, media reporter

“No, NASA didn’t change your astrological sign” by Phil Plait in Slate

“The thing is, there are more than 12 constellations the Sun can pass through. Some are smaller, or have fainter stars, so they get ignored. The biggest is Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer, which is a huge constellation taking up quite a bit of celestial real estate, and in fact the Sun spends more time in Ophiuchus than Scorpius! Scorpius has brighter stars, and an obvious scorpionlike shape, so it gets better press.

“So no, NASA didn’t add in Ophiuchus, or change the zodiac, or anything like that. It’s been around this whole time, but it’s been ignored by astrologers.”

Dan Wood, subeditor

“Researchers confront an epidemic of loneliness” by Katie Hafner in The New York Times

“Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.

“‘The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem,’ said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco. ‘It is no longer medically or ethically acceptable to ignore older adults who feel lonely and marginalized.’”

Sophie Benjamin, engagement editor

“Covering Syria through hunger and fear” by Karam Al-Masri and Rana Moussaoui in Correspondent

“My life since the beginning of the bombing in Aleppo has become about trying to stay alive. It is like I live in the jungle and I’m trying to survive until tomorrow. When the planes come, I try to shelter in a more secure building. When there is artillery fire, I go to the lower floors. I’m constantly fleeing. Before the siege, I relied on fast food places, but now everything is closed. I don’t know how to cook, and there are days when I only eat one meal, and others when I have none at all. Before the siege, I spent the day outside looking for stories to film. But since the siege, I’m hungry and weaker and I stay at home more.”

Media

Sep 28, 2016

5 comments

Sixty seconds to pitch your idea. That’s what happens the first night of an “un-conference”, where the participants collaboratively decide on the sessions. And so a stream of people got up, some polished and others less so, to outline what they wanted to talk about. The traditional owners of the land that Canberra sits on, the Ngunnawal peoples, were acknowledged at the start of the session. But some people do it again at the start of their pitch. After a while, an indigenous woman gets up. She makes the observation that there’s a pattern emerging: people of colour are offering their respects, and many white people are not.

Thereafter, most make time in their 60 seconds to awkwardly offer their respects, though some do not. I can’t help keeping a mental list. Some who had spoken before the rebuke get up again to do another pitch, this time paying their respects.

It’s Sunday, September 25, and I am sitting in the auditorium of a Canberra hotel, at the second annual Junket conference, held by Junkee Media. It’s a most-expenses-paid, three-day event at one of the capital’s nicest hotels. I haven’t seen hotel toiletries this good since my last journalistic junket, more than three years ago.

At Junket, I’ve sat (and sometimes stood) through the introductory session, where we are made to stand up if we fit various demographics. Rural v city, those with kids and those without, those who went to university and those who did not, before we finally are asked to stand up if we’re part of an oppressed minority. At the end the observation is made that we’re far more representative than federal Parliament. Which isn’t saying much.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I was invited. Last year, my colleague Josh Taylor came, and he wrote a rather critical piece about the experience for Crikey. Helen Razer also took a shot. Yet here I am, surrounded by a few schools of people: social justice types (who are frequently artists of some variety), those who work in charities or social start-ups, marketers, and a smattering of journalists.

The prototype Junket attendee is extroverted, high-achieving and talented, and is actively using those qualities to make the world a better place. Given the sheer brilliance of those around us, we are warned to protect our self-esteem. After hearing some 80 pitches from my co-attendees — which focus on environmentalism, diversity, personal growth and how we can be the change we want to see in the world — I can barely stand the sight of them.

[No cynicism, plenty of branding as Australia’s bright young things network]

One pitcher criticises the Essential polling that found one in two Australians want a ban on Muslim migration. The polling, she implies, was irresponsible or fraudulent, and the reporting on it no better. She asks anyone in the room who wants to ban Muslim migration to put up their hands (promising not to judge). No one immediately does, but we wait. A man with an Arabic name who is pitching next jokingly puts up his hand, breaking the tension. The part of me that knows a smattering about both polling techniques and peer pressure is screaming.

My Junket experience was full of vignettes like this, punctuated rather jarringly by the branding of the corporations that made this luxury shindig possible. Edginess has become a marketable quality, which makes the marriage possible, but I’ve always figured genuine social justice rarely works out well for the establishment.

At one point I joke with a fellow attendee about the vodka brand that’s asked us to pitch ideas to innovate our way to “a purer planet” for a cash prize. I say I’m going to pitch a revival of the White Australia Policy. Later we get drunk on the company’s free liquor while listening to a speech from the company’s “vodka professor”. His title on LinkedIn is global advocacy director of the multinational liquor company that owns the funky vodka brand, and he has a qualification in law. And the winning idea? An app that gives you a daily idea on how to be a better person.

Another sponsor gives everyone $100 vouchers that they can either spend on themselves or give to another attendee to bring their marvelous idea to life. We’re quickly informed of the catch. While the vouchers can be exchanged for real money, that money can only be deposited into a bank account held by the sponsor bank.

We are given swanky bath robes with the logo of the sponsoring airline on them and told to wear them to breakfast the next morning “to be comfortable”. The morality of attending a most-expenses-paid junket at all is, for me, murky, but I figure I should draw a line at being seen literally clothed in a sponsoring brand. I ignore the instruction and go to breakfast in a hoodie. A woman asks me why I’m not wearing my bathrobe — I tell her I didn’t want to. I later learn that I’m not alone in this choice, but on the morning, I find myself confronted by a sea of royal blue bathrobes.

[Instagram it. Hashtag it. Save the world.]

The sessions themselves suffer from what you would expect to happen when you upend the hierarchy. I choose sessions based on the speakers who most grabbed me during the pitches, but most of the time, they don’t spend much time talking during their own sessions. It’s an un-conference, after all, where everyone’s musings on a topic are theoretically given equal weight. The effect of this is that anyone confident expressing their opinion tends to monopolise the sessions, sometimes drawing them in directions quite different to what had initially been envisioned. This wasn’t a problem when the person doing it had something to bring to the table. But in the larger sessions, things take on a sense of anarchy. I found myself gravitating towards the smaller groups, where this was kept to a minimum.

On opening night, and in the emails I’d been sent before the event, expectations were set high. Junket was populated by the leaders of tomorrow, those who will drive the social change we’ll see in the world. The ideas we develop could be the start of something great. And don’t forget, we were hand-picked, and all very impressive to be here. It came with a caveat — we’d only get out what we put in.

My editor thought the whole thing ridiculous. She wanted me to blow it wide open.

I initially pushed back. I didn’t disagree, but I think expecting any conference, marketing aside, to change the world is fundamentally unfair. Lasting change doesn’t happen in bubbles. And conferences, which by definition exist inside bubbles, cannot change the day to day. But that doesn’t mean they’re useless. Conferences can force you out of your shuttered thinking and expose you to new thoughts, ideas and people. A successful conference, I always figured, was one where you left inspired or rejuvenated, even if only for a time.

[Move over, BuzzFeed: how Junkee is making its own way (and making money) online]

So, on my metric, was Junket inspiring? At the closing session, some Junketeers were invited up on stage to testify about the experience. A couple said they were naturally sceptical people, wary of gatherings such as this, but the magic of Junket had changed their minds. Meanwhile, I felt worse about the whole thing the longer it went on. I left Junket feeling dispirited — alone in a shiny world where everyone was gushing about their inspiration. I met some interesting people, but I was glad to be going home.

In the last book of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles, the world ends. The heroes end up in paradise, but the sorting isn’t perfect. Some of the villains are accidentally swept into it with them, but the bad men writhe about in pain. For them, the beautiful valley they find themselves in is living torment. The moral is that even heaven is hell to those who don’t belong there.

Junket was a despotic landscape of social justice fuelled by corporate branding, empowerment peppered with awkward silences, good intentions devoid of technical expertise. But many of those around me declared it a life-changing, positive event. Whether the fault is with me, or them, three days in leftie corporate heaven was my own personal hell.

Disclosure: In case it wasn’t obvious, the writer was put up in a swanky Canberra hotel, wined and dined courtesy of Junkee and a bunch of corporate sponsors. 

Journalism

Jul 12, 2016

5 comments

Fans of now-freelance journalist Michael West might have thought the lead item on the ABC news last night looked familiar. ABC business journo Stephen Long interviewed tax insider George Rozvany, who was West’s key source for his exclusive investigation launched yesterday, and the resultant news package led with pretty a very similar story. It didn’t mention West, nor did the introduction by the host, although West first brought the story to light.

Once a journalist uncovers something or gets someone on the record, going to a journalist’s sources for a fresh interview without mentioning the original piece is fairly common practice. It’s not plagiarism to ask a source similar questions. A source has no responsibility to speak only to one journalist — it’s often in their interest to speak to a variety of outlets. That said, journalists understandably don’t like it.

West took the ABC to task on Twitter over it last night. Juanita Phillips, who fronts the ABC Sydney bulletin, sent West her “humble apologies” on Twitter, saying she hadn’t been aware West had broken the story. On PM’s broadcast of the same story, host Mark Colvin mentioned West at the end, telling readers how to find his website. Long said on Twitter this morning that he had suggested Colvin make the plug. “[West] and I are great mates and credit to him.”

It wasn’t the only similar incident on the ABC yesterday. In the morning, Junkee discovered that Pauline Hanson’s policy platform had been plagiarised from a number of sources. The youth news site claimed it as an exclusive, but a few hours later, the ABC had reported the story, without mentioning Junkee. This morning, the text on the ABC’s story was amended. The second paragraph now reads:

“Chunks of the party’s policies on halal certification, sustainable development and medicinal cannabis have been copied off the internet, the Junkee website reported.”

Meanwhile, West said on Facebook this morning that he was glad the ABC gave the story a good run. “It is of great public interest.”

“[W]hile I was disappointed there was no attribution, this is a grey area. The reporter Stephen Long did a great job. We have been friends for years. Although I did ask Stephen to link michaelwest.com.au if possible, there was no explicit agreement, signed in blood, that there had to be attribution.

“Media organisations often don’t credit their sources. They don’t like to credit other media if it is not necessary. In this case, it was not a condition of running the story. I had introduced Stephen to the source, George Rozvany, and the result was a compelling, well produced story which led the evening news.

“I’ve always worked on the principle that the story comes first and byline scuffles are just an inevitable part of the caper that is journalism.

“It is quite plausible that, in this instance, had the ABC producers deemed it was necessary that an external organisation, such as the incipient media empire michaelwest.com.au, had to be credited with the story, then the story may not have had such a good run. All’s well that ends well.”

West might not be holding grudges, but things like this pose a broader issue for how journalism is meant to be funded. Journalists are happy to see their stories followed up elsewhere, and it serves the public interest to have important stories widely disseminated. But if readers and viewers are never told where a story originated, how can they hope to reward and visit the media outlets responsible for the heavy lifting of originally unearthing a story?

And when it’s the publicly funded broadcaster — operating on a news budget that runs into the millions — that’s failing to attribute, is it adding insult to injury?

Update: two days later … 

On Tuesday, an opinion piece by yours truly made the point that journalistic follow-ups that don’t acknowledge where a story came from threaten to undermine the business models underlying original journalism. The piece used two examples from that day, both involving the ABC. But ABC sources have since told Crikey we weren’t being entirely fair to Stephen Long, the business reporter whose story on the nightly television news centred around the views of George Rozvany, who had been the key source in former Fairfax journalist Michael West’s exclusive investigation released earlier that same day.

Turns out West and Long had spoken of doing stories on Rozvany ages ago, when West was still at the SMH. The idea was anything Long did would run on the same day as West’s piece, to maximise the impact. With that in mind, West introduced the two, and Long interviewed Rozvany last week (rather than, as our piece assumed, in response to West’s story that day). There was no set agreement that the ABC would credit West with having broken the story, as our piece on Tuesday quoted West saying.

Media

Jun 27, 2016

5 comments

Four years ago, indie youth digital publisher Sound Alliance generated virtually no money from native advertising. Last week, its native advertising prowess was the main reason given by listed outdoor advertiser oOh Media in paying $11.05 million for 85% of the company, giving Junkee Media (the company rebranded last year) a $13 million valuation.

The sale underlines how much money there is in advertising that cuts through to millennials. In an age of ad-blockers and plummeting interest in display advertising, branded content, or “native advertising”, has been an oasis of profit for media companies, and it has fuelled the growth of those best able to latch onto it.

[‘Con game’: native advertising only works when it’s hidden]

Critics lament a world in which freelance writers can only secure a decent return on their journalism when a corporate sponsor is happy to fund it (native advertising pays far better per-word rates), but defenders say at least native is transparent — the company doesn’t usually get a benefit unless it’s clear who has sponsored an article. Oversees, companies like BuzzFeed and Vice have built up heady valuations largely based on their ability to reach millennials and sell brands to them through such native advertising. But Junkee Media shows it’s not just American start-ups that have been able to make use of the trend.

Junkee Media publishes the eponymous Junkee, as well as music websites FasterLouder and InTheMix. All these titles carry native advertising, but its portfolio also includes two websites entirely funded by brands. Lifestyle website The Cusp is funded by Westpac, while travel website AWOL is entirely paid for by Qantas.

“Native advertising is increasing in importance every year in Australia,” Brendon Cook, the CEO of oOh Media, said in the announcement.

“This reflects trends in the US, where native advertising is growing at 17% per annum.

“The acquisition of Junkee Media was a natural next step for oOh! as it is a clear market leader and has sent the benchmark for native content engagement in a mobile and social world.”

Cook later told The Australian Financial Review the company was interested in using some of Junkee’s snappier content on its display screens “You can’t just have digital screens playing ads, you’ve got to create bespoke content,” he said.

According to PwC’s recently released Media and Entertainment Outlook, out-of-home advertising (billboards, street furniture like bus shelters, transit advertising, etc) had the strongest growth of any traditional advertising medium in 2015 (5.3%). The outdoor media company has money to spend and is putting it into content (it already owns several other youth websites, though none with the reach or brand recognition of Junkee’s stable).

“It’s a bold move,” said Ben Shepherd, the head of strategy and innovation at media agency OMD. He was the commercial director of Sound Alliance, which turned into Junkee Media, from 2010 to 2012. “The outdoor segment is buoyant at the moment with strong revenue growth, so [oOh] needs to use this extra cash flow to find future growth.”

[Instagram it. Hashtag it. Save the world.]

Sound Alliance changed rapidly with the launch of Junkee three years ago. In a highly crowded field of youth-focused pop culture websites, Junkee carved out a niche through covering culture with an eye to being, as CEO Neil Ackland put it, “smart, ballsy or funny”. It grew its audience rapidly, helped along by tapping the networks of many of Australia’s best young writers. Its traffic relied on a mix of short, snappy takes on things generated elsewhere and long-form or introspective pieces, some of which were funded by advertisers. In two years native content across Junkee and other websites in the stable was responsible for half the company’s revenue. Sound Alliance changed its name to Junkee Media last year to signal the shift and offloaded some websites that didn’t easily fit into its native advertising strategy, such as gay and lesbian title SameSame (which was sold to Evo Media).

Shepherd says while the company always had fairly diversified revenue streams — it had a ticketing business, ran events and had an experiential advertising agency attached to the business — it did spot the challenges in the display advertising market and “took proactive steps to hedge against the lowering of CPMs [cost per thousand impressions, a standard way of quoting ad prices online] and reduced yield the medium faced”.

In late 2014, Junkee content director Tim Duggan said if the company hadn’t jumped on native advertising, “we probably wouldn’t be here”. While native advertising was developed oversees, no other local media company jumped into it as early or as wholeheartedly as Junkee Media. “Brands tend to be more open to experimentation on youth campaigns,” CEO Neil Ackland told Crikey in 2014“It’s not been that difficult to get interest from brands and media agencies around what we’re doing.”

[No cynicism, plenty of branding as Australia’s bright young things network]

Since then, several global media companies with a focus on native content have cemented their presence in Australia. Shepherd says Junkee succeeded in crowded market through “a strong local lens and a locally focused team and board”.

Junkee‘s model was based on the local market, not something developed in the US and ported to Australia,” he notes. “They are easier to work with than the other players in the space. Junkee wasn’t the first to do what they do but they merchandised it well and more importantly, executed well.”

Staff were briefed on the sale last week, and have been told no big changes to their day-to-day roles are expected from the sale. Junkee Media’s management team are staying on board, and the team is remaining in their current Surry Hills office in Sydney.

Journalism

Nov 5, 2015

5 comments

Junkee is somewhat novel merger of liberal politics and appealing to a youth audience, while embracing the corporations that want to tap into that market. And its first major conference (or “unconference”) contained that same blend of starry-eyed optimism propped up by plenty of corporate dollars.

Outside of a few sessions set by organisers or sponsors, it was up to the 200 or so delegates to decide what topics they wanted to talk about in a jam-packed Monday in Canberra’s swanky QT hotel.

Junkee bills itself as a pop culture website that doesn’t jump on bandwagons, publish linkbait, or “bitch for the sake of it”. The site often goes after its rivals for not upholding journalistic standards (see this recent criticism of BuzzFeed’s Snapchat story with the Howard-era hardliner Philip Ruddock). But to pay for that, the company embraces numerous corporate partnerships and the growing trend of “partner content”, such as this recent piece on travelling in partnership with Student Flights and Busabout, or this piece about visiting Canberra in association with Junket partner Visit Canberra. The Junkee Media travel website, AWOL, is funded almost entirely through a partnership with Australia’s largest airline, Qantas. The church and state rule still exists, but the line between original journalism and branded content is definitely blurred.

The Junket conference was ultimately the embodiment of Junkee’s ethos, attempting to make a difference in the lives of young people with the help of corporate Australia. In this case, Telstra, Qantas, QT Hotels, and Visit Canberra, among others. Junkee content director Tim Duggan said at the opening of the conference on Sunday that it was, like Junkee itself, an experiment.

The 200 attendees, from a diverse range of backgrounds, including scientists, inventors, engineers, climate change activists, union workers, animal rights activists — and many journalists, writers, and other media — set the agenda. There were more women than men, and white people were definitely not over-represented (as is the case for so many Australian conferences). During two hours of short presentations from attendees, it turned out that well over 100 people had an idea to talk about, but there were only 50 slots to work with (this was expanded to 55).

Monday’s sessions were split out over five one-hour sessions, so each conference goer could attend less than 10% of the whole. Topics ranged from how to make science interesting and get funding for it, to how to unplug for a day, to how to “unfuck the climate”, to how to get more diversity on screen, to how to make 3D printing more accessible.

In between the sessions, at lunch and dinner, the 200 delegates were happy to talk to anyone around them, and the lack of an air of pretension certainly made it much more sociable than other conferences of its kind.

Some sessions were more popular than others, with some groups attracting more than 25 people (the session on introverts had one of the largest attendances), while others had as few as four people. The feedback from the discussions I heard were always positive, though most seemed to amount to the need for more discussion, through the creation of Facebook groups or keeping in touch with people for future plans. Two of the sessions I sat in on were on asylum seekers, and one was on the problems of masculinity in video games. It is perhaps because these particular topics are such fraught territory that no amount of goodwill can immediately result in any meaningful decisions. It is also not surprising that everyone who sat in on these sessions tended to be in furious agreement.

Quite deliberately, attendees’ badges didn’t say where they were from, but it was alarming when, after a lengthy discussion on how to get the public to be more compassionate about asylum seekers, one person introduced herself as an employee of the Australian Federal Police. The AFP’s investigations into leaks concerning the conditions in detention centres seem to lack the requisite compassion.

The Human Library was the best aspects of the event, simply because Junket managed to get US ambassador John Berry to be available to chat to anyone. It was a coup for Junkee, considering Berry doesn’t do much in the way of interviews or public speaking.

Attendees’ experiences seem to be quite varied. Some made new friends, some made good connections, most people had a hangover, while some others didn’t catch many sessions and instead relaxed in their hotel rooms or went exploring in Canberra.

But for all the good vibes that came from Junket, underneath the whole event there was a vague sense of corporate intrusion. Corporations like Telstra and Qantas are increasingly looking at ways to incorporate social responsibility with promoting their products. The corporate dollars are there, and Junkee is willing to take them.

More than once I heard delegates talk about the need for faster broadband. But the reason Australia is so behind on fast broadband? Telstra’s intransigence in upgrading its own networks between 2006 and 2008.

During one of the asylum seeker sessions, it was suggested the Telstra Imaginarium (where people pitch their idea in an elevator ride video that is uploaded to Junkee‘s website) “technology prize pack” could go to giving mobile phones to asylum seekers in detention centres. It underscored the disconnect of a corporate-sponsored event discussing social justice. When push comes to shove, Telstra would never do anything to jeopardise all its lucrative contracts and relationships with the government.

The disconnect was punctuated when immediately before a session on food wastage, we were treated to lunch boxes full of more food than most people I saw could eat. Junkee managing editor Steph Harmon says Junkee will be paying attention to the valid criticism and learning from it as Junket enters its second year next year.

Junket was a great networking event, bringing together an intelligent bunch of people from a diverse range of backgrounds, who seem excited and optimistic to keep working on what they discussed at Junket this year. At the opening someone remarked that cynicism was banned, but a healthy dose of scepticism about corporate interests still goes a long way.

Josh Taylor’s accommodation and meals at Junket were provided by Junkee Media.

Australia

Nov 3, 2015

5 comments

Young people. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em, can’t get a handle on their conferences. Or can’t get a handle, to use the language the market now prefers, on their “unconference”.

This past weekend, 200 of what were determined to be the nation’s finest young minds un-convened in Canberra for Junkee‘s Youth Junket, what a youth intruder described to me as “naive”, “generously catered” and “not entirely shit”.

The official website describes it a little more rousingly.

According to the event’s inspiring front-page animation, these delegates were charged with starting “a conversation about the future of our country”. According to the event’s sponsorship page, this conversation would be hosted by a media company and funded by the nation’s biggest airline, biggest telco and its third-biggest bank. It was to be progressive politics with corporate approval. And a goody bag.

Crikey’s embedded youngster was jarred by the conspicuous signage at this four-and-a-half-star hotel. The velvet rope, red carpet and uniformed bell hop that ushered the Leaders of Tomorrow to record their best hopes in a branded “Imaginarium” — aka a video camera in an elevator with a big Telstra sign on it — seemed at odds with the egalitarian spirit of the event. Surely, the progressive youngster has no need for a low-income servant when documenting their dreams.

And surely, says the young spy, no ease with the logos all over the shop. “It’s an uncomfortable balance that I don’t quite get”, our spy reports. “One minute, there’s so much social justicing going on, and then the next it’s ‘isn’t this free booze and corporate gift amazing?'” Instagram it, hashtag it. Save the world.

Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with highly shareable youth content creators taking money from highly profitable companies and turning it into a choose-your-own-agenda getaway for Twitter’s most fabulous. There is not much that is particularly right about it, either. Particularly not when the branding exercise has been successfully sold as a sort of privatised 2020 Summit and many fine young minds begin to believe not only that a critique of regressive fiscal policy is possible in a room paid for by some of its richest beneficiaries, but also, and not unreasonably in these official-seeming surrounds, that they are influential members of the policy class.

Why should they not? Many of us suffer the delusion of empowerment.

We can’t blame the hosts entirely. Junkee, a creditable youth outlet with a smart editor, didn’t make the world this gullible on its own. That large numbers of people, both old and young, now easily permit themselves to confuse the spectacle of power with power itself is not the fault of infotainment content creators.

But I am a grumpy old shit, and my unconference collaborator is a grumpy young shit, and perhaps we should both try to believe that some social justice conversation is better than no social justice conversation at all.

Steph Harmon, editor at Junkee and unconference unofficial, certainly thinks so.

“The thing that has delighted me the most is that there were actionable points that came out of the sessions,” she said. Harmon, whom I have met and assessed as very upright, insists that some of the conversations, which included topics like sustainability, health, education and housing, produced outcomes.

Actually, you can read an initial precis of these results here. They’re all perfectly respectable. They’re all perfectly unsurprising. They’re all also perfectly assured of the ability to empower, chiefly through the ecstasy of communication. To be fair, there are some young people who seek to help unions become more responsive to the needs of a changing labour force and this is an actionable, if difficult, plan. This report is not complete. Perhaps it will improve. But that it makes no current mention of treaty in its section on indigenous Australia and prefers the soft language of “learning”, in this case, to the harder need for land is a bit of a worry. I mean, didn’t some kid say “what about sovereignty”?

But this time is a bit of a worry. We believe in our empowerment and we forget previous struggles for social justice and often claim we are “starting the conversation”. Even though that conversation started centuries ago. Many of us, whatever our age, are currently given to abandon memory of the past. Young people may not be talking about a central material issue like land rights in their discussion of indigenous Australia. But it’s not as though many old ones are, either.

This is a time where many earnestly mistake the appearance of democracy with the fact of democracy, and so we have people writing long and passionate essays asking why, for example, there aren’t more women on Q&A. After all, Q&A bills itself as “democracy in action”, and so it makes spectacular sense in a society that believes utterly in the spectacle that more women on Q&A means more democratic participation by women. But all it means is more women on Q&A.

It makes spectacular sense that Malcolm Turnbull’s disposal of the designations knight and dame this week means greater equality, when all it actually means is that a few of us might feel a bit less national shame. Even the 2020 Summit made a spectacular sense at the time, even though it was plainly a circle jerk for the centrist elite. We are, many of us, eager to believe that we have power and we can’t charge the young with naivete for their faith that a lift in a Canberra hotel is an “Imaginarium” when we have faith that our crony capitalist politicians are not going to introduce another regressive tax.

Like performance politics or optimistic ABC panel shows, the white-collar workplace has also come to perpetually promise us the democracy it can never deliver. An “unconference”, now recognised both by Word spell-checker and business magazine Forbes, is one of those things that highly profitable companies do to appear like the egalitarian organisations the market can never produce.

This false appearance of power reveals itself to even the lowest-paid workers, and not just those with jobs that lead them to fancy “unconferences”, which seem chiefly remarkable for their lack of PowerPoint presentations. Once, low-income employees of large companies had to wait for the annual Christmas party for the boss to reveal himself through drink and terrible dancing to be just-one-of-the-guys. Now, employees are forced to endure this charade of democracy much of the time. “What do you think? How do you feel? Use your voice!” are the exhortations of contemporary shareable media as much as they are of nearly any contemporary workplace. A friend of mine couldn’t take working for shit money in a discount department store a minute longer when he saw corporate signs that read “We empower you to help customers better!” in the lunchroom.

This constructed informality turns increased productivity extracted from the worker into the worker’s empowerment, a ride in a lift to an exciting possibility for change and a sponsored branding exercise into a chance, as the unconference’s website says, to “make history”.

“I think they meant very well,” said Crikey spy. “But I also think they thought a little ambitiously”. The “youth” delegates, many of whom appeared to have reached their mid-30s, were convinced of the myth of their own empowerment, so it was no wonder that they were a little hopeful when it came to empowering disempowered others. In sessions on asylum seekers, delegates discussed the need for more Facebook pages, more compassion and, in one case, for telephones. Of course, telephones would be of very real assistance to those behind the wire. But reports indicate that telephones are generally confiscated at Manus and Nauru. Common sense indicates that the delegate’s hope that sponsor Telstra would provide these phones at no charge would come to an absolute nothing.

I don’t wish to crap on Junkee or young people in general for their deluded hope. First, if I’m too rude, then my informant might stop sending me amusing text messages from youth events that read “There is a session on right now about how to stop wasting food. We have just eaten a lunch full of more food than we could eat. It was served in the hipster ‘street-food’ style”. Second, such critique would wrongly exempt oldsters from the charge of naivete. There are just as many well-meaning old folks claiming that humanity and compassion and listening are solutions to all the world’s brutal material problems as there are young ones.

The great trick of liberal democracy and its partner economy is the exponential renewal of our faith that we can influence it. Which is to say, foolish optimism seems to rise with time or at least, with the unequal wealth accumulation of the past 40 years. These unconference people are very, very hopeful, and perhaps their hope is not legitimate hope any more than the elevator was a legitimate “Imaginarium”. Perhaps it’s ideology.

Perhaps the belief that we are “starting a conversation” is the new opioid that works more effectively on a youthful West than the prescription of religion. And perhaps a place that is filled with logos makes good conversation about the “better future” these logos seek to falsely signify unlikely. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a youngster to understand the very real and intimate ways they are screwed by the market when they are eating the luxury snacks it provided. I’m just saying these conditions aren’t ideal for uncluttered critical thought.

But I am, as the Crikey youth reminds me, no longer particularly young, and perhaps I am unable to see the possibilities within sponsored protest. When young people go to Wyatt Roy’s “innovative” hackathon or a Lockheed funded march for the environment or they cheer for Christine Lagarde or they eat poverty chic snacks provided by a major bank at a conference that purports to be all about the future of justice, perhaps they know something I don’t.

Perhaps they know that the only thing left is hope and that we will all end with this late, dying capitalism. Perhaps we should all just start eating the fancy snacks and hashtag the sponsor with thanks. Perhaps we’re fucked. So YOLO.

Media

Jul 3, 2015

5 comments

Junkee eats Sound Alliance. Junkee Media says 50% of its revenue comes from native content — that is, the publication of articles written for the purpose of promoting their advertiser.

Native content has been booming in recent years, and smaller digital publishers have been some of the first beneficiaries. Junkee travel site AWOL, for example, is a content-marketing strategy formed for Qantas.

Chief executive Neil Ackland said that this move towards native content has been dictated by a need to develop new strategies that return greater yield from its advertisers, and capitalises on the public’s consumption of news via mobile (which limits flashy ads and the like). Noting his company’s rapid uptake of this form of advertising, he said Junkee Media’s size and editorial direction made it an easy fit. “We are not the Wall Street Journal [and] … don’t see ourselves as a hard, breaking news site,” he said.

Junkee Media yesterday changed its name from Sound Alliance to reflect the “transition from a music only publisher a decade ago to the youth-focused lifestyle publisher”. The media company has also integrated its other titles – including inthemix, FasterLouder, and AWOL — into the one domain at Junkee.com. — Crikey intern Aron Lewin.

What price a front page. Yesterday’s Herald Sun splashed with explosive photos of Gold Coast Suns player Harley Bennell seemingly using illicit drugs. Needless to say, the exclusive was promptly picked up everywhere else, but The Age was decidedly sceptical, writing articles on Bennell’s mental health as a result of the exposure instead. To boot, The Age referred back to an earlier article it published on Tuesday, revealing how someone was shopping around photos of an undisclosed Suns player for a minimum price of $15,000.

“A member of the public contacted Fairfax Media seeking an equal or better price than $15,000 offered by the Herald Sun for four photographs of a Suns player taking drugs in a hotel room. The Age declined,” a report by Samanatha Lane noted.

Crikey contacted the Herald Sun this morning about the allegations, but received no response. — Myriam Robin

Consider the source of criticism, Oz warned. The front page of today’s Australian features an interview with former ABC managing director Jonathan Shier, who says he doesn’t think much of Q&A as it’s all somewhat predictable and that he believes Tony Jones makes a bad host.

Shier was a highly controversial managing director of the ABC — he lasted only 19 months (the tumultuous period is charted by Margaret Simons in this piece from The Monthly‘s archives).

Today at Aunty, The Australian‘s editorial upon Shier’s appointment (on March 17, 2000) is being shared around. Here’s part of it:

“Mr Shier’s appointment in November was widely considered controversial and even naive: few in the industry had heard of him … Many of these concerns are well-known. Prime among them is the shadow of his affiliation with the Liberal Party and the question of whether his appointment was political. More obvious is Mr Shier’s lack of public broadcasting experience: his previous post was at a small European commercial station. He has not managed a budget anywhere near the size of the ABC’s and much of his career has been spent in advertising and marketing. His absence of radio experience is also of concern considering the importance of this facet of the ABC’s business. His lack of programming experience raises yet further questions…..

“This focus on producing quality news and current affairs makes it tempting to judge the ABC’s overall performance in the light of this one area of operation. It is a temptation that politicians and interest group leaders frequently abuse. But this focus is far too narrow and may be politically motivated. For this reason Mr Shier must not be tempted to change the ABC’s news and current affairs without considering the source of criticism. To jeopardise the ABC’s independence is contrary to the legislation under which it operates.”

Meanwhile … The ABC has issued a correction over how Emma Alberici relayed comments by Tony Abbott and Zaky Mallah in a Lateline segment last week:

“Emma Alberici stated that Tony Abbott referred to Zaky Mallah as a ‘convicted terrorist’. Mr Abbott’s exact words were that Mallah was a ‘convicted criminal and terrorist sympathiser’. The presenter later quoted Zaky Mallah saying on Q&A that Steve Ciobo’s comments would ‘encourage [Australian Muslims] to join Islamic State’. Mr Mallah said that Mr Ciobo had ‘justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL’.”

Even the Beeb is cutting jobs. The BBC is cutting more than 1000 jobs and looking to make up a 150 million pound (around A$300 million) shortfall in its licence fee income as UK TV viewers cut the cord and move online. The latest cuts are in addition to the savings of around 1.5 billion pounds identified in two previous rounds of hacking and slashing that has more than 4000 staff chopped or scheduled to go .

In a speech to staff overnight and in a memo BBC boss Tony Hall said the cuts would occur mainly in middle-level management and cutting the back-office areas of marketing and communications. Most of the job cuts won’t start until early 2016. The shortfall has come as people drop their TV licence fees and abandon terrestrial TV and move to watch TV online via broadband offerings, such as streaming, or via mobile devices. part of that change has been driven by the BBC itself through the growing success of its iPlayer catch-up service (which is the model for the ABC’s iview here, but at a considerably cheaper price).

Some 50 million pounds will be saved by merging divisions and cutting layers of management. Senior management roles will be cut across the board. In some places there are currently 10 layers of people, and this will be cut to a maximum of seven in all areas. The original driver for the cost-cutting was the freezing of the annual licence fee until 2017 (negotiations are already underway for a new five-year funding period from 2017-18). On top of the frozen fee, the BBC has been told to pay other costs, such as its broadband rollout. The Cameron Conservative government, which detests the BBC like the Abbott government does the ABC here, is about to issue a green paper on the BBC’s future in the next month or so. Proposals floated in selected leaks from the government have included making the BBC cover the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s, (which will cost hundreds of millions of pounds) as well as decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, which could also cost the corporation 200 million pounds. — Glenn Dyer

Front page of the day. A sad day for Adelaide and the AFL.

Tips and rumours

May 26, 2015

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Independent. Sometimes. More than 250 Wollongong residents, including a who’s who of local politicians and community leaders, turned up to the city’s strip mall on Saturday to protest against cuts to local paper the Illawarra Mercury. It’s usual for any rally of that size — particularly one led by such prominent community members — to be reported in the Mercury, and the editor had slated it in for the next edition. But Crikey has been told by several sources that a verbal instruction came down from senior Fairfax community media editorial brass to not run the story. Mumbrella has a piece on the directive, which notes the union’s displeasure at the interference, and Fairfax’s lack of a response. Crikey also contacted those we were told were responsible for the directive seeking confirmation, but we didn’t get a response by deadline. One Mercury staff member noted that the paper’s been through three rounds of redundancies since 2012, and had always covered the community response in an even-handed manner. Barring journalists from reporting on a rally about the company isn’t the way things are normally done at Fairfax.

Loose lips sink ships. When will politicians learn to keep their leadership chats to private places? They haven’t yet, according to this tipster:

“Having faced Sunday Mail headlines of lackluster leadership polling, Queensland LNP Deputy Leader John-Paul Langbroek was overheard lamenting the results in Rockhampton airport. Having spent the day with proponents of a casino rejected by the former LNP government, Mr Langbroek was speculating on leadership options. Unsurprisingly JPL fancied himself a replacement of Lawrence Springborg on a joint ticket with little-known frontbencher Deb Frecklington. Safe to assume this would be a pre-emptive ticket against the popular [Tim] Mander/[John] McVeigh option.”

We put this tip to Langbroek’s media representative this morning to see if he really was planning a challenge, and were told: “A spokesperson for Mr Langbroek said we don’t comment on gossip and rumour. Mr Langbroek is very happy in his current role.”

Sound Alliance selling SameSame? A tipster says niche, youth-focused publisher Sound Alliance is in advanced, “exclusive” negotiations to sell gay and lesbian title SameSame to an unknown buyer. Sound Alliance also publishes music titles FasterLouder, inthemix and pop culture title Junkee. It’s the first time the publisher, to our understanding, has looked to sell a title, and follows a bit of a shakeup in the gay media sector (see Media Briefs today). SameSame is one of the younger breed of gay and lesbian titles, existing exclusively online where many of its predecessors relied on print (a reliance now, understandably, being scaled back). Ms Tips contacted Sound Alliance CEO Neil Ackland to ask about the tip, and was told the company had no comment. Guess we’ll wait and see what pans out.

Tough crowd for Lambie. A tipster tells us Senator Jacqui Lambie made an appearance at University High in the Melbourne suburb of Parkville on Friday and that, as usual, she didn’t hold back when giving her honest opinions. Our tipster said that Lambie told the gathered students that women shouldn’t wear hijabs, despite there being students in the audience who were wearing the head coverings. If you’ve ever thought Lambie might be wary of voicing her opinions to some audiences, we know now that she’s definitely not.

Parliament House Cryptoparty. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has been making his way around the country hosting Cryptoparties, where attendees are trained in the ways of anonymising their online communication as a way to dilute the power of the government’s data retention laws. The parties are hosted by software development company ThoughtWorks, with experts in different areas carrying out a range of workshops. Now the concept is being brought to Parliament House, where members of the press gallery have been invited to learn about communicating securely and protecting their sources on Friday afternoon. It seems unorthodox for journalists to be learning this from a pollie, but these are the times we live in.

Is this thing on? Monday night on the ABC is a bit of a must-watch night for news junkies, but last night the news and current affairs were interrupted by transmission issues that plagued the ABC signal for about an hour. Ms Tips originally thought it was her own TV, but fortunately Twitter confirmed that we weren’t alone in watching blocks of colour and for one quick moment even Antiques Roadshow. It was even annoying ABC managing director Mark Scott, who promised he might be fixing it personally:

We’re not sure what Scott would do with said screwdriver, but it was a moment that made us miss ABC News Intern, who tweeted at the start of the month that he’s going on a hiatus (too much working for free, we think). We also asked the ABC this morning what happened and if the issue was fixed, and this is what we were told:

“ABC TV started experiencing technical problems affecting the broadcast of ABC News, Four Corners and Media Watch last night. The situation became worse affecting both ABC and ABC2 channels. After midnight network systems were taken offline for a reboot in order to fix the problem. We are currently investigating the cause. ABC TV apologises for any inconvenience.”

Chicken dance. We’re not sure why this happened, but we’re glad it did. Prime Minister Tony Abbott resorted to flapping yesterday in question time. It’s kind of mesmerising to watch:

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form.

Advertising

Mar 26, 2014

5 comments

Smart, ballsy or funny — that’s how Sound Alliance CEO Neil Ackland describes the vision he and his team had for upstart pop culture website Junkee.

“We looked at pop culture, and we felt like it was being dumbed down,” he said. “We could see a huge shift in the news consumption habits of young people. They get their news from social media, and they share what makes them look funny, clever or interesting.”

And so a year ago, Junkee was born. It’s since cemented its place among Sound Alliance’s stable, which includes youth websites like FasterLouderInTheMix and SameSame. It’s already surpassed 600,000 unique browsers in March (an exceptionally good month for traffic), and commercially, it’s tracking ahead of expectations. It’s through Junkee that Sound Alliance, Australia’s leading youth publisher, pioneered the use of “native advertising” (or branded content) in Australia — such advertising now contributes close to 20% of total revenue.

Native isn’t a new concept globally; it’s a key part of websites like BuzzFeed overseas. But Sound Alliance is the first company to take it up in a big way in Australia. The company’s positioning has helped, Ackland told Crikey. “Brands tend to be more open to experimentation on youth campaigns,” he said. “It’s not been that difficult to get interest from brands and media agencies around what we’re doing. We’ve had 12 months of really evolving and refining the model, and the results are getting better and better.”

Native advertising can be described as advertorial on steroids. Instead of relying on the clout of media personalities to add their credibility to a brand, the brand borrows from and leans on the editorial sensibilities of a media outlet. The idea is for the advertising to be less intrusive and more of what users would want to read.

It is not hard to find advertisers to keen to reach Junkee’s young, savvy audience. But Junkee covers pop culture with a difference. It largely eschews the listicles and opinion pieces common on many similar sites, for example. Managing editor Steph Harmon says she doesn’t want to add to the “online echo chamber”. And so, her team commissions content that’ll give its readers a deeper look. For example, a recent piece on Vogue’s decision to put Kayne West and Kim Kardashian explores the business decisions behind the editorial choice. And yesterday, the website published a long piece of narrative journalism examining the eviction of hundreds of residents from community housing in Sydney’s Millers Point as the area gentrifies (James Packer’s casino development is next door).

That kind of journalism is expensive. Harmon says she’d like to commission more long-form stuff, but the company is still searching around for a model to make it viable. Like many online operations, Junkee’s core staff could share a cab. And the type of writing the website relies on for its point of differentiation would be hard to pay for with traditional display advertising (though Junkee has some of that too). That’s where native comes in.

Harmon is heavily involved in the native advertising process. Sound Alliance’s native editor gets a brief from the company’s sales people and sends it on to a group of writers. They pitch ideas for the brand, and she commissions the best one.

The piece then goes to Harmon. “I need to be OK with it,” she said. “It also needs to be the type of thing you’d see on Junkee … I edit it the same way I edit any other piece. It just goes through a few extra layers.”

Native advertising relies on creating viral, branded content. But aren’t corporate brands likely to only approve boring content? Harmon admits it’s an ongoing challenge to lift the bar, but says the brands who use the website are the ones that understand what works online.

In this sense, BuzzFeed coming to Australia could be good for Sound Alliance, Ackland says. “It’ll open up the category. As awareness for this kind of advertising goes up, budgets go up. And we’ve got new players coming into the market who have a whole lot of experience in native advertising overseas. I think we’ll see the whole sector really exploding,” he said.

Harmon is also not worried about competition from BuzzFeed. “I’m actually really excited for BuzzFeed’s launch,” she told Crikey. “They have a very different tone to us. And anyway, sites like ours don’t just compete with Australian entrants.”

For Harmon and her team, editorial and commercial successes have so far gone hand in hand. The early success has fuelled big ambitions — if the company can pull it off, it will have created something quite unique.

“The longer I’m involved, the more I notice differences with other sites,” Harmon said. “Rather than looking up at sites like Gawker and Jezebel and trying to emulate them, I can see things they’re doing we’d shy away from. I don’t think I could find any example of a website exactly comparable to what Junkee is right now.”