Archive for the ‘media’ category


Cautiously optimistic about Boucher

26.05.2020

When I ran for office, there was often a noticeable difference between how I was treated by locally owned media and foreign- owned media. There are exceptions to that rule—The New Zealand Herald and Sky TV gave me a good run while Radio New Zealand opted to do a candidates’ round-up in two separate campaigns interviewing the (white) people who were first-, second- and fourth-polling—but overall, TVNZ, Radio New Zealand with those two exceptions, and the local community papers were decent. Many others seemed to have either ventured into fake news territory (one Australian-owned tabloid had a “poll”, source unknown, that said I would get 2 per cent in 2010) or simply had a belief that New Zealanders were incapable and that the globalist agenda knew best. As someone who ran on the belief that New Zealand had superior intellectual capital and innovative capability, and talked about how we should grow champions that do the acquiring, not become acquisition targets, then those media who were once acquisition targets of foreign corporations didn’t like what they heard.
   And that, in a nutshell, is why my attitude toward Stuff has changed overnight thanks to Sinéad Boucher taking ownership of what I once called, as part of a collective with its Australian owner, the Fairfax Press.
   The irony was always that the Fairfax Press in Australia—The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald—were positive about my work in the 2000s but their New Zealand outpost was quite happy to suggest I was hard to understand because of my accent. (Given that I sound more like an urban Kiwi than, say, the former leader of the opposition, and arguably have a better command of the English language than a number of their journalists, then that’s a lie you sell to dinosaurs of the Yellow Peril era.) A Twitter apology from The Dominion Post’s editor-in-chief isn’t really enough without an erratum in print, but there you go. In two campaigns, the Fairfax Press’s coverage was notably poor when compared with the others’.
   But I am upbeat about Boucher, about what she intends to do with the business back in local ownership, and about the potential of Kiwis finally getting media that aren’t subject to overseas whims or corporate agenda; certainly Stuff and its print counterparts won’t be regarded as some line on a balance sheet in Sydney any more, but a real business in Aotearoa serving Kiwis. Welcome back to the real world, we look forward to supporting you.

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Facebook exploits COVID-19 for profit, and viral thoughts

01.05.2020

A lot of the world’s population has come together in the fight against COVID-19. Except Facebook, of course, who is exploiting the virus for profit. Facebook has done well in the first quarter of 2020 with positive earnings. Freedom From Facebook & Google co-chairs Sarah Miller and David Segal note (the links are theirs): ‘Facebook has exploited a global pandemic to grow their monopoly and bottom line. They’ve profited from ads boasting fake cures and harmful information, allowed ad targeting to “pseudoscience” audiences, permitted anti-stay-at-home protests to organize on the platform, and are now launching a COVID “Data for Good” endeavour to harvest even more of our personal information.
   ‘Make no mistake, Facebook having more of your data is never “good”, nor will they just relinquish the collected data when the pandemic’s curve has been flattened. Rather, they’ll bank it and continue to profit from hyper-targeted ads for years to come.’

It’s been a few weeks (April 19 was my last post on this subject) since I last crunched these numbers but it does appear that overall, COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done are dropping, several countries excepting. Here is the source.

France 167,178 of 724,574 = 23·07%
UK 171,253 of 901,905 = 18·99%
Sweden 21,092 of 119,500 = 17·65%
USA 1,095,304 of 6,391,887 = 17·14%
Spain 239,639 of 1,455,306 = 16·47%
Singapore 17,101 of 143,919 = 11·88%
KSA 22,753 of 200,000 = 11·38%
Switzerland 29,586 of 266,200 = 11·11%
Italy 205,463 of 1,979,217 = 10·38%
Germany 163,009 of 2,547,052 = 6·40%
South Korea 10,774 of 623,069 = 1·73%
Australia 6,766 of 581,941 = 1·16%
New Zealand 1,479 of 139,898 = 1·06%
Taiwan 429 of 63,340 = 0·68%
Hong Kong 1,038 of 154,989 = 0·67%

Emmerdale fans will never forgive me. I’ve not been one to watch British soaps, finding them uninteresting. However, in this household, we have had Emmerdale on since it’s scheduled between TV1’s midday bulletin and the 1 p.m. government press conference on COVID-19, or, as some of us call it, The Ashley Bloomfield Show, named for our director-general of health who not only has to put up with all of this, but took a hit to one-fifth of his pay cheque. Naturally, one sings along to the Emmerdale theme, except I have no clue about its lyrics. Are there lyrics?

Not a single like on Twitter or Mastodon. I’ve offended a heck of a lot of people.

We are supposedly at Level 3, which someone said was Level 4 (the full lockdown) with takeaways. However, we’ve gone from the 1960s-style near-empty motorways to this almost immediately.

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Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


An update on yesterday’s COVID-19 table

09.04.2020

Another late-night calculation of COVID-19 cases as a proportion of total tests done, so the figures will be out of date again, and I’ve also discovered that the total testing numbers some countries are giving are out of date. The ones with asterisks below are those that haven’t cited increased testing numbers (at least none that I can find; a search actually yielded lower and older figures in some cases), so I imagine the real percentages might be lower. The order of countries hasn’t changed.

France 109,069 of 224,254 = 48·64%*
Spain 146,690 of 355,000 = 41·32%*
UK 55,242 of 266,694 = 20·71%
USA 400,549 of 2,082,443 = 19·23%
Italy 135,586 of 755,445 = 17·95%
Sweden 8,419 of 54,700 = 15·39%*
Switzerland 22,789 of 171,938 = 13·25%
Germany 109,178 of 918,460 = 11·88%
New Zealand 1,210 of 46,875 = 2·58%
Singapore 1,623 of 65,000 = 2·50%*
South Korea 10,384 of 477,304 = 2·18%
Australia 6,013 of 319,368 = 1·88%
Hong Kong 961 of 96,709 = 1·38%*
Taiwan 379 of 40,702 = 0·93%

   I was buoyed by news on what some of us have cheekily dubbed The Ashley Bloomfield Show (the Ministry of Health director-general’s press conference) that we had only 29 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours here. As a sporting nation I think we understand that you can’t shirk when you’re playing the second half of the match. If anything, you need to go harder. By now I suspect many of us are finding the hand-washing and other advice second nature.

Hasn’t it been revealing to hear which journalists ask crappy questions at the Bloomfield press conference? Since the pressers are watched by a huge number of New Zealanders during lockdown, I think the scales have fallen from many eyes lately to see how the stories get edited and even editorialized. And which members of the media don’t seem to want to work with the good advice being given by our government, yet have nothing solid (e.g. other experts) to counter it with. In my opinion, it’s put TV1 in a good light, and shown its reasonable balance. It also reinforces that many of our talking heads are irrelevant (see below, from The Press in Christchurch). Science is saving the day and showing loud-mouthed opinions for what they are.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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Rather locked down than living within a controlled experiment

01.04.2020

As a dual national, I hope there’s some exaggeration or selective quoting in the Bristol Post about its report of former police officer Mike Rowland, who’s stuck in Auckland with his wife Yvonne. Apparently, New Zealand is in ‘pandemonium’ and he feels like he’s in ‘Alcatraz’.
   As we are most certainly not in pandemonium, the British Crown may have to ponder if it needs to reopen some of the cases Mr Rowland was once involved in due to unreliable witness testimony. Then again, if it can keep a foreign national like Julian Assange indefinitely and subject him to psychological torture as well as the risk of COVID-19 infection, perhaps it won’t need to ponder a thing.
   Mr Rowland’s not a fan of our breakfast television, either, saying that it makes Piers Morgan a ‘god’. There actually is some truth to the quality of our breakfast telly depending on which channel he has come across (I won’t name names), and I recommend that he switch to another. Go a bit further up the dial, and Aljazeera English has a whole variety of ex-BBC presenters speaking in RP that might make him feel less at home.

   And I’ve my own stories about the inability to get answers from the British High Commission, so I sympathize on this note.
   But given the choice between being stuck in Aotearoa and being amongst the control group that is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where the government’s sense of British exceptionalism meant that it delayed locking things down, so much so that the PM himself has COVID-19, I would be quite happy to be in the land Down Under.
   Mr Rowland may have missed the (disputed) Murdoch Press (which usually leans right) report that suggested that Boris Johnson’s senior adviser said it was ‘too bad’ if ‘some pensioners die’, consistent with Mr Johnson’s own position that Britain would pursue a strategy of herd immunity—and consistent with what the British government initially announced, with sycophants in full agreement.
   I admit I’ve called our government ‘a bunch of Blairites’ but I’d take them over their lot, including their Mr Johnson who does less convincing prime ministerial impressions than Neville Chamberlain. Their mass U-turn had to happen as it appeared the British people figured out their lives were being put in danger and forced the government’s hand.
   I realize he misses the comforts of home and I would, too, in his shoes, though equally I’d be grateful to be alive, in a country where even he acknowledges that food is readily available and we haven’t suffered the extent of panic buying that the UK has seen. If only Alcatraz were this pleasant.

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The British approach to coronavirus: by Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings

14.03.2020


Still from AFP video

I’d far rather have the action taken by our government than the UK’s when it comes to flattening the curve on coronavirus, and the British response reminds me of this 2018 post.
   Just because the chief scientific adviser there has a knighthood and talks posh isn’t a reason to trust him, his judgement or even his “expertise” if science says otherwise.
   When my father went into hospital in September 2019, the doctors’ lack of treatment—because they determined he was ‘dying’ and that that was sufficient reason to deny him the essentials of life and that it would be a ‘miracle’ if he regained consciousness, whereas my partner and I determined he was ‘dehydrated’ (we were right)—I was forced to ask the palliative nurse about this so-called ‘policy’. Dad did, after all, wake up after we demanded he be given saline and sustenance within hours, leading me to wonder just why a team of doctors were so obsessed with killing him.
   ‘Who’s next?’ I asked.
   She looked at me quizzically.
   ‘Who’s next? Is it the differently abled? Homosexuals? Jews? I’m sorry, but the parallels are all too evident to me.’
   During this time, a Dr Mark Jones in the UK came into my Twittersphere and we exchanged a number of Tweets.
   Mark essentially said that this was an unwritten UK government policy, and showed me numerous examples of elder neglect and abuse in his country. Maybe I should say ‘our country’ since it’s the only one I have a current passport for, having got too busy to renew my Kiwi one (not that it would have much use at present).
   The reasons were financial. The fewer OAPs there were, the less they’d have to pay out in pensions.
   Therefore, it was no surprise that Dad’s treatment at a British-run rest home compared less favourably than Te Hopai, where he wound up, although in Bupa’s defence they have taken our complaints seriously, apologized, and have invited us to see the improvements.
   The less generous might have branded Mark a conspiracy theorist but Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, seems to advance a position directly compatible with Mark’s observations.
   From what I can make out, he’s quite happy for the UK to get infected with coronavirus with the expectation that 60 per cent of the Union will develop immunity—although from all my reading of this approach, a proportion of older people who contract it will die. It appears a callous approach to just let a disease come—the UK isn’t closing its borders or banning mass gatherings, but instead is welcoming its microbic visitor with crumpets and tea. Yes, they are advising those who feel sick to self-isolate, and that is sensible, but it’s the rest that makes little sense.
   Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson preempts this as he said without emotion, ‘Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.’
   Even Jeremy Hunt appeared to break ranks with the government in one interview.
   The likely result will be a thinning out of British OAPs.
   When I first told my partner this, she was shocked, but I advanced my own conspiracy theory: ‘If you begin with the premise that Dominic Cummings is out to destroy Britain—its institutions, and now its people—then all of this fits his agenda.’
   The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, after Sajid Javid found himself in a position where even he couldn’t go along with what was being peddled by 10 Downing Street, making you wonder just what horrors await, will doubtless be thrilled at the savings to the UK pension fund.

PS.: Thank you, Tomas Pueyo (the man in the screen), for reacting the way you did to Prof John Edmunds’ position that the UK has given up on containing the virus and that people will die. You have spoken, silently, for many of us.—JY




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Autocade turns 12

07.03.2020

Autocade turns 12 today, as it’s now March 8 here in New Zealand. From zero models to 4,093 (the Hyundai Avante XD is the latest); and as I write this sentence, it’s netted 18,683,611 page views. Just four years ago this month, it had only managed eight million.
   Just this week, I added two public notes of thanks to Carfolio, with whom we’ve done a bit of an information swap, on the site. Admittedly that swap has been in our favour. The first fruits of that were four Toyota models. It shows that we motorheads have been able to find each other and work on a spirit of cooperation, to make the web more informative and useful.
   It’s a far cry from those early days when the site got its first few models; it took four months to get to 500. The timing wasn’t great, considering the Global Financial Crisis was beginning to happen around us, and more people were being sucked in to Facebook. As a hobby, I carried on, because it was a satisfying use of my time.
   I’ll leave a stats’ breakdown when we get to 19 million views, and no doubt I’ll do another post when we get to 4,100 models.
   Stuart Cowley, who shot the first Autocade video with me fronting it, has a few more up his sleeve that he’ll edit in due course. I’m open to seeing what the future will bring for the brand.
   Having one independent web publication that’s survived 22 years and counting, and another that’s now 12, is perhaps quite rare these days.
   Since I began writing this post, Autocade has gained another 73 page views.
   I’m grateful for all the support out there—thank you for all your views, feedback, generosity, information, and your shared love of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »


Why I don’t sign up to new online ad networks in a hurry

26.02.2020

In the early days, banner advertising was pretty simple. By the turn of the century, we dealt with a couple of firms, Burst Media and Gorilla Nation, and we had a few buy direct. Money was good.
   This is the pattern today if we choose to say yes to anyone representing an ad network.
   I get an email, with, ‘Hey, we’ve got some great fill rates and CPMs!’
   I quiz them, tell them that in the past we’ve been disappointed. Basically, because each ad network has a payment threshold (and in Burst’s case they deduct money as a fee for paying you money), the more ad networks we serve in each ad spot’s rotation, the longer it takes to reach each network’s threshold. And some networks don’t even serve ads that we can see.
   They say that that won’t happen, so I do the paperwork and we put the codes in.
   Invariably we either see crap ads (gambling and click-bait, or worse: pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials and entire page takeovers for either) or we see no ads, at least none that’ll pay.
   Because we give people a chance we leave the codes there for a while, and that delays the payment thresholds just as predicted.
   At the end of the day, it’s ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ because no one really seems to honour their commitments when it comes to online advertising. With certain companies having monopoly or duopoly powers in this market, it’s led to depressed prices and a very high threshold for any new players—and that’s a bad thing for publishers. What a pity their home country lacks the bollocks to do something about it.
   Every now and then they will feed through an advertisement from Google because of a contractual arrangement they have, and the ad isn’t clickable—because I guess no one at Google has figured out that that’s important. (Remember, this is the same company that didn’t know what significant American building is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC on Google Earth, and the way to deal with whistleblowers is allegedly to call the cops on them.)
   We deal with one Scots firm and one Israeli firm these days, in the hope that not having American ad networks so dependent on, or affected by, a company with questionable ethics might help things just a little.

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One News is hard to miss on TV, but hidden on the internet

18.02.2020

I wanted to see what TV1 news (I can never remember its official name with all its rebrands over the years—is it One Network News, TVNZ1 News, One News, or something else?) had on GM’s decision to shut Holden, but I missed both the six o’clock and the Plus One screenings. I headed online with some trepidation because I recall that I could never find the most-watched programme on the channel on previous occasions. This time I decided to document my attempt.
   Usually I would get stumped by the log-in process that made me lose my place, so this time I decided to log in first.

Nowhere to be seen. Ah, but it’s a TV1 show, so what if I go to the TV1 page?

Nope. Under news and current affairs, we have Breakfast, Seven Sharp, Fair Go and Te Karere. There’s a 1 News link at the top, what if I go there?

No joy, at least not for the full six o’clock broadcast. I did spy a Kiwi category, and surely TV1 news is Kiwi-made. Let’s see …

Apparently only the Tonight and Midday bulletins count as Kiwi-made.
   Despite my searching for it around 8 p.m., it wasn’t under ‘What’s new on TV’ either. Something that finished broadcasting an hour ago isn’t new.
   By this time what I do is go on Twitter to ask for help and eventually someone finds it for me, which isn’t the most efficient way of doing it, but in the past that’s how I’ve solved it.
   Tonight I put news into the search box and got it there after doing all the above, but why does TVNZ make it this hard? It’s their flagship news programme.
   And Conan Gorbey on Twitter found it for me tonight. Thanks, Conan!

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