Sunday, 31 May 2009

Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) lost my favorites (or ‘bookmarks’ as some may refer to them). Apparently it’s a problem others have encountered, as I discovered from a post in a Yahoo forum. The resolver suggests reverting back to IE7, saving the favorites, and reinstalling IE8.

But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to call Microsoft and use up support staffer time to get a resolution. I want the company to hear me, experience my frustration, understand how much they’ve inconvenienced me. So that it won’t happen again.

You wouldn’t imagine it would be so terrible - losing your favourites - but it is. It’s not just the favourite sites I’d placed in the favourites bar. No, it’s the whole kit and kaboodle - all of ‘em.

It’s terrible because suddenly you’re back in 2003 and using Google to get to news sites that you’ve visited a thousand times before.

Which may not be a bad thing, if you hold that being forced to take an alternative position for a while can enlarge your horizons.

Because without my favourites I feel as though it’s not even a browser. You get used to knowing that your preferred sites are just a menu nav away. You get complacent. You get lazy.

Naturally enough, many people don’t want to have to start surfing to find pages they usually just click and scroll to see.

But looking on the bright side it’s an opportunity to explore, to step outside the boundaries, to get your feet wet again. Because a folder full of favorites is like a set of stepping stones across the damp expanses of the web.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Internet Explorer 8: Review

When I was prompted to install IE8 I didn't hesitate a second. After all, if there had been a significant disadvantage to using the new version surely, I thought, someone would have made a noise in advance. Likewise I wasn't expecting any great improvement on IE7. It's just that I like to keep up-to-date when it comes to applications I use frequently, like my browser.

If things pan out as expected, the browser will become the main application for everything from word processing to spreadsheets. Cloud apps are on the horizon, as the success of Facebook attests.

I have tried Chrome and loved it. Not only does it seem faster, but the simplicity and uncluttered interface appealed to me. Unfortunately, Chrome is not supported by my bank, so it's a no-go option.

But IE8 takes a leaf out of Chrome's instruction manual, in the form of favourites that can be added to the favourites bar. This was an element of Chrome that sincerely attracted me. It means you can place a handy link to frequently-visited sites, right in front of you. No more browsing through a menu to access favourites.

Unlike in Chrome, however, you cannot rely entirely on the favicon to identify a site. IE8 does not allow you to delete all text associated with the favicon, as Chrome does. This means you cannot fit as many sites in the favourites bar, as you can with Chrome, where text is not requisite.

Another favourites bar item in IE8 is the 'web slice'. I installed a web slice at and use it infrequently. Having favourites in the favourites bar is far more useful. Web slices are slow: you need to wait until it refreshes if you haven't used it recently.

The whole point of web slices is that you can see some (underscore 'some') content from sliced pages in a menu thingy in your favourites bar, at the same time you are viewing another web page. This means you don't have to leave the current page to see content from a page that supports web slices. However, if you have that page set up as your home page or if a link to it is installed via the favourites bar, there's no great advantage here.

When you open a new tab in IE8 a pictorial Google menu appears. This is quite nice but, again, most of the pages you want to visit are already set up in your favourites bar. Nevertheless, this is quite a decent feature. It helps to remind you where you've been, and you may take the opportunity to revisit a page.

But the menu seems to slow down the process of opening a new tab. I've timed the lag and it can be as long as 20 seconds. That's a long time to wait for a new tab to open.

IE8 also offers a range of 'add-ons' which are small tools that integrate your browser in a variety of ways with popular websites. However, I haven't seen the point in these so I don't use them at all. I mean, if I want to post a story to LinkedIn I'll just go to that site and post it. I don't need an 'accelerator' to perform all the occasional actions that might occur to me.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Free online newspapers a thing of the past? Within 12 months News Ltd will charge readers for online content, says Rupert Murdoch. Readers would be charged a subscription "within the next 12 months", according to the AFP story today.

On 6 April it was reported that Australian-born editor of The Wall Street Journal, Robert Thomson, said:

"Google encourages promiscuity -- and shamelessly so -- and therefore a significant proportion of their users don't necessarily associate that content with the creator.

"It's certainly true that readers have been socialised -- wrongly I believe -- that much content should be free."

Murdoch has also contradicted group editorial director of The Australian, Campbell Reid, who said a couple of days ago that "newspapers" would be around in 50 years. But according to Murdoch:

"Instead of an analog paper printed on paper you may get it on a panel which would be mobile, which will receive the whole newspaper over the air, (and) be updated every hour or two," he said.

"I think it's two or three years away before they get introduced in a big way and then it will probably take 10 years or 15 years for the public to swing over."

So we're now facing an end to the happy days of promiscuous browsing of online newspapers. Bloggers beware! No longer will you be able to collect snippets of information to feed your appetite for news, and your habit of self-expression. Unless you pay for this pleasant privilege, that is.

Of course, given the downward trend in media profits due to lower rates of advertising, it might be the case that there will be more amalgamations. If so, we might see individual newspapers doing more in a smaller space. We might also see more types of feed beyond what is currently scheduled within the space. And in the case of companies like News Ltd which controls a broad stable of vehicles, we might see a more concentrated aggregation of feeds from more sources in the one place.

All these things might mitigate the dulling effects of paid content. But I, for one, will miss the freedom of being able to visit a large number of news sites during the day, picking out my favourite sections for viewing, and choosing at will the headlines I click on.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

If Australians are famous early adopters of new technology, what does that say about people who know what they want but cannot find it? Are we sceptical wannados? Early procrastinators? Adaptive tolerators?

Based on Rod Easdown's survey of digital radios available in Perth, I'm not sure what category I fit in. But I do know that - given the high prices and my limited budget - I don't see much here that fits the bill.

Because I don't see much point in a standalone system, a box I put in my entertainment cabinet with a knob to change channels. I spend most of my time at my computer so what I want is a design that allows me to choose from the study what is playing in the living room. Given the technologies such as Bluetooth that are available, I don't see why that should be so difficult.

I can't think of anything worse than being forced to vacate my comfortable desk whenever I want to change channels. I'm fond of my living room, but not so fond that I want to view its many splendours several dozen times every day. I'm too busy checking Facebook, reading newspapers online and writing, to bother with those kind of shenanigans.

Is it too much to ask to be able to tune the radio from my computer screen? Surely there's at least one enterprising radio design team out there in technoland that sees things my way?

We'll see. In the meantime, I'm going to hang back on purchasing a digital radio until they start spruiking the features I desire in annoying banner ads on By the time this happens the gadget will be priced within my budget and I'll be able to choose from among a number of competing brands. Vive ubiquity!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The 7.30 Report‘s feature on newspapers last night did not elicit the same level of access from the two main print media companies in Australia. It’s not surprising, given recent circulation figures, that News Ltd was more forthcoming, providing access to Campbell Reid, group editorial director, on camera. Fairfax refused the program’s request for access.

“Fairfax, in the last few days, have confirmed that those two newspapers (The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald) are barely making a profit,” says Crikey publisher (and former Fairfax editor) Eric Beecher.

Fairfax risks seeming out of touch with ABC viewers, who are likely to also read broadsheets.

Surely the viability of newspapers is an important element of the democratic process? As Eric beecher points out, like the arts in Australia generally, news could be the recipient of government funding. It already is, in the form of the national broadcaster - which broadcasts this program - the ABC.

The Australian saw circulation rise - again - “growing its average weekday sales by 3.6 per cent year-on-year to 138,765 and its weekend sales by 3.7 per cent to 316,194”, according to a 15 May story in the News Ltd flagship broadsheet.

“News Limited has a proprietor who loves newspapers and has worked in them all his life, and that's in stark contrast to Fairfax,” says Beecher.

Farifax’ “The Sydney Morning Herald experienced little change in its circulation” over the same period, according to the story in The Australian.

News Ltd’s The Daily Telegraph “fell 1.5 per cent on weekdays and 0.5 per cent on Saturdays” it went on.

The 7.30 Report program highlights US problems, too. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has relinquished a print version and is now solely an online vehicle. Two major US broadsheets - The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune - have either gone bankrupt or are in the throes of bankruptcy.

News is in a pickle globally. British national papers are suffering too, as are regional titles in the same country.

“I think people who think that the internet is responsible for the death of newspapers are searching around and blaming the wrong person,” says Reid. “Poor management, poor newspapers, I think are responsible for the death of some newspapers."

Will newspapers be around in 50 years? Reid thinks they will.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The launch of Hair, a sociological study of the cultural uses that hair has ben put to over the years, overflowed downstairs and onto the wharf. Held on the last day of the Sydney Writers' Fextival at Pier 4/5, organisers had failed to anticipate the level of interest among supporters of the editors and contributors.

We almost left. By the time we got in things were in full swing. We'd listened to the speeches from a PA box outside, next to the gently lapping waters of Darling Harbour. Inside, the noise level was enough to challenge a jet engine at full throttle. We mingled, looked, waited for drinks, signed up to buy a copy of the book, and left after a discrete interval.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Seems Melbourne's monde literaire is in a flap about Ben Naparstek, who is 23, taking the reigns of The Monthly as editor. Yesterday I started to notice a large number of hits to my blog from Melbourne. This morning, The Australian and The Age (but NOT The Sydney Morning Herald) ran stories about the appointment.

Which just goes to show how right the critics are. The Monthly is supposed to be an Australian magazine but people have complained to me that it is Melbourne-centric, always running the same writers, notably Alice Pung.

Naparstek's appointment is certainly a surprise. I blogged about him in detail because, in June 2006, age 20, he published an interview with the reclusive Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. I thought this was exceptional, as I'd never heard of Naparstek before. Now he's scored another coup, landing one of the most coveted literature jobs in the country.

Although it has a fairly small circulation compared to The New Yorker or The Atlantic, The Monthly is distinctly Australian and does a fairly good job - pace the dissatisfied readers mentioned earlier - at reflecting what is important in this country.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens with the magazine over the coming months and years. Nevertheless, given the cloud under which the previous editor left - not acting in a sufficiently consensual manner vis a vis Melbourne academic and magazine chairman Robert Manne - it may be valid to claim that Naparstek was appointed because the magazine's publisher thought he would be more tractable.

We'll see. And given Naparstek's international credentials - not only interviewing famous writers at their home seats but studying in Baltimore - perhaps the magazine will become less Melbourne-centric and more representative of the whole of this great land of ours.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Taiwan's rapprochement with the mainland received a boost this week when it was announced that a museum dedicated to the work of Taiwanese cartoonist Chu Teh-yung would be built in Hangzhou. The complex will also include animation studios, artists' workshops and hotels. Authorities have told Chu that he will have discretion in the museum's design.

Hangzhou is a provincial capital (Zhejiang province) located about halfway between Beijing and Taiwan. The province borders the sea.

A story published by Canada's CBC News says that Chu's cartoons, banned ten years ago, resonate with mainland readers because they depict stories they can relate to.

They portray family issues — not political ones — such as parental pressure and generational clashes, which have become more marked as China modernized and a new class of white-collar workers came to the fore.

"[The urban workers] see in my cartoons their own stories … people who are struggling with the same family and marriage problems as they themselves are," notes Chu.

In a China Post story we learn that Chu's cartoons have been made into Chinese stage shows or TV series and that "Chu has become a household name on the mainland".

A Taipei Times story notes that the deal was signed in late April.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

"Audiences are not going to sit there and be handed tablets of stone," avers Chris Cramer, Reuters global editor for multimedia. But he also thinks that we live in a community of "continuous partial attention" where the "chatter, chaff and stuff available" drown out the media. To be successful nowadays "you have to create something that differentiates yourself from the crowd".

"Use new technology to make a brand," he advised the media students assembled to hear about becoming a journalist in the connected world. "Who needs the traditional media? Any of you can start to change the world yourselves."

Cramer (left in photo) was joined by Florian Westphal, head of media and PR at Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. The talk was organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Cramer has pretty strong views on what media must do to respond to consumer demand. The Reuters brand, he says, is almost unmatched in terms of trust, a shrinking quantity in today's world of "fake and breathless hysteria" where "everything is created to present fear and conflict". Cramer says that the level of trust in conventional media is at an all-time low. But things are not unmercifully dire, he predicts. "The whole world is a news gatherer" now, he says. Cramer recounts how, when the aircraft touched down in the Hudson River in New York last year he found himself at the window "rubbernecking like everyone else" instead of using his trusty handheld camera to capture footage.

"The most compelling images come from tourists," he says. There is the potential to access millions overnight. On the downside for companies like Reuters, most people think that news should be "absolutely free". Yet he thinks that people will continue to pay for the kinds of values that companies like Reuters add to their product. "Everything we do commercially enhances our reputation," he says.

But "a journalist is only as good as the news story he does tomorrow". Reuters has 2800 journalists working out of 196 bureaus and Cramer estimates that the audience for their product numbers a billion.

I asked Cramer why journalists are often very critical of social networking sites like Facebook. He had said that we live in a world where, given the ability of anyone to be a journalist, there is a danger of "electronic mob rule".

"Facebook? Big tick," says Cramer. "I personally am not down on any of this stuff." But some of his colleagues are "terrified" of it. "They twitter for a day, don't see the point and then leave."

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Taiwanese Film Festival was an intimate affair that showcased two films, 'The Shoe Fairy' by Robin Lee and 'Secret' by Jay Chou, that are indicators of a confident culture not so much in transition as pausing to reflect on past successes. Both are, as Sydney Talent Company director Jon-Claire Lee noted, chick flics. And although it's a slight stretch to contemplate just how "the lost samurai spirit of Japan" - a characteristic of Taiwan mentioned by Taiwan ambassador Dr Gary Lin - is evident in the films, they offer a more-than-cursory glimpse into what makes Taiwan such an interesting place.

I spoke with Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia director general Angela Lin about the irony of president Ma's rapprochement with mainland China (Ma is Kuomintang) and she said that "that was 60 years ago" and that it was not surprising. Taiwan is a liberal, tolerant society. In this formulation, what seems to go against logic may just be part of the routine dynamics of party politics (the KMT's predecessors, the DPP, had icy relations with China).

"Taiwanese people help each other," said Lee. In the first film, Dodo is a young woman with a dangerous shoe addiction. Married to handsome, forbearing dentist Dr Smiley, Dodo discovers that having one white sheep and one black sheep - her childhood mantra, garnered from the books her parents read to her when she was small - may not immediately seem a preposessing scenario. Working at Jack's Publishing, Dodo is often sent to pick up drawings from Big Cat, who turns out to be a mature woman who wears floaty dresses and lends a hand - she gives Dodo a kitten.

The kitten as a talisman of personal development has nothing, however, on the lady who runs the shoe shop. After Dodo's change of heart, she gives her shoes to the lady, who asks customers to give her children's books in exchange for them. The lady then donates the books to an orphanage.

But this is a mere schematic glance at 'The Shoe Fairy', which possesses a beauty and grace that is rare in films from any country. 'Secret' is a very different kind of film in that it is a kind of ghost story. Here, too, people help each other, most notably Jay (played by the director, an accomplished musician), who finds happiness in helping Rain, a schoolgirl who has discovered a way to travel in time.

The movie may not "reflect the cultural diversity of Taiwan", as Dr Lin suggested, but it does show a confident and mature culture able to look at itself with open eyes. As a school love story, it contains many elements we know from other films, including discipline, friendship, competitiveness, and bullying. Jay represents a kind of ideal: an accomplished piano player who not only befriends the oddball football players, but manages to navigate through the complex passages of schoolyard romance without losing his dignity or his equilibrium.

It is also an affecting tale, coaxing emotions in the audience - mixed but mostly ethnically Chinese - and causing not a few young women to shed an occasional tear.

In all it was a fun evening. The refreshments supplied by Din Tai Fung restaurant (based in World Square) made it possible to watch two longish movies without collapsing from exhaustion.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Seems Microsoft Support was too quick to blame pirate software for my Outlook problems. After four calls totalling at least six hours case number 1101 *** *** is finally closed. And the culprit? Too many emails in a single folder.

But it's certain that the fact I had a Chinese version of Office on my computer was the cause of the first problem - Chinese language folder names. Once that was fixed, Microsoft leapt to the conclusion that because it was pirated then the next problem (emails received after 27 July 2008 wouldn't import) was due to the same fact.

In actual fact, I would probably have had both problems even if the Office software had not been a pirated edition.

To fix the second problem we split past emails into 'by-year' folders and imported each year separately. Thus Outlook does not tolerate too many emails in one folder. Splitting them into years meant we stayed under the maximum per-folder limit, and the import was successful.

I only decided to get Outlook because my previous email client - Windows Mail - is not full-featured. As I noted in the earlier blog post about this issue it did not allow me to control the appearance of my signature on reply emails and forward emails.

Now I have total control.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009, as part of the Fairfax stable, is in an organisation bleeding red. On the day after a multitude of cuts was announced in a budget aimed at shoring up a multitude of new expenditures, the website put up a terrifying ad for Macbooks that occupies the top of the page above the fold. Like the government - eager to generate revenues to fund losses elsewhere - has invaded my browser with an ad that is sure to cause thousands of toenails to curl.

With any luck it will be gone tomorrow. But deadly downturns in media revenues have caused highly popular websites to seek ad revenues by placing irritating and intrusive ads in places previously thought to be exempt from the annoying wallpaper of clickthrough-land.

Another egregious example was the BMW ad that occupied the side channels of the top page of Not only was the regular square banner espousing high-end cars, the generous white space either side of the main copy that web users rely on to make reading online tolerable was taken up by zooming sedans with coloured wheels.

BMW is the last car I would ever consider, after this escapade. But the Apple takeover of's top page makes me nervous about where ad placement is travelling. It's not enough that I personally would be less likely, now, to buy a Mac. It's the high level of tolerance for such treatment among web users generally, that causes me most apprehension.

When you bring up the page it loads normally. But then the Apple ad intrudes, pushing the news stories and photos down a good 10cm, and much disappears below the fold. Normally, a horizontal row of photos sits just above the fold. Now, the main story's caption is obscured and you're forced to scroll down to see what normally is immediately legible above the fold.

As media ad receipts dwindle with the recession, we're likely to see more such treatment from news editors and the managers who decide how information is placed, and how advertisers are treated. Stuff the consumer. Make 'em scroll!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Natalie Tran, the feral YouTube comic who I wrote about in February, has raised her profile in an unexpected way. At the time she said she did not want to handle product endorsements on her posts and I applauded her for her fortitude and foresight. Now she has done a deal with The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Australia's major broadsheets, to provide content.

Having outrun the hordes of ravening marketing operatives eager to place promos for laptop computers and blockbuster movies on her vlog, Nat has teamed up with the Herald's Seamus Byrne on his Digital Life cast. The pairing started at the end of March with Nat as the 'Real World correspondent' playing comic against Byrne's straight guy while showing the ins and outs of set-top boxes.

And while the dynamic between the poe-faced Byrne and the fey Tran survives the transition to 'useful' video (as opposed to just 'entertaining'), there is a slight drop in interest. But only slight. Nat is still the golden girl of vlog comedy. The weekly cast on the Herald's website ensures that avid fans will have plenty of opportunity to view their favourite web caster.

And that's a good thing.

It wasn't the first video that caught my attention. I saw the promo still on the Herald's website for the most recent video, which treats GPS systems. I eagerly clicked through to view it and I wasn't disappointed. Nat is still on top of the material, giving us a rollicking introduction to a technology that offers a swathe of comedic angles.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The irony is thick. In a story about the National Liaison Committee of International Students and its poor relations with NSW universities, reporter Heath Gilmore demonstrates by an error that knowledge in the broader community about international students is poor. In talking about how international students are largely ignored by the press and the broader community, the main figure in the NLC, one Master Shang, refers to the death in Perth of Jiao Dan on 8 October 2007.

Jiao was attacked and raped with a bottle and left for dead. She died of pneumonia by the side of the road. A man, Daniel Adam Wright, was charged with and convicted of the murder.

But Gilmore gets it wrong. "In the wake of the tragic death of Jiao Dan [a Chinese student murdered two years ago in Sydney], we now know many more are dying or being seriously hurt," said Shang.

The girl who died in Sydney was Wei Liao, not Jiao Dan. Wei fell from the balcony of an apartment block in Waterloo after an intruder sexually assaulted her and others in the unit they were living in. At the time some suspected Wei committed suicide out of shame. She died on 26 October 2008.

There was no coverage in Eastern state media of the Jiao death, however people using the Internet could access stories published on Western Australian Web sites.

Gilmore is the Herald's education reporter and should not have confused the two stories, as both girls were international students. It's a shame.

Friday, 8 May 2009

I'm chastened and expectant, having undertaken rapid instruction in the dangers of pirate software. And it wasn't even mine. When my friend installed it on my computer I may have warned her but the deed was done anyway. Now I know better and I'll be more careful next time someone asks if they can install software in my home.

I did her a favour but her software did me none today. I decided this afternoon that I was desperate for new email software. I had been using Windows Mail, a poorly-appointed client that either came with the computer when I bought it in 2006 or arrived on the Vista CD a couple of years later. This bare-bones software did the job but when replying to emails it allows the signature's font to change. Sometimes it changes to Times and sometimes it changes to Ariel. My default font is Verdana, and having recently gone into business on a self-employed basis, I decided today that appearance was more important than it had been in the past.

When I got home with the box and installed the software, I discovered that all the folders for incoming and sent emails inside the software were labelled in Chinese. This was due to my friend's copy of Office - the pirated one - influencing language selection in Outlook, the new email client I was installing. I called Microsoft and the young man in Malaysia took control of my desktop in an effort to rectify the problem. I also asked him to help me import the messages stored in the old software. This he then did and, as the thousands of messages scrolled into the new client, I rang off.

Too soon, it turned out. The message import stopped at a message received in late July 2008 for an unknown reason. Because the Malaysian had given me a case number and assured me of continued support for 30 days, I called Microsoft back. This time I spoke with Roza, who once again took control of my desktop and addressed the problem.

It's still not fixed. I need to wait until Tuesday before she calls me back to finalise the issue. In the meantime I'm using the old email client because I don't have any choice. Choice is, however, something I will certainly exercise next time I'm asked to allow a new software program to be installed on a computer that I own. And probably I'll default to refusal. It's just too much trouble otherwise.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The PRIA’s debate tonight descended into hilarity as both sides - journalists and PR operatives - launched ridiculously loaded barbs at opposing camps. The topic ‘That PR and journalism are two sides of the same coin’ languished unattended as team members went for laughs instead of coherence or relevance. The only thing missing was a backbencher’s mocking dial amid the routine catcalling inside the House of Representatives.

It’s a debate we need to have. Health warnings on food are contained in dietary information printed on the side of the pack. Cigarette packets are now mostly taken up with pictures of illness. But news stories we read daily may - or may not - be sourced entirely - or largely - from media releases put out by PR operatives.

The evening started auspiciously with a 30-minute run-down of the state of research by Prof Jim Macnamara from UTS. Studies from the US go back to 1930, when researchers pointed to “information processing” in news. In Australia studies started in 1993, when Rod Tiffen found that 18 per cent of newspapers contained material sourced from PR feed.

1993 was also the year of Macnamara’s own first study. He sourced 800 media releases from PRIA members and found that this translated into 2500 stories. Of the stories, 38 per cent were wholly or substantially based on the PR material. In trade publications, he found, 70 per cent of the content is “PR supplied”.

More recently, a Cardiff University study found that 60 per cent of news was “entirely wire service copy”. Only 12 per cent of news was “independently researched and written”. A Washington University study found that 94 per cent of editors admitted using PR. Amanda Millar at UTS in 2008 uncovered what Macnamara called “close relationships” between journalists and PR operatives and he discussed what he called the “third person effect”. Journalists reclassify people over time so that they become “industry spokespeople” not PR workers. Along with this “acculturation” there remains the PR industry “out there that they don’t deal with”.

The PR industry thus becomes the ‘third person’ in the relationship between the journalist and the PR operative who they have come to trust. Such journalists, says Macnamara, “don’t deal with PR as an industry”.

But Macnamara warned the audience not to generalise and to “look within each sector”. Not all sectors of the media are the same, as the news story published in The Australian on Monday attests. The journalist’s source for the story was Macnamara.

Macnamara said the data showed 30-80 per cent of media content was sourced from, or significantly influenced by, PR practitioners, depending on the outlet, with estimates of 40-75 per cent common.


Using them most heavily were smaller outlets such as suburban and rural newspapers, some types of magazines, trade press and specialist publications.

The heaviest users of all were travel magazines, which in some cases were overwhelmingly dominated by handouts published with barely a word changed.

As to the debate itself? A few quotes taken out of context must suffice as the level of coherence was so dodgy that it was difficult to hear more than one sentence at a time. Speakers harped on in a barely coherent manner or vociferated explosively in their endless quest for audience approval.

Lukas “The Rising Star” Picton - for the Negative - for example said that “The objective of PR is to manipulate the public” (loud jeers). Public relations “should be renamed public manipulation” (more jeers).

Sophia Russell, for the Affirmative, noted that PR operatives and journalists often do the same degrees. She seemed to think that the debate was whether one side or the other was to blame for the poor public perception of both. “We’re both storytellers,” she went on, who try to deliver the same things to the public. “It’s all about talkability.”

But that didn’t get a big enough laugh so she had to up the ante. “Content can come straight from the PR person’s laptop.” More jeers, predictably, followed this small bomb launched into the boozy confines of The Laugh Garage.

Clint Dreiberg, for the Negative, countered by telling the majority of the audience that they did not belong to “a real profession”. PR is contemptible, he opined. “It’s not a real job.”

They laughed and they jeered and I left early due to a combination of a sneezing fit and the fact that my parking garage closed its doors at 9pm. So I missed the denouement and I missed an opportunity to ‘network’. “This networking event aims to reveal an insight into ‘if’ and ‘how’ these industries can harmoniously work together,” ran the email I received from the Public Relations Institute of Australia on registering for the event. But the tenor of debate made me regret the 70 dollars. And the seriousness of the issue made me regret even more the lack of discipline and accountability displayed by those involved.

A missed opportunity, I thought.

Monday, 4 May 2009

MetaxuCafe is dead. Finally the link, clicked, ends in a 404. It has been several years since I first found MetaxuCafe - a literature social community on the Web with lists of lit bloggers, a post facility, and threaded comments. But today the 'image missing' that had been indicated in my blog's right-hand column (reserved for favourite sites) was replaced by a blank space. No longer was the image just removed from the target server; the URL it was sitting on had completely disappeared.

I tidied up, removing the link to MetaxuCafe from my blog's Template page. I had been waiting for the 'This website is temporarily unavailable, please try again later.' message to change. It did, but instead of the site returning in full flower, the 404 appeared. MetaxuCafe is officially dead.

I had posted many times on MetaxuCafe. I posted in native mode and I posted links to posts on my blog. In this sense, MetaxuCafe was the first 'aggregator' I had used, a long time before Facebook came along. It must have been early in my blogging career, which started in January 2006. I didn't join Facebook until two years later. This is surmise (there's no record of when you joined in Facebook, and I never thought to make a note) but I guess it's pretty accurate.

Nevertheless, I stopped posting on MetaxuCafe outright some time in 2007. There wasn't enough action to satisfy my need for connection. I'd post a link and wait for comments which never came. I saw comments - trite I thought - on others' posts and scoffed inwardly. Where I once visited daily I stopped going altogether. Thus the world turns.

Literary blogging is a healthy but under-recognised segment of the blogosphere. There are even fewer culture blogs, but these seem to get more accliam than their purely literature-focused counterparts. This may have to do with the low profile - apart from the occasional blockbuster - that literature possesses in society generally. It's not just middle aged women who are interested in books, however.

MetaxuCafe may be thought to have been killed by Facebook, which is at the 200-million-plus mark in terms of membership. As one social site went downhill, the other rose supreme. And it seems that other social networking sites, like Twitter, are failing to keep up the pressure. "But Facebook is like sooooo January 2009" I heard tonight at writing class. "Why don't you write about Twitter instead?"

I cringed inwardly. I'd hate to think that my fellow lit blogger Reading Matters was right after all her intransigence. Having resisted the urge to sign up for Facebook, the blogger recently started tweeting, and posting the tweets on her blog.

My blog is completely separate from my web page but I often post links to it in Facebook. Occasionally one of these links will result in a click-through, but not often. I'm not too concerned. I blog because I enjoy it, am stimulated by the writing exercise and entertained by the clicks I get. I don't blog out of vanity, just as I don't use Facebook out of vanity. They serve different purposes but are both relevant to my personality and persona.

As for MetaxuCafe, it seems that it didn't serve enough purposes for enough people. It has gone to its grave quietly, like a slowmo projection of a sinking ship, and all passengers escaped in liferafts.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

On the day the defence white paper - the first since 2000 - was released by the prime minister on board a navy ship docked at Garden Island, police raid a Kogarah, Sydney, apartment and find a huge stash of weapons including automatic guns, explosives, and bullet-proof vests. It’s an odd convergence of the national to the domestic. A man in his twenties was simultaneously arrested in the Sydney CBD over the find.

Considerable planning, time and funds had to have been expended to accumulate such a large cache of weaponry. The find has been linked to bikie gang activity. A recent spate of shootings and the now-infamous Sydney airport brawl - when dozens of bikies fought each other in the air terminal, resulting in the death of one of them - led to the establishment of Strike Force Raptor in the police. The police are focusing attention on this rogue element in society. In South Australia it is already a crime for bikies even to meet one another, under new illegal assembly laws.

On the national front, military spending by Australia will also concentrate on changed circumstances - geopolitical ones. While the white paper says that the US will remain the dominant regional power until 2030, plans are clearly being made to counteract the growing military stockpiles of Asian nations, particularly China.

China is not a rogue state - it’s not yet a bikie gang in the local community of nations - but largesse in the arms sphere over recent years has got its neighbours thinking about the possible necessity of a deterrent force. Australia will therefore concentrate on defending the ‘air-sea gap’ - the corridors leading to the continent from the north. Our southern approaches are defended by distance and the south pole.