Feb. 13, 2019

By: Michael Cooke

Maria Ressa predicted her arrest on bogus charges when we had coffee a couple of weeks ago. Just before she spoke to a Ryerson University “democracy” seminar in Toronto a couple of weeks ago … and sure enough shortly after getting home to the Phillipines she was indeed arrested last week … twice.
Her topic in Toronto: journalists have to fight against tyranny and against the “poison” on Twitter and Facebook.

Ressa, perhaps the most prominent journalist-freedom fighter of our time …

… is one of those friendly and modest and determined truth-tellers that tyrants see as the enemy.
And how do the Big Men deal with their enemies? They go on the attack.
Here’s Ressa’s story so far, told on her own renegade and smart news website

Below: Ressa flashes a thank-you wave to her supporters as she leaves prison.

Feb. 6, 2019

New Media Meets Old Media

By: Murdoch Davis

I’ve been using that headline for a few years now, as digital media darlings turn off the lights, go through deep rounds of job cuts, or “pivot” away from failing strategies to try something new. I don’t mean it to sound as snarky as it does. It’s a tough environment, and trying is better than not trying. Just hunkering down and hoping times get better won’t work. Nor will sticking to the approach that was spectacularly successful until about 10 years ago. As my favorite character from Butch and Sundance, reformed bandit turned Sheriff Ray Bledsoe says to the two affable title characters still trying to make it as crooks: “It’s over, don’t you get that? Your time is over and you’re gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.”

Sure has been a lot of dying bloody going on. And I don’t mean to speak lightly of good people losing their jobs. It has been a tough year already in the U.S. journalism job market. Print-based media, what are now called “legacy media,’ have been shrinking newsrooms for 10-15 years. That continues. One of the biggest remaining print chains, Gannett, had a big round of layoffs. McClatchy offered hundreds of buyouts (layoffs sure to come if not enough people go voluntarily, if reluctantly.) The Dallas Morning News shrunk its staff. 

Ten years ago experts said it was digital news sites that were hurting newspapers because readers were migrating. That was true, but the real damage was from advertising dollars migrating, and that wasn’t because digital news offered a better news medium. It was because searchable, programmable and universal digital advertising was simply better. And cheaper. Who would look for a job in tiny “help wanted” ads that metro papers sold for $100 or more, when online sites were often free, but more importantly they could be searched, and there were no geographical limits? Big newspapers used to make as much as $100,000 (not a typo!) for a page of high-end Careers ads. But online sites were simply better. The same held for real estate ads, auto ads, things that had been the economic lifeblood of print for decades. That money didn’t go to digital news sites, it went to digital ad-only sites. 

Today, digital news sites are suffering too. The print operations weren’t the only ones cutting as 2019 got going. So did digital darlings Buzzfeed, Vice, Machinima, HuffPost, Yahoo. Here’s one roundup, setting the number of job losses well above 2,000: Digital sites, too, are finding that ad revenue is hard to get. We used to say news media was trading print dollars for digital dimes. Turns out its digital pennies. Google, Facebook and YouTube suck up most of the revenue, and drive down the cost to reach 1000 pairs of eyeballs, the industry standard for pricing. 
Not all the news is bad, though. Vox is hiring! Today Vox posted for TWO “Senior Vice Presidents Editorial. Two. As in twice as many as one. Here it is:  

So Vox must be doing great, yeah? Maybe. And I wish them well, as I wish well to anyone trying to do journalism and make a business to support it. But wait…the bad start to 2019 echoed something. Here’s a story from not quite a year ago: Vox cut five per cent of its workforce. CNN cut staff. And the story reminds us of Vice and Buzz cuts from 2017. 

Yes, 2019 has started badly. But it’s nothing new, alas. All we can do is keep trying. I don’t pretend to know the media future any better than some others. I do think the move toward readers paying is the best way to go, though outside of huge operations such as NYT and WashPo and some in Europe, there’s not yet much success. But ad-supported news media aren’t going to make it. News consumers are trained to expect it free, and that’s on us. Early in the internet age we gave it to them free, because we were cocky that the money train from print would keep on chugging. But people will eventually learn that free doesn’t work, or the plenty of free will dry up and people will have to pay or go without. But that could take years to come about, maybe decades. We just need to stay alive till it happens.
Meantime, alas, I fear we will see more years like 2019. And 2018. And 2017…

February 2 2018

Book written on What’s App While in Prison,’

By: Murdoch Davis

What an inspiring story this is. How humbling for those of us among the comfortable, complaining of the difficulties we face doing our work.
Journalist, documentary maker and author Behrouz Boochani, held for six years on a remote island for trying to enter Australia without documentation, wins international prize for a novel he typed out one line at a time on What’sApp. Stunning. I find it frustrating to type more than 3 words on What’sApp or other text services.
Unable to attend the award ceremony because he still isn’t free, he used What’sApp to write these powerful words for his ‘acceptance speech’, too: “This proves that words still have the power to challenge inhumane systems and structures… I truly believe words are more powerful than the fences of this place, this prison.”
Here’s the full speech:
And here’s a story on the award and the background: