Finally, after months of agony, Webdiary completed its divorce from Fairfax and suddenly, there it was, standing on its own two legs. And it didn't even wobble!
Congratulations to Margo Kingston and the team of Harry Heidelberg, Marc MacDonald, PF Journey, Jack Robertson, Polly Bush and Craig Rowley, we applaud your persistence and gentleness and the many, many hours that have gone into the transition from childhood to adolescence to the first steps of adulthood, alone somewhere on the world wide web at webdiary.com.au. We salute you!
23 September 2005: Report of the Webdiary and Club Chaos' Fremantle launch - with a speech by Carmen Lawrence MP: "I welcome this venture as the latest example of Margo Kingston's commitment to the ideal of quality journalism, a vital component of healthy democracy."
23 September 2005: The WA launch of Margo Kingston's Webdiary - In Fremantle Film and TV Institute's cinema, Web Diary's website will open. With high-profile speakers, politicians and Webdiarists, all applauding Margo's "divorce" from Fairfax.
Since Blogs are related to Webdiary, the occasion of Webdiary's separation from its birthplace at Fairfax' Sydney Morning Herald seems a good occasion to make a few remarks about Blogs and Webdiary, two cousins in the new online media that contrast or complement the more classical media forms - the newspapers and magazines.
This month the ABC celebrates one decade of online presence, recently the Sydney Morning Herald did the same thing, but media mogul Rupert Murdoch only just this year, in a major speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors announced that online media are important and part of the current and consequently also of the future landscape. From his speech - also reported by Webdiary:
Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint's obituary. Yet, as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly, I didn't do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the late 1990's. I suspect many of you in this room did the same, quietly hoping that this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along. Well it hasn't ... it won't ... and it's a fast developing reality we should grasp as a huge opportunity to improve our journalism and expand our reach.
If Rupert says so, then so it will be for the Murdoch press, and so Murdoch went out and bought some Blogs shortly afterwards. Just that he's about a decade too late. Oh, and by the way, the company he bought, Intermix - is one that used to employ questionable Adware to harvest personal details of their clientele surfing past its homes. Margo's SMH Webdiary has a good discussion of the Murdoch speech here, with lots of links to further information.
Conventional media may be dominating and intimidating the landscape all over the world, attempting to stifle dissent and silence journalism that dares to confront governments, corporations and politicians, but they themselves may be on the way out, certainly if the will of the people has the last word. Here's The Australian's Phillip Knightley in a speech to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in London on August 6 2005:
We have to convince news organisations that there is more to journalism than profits and share price, that slick accountancy, cost cutting and spending money on promotion are not going to win an editor or a proprietor a place in the history books. We need a public interest defence in all legal actions brought against the media. Journalists should be able to defend a story by showing that what it revealed was so important to the public that everything else was irrelevant - something that, thanks to the European Court of Human Rights, the Sunday Times succeeded in doing in the thalidomide case. I mean, if a drug company is aggressively marketing a drug that deforms unborn babies, then how the journalist got the story and whether it defamed drug company executives - and even whether publication would damage that elusive concept, "the national interest" - has just got to take second place to informing the people.
Former Fairfax journalist (he hates being reminded of it) Antony Loewenstein argues at Online Opinion that Alternative media is the only way forward. He is right. Blogs are not owned by corporate media moguls, they are owned by the people and they write for the people.
As we see an increasing failure of the mainstream media to connect with the people (see for example The Age's Michelle Grattan's Deakin lecture 'Watching the Watchdogs', but make sure to also read Antony Loewenstein's Grattan critique at Our media lacking true self-criticism), we will more and more rely on the alternatives. And as the advance of the millions of Blogs show us, the first witness accounts, including digital photos of several internationally reported disasters recently reached international and Australian media not through the mainstream press but through the Bloggers. They simply move many times faster than the official - read conservative - press.
In the middle of this landscape sits Webdiary. Its new header proudly reminds you of the patron power which forms the cornerstone of this forum.
With more reader comments per item than perhaps anywhere in Australian media, Margo excels in personally implementing and maintaining a form of online democracy. And it doesn't come without professionality, Webdiary ethics or experience: Margo is a trained and seasoned journalist, who worked as a Fairfax political commentator and who provided Canberra comments to Phillip Adams' Late Night Live. She also did a stint as the Chief of Staff at SMH.
But perhaps WD's main feature is this: I reckon Margo would close Webdiary if no comments come in to the material written at the forum - and that measure determines that it is both a Blog and an online current affairs newspaper. No other online magazine would close if readers do not submit comments to the articles they read online. Webdiary would - and that is its unique position in Australia. Margo is the only qualified and senior journalist who has done this in Australia, and with it she has created a guiding format for the new media. Suck that, Mr Murdoch!
Finally and appropriately, the last word should go to Margo, in a quote from what has become one of the last pieces of writing at the old location at the old SMH-based Webdiary:
Creating and building an independent, credible alternative media - a vital task in my view - will depend in part on citizen journalists. This media will need to revolutionise the standard reporting style to counter its co-option by the powerful. One important principle needs to be to admit what we don't know as well as what we do, and to ask citizen journalists to work with professional journos we trust to piece together the truth - or as close as we can come to it. In this direct partnership between journalist and reader we need to be quick on our feet, highly adaptive, and very innovative. We need to decide not to help big business media use us to swell their profits without thought of their corresponding duties to us. We need to support media, big and small, which WANTS to be open, transparent and accountable to readers and which DELIVERS on that desire. We also need to get under the radar of the media-is-just-another-business players (the vast majority of big media) and build our news, analysis and opinion coverage from the bottom up. TRUST is the word. Big word, that one.
By Jenny Sinclair
September 12, 2005
LEAVING the shelter of a large media organisation, complete with salary and holiday pay, to set up an independent website is a big step for a journalist. But Margo Kingston, who wrote her Web Diary online commentary for The Sydney Morning Herald for five years, hopes she can make it work.
"What I've launched is an independent online newspaper," Kingston says. Since she left the Herald in August after disputes over the direction of the site, she has had a crash course in independent publishing.
Without a firm business model but with great faith in the site's potential, Kingston has relaunched it at a new web address, even employing staff and advertising for a full-time, paid journalist.
In its first two weeks, the new site has had 29,000 page views and 2000 individual reader comments. Kingston said last week that although she didn't have exact figures on Web Diary's readership when it was on the Herald site, "I think we've done the impossible and the community has moved over. It looks like a lot of people will find value in it."
Although still clearly unhappy about the breach with Fairfax, owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Kingston says she is "pretty confident" about her accidental start-up.
"Web Diary changes all the time. It depends where the community takes it.
"Because it has a history and a community, that means that it can go to (being) a start-up."
The site will feature less of Kingston's own writing and more of its "web diarists", a band of independent writers. It's a model Kingston is calling "pro-am" journalism.
Site general manager David Roffey says contributions by other writers had been increasing since Easter this year.
"That was the trajectory it was going on anyway."
Talks are under way with possible financial supporters and, until a firm business plan is drafted, everything except exclusive subscriptions is being considered to earn money.
"In a sense, the short term is the easy bit," Roffey says, although Kingston has been quoted as saying she'll sell assets if necessary to keep the site going for its first 12 months.
"For the longer term, it needs to be self-sustaining. We need to be doing things like paying award rates," Roffey says.
"We're assuming that this is going to be long-term and therefore we're building a structure that will keep it going as permanently as possible."
Taking ads on the site is possible, but some potential supporters are very "anti-ads", so a decision on that has been deferred, Roffey says. He mentions, but declines to outline, another "extremely innovative" funding idea being worked up by some Web Diary members.
Kingston has ruled out the subscription-only newsletter model, and Roffey says "the view that most of the people involved have is that a lot of the character of what's there comes from the very wide range of people who contribute to the debate" - a range that would be limited in a subscription model.
Below is a sample of some of the better and also quoted (mainly) Australian Blogs - about 180 of them. At Project SafeCom we have our own, but it's not very well maintained at the moment. Our Blog is called Fixing Australia. The Blog list below is neither complete nor fully checked. It is based on the listing at Southerly Buster and Antony Loewenstein as found on August 14, 2005.
The American Chronicle
By Stephen Crockett
September 9, 2005
Recently, the power of the Internet-based "Movement" news outlets is making it difficult for Corporate media to spin news developments in favor of Bush Republicanism. The Bush Republicans has given huge tax breaks to large corporations that currently dominate mainstream media from newspapers to cable news channels to talk radio. Republicans have severely undermined all anti-monopoly laws and regulations that once insured diversity in broadcast and print media. Corporate control of media played a direct role in the increasing Corporate control of American politics and government.
In response to the pro-Corporate bias and pro-Republican bias of the mainstream media, an alternative Internet-based media has developed. Websites, news services, blogs and Internet talk radio arose out of the grassroots of American politics to provide a more balanced outlook. The movement really started getting serious during the 2000 election. Gore was slandered viciously by the Corporate Media while Bush received very little critical reporting. The bias was obvious.
The earliest movement news outlets discovered by this writer included Democrats.com, OpEd News.com, Buzzflash.com, Truthout.org, Political Posts.com, Independent Media TV, Online Journal and Smirking Chimp.com. Thousands of websites and blogs have developed over the past 5 years.
Blogs like Off The Kuff.com, Mike Hersh, Atrios, Daily Kos, etc. are more recent but important developments. We get critical news and analysis from independent sources not controlled by huge corporations around the clock.
Local communities have developed Internet newspapers like the Alachua Post in Florida, the Magic City Morning Star and the Wyoming Network of community websites. The number of local Internet newspapers is growing rapidly. They are growing in popularity and slowly developing an advertising base. In the next decade, these sites will eliminate the monopoly of local news coverage once maintained by local Republican publishers in hundreds of communities around the nation.
Some communities have combined local newspapers with "movement news" site. One of the best is We Are Michigan. Of course, local Democratic sites have grown dramatically in numbers and content. Sites like the East Bay Democrats have created great news and opinion sections.
The importance of Internet media outlets can be seen in the coverage of Katrina. The Corporate Media has been spreading distorted and sometimes false charges against the Democratic Mayor of New Orleans and Governor of Louisiana. A timeline of hurricane developments and government actions is now widely available on the Internet that refutes most of the false claims. The Corporate Media has largely ignored the facts revealed by the timeline. Blogs like America Blog has helped correct false charges about when local Democratic officeholders declared the state of emergency in Louisiana.
Internet writers have explored the attitude of the Bush Republicans toward government that explain their terrible record in dealing with the crisis. Thomas Hartmann wrote You Can't Govern if You Do Not Believe in Government. Blogs like Alter Net documented the Bush Administration attempts to keep reporters from reporting on how bad actual conditions are in the aftermath of Katrina. The mainstream corporate media has reported about the censorship attempts of FEMA that is aimed at keeping photos of the dead victims from the American public. Blogs broke the story first just like they did in the censoring of photos of coffins of American soldiers killed in Bush's Iraq War.
The Internet will make it impossible for Corporate Media interests and the Bush Administration to keep information and facts from the American voters. Politicians ignore the power of Internet "Movement" news at their own risk.
Written by Stephen Crockett (co-host of Democratic Talk Radio). Mail: 7A Planville Drive, Fayetteville, TN 37334. Email: midsouthcm(at)aol.com. Feel free to post on your blog or website. Newspapers are welcome to publish as Letters to the Editor, Op Ed, guest editorial or Democratic Voices column.