Aug 23

G’day all, you know how we all want to engage and dialogue through the comments on our blogs? Well I think there are some sites where the battle has been lost, especially on major opinion/current affairs sites likes Australia’s ABC The Drum site.

Given the predictability and repetitiveness of the comments, I think the ABC and similar sites have to introduce comment buttons to save people from having to write their comments in full, a time consuming exercise which slows down moving on to other articles to write the same or similar comments. I’m not talking about the boring Like, Share or Tweet buttons. Here are some buttons I’d like to see:

The PLIB button – for Predictable Liberal comment, clicking this button indicates you despise the PM, endless consultation, inability to manage the economy, spin, unions and think Australia is turning to socialism

The PLAB button – for Predictable Labor comment, clicking this button indicates you despise the opposition leader, dictatorial leadership, constant negativity, lack of compassion for the disadvantaged, spin, big business and think Australia is becoming America

Note: There will be no PIND button for predictable independent comment because Australia’s independents are so completely unpredictable. There will be no PGREEN button as this would be a major health problem and not suitable for non-confidential publication.

The Bored Now button – to be used to express disdain for people who write opinion pieces on the same topic covering the same issue on a regular basis

The GOYHH button – for those pretentious opinion pieces where the despised opinions are held by “them” and only the author can fully appreciate the moral high ground, the Get Off Your High Horse button is a must

The Insert Joke Now button – for those authors who fail to comply with the most fundamental of Australian cultural rules and write way too seriously about their topic, with no lighthearted elements

The Remote Control button – to express that the author has been saying the same thing in multiple pieces beyond the point where “Bored Now” applies to the stage where we desperately need them to change the channel and prove they aren’t compulsive obsessive

The Icy Pole button – to be used when authors continually reference themselves, their own experiences, their previous posts, their predictions and generally give themselves a good licking

The Icy Pole + button – automatically activated when an author refers to themselves in the third person, something that Geoff would never do on Geoff’s Gobbledegook.

The I actually believe there is such a word as do-gooder button - for the commenters who know that the whole world is drowning in a sea of political correctness and the horrible notions of compassion for people and their circumstances

The I am a do-gooder button – for commenters who try to actively demonstrate their compassion, care and general all-round superiority to the rest of the community

The Older and Wiser button – for all those commenters who start their comments with various descriptions of how long they’ve been around on the planet, doing some particular job of work or voting in a particular way, which makes what they say indisputably correct

The OMG, WILL YOU PLEASE GET OVER IT, AND NO, WE’RE NOT TRYING TO SHUT YOU UP AS SOME SORT OF LEFTIST BOLSHIE OR FUNDAMENTALIST RIGHT CONSPIRACY, WE’RE ASKING YOU TO SHUT UP BECAUSE YOU ARE AS BORING AS A THREE DAY OLD GLASS OF WATER, YOU WRITE ATROCIOUSLY, YOUR FACTS ARE ABOUT AS ACCURATE AND BELIEVABLE AS AN EPISODE OF GILLIGAN’S ISLAND BUT NOT EVEN CLOSE TO AS FUNNY, YOU KEEP WRITING THE SAME OLD THING AND SOMEHOW MANAGE TO DRAG YOUR PET TOPIC IN AS THE CAUSE OF EVERY SINGLE LOCAL, NATIONAL AND GLOBAL EVENT DESPITE THE OBVIOUS INSANITY OF THINKING THAT EVERYTHING THAT EVER HAPPENS HAS ONE CAUSE, WE’VE GOT THE GENERAL IDEA AND RECKON WE’VE GOT OUR HEADS AROUND YOUR ARGUMENT, WE ALL THINK THERE’S MORE TO LIFE AND YOUR BILIOUS OPINIONS ARE GIVING US THE RIP ROARING HEEBIE JEEBIES button – this button should appear top and centre of every article, written on the button in full so it’s nice and big. Anybody who records more than 50% of all button-based comments through clicks on this button should be banned for a minimum of 3 months first offence, 12 months second offence and for life for a third offence.

Increasing reliance on buttons will also open up other opportunities. Perhaps every couple of months a competition can be run to vote one regular contributor off The Drum. Readers can vote through the buttons, but the final decision will be made by selected bloggers listed on the Australian Blog Hub (Twitter: @BlogHubOz). Social media monitors will be used to track any particularly efficient SM campaigns to remove a contributor with extra points given by the judges. Any disastrous campaign will be written up and properly dismantled and condemned on the PR Disasters blog site.

Waddyareckon? Which buttons have I missed and what other opportunities can we open up?

Cheers, geoff

PS Waddyamean I should lead the way … but my site attracts truly engaging dialogue and debate … and anyway, my blog theme doesn’t have the available technology … Oh, just leave a damn comment or I’ll think up another button just for you.

PPS I only chose the ABC The Drum as an example, I could have chosen any one of a million examples. This was not intended to only be directed at The Drum contributors and readers, and I’m sure you know plenty of other sites that will benefit.

Aug 17

G’day all, so what does the sound of running, even gushing, water do to you?

Yeah, me too, but there’s a little more to it in my case. Every morning I wake up to a new day. It’s winter in Melbourne and cold, but out there somewhere is a world of possibility. I may be in a good mood, or a bright mood or not quite either.

Whatever I may have been when I woke up, I’m soon snapped out of it as I have to get up, go outside and turn on my water supply. Every day for three months, this has been the starting point of my day – turning on my water, rain, hail or freezing cold.

Let’s face it, this isn’t much of a hardship in the overall scheme of things. Some people outside of urban areas do this all the time. It is a reminder that I am totally powerless, completely unable to solve a problem which I consider to be serious and directly impacts on my values. Everyday, I wake up to this reminder of failure.

You see, somewhere in this block of units there is a water leak. That leak has water racing through my water meter at a rate of more than 20,000 litres per day. This has been going for three months, meaning that more than 1 million litres of water has been wasted somewhere. And there’s every chance that the 1,000,000+ litres of water is busy digging a giant hole somewhere under these units or the car park.

Australia is just emerging from more than a decade of drought, the last few years of extreme drought. We have water restrictions. I grew up in what we were told was the driest state in the driest continent in the world. Water conservation is second nature to me. And during the water restrictions, I was using about 25% less water than the individual targets requested by the government without changing my water use habits of a lifetime.

I have written environmental analyses for businesses about the critical role of water in the Australian and world economies. There are many people out there who believe the next major war will be fought over water. In Victoria, we are building a water desalination plant to miminise, ever so slightly, the effects of the next, inevitable drought.

Yet I can’t get action from City West Water, my water supplier to fix this problem. Why not? Well, it’s because of an even longer-standing problem that I was also unable to fix. You see, my water meter reads other people’s water use as well as my own. This problem started just over a year ago. As a result, City West Water cannot say with certainty that the leaking water rushing through my meter is caused by a water leak in the water system for this unit. It may be in any of the 10 or so units on the property. As a result, they claim there are legal complications. More importantly, from what I can see, is the problem of who pays!

Here are some excerpts from an email I wrote to the parties concerned on 3 June 2011:

The Situation
Approximately 7 months ago as a result of a sudden surge in my water bill (that followed closely on water works and the bus station works undertaken in the area), I cooperated with an investigation by City Plumbing that determined that my water meter was not only reading my water consumption, but also the consumption of other properties within the Body Corporate of [address], and possibly externally (though that was harder to determine).
Last weekend, one of the plumbers responsible for that investigation heard my meter running and advised me that the situation has become worse as there is now a water leak as well as the meter problem. He advised me that there is water flowing somewhere “under the slab” and that this was wasting thousands of litres of water. In addition, he advised it may well be creating a hole under the slab which has the potential to cause structural damage.
According to the meter, there are 140+ points of water flowing per minute. My advice from City West Water is that this is 14+ litres per minute, or 20,000 litres per day. I’m sure you have all seen the effects of subsidence and water damage and realise how damaging a leak of this type could be.
The most likely explanation is that the leak is from the pipes servicing my tenancy, however because my meter reads water usage from other properties, this cannot be guaranteed.
What I have done
On Monday morning, I reported this development to City West Water, who advised me that the leak should be treated as a separate issue, and that the starting point should be for the owner of this property to arrange a leak investigation. They did not feel that all of the issues should be addressed at the one time despite my argument that as my meter reads usage from other properties, the leak could be anywhere.
On Monday morning, I also reported this matter in full to … the property manager. I have also spoken to the owner of another property at [address] who contacted the Body Corporate Manager about this issue.
I have followed up with phone messages, emails and continuing attempts to see if I could arrange for some action, and am now writing this email. I turn the meter off overnight and when I am out in case that has an impact on the leak.
In regards the initial issue, I have followed up with City West Water numerous times over the last few months (and they have also kept in contact with me to let me know progress).
What you have done
I think the short answer is Bicker and Buck Pass

So all I can do is plead with you as a concerned tenant and member of the community to please get together quickly and sort it out. Perhaps instead of going through intermediaries, hold a phone hook-up or exchange information quickly and directly. The bottom line here is that in the long term, this will cost all of you reputation, money and clients unless the situation is resolved.
So far I have tried to cooperate, pass on information, follow-up and inspire action. I hope that this last step will work in doing some of that and coming up with a resolution.

I have tried to follow-up. I am continually reassured that at least I’m not having to pay for the water – according to others, that is all that’s important for me. Others have also tried to follow-up. But still no action.

During the drought, we had water restrictions right through this state and elsewhere in Australia. A system of fines was in place. Water supply could be adjusted.

But apparently the day the drought officially ended, this immense waste of water no longer matters.

Unfortunately, it matters to me and this is not the way I want to wake up in the morning. It has an impact on the way I approach my whole day. There are many things in my life that deserve my focus: my newish business; our clients; my new book; my family and friends; some community issues and the other things that make up our lives.

This is not something that I should still be focusing on after 3 months (and a year for the meter problem). And I’m not happy about what the sound of running, actually gushing water is doing to me.

With less than my usual cheers, geoff

Jul 22

Dear Mr Hartigan,
You have a problem and you’re not helping to solve it.

Here’s an exercise for you. Wander outside and head for a few convention centres, hotels, conference centres and other places where non-journalists and people outside of “media world” are to be found gathered together. Don’t introduce yourself, just seek permission to ask a question at the next convenient moment. When you can address the crowd, ask them this: Given your knowledge of Australia’s newspapers, TV and radio news and current affairs programs, and our magazine industry, hands up anyone who is sure the tactics used by the News of the World are not being used by Australian journalists.

I’ve already done this exercise a few times over the last week. I haven’t had a hand go up yet.

The signs are clear: there is a major disconnect between what you say (and may well honestly believe) your values are, and what your actions demonstrate your values truly are. Some of the signs include:

  • You have continually downgraded the resources of your newsrooms, including decades of reducing journalist numbers, especially when compared to the increase in content that you now produce
  • The ever-increasing reliance on media releases and PR for news content, now somewhere between 60 – 80% of all content, and the lack of time and resources provided to investigative and long-term stories
  • The continual reference to News Ltd’s “enemies” – you don’t have ordinary competitors, or people who disagree, you have enemies because News Ltd is so much more special than any other organisation – if you don’t understand how ridiculous you sound when you talk about enemies, try to remember how bad Richard Nixon sounded, or at least think about the diagnosis for paranoia
  • You routinely use stories from the News of the World and your other UK publications (including some arising from the illegal activities – but that’s somebody else’s problem, right), but have spent the last fortnight distancing yourself from anything that has happened in your UK operations
  • You seem to believe that we don’t know about the global nature of the world and your organisation, or the reality that many of your Australian journalists spent time working in your UK operations
  • In your “internal memo” that appeared in your papers, you didn’t call on your journalists to come to you with information of any ethical breaches, or authorise them to publish stories if they knew of any misconduct, just expressed confidence that it wasn’t happening and then publicly announced that you’d look at News Ltd expenses (always follow the money, right!)
  • Your papers are taking the opportunity to publish multiple articles telling the government to mind their own business and to oppose any legal or regulatory changes, indicating a complete care factor about preventing what happened in the UK happening here, if it hasn’t already – and despite the coverage of the actual events in the UK over the last few weeks, which have often appeared in limited form way back after the editorial pages – that could be a really interesting content analysis exercise
  • You continually promote as your major attraction not someone involved in breaking stories, or analysing news, but an unqualified nobody who happens to write really provocative opinion columns – proudly spruiking Australia’s no 1 read columnist ahead of any journalist or news editor – even though said columnist has been successfully sued for publishing incorrect facts after failing to comply with even the most basic of journalism standards
  • You routinely publish stories without providing the opportunity for those involved in the story to comment
  • You do have a fairly obvious political bias, which appears on your front pages and in your “news stories” and not just in your opinion/comment pages
  • You had a 100% owned subsidiary that was responsible for the biggest sporting scandal in Australia for years, which participates in a professional sporting competition in which you are a 50% owner – and used the same language to denigrate those responsible as rats and mavericks as the NOTW and News International has been using about the “isolated people” involved in phone hacking and other criminal activities while gathering news – do I need to remind you how wrong they were about the isolated numbers and lack of authorisation at the highest levels, or how wrong you were about Melbourne Storm?
  • Over the last couple of years, it has become almost impossible to read one of your stories without seeing some form of gambling odds from corporate bookmakers or similar organisations, which has significantly altered the way stories are presented – BTW, does News Ltd happen to have any gaming interests or investments?

You are a person who believes it is in the “national interest” to change defamation laws to minimise protection for politicians, judges and celebrities. Why being able to print any old gossip about celebrities is in the “national interest” and not just in the commercial interests of News Ltd remains unclear.

An organisation that has major disconnects between its values and its actions is an organisation in serious trouble. A CEO who cannot see those disconnects, and even goes further continually denying their existence, is likely to become another Titanic Captain suffering from ice blindness.

There is another way, because there is one thing you are absolutely right about: An independent, strong media is still an essential part of a truly democratic society. So ask the really hard questions internally, ask for your people to come forward with their stories, invite external people to review your organisational alignment and review your values. Then invite all media organisations in Australia to do the same.

Make the decision to lead. Stop trying to hold back the tide, stop trying to ensure News Ltd remains closed to external scrutiny, set out to delight your clients and try leadership. It works much better than treating the legitimate concerns of the Australian community as attacks by your enemies or some political stunt.

You have a lot of people, including many of your journalists, who actually want to do the job properly, ethically and to the benefit of the Australian people. See if you can find a way to encourage and utilise these people instead of either crushing their spirits or losing them altogether.  You may even re-discover the USP for traditional media and that despite your best efforts of the last few decades, news is actually a desired and commercially viable product, even without descending to gossip.

Yours Faithfully, but with extraordinarily limited optimism,
geoff

Note: John Hartigan is Chairman, CEO and head of News Ltd Australian operations.

Jul 06

G’day all, on the day that plain packaging legislation is finally being introduced into the parliament, I figured it was time to make up my mind … Thanks to you all for helping me through the process.

Will I support or oppose the legislation?
No. In fact I’ve decided I fall into the don’t care category despite the issues at stake. I won’t support the legislation because I can’t see it having any real impact and I think the research is hardly grounded. I think it adds a level of cost and complexity that isn’t helpful. On the other hand, I’m not going to oppose it because the discussion has convinced me that when it comes to regulating industries, we can distinguish between cigarettes and every other product. My fears about the extension of the legislation have been allayed somewhat. I still have little doubt that some government, sometime, will try to extend the legislation but I believe that if that decision is bad, we will be prepared to do something about it. Finally, tobacco companies have not earned the right to any solace or protection.

When Legal Industries Go Bad … a Leadership Approach
I do believe that the professions that deal with communication, public relations, branding, marketing and reputation, by whatever name they call themselves, have an opportunity to provide some real leadership. Experience over the last hundred years has shown that some products that are legalised will be found to be harmful, requiring either very quick preventative action (example: Asbestos usage, Thalidomide) or longer term action (tobacco). It is time for our peak bodies to undertake a major project to create best practice strategies around communication, education, branding and marketing to cater for these eventualities. I believe this would be a significant contribution to the community and to governments to help resolve these situations. For example, we could establish consultative approaches for governments and involved businesses to develop plans to eventually make the product/industry redundant, while limiting the detrimental impact to primary providers, suppliers, employees and shareholders. The current approaches only lead to long-term adversarial reactions.

Professional Social Responsibility
Another thing I’ve learnt from this debate is that the world of communication and PR needs to become more outside-in driven in relation to their values, ethics and codes of practice. Fair dealing is just not enough anymore, the community is asking for more and we can show leadership in creating new, more appropriate guides for those in our professions. I believe that many in the community view marketing to children and communicating about potentially harmful products as unacceptable, and would like to see us develop our own equivalent of the “do no harm” approach of other professions. In my view, this approach can be dealt with through an active requirement that we advocate community views (multiple, not one-sided) within organisations and to our clients, not as part of a practice approach but as part of our ethical obligations as professionals for which we can be held accountable. We should also develop approaches to igniting community debates about issues, such as marketing and communication to children, without waiting for these issues to come to us (and often ignoring them even then).

This should also include the expression of minority views, which all too often have become the majority over time. Too many issues have grown from easily resolvable problems to gigantic fights over protection of shareholder value and business rights because of the dismissal of minority views. The business world is too quick to dismiss the views of minorities and take no action, when they could have instituted a simple action that satisfied the minorities, did no damage to themselves and eliminated the potential for a long-term problem. We need to abandon the approach of “oh, that’s just a bunch of nutters, ignore them” and the “but the majority want” approaches seen all to often in politics and media. It seems to me that this is now a substantial risk that we should be identifying in organisational risk management plans.

Freedom of Speech and responsibility, not freedom to ban speech
Finally, I am as convinced as ever that we should be extremely wary of any proposal that limits free speech in any context. However I have few issues with making people responsible for what they say. We should be continually vigilant about proposals that ban speech, and should encourage approaches that look at holding people accountable and responsible for any forms of damage they do as a result. This should become a central role for communication and PR peak bodies.

So those are my thoughts. I reserve the right to change/alter/enlarge/abandon/disavow them as discussion continues, and I’d love to keep hearing views. But above all, I’d like to thank the many people who took part in the dialogue that allowed me to get this far.

All the best, geoff