Tag Archives: Social Media

You cannot burn a mummy blog

BOOK BURNING Nazis burning works of Jewish authors, and other works considered "un-German" in 1933.
BOOK BURNING Nazis burning works by Jewish authors, and other works considered “un-German” in 1933.

OVER one weekend in April, 2014, a ripple of panic went through the social media in Australia. I was alerted to it by one of my Twitter friends.

Word was that Vanessa Powell, described on her Twitter profile as a “refugee supporter”, had been sent two anonymous tweets by the federal Department of Immigration and Border Protection. They could have been generated by anyone, from lowly staffer to the top man, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

In vague legal terms, the tweets asked for Powell to remove a post from her Facebook which the department found “offensive”.

I don’t know what Powell’s Facebook post was about, and I don’t want to know. That is not the point.

“If criticism of the government on the social media comes with legal threats, the next step is to put the same pressure on anyone who reads it.”

As I checked the story to see if the accounts were real and the issue was not some Twitter spook-fest, I noticed a smattering of tweets in my feed from big tweeters – those amongst us who have large followings and make no secret of their stance on the incumbent government.

“Cleaning my Twitter feed” was a common thread, as what the cry “fascists!”.

“First they came for the mummy bloggers, now they’re coming for us,” was another, referring to the announcement last week of a crackdown on public servants’ use of social media to express personally held beliefs about politics, which had gone as far as suggesting people dob in friends who are critical of the government.

Storify was quickly posted, using very emotional language, but the message was clear – very soon after the Abbott government oversaw legislation broadening freedom of speech and the right to be a bigot, these government tweets were asking for less freedom of speech and bigotry from Vanessa Powell, if indeed her Facebook post was bigoted.

I thought back to my own tweets, and considered, for a moment, whether I should be worried.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter would know I am critical of the Abbott government. I participated in and reported on March in March, which was a nationwide vote of no confidence in Mr Abbott and his policy directions.

I voraciously tweeted my anger about Julia Gillard’s indefensible stance against marriage equality.

I tweeted my thanks to the Liberal Party’s Senator Sue Boyce for crossing the Senate floor last year in support of it.

I tweeted my support for the Liberal Party’s member for Murray, Dr Sharman Stone, when she stood against her own cabinet with her constituents during the SPC-Ardmona negotiations.

No-one who read all of my No Fibs interviews for the 2013 federal election would have grounds to accuse me of bias. I interviewed every candidate who agreed to be interviewed. That my local sitting Liberal MP Andrew Laming refused cannot be construed as bias. I reported factually when he reneged on a deal to speak with me, I reported his public appearances during the campaign, and was pleased to find it was not difficult to find something positive to write about his policy approaches.

At the Bowman candidates’ forum, he announced his support for civil unions for same-sex couples. This is a step which has seen the eventual legislation of gay marriage in other countries, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, one which I believe we will need to take here. My local member supports it. Tick.

I don’t need to delete my tweets, because I am politically fair.

Mr Abbott and his ministers cop a heavier load of my ire, sure, but as far as I am concerned, it’s the government which gets the big magnifying glass over its head. Mr Abbott said much to this effect while he was in opposition.

I can see why social media users step up and fill the gaps they observe in the ALP’s commentary on the Abbott government, particularly where Lib-Lab have policy overlaps. I have seen more brilliant one liners on Twitter than I have from the opposition benches at question time.

I can see why social media users become a de-facto media, especially in the wake of such events as March in March.

MARCH IN MARCH Briabane, March 2014.
MARCH IN MARCH Brisbane, March 2014.

The aftermath of March in March has been fascinating from a media perspective. First-time and seasoned protestors came out of the woodwork, and when there was a glimpse of the mainstream media (roving news camera operators, mainly), it felt like an affirmation.

When my partner asked why it was significant to see commercial networks at the Brisbane march, I replied that all our social media friends who might be perplexed, offended, or concerned about our involvement would see the images on the evening news and the messages of the event might sink in a little more.

But the mainstream media dropped the ball on March in March. The Sydney event, in particular, may as well not have happened, or been a ‘stinking lefty hippy fest, with very, very rude signs’ as far as the mainstream media was concerned.

I have spent the past two years saying to anyone who will listen that the mainstream media is no longer resourced to cover such events, particularly on weekends. Fairfax journalist John Birmingham of The Brisbane Times captured the fallout perfectly.

The effect of this media failure cuts both ways. Australians who expected to see themselves marching on the evening news started coming to terms with the death of the mainstream media. Australians who expected the march would go unnoticed because they have some control over media output started coming to terms with the fact that the social media is the only widely distributed media left, and it’s well beyond their control.

Which is why I think the government wants to send fear messages through the social media, and is demanding absolute loyalty from public servants, even in their private social media.

If criticism of the government on the social media comes with legal threats, the next step is to put the same pressure on anyone who reads it.


They used to burn books they didn’t like so that people couldn’t read them.

But you cannot burn a tweet. You cannot burn a mummy blog. You cannot burn the internet.

Isn’t that great?

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

An extract from Write, regardless!

The publish button killed the media

THE cancellation of the funding behind Australia’s flagship online news source The Global Mail sent shock waves through the local media, because many journalists were watching to see if the rise of the independent online media hub was a viable career lifeboat.

“What’s clear to me now is that the social media is the only media.”

The demeanour of journalist Mike Seccombe said it all, when he fronted-up for an interview on Friday’s ABC Breakfast News.

Virginia Trioli asked him whether there were other ways of funding The Global Mail. He exhaled, shrugged and replied that he is a journalist, not a money man.

I felt for him, because if 20,000 subscribers, a stable of top notch journos, and private backing are not good enough to make The Global Mail work, what the hell is?

Before things got too depressing, technical problems meant the interview had to be wrapped-up fast, and the inexpressible did not get articulated.

The inexpressible being, of course, that the media as we know it is in its death throes. It’s on the mat. The death rattle has begun. Wake up peeps, it’s happening, it’s really happening.

WHERE IT'S AT The Publish Button, we've all got one now!
WHERE IT’S AT The Publish Button, we’ve all got one now!

I could rail at the media moguls who have sold us out, but I’m calling The Publish Button the main culprit, that powerful little hyperlink which emerged on online blogging platforms a decade ago.

We flocked to it like gulls at a rubbish bin, and since digital technology was able to count the uptake, advertisers followed in an equally frenzied manner, until there were simply more pecks on The Publish Button than there were on all the print floors combined.

Twitter, Facebook and various forms of blogging now fulfill the very strong desire to be ‘published’ and ‘posted’, ‘liked’ and have our status ‘updated’ and ‘shared’.

Now, I’m not saying what we blog/post/tweet about is necessarily rubbish, but the bin is where it’s at peeps, the gulls are just not flocking to the mainstream media, which has been stripped, flogged and hung out to dry, journalistic job security with it.

The companies who made The Publish Button have become the new media moguls. They have no need to invest in ink, paper, print floors, newsagents, transport, and the tens of thousands of people who once staffed the media.

And without us even noticing, they have managed extremely well without journalists. A media which has no need to pay for content is every CEO’s dream.

Content flows freely to them, because The Publish Button is such effective bait.

Its lightning fast distribution is a stimulant like no other to wordsmiths. No barrier to participation, no editors to chase us, no pesky sub-editors to keep us nice, no delay in reaching our audience, and the ability to correct errors instantaneously… if we care about any of that, and there’s no requirement to.

If I StumbleUpon it I can Storify it, and I can say I’ve Reddit. I can Press my Words, I can show my Pinterest, I can Inst a Gram, I can meme like a Tumblr.

It’s all so liberating and wonderful… “Content is King!”, they say, to exhort us into creating great content, but it’s also free, and it’s left journalism with virtually no currency.

The social media’s advertising and subscription revenue, which is placing the corporations behind The Publish Button in stockmarket positions that have Rupert Murdoch worried, is not shared with the content creators of this new world media.

To complain any further about the mainstream media is just like a new government blaming the old: after a while, it just doesn’t hold true anymore.

So, where does journalism stand now the media is flatlining?

ARRESTING JOURNO Margo Kingston under arrest at the Leard Blockade. (Photo: Georgina Woods).
ARRESTING JOURNO Margo Kingston under arrest at the Leard Blockade. (Photo: Georgina Woods).

In February, 2014, No Fibs citizen journalist Margo Kingston showed by example what journalists can do with The Publish Button, by relocating to north-west NSW and reporting on the #leardblockade, where a group of activists held back the progress of the Maules Creek Mine.

Margo self-funded her Storify reports, put together by Tony ‘The Geek’ Yegles, which were uploaded onto No Fibs with a regularity that a mainstream news site would be envious of.

Twitter was utilised to distribute these short interviews, news items and reports to a growing audience.

What made it relevant was the depth of engagement, participation, and the provision of opportunities for the subject to contribute to the report.

This is possibly the true meaning of ‘social’ in social media, and it’s possibly what makes very tasty bits for the gulls to peck at.

If The Global Mail had attracted a few gulls to the edge of the bin they might not have reached this point. Their low-level social media engagement may well have been their Achilles heel, or was it their propensity to pay their journalists a decent salary?

WRITE REGARDLESSI’m not in a position to answer that. What’s clear to me now is that the social media is the only media.

There, I’ve said it. As a journalist, all I have to do is find a way to come to terms with it.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.


Voyage to the new news world – part two

JOURNALISTS AT SEA Grab an oar and row like hell.
JOURNALISTS AT SEA Grab an oar and row like hell.

BEING a WordPress blogger I was able to start work as a site editor on No Fibs immediately, with regular tips from site manager Tony Yegles. That got me right to the coal face of online news.

I decided to sub-edit in the same manner as I did at my day-job, meaning there was some risk citizen journalists would not understand why certain choices were made about shaping their work.

I also felt the headlines needed to differentiate facts from opinions.

So I began to operate under an ‘if they were there, they were reporting’ principle. A ‘report’ was an eyewitness account; a ‘comment’ was a bum-on-seat rumination. To publish any other way would confuse readers and writers.

Margo was also adamant the citizen journalist’s ‘voice’ should not be edited-out, and that meant lighter sub-editing rules allowing an original social media edge.

“It was far easier to imagine a mainstream media replete with lazy or biased journalists than to include ourselves in the blame.”

Kevin Rudd resigned, resulting in the Griffith by-election, and Jan Bowman started to write regularly about the line-up of candidates.

Because her subject was on the news cycle, Jan’s articles needed to take their place promptly and I needed to find ways to make No Fibs’ contributions stand out.

Jan was getting into press conferences and meeting all the candidates, and I was determined to match her commitment. We both had little time outside work, which meant filing and sub-editing at all hours.

As a team, No Fibs provided another voice in the first litmus test for the newly minted Abbott Government.

When Margo gave me a great gift by asking me to keep writing for the site as arts editor, I had never been given such a green light by an editor. She’d read a few of my arts-based pieces on my blog and knew I had a lot to say. I’d observed how her tweets about my articles increased my readership, and how the same phenomenon occurred on No Fibs.

I finally understood what an incredible shopfront Twitter was for journalism.

It’s a great feeling to be granted a small piece of online real estate to fill, but it also came with a commitment to posting articles on a regular basis.

I developed subject parameters, since art and politics didn’t seem to be such a natural blend, and I attracted fascinating interviewees, including Amanda Bishop, who impersonated Julia Gillard throughout the former Prime Minister’s term.

When I decided to compare journalism and art as career choices in one article I found something rather interesting: somehow, journalism had replaced art at the bottom of the ‘career scale’.

It was a shock to learn the industry I entered only five years prior as a means to survive as an artist was now more precarious than a career as an artist.

From that point I decided to include journalism as an art form within my #CreatingWaves column and explore what had brought it so low.

CLICK BAIT The mainstream media's fight for attention is ugly.
CLICK BAIT The mainstream media’s fight for attention is ugly.

The social media was one obvious culprit. Every time we hit the publish button (or post, or share, or like) we provide free content (and site statistics) to very large corporations in direct competition with the MSM for advertising revenue.

That was a dark moment for me – accepting that we journalists who weren’t quite buoyed-up by the MSM were partially to blame for its demise through nothing worse than the desire to communicate via the social media.

My article on this issue sparked debate from some who could not accept our blogging, tweeting and facebooking had an impact on the MSM. It was far easier to imagine a mainstream media replete with lazy or biased journalists than to include ourselves in the blame.

It dawned on me that many readers were unaware of how stretched newsrooms are – they expected top-notch news but they were not always willing to pay for it, or didn’t understand why media outlets needed to find increasingly inventive ways to remain viable.

Blaming the MSM came into very sharp focus during the national March in March (MiM) protests. I attended the Brisbane event, not intending to report, but when I saw the scale of proceedings I decided I was there, so I was reporting. Twitter took care of the rest.

The anger directed at the MSM for its lack of MiM coverage was partially assuaged by No Fibs.

A few of us had dived in and learned how to Storify – an immediate way to gather social media into one report.

With two No Fibs Citizen Journalists (Anne Carlin and Wayne Jansson) tweeting on the ground at the Canberra MiM, we were able to use Storify to remotely publish a moment no other news source managed – the presentation of the vote of no confidence that some 100,000 people had marched for, off the back of the broadest national coverage of the MiM protests reported by citizen journalists.

The site’s purpose hit home when we were offered a report on the creation of MiM by one of the organisers, Sally Farrell.

The tenor of the No Fibs pieces I was sub-editing went up a gear. Margo was attracting a very broad range of contributors, from academics to students and activists.

The first online journalism job I ever saw advertised was on Facebook, a position writing for a lifestyle website in north America. Anyone in the world could apply, so I posted it on my Facebook page as a milestone, wondering if it was an anomaly or the start of something new.

The Australian social media came under very public government analysis when a Twitter furore erupted about the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s (DIBP) demand that a Facebook comment by an asylum seeker advocate be removed.

BOOK BURNING Another issue altogether in online media.
BOOK BURNING Another issue altogether in online media.

This led to a long cycle of reporting for me, way beyond the scope of the arts, simply because I did not see anyone else on an Australian political news site connecting the dots between passionate social media users, asylum seeker advocates, and the DIBP’s censorship.

Working in collaboration with other journalists and bloggers, No Fibs led the way to a clearer picture of exactly what had occurred, and why.

I tried for many weeks to get in touch with George Georgiadis, who made the Facebook comment the DIBP didn’t like. Patience and transparency got No Fibs a scoop in our extended interview with Georgiadis, which remains my most well-read piece and was an eye-opening experience to put together.

Sub-editing No Fibs citizen journalists, including Guinevere Hall in WA reporting on the West Australian Senate ‘rerun’, was reaching critical mass by April of 2014, but it was the work of four University of Technology journalism students that gave me an idea about changing the site’s approach to online publishing.

Their work on the #leardblockade committed to principles many journalists twice their age should take note of, but as I uploaded the stories I felt we were doing them a great disservice, because they will graduate into an industry without sub-editors.

A phrase I used to say as a joke – ‘journalist, edit thyself’ – had become a reality in the MSM.

So, I took another risk and suggested the core team behind No Fibs alter the way we processed submissions. We did not have to let go of sub-editorial control, but the process of preparing citizen journalists’ material had become far too time consuming for a small, overworked voluntary team.

In order to make the leap, No Fibs needed its contributors to file stories in a similar manner to MSM journalists. It also needed a style guide, so I wrote one.

This gave Margo an opportunity to revisit her vision for the website, from headlines to layout. A strong, Twitter-oriented style emerged.

We also needed a team of sub-editors, which we got by putting out a call on Twitter.

Our regular writers’ copy improved dramatically, and the rate of submissions did not significantly diminish by requiring citizen journalists to be self-sufficient.

Worlds collided for me when Fairfax announced in early May that around 80 production staff and photographers would be made redundant, and the social media arced-up about the potential for citizen journalists to cross the picket line of the resulting Fairfax strike.

STAND UP Citizen Journalists.
STAND UP Citizen Journalists.

As both a part-time Fairfax employee and an independent citizen journalist, I was informed on both sides of the debate, and wrote an appeal for critics of citizen journalism to broaden their thinking.

I had vitriol aimed at me that day, particularly from journalists.

We are all struggling to build and maintain careers and earn livings – but the panic spilled over into attack at the very idea of citizen and mainstream journalists working in collaboration, primarily for the sake of the best news coverage for readers.

The only journalist who crossed the picket line that day was a Fairfax writer, possibly in fear of losing their job.

There was some good news for Fairfax staff – the company had increased readership in online news experiments at a regional weekly newspaper, and the process allowed the title to remain in print.

A consolidation of offices meant my workplace welcomed The Bayside Bulletin into the space left by long-redundant production staff, and Redland City got a new local paper when two weeklies amalgamated to form The Redland City Bulletin as part of Fairfax’s continued commitment to local news.

I now worked in the same environment as the other journos who’d tweeted from the #bowmanpol candidates‘ forum.

Having done my best to make myself more redundant as a sub-editor at No Fibs, I let go and went on a holiday. When I came home I saw a job advertised which was uncannily close to what I’d been doing for No Fibs.

I have rarely felt as confident applying for a position, especially one at the cutting edge of online news media. A few weeks into the job, for which I work at home most days, it’s amazing how close the basics are to the average blogging platform.

My year of growing with No Fibs as it expanded during a critical phase, with all its learning curves and voluntary hours, aided my transformation into a match-fit, self-sufficient, paid online writer.

I’d reached the new news world in the No Fibs lifeboat, only to find it is not defined territory that can be seen on a chart, it’s an energy I carry inside me across a growing number of sites and audiences.


Journalists may have reached rock bottom, but if we grow and promote our self-sufficient currency, share our skills and work together, I believe we will start to rise. After all, you don’t get paid for passage in a lifeboat, you grab an oar and row like hell.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

This article appears in Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.