Thursday, June 28, 2012

Media Prometheus, or: Crash of the Titans. Yesterday an image from Ridley Scott's film Prometheus popped into my mind: Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron running desperately to avoid being crushed by a giant lozenge of a crashing alien spaceship:

This image from the trailer doesn't really convey how vast the ship is, and how tiny and precarious the two toiling figures are below. To me, the stricken ship is Big Media, and the humans in its looming path are media industry professionals trying desperately to save their live(lihood)s.

If you were in any doubt that Big Media is a crashing spaceship, consider how several weeks ago, Fairfax announced it was outsourcing subediting and production jobs at its regional mastheads to New Zealand, prompting journalists to strike for three days. Last week, the company announced it was slashing 1900 jobs, erecting a paywall, closing down some printing presses and taking its broadsheet mastheads tabloid.

The editors of both The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald announced their departures this week, bravely claiming they had voluntarily quit "the mothership" (curious wording, that) rather than being crowded out by the restructure.

Not to be left out, News Limited is also restructuring its operations, effectively shutting down regional newsrooms and making 115 jobs redundant in editorial, subediting, support and library services. News's bold plans for a new digital era include shedding up to 70 jobs in its digital division; 30 people have already been given the old heave-ho.

Prometheus the Titan gifted humankind with fire, our first technology, and was punished with an eternity of agony as eagles pecked at his liver. Prometheus begins with a mysterious alien drinking a weird black liquid and sacrificing his body to a primal act of creation. So, in the 'creative' restructuring of their corporate DNA, in the sacrifice of their editors-in-chief, are Australia's media titans doomed to be forever eviscerated, bleeding staff and resources?

"A king has his reign, and then he dies. It's inevitable," says Theron's character Meredith Vickers. Is the collapse of Big Media also inevitable? Will new hybrid media organisations replace them – organisations that, to our eyes, seem alien and abject, that colonise and consume the old ways of doing journalism?

Noomi Rapace is Elizabeth Shaw, the archaeologist who leads a team of freelance scientists on an intergalactic quest for the ancient astronauts whom she believes created the human race. She embodies an intriguing tension between an intellectualised, almost mystical faith ("that's what I choose to believe") and resourceful, atavistic survival instincts.

In my analogy, Shaw's creationism represents journalists' faith in 'quality journalism' as a benevolent fourth-estate ideal, despite plentiful evidence that it does not exist in current industry practice. Perhaps it has only ever existed in its believers' imaginations and in canonised practitioners such as St Woodward and St Bernstein.

Vickers, by contrast, is a company woman. The cold, calculating avatar of Shaw's corporate sponsor, she has her own luxuriously appointed suite on the Prometheus that can, if necessary, act as a completely self-sustaining escape pod. (A golden parachute?) Vickers' first action upon awakening from stasis is to do some pushups, then enquire coldly about the number of casualties en route. This is sort of how I imagine Fairfax or News executives begin their days.

Vickers is disconcertingly like disgraced News Limited executive editor Rebekah Brooks, whose erstwhile employer Rupert Murdoch is disconcertingly like Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the wizened mogul who stubbornly clings to his empire. ("My ambition is unlimited. You know that I will settle for nothing short of greatness, or I will die trying.")

Or perhaps Vickers is PR nincompoop Tina Alldis, who penned a tone-deaf op-ed outlining how publicists could benefit from the Fairfax and News unheavals. It generated more than 200 angry and disgusted responses from PR professionals disavowing Alldis, and journalists appalled by her callousness, before the comments thread was shut down. Alldis and her boss Simone Drewry both subsequently apologised.

When Shaw and Vickers are fleeing the alien spaceship, only Shaw has the bright idea to run sideways. Stuck in the tunnel vision that has defined her ambitious career, Vickers keeps running straight ahead and is crushed. Perhaps so too will be the journalists who remain loyal to the company, to the masthead.

Like Weyland, who has artificially prolonged his life and become a grotesque, desiccated shell, masthead journalism has been the paradigm for too long. And like Weyland, who believes himself an immortal, god-like creator, Big Media believes it cannot die. Perhaps it not only can, but it must.

Shaw alone survives in a hostile universe: a freelancer continuing, poignantly, to believe in quality journalism even despite her monstrous experiences, even if she must mutilate her career prospects by refusing to participate in the new hybrid forms…

But she can only strive for her ineffable goal with the help of technology – the android David (Michael Fassbender) – even if, like David, technology sometimes behaves perversely, at cross-purposes with our expectations. Both our helpmeet and our undoing, new journalism technologies may be our only way to blast off into an uncertain future, but only after they've clubbed Rupert Murdoch to death… aahh, I can sense this precarious analogy falling apart so let's just leave it right there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

OUFHH!!!! I've noticed I make a certain sound of sharp, disappointed annoyance; it sounds almost like the noise I'd make at a blow to the abdomen.

I make this sound when Graham has done something tremendously irritating: for instance, repeatedly scratching my sofa, or leaping onto my cluttered dresser while I'm lying in bed.

I also make the sound when something stupid and avoidable happens in one of my compulsive games of Crystal Quest: for instance, if I shoot a bonus crystal rather than catching it, or if I am stupidly killed before I can get the crystal.

I also make the sound when I get to a level crossing just in time to see the train I wanted to catch pulling into the station on the opposite side, or when I get to a bus or tram stop just in time to miss it.

I especially make the noise when my computer is intolerably slow to perform a basic function such as opening a new browser tab, and when my printer thinks there is no paper in there when there clearly is.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The wonders of technology. If we thought too hard about this it would probably give us vertigo, but isn't it astounding how differently our lives are lived now to even 20 years ago? Sometimes I do get vertigo when I hear a song such as 'Don't Dream It's Over' on the radio, such an ordinary thread in the fabric of my life, and realise that it came out TWENTY-SIX YEARS AGO.

And I am currently reading The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst and finding its great leaps through time confronting, much as I found the leaps through time in A Visit from the Goon Squad confronting. Just when you settle into a character's world, when you feel there, in all its immediacy, feeling what they feel – which is the intellectual conceit novels demand of readers – then the author drags you into the past or the future, to see how small and pitiful these people's lives really are, how helpless they are in the currents of time. At least Jennifer Egan has the grace to present time as the ominous figure of her novel's title.

But anyway, that wasn't what triggered this blog post. It was that I was interviewed by ABC radio this week about bogans (sigh) and the producer asked if there was a landline she could call me on. And I said with a wonderful feeling of freedom, "No, only my mobile."

And I imagined going back in time like some grotesque Ghost of Freelancin' Yet To Come, and telling my teenage self in 1992: "In 20 years there will be no jetpacks, and no space hotels, and well okay, there will be videophones but nobody will really get into them because the best bit of being on the phone is that the person on the other end can't see how you look or what you're doing. But there will be a video-conferencing tool called Skype that we mainly use to talk to people who are on the other side of the world…

"You won't have a home phone, anyway. And the only phone number you'll remember off by heart is your parents' number and maybe one or two of your friends. You'll have a phone that fits in the palm of your hand and is also an address book and a camera and a camcorder and a photo album and a Walkman and an alarm clock and a calendar and a public transport timetable and a book and a Melways. It's also a tiny computer you can use to write and receive letters that get delivered instantly from anywhere, for free, and that can tell you just about any fact you want to know if you know how to look for it.

"And your job in 20 years is going to be to write all day and all night on a tiny laptop that weighs about the same as your maths textbook and is about the same size as your maths folder. You can take it anywhere – a café; a library – and you sit it on the coffee table and watch TV and movies on it.

"Your work will be to write and edit reviews and essays and research reports and advertising copy and lots of little bite-sized blurbs that aren't in newspapers or magazines yet, but that by this time will have come to fill them up because there's so much to read that even when you write 500 words, strangers will just skim it, saying, 'Too long; didn't read it.'

"The only thing that will be the same is that you'll have a cat."

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Bellè et Bête. On Wednesday afternoon Penny called with some excellent news – that while I had been panicking about meeting my review deadline for the Thousands, publication was being delayed so I still had the entire afternoon and evening to write it. I decided to celebrate by making some raisin toast: The Toast I Like Most™.

My Raisin Toast jingle has solidified since its early version of 2010. Now it goes:

Raisin toast
The toast I like most
Raisin toast
The toast I like most
'Cos I've got a cravin'
For thick, juicy raisins
Raisin toast
The toast I like most

At one stage a few weeks ago I was procrastinating so hard that I spent a few hours trying to figure out how the instruments worked on GarageBand so I could actually record it. Here's what I came up with:

Raisin Toast by incrediblemelk

I initially envisaged a power-rock feel but the samples in GarageBand didn't seem to support this, so I went for more of a '70s MOR sound, like Chicago or something. The word 'toast' is actually really unfortunate in a song, with all the whistling noises at the end, but this is the song and I am not gonna rewrite it just for such a minor technical consideration.

But on Wednesday came DISASTER! The lever on my toaster refused to stay down and hence the heat would not be applied to my toast! I tried everything – turning it off and on again (via The IT Crowd), shaking it upside down over the sink to remove crumbs, and even repeatedly banging the lever like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In the end I had to use my sandwich press to toast my raisin toast. This was actually quite a delicious method, because the plate on the sandwich press irons the surface of the toast smooth, much as a straightening iron does to hair, for a lovely mouthfeel and crisp texture.

My toaster was called Bellè, which is ungrammatical in any language. I don't think I have to tell you how crucial a toaster is to Freelance Food. Its loss is disastrous. It is a super-cheap discount department store brand. I think I inherited it from Wetburgh Street rather than actually buying it. Here is some wisecracker selling the same model on Gumtree, advertising that it makes "even Raisen Toast for younger people". But here is mine:

It seems ridiculous to mourn a cheap, easily replaceable household electrical appliance, but I feel as sad about the demise of Bellè as I did about my hairdryer Pistol Airo. It's the same weird affection for outmoded e-waste that Mel Gregg invokes when she wonders whether to throw away her ancient baby-blue clamshell iBook.

Serendipitously, just now I also came across (via Martyn Pedler) the Museum of Endangered Sounds, an online sound archive of the little noises that form the background of quotidian life but are lost altogether once the technology that produced them moves on. It's a rare acknowledgment that technology isn't just instrumental but affective too.

Because Bellè meant so much to me, I didn't just want to throw it in the garbage bin; I thought about putting it in the middle of the street for someone to take, which is how e-waste is disposed of in my neighbourhood. But then would the finder become angry when they realised the lever didn't work? So right now Bellè is sitting on my porch next to the garbage bin. I'll probably just put it in on bin day.

Anyway, I had to get a new one, so yesterday I embarked on a mission to Kmart, which I had determined via internet research had the cheapest toasters. When I got there I realised with a pang how beautifully designed Bellè had been. Modern toasters are either shoeboxes with slots in the flat tops, or semicircles.

I was also amazed to learn of the leaps in toaster technology since Bellè was manufactured. Toasters now come with special defrost and reheat buttons, which is super handy for me as I always toast from frozen and often forget about my toast and have to reheat it in the microwave. They also have little guard wires on springs that are sprung back when the lever is pulled, then set free to clasp the toast, aligning it on the vertical for even toasting.

Even though I would have preferred a silver toaster to go with my kettle, I thought this red retro affair ($19) was pretty jaunty, and I liked the way the controls were on the front rather than on the side where I would have to squint and reach to adjust them.

Today I made my first toast in the new toaster. As recommended in the instruction booklet, I set the toaster to 3 – medium brown – and used the defrost button. I was delighted to see the buttons become backlit with a demonic red light when the toaster is in use.

I don't know if this always happens the first time an electric heat element is used, but an acrid smell pervaded my kitchen as the toaster heated up. I hope this doesn't happen every time I make toast. The toast came out slightly more brown on the bottom left corners, so perhaps the element needs some time to… get into its element.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Site Meter