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Media reforms, John Hill versus the media

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In this week’s column, how SA’s unique media environment could be impacted by federal reforms, John Hill versus the media, the best of country journalism, and more.

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Reforms could change SA’s media landscape

Reports from Canberra suggest the Federal Government has settled on media reforms which could have a substantial impact on the South Australian media landscape.

The key change that would affect us is the removal of the “two out of three” rule, which prohibits one media company controlling newspaper, radio and television assets in one market.

That throws up some interesting, and potentially concerning, propositions in Adelaide – a unique market.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp already owns Adelaide’s metro print newspapers. Under the new rules, Murdoch could also own Network Ten and Nova Entertainment, which broadcasts talk station FIVEaa and youth music station Nova in Adelaide (Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan owns Nova Entertainment).

Could News leverage that kind of mix to strengthen its grip on the local news market? Certainly, there’s already heavy cross-promotion at times between FIVEaa and The Advertiser on news stories.

However, the nature of the online news market might mitigate the power of this connection. Online news has become highly competitive and disparate. Despite Murdoch’s print monopoly in Adelaide, that hasn’t stopped any number of online players – including this publication – gaining significant local audiences.

Potentially more concerning, particularly in regional SA, is the possibility of Nine Entertainment bringing under one banner Channel Nine, Fairfax, WIN regional TV and, maybe, Southern Cross Austereo. While Fairfax doesn’t have a metropolitan newspaper in SA, it does have a spread of 17 regional papers across the state.

As one media insider pointed out to Media Week this week, in this scenario many regional SA markets will have their television and press delivered by just one company.

Media agency Starcom tells us that they believe the reforms will be good for advertisers, and played down fears of market dominance.

“The efficiencies the merged businesses themselves create should help speed up the pace of change and innovation, provide better advertising environments and technology, increased audience data opportunities and potentially, the ability to create more quality content, that can be shared and integrated across various platforms,” they said.

“All this is attractive to advertisers, who will see the reach and efficiency of dealing with these merged entities to be advantageous. The issues of market dominance are more perceived, than real, because the growth of digital and the ease of accessing content on the internet has already ‘de-localised’ most media.”

It seems to me this underlines the ongoing importance of the ABC, particularly in regional areas.

John Hill on SA journalists: a quick guide

Former Labor minister John Hill has garnered a deal of publicity for his new book, On Being a Minister: Behind the Mask.

While there’s been some Twitter disquiet about his rather strange (and in my experience, wrong) assessment of the work ethic of legendary Advertiser reporter, the late Greg Kelton, he also passes out some slaps to several other high profile journos, as well as a few bouquets (notably to his annual drinking buddy, Tiser boss Melvin Mansell).

To help out SA media junkies, here’s our quick guide to Hill versus the media.

Matt Abraham and David Bevan

Their ABC radio program is “an Adelaide institution: a unique combination of politics, news, music and suburban life, with plenty of humour laced with sarcasm”.

“Matt and Dave’s specialty is what I call the ‘twist and turn’. They like to take something you say and then use it against you (the twist) or jump from one issue to another (the turn).”

Leon Byner

“With Matt and Dave I knew that various points of view would be put to me and pursued: if I could mount a good argument they would accept the logic and move on. This rarely happened with Leon. Leon would usually start an interview with an ‘editorial’ that relied heavily on information provided by one of his contacts or experts… I think it is far to say I rarely if ever convinced Leon his original position or his experts were wrong: once he had found his spot, there he would stay.”

Mike Smithson

“… always ‘hail fellow well met’, but wouldn’t hesitate to put the boot in – which he did to me on several occasions, but at least his criticisms were balanced with the occasional word of praise when he thought I deserved it”.

Tom Richardson

“His (Smithson’s) competitor, Channel 9’s Tom Richardson (now with InDaily), was not nearly as charming; in fact he always seemed dyspeptic… At least he didn’t pretend to be nice.”

Mel Mansell

“I like Mel and enjoy his company and [media adviser] Ruth Awbery (and before her, Catherine Hockley) and I would have an annual lunch with Mel and one of his senior reporters, usually the then health reporter Tory Shepherd. These were fun affairs: Mel and Tory are good company. On one memorable occasion lunch spread into dinner.”

The Advertiser

“Under its long-serving boss Mel Mansell, the paper has taken a positive approach to any government initiatives – in particular, the New RAH development. This was in keeping with the paper’s ethos to promote positive stories about South Australia, an important approach given the tendency to gloom and despair so easily exhibited by South Australians.”

SA’s best country journalism

The Country Press Association has handed out its 2015 awards, with the South Eastern Times taking out the award for best newspaper with a circulation under 2,400.

The Millicent-based paper “stood out from the pack”, according to the judges.

“It features strong news stories and relative to its opponents a healthy story count, enabling it to cover a wide range of news, sport and community events,” the judges said.

The Excellence in Journalism award went to Sandra Morello of The Border Watch for her “sustained and excellent reporting on savage cuts to the region’s palliative care service.”

“She began her campaign in June and continued covering the divisive issue until October,” said judge Kym Tilbrook. “With the paper’s strong backing a ‘Save Our Palliative Care’ campaign was started and supported by the community and a range of palliative care experts.

“Sandra’s dogged persistence resulted in Health Minister Jack Snelling backing down on the eve of a major community forum on the issue.”

For all the winners, go here.

Naughty corner

The decline of The Age newspaper has been one of the more depressing recent trends in Australian media. The once great newspaper – which still has a collection of excellent journalists – has a bizarre online presence, with celebrity gossip positioned against complex financial investigations.

As revealed by our colleagues at Crikey this week, The Age’s digital editor Michael Schlechta has sent a note to staff, basically saying he was as angry as hell about criticism and he wasn’t going to take it any more.

“During the past couple of years I have had hundreds of conversations with reporters, topic editors and the like, and I don’t remember ever asking anyone to dumb down what they do. I have never asked anyone to give us clickbait.”

So I’m presuming that The Age’s reporters chased these prominent stories from today’s home page on their own volition:

“Photoshop fail: Khloe Kardashian’s Instagram bender”

“Tired? There may be a simple fix… and it’s not coffee”

“How to clean your house the right way”

Top of the class

Two young television reporters help set the news agenda in Adelaide this week.

First, Ten’s Phoebe Bowden broke the story about unauthorised access to accused murderer Cy Walsh’s medical records – a story which is likely to have rippling consequences through medical, public service and legal circles.

Then, Seven’s Stacey Lee provided one of those rarities – a story about a politician who has strayed from the usual safe rhetoric. Her story about Liberal MP Vincent Tarzia questioning spending on the SA Police Band was a surprise (including, it seems, to some of Tarzia’s colleagues) – the best kind of reports in the increasingly safe and predictable world of politics.

Media Week is published on Fridays.

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