Friday, 22 September 2017

With Richard Gingras, Google's head of news

This morning at Google’s Sydney headquarters about 80 journalists came to hear from the source, the man who is spearheading the search company’s engagement with the media industry.

Gingras said at the outset that Google is working to foster a healthier, open environment. “Why does Google do this?”

He said that his career has been about the evolution of media. He worked for PBS under Hartford Gunn, and said that he had always wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology. "Technology enables things," he said.

Gingras said that Google is a child of the open web, and that 98 percent of the company’s business derives from that. “That drives a lot of our strategies.” He said that the world has changed radically in the past 20 years. “We've swapped out the central nervous system of our culture," he said, and attributed part of the credit for this change to his company. "We have indeed given free expression to everyone." Google, he said, has enabled many, many more voices to appear in the public sphere.

But he thinks there is more work to do. “How do we rearchitect the web for speed?” he asked, and mentioned AMP for ads.

Gingras said that we are now operating in a media environment that is quite levelling, and this has had casualties. One of these casualties has been a quantity of trust. “We see continued declines in trust in media,” he said. He then mentioned The Trust Project. Gingras is working with Sally Lehrman, a senior scholar on journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Santa Clara, in California, on ethics policies. There are 90 news organisations involved. The project is, for example, encouraging the visibility of ethics policies on news websites. Also, media organisations should ask themselves how their journalists are made to appear credible. Can readers access their full body of work? “People talk today about the need for media literacy,” said Gingras. “It comes down to expertise and motivation.” What is the journalist’s background and what is their agenda?

“I believe that journalists should be advocates and be unbiased,” he said, encapsulating an apparently contradictory pair of priorities in one sentence. This, for me, was the most important thing that Gingras said during the morning’s proceedings, and it was almost the last thing he said.

On monetisation, Gingras said that advertising is not necessarily enough anymore, so subscriptions come into play. “We're seeing good growth there,” he said. The New York Times has 2.25 million digital subscribers, he said. “What can [Google] do to help drive subscription growth?” He said that the company is looking at “the full funnel from discovery to payment”. They are going to evolve the sampling program. He said Google is also looking for propensity to pay among the readership, and studying how to take the friction out of the purchasing process. It is necessary to eliminate abandonment, he said. Media companies need to tell Google who is a subscriber so that they can be served better during the search process. He said that it might be possible to highlight for the reader whether an article that appears in a search result is from a media outlet they already subscribe to, so that they can then click on it. But he said he is cautious about setting expectations.

Part of the burden in future must lie with media organisations themselves. “You have to be offering a product that people can immediately see the value of,” Gingras said. “What's the value proposition?” He added however that the internet is challenging the very foundations of democracy. “How to find consensus between conflicting points of view?” The media has the job, he said, of building a bridge of commonly understood facts that people can use to come to their own conclusions in any debate.

Anita Jacoby from the Australian Communications and Media Authority asked Gingras some questions, and conducted the Q and A with the audience.

“What does journalism mean in the world?” Jacoby asked Gingras. “How do you form an independent perspective and give people what they need to know?”

“We're seeing far more partisanship than ever before,” replied Gingras. “Also, a greater degree of opinion content.” Trust is based in getting mundane things right, and in the old days newspapers had various ways to do that, such as the weather page, the sports page, and stock market information. Back in 1980, he went on, opinion was about 3 percent of a newspaper’s content, but now a media website may be 60 to 70 percent editorial. “Our role in search is to give people the information they need to make their own decisions.”

Gingras also talked about the modern phenomenon of fake news. “I don't think we're ever going to see the end of it,” he said. “Fake news on social networks is a different thing,” he said. But: “It's one thing to not rank content, it's another thing to eliminate it. This is legal content.”

“What is Google doing about journalists losing their jobs?” asked Jacoby. “Google did not kill the news industry,” Gingras said. The internet has allowed virtually free distribution. “The news industry is going through a very, very challenging transition.” Gingras notes that the golden era of news was disrupted by TV because when TV entered the market a lot of newspapers went under but the ones that survived, thrived. “How are people consuming news? It's never too soon to start innovating.”

One question that came from the audience was from the ABC. “Are paywalls dangerous for democracy if people cannot afford to pay?”

Gingras pointed back in time to journalist I.F. Stone, who ran a small subscription paper and who Gingras called "the original blogger". Even though his paper was only distributed to about 10,000 people, it had a large impact in the public sphere. Stone is famous for reporting on the Vietnam War. 

“How do I succeed in this new marketplace?” Gingras asked the audience rhetorically. “We don't live in a world with a lot of gates.” A New York Times journalist once suggested to him establishing who was a legitimate news source, and filtering out those results that were not from such sources. “What the fuck!” he whispered.


Gingras (left) and Jacoby at Google's Sydney HQ.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fred Williams, minimalist Romantic

This positing of the famous Australian painter using terms that might at first glance seem to be contradictory was suggested to me by an article I read written by Mark Dober in the Sydney Morning Herald last week. I got in touch with Dober and spoke with him for this interview because I wanted to explore in more detail the ideas he had put forward in his article. Dober has a PhD in Fine Art (Painting) from Monash University and in addition to painting he also writes articles for magazines.

MdS: Can you tell me a little bit about your own practice? You’re an artist and you also do some writing about art.

I’m a professional artist, a painter. I paint in the landscape. Until about a year or so ago I was living in Flemington in inner Melbourne and driving down to the You Yangs - I was doing that for two to three years – to make works on location at the You Yangs, which is a rocky outcrop near Geelong. I was making a lot of work there for a while. I’ve since then, from about a year ago, my wife and I moved to Castlemaine in central Victoria and so I’m not painting the You Yangs anymore. They’re too far away. I’m painting in the region around Castlemaine. The culmination of my project at the You Yangs is the work that’s currently being exhibited at Geelong Art Gallery and it coincides with the Fred Williams in the You  Yangs exhibition.

MdS: Can you tell me a little bit more about your understanding of Fred Williams in relation to the sublime, that you outlined in your article? Where does the sublime fit in – obviously it’s part of the Romantic moment – how does that fit in as part of art history and where does that take you when you think about things like beauty and the landscape?

I’ve always enjoyed Fred Wiliams’ work even though I don’t have any special affinity to abstract painting. And what it is about Fred’s work that strongly appeals to me is the actual handling of the paint. There’s a great beauty in his paint, the opposition of a thin glaze support with thicker, more sensual use of paint in dabs and marks to indicate the presence of bush and fence lines and a horizon line, this sort of thing. So, I respond to Fred Williams’ painting very much in terms of paint, and what he’s able to do with the materials and the colour and so on. It’s very much a visual thing. Now, that kind of sensual expression is very much a feature of much Romantic painting. It’s expressing an idea of engagement with nature, a sense of being there, engaged, responding with joy and delight in the presence of nature. Now, the You Yangs series have tended to be framed in terms of what was happening in New York, which in the 60s and 70s was the world centre of art. In New York, in the 1960s, among the leading styles were Abstraction and Minimalism. Fred was able to take these and apply them to the Australian landscape. But even when his work was quite minimalist, it still had this sensuality, this beauty that is still very much a Romantic thing and I think connects him, places him within this much larger Romantic context which comes out of England and Europe, originating about 200 years ago.

MdS: You know that there’s a statue of Robert Burns just near the Art Gallery of New South Wales that was erected in the middle of the 19th century?

Oh, yeah? Well, the Romantic movement, which is generally dated from late-18th century through to, say, maybe up to the mid-19th century, is in many ways still with us because that sense of the sublime really tended to continue, albeit in different ways. Even abstract expressionism, the work of an artist like Mark Rothko, has this quality of the sublime about it. So, Romanticism as an art-historical movement, although it may be seen in the history books as ending around 1850, as a kind of a way of responding to the world, and particularly as a way of responding to landscape, it doesn’t go away. And it will continue probably far into the future because it’s intrinsic to how we feel and respond to landscape.

MdS: It’s a sense of awe and inspiration, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s right. It’s kind of universal, really, because it seems to transcend time and culture. We’ve got people, I mean, people today hike up to the Flinders Peak to get a view from the You Yangs and they’re wanting to take in the expansive view. This is very much a part of the sublime, feeling yourself small in relation to the vastness of nature, the beauty of nature, and within Fred Williams’ painting you’ve got that sense of distance … You seem to be hovering above the landscape looking down on it as if in an aeroplane, or there’s an emphatic horizon line and your eye goes to the horizon line, taking you into the far distance. The paintings seem cropped as if they could expand indefinitely left and right. They’re not framed by trees or anything like that. So, there’s this wonderful feeling of spaciousness in a Fred Williams which is very much a quality of the sublime. You know, a Casper David Freidrich, Rothko, so many others have dealt with that. And I think it accounts better for why Fred Williams is such a loved painter, than this rather narrow focus on minimalism.

MdS: And when I think of Williams I also think of people like Pollock and De Koening, their really gorgeous use of colour and line.

Yes. That’s right. I think it’s very much to do with paint, the expressive potential, the physicality, of paint. The way the mark-making suggests that you’re present to nature, even if the work is abstract, there’s a sense of responding to the experience of nature. Fred actually went to the You Yangs a lot and made a lot of gouaches, a lot of studies, down there. The larger paintings were made back in the studio in Melbourne but they’re based on a direct experience of nature.

MdS: Your exhibition is on alongside the Williams exhibition at the gallery in Geelong. Is that right?

Yeah. We had an opening at Geelong Art Gallery for the Fred Williams show, and my work was there for the opening. The Fred Williams show ends on the 5th of November and my show ends on the 15th of October. My work shares with Williams a Romantic sensibility – apart from the subject – we have that in common, that Romantic sensibility and concern for colour, concern for sensuality of the paint, and engagement with the landscape. But of course my style is very different. My style is far more observation-based, and it’s all made plein-air, it’s all made entirely on location. I don’t work back in the studio, I work onsite.

MdS: In my email to you I mentioned this idea of Louis Hartz, the fragment theory, that he has about colonies that split off from the main trunk of the political entity. I wanted to go back and maybe talk a little bit about some of those Romantic artists and especially people like Turner and Bourke, who first intimated – well Turner was later, obviously – but people like Edmund Bourke, who wrote about the sublime. Bourke’s treatise was something of a reference point for the Romantic poets. When you talk about the sublime are you thinking about the way that … [I mean, the] world was changing at that time so much because of the American Revolution, and there was something awe-inspiring about the things that were going on. I think that the Romantics at that time responded to that and reflected that in their art. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, it’s a bit of a paradox but at the very time that the Industrial Revolution was kicking in the appreciation of nature became all the more intense. It’s as if the Romanticism was oppositional to industrialisation. But it was happening across all the arts. It was happening in music with Beethoven and musicians like that. It was happening in poetry with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, the great Romantic poets. And of course it was happening in painting with Turner, Constable and others. So, you have this discovery of nature and a sense of the individual finding freedom and beauty, a kind of truth, even, that Keats talks about, in a direct response to nature. This was quite new. Like you say, it seems to partly [be] a response to ideas of freedom and individual liberty that were coming out of France and the American Revolution, and also a kind of oppositional stance, I think, to industrialisation.

MdS: Blake’s dark, satanic mills.

Yes, that’s right.

MdS: Wordsworth spent a lot of time up in the Lake District just like Williams used to spend time down in the You Yangs.

That’s right, yeah. I think that feeling about nature is still with us. It can be expressed in different styles but the underlying content, the underlying idea, is the same. I don’t see any fundamental difference in the ideas that Fred Williams is advancing compared to earlier expressions in a more observational-based way. He is of course applying it to the Australian context, and so the landscape has [a] more scattered, afocal appearance. You don’t get that display of mountain scenery and whatever that’s associated with Turner and the Europeans. So, he’s wanting to apply the Romantics to an essentialist Australian landscape, which he views as flat, brown, dry, spacious, and non-picturesque. All those things sound not particularly Romantic, but the way in which he paints, the way in which he composes, the features, the colour, the use of paint, it’s all Romantic. And as I say, the way that your eye goes to the horizon line, taking you into deep space, it’s really an application of the sublime idea, which is European-derived, to the Australian landscape. And really that’s the great achievement. It’s a wonderful achievement. And sure, it’s true that the minimalist thing coming out of New York was also a major force of ideas for Fred, and he himself acknowledged that, but there’s no need for us to limit out appreciation of his work just to that historical moment in the 1960s.

MdS: It’s almost as if the minimalism as a quantity comes out of the landscape, rather than coming from New York.

Well, this is the thing. The reason why the work’s so convincing is that the idea coming from New York has a natural affinity with the Australian landscape as Fred saw it. The two kind of bond together. It doesn’t seem a forced idea. It doesn’t seem in any way alien. It seems to fit. It seems to fit the Australian landscape. This is why, quite justly, it was celebrated as an achievement in the 60s and 70s. Australians could see that it was new and that it amounts to something. But that sense of the sublime tended to be played down or entirely ignored. Partly because the sublime was an old idea, 200 years old, and the desire was to emphasise the new, the current, hence New York. And partly because the Romantic, it sort of, I suppose, in some ways, muddies the water a bit with the emphasis [being] on what’s happening “now”. But I think we’re far enough removed from that period to look at the broader context.

MdS: I agree. I think that your insight is particularly interesting, and I thank you very much for spending time talking to me.

Mark Dober, Fawcett's Gully 1, 112cm  x 380cm, 2016, watercolour on paper. Posted with the permission of the artist.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

'Yes to equality' sign, Crown Street, Surry Hills

Yesterday up in Surry Hills we had breakfast - mine was a salmon bagel and a flat white - in one of the many cafes there, then walked down to Oxford Street. My friend and I passed this clothing store, called Pigeonhole, and I snapped a photo of the sign in the window.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

'Yes' graffiti in Wentworth Park

Yesterday as I was walking back from Newtown down Bay Street I saw the word ‘Yes’ written in a familiar script on a construction site hoarding. And there it was again on a concrete stanchion nearby. Further north, in Wentworth Park, I saw it again and again written on the footpath as I headed home. The word was written in the same script as was used for so many years in the middle of last century by Arthur Stace. That word became historically important for the city, and the script was even trademarked. Now, it has been used for another historic moment in Sydney’s journey.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Do we need to legalise illicit substances?

Today in the Sydney Morning Herald there was another story about drug gangs laundering cash through Australia's big banks. A few weeks ago the same charge was leveled at the CBA only but now it seems there are other banks involved as well. This is a major story, involving three journalists. The second story is from 2011, and it took two journalists to write it. It's about the State Crime Commission, and it tells another tale of dysfunction: of an unaccountable organisation that operates outside any democratic control.

On the one hand in NSW we're paying expensive public servants a ton of money to fight so-called "crime" - the drug business is a classic example of a market finding ways to operate despite obstacles put in its way - and on the other hand the criminals they chase continue to find ways to conduct their business.

Demand from within the community continues unabated, as we know from stories in recent years about water treatment authorities that monitor the contents of our household waste. These measurements are part of an official program of scientific surveillance, the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, operated by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

It's ludicrous. We might scoff at the Americans and the virtual war they are prosecuting in Mexico - one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to operate in - but we are also wasting unimaginable quantities of resources in order to prop up outmoded ways of dealing with the use of "illicit" drugs. Drugs should be treated as a health issue, not as a crime.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

ACCC will look into damage from Facebook, Google to media

Last night the government's media reform laws were finally tagged for implementation after securing the support of Nick Xenophon, the independent from South Australia. The government had earlier secured support from the far-right One Nation for the laws. Labor would not support them, which necessitated the support of the cross-benchers. In return for his support, Xenophon has got the government to agree to hold an enquiry through the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the effect that American internet giants are having on Australia's media ecosystem. Xenophon today on TV spoke of "the crisis that occurs because of Google and Facebook", and said that when these companies use content made by people working in the media in Australia "there needs to be fair recompense for that". As he pointed out, this will be the first time anywhere in the world that such an enquiry has been undertaken. The laws are expected to pass through the Senate today.


IT movie balloon, Sydney

I snapped this photo at the beginning of last week just up the street, and I guess it did the job because I had never heard of the movie when I saw it. I haven't seen any clowns around the place, and anyway it's a pretty quiet neighbourhood apart from the hoons who scream up and down this road in their cars late at night on occasion. The movie is showing in cinemas here at the moment and it is getting mainstream media coverage. I am not a fan of horror movies, so I won't be going to see it.


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Fairfax corporate archives to go to State Library of NSW

About two weeks ago I sent an enquiry to Fairfax Media, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), about Archer Russell, a journalist and naturalist who died in 1960. Russell, I believed, was the editor of the ‘Outdoor Australia’ page of the Sydney Mail, a Fairfax publication that ran from 1860 to 1938. There are papers in the State library holdings under Russell’s name that suggest this was the case, including letters to the editor signed by people living around the state who wanted answers to questions they had.

That email wasn’t answered so on Monday I phoned the media liaison for the company and left a message. At the same time, I went to the SMH website and initiated a chat to ask for help. The SMH staffer on the chat function gave me the Readerlink email address, and I sent them an email with the same question I had asked earlier. This time there was a response, and I learned yesterday that the SMH corporate archives will be given to the State Library of NSW. “Next year you can look them up with the State Library,” they said.

This will be of interest to many people because Fairfax has been around since 1831. The company’s recent fortunes have led to it getting by without an on-staff archivist. A stark difference compared to the way things were in 1931, at the 100-year mark in the company’s corporate journey, when Fairfax published a big, fat book titled ‘A Century of Journalism: The Sydney Morning Herald and Its Record of Australian Life’. The foreword is signed “John Fairfax and Sons Limited, Proprietors [of] The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney Mail”. It’s an enormous book, running to over 800 pages, with an index and black-and-white photographs with captions.

Above: Russell and Marion, his wife, make camp on Cooltong Reach along the Murray River, as shown in this photograph. From ‘Murray Walkabout,’ Melbourne University Press, 1953.

The following is the transcript of an article published in the Murray Pioneer, October 1920:
On Monday morning (says The Register) Mr G. E. Archer Russell, traveller and writer, left Adelaide on what he termed “a little wander trip”, along the back track to Sydney. He purposes journeying up the Murray to the Murrumbidgee, whence he will cross the Riverina to the mountains and Sydney. Among other places comprised in his itinerary are Blanchetown, Renmark, Mildura, Yanco, and Burrinjuck, and later when Sydney has been reached, Mount Kosciusko and Canberra. He expects to be away about three months. Mr. Russell, besides having published books and articles on travel and nature in other parts, is the author of the series of the River Murray sketches, entitled “Gumland and River,” now running through the Saturday Journal. Mr. Russell has travelled unbeaten tracks in many parts of the world, notably in Africa and the further East. He intends to write a further book on his wanderings for publication in England. 
Mr. Russell is a very attractive writer, and his “Gumland and River sketches” (inspired by a sojourn at Berri) are among the best of their kind anyone has done.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Vaxxed rally, Martin Place

Up at Macquarie Street at lunchtime today there was a rally for the campaign against vaccination, with probably 100 people gathered around a speaker who used a PA system to amplify her words. There were also tables with printed material on them, with a petition for concerned citizens to sign on one table. I saw some signs placed around the thoroughfare, such as one which read "No jab, no play, no way", and another which said "Not all vaccines are safe". A man held a sign saying "Herd immunity? Individual rights override science and society! - UNESCO. Who has the rights?"

I heard some of what the woman with the mic was saying, near the end of her delivery. She said, "These politicians will have blood on their hands, without a doubt." She then started up a rallying chorus, getting the assembled crowd to repeat her words. The things she said included: "Where there's risk there must be choice," "Vaccines cause harm," "Please listen to our plight," "My child, my choice."


Monday, 11 September 2017

'Yes' for Marriage Equality rally, Town Hall

Yesterday as I was walking west on William Street, Woolloomooloo, there were people with rainbow signs, hats, flags and feather boas. The young, carnivalesque folk were walking west in the same direction as I was. The council’s rainbow banners were hanging along William Street.

At the corner of College Street I talked with a young man wearing a rainbow flag around his neck who told me about the rally at 1pm at Town Hall. He had heard about it on Facebook, he said. I headed down Park Street and merged with the thick crowds of people on the street. The mass of people got heavier the closer to George Street I moved, and I had to slow to a crawl outside Woolworths at the corner of George and Park. The store guard was busy managing the crowd, which spilled into the store.

I worked my way through the tightly-packed mass of people south onto George Street, and walked along to Bathurst Street. In Sydney Square there were thousands of people, 30,000 according to organisers ‘Yes for Marriage Equality’, and I asked a man there who had organised the rally.

On the street I saw people holding West Papuan and Chilean flags as well as rainbow flags, and there were rainbow banners mounted all the way down Bathurst Street. Bill Shorten, the Opposition leader, was there today addressing the crowd, I learned when I got home, because I didn't try to get into the square to see who was speaking. The ABC said there were “thousands” of people in the afternoon, in their news bulletin. On TV, Shorten congratulated the prime minister for backing the ‘Yes’ side.

A marriage equality rally was also held in Brisbane yesterday.



Above two photos: Walking west along William Street, Woolloomooloo.



Above two photos: Looking northwest from the southeast corner of George and Park Streets.


Above: Looking north toward Sydney Square and the Town Hall.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

George Gittoes exhibition, The Yellow House

Up at The Yellow House on MacLeay Street in Potts Point there is an exhibition of George Gittoes paintings until 29 September. I met with Waqar in the gallery and we talked for about ten minutes about Gittoes and his work. The last exhibition I went to by this artist was in 2007, and it was titled 'No Exit'. In that exhibition the works were pen-and-ink drawings. In the new exhibition the works are mainly oil paintings. This time, Waqar told me, the artist will be taking his new film to the US before it will be released for viewing in Australia. He also said there will be a screening on Netflix on 12 September of a documentary on Gittoes. Waqar comes from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.


Above: 'Bringing Heaven Down to Earth', 2015 ($18,000)


Above: 'Study for Two Worlds in Harmony', 2015 ($1800)


Above: 'Sufi sings out the dark and in with the light', 2016 ($2500)

Friday, 8 September 2017

New social housing plan in The Hills Shire

The photo shows an aerial view of the Castle Hill train station, currently under construction. The state government, in order to maximise the benefits of its new investment, has changed development restrictions along the rail corridor, raising the height to which dwellings can be built. As a result, groups of residents are selling combined lots of properties to developers for astronomical sums. Developers are then putting up blocks of flats for Sydney commuters.

But the local council has come up with a plan to leverage some of this activity for philanthropic purposes. The mayor, Yvonne Keane, has worked with developers, the state government, social housing providers, and the police to come up with a plan to provide “transitional housing” for people who find themselves without a home.

“For some time, I’ve been thinking of ways in which The Hills Shire Council might play a key role in delivering tools to help our community respond to domestic violence. We have a wonderful women’s shelter, The Sanctuary, but the missing link is transitional housing,” Mayor Keane said.

“Transitional housing provides safe, comfortable and secure accommodation for women and their children to recover, re-build and make informed and empowered decisions about their lives and their future.”

The way the plan - which is yet to be approved by the NSW government - will work, is that developers will give the council some of their new housing stock in applicable developments for a period of ten years to use for social housing. In return, the council will allow the developer to increase the number of units they build in each applicable development. This is what the Government News story calls “an ‘uplift’ in development yield”.

“The model allows for transition dwellings to be provided in well-located and serviced areas at no direct cost to council, federal and state governments and the community,” according to the story in Government News.

I have been writing a series of blogposts on homelessness on this blog, since July. The story the current post is based on appeared one day in my Facebook feed, in a clear case that the site is “listening” to me, and wants to deliver things to me that make me happy, so that I will spend more time on the site. This is what Mark Pesce calls “the weaponization of influence”.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Sign at Cuckoo Callay cafe, Surry Hills

On Monday I walked along Crown Street through Surry Hills from the south and took this photo. The sign was there on the pavement again today. On the obverse of the sign there's another message: "I'm interested in fitness. Fitness whole burger in my mouth." Chuckles aside, I thought today was a good opportunity to put up this photo because the High Court has just decided that the government's postal survey asking for the popular view on marriage equality could go ahead. O frabjous day!


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Protective barriers, Pyrmont Bridge

This morning workmen were installing steel bollards on the western edge of Pyrmont Bridge. The barriers come after official decisions to change the streetscape to prevent terrorist attacks on pedestrians. The City of Sydney has already placed several enormous concrete barriers on the pavement in Martin Place. Such plans are taking shape in the wake of an attack in Melbourne in January this year, when a man drove a stolen car in a pedestrian mall, killing people, and equally destructive attacks in Europe in recent times that were linked to Islamic State.


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Weekend operation of the Pyrmont Bridge

On Sunday I went for a walk and took the route that goes across the Pyrmont Bridge into town. When I was near the middle I saw that one of the gates used to close the thoroughfare when the bridge opens - it has this special swing mechanism that displaces part of the span so that, in the old days, ships could get in and out of Cockle Bay - had been shut. I sped up my pace and then asked the city ranger standing next to the gate if there was a reason for opening the bridge. He said they open the bridge for tourists on Saturdays and Sundays. "We do it four times," he went on, at 10.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm. Over the loudspeaker installed on the bridge I heard the announcement. "The historic Pyrmont Bridge is about to open for a scheduled demonstration."


Monday, 4 September 2017

Roxanne the dog, Pitt Street Mall

Yesterday I stopped by to say hello to Roxanne and her owner where they were sitting on the pavement in Pitt Street Mall, and after giving the man five dollars I asked how the dog was doing. "She keeps jumping on people," he said. "Central police said that if she keeps jumping on people they're going to put me in jail and put her down." Roxanne took a drink of water out of the full ice cream container that was on the ground, and ambled over to sniff at my shoes placidly. You often see police in pairs standing over some poor devil sitting on the pavement outside a shopping centre with the pedestrians walking around them, oblivious.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

Gayageum player, Darling Harbour

This young woman was playing the Korean instrument today sitting in the sun on the pavement as pedestrians walked around her. She had the cover of the instrument on the pavement with a collection of coins on it, and a sign with her contact details written on it in front of her on top of the cover. I gave her the change that was in my pocket and stood listening to her for about five minutes. The instrument is similar to the Chinese guzheng and the Japanese koto. You play the instrument by plucking the strings with one hand while the other hand moves back and forth and up and down the soundboard, shortening the intervals of the strings. I felt a bit sorry for the woman because it was hot in the sun in early spring but she seemed to be comfortable enough to carry on.


Performance art, Martin Place

As I approached the northern extremity of Pitt Street Mall I heard a brass band playing somewhere down the street, so instead of turning up King Street to go up the hill I continued along Pitt Street. Near Martin Place I could see from a distance there was a group of people and I could also see some placards being held in the air. As I got closer I could see that the members of the band I had heard playing 'The animals went in two by two' - a well-known song from long ago - were standing in a line holding their instruments, but they were not playing them any more. Also on the footpath were some young people in red T-shirts holding clipboards, and they were talking to people passing in the street as though they were doing a survey. As I came around the corner into Martin Place I could see a line of young people standing silently holding blank placards in front of the fountain (as you can see in the first photo).


Soundlessly, after standing there for a while, the line of people began to move in procession up the hill past the office buildings on the grey pavement. They then reformed further up Martin Place and stood dispersed on a flat part of the thoroughfare next to some stairs (as you can see in the second photo). Some of the young people faced south, others faced west, and one was even lying down on the pavement on his back. The band, meanwhile, had also moved up the hill and stood, as before, in a line beside one of the office buildings playing music.



A young man with a satchel and with a label around his neck on a lanyard was standing facing the line of young people and I asked him if he was involved in the performance. He said he was, and told me that the name of the artist responsible for the performance is Anne Collod. He also gave me a booklet with information about his organisation, La Magnanerie, when I told him I wanted to blog about the event. Anne Collod's performance is a recreation of Anna Halpin's Blank Placard Dance, which was first performed in 1967 at the time of the Vietnam War. The booklet says that Collod's performance is on alongside the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, but according to Wikipedia this event was last on in 2016 and news reports online say the Opera House discontinued the series. Now, they have a new series of events called Antidote, where the website indeed has a page for Collod's performance.

The young man who gave me the booklet, whose name is Martin Galamez, told me that all the people involved in the performance were recruited locally, including the band, which is called Riff Raff.

The people with clipboards talking with pedestrians on the street, the young man called "collectors". "What is the meaning of protests in the city?" Martin said, referring to the blank placards, when I asked if the protest had to do with the emancipation of women. The collectors were collecting the things people want to protest about. The suggestions were posted at the Opera House today. I asked how long they would stay there but Martin didn't know. He said that Collod arrived in Sydney on Wednesday to set up the performance but would just be here as a tourist from today.

The booklet says that La Magnanerie is a multidisciplinary production office.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Getting the first interview transcribed

The little demon in the photograph is my foot switch and it lives under my desk on the floor. It connects to the PC via one of the USB ports, and is nothing less than essential for the journalistic process. Every media practitioner needs one of these. Yesterday I transcribed an 18-minute interview - part of the work toward my first story since relaunching to work as a freelancer - and the task took around two hours. I cannot imagine how long it would have taken without this device. But it took a good while to get it set up the way I needed it to be set up.

I initially went down to the local office supplies store last month to look for a digital voice recorder. The sales people in the store didn't know enough to help me even though they had some Olympus models in stock, so I phoned a specialist transcription company that also sells equipment. They recommended a kit including the RS-28H foot switch (which works correctly with Windows 10 computers) and the Express Scribe transcription software, in addition to the voice recorder and the phone pick-up mic that I needed. I paid with a credit card and the parcel arrived the next day.

But the software refused to recognise the foot switch, even after the retailer gave me detailed instructions to follow designed to enable me to configure it, so I got in touch with Olympus directly. (Their Twitter account is monitored on a daily basis but it's not a happy medium. It's not really fast enough to use this method of contact when you are in a hurry.) The customer service people eventually called me back and told me what I needed was the ODMS Transcription Module, which the same retailer sold me for an additional sum. It cost me $670 all-up for all the gear.

Suffice to say that the Olympus software identified the Olympus foot switch immediately and let me configure it straight away, and correctly. The Express Scribe software had failed completely, ending up having the left pedal fast-forwarding when I need it to rewind. So from go to woe it took two-and-a-half weeks to get the first transcription done.

And I think transcribing is an essential part of the job. It's not good enough to farm out the work to a transcription company, because the results will not be reliable enough to use in your story. People don't talk in complete sentences, the way they may often write in complete sentences. There are ellipses and hesitations, false starts and a good amount of "filler": the causal words we put in (often at the beginning of a sentence) to help us orient our ideas around the topic at hand.

There is also the issue of technical jargon which, as a journalist working on a story, you will be gradually becoming acquainted with, but that someone with no knowledge of the topic would probably be ignorant of. You also have to consider the appropriate use of punctuation. This can be something that you have your own rules for, or for which you follow external guidelines such as an industry style guide. Different publications will have their own ways of handling things like ellipses, quotes etcetera.

So being able, for example, to rewind the recording and review what someone has said on it, is essential if you want to get clean copy at the end. And you really have to do it yourself to get the accuracy you need.

Doing it yourself instead of paying someone else to do it also helps you to become reacquainted with the material you need to write your story. This pause for refreshment can be helpful because it can give you new ideas and assist you to organise your thoughts in preparation for forming the story. I think that doing your own transcriptions is part of good media practice, and if asked I would recommend every journalist do it themselves.


Friday, 1 September 2017

Pedestrian bridges, Liverpool Street

The work crew operating this earth mover must have experienced that sinking feeling today when they burst this pipe. The water was streaming down the pavement, when the photo was taken around lunch time, heading toward Harbour Street. There are busy workmen all over the place in Darling Harbour right at the moment as the council is removing the perfectly functional brick pavers that have been there forever and replacing them with perfectly functional cement pavers. A good use of public money? You might very well ask that question.