Hold the front page

Knowing how newspapers work on the inside, and sometimes wishing that I didn’t, it is a fair bet that all newspapers had two versions of Page One ready to run after the second State of Origin. It’s a hell of a tight deadline, with commercial television stringing it out so they can catch the morning audiences in the UK and stack the broadcast with as many ads as possible. The game didn’t start until 8.15, so it would have been tight going for rugby league writers to file their finished match reports.
Mind you, they are all seasoned pros who file rugby league reports under these sorts of conditions every week from February to September. They write to a formula so it isn’t high art, but they can come up with a pithy summary like this one, in Thursday’s Sunshine Coast Daily: “High shots, late hits, forearms and facials figured in almost every tackle as each side tried to gain a physical edge,” wrote Wayne Heming. Nice, although I can imagine my Canadian friends puzzling over “facials”. I can imagine Media Watch having a jolly time panning The Courier Mail’s consecutive front page splashes this week – on Wednesday (a maroon wrap around with just one word “Believe.”) On Thursday, Page One morphed into a breezy tribute to the Sunshine State, saying that the Blues (that’s New South Wales if you come from somewhere else), might have won their first State of Origin series in nine years, but Queenslanders are winners because we have better weather, better food and better lifestyle (than where?). Who knows what they would have done had something truly newsworthy occurred overnight, prompting a late Page One makeover. (Military junta takes control in New Zealand – Abbot repeals Howard’s gun laws).
The Courier-Mail’s first State of Origin game day edition was printed arse-about, with sport on the front page and news on the back. I was curious, as I don’t think I’d ever seen it done, so I turned to what would have been page three and there was the infamous picture of Kate Middleton, accidently showing a fair bit of leg, along with a non-story about the photographer having a pang of conscience and (almost) not selling the paparazzi shot of the year.
Crikey, what tosh, as my mate Lyn says. For another dollar fifty, we could have a coffee in the UpFront Club and read The Range News for nothing. At least then I can find out why Council is digging holes in my street and whether our hinterland bus service will last another year. Now that’s worth Page One around here.

Mining the Keating Reserves

We discovered a bottomless pit of Australian political history while mining data for this week’s Friday on My Mind. I searched “Paul Keating opens McArthur River Mine” because I could not remember the year it happened. What I found was a Federal Government archive of all speeches made by Australian prime ministers. I asked my trusty ideologue and research assistant Little Brother to plough this fallow field. He remarked: “Mate, that’ll be like pushing a barrow load of bricks along the Canning Stock Route.”
Paul Keating flew in the RAAF VIP jet to a tiny private airstrip at McArthur River, one of the early fly-in fly-out operations, to officiate at the mine opening in September 1995. He was welcomed by the then owners, Mt Isa Mines and a Japanese consortium (Nippon, Mitsui and Marubeni). Keating was asked to open the McArthur River zinc mine because the Commonwealth had made it possible, buying Bauhinia Downs cattle station and giving it to the Gurdanji people as part of a compensation package that included mining jobs.
The Feds also spent $6 million diverting the road around the Borroloola Aboriginal Community “to make this a much more pleasant project for them”. Zinc concentrate from McArthur River is transported by road to the company’s Bing Bong loading facility where it is loaded onto barges and transported to ships in the Gulf of Carpentaria. When I attended the opening, scribbling away in my notebook, promises were made about ensuring the trucks making the 100 km road trip would have their loads of zinc/lead concentrate covered and fully secured.
These days McArthur River mine is owned by international mining giant Glencore which like all such companies focuses on maximising volume and keeping production costs down.
Paul Keating’s 1995 speech made much of Australia’s then still powerful commercial relationship with Japan and made comparisons between the egalitarianism which existed in both countries. (Comments in parenthesis are by Little Brother)
“I would say to our colleagues in Japan, I hope they understand that when they deal with an Australian business, and I’m sure they do, that it is real and it will be here in five years or 10 years or 15 years (right so far, Paul) and that when you do business with Australia, you don’t wake up in the morning, some morning, to find a general in charge of the country, that it is the solid democracy, that our word matters (semi-colon) that you can litigate your interests here in our courts and like you (comma) we are a democracy and also like you we don’t have a two-tiered society. We used to have the remnants of our failed upper class, they have disappeared (oh yeah?), thankfully, into obscurity.”
Little Brother sighs: “That bloke could talk under wet cement.”
No doubt the articulate, quick-thinking Keating would have ad libbed his way through the prepared text. I do recall he did not tarry long at McArthur River, jetting off to another in a series of ribbon snippings to promote One Nation, (not to be confused with the right wing political party launched by Pauline Hanson in 1997). Keating’s One Nation was a programme of infrastructure works carried out from 1991 to 1996, including the single gauge rail from Brisbane to Perth via Melbourne and the Brisbane Airport international terminal.
I’d like to thank Paul for unwittingly providing me with fodder for Deadly Diary, all these years later, and for unwittingly participating in my song Paul Who, which satirises the (male) cult of personality. You have to say he was one of our more colourful PMs. Political life in Australia must indeed be dreary when brief TV interviews with Keating, Malcolm Fraser and even John Howard seem vital and perspicacious by comparison with the present lot.



Every story deserves a picture

Winton sunset
Winton sunset by Laurel Wilson

Other people at the Winton caravan park were trying to get the same sunset photo of a horse in a paddock. I took a few with my Iphone but none were as good as the one taken by Laurel Wilson. Our mate Giulio Saggin, photo editor for ABC online, wrote and asked if he could include it in the audience submitted photos section of the website. Flattering as that may be, news organisations who offer this kind of “exposure” do not pay their contributors. Our local paper the Sunshine Coast Daily publishes a reader’s picture Monday to Saturday. Same deal, you get the byline and the thrill of seeing your work in print, but sorry, no cash.

As we noted in an earlier column, there are 31 million mobile phones in Australia and all have cameras, some rivalling the most expensive digital cameras. If you are first on the scene at an accident or newsworthy event, your Iphone photo will be on page 3 tomorrow or even in today’s online edition. You may or may not get paid.

News photography is not the life-time career it once was and the smart snappers figured that out years ago, drifting off into photo-journalism, free-lancing, specialisation and book publishing. The aforementioned Giulio Saggin is one such entrepreneurial snapper. His evocative book So I Did captures black and white images of everyone who gave him a lift on a hitch-hiking trip around Australia in 1998. Giulio has done a few other things since then. His current gig as photo editor for ABC, is a classic case of a job that did not exist 10 years ago.
Back in 1995 I was among a small contingent of journalists flown to Mt Isa, Darwin and eventually, to Borroloola in the Northern Territory and next day to the McArthur River mine, which was due to be officially opened by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. I remember this well, as it was my first ever taste of the top end (it took 12 hours to get there by commercial airliner, private jets and a bus).

The miners put on an NT barbie with buffalo, kangaroo, crocodile and barramundi and they opened the wet canteen for the regulation couple of hours. There I met an unusual character, a fiercely independent free-lance photographer who clocked up huge mileages every year taking assignment-specific and what the trade calls “stock” photos around the top end. He was constantly on the road, this bloke, saving news media outlets the hideous expense of sending photographers from Sydney or Melbourne on an outback assignment.
Who knows what this enterprising fellow is doing now, but clearly his business model will have changed. Recent developments suggest that all news organisations, Fairfax in particular, plan to lay off full-time photographers and rely more on agencies and the few determined free-lancers still in the game. There is just too much competition and the agencies that pay have all but given up the fight to chase people republishing material in blogs and on Facebook without permission or attribution.
The BBC reported in March this year that Getty Images, the world’s largest photo agency, would release up to 35 million photos free to use. This move, said to be an effort to combat piracy, infuriated professionals who have been submitting their work to Getty for years.
Photography journalist Daniela Bowker told the BBC News website her Twitter feed lit up as angry photographers vented their feelings.
“They feel very strongly about that because photographers don’t work for free and they don’t work for exposure.”
“But at the same time, the genie is out of the bottle. There are so many images that are being shared and liked and tweeted and clicked on.”
Getty will continue to charge “commercial users” like news outlets, televisions stations and advertisers, to use images. But some images may never be used commercially and the photographers who took them will never get paid.
Maleny photographer Steve Swayne has taken some stunning pictures of the outback on his lengthy tours. He says it is now too difficult to make a living taking photographs.
“About two years ago the image agency I use (Getty Images) radically changed their royalty policies and now the income that used to be up to $700 for a photo for use in advertising has diminished to a few dollars per image.

“The proliferation of good DSLR cameras means that millions of people have the gear and are willing to sell their photos for a few dollars due to the flattery angle as much as anything. Lots of agencies now scour the internet to find suitable photos and then they approach the photographer to use the original full sized image.”
Some former newspaper journalists I keep in touch with occasionally get ticked off with the whole business to the point where they vocalise on Facebook. The most recent kerfuffle was when Tennis Australia opened up opportunities for “volunteers” to take photographs during the two-week Australian Open. A special Facebook page was set up “Tennis Australia – pay your photographers” which attracted 967 “likes.” Tennis Australia (no doubt horrified by the Facebook outrage), issued a statement which described their initiative as more of a way of encouraging an army of young photographers to gain high level experience and that (of course) TA would continue to employ professional photographers.
Dr Sabrina Caldwell,  thinks professional photographers are in the same position as someone reapplying for their own job.
“They have to show that they can create better things than others. They need an edge not just over others, but over who they once were.”

Tandem Surfers – photo by Jon Toogood

I took my brother-in-law Jon to Kings Beach Caloundra when he was over here from Canadia. We were watching a couple doing a tandem surfing exhibition for a television crew. While Jon got a couple of great photos with a telephoto lens, what interested us was the film crew’s remote-controlled helicopter camera. Anyone can buy one of these helicopters for as little as $160 (you also need one of those tiny sports cameras and attach it to the chopper). Of course you can pay thousands for sophisticated models which come with 20 megapixel cameras. Whatever the level, it is demonstrably cheaper and easier to take aerial photos and video using a remote-controlled drone than it is to commission a professional aerial photographer.

As for the privacy issues…well, that’s a topic for another Friday



Perils of the click track

I’m enjoying regaining all those lovely shimmering high frequencies my audiologist says are gone forever. All I have to do is wear these smart hearing aids that adjust automatically to zoom in on what they think you’re listening to – like the person opposite you in a noisy coffee shop. That was interesting, working in the studio yesterday. You have to listen to a click track and try to follow it. It gets harder later when you over-dub a vocal. I was doing OK until we did one of my songs that slows to half-time at the beginning of verses and picks up the tempo on the third line. That is so easy to do when you’re playing live. But recording a guitar track first then trying to make the vocal fit – that’s an entirely different process. We got there in the end. My producer Pix then wasn’t all that happy with my next guitar track as it didn’t sound “awesome” like my home demo. Thinks: why not produce the home demo then? It’s not that easy. My home recording system is incompatible with software based programmes like Pro Tools and QBase. Nevertheless I now have to extract my two guitar tracks from the demo and we are going to try to replicate that in the studio (next week). It’s all to do with the “feel” or the “vibe.” As all songwriters know, turning out an ambient, cruisy version of your newest song at home, when you’re still all excited about it and it shows in your voice, changes quite a bit when you’re alone in a sound booth, trying not to think about what a wasted hour costs in a professional studio when you’re not completely prepared.
All producers and sound engineers will do their best with all your songs, but when one particular song excites them, they will be so far into the detail you’ll be sick to death of it the time you’re done. That’s how it is for Bed 27 – Pix loves it and I’m glad he does because the few people I have played the demo to have given me the “It’s a bit much, isn’t it?” raised eyebrow look.
So now I have to revisit my multi-tracked home demo from six months ago and work out what the hell I was doing. I’ve never played the song live, so in a way it is like giving birth when nobody knew you were pregnant.
Meanwhile we now have 12 songs “bedded down” which means other musicians can come in and add their creativity to the songs with no issues about tempo or out of tune instruments. My Maton six-string has a serious intonation problem so I have been borrowing other people’s guitars for this project, although my Yamaha 12-string is getting a work-out. We’re off on a three month road trip in a couple of weeks* so there won’t be time to do the other three songs – maybe some vocals and harmonies on the others. So we’ll come back in late September and take up where we left off. You can’t rush these things!
Whether you have done a lot of studio recording or none at all, I hope you find these insights useful. Songwriters tend to be too controlling about their material. I was lucky in a way that a 25-year career in journalism where editors are sometimes literally looking over your shoulder and saying “That’s boring as bat-shit, Bobby,” makes you less precious about changing lyrics. If you meet a sound engineer/producer you feel right about working with, you’re half-way there. Now go home and spend six months doing home demos and knocking those half-done songs into shape.
*lucky house-sitters!