According to Greg Barns in yesterday’s Crikey, Liberal Leader contender Malcolm Turnbull is something of a workaholic:
The one thing that stands out in my memory of the stint I had with Turnbull all those years ago was his indefatigability. This is a man who sends you emails at 3am. He is someone who constantly churns out ideas, strategies and missives to his staff. Turnbull works and works and works and travels, travels and travels for the cause. It does not matter what hour of the day. Just assume that Malcolm will be thinking and working. Of course he does sleep. But he struck me as being in the mould of Margaret Thatcher – requiring little sleep in order to function effectively.
Kevin Rudd, the PM elect, is much the same. As Barns wrote for exhilarating.Inspiring, even. But it’s also, for those of us who like to occasionally do things with our time that don’t involve working (like sleep, eat and have social lives) kind of intimidating.
Still. Makes me want to stay up until 3am every morning working, just like Ruddikens and the Turnster.
“I don’t care if they are consenting adults. That sort of behaviour is totally illegal.”—My editor, Jose, on Kevin Rudd’s new Facebook profile pic (which shows him and his wife Therese inserting the same Senate paper into the ballot box).
“Attention attention, this is a test only. Attention attention, this is a test only on the public address facility. Testing 1-2, testing 1-2. Thank you.”—That would be the fifth message we’ve had over our building’s broadcast system this morning. I feel like I’m in North Korea. The great leader has spoken.
“I once had dinner with Ruddbot years ago and he left suddenly - before the food arrived - when a spot on Lateline opened up at the last minute. At the time, I thought him a workaholic. Now I know the truth: he could not allow any human to watch him eat.”—the brilliant Annabel Crabb, in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald
(Silly title purely to increase the chances of someone actually reading this post.)
To top off an extremely nerdy week, I spent Friday night at the UTS Public Right To Know conference - talking about online media and the election with Chris Nash (pictured with me below) and Mark Bahnisch (who took both of the photos below).
My talk focussed specifically about social networking media, the key points being:
- That some of the values being developed in the social networking sphere (for example, transparency and self-revelation) are in direct contradiction with the values of the tightly managed political sphere. So if politicians aren’t using the net as well as we’d like them to, it’s not because they’re too out of touch to understand online media, so much as because the above contradiction makes it difficult for them to engage with it.
- That it is not the public who take issue with politicians committing the kind of minor indiscretions most human beings do (we just made a man who visited a strip club and picked his earwax on camera Prime Minister — but again, how many people can say they’ve never done at least one of those?), but rather other politicians and the news media — who jump at the chance to cover anything that deviates from the campaign script.
- That, on social networking websites, users interact more intimately with a broader variety of acquaintances than they do offline — which means that they’re also exposed to and given an impetus to engage with a broader range of political views. That being said, the state of my own Facebook friends list this afternoon would suggest that the range sometimes isn’t all that broad.
Chris also made a couple of points that I’d like to pick up on. I’m personally very interested in the decline of anonymity online, a shift I see as having both positive and negative impacts. Chris, however, who spoke about the psephological bloggerPossum Comitatus, believed that the web’s tradition of anonymity was a strength: it made both readers and writers focus on the quality of the information rather than the person delivering it, and it also made bloggers/journos more fearless in what they wrote (something I’d like to write more about at a later date).
Like Wired’s Chris Anderson (and others), he also drew historical comparisons between the arguably post-mass media age of the net and those that came before it, drawing a parallel with the freedom of the printing press before it became factory (and accordingly advertising) reliant.
Like the early printing press, no one’s really found a business model that works for the online journalism yet. As a journalist working in online media, I obviously have an interest in them finding one, but Nash’s parallel made me wonder: is the reason the net is still ‘free’ because it has no business model? And would creating one mean raising the costs of entry, which would result in less information and accessibility for us all as users.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a political editor, there’s little I love more than a good election. In fact, when I was in third year uni and wrote my own version of ‘My Favourite Things’, elections were the first thing on the list.
Elections and O-Week and twenty-firsts and dancing… These are a few of my favourite things
I think there’s some innate human thrill to evaluating your options and then arranging them in order from first through to last (think Australian Idol or Big Brother if this is sounding too nerdy for words), and it’s even better if the act of doing so has the effect of potentially changing the country. I love debating exact preferencing intentions with friends and family, planning ‘election day outfits’ (although tomorrow I’ll probably just vote in my gym gear), and smiling and chatting with the campaigners at the polls.
So, tomorrow should be quite fun. If you’re lacking something to do in the evening, I suggest heading over to NewMatilda.com’s Rumble At The Ballot Box, at the Bat & Ball on Cleveland St. All the cool kids (well, the ones who won’t be at the official political Party parties) will be there.
Last night I went to this, a new alternative-style conference created by these guys. It was inspiring, thought-provoking and, as I always like to say, “well executed,” with cheese and chocolate stands in the intermission and free second-hand books upon arrival. Always great to see new cool things happening around Sydney.
A friend of mine said today that she didn’t really have a problem with girls/women prioritising their relationships with guys/men above their relationships with their friends, because romantic/sexual relationships held the promise of love, marriage, children and someone who would travel overseas with you if you asked them to.
They have the potential to offer life partnership in a way that very few friendships do.
It’s cynical, I know, but I think the reason a lot of people prioritise romantic relationships (however fleeting those relationships may comparatively be) is because they want validation. Sexual attention not only feels good physically; it also affirms the ego. Sexual and romantic attention has an ability to make people feel loved and valued (and kind of thrilled) in a way that most platonic relationships don’t.
It’s funny really, how short our attention spans are these days.
I want to write a book. Not just “a” book, but a great book — the kind of book that makes you reconsider how you view certain elements of the world, and makes you want to underline sections here and there in the hope of capturing, or at least remembering, them.
I also know myself well enough to know that the only way I’ll ever write the requisite 60,000 words is if I have someone or something on my back forcing me to write them. I’m a deadline-oriented kind of gal, and without that pressure, I’ll just go and find myself other, more immediate, deadlines to commit to.
So I’m investigating ways to create that kind of pressure and motivation. And it turns out that the process might take two years.
Two years. It sounds like such a long time. Couldn’t it be done in, say, I don’t know, six months, like loads of other books seem to be? But then, that kind of quick turnaround might reveal something about why so many books are, well, not that great. Not that revelatory. Kind of half-baked.
Because I haven’t sucked up enough to a certain publishing house this week, I want to refer to an essay Drusilla Modjeska wrote last year, in a magazine a friend of mine likes to call The Rag (because, like a woman’s menstrual cycle, it happens once a month).
Time was much on the minds of the over-fifties I consulted for this essay… all agreed that for them there was time; there was latitude in the years that could be taken for research, the journey could be traveled for its own value, with all its detours and byways, and there was rarely the felt pressure of money on the editing process. There was once the possibility — the respected possibility — of a book taking five, ten, or twenty years. Not now, under a regime of publish-or-perish.
No, now six-months-to-a-year sounds a far more sensible timeline. But I guess the thing is, truly good work does take time, and it does take a substantial investment. The question is whether you’re willing to make it.
I know about nature’s principles (no free lunches), and I’ve never liked the aesthetic of consumerism. But I do travel in aeroplanes. I wouldn’t care for a life without aeroplanes in it.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? How to give up something you’ve become habituated to, that underpins the structure of your life… How to imagine a society based on the ethics not just of moderation, but of self-sacrifice.
As someone who makes a point of calling out certain male friends’ unconscious, socially-ingrained sexism, I found the first half of this article really interesting.
Of course, back when Alison Owings and Hillary Clinton were growing up, it wasn’t simply a matter of “Who is the most appropriate person for this intellectually rigorous position? Why, another white man, of course!” but rather “New York says a woman can’t write news” and “A woman has no place in a newsroom.”
(Because writing news is like performing brain surgery, and the small, slow-functioning cogs inside women’s heads can’t cope with it.)
In a world where, unconscious (and sometimes conscious, but fortunately not in the places I’ve worked) sexism aside, women are treated and respected equally, such comments sound like they happened in another world.
Workwise, I tend to follow a fairly predictable cycle.
It goes something like this: work ridiculously hard on a project until I am utterly exhausted; take a ‘break’ (still working, but not consuming my nights and weekends) until I’m not burnt out anymore; feel restless and desiring of a new ‘project’ to throw myself into; take up said project and revel in the heady buzz of overwork; start to feel burnt out; finish project and start the cycle all over again.
(Socially, the cycle is similar, but somewhat shorter: stupidly busy week; normal week; stupidly busy week; normal week; and so on.)
After my last big projectlaunched (eight months in the making), I found myself so exhausted and incapable of whipping up enthusiasm for extracurricular work that, for the first time in about five years, I actually made weekends entirely ‘off’ periods (as opposed to semi-‘off’ periods where I didn’t have to do work if I didn’t feel like it, but would usually end up doing something anyway).
Then, fairly recently, I started to get a little bored, longing for a side project to throw my creative energies into.
Well, if there’s one thing I’m grateful to this election campaign for (pre-conclusion, at least), it’s for snapping me out of that stupor by throwing several projects (PollieGraph, Sunday Age column, freelance writing and speaking) my way and exhausting me all over again so that I don’t take up any ill-advised projects I don’t have time for.
I might just take up a well-advised project, though. But more on that a little later.
In praise of television. Well, in praise of television writers.
You may be aware that there’s a writers’ strike happening in the US at the moment. You might also be aware that it looks set to shut down television production if not for the rest of the season, then at least temporarily.
Given the massive role US-produced television continues to play in Western culture, even in this age of the internet, this is no small thing. No more Desperate Housewives. No more Heroes. No more shows that I haven’t discovered I liked because they haven’t yet aired in Australia.
This has the potential to (temporarily) completely change the face of television in the US, and in countries that rely on US-produced TV (such as, again, Australian).
The good thing about the writers’ strike, though, from my perspective, is that it’s drawn attention to how these shows that are so much a part of our life are actually created.
Compared with authors or bylined journalists, screenwriters are a fairly under-the-radar bunch. It’s easy to consume their work without registering the people who created it. But without them, the clever, witty, complexly woven worlds that characterise the best of modern television wouldn’t exist. Good writers are the difference between Veronica Mars, Buffy or the early, better seasons of The OC, and an amateur-produced clip on YouTube — and they’re the reason that 99 times out of 100, the amateur-produced clip can’t compete.
These people are bloody geniuses.
So please give them their payrises, so we can all go back to enjoying their artfully produced work.
“Facebook is about who you know, whereas MySpace is about who you are,” a friend remarked on Saturday night when I told her how much more interesting Australian politicians’ MySpace profiles were than their Facebook ones.
At the time I read her comment as being in the vein of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” (and thus an assertion that interactions on Facebook were shallower than those on MySpace — I would argue just the opposite), but on reflection, I think it’s really about the ways the two outwardly very similar sites are used.
Both MySpace and Facebook are about interacting with the outside world, but they do it in different ways and have different strengths.
Facebook is better at keeping you connected to what you already know — keeping up to date with friends, exchanging messages and so on.
MySpace (in my experience, at least) is better at connecting you to what you don’t yet know: interesting arts projects, publications, club nights, bands, designers and all the people and communities around them. Because it’s more open, it’s less private: which means I’d never have a personal conversation on it, but also means I’m more willing to traverse a labyrinth of connections (and add total strangers) to connect myself to the wider community.
How this relates to ‘who you know versus who you are’ is on the self-expression front. A lot of self-expression takes place on Facebook, but most of it’s geared towards communicating with the people on your friends list: chatting with them, comparing them, exchanging photos from the party you attended together last weekend.
MySpace is more introspective — ‘artistic’ profile shots, customised layouts, ‘witty’ blurbs. On MySpace, you discover who the person is through the profile; on Facebook, you discover it more slowly, through your interaction with them.
Of course, most politicians don’t bother interacting with their friends on Facebook (or, I suspect, on MySpace), which is why their profiles are so dull. At least on MySpace you have first-person written blurbs and the occasional blog post to give you a sense of the person you’re reading about.
My friend also made the interesting point that politicians’ Facebook profiles existed more for the people who added them (enabling them to express their preference for a candidate), whereas MySpace profiles were more about the candidate.
Atoosa Rubenstein, former editor of CosmoGirl and Seventeen, is an undeniably savvy operator and a bit of a contemporary editrix icon.
Her post-magazine online venture is still yet to entirely take shape (so far it’s just Atoosa posting blogs to MySpace and videos to YouTube), but the underlying concept is pure marketing genius: it’s all about the ‘alpha kitty.’
The concept is clever because it’s almost universally appealing. According to Rubenstein, alpha kitties are “brave, intuitive, fierce, passionate” but also feminine and girly. Sophia Coppola, Gwen Stefani, Gloria Steinem and (bizarrely) Prince William are all among their ranks.
Who wouldn’t want to be one? And the best part is, all you need to do to be an alpha kitty is self-declare.
Shallow ‘you go girl’ attempts at female empowerment aside, the real reason I’m writing about Atoosa is because I belatedly came across one of her recent YouTube videos (below), on how to avoid gaining the Freshman 15.
Rubenstein’s videos, if you haven’t seen them, quote from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, followed by comments from Atoosa on the issue in question. In the offending video, Atoosa advises viewers who watch their weight to “try the Andy Warhol New York City Diet,” which basically involves ordering food you don’t like at restaurants, not eating it, and giving it to a homeless person afterwards.
Atoosa’s commentary starts off innocently enough. She writes:
You are what you eat. Whole, fresh foods are the way to go.
Then she ruins it by going on to say:
I think [Warhol’s diet] is a really interesting way to be social, be around food, give to the homeless, and watch your waistline while you’re at it. It’s very alpha kitty. Helping people… and helping ourselves at the same time.
Um, no. Ordering food you hate for dinner and not eating it is not the sign of a fearless, confident woman. How about ordering something you do like - but which is also healthy - instead? And actually eating it.
Rubenstein has a point that talking about good nutrition has become a bit of a taboo on the feel-good end of the women’s magazine market, but this kind of video is a perfect example of why it’s become a taboo. For a healthier, more productive way of covering the issue, see the ‘Body & Soul makeover’ in the current Girlfriend, or Kaz Cooke’s Girl Stuff, which I’ve reviewed for an upcoming edition of the Saturday Age.
As a book reviewer, I’m frequently sent free books. Working at a fashion magazine a couple of years back, I scored enough free lipsticks to last me until, well, around a month ago. Last year I went on a two-day junket to Adelaide.
And I don’t think any of the above has influenced my coverage. For starters, I don’t actually write about lipstick. I never ended up writing anything from said junket either (although I do tell anyone who’ll listen about the quality of the lobster we were served with dinner). And while I usually end up enjoying the books I review more than I expected to, that I got them for free honestly plays no part in that.
Then, today, I found myself invited to (what seemed to be, at least) a glamorous three-course Melbourne Cup lunch at a hotel in CBD, by an organisation I intend to write about in the next couple of weeks.
I didn’t go. I’m sure their intentions were innocent enough, but I knew that attending would compromise my coverage of said organisation, and make it more difficult to cast the critical eye over their work that I want and need to.
You see, as others have written in the past, there is an element of betrayal to a lot of good (and important) journalism. Journalists have a responsibility to call things as they see them, even if that means writing negative things about people to whom, on a human level, they wish to do no harm.
I knew that if I took a free lunch from this organisation, writing a critical story only a week or two later would seem too great a betrayal for me to be comfortable with. So I didn’t go.
But my decision not to go got me thinking about all the stories out there that are inspired by freebies and junkets (many of the ones about lipstick and anti-ageing creams, for example). This month’s (soon to be last month’s) issue of Madison has two of them: one about their Beauty Director’s recent trip to Monaco, and one about their Living/Entertaining team’s trip to Byron Bay. Beautiful and envy-inspiring stories, to be sure, but not exactly the height of independent journalism.