stuss

All quiet…

Simone hasn’t posted since Monday. Stuss has posted just once this week, while Ben has posted just once today. Izaac has posted twice. Tim and Ben (Bathgates.net) once. The usually reliable Craig has posted only nine times this week. The man known around these parts as “The Moff” (I saw somewhere that someone called him that to some consternation) – has posted four times.

Amy and Tim are off to a promising start with six posts since Monday. Ali, who I missed out in the last little round up post, has posted three times this week…

Maybe the threat of traffic induced by this post and all the other bored desk jockeys out there will cause these people to update their blogs soon…

And the rest of you… what are we procrastinators to do?

Commenting would be a start. Lets talk.

For the ladies…

Well, mostly just for Stuss… She might like to see an article in the SMH that made the same case as her letter to the government.

Women, and in particular mothers, are harshly treated by Australia’s system. They are damned if they return to work after childbirth, and damned if they don’t.

Those who do, face high tax rates because of income tax incurred and welfare benefits withdrawn. Working just a few hours a week and earning $11,000 a year can mean mothers lose 56.5 cents in every dollar in tax and benefits.

But the longer women do not work, the longer they miss out on employer contributions to superannuation. Women’s super balances are woefully inadequate. Those aged 60 to 65 have saved a tiny average of $45,000, compared with men of the same age who have $130,000 stashed away. While mothers face punitive tax penalties for working, rich men receive generous tax concessions on their super payouts.

It’s a good article looking at one issue facing stay at home mums.

Protect and serve?

Discussion is ongoing on yesterday’s post about protectionism and misguided “buy local” campaigns. I didn’t mention the “sustainability” side of that debate – which is probably valid. It doesn’t make sense for major grocery stores to ship produce from North Queensland to warehouses in Victoria then back to North Queensland for sale – at that point I will join the brotherhood of sustainability and cry foul (fowl if we’re talking about chickens…). I didn’t mention it because it’s not the problem I have with “buy local” campaigns – which is that they don’t do what they claim to do, namely “protect local jobs”.

Buying local works to protect Australian farmers. There’s no denying that. But the insidious campaigns stretch further than the farm gates But we have plenty of other primary producers whose cause is harmed by drops in demand for our resources overseas (which are in part due to drops in demand for all sorts of product on a global level – particularly from the US).

But that’s just rehashing the point I’d already made yesterday. In a slightly more coherent form.

There were a couple of points raised in the comments that are worth rehashing – particularly if you haven’t read them.

“Buying coffee grown in Australia at a local coffee store, rather than coffee grown in Costa Rica at Starbucks.” – Stuss.

Ahh, a subject close to my heart. The argument I’d make at this point is that Australian made doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality. You might feel nice paying three times the price you’d pay for foreign grown produce for local stuff – but in some cases you’re paying more for an inferior product. Coffee is a great example. If you want premium quality Australian coffee you’ve got to pay a premium price – and it still won’t be as good as stuff grown in the ideal conditions.

Her next point in a subsequent comment touches on the whole fair trade debate.

“There are ethical implications in buying goods made elsewhere. A big reason why companies shift that manufacturing off shore is that it can be done cheaper. Much, much cheaper. Which means the people doing the manufacturing aren’t getting a lot of money for the job. On one hand, it is good that some of these people are getting the employment at all. But on the other hand, sometimes these people are being exploited, and not receiving a fair wage. Or they are coming away from their villages and subsistence farming lifestyle to work in the factories and losing traditional skills. Which one outweighs the other?”

Those sweatshops employing and exploiting workers for the sake of fashion are a different matter, that’s an ethical question not a question of economics – and therefore not within the scope of this rant.

I don’t see how buying local and doing these overseas people out of the jobs they’ve won that are often literally putting food on the table – particularly when following through the argument using coffee farmers as an example – is doing the coffee farmer a service. In the case of agriculture – and particularly for argument sake the case of coffee – we’re not talking about farmers leaving subsistent living, we’re talking about third and fourth generation farmers who have been exporting coffee since coffee exporting began. Aussie Joe who decides to plant his coffee plantation in Atherton – where conditions aren’t as good as conditions elsewhere and thus the coffee flavour isn’t as rich – is doing a disservice both to the palate and to the global coffee market.

The fundamental economic principle of supply and demand means that if there’s an oversupply of a poor quality version of a particular variety of product and a largely uneducated audience the price of the good stuff either has to significantly alter or die out (or become an “exclusive” product for the rich and famous). Throwing in a “buy local” campaign artificially inflates the price of local coffee and punishes the foreign growers. It’s not a level playing field. And it’s an incentive for businesses that should probably fail. Because their product is inferior.

Amy made a similar point about rice but from a sustainability rather than quality standpoint in the comments on the last protectionism post…

“I don’t think it is okay to buy Australian grown rice, because rice is totally unsuited to our environment and therefore needs far more resources than an imported product.”

I wonder what the typical elements in the purchase equation are? You could no doubt express it as a funky Venn diagram – in fact I’m sure it’s already been done somewhere… but I’d say price, sustainability, ethics, and quality are all in the mix. Are there any others?

Disaster reporting

Stuss has a great post today about news coverage of disasters. With particular reference to the current fires and the saturation of “special news editions” on commercial television.

“This week I am again appalled at the news coverage. As far as I’m concerned, it is just not appropriate to show extended footage of any disaster. Regular updates, fine, good even, but not regular as in replace everything you would normally be showing.”

As a journalism graduate working in PR I’ve got some thoughts on the issue. I reckon these are probably worth posting here – even though they’re pretty much verbatim what I posted as a comment on Stuss’s post.

As a “journalist” I’m in two minds on this. Disasters like this are real news – and there are people who want to know every bit of the story – particularly if they have friends or families in affected areas and haven’t been able to make contact. But, sometimes not a lot is happening and there’s a whole lot of repetition – and then there’s the talking to about 10 secondary sources.

Experts in their fields. So you have the eye witnesses, the firefighters, the fire commissioner, the politician, the police and other involved parties having their say… then you have the behavioural psychologists, the weathermen, the university professor, the opinion columnist, etc, all throwing their opinions into the mix.

If you consider the September 11 story – the news coverage started off reporting just the facts. From and objective point – two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre buildings. There were plenty of “objective” updates. The buildings collapsed. The rescue effort. All of these were newsworthy elements and there were lots of primary sources to be talked to.

Then, in the days following the actual moment of impact there was a heap of other stuff thrown into the coverage. Speculation on why the buildings collapsed, interviews with engineers about the tower’s structure, interviews with people who knew about the effect of heat on steel. That sort of thing. Then there was the “why” element – terrorism experts, politicians. Everyone had two cents worth to throw in. Reporting a disaster is like peeling an onion – you can split a story into layers and layers of complexity.

There’s an inverted relationship between time and newsworthy content – unless new things are happening all the time.

Because of ratings pressure and the desire not to be “one upped” if something significant does happen all the networks are simultaneously peeling the onion. They need to keep doing that to keep the coverage rolling.

There should be a dedicated “disaster channel” and each network should donate resources to a pool of talent – and they could all draw stuff out of that pool for nightly bulletins.

As a viewer, I tend to get sick of the special coverage pretty quickly if nothing new is happening. The fact that I keep watching comes from my inner news addict than from any form of compelling content.

Having dedicated event coverage is also good for continuity of viewing. The nature of big stories is that there are lots of new bits happening all the time. I would be very frustrated if my regular programming was constantly interrupted by updates. At that point I think keeping the “special news bulletin” thing running is less disruptive than otherwise.

Extended coverage of disasters can have a demonstrably large effect on children. I did an assignment on that at uni once.

The other problem with the reporting aspect comes when circumstances are blown up to pad out bulletins. Take the current flooding in North Queensland as a case study.

Ingham is underwater. That’s bad for Ingham. But news bulletins around the country have been featuring journalists based in Townsville in their weather updates. Townsville has had some water. Yesterday’s king tide didn’t help things.

But to use images from the small percentage of streets in Townsville with flooding and tar everywhere with the same watery brush is unconscionable reporting and does significant damage to the city’s reputation and its economy. Tourism bookings to Townsville are being canceled all over the place. We’re in contact with Tourism Queensland’s international offices daily because people think Townsville is underwater.

Overstating the case in a disaster is a spur of the moment decision by news producers with pretty big consequences for those on the ground. This is particularly problematic when secondary source experts with no bona fides are thrown in front of a camera to spread their particular brand of hysteria.

Try being the person who has to fix the idea that Townsville will be closed for the next two months due to flooding.

Crocs in the backyard

Stuss has posted a little bit of news that has been circulating on the local radio today. A crocodile – reported to be between 2.5 and 3 metres – was hit on one of Townsville’s main roads at 3am today. You need to remember that most people* in north Queensland are fishermen so that figure should be taken with a grain of salt and some chips.

One of the things that is particularly idiosyncratic to the North Queensland psyche is this “siege mentality”, or something close to that, regarding how the rest of the world sees us. The rest of the world thinks North Queensland starts at Gympie. When as far as we’re concerned North Queensland (the government statistical region) starts at Ayr and extends to Cardwell. Townsville is the capital of this region. Far North Queensland stretches from Cardwell to Cooktown. Townsville is also the capital of that region.

We, in Townsville, don’t like it that people attribute things, like Port Douglas’ population of crocodiles that regularly “interact” with local children and animals, to everyone in “North Queensland”. And we don’t like it when cyclones hit somewhere more than 200km away and we all get tarred with the same brush. The confusion is widespread.

Greater north Queensland is anything from Mackay North – and again, Townsville is the capital of that region. Confused? Well weather producers around the country are too – so much so that I was once asked to draft a letter to send to them pointing out that Townsville is much bigger than Cairns and has a bigger economy. We don’t have the penetration in the national psyche that Cairns does thanks to its position as a tourism destination.

Much of the confusion was initially created by Townsville’s “twin city”, Thuringowa, which robbed us of vital population statistics for many years. That confusion has not yet been eradicated by the council amalgamations. But maybe one day Townsville will receive the recognition it deserves.

This is particularly likely if we continue to experience phenomenal weather events and have crocs wandering the streets at night.

It’s a problem of capitalisation. Townsville sees itself as the “capital” of all the different nominal definitions of north Queensland. We are the largest city in northern Australia. Bigger than Darwin (which also suffers a “split personality”). The other “capitalisation” confusion comes when describing north Queensland – we describe greater north Queensland with a little “n” but specifically refer to our part of north Queensland with a capital N. North Queensland is at the heart of north Queensland. Townsville is at the heart of the heart of north Queensland – so we are rightfully the capital. Confused? Good.

*gross exaggeration

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