Barry Tucker

Barry Tucker

Citizen journalist at No Fibs
Barry Tucker is a retired journalist living on the NSW far south coast. His journalism covered almost 50 years, working across news and special interest media, including diplomatic, police, industrial, local government, national and state politics, court and general reporting, 4WD magazines and editing medical journals.
Barry Tucker
In addition to his contributions to No Fibs, Barry also writes and maintains the TruthinNewsMedia resource centre and writes personal stories and political opinion on The Sniper.  In addition to his print career, Barry also worked in TV news, for news agencies in Australia and southern Africa. Towards the end of his career Barry used early desktop publishing to produce his own magazines, but never got the chance to migrate them to the web. He is a keen bush camper and wildlife photographer.

Some of the Twitter conversation
By Barry Tucker @btckr

Every now and then the mainstream news media (MSM) does something that demonstrates the gulf between itself, its audience and social media (SM).

It is almost comical because the MSM is trying to move from its dying print model to the digital world of SM. Much of the MSM has made the move but has not yet figured out how to make it pay.

Meanwhile, the MSM is running two businesses models that are competing with each other. Crazy economics. Equally crazy are some of the stunts that are being used to hold on to readers they don’t really want. These sticky readers are one of the things preventing the MSM from making a clean break. Another is multi-million dollar printing presses that no one wants, except for scrap.

As well as holding on to readers (many of whom, admittedly, do not have internet access or who are hopelessly addicted to reading newsprint), some of the MSM is holding on to a political point of view. I think that’s very naughty, but I have to admit it’s a fact of life.

All of which brings me to a stunt. A stunt that backfired badly, but a stunt that demonstrated all of the above.

On December 22, 2013, The Sunday Telegraph published an interview with the leader of our federal government, Tony Abbott, by News Corp’s national political editor, Samantha Maiden. It was a follow up to the decision of the New Zealand government to amend its national honours system so that the top honour would be a knight or a dame. Mr Abbott said the New Zealand honours were slightly different to Australia’s and such a change would not be practical for Australia.

The headline and intro said Mr Abbott “ruled out” the reintroduction of knights and dames. A sentence said he “did not support the idea, which would involve converting the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) to Knighthoods or reintroducing a new regal honour”.

In a reply to a question about doing what New Zealand had done, Mr Abbott said: “But I don’t think it would be practical to just rebadge ACs.” Please keep that sentence in mind, especially the phrase “just rebadge”. Not a big story. Australia’s honour system would remain intact, unchanged since the last imperial honours were dropped in 1982.

Then, at a ceremony to farewell the retiring Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, earlier this week, Mr Abbott dropped a bombshell by announcing the reintroduction of knights and dames to Australia’s honours list. The first would go to Quentin Bryce and the second to the incoming Governor-General, retired army general Sir Peter Cosgrove.

On Wednesday, researchers, journalists and tweeters began searching the history of Australian honours and discovered The Sunday Telegraph article of December 22, 2013. A kerfuffle broke out on Twitter, as twitterers are wont to do. They linked to the December story, pointing out another case of deception, obfuscation, flip-flopping, rebuilding the past or typical behaviour by Mr Abbott, depending on your point of view.

I found the story in a Google search and tweeted a link to it. A few hours later, when I wanted to re-check exactly what Mr Abbott had said, I clicked on the link again and got an error message, saying the page could not be found, try again later. What a surprise! So, I tweeted my surprise. More kerfuffling by twitterers.

Why had the page disappeared?. Ms Maiden was asked, on Twitter, and replied that there was no conspiracy, no “grassy knoll”, as she put it.

For those who don’t know, The Sunday Telegraph is in the stable of News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, who many believe put Mr Abbott into power at the head of our government, mainly through a virulent campaign that included vilification, ridicule and worse of the then Labor government and some of its ministers. It was also suspected of being a protection racket designed to prevent any scrutiny of Mr Abbott or his policies, especially those that had anything to do with scrapping Labor’s initiatives to provide a clean energy future.

During the morning of Thursday, March 27, The Sunday Telegraph page reappeared.

I do not blame or implicate Ms Maiden in any way for this curious affair. It has been suggested the page might have gone down because so many twitterers were hitting it. Maybe. But think that through. The Sunday Telegraph website has to be robust enough to take a hammering from those who want to read its latest bit of hot news. A crash is unlikely. Technical experts in my Twitter feed have pointed out that a single page would not go down in a storm of hits; many parts of the site (or its ISP’s file servers) would be affected.

The page would have to be made invisible, or inaccessible, by an online editor or a technician – someone with access, knowledge, a password and authorisation to amend, hide or delete content. It could be as simple as altering a single character in a line of code – rendering the link to the file inoperable.

It would seem that someone who was well aware of the News Corp alliance with Mr Abbott saw the new honours story, had an “Oh oh” moment and hid the December 22 page from view, or ordered it to be hidden.

It was well meaning (from their point of view of continuing to protect Mr Abbott), but it was also foolish because it was so obvious a stunt. You can’t really hide anything on the interwebs because everything is copied and cached in different ways and in different places. You can’t hide the fact that you broke the window by hiding the brick behind your back either – someone is bound to notice eventually.

In response to Ms Maiden’s assertion that there was no conspiracy, I asked how many other pages of The Sunday Telegraph had disappeared on Wednesday and how many on average on any day of the week. I have not received a reply.

Twitter users made much of the missing story