LIVING THE DREAM: Column One

LoudwireBy STEVE MASCORD

TRAWLING through Facebook today, I found a paid post by the music news website Loudwire. “Very sad news for Marilyn Manson”. it read, with a link to the site.

“Oh right,” I thought,, “I wonder….” Hang on …. no, surely not. They’re not…. really? Yes they are folks: Loudwire were using the death of the rock singer’s mother, Barbra Warner, as click bait.

For the uninitiated, it works like this: you’ll remember the days when headlines told you what was in a story. Sometimes, they even said things that weren’t, or were barely, in the story. That practice has been getting journalists in trouble for a century or more.

But now, in an environment where no-one is buying papers and journalism is collapsing, the trick is to pique the curiosity of the readers on social media to such an extent that they cannot resist visiting the website being promoted by clicking on the link, hence the term “click bait”.

The number of page views dictates the fee charged for advertising and the fee charged for advertising dictates whether the site is profitable, the reporters get paid and the relevant information is disseminated.

Another post on Loudwire‘s Facebook page reads: “Foo Fighters are full of surprises these days, including one very big one over the weekend! Details here:”

The death of Marilyn Manson’s mother, to the chimpanzee churnalist sitting in Loudwire‘s office, was no different to Dave Grohl’s latest song, video or reality TV show. You just apply the formula: leave out the most important fact and people will come to the site in droves. That’s social media doing its job: you don’t give away that which you are selling, do you?

I complained.

“Guys this is very distasteful click bait. To use the death of someone’s mother to get a page view by withholding information in a facebook post is, at best, a serious misjudgment, and at worst morally bankrupt. Where will all this end?”

And later, also from me:

“Imagine a photo of four kids and a heading ‘one of these children was hacked to death” you gotta click to find put which one, giving the website a page view. THAT’s where this is heading unless some decency is applied.”

My comment was liked 230 times. That made it the top comment, giving it a prominent display on a post that Loudwire pinned to the top of their page because of its popularity. They did not change the tasteless wording of their post; my criticism of it was helping it attract even more “engagement”!

I’ll let that sink in: a media outlet has been called out for immoral behaviour. Hundreds of readers agree. The outlet highlights the criticism without responding to it – because the criticism simply attracts more readers.

That’s the world we now live in. For all the disdain of traditional media, this sort of amoral, exploitative behaviour would have a newspaper, radio station or TV network severely censured. But for social media, any publicity really is good publicity: venom and hate grease their wheels much more efficiently than praise. Websites and Facebook pages simply don’t care; they are malevolence incarnates.

Every person that challenged me in the comments under the Manson story, I engaged. I tried to explain click baiting … over and over again. Louis Minnett seemed to think I was accusing Manson himself of exploiting his own mother’s death by writing and posting the item himself.

Loudwire are in charge,” I responded.  “How stupid do you think I am? That Marilyn Manson goes posting stuff on music news websites? Helloooooo….”

Then I received a response that stunned me almost as much as the post’s crassness. It’s a comment that made me think social media will eventually become an intellectual ghetto, where the anti-social and gormless will be left to canibalise each other in a sort of electronic leper colony.

Jay Padalecki: “ha…..Steve…..you’re so smart…Steve Mascord for president…..steve posting “stuff” on Facebook. Hellooooooo….”

In other words, if you’re so smart, why are you interacting with idiots like us? Leave Facebook to me and my fellow imbeciles…..”

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A QUICK note about this column.

I am 45. I’ve never been married, have no kids, no car, no mortgage. Pretty much everything I have ever done for work, I would have done for free. I am abiding loyal to one person above all others: my 18-year-old self.

I try to make him proud every day. I do not save, I currently do not even pay rent in any one place, let alone own property bigger than that couch I have in storage.

I have an idealistic perspective on just about everything. I expect people to tell the truth, do what’s fun above what is profitable, try to get the most out of life, and be vitally interested in others.

I think I probably revel in my own naivety. I see the world very differently than you do.

Yet all I have ever written about is rugby league and rock music. So this column is about everything else. If you think I’m selfish, say so below and I’ll write a column about it. If you think I’m going to be lonely in old age or that I’m sad or shallow or naive or stupid or ugly or a loser … great topics for the next Living The Dream.

I might not be living the dream. I might be dreaming my life while you’re living yours’ … in which case, you can help me grow up.

 

THE BIG ISSUE: #40

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

IN the NRL, we tend to give new officials a honeymoon period – then we smash them.

The honeymoon period of referees coach Daniel Anderson is well and truly over, thanks to Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart who last week accused him of writing incomprehensible match summaries and needlessly factoring “discretionary penalties” in his assessment of match officials.

Stuart also said whistlers spoke to players in “friggin Spanish”, prompting the clowns on the Fire Up! radio show to say Ricky should have listened when they advised him to appoint at least one Spanish-speaking captain!

The other NRL official who is copping it is the new chief executive, David Smith.

As a journalist, you might expect me to join the cacophony of complaints that Smith doesn’t answer his phone that often and isn’t accessible to those of us in the fourth estate.

But as a rugby league fan, I am not sure I want a leader who even cares what I am typing right now. I want someone who is a bit of a statesman, above the daily cycle of criticism that drives the media machine.

I want someone who has a vision for rugby league and is willing to pursue it until it gets him sacked.

Does the commissioner of the NFL finish his day by returning the calls for 47 hacks at every newspaper in the United States?

Big Issue is not suggesting Neil Whittaker, David Moffett and David Gallop were harming rugby league in any way when they spoke to the Sydney dailies and The Australian multiple times per week.

Despite what some may think, Gallop showed no favouritism; I probably spoke to him more when I was at Fairfax than I did at the Telegraph.

It’s great that these men ruled in eras when that was possible.

But if rugby league is going to realise its potential in a changing media environment, it should not be possible for the CEO to do that anymore. We should be aiming to get to a point where there are just too many requests for him to handle.

The influence of traditional outlets is receding as websites, blogs and social media gain more traction. Compelling evidence of this will be the way criticism of Smith from old media has little or no effect, whereas it would have seriously undermined his predecessors.

As a journalist, I cannot endorse anything that restricts freedom of speech. But intellectually, I understand why we need to keep the game out of the defamation courts by fining coaches who question referees’ integrity.

Similarly, as a journalist, it would be great to be able to pick up the phone at any time and ring David Smith.

I’ve been covering rugby league since 1986 and work for a number of media outlets in various capacities.

I’ve never met David Smith.

But if I’m honest, I kind of like it that way.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: November 2012

By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S a strange thing in rugby league – we laugh at things which would be a crime if they happened in the street.
Take, oh, just picking something random like …. James Graham (allegedly) biting Billy Slater’s ear in the NRL grand final. If it happened up the corner, you’d be straight in the nick for it. If it happened in the boxing ring – where events are generally considered more violent even than on our fields of play – it’s a one-year suspension and a fine with plenty of zeros on it.
But what did we get when Jammer became Jaws? Nothing but puns and frivolity.
It is appropriate to call judicial proceedings a “hearing”? Has rugby league hit a new lobe? He’ll bite your ear off on the field but won’t talk to the media afterwards. He’s the only Bulldog who tasted premiership success. Slater is now in Canterbury’s Book Of Foods.
Biting someone’s ear in most settings is an act of brutality. In rugby league, it fuels jokes. The same goes for many other things. See six men brawling in the street and you’ll be appalled. See it on the rugby league field and you’ll probably cheer.
Broken legs and shredded cruciates don’t exactly prompt Mexican waves but they’re viewed far more seriously in the great majority of real estate that is not a rugby league field. Concussion, on the other hand, is seen as either a triumph of one man over another or a slapstick sideshow.
It’s worth reminding ourselves every now and then that we watch a sport that is not only athletic and demanding but often brutal, violent and desensitising. Got that? Inhale it, mull it over. Still like rugby league, then? OK, I’ll continue.
No-one was seriously hurt in the alleged James Graham offence and it gave rise to some great puns. Puns are infinitely better for the soul and mind than punting, which is endlessly promoted during Australian sporting contests on television these days.
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IN this column we have suggested before that teams frustrated with the wait to join the NRL should apply for a Super League franchise.
Well, during one of those late nights that grand final week demands of us – with Andrew Johns named as the eighth Immortal at the Men of League dinner which followed the grand final breakfast but came before the Carbine Club lunch, I was assured the idea had actually been discussed at a West Australian Rugby League board meeting.
More information as it comes to hand….
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THE ‘Autumn Internationals’ (a confusing name for us, given it is spring here) are even more anonymous in Australia than they are in your part of the world.
But one group of people all too aware that they are on is NRL clubs with English players. Jack Reed is out with shoulder surgery, Chris Heighington’s new club – Cronulla – is not expected to be thrilled about releasing him and if Sam Burgess had not wanted to go to South Africa and on home, you can bet South Sydney would have supported him in staying on the beach.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” was the comment of Melbourne’s Gareth Widdop when we asked him about journey from the rarified atmosphere of a premiership to the high altitudes of South Africa.
And James Graham? Well, this is how the suspension system works for international football in the NRL.
If the ban is longer than the upcoming series, then the games in that series cannot be included in a suspension. If the ban is shorter than the series or tournament, then the suspension can be included. If the suspension is only one game shorter than the international competition, the chairman gets to use his discretion as to whether the ban is served in the tournament or in next year’s club competition.
Stand alone internationals cannot be placed against suspensions in any circumstance. We spend a lot of time criticising officials in columns like this but that’s one rule that we think they’ve just about got right.
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THREE years ago, when Melbourne won a premiership they were subsequently not permitted to keep, I was typing happily away in the press box some time after 10pm when I spied the entire squad, in their suits, taking the Telstra trophy out to halfway at ANZ Stadium.
They stood around, took turns at talking to the group, sung the team song and then splashed beer everywhere.
The Storm did it again this year too. Last August, with Michael Maguire, Ryan Hoffman, Brett Finch and Jeff Lima bringing the tradition with them to Wigan, it happened again at Wembley.
But this year when Warrington attempted a re-enactment, stewards stopped them. They had to make do with sitting in the stands.
There was a nice touch to the ritual after the NRL grand final this year when Channel Seven cameraman Greg Parker was approached by a Melbourne official as he shot events from above the tunnel. I thought he was going to be stopped from filming.
Instead, he was handed a beer.
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SPORTS editors will always tell you that players visiting hospitals are not a story while players putting members of the public in hospital invariably are.
But you have to feel sorry for officials that this next bit of news has been so sparingly reported that even you, rugby league anorak, are likely to have not heard about it.
The Australian Rugby League Commission won world governing body of the year in London during July from the International Beyond Sport Federation for its community engagement policies. That’s pretty major. They had the OneCommunity Awards in grand final week in Sydney, which is actually held on the same scale as the Dally Ms
Johnathan Thurston won the player award and another winner, James Sullivan from WA, flew into ANZ Stadium on a Black Hawk helicopter on grand final day with the NRL trophy.
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SINCE we last broke bread, Brian Smith and Tim Sheens have joined Stephen Kearney and Brian McClennan in being given the bum’s rush.
I have a theory regarding how teams perform when their master has moved on. In the case of unsuccessful coaches, like Kearney, they improve to impress the new man. In the case of successful men, like Nathan Brown and Trent Robinson, they drop their bundle.
The Warriors, however, stayed pretty poor. There are suggestions they are holding out for Craig Bellamy.
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There’s usually too much fixture news in this column. This month I have very little. The World Club Challenge is on in England on February 16. The All Stars game is in Brisbane a week earlier. Manly may be playing Canberra in China some time around then, too.

DISCORD 2012: Edition 37

By STEVE MASCORD
THE Bulldogs Mad Monday debate raged so brightly and quickly that many interested parties are already heartily sick of it – but Discord wants to make just a few points.
One, it is common for the media to cover Mad Monday and most clubs do make someone available for a chat and allow a few photos to be taken and video to be shot. Despite what people believe, Melbourne and the Sydney Swans’ Mad Mondays were covered and clubs did co-operate. Yes, I have taken just about every Monday-after-the-GF off in the last 25 years and I hate working that day but it’s still a common practice.
Two, if a politician, actor or rock star was at Belmore Sports Ground wearing fancy dress and drinking you can bet there would be cameras outside as well. Footballers are in the entertainment business. Why should they be protected more than other entertainers?
Three, football clubs can’t hold sterile media opportunities and fail to allow even one one-on-one interview after the grand final and then expect goodwill in return. The Bulldogs on Sunday night were terrible in this respect, can expect to be fined and have done the bare minimum allowed under new media guidelines all year.
Four, clubs cannot talk about reporters earning their trust when they interact with the media as if they trust no-one. When we could walk onto the field and talk to anyone after training, clubs were justified in saying “we only talk to people we know”. But they have lost that right by digging a moat around their players and treating the media like cattle. Now, they have to deal with everyone.
Five, the longer abuse goes unreported, the longer it continues. If Channel Nine had not broadcast that audio, those responsible would have said it next time. Now, they’ll think twice.
And six, the mid-season departure of experienced media manager Ross Smart and failure to replace him with someone of equal experience has backfired heavily on the Dogs. Football departments have way too much power in NRL clubs and when situations arise outside their area of expertise, they crash and burn badly.
When you sacrifice everything in search of a premiership and hand too much power to the people who just know about footy, this is what happens.
 FEEDBACK time and thanks to the great response to last week’s column, which to me was pretty run-of-the-mill.
Dan Tapp asked the population of Port Vila. Dan’ it’s a bustling metropolis of 40,040. Stephen mentioned Discord’s idea of RLIF membership. Aside from raising cash, it would connect the Federation with its biggest customers, which is a massive plus. However, magazines cost money to make and circulation of almost all magazines is falling. I am not sure about the viabiliy.
Walks of Wigan has no sympathy for southern hemisphere players who wanted October and November off. As I said, Australia and New Zealand could each have played England with no extra workload on NRL players. Also, clubs want to hold their expanded World Club Challenge at the same time of year that they say players are too burnt out for Test footy!
Andrew mentioned reports that Sheens said he would stand down if Wests Tigers missed the finals. This claim was supposedly said in private. Has Sheens conceded it was uttered? Has the director involved come out and put his name to it? Ben Elias told us on the ABC a few weeks ago he had no knowledge of this conversation.
Rudy said there was no point in playing rugby league in Thailand, Greece and Vanuatu. I don’t know where you are from Rudy but this is typical of many Australian rugby league fans and people in general and is the reason why we wasted 100 years’ advantage over rugby union (open payments to players) globally. The attitude in Australia is that if you can’t be one of the top sports in a territory, it’s not worth bothering. But what is the point of being popular in a place like Australia, which has a tiny population, a modest economy and almost zero influence on global affairs? Who cares what’s popular in Australia, really? If rugby league was to pick any country in the world where it could be massive, Australia would be about 64th on the list. If a sport is not there to make profit, what is it there for? I say it is there to make sure as many people see and play it as possible – that should be the sole reason it exists and the focus of its operations every day. Australian rugby league fans have an inflated sense of their own importance. Being a big sport in Australia hurts the game internationally because of that country’s insularity. Rugby league’s is a fringe, downtrodden, rebel sport – regardless of some fans’ belief that because they happen to like it and they live where others do as well. it should be reserved just for them.

THE BIG ISSUE: #26

By STEVE MASCORD

YOUR correspondent first encountered Steve Ricketts some 30 years ago reading this very magazine.

A player had claimed in an earlier article that the Courier-Mail journalist had misquoted him and was “off my Christmas card list”. Steve responded in the letters pages that he could prove the contentious comments had been made and added “the next Chrismas card I get from a player will be the first”.

This made a big impact on a young me, still a teenager and hoping to make a living as a rugby league writer.

It illustrated that a) you don’t get into this line of work to make friends with players and b) people will deny things at times to cover their backsides.

Last Friday, Steve covered his last game of rugby league at Suncorp Stadium after accepting redundancy. There was a mock-up back page of the paper, a tradition in journalism which – sadly – is getting more of an airing right now than ever.

In fact, it seems sometimes there are more of these farewell mock-ups being printed than actual papers.

Last week we also learned that Greg Prichard, most recently of the Sydney Morning Herald, would be riding off into the sunset. Greg was another man who at his peak was extremely competitive, and therefore pushed his rivals to be at their best as well.

Now, normally I wouldn’t be devoting a column to fellow journalists. The conventional wisdom is that you don’t care. But the best-received Big Issue of the year so far, I would say, was about the media and about how closed NRL clubs had become.

Since then, thankfully, we’ve had new media guidelines introduced. These have been good for some sections of the media and at some clubs, while there’ve been teething problems elsewhere.

They’re a step in the right direction.

But there are changes in the way the game is being covered that have nothing to do with clubs and the departure of these two respected reporters highlights some of them.

As newspaper budgets get tighter, reporters don’t travel anymore. A game in Melbourne will be covered exclusively by local reporters. They will either have to write a separate story for the News Limited or Fairfax paper in the city of the visiting team, or a match report focusing on that team will be cobbled together in the office.

The sum result of this is that you find out less than you did before.

In round 23, Warriors coach Brian McClennan said after a heavy loss to North Queensland that he was, basically, bracing himself for the sack.

Because there was not one New Zealand reporter at the game, these comments went grossly under reported. People in New Zealand pretty much never found out about them.

If there’s one thing declining newspapers won’t cover, it’s the decline of newspapers. But these are the facts. Fairfax’s Queensland based sportswriter is not allowed to even write match reports for night games- because live blogs get more hits (yes, that’s how I got a start doing Queensland games for them).

Another development, also a result of belt-tightening, is copy sharing.

Only a year or so back, the Courier-Mail would compete with the Gold Coast Bulletin and the Sydney Morning Herald would go up against the Canberra Times for stories, including rugby league yarns. Now, papers give stories to publications (within the same media group) who used to be their competition.

If reporters aren’t competing with each other for stories, then you find out less. Look at New Zealand, where the only competition in each market is on Sunday and that’s the day that 90 per cent of the ball-tearing yarns are published.

Sure, competition has moved online and breaking things on Twitter is a new battleground – but no-one has figured out how to make money out of that yet.

The departure of Greg and Steve remove another link with the days when every reporter, every day, could rank his performance against his direct rivals in a simple, unambiguous way. I remember Greg saying the week of the 1997 Super League grand final, when he was at the Australian: “I’m running a distant third so far. I’d better pull my finger out.”

I believe journalism will eventually regain its bankability. The internet hasn’t robbed it of its commercial value – putting the first ad on a page 150 years ago did that. A basic component of democracy should not have to rely on advertising – it should have always been a public utility.

But it’s going to take a cataclysmic event – like a patently corrupt government that comes to power because there is no-one left to scrutinise them – for people to realise this and for journalism to be properly funded again.

In the meantime, Steve, where do I send that Christmas card?

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE WRAP: NRL Round 19 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

YOU would think that a Neville Nobody like me would appreciate the opportunity to have a greater involvement in the radio broadcast of the match of the season.

But when I learned that Andrew Johns had the flu and I was to be the sole sideline eye at last night’s Sydney Roosters-South Sydney epic, my feelings were less than enthusiastic. On Sunday night I got back from Canberra at 9pm. I got up at 2.30am yesterday to watch the Challenge Cup semi between Huddersfield and Warrington. Between 4.45am and 6am I slept again. And from 6am until it was time to leave for Allianz Stadium at 4.15pm, I wrote five stories for Rugby League Week including a 1500 word feature.

Monday is RLW deadline day. What I really needed was two coach interviews at 5pm, two at 9.30, checking on injuries during the game  and that’s it – which is the way some Mondays go for me on Triple M’s Monday Night Football, if I’m lucky.

Instead, I got a ringside seat for the closest thing we get to miracles now they’ve stopped adding chapters to holy books, an evening that should have reminded us all that rugby league is not just “product”, “content” or what might even be lucky enough to call work. After conceding two tries in the final three minutes to lose their last game against Sydney Roosters, South Sydney scored two in the same period to win.

These co-incidences do not happen elsewhere in the universe. We are involved in a group endeavour that somehow creates an environment for them to happen, like some sort of Hadron Collider – but better. As he waited to be interviewed on air after a loss he described as “gut-busting”, Roosters coach Brian Smith still had the wherewithal to muse: “That’s what’s so special about live sport. That’s why people watch it.”

Live radio can be scary if you psyche yourself out and it takes years to realise that if you stuff up, it’s no big deal. It’s not like you mucked up the moon landing and accidentally landed on Mars. It’s footy, after all. Before doing a sideline on the ABC, I scribble out a few notes – the team changes, weather and ground conditions on one page, a list of stats on the next, and a point on each player on the following two.

Sometimes you do not use even one of those points in a call, but it’s a nice security blanket to have.

Things went OK until fulltime but then the enormity of the game, the fact it would be talked about for years, and my fatigue kind of kicked in. As a print journalist, I would have been happy with the quotes we got from John Sutton, Issac Luke, Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, Brian Smith and Michael Maguire. So would my colleagues, just quietly, who were still waiting outside the Souths rooms almost an hour later!

But as a broadcaster, I thought I was a bit untidy – some unnecessary pauses and slight stumbling over questions. You want to do the occasion justice.

It didn’t help that Sutton and Luke were absolutely exhausted by the time I reached them a minute or so after the siren.. “We never give up in any football game, no matter how short the time is, and we just proved it then,” said Sutton. “There’s more bunnies supporters than Roosters supports here and it really helped get us home.”

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DISCORD 2012: Edition 18

By STEVE MASCORD

ONE of the things I’m passionate about – aside from rugby league and very dubious 80s hair metal – is trying to demystify journalism.

Yes, I exist in a tiny, insignificant corner of the journalistic world and having such a lofty ambition is a tad delusional. But I find it one of the strangest paradoxes that journalists demand others explain their actions in the finest detail but are often ill-equipped or unprepared to do the same themselves.

Having worked in newspapers, magazines, radio and television I can tell you the reason for this is not the one you suspect: that journalists are dishonest. Speaking generally across 25 years, it’s because they’re so friggin’ busy!

At the bottom end of this issue, when I work with trainees and students I tell them to be ready to justify their actions and form clear views on what is in the public interest and what they are doing just because their boss told them – which is not a good enough defence for someone whose profession is governed by a code of ethics.

At the top end, I try to be transparent in my dealings with people and to stick my hand up when I’m wrong. So, in the interests of transparency – and not covering my back, people deny stories all the time – here’s what happened with Dave Taylor.

It was while we were preparing to interview Michael Maguire on ABC last Sunday that it occurred to me Souths’ view of Taylor may have changed given recent events and if his contract with Gold Coast fell through, they might want to keep him.

My editor at Rugby League Week, Mitchell Dale, would have no doubt preferred I not ask this question on air. Rugby League Week pays the bills and it could make a handy story for them. But I know people feel less inclined to say “no comment” in front of a radio audience than they do on the phone to one hack. So I asked Michael whether he was interested in retaining Taylor and he said this:

“I haven’t heard anything from that from Dave. At the end of the day, Dave and I are continually talking about where he’s at and what he wants to do with his career. If that event arises, then we’ll have that conversation.”

In other words, there would be grounds to discuss Taylor having a future at Souths if the Titans deal fell through.

My instincts about asking the question in public were correct because when I asked Maguire by text to expand on this, he responded: “I don’t comment on recruitment”. People have questioned the use of texts. NRL players and coaches respond to texts but don’t answer their phones in most instances. I was speaking to a whole club a few years ago, doing a media talk, and a player – I think it was Luke Priddis – specifically said “you should text before you call so we know who it is”.

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