Why I don’t think making online giants pay for links is the best way to save the media

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Photo by Madison Inouye on

You may have seen articles recently about the Australian proposal to create a code requiring Facebook and Google to bargain with the news media to pay for links to news articles.

The code will require parties (tech giants on one side, and the media on the other) to undertake commercial negotiations about how much should be paid to the media for these links. In the event they’re unable to agree then the code will punt it to an independent arbiter who will choose between two final offers from each side. The code will also require Facebook and Google to give 14 days advance notice of deliberate algorithm changes that impact news media businesses.

In the last few weeks you may have seen that Google is threatening to pull out of Australia if the code goes ahead. Facebook is also strongly against the code.

While I think the tech giants have too much market power, and the news media is a vital public service, I think the Australian proposal is fundamentally flawed. Continue reading “Why I don’t think making online giants pay for links is the best way to save the media”

My positive experience getting tested for COVID-19

A few days ago I woke up with a sore throat and a runny nose. Given the concern about COVID-19 at the moment I thought I would see how it was the next day.

The next day it was still with me so I gave Healthline a call at about 9:30am. They listened to my symptoms and recommended I get a test. The test was available within an hour, so I hopped on my bike and cycled to the testing centre (15 minutes by bike from my house).

When I arrived they gave me a face mask, which I found hilariously difficult to put on. I waited in line (appropriately distanced) for a few minutes while the people ahead of me got tested.


The test itself involved a swab on both sides of the back of my throat around the tonsils and one swab right at the back of my nostril (it just keeps going further back than you think your nostril even goes). It was pretty uncomfortable, but was over with pretty quickly, and overall wasn’t as bad as I expected.

All the testing was done and dusted by 10:40 am. So I went home and waited for the test results which they said should arrive within 48 hours. The strangest thing about the whole experience is I had to self-isolate from my wife who I share a house with!

The next evening I got a text saying I had tested negative, but should self-isolate for 48 hours until after my final symptoms just in case it was a false-positive.

The whole thing may have been a bit overkill, but I’m glad to have contributed to surveillance of the virus to make sure it’s not lurking undetected around NZ. I’m also extremely glad to be in a country which seems to have gotten COVID under control through an effective lockdown, and where we’ve also got easy to access free testing. It’s quite strange to read online about other countries like the UK or the US where it seems to be difficult to get tested, yet I can have a sniffle and sore throat and that meets our criteria.

Thanks to all the nurses and healthcare professionals who made testing so easy — keep up the good work!

Briefly: Stuff jumps aboard the crowd-funding journalism model

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Photo by brotiN biswaS on

Today launched a campaign to get their users to fund their journalism directly:

Stuff has a long and trusted history of telling New Zealand stories. Through some of our newspapers, that dates back more than 150 years.

Today, we’re seeking your support to keep us telling Kiwi stories for another 150 years. This reliance on our readers is in our DNA; through a history of paid newspaper subscriptions as well as the time you’ve spent with us, which has attracted our advertisers.

Now, as with many other news organisations here and abroad, you can make a direct digital donation too. Donating supports Stuff’s mission to report your stories without fear or favour, and with fierce independence – it directly contributes to powering newsrooms across New Zealand.

I think this is a great move. I was moaning in late 2017 about how difficult it was to give local media money. It’s similar to what The Guardian has been doing recently, as well as many other smaller New Zealand publications like the Spinoff.

COVID-19 has been a big hit to the media, with many advertisers reducing their spend a lot given the economic shock (and some advertisers like travel companies are unlikely to come back any time soon). In the last couple of weeks I wanted to support local journalism, given I read Stuff political commentary and local news Wellington a lot, so I subscribed to the Dominion Post. While I have enjoyed reading a physical newspaper for a change, I will probably switch to a recurring donation to Stuff instead once my 3-month subscription runs out.

My response is one they’ll be worried about, but hopefully they’ll be able to tap into a new market of people who enjoy Stuff but have never given a dime (beyond advertising revenue). I suspect many people will laugh at the prospect of supporting ‘terribly, click-baity journalism’ but there will be some who like the idea.

As a side note, all of the New Zealand websites I’ve seen asking for donations are using Press Patron, which seems to be a low-key kiwi success story.

How can we behave ethically in a complicated world?

A little while ago I read an article in the Guardian, which could be described as environmental clickbait: “Almonds are out. Dairy is a disaster. So what milk should we drink?”

I’m sure you’ve seen similar articles before, with headlines like: “Revealed: you thought you were doing good but you’re actually killing cute animals”.

It reminds me of an episode of the Good Place where the characters realise that the accounting system for sorting good people from bad people can no longer accommodate how complicated and interconnected the world is.

So what’s the best way of dealing with all these choices? Like: Which type of car should I drive? Which type of plant-based milk is best? Is it okay to fly to Europe for a holiday? Can I justify buying this expensive luxury when people are starving in the world?

To behave ethically in a complicated word, I try and focus on the big picture.

For me, that means paying attention to the big issues like climate change over plastic pollution. I still like to recycle, but I think in the long run plastic pollution isn’t a fundamental threat to humanity and ecosystems.

It also means focussing on systemic change over individual actions.  In other words, it’s more important to lobby politicians and vote for change rather than taking individual actions. But that’s not to say individual actions can’t help. As I’ve already said, I like to recycle, I catch the bus to work, try not to fly too much, donate to charities and subscribe to various news organisations.

Finally, I also try to be understanding and accepting of other people’s values. A lot of New Zealanders really care about plastic pollution, often ranking it ahead of climate change as their biggest environmental concern. It’s not my place to police other people’s judgements about how to behave ethically, so long as they’re not being total assholes. Everyone sees the world, it’s problems, and solutions in different ways, and that’s okay.

What do you think? How do you behave ethically in a complicated world?

Watching ‘Sixteen Candles’ made me reflect how much attitudes have changed since 1984

You’ve almost certainly heard of — and seen — the 1984 coming-of-age comedy Sixteen Candles.

I watched it last night on Netflix and was amazed by how offensive the whole thing was. I’ve read quite a few articles on rape culture which reference/criticise the film, including this one, so I knew it would have some problematic elements. However, I was not prepared for how the film — which was a critical, commercial and cultural success — was a train wreck of problematic stuff.

This isn’t exactly a hot take, but watching the film made me reflect on how acceptable behavior in 1984 is (or should be) totally unacceptable now.

Here’s some of the stuff which jumped out at me:

    • The love interest Jake Ryan has a girlfriend Caroline Mulford. She gets really drunk and passes out. Jake says “I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to” but has lost interest, so offloads her on a younger guy (“Geek”) to drive her home. The implication being that she is free game, and won’t be able to tell the difference between the Geek and Jake. Uh, hello? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he’s basically giving the Geek a green light to rape his girlfriend, and they do seem to end up having sex (although they are both too drunk to remember what happened).
    • The Geek continuously hounds the protagonist Sam Baker, despite her showing absolutely no interest and telling him to piss off. Despite how creepy and overbearing he is, eventually she is inexplicably nice to him — perhaps because he listens to her problems for about two minutes.
    • There is a Chinese exchange student is called “Long Duk Dong”. Every time he appears on screen a gong sound is played, and characters make fun of his poor English.
    • There is a character with a back brace whose only purpose seems to be comedic relief as she struggles to drink out of a water fountain or from a drink.

I’m glad times have changed since the 1980s.

I’m back on Facebook

Given I wrote a proud blog post about how I had left Facebook, the honest thing to do would be to admit I have rejoined it.

One reason why I succumbed is that I am planning a wedding, and Facebook is handy list of friends, acquaintances and family (I don’t even know many of my friend’s emails).

Another reason is my book club is organised through a group on Facebook and someone had to send me a message every month with the details. A minor thing, but probably annoying for them.

I also couldn’t help have a nagging feeling that I was missing out on a fun party invite. (As a side note, the way Facebook treats deactivated profiles is quite annoying — it’s not that easy to see someone is deactivated unless you click on their profile. So my deactivated account was probably being invited to stuff and the person inviting me wouldn’t know I wasn’t actually there.)

Was I really making any difference by leaving Facebook? They still had all my data, and were probably collecting more via cookies and other tracking methods all throughout the web. Without an account I couldn’t even use the Facebook privacy settings (such as they are).

As at the New York Times put it: “The idea that you have control is an insidious illusion.” Much like with climate change, individuals can only do so much — what we really need is systematic change driven by governments regulating in the public interest.

So I will continue to begrudgingly be a Facebook user.

The Herald introduces a paywall

I’ve previously blogged that I want to pay for NZ news but no-one would take my money. I’m glad to see the New Zealand Herald has finally introduced a paywall.

I think the paywall is a great development for the media in New Zealand — so much so that I bought a small number of NZME shares after the paywall plans were first announced. It has been delayed for many months, and according to the managing editor may even be 20 years too late.

It’s not at all clear that it’s going to work. As the Spinoff put it: “The NZ Herald is about to put up a paywall and the stakes are scarily high”. So hopefully the whole thing is a success and my money doesn’t go in flames like the rest of the media industry.

Details of the paywall

The premium Herald costs $5 a week or $199 per year, but is free for daily newspaper subscribers. There’s also $2.50 per week introductory offer.

For that price you get access to ‘premium’ content on the Herald website, which is marked by a yellow tag. Behind the paywall you’ll find long-form journalism, opinion pieces, most business news, and syndicated content from various international media including the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

Behind the paywall

I promptly subscribed to the paywall, which was easy seeing as I already had a Herald account, and enjoyed the ‘premium’ stuff on the website. On the first few days a good two-thirds or more of the website seemed to be premium content.

Being a subscriber also means you can sign up to premium newsletters which highlight good stuff to read, and thank you over and over again for being a premium subscriber. I now subscribe to the general premium newsletter, premium business, and non-premium business. These curated newsletters are a good way of picking up stuff you may have otherwise missed.

Is this a good idea?

You already know I think this is a good idea, but I think I’m not exactly representative of the general public. I already subscribe to the New York Times, as well as contribute to Newsroom, E-tangata, Public Address, Bill Bennett, etc through Press Patron. I have  access to the NBR and Newsroom Pro through work. I also follow heaps of NZ journalists on Twitter.

I have taken an active interest in seeing how people react to the idea of the paywall, and it hasn’t been pretty. I’ve seen many a punter violently react to the idea that they should pay for online news. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but people have a lot of ill-feeling towards the online news media, pointing out the trash that’s routinely on the front pages of both the Herald and Stuff to draw people in.

I do know the status quo for funding the news media in NZ doesn’t seem to be sustainable. Even though the media is still pumping out important, quality journalism, almost every outlet seems to be struggling against the fact that their advertising driven business model is going terribly.

So I’m hoping the Herald introducing a paywall is a first step towards recalibrating how people view the media in NZ. Good journalism costs heaps of money to produce, so it’s not tenable for it to be given away free online.

I do worry that the particular way the Herald has designed its paywall will further entrench divisions between the ‘why would I pay for this shit’ camp and the ‘good journalism is worth paying for’ camp, because the average person has no way of seeing what’s behind the paywall. For that reason I favour a ‘you can read 5 free articles a month’ model which allows you to see what you’re missing out on, but the Herald people must have some reason for pursuing their current strategy.

So good luck to the Herald team. There’s a lot riding on this experiment!

Briefly: a warning sign for the open web

Peter Bright at Ars Technica has written a good article on how Microsoft’s decision to adopt the chromium web engine in its Edge Browser is worrying news.

The decision means that Google has established effective dominance over web, sort of like Microsoft did around the time of Internet Explorer 6.0.

I wrote quite a while ago why Firefox plays an important part in keeping the web open, and this role seems both more important and trickier as time goes on.

Leaving Facebook

I’ve decided to deactivate my Facebook account. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this article in the New York Times which suggested Facebook isn’t taking its privacy problems seriously, and is in fact actively working to dig dirt on its opponents instead of changing its business model.

I want to see how difficult life is without it.

I’ve been feeling uncomfortable keeping my account for a while now, but whenever I thought about the stuff I use Facebook for it keep me there. For example, my book club is a Facebook group so I’ve had to ask them to text me whenever they organise a new meeting.

Even though I’ve deactivated my account I’m still deeply enmeshed in their ecosystem. I’m still on Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and I’m sure Facebook’s ad system is still following me around the web (despite my best efforts).

I’m glad I’ve done this and I hope I won’t be back.