I’m back on the NZ Tech Podcast.

Bill Bennett and Paul Spain discuss – Slack+Amazon vs Microsoft Teams, Amazon UK free football, UK alliance to compete with Huawei 5G, iPhone sink or swim, Crown Infrastructure update, Vodafone & CoreView, Brave missteps, Time to stop hating Microsoft? Hosted by Paul Spain and this week’s guest: Bill Bennett. Listen to the Podcast here:       […]

Source: Slack+Amazon vs Teams, iPhone beached for >14-months, UK vs Huawei, Time to stop hating on Microsoft? – NZ Tech Podcast

At The Conversation Massey University lecturer Victoria Plekhanova writes: Google and Facebook pay way less tax in New Zealand than in Australia – and we’re paying the price.

 

She says:

While the internet has created new opportunities for media and audiences alike, those opportunities have come at a price. Traditional media organisations now compete with giant digital platforms, not only for the attention of readers, but also for the advertising revenue that was once their lifeblood.

Adding insult to injury, the digital platforms compete for audiences’ attention partly by distributing the news content that was first created and published by those now-struggling media organisations.

This not only damages the media and public discourse, it is harmful to taxpayers.

Plekhanova says Google paid A$426.5 million in Australian digital service tax in 2018. That’s 66.5 times the amount of tax paid in New Zealand: “Given the New Zealand economy is about a seventh the size of Australia’s, this is an extremely wide disparity”.

Publishers

There are also rules forcing Google and Facebook to compensate publishers when they piggyback off their original content.

The idea of a digital service tax isn’t that unusual. Other countries have a similar tax.

All of this makes sense. We let the overseas media giants freeload here. Part of their income depends on services that have been provided by taxpayers. Some of that income even comes direct from government agencies which buys advertising on the two social media giants.

It amounts to a net transfer from the New Zealand taxpayer’s pocket to social media investors: some of the richest people in the world.

Tax a global problem

Ideally the OECD would deal with this problem. But that’s been a long time coming and the money continues to flow in one direction only.

Plekhanova comes unstuck when suggesting taxing or charging tech giants will help local media survive. The damage was done ages ago. Survival depends on more than taxing the giants and anyway, up to a point the main local media outlets depend on the tech giants to reach their audience.

So, yes, let’s tax Google and Facebook like countries tax extractive industries. And, at least, stop pour government money into their coffers. But let’s not kid ourselves this is going to fix our media problems.

 

A week ago Catalyst Cloud launched a low-cost storage service. Or to be accurate its Object Storage service. You can see the full press release at Scoop.

The story didn’t get a run in any reputable New Zealand media.

Contrast this with the extensive coverage Microsoft got the following day when it announced it was opening a New Zealand cloud region.

The Microsoft story was everywhere. It popped up at Stuff, RNZ and Reseller News among others. There were overseas runs at TechCrunch, CRN and Computerworld.

The prime minister even talked about it on TV.

Big run

My point here isn’t about New Zealand media giving the overseas company a bigger run than the local company. Although that could be a story in its own right – see Comparing the stories below.

What the contrast between two stories show is how much damage the lack of local technology news coverage does to New Zealand’s home grown technology sector.

No-one here has the resources to file a story that is, by local standards, somewhat significant.

No one is watching, does anyone care?

We no longer have a native technology press. It’s a situation which, presumably, will be worse again if  Stuff no longer operaties as a separate entity.

Last month Bauer Media closed its New Zealand operation shutting off Peter Griffin’s excellent regular features in the Listener. (This has reopened after the title was sold).

The most visible remaining NZ technology news title, Reseller News, is run out of Australia, with a part time local reporter.

Sporadic technology news

The Herald, Stuff, RNZ and Newsroom all have the occasional story, but it is mainly sporadic and far from comprehensive coverage.

An exception would be Juha Saarinen’s regular Herald columns.

This web site is also sporadic. There are stories here, I write between paying journalism jobs. That means they can’t be timely.

There are a couple of other outlets, but the big picture is that New Zealand can no longer sustain a commercial tech publishing sector with the resources to cover stories like the Catalyst Cloud storage launch.

Filling the vacuum are many overseas sites. Whatever their merits, they are not going to zoom in on the activities of a local cloud provider.

Comparing the stories

There’s no question the arrival of a New Zealand Microsoft cloud region is the bigger news story. Microsoft is the world’s second largest cloud operator. It has many customers here and there is a pent-up demand for a world-scale cloud operator to open shop in New Zealand.

In contrast, the Catalyst story, is not much more than a feature update.

There are interesting angles to the Catalyst story. The cost of its Object Storage is on a par with costs for world scale cloud operators. It costs three cents a month to store a gigabyte.

The ‘everything stored in New Zealand’ angle is important. But it’s also an important part of Microsoft’s story. And, no doubt, Microsoft could make the same claim about only using renewable energy.

Uphill battle for local technology news

What this illustrates is a company like Catalyst struggles to be heard above the noise.

It must be galling for people at Catalyst and other New Zealand technology companies. They something innovative like introducing low cost cloud storage only to wake the following day and see a rival’s news splashed around the place.

Longer term it is a worry. Wikipedia says:

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception.

Tech companies need that observation and perception. New Zealand’s tech sector no longer has either.

Australia’s ACCC is developing a mandatory code to create ‘level playing field’ in media landscape. Josh Frydenberg says

Source: Facebook and Google to be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies | Australian media | The Guardian

From the original story:

Facebook and Google will be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies after the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, instructed the competition watchdog to develop a mandatory code of conduct for the digital giants amid a steep decline in advertising brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the same steep advertising decline that has New Zealand media companies in a tail spin. Things have been tough for nearly 20 years. Depending on which set of numbers you read, Facebook and Google take as up to 85 percent of advertising revenue.

Media extinction event

Elsewhere pundits have described the Covid-19 pandemic as the extinction trigger for traditional media. The comparison is with the meteor that wiped out most dinosaurs.

Frydenberg said it was only fair that media companies that created the content got paid for it.

“This will help to create a level playing field,” he said.

The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the decision was about a strong and sustainable news media ecosystem.

If we are realistic, it is too late to talk about a “strong and sustainable news media ecosystem”. Today’s game is all about survival.

Level playing field for Australian media

Likewise “level playing field” is a nice idea, but we’re talking about a playing field where one side has 85 percent and the other has 15 percent.

Yet Frydenberg is correct when he says it is only fair that the tech giants should pay media companies that create content. The same goes for small publishers and individual journalists.

It’s correct to say Google doesn’t take much material from media companies. Often it isn’t much more than a headline and an opening paragraph. Although that is where most of the gold sits in a news story.

Google gives something back in the way of a link to the original story. Yet often, once a Google reader has seen the head and the opening par, the incentive to click a link has gone.

It’s more complicated with Facebook. Sometimes people cut and paste entire stories into Facebook posts. That means when someone reads the story in that timeline, Facebook gets to sell the advertisement, not the publisher.  It means Facebook gets rich on someone else’s work. But then that is the Facebook business model.

Dependency

The flip side of this argument is that media outlets depend on Facebook and Google to deliver links to help readers find stories. It’s a form of dependency that means relying on the parasite that is eating you to also continue feeding you.

Australia’s approach may not be the best way of tackling the problem. Yet it is good to recognise that there is a problem and to attempt to tackle it.

If recent history is any guide, the big social media firms will resist. They will spend a fortune on legal and lobbying attempts to overturn the decision. By the time that fight draws to a conclusion there will a quite different media landscape.

“Some storytellers and influencers are also migrating from personal sites toward individual channels on Medium, Blogger, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. But there’s a risk here — those creating and sharing unique content on these channels can lose ownership of that content. And in a world where content is king, brands need to protect their identity.”

As you might expect, Morrison is keen on changing the downward trajectory for domain name registration, but he has a valid point – why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of a platform owned by someone else? Sure, use Facebook etc to engage with your customers, but why not maintain control over your own brand? It baffles me, especially as creating a website is so much easier than it used to be.

Source: Why businesses aren’t picking domain names | ITP Techblog

At ITP Techblog Sarah Putt sees the issue of using Facebook or another social media site as a matter of branding.

She is right. Branding is important.

Yet the issue doesn’t stop there.

A site of your own

Not owning your own domain name, your own website, means you are not master or mistress of your online destiny. It’s that simple.

If you place your trust in the big tech companies, they can pull the rug at any moment.

This isn’t scaremongering. It has happened time and again. In many cases companies have been left high and dry. Some have gone under as a result.

The big tech companies care no more about the small businesses who piggyback off their services than you care about the individual microscopic bugs living in your gut.

Media companies learned this lesson the hard way. A decade or so ago Facebook and Google have made huge efforts to woo media companies. They promised all kinds of deals.

Many of those companies that went in boots and all are now out of business. Gone. Kaput.

Pulling the plug

Google pulled the plug on services like Wave and Google+ almost overnight after persuading media companies to sign up.

Big tech companies change their rules on a whim. Some of those whims meant cutting off the ways media companies could earn revenue.

Few media companies ever made any much money from the online giants. Those who managed to survive in a fierce and hostile landscape had nowhere to go when the services eventually closed. Many sank without a trace.

Sure, you may have heard stories about people who have made money from having an online business presence on one of the tech giants’ sites. You may also have heard stories about people winning big lottery prizes. The odds are about the same.

Yes, it can be cheap, even free in some cases, to hang out your shingle on Facebook or Google. But it is never really your shingle. It’s theirs.

The case for your own domain name

On the flip side, starting your own web site is not expensive. You can buy a domain name and have a simple presence for the price of a good lunch.

It doesn’t have to be hard work. You don’t need something fancy. And let’s face it, most Facebook companies pages are nothing to write home about either.

Use WordPress. It is not expensive. There’s plenty of help around to get you started.

The important thing is the site is entirely your property.

I often hear one argument in favour of working with Facebook. It goes somewhere along the lines of ‘fishing where the fish swim’. It’s true, your customers probably are on Facebook. There’s nothing to stop you from going there to engage with with them… just make sure you direct them to your independent web site.

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 was one of the worst kept secrets in the phone history.

By the time of the official launch everyone interested in the company’s hardware knew the NZ$2200 top model Galaxy S20 has a main camera can capture 108 megapixels. It can also zoom 100 times.

The phone is also one of the first to work with 5G mobile networks.

There was a bizarre New Zealand twist to Samsung’s secrecy.

New Zealand daftness

Two days after the company advertised the phone during the US Super Bowl television broadcast and less than 24 hours before the official launch the company asked journalists to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

That’s right, a legal agreement asking journalists not to write about information that is already public.

Apart from anything else, many will work for publications able to get the overseas story through wire services.

It’s all about Samsung’s convenience

When used like this, non-disclose agreements have nothing to do with giving journalists early access to precious knowledge.

They are about maximising the marketing impact of a product launch.

Companies want media coverage to coincide with advertising and other marketing campaigns.

None of this should ever be a journalist’s concern. A reporter is not there to sell products. The duty is to readers and to keep them informed.

To ask journalists to sign a non-disclosure agreement when all the details about the phone are already public doesn’t make sense.

Nor does signing the agreement. Any journalist agreeing to that would be better off moving to a career in marketing or public relations.

Hear me on this week’s NZ Tech Podcast. I talk with Paul Spain about Huawei teaming with Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi as a defence against Chinese phone makers being locked out of Google’s Android services. We talk about the incredible progress made by New Zealand’s games developers who have doubled revenues in two years. We also discuss Telsla’s latest moves and a plan to test flying taxis in Christchurch.

You can listen to the podcast on the site or use one of the download services.

“Here’s the bad news: No one is coming to save you. No business is going to swoop in and provide sustainable funding for newsrooms. No new technology is going to transform the way journalism supports itself forever.

No big, incredible deal is going to build a strong foundation for the news. There isn’t a single magic bullet that will work for everyone. Even producing groundbreaking journalism isn’t going to suddenly turn your fortunes around.”

Source: Use the tools of journalism to save it » Nieman Journalism Lab

Ben Werdmuller has a sobering and realistic take on today’s journalism. It looks grim for journalism, yet there is optimism of sorts here.

A conversation

He says journalists need to recognise the internet is not a broadcast medium but a conversation. This echoes a post on this site from 11 years ago. More on Twitter journalism looks at the way many journalists use Twitter as a broadcast medium. They see it as a way to draw in readers to their newspaper, radio or TV channel websites.

This still happens. But many New Zealand journalists have learned how to engage with readers online. We focus here on Twitter because that’s the only social media I use these days. One reason for picking a single social media channel is that I can concentrate my firepower. This makes sense for a one person freelance journalism business. And it is a business, not a job.

In the earlier story I write:

“Most use it as a broadcast medium – like an RSS feed. A number have Twitter accounts, but say little of value. Perhaps 40 percent can be said to be serious Twitter journalists.”

Without digging around and doing a lot of research, I’d say that number hasn’t changed much.

Twitter as a conversation

What has changed is many of New Zealand’s higher profile journalists have regular active Twitter conversations. Go and dig around, you’ll see many of the best-known names engaging with their audiences. It can be hard doing this among the snark and antagonism.

One innovation that I’ve been working on is to integrate Twitter comments with those on my site. I’ve used a couple of IndieWeb tools to capture tweets responding to my posts on stories. I’ve done this to boost the conversational aspect of my work.

My plan is to add to this over the coming year.

The linked story from this site ends with:

“Until publishers encourage reporters and editors to engage with their audiences, they are going to miss out on the potential of Twitter.

Of course, the journalists who do this best will become media brands in their own right, which will worry the bean counters. But that’s another story…”

This is working well 11 years after those words were written. Many of us who still work as journalists are now mini-brands. Publishers and editors hire journalists with a good brand. Freelancers like me get work on the back of having a brand.

This doesn’t come naturally to older journalists. We taught journalists to keep themselves out of the story. That’s not how things work today and it definitely isn’t how blogging works.

Community

Werdmuller has a different take on what amounts to the same idea. He writes:

“Instead of thinking in terms of having an audience, you need to think about building and serving a community. Instead of informing, you need to be listening. The opportunities to learn the nuances of your community and to serve it directly are unprecedented — but it takes work.”

It does take work. One of the skills journalists pick up is to be excellent at listening to sources. In the past we’ve not been so good at listening to our audiences. It took me a while, although judging by my earlier posts, I was onto this 11 years ago.

The point here is there hasn’t been a clear dividing line between sources and audiences for many years now. Likewise, there is less of a division between journalists and audiences. We are, as Werdmuller puts it, communities. He is right when he says this takes work, but boy, it can be rewarding.