Friday, January 21, 2011

Polishing The Poo: The Bulletin's Money and Jobs Go South

Perhaps one of you alert readers (yes, yes, it narrows the field somewhat but you know which one you are) will remember the Magpie's occasional award of the Janus Two-Faced BUMM Vase and Bowl. 

This much-sought after honour is named for the two-faced Greek god of myth, with the BUMM standing for Barefaced UnMitigated Mendacity for telling porkies.

Well, now comes the time for the first such award for 2011.

And it's a tie!!!
The first award for this year goes jointly to Peter Typo Gleeson and Michael Wilkins, the editor and general manager respectively of the Daily Astonisher.

Read on for a tale about the corporate belief in Ogden Street that a turd can be picked up by the clean end. 
The Daily Astonisher aka The Bulletin is, in ratio, reputed to be the most profitable paper in the News Ltd stable, and is said in the last few years to have raked in between $17million and $25million profit annually.

North Queensland Newspapers is a wholly owned subsidiary of the parent company, so details aren't comprehensive and can be hard to come by, but The Magpie is willing to accept the informed suggestion that the profit for the last financial year was just under $20million, which included a tidy $800,000 profit - yes, that's profit - for the likes of the Ayr Advocate. 

And there's nothing wrong with making such a quid, even if none of that profit remains in town and is siphoned back south to Sydney and thence no doubt to New York so Rupert can buy yet another Chinese satellite or some such. That's capitalism and shareholders rights.

But where these quite  … well, astonishing …  earnings, and their wholesale departure from the Townsville region don't sit too well is when another snippet of information, not reported in the Bulletin or anywhere else except for this blog, is revealed. 

Indeed, it's another chapter in all the news that's fit to print but isn't.

Last October, new North Queensland Newspapers GM, News Corp high-flyer Michael Wilkins, sacked a quarter of the Townsville staff - about 35 people - from payroll, accounts but mainly from pre-press roles (those are the folks who lay out the ads). In all, about 35 jobs went from this community, but not because anyone was redundant through technology, although technology played a role. No, this was a cost-cutting exercise in which those lost jobs would go to a Brisbane 'hub'.

This a razor gang initiative to centralise services, with hubs in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, was thought up by, among others, one Michael Wilkins, who in at least one internal email, proudly boasts of his cleverness.

The pre-press folk were told they could apply for a position in Brisbane, but if they were lucky enough to get one, there would not be any re-location assistance.

Overnight, to some and not just those he fired, Michael Wilkins went from merely a genial, Peter Garrett look-alike to the Ogre of Ogden Street.

Taking massive profits out of town is one thing, but taking jobs away, too, just to save a few more bob, is hardly a gesture of sharing and caring in a community which contributes so much to News Ltd's coffers.

Oh, so you didn't read about this is the Astonisher? That's strange, because you can bet your left one if it had been any other southern-based company that slashed staff like this to centralise into Brissy, they'd be guaranteed an uncomplimentary front page and a thundering editorial.

The Magpie is told that one senior journalist had the balls to confront the Ogre in a staff meeting and point out the foregoing and asked how were the editorial staff to report the matter. The Ogre is said to have become as tongued-tied and coy as Shrek in front of the Princess, and gave a waffling non-answer. Full points to that journo, but nevertheless the sackings were never reported, and the Ogre continued his round of glad-handing groups of local businessmen, talking up the paper while its circulation continued to plummet.

But hang around, don't go away, like the man with the steak knives used to say, but wait, there's more.

There is every likelihood that within 18 months, Astonisher staff numbers are to be further sacrificed to Brisbane, with a strong possibility that the paper will be sub-edited from Brisbane!

That could mean the loss of up to another 20 or more jobs.

Yup, despite much-qualified denials from the Ogre and Typo, sometime next year it's odds-on the North's Own Paper will increasingly become the South's Own Paper and have its stories sub-edited 1500kms south!

So much for local knowledge, memory, involvement - and employment. Keep this in mind next time you read some blustering indignant editorial or news story (not much difference lately) ranting against the Queensland Government for not decentralising departments to create jobs in north Queensland. Or when a Chalco is chided for by-passing us.

It's a bit like mining minerals on Mars, with just a hole in the ground left for the little green men to sit around and wonder where their asset has gone.

Here's a curious sidelight.

On the second Saturday of last October, the Bulletin, which has remained on a steady Saturday circulation of about 41,000, suddenly and for no discernible reason, fell through the floor to just 38,000 in sales. 

No amount of panicky investigations could pinpoint a cause, and the latest word whispered down the MagpieFone is that only a small proportion of the lost sales have been recovered. No doubt there will be a downward adjustment to advertising rates soon - heh-heh-heh - the `Pie reckons the Talking Mullet will join the LNP or His Radiance will be nominating the old bird as Citizen of the Year before that happens.

The Magpie will be regularly reporting in from the official circulation audit folks about how the South's Own Newspaper is faring.

But it was the head of the newsroom that started the quest to pick up the turd from the clean end.

A digression: It would seem from this candid pic at a recent Crocs game, even the PM had trouble believing whatever Typo was telling her;' our gal  appears to be saying `Aww,c'mon, Typo, ho,ho, pull the other one, it sings Yankee Doodle Dandy.')
Last December 2, Typo Gleeson wrote an editorial
which squeaked ` Regional economies such as … Townsville, are emerging as powerful allies of governments , which are pushing the decentralisation message to free up the capital cities as they struggle to cope with extra people'.

Huh? It would seem the Ogre doesn't read the editorials in his own paper.

Then, later in the month there was another editorial ballyhooing the new-look Astonisher set to roll off the recently installed $52million all-colour-pages press on January 31.

And indeed, why not, it is state of the art technology, which will allow the advertising rate card to be edged up because everyone can now have colour, which was previously restricted to only some pages which attracted a premium charge.

The editorial concentrated on the perceived benefits to readers, cleaner layout, easier to read fonts etc (and here it's hats-off to the long months of hard and clever work led by Janine Lucas to come up with an attractive and fresh layout).

But then, much to the merriment of many, Typo got carried away by the moment, and promised an apparent editorial change-of-policy pledge  of `…a commitment to accuracy and balance'. Wheeze, gasp, oh, you are a one, Typo. Does this mean you're going to let journos get on with writing the facts  (snuffle) without any (gurgle) tinkering from you? Gawd, me aching' sides.

And again, like that man with the steaks knives said, `but wait, there's more'.

`Of course, while we are committed to giving you a newspaper that looks and feels modern, our number one priority remains our focus on championing the rights and celebrating the lifestyle of North Queensland.'

Yes, it's all go up this way, folks, and apparently, after just a couple of years, Typo is all celebrated-out and lifestyled-out by North Queensland. Even at the time of writing this editorial, he was packing his carpetbag to shuffle off back to the Gold Coast Bulletin, to which he has been charged to administer his unique form of `accuracy and balance'. 

Then this little corker:
`Our top editorial objective is to continue to bring you the big stories, help set the political agenda and campaign on behalf of our readers for a better North Queensland.'

Umm, the big stories would be stolen garden gnomes, blokes who won't mow their lawn to facilitate another council-bashing yarn and Mooney might run again guff (on the last one, not a chance, more on that in a future blog).

And just what we need, another carpet-bagging blow-in southern editor `helping set the political agenda', all the while with an eye set on a promotion to the bright lights of Sydney, New York or London. Or the Gold Coast.

And maybe Typo could pick up a placard and picket News Ltd Sydney HQ on behalf of the 35 sacked North Queenslanders departing the Bulletin.

The Magpie will say it again, and again at the risk of putting the mockers on him, but straight-shooter and rock solid local bloke, the recently appointed deputy editor Ray Anderson would be the ideal and appropriate choice to take the chair. Ray is no particular pal of The Magpie, but since being elevated late last year, he and blokes like Clayton Smales, among others, seem to have reined in the greater excesses of Typo.

Let's hope their more professional approach will prevail when the new-look paper arrives.

Otherwise, continuing with the same over-written, sensationalist and heavily-spun twaddle will indeed be trying to pick up a turd by the clean end. 

Enough now, it is away to Poseur's Bar, where the old bird's quest is to corner some comely companion with foaming bubbly, eventually turning the conversation towards the issue of the sack. But in this case, it won't be about losing a job, just some sleep.


  1. Well Done, yet again....

    At least,"Well done" for truth and public service, though it's not looking good for the local victims subjected to The Daily Fish-Wrapper's blend of what fails to pass for journalism...

    If "Typo" doesn't shove off soon, I'm not going to renew my subscription when it runs out in a few weeks. It's gone beyond being just another bad joke!

    Keep squawking, Magpie!

  2. It amazes me how correct you are. Keep waving it under the noses of the donkeys and soon enough they will take a bite... They you will get them ! You Rock !

  3. Is it my imagination or does anyone else think the new crop of "reporters" look like school leavers ? The curiously named Brooke Baskin ( who I thought was a brand of icecream) looks like a teenager.

  4. What about real estate advertising, do you think people should be told the actual price of their homes before they embark on thousands of dollars in print only to find out their homes are not worth anywhere near what they are told they are worth.

  5. There's a good mix of generations at the Astonisher, and most are seasoned - some well weathered - and professional. Or at least as professional as they're allowed to be. Brooke Baskin is a very mature younger generation journo with talent - and she left yesterday to take up a well-deserved job with The Curious Snail in Brisbane.

  6. Nice one magpie!

    Another bird has whispered in my ear that a frustrated local from the 'ville has launched an online news service just to get the local stories back out into the local community.
    Word on the branch is that the incumbent squarkers were ignoring most of the good news community stories, instead concentrating on the local sporting teams and pointless t&a.

    A fellow bird watcher pointed my beak in the direction of Townsville news online. A pleasant change to reading about disasters and inane dog stories. Shame they don't go into print. I know where my circulation statistic would go.

    Keep up the pressure magpie.
    Like a pigeon on a new shirt....

    On target as usual

  7. I have taken a stand against the real estate advertising in the Bulletin; we have not advertised for 2 years. Not only is it too expensive it, leaves 1000s of people out of pocket when there homes don’t sell and there is a lot of those. I am sick of these lying scumbag real estate agents getting these poor vendors to pay for their marketing of themselves and their brand on a weekly basis. And soon the real estate guide is movingt o the Friday paper, “because it will be good for home sellers”. What a load of shit, its moving to Friday to increase readership of that day cause it has the worst sales of any other day.

  8. Sickofit of AnnandaleJanuary 27, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    Why does the little faceless group who think they run this city have so much apparent influence over the Townsville Bulletin? Their agenda to have Tony Mooney rise yet again has the continuing unhealthy support of the daily rag. How did Mooney get to sit next to Julia Gillard in the Bulletin’s box at the Crocs game. The bean counters at the Bulletin need to rein in the editor before this partisan support affects their business. And on the subject of editorial policy, last week our quality fish and chip wrapper ran front page stories about “woman saves dog” and “ triplet dog missing”. We deserve much better.

  9. "Two-bit rag" is the title that comes to mind, but it costs more than that these days. Bloody inflation! Still..... cheaper than kitty litter .... and it does the job. HA HA :-)