Appalling Quality of Journalism Today

If you’ve been living in the western world this week you’ve probably heard of the woes with News Corporation and News International regarding the phone tapping ‘scandal’ at the News of the World newspaper. To me, the scandal itself is bad enough, but realistically it only highlights what I’ve been thinking myself for many years about journalism today.

I can only speak from my perspective lately as an Australian (previously a Briton). Not much has changed in the media over the 5 years that I’ve been here in Australia, and maybe what I’m seeing is really only because I’ve shifted continents in my midlife. But when I was growing up, journalism was a career that required an excellent grasp of English, with at least an A level pass. It required one to be objective, unbiased and report the facts. Opinion was only relevant in a column dedicated to opinion pieces. Perhaps there’s some rose coloured spectacles casting a different hue over the past, I’m not sure. I’d like to know what others think about that.

But today, I find it more and more frustrating to read anything in the traditional media. This traditional media that claims ‘new media’ will kill it off because information is available for free whereas printed news must be paid for, appears to be completely unaware that, at least for me, what is killing it off is not the new media being free, but the new media at least generally providing facts, not the opinion of the editor or owner of the media. I don’t want to read how bad government policy is, I want to read what government policy is and then form my own opinion on it.

It seems these days that media’s job is not to tell people the news, it’s to tell them how to think. The carbon tax in Australia is one giant example of this. So many newspapers (and I suspect most are owned by News Corp) are against the carbon tax, so they’ve omitted much of the detail and included much opinion. The problem is (and media moguls are well aware of this) that the phenomenon of crowd thinking is very much a real one. If you’re told lots of people think something is bad, you’re quite likely to think it’s bad too, regardless of whether you know anything about it.

I have spoken with a number of people who when asked about the carbon tax think it is bad. I ask them about details of the tax and they have no idea. They have no idea that their tax free threshold will go up to compensate them. They have no idea that the carbon tax can actually reduce emissions of larger producers through market forces because the commercial media isn’t telling them. Do you have any of the details about the tax while you’re reading this and forming opinions? Most of my friends don’t yet they’re against it.

The only person I’ve spoken to who had the facts (and was actually in favour of the new carbon tax too) watches ABC News 24 and SBS. These two channels are government owned and to a large extent better regulated than the commercial TV stations. They’re better regulated because they HAVE to provide the facts otherwise people will cry that taxpayers money is being used to fund bias. No-one seems to care that their advertising dollar is funding bias. The price you pay for everything in the shop is being used to tell you how to think by the commercial media.

I’d like to see the return of the ‘Party Political Broadcast’ – where the major political parties spend 5 or 10 minutes every so often explaining their policies, on TV – not in an advertising format but in a┬áprogrammatic format. It should be a condition of a broadcasting license that these major political parties (and I’m not sure on who should qualify as major, but definitely the government of the day and the opposition) be afforded at least 30 minutes of prime time viewing per month to tell people about their policies. This is particularly true in Australia where voting is compulsory but having a clue is not.

If you force people to vote, you must force them to at least be aware of what it is they’re voting on. Most people have not got the true facts. They’ve got the facts as the commercial media wants you to have them. They’re making their vote based on some rich person’s opinion, not their own. This is true because in general most people are too lazy, too busy, or simply don’t know how to find the facts themselves. They rely on the media to tell them – and they believe what they’re seeing is unbiased. That’s the worst part, the people I’ve spoken to genuinely believe that they’re being fed the facts, not the bias.

Are you aware you can write to your politician and ask them questions? Are you aware that democracy doesn’t just happen once every 3 (or 4, depending on where you are) years?

This is a bit of a rant I know. But it scares me that the decisions that affect my future, the future of my kids and their kids are being made by an elite few who happen to own media outlets. No, I’m not singling out Rupert Murdoch, although his influence is significant he’s not the only one. But there aren’t many of the elite few, and I suspect, because of their position, their views are pretty similar. Whilst they don’t control the politicians directly, they do so by controlling the opinions of a significant proportion of the voting population.

Bring back the quality to journalism. Stop selling opinion pieces as fact.

Started At University – Some Tips For New Students

I’m now into week 7 of my new university course after I decided to fully embark on the career change I alluded to some time ago. I’m now officially a student paramedic at Victoria University and I’m going to try to use this blog to chronicle some of the more important aspects of my Uni experience in the vague hope that it might help someone else going through it to.

I’m pretty lucky. I’ve had a fair bit of life experience before this point – given that I’m soon to be 40, that’s 20 odd years out of school. So I tend to view Uni quite differently from some of the youngsters who are there because their parents want them to be rather than themselves wanting to be. I think it really helps to want to be there – mostly because at University you’re left to find out a lot of the education for yourself. And unlike High School, lectures are not compulsory at Uni (some things like Practical Sessions and Tutorials are, but lectures are not) so it takes self discipline to turn up and listen. Self discipline is really quite easy if you’re there because you want to be rather than because you’re forced.

If I had to give one tip for this article, it would be this. Attend Orientation Day – no really. If your University puts one on for you, go to it. You’ll discover a vast wealth of information that you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise know. It’ll give you a chance to meet and speak to your new lecturers, and meet up with some new mates who will probably end up going through the next three years with you. And you’ll need mates for this new experience too – don’t be an island, mates can help remind you about things you might forget and they’ll have strengths in areas that you don’t and vice versa. You can help each other with study areas and a bit of a social life helps your motivation too.

Remember that tertiary education is not secondary education. You won’t be spoon fed everything. Indeed, sometimes your lecturers won’t even help you if you ask them (though most of the time they will, it rather depends what they’re trying to teach you). You will need to use the library. You will need to buy at least some of the books they recommend because you’ll need to put in some extra studies around things you don’t quite understand fully. These things can add up costs wise so make sure you do have a bit of an up front slush fund if you can. If you’re lucky enough to live in Australia you may well qualify for the Austudy up front payment.

Speaking of Austudy, if you are able to claim it, make sure you do so well in advance because Centrelink are appallingly slow. They’ll cite all manner of excuses for why your Austudy claim has been delayed. They’ll range from bushfire to flood, to your case is not normal and had to be sent to a special claims officer for processing. Get it in way in advance so you don’t spend weeks without income, or with reduced income.

Also, if your course has any special requirements like police checks or working with children checks you must ensure you leave plenty of time for these processes to be done in time. The police or other relevant authorities will be swamped with applications for these things by other students and the response times will blow out. Your University probably won’t care if your dog ate your application, or for any other excuse you might come up with so do yourself a favour and make sure you start this process way way way in advance so you don’t miss any deadlines.

And finally, on the note of deadlines, don’t leave your assignments / homework until the last minute. Ever. If you want good grades you’ll absolutely need to make sure you put in the work. This isn’t High School and your lecturers will ┬ánot accept excuses (unless they’re really really good ones!) for late submissions and things like ‘my internet went out while I was doing the referencing’ will not cut it. They’ll look at you and wonder why you left until the deadline to do the referencing. Or they’ll say ‘shouldve used the library then’. Which of course, if you leave it until the night before it’s due, you can’t. Get assignments underway as early as possible. Get them finished as early as possible but DON’T hand them in too early. You never know when that golden nugget of information will arrive into your brain at a lecture and if you’ve already handed in your assignment you can’t go back and tweak it. The catchwords for this section :- Start Early, Finish On Time, Hand In On Time.

I hope these tips have provided some insight into the beginnings of new University life. If there’s any questions you’d like answered please do feel free to leave comments and I’ll discuss them in the next update. I intend to give some more Student Paramedic specific information so watch this space!

Why Julian Assange (and WikiLeaks) is not a terrorist.

And why assigning him that label is extremely dangerous for everyone

Assange may have done things that have annoyed the American government. And probably the British and Australian governments too. In fact, possibly a whole slew of other governments throughout the world.

But doing something with which the government disagrees does not a terrorist make.

Terrorists, by definition, engage in activities which terrorise. Traditionally with some political motive or goal that they require which cannot be obtained through peaceful means. Usually such organisations have tried the peaceful approach and failed and have thus resorted to terrorism. Now, to engage in terrorism the organisation concerned must use unreasonable force to try to bend the will of the people into surrendering, with the hope that political change will therefore follow through the process of the people voting for a government that will change the policy to the terrorists demands.

In modern history it’s never worked. I don’t know if it used to, perhaps it did.

But the key point is that terrorists frighten the general population. They try to ensure the general population are constantly living in fear, or terror, of something bad happening to them. They might also try to cause considerable disruption to the economy of the country by destroying infrastructure or slowing systems down to the point where they become so congested that business cannot continue as usual. But they always have a political goal they wish to achieve and will state that objective publicly.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to my knowledge have caused no public fear. They’re not trying to change the will of governments through terrorising the population. They have no ‘end goal’ to which the governments must acquiese in order for the leaking to desist. I’m not sure they’re trying to change the policy of any government, except to honest them up.

The problem we now face is that many in the US Senate seem intent on using anti-terror legislation to silence WikiLeaks. This is a gross misuse of the legislation and proves what I thought about the legislation in the first place. After Sep 11 2001, many sweeping powers were introduced into the various western nations, UK, US and Australia to combat terrorism. Powers that if used correctly didn’t really have too much of an impact on the everyday person. PROVIDED THAT THE PROPER DEFINITION OF TERRORIST IS ADHERED TO.

Now it seems we’re only just a whisker away from anyone who disagrees with a government being called a terrorist. To its logical extension it means that if you’re a Republican when there’s a Democrat Government you could conceivably be labelled a terrorist – and all that legislation bears down on your head in an instant. You’ve suddenly no rights to criticise the government, you’ve no rights to a fair trial, you’ve no rights to innocence until proven guilty. You’ve definitely no rights to a peaceful demonstration any more, because you’re disagreeing with your government.

There are places in the world that are like this. Most of those places are starting to learn that it really doesn’t work when you try to suppress the will of the people for so long. Some are moving towards liberalisation. In the meantime, it seems possible that the US might just be heading in the wrong direction. Which all means that everything Osama Bin-Laden wanted is coming to pass. US citizens will very soon find the very freedoms and ideals they hold so dear will be stripped away from them one by one and no-one will quite notice it’s happening until it’s too late. (TSA anyone?)

Declaring Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as a terrorist organisation is a step too far, irrespective of whether they’ve done something criminal or not (and I’m not declaring either way on that, I don’t have the full story to make that decision. I don’t need it to know it’s not terrorism though).

Bending the definition of terrorist to fit Julian Assange begins the very slippery slope of bending the definition to fit anyone who publicly disagrees with the government. Is that where we really want to end up?

Are You Thinking Of A Career Change?

If you’re thinking of a career change you’re probably wondering whether it can really be done?

I can tell you from personal experience, it can.

Where Do You Begin?

Well, the biggest question you’ll need to answer first is “What is it that I want to change to?”. This might not be as easy as it sounds. If you’re like me you’ll probably know that you don’t like what you’re doing now, but you won’t necessarily have any clue as to what it is you really want to do. Ironically though, if you search yourself hard enough you’ll probably discover that you’ve had niggling ideas all throughout your life which will be trying to tell you what it is you really want to do.

Even more ironically, if you’re like me, it’ll turn out to be the thing that, when asked 20 years ago whether you’d consider doing XYZ job for a living you’d have told the enquisitive quizzer that XYZ Job was the worst job on the planet and you’d never even think of doing THAT.

OK, but what if you REALLY REALLY don’t know what you want to do. Well, the thing that enabled me to find my passion was to volunteer for a while. There’s a million and one places that you can find volunteer work in all manner of different industries and job types. Volunteering for a while will enable you to determine if that industry sector is really where you want to go.

After being in the Kinglake CERT for a couple of years I had decided I wanted to become a paramedic. Funny, I can still remember when I was 18 or so, someone told me they wanted to become a paramedic and I told them I couldn’t think of anything worse than mopping up blood and fixing people’s heads after they’d collided with telegraph poles in cars. Yuck, what a job that would be. Back then though I wanted to be a Veterinary Surgeon. I could do it for animals but I really didn’t like people enough to want to care for them!

How times change… And it was only because I volunteered for the CERT. I later started volunteering for a local nursing home as well, and whilst I don’t think Aged Care is my thing, it helped me understand more about how Aged Care works, and really helped cement my desire to help people who are in medical strife.

My ultimate ambition is to become a Flight MICA Paramedic with Ambulance Victoria. This combines a very old passion of mine (flying) with the new passion of Paramedic.

So, to summarize, if you don’t know what you want to do – check out some volunteering for a while. If you don’t like it as a volunteer you won’t like it as a paid career.

OK, I figured out WHAT, but HOW do I make the switch?

Well, this will be different for everyone. In some cases you’ll need a degree qualification to move from your current field of expertise into your new field. In others you may just need a lesser qualification or possibly no qualification at all.

In almost all cases, you’ll be leaving one highly competitive industry and entering a new highly competitive industry, which leads you to the question of ‘Why should your new chosen employer, employ you when you have zero experience in this field?’. A tough one isn’t it? You can’t gain experience until you can get into the field, and you can’t get into the field without experience.

Well, I’m going to use that V word again. Volunteer. If they’re not paying you to do the work, places are a bit more happy to accept a lack of experience. Generally this will be because if you’re volunteering somewhere you’re doing so because you have (or feel you might have) a passion for the industry you’re volunteering in. If it doesn’t work out, they haven’t paid you and so the loss (and therefore the risk) is really all yours.

You almost certainly will not be able to volunteer in the actual role you want to aspire to. The key is to get into the industry first as a volunteer and then worry about the specific role. This is especially true if the new role you are wanting to move to requires qualifications. You won’t avoid those qualification requirements just because you’re a volunteer. So don’t expect to be able to start at the top – you’ll have to start at the bottom and train, study and work your way up.

Consider Part Time

If you’re considering a career change you’re probably fairly well up the ladder in your current career, or aged around 40ish with a mortgage, maybe some kids and hopefully a spouse. That means you have commitments and how on earth can you hope to go from your good wage/salary that you’ve built up over the years to starting again at the bottom of the ladder on a new career path? This is especially true if you need to study for your new path.

Part time work in your current career could work for you. It has for me. I am still a part time WordPress programmer. The wages from that are significantly better than what I’ve moved into but (and this is no reflection on WordPress, its just my state of mind) the pull of becoming a paramedic means I’ll take the lower wages for now while I get re-trained and re-skilled to do what really drives me.

There will be sacrifice though, almost certainly. Unless your mortgage is already paid off you’re going to struggle for the next few years while you study or make do on that lower end wage.

I can’t afford a University Course

Firstly, if you have a genuine case of hardship (and not just one of not wanting to work while you study) you may be able to receive a scholarship from either the University themselves or possibly from a potential new employer within the industry sector you’re looking to move into. It’s worth looking into before you write off your chances.

Depending on the industry you’re moving into, you may be able to enroll on the Open University and continue with your current job until you re-qualify. Open University courses are extremely popular with people re-skilling later in life and are highly recommended.

Many countries (well, ok, so I only know about the UK and Australia!) will offer government supported places and/or government student loans which you pay back when you start earning a specific amount of money in your new career. Take advantage of these if you need to – the interest rate is usually very low or even zero percent.

Finally, you could enter the new industry at a lower level and persuade your new employer after a time to sponsor you through university. In some instances that will work nicely, although it does seem quite hard these days to get employers to pay for anything except the hours you work. You’ll need to work hard to convince them you’re a good risk for their investment and the volunteer work you did up front will stand you in good stead for this.

Can I Do It?

YES YOU CAN! I did it, and I know a huge number of other people who’ve also done it. All you need is a passion for the new career you’re going into, and you’ll be able to move mountains to make it happen.

I hope this article has given some useful insights into moving into a new career, perhaps with some things you hadn’t thought of to be able to make it happen. Please leave a comment below if this has helped you, or if you have any questions.