The Gen­uine Ar­ti­cle

ProPhoto - - FIRST FRAME - Paul Bur­rows, Edi­tor

The im­mi­nent deaths of ma­jor me­dia plat­forms al­ways make for good head­lines. Video was go­ing to spell the end of ra­dio and cin­ema. In fact, cin­ema has been pro­nounced dead many more times than Lazarus… despatched by not just by video, but tele­vi­sion and now movie stream­ing. Cin­ema it­self surely meant the last cur­tain for theatre and opera. Like­wise the printed book, most re­cently sup­pos­edly killed off by the elec­tronic ver­sion – surely the most over-hyped me­dia ‘rev­o­lu­tion’ of this cen­tury (so far, that is). e-books peaked at around 20 per­cent of the mar­ket – cer­tainly enough to cause some dis­rup­tion – but have had nowhere near the im­pact on ‘tra­di­tional’ pub­lish­ing that was orig­i­nally pre­dicted.

And, of course, no­body is read­ing mag­a­zines any more. oh, sorry… you’re here now, aren’t you? It’s cer­tainly true that in some ar­eas, the im­me­di­acy of on­line in­for­ma­tion sources is re­shap­ing the print in­dus­try (most no­tably news­pa­pers), but in the mag­a­zine world, the spe­cial in­ter­est pub­li­ca­tions can still of­fer dis­tinct ad­van­tages from pro­duc­tion val­ues through to pre­cisely tar­geted au­di­ences.

The whole process of pro­duc­ing a mag­a­zine in­her­ently in­volves checks and bal­ances that aren’t al­ways present on­line. The Week­end

Aus­tralian Mag­a­zine’s food writer and restau­rant critic, John Leth­lean, re­cently wrote a col­umn about the grow­ing scourge of blog­gers and so-called ‘in­flu­encers’ pre­tend­ing to be fair-dinkum prod­uct re­view­ers when they’re es­sen­tially be­ing paid – in one way or an­other – for their com­ments which, nat­u­rally, are al­ways pos­i­tive. Leth­lean calls it “the murky, knuck­le­drag­ging on­line quid pro quo pub­lish­ing scene with zero grasp of in­de­pen­dent com­men­tary”… which is a pretty suc­cinct sum-up of the sit­u­a­tion. It’s par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic in the restau­rant busi­ness, fash­ion and ho­tels and tourism, but it hap­pens in ev­ery con­sumer mar­ket and it can be very hard to pick the gen­uine re­view from one that’s been fab­ri­cated in re­turn for some sort of pay­ola. The num­ber of likes, friends, fol­low­ers or what­ev­ers is no in­di­ca­tor of in­tegrity or in­de­pen­dence – and cer­tainly not of ex­per­tise or ex­pe­ri­ence – yet it’s in­creas­ingly touted as be­ing a mea­sure of some­thing im­por­tant or even valuable. It’s seen as the quick way to an au­di­ence, but it’s re­ally all smoke and mir­rors when just how much of that au­di­ence is ac­tu­ally en­gaged (or even real) is im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify. It’s also a com­par­a­tively cheap way to an au­di­ence – even one that’s mostly myth­i­cal – if all you have to do is pro­vide a free meal, prod­uct or ser­vice. Ad­ver­tis­ing that de­liv­ers quan­tifi­able re­sults is rather more ex­pen­sive be­cause it does just that… gets re­sults.

John Leth­lean writes, “… this stuff is part of an ever-erod­ing drip of col­lu­sion and cor­rup­tion that over time has led to a be­lief out there in the real world that this is how it’s all ac­tu­ally done… those who present them­selves as ‘guides’ who are ac­tu­ally just pack­ag­ing mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial… a cosy lit­tle ar­range­ment for all that pro­vides no mean­ing­ful di­rec­tion to con­sumers what­so­ever”.

In our busi­ness, the on­line world is full of so-called equip­ment re­view­ers, a tiny hand­ful of whom ac­tu­ally pro­vide a dis­clo­sure of any al­le­giances which could pos­si­bly have a bear­ing on their com­ments. A lot don’t, and yet their “breath­less pos­i­tive ex­po­sure” (to quote Leth­lean again) is sup­pos­edly cred­i­ble and likely to in­flu­ence buy­ing de­ci­sions. In so­cial me­dia there are even fewer checks and bal­ances so, as is seen quite reg­u­larly, any­body can say any­thing with­out any at­tri­bu­tion, ver­i­fi­ca­tion or re­search. Sort­ing fact from fic­tion – or the merely fan­ci­ful – is an im­pos­si­bil­ity. The thing is, though, I sus­pect con­sumers, even the less well-in­formed ones, are start­ing to wake up to all of this and ap­ply a finer-meshed scep­ti­cism fil­ter. Hope­fully, then, the days of sham en­dorse­ments are num­bered.

In one form or an­other, ProPhoto has been around since the early 1930s (which must make it one of the long­est-lived mag­a­zines in Aus­tralia) and there are plenty of other ti­tles in ar­eas such as mo­tor­ing, avi­a­tion, mu­sic and com­put­ers that are now chalk­ing up 30, 40 or 50 years. None of us would have sur­vived even a few months if we weren’t per­ceived as, firstly, be­ing any­thing less than com­pletely in­de­pen­dent and, se­condly, pro­fi­cient in our cho­sen area of ex­per­tise. The re­al­ity is that qual­ity edi­to­rial ac­tu­ally

costs money to cre­ate, which is why it can never be bought or com­pro­mised, and why it will al­ways achieve more ef­fec­tive out­comes than sim­ply de­liv­er­ing a hand­ful of ‘likes’.

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