Mashed Up

The line separating artists from their audience has always been a bit blurry. From that moment during the Renaissance when someone first decided that a painter was more than just a craftsman with an easel, the whole idea of the Artist-with-a-capital-A has required an entire mythology just to make it seem plausible.

The biggest myth of all is the Romantic notion that artists somehow create their work uniquely and from scratch, that paintings and sculptures and songs emerge fully-formed from their fertile minds like Athena sprang from Zeus. Running a close second is the myth that only a handful of us possess the raw talent – or the genius – to be an artist. According to this myth, the vast majority of us may be able to appreciate art to some degree, but we will never have what it takes to make it. The third myth is that an artist’s success (posthumous though it may be) is proof positive of his worthiness, that the marketplace for art and music functions as some kind of aesthetic meritocracy.

I think Aram Sinnreich makes a good point. The term artist always seems a bit precious to me, like their work needs the tag to make it legitimate or something.

Jared Diamond has a chapter in Guns, Germs and Steel about the myth of the creator because inventions rarely spring from one mind. More often one mind is remembered for having adapted the preceding ideas into a workable form.

This is true of art. Very rarely is an artist working in isolation when they develop their trademark. Yet we're marketed the line that their genius is unique.

It's why I like Creative Commons because it promotes the idea of adapting existing work.

Italian woodfired pizza Shapes

Just noticed we're down to our last pack of Shapes' Italian Woodfired Pizza flavour. These had been reduced and looked like the line wasn't being continued, sadly.

Their flavour was surprisingly complex for a savoury biscuit. They had some of the hyper tomato you taste in the Barbecue Shapes but also green parsley or oregano note in that spot between taste and smell. Then a smokey cheddar sort of finish.

Pie rats ahoy!

I bought some DVDs off the internet and I think they might be seaworthy.

My suspicions were aroused by this typo but who knows, maybe the Los Angeles Times did say "stull dark abd dekucuius"? I could almost believe it because sub-editing has been cut back at other newspapers.

However, I became a mad man myself when Mad Men wouldn't play some episodes.

Deeply offensive

I find this letter to the editor of Wagga's Daily Advertiser newspaper deeply offensive.

The idea that men rape because they're horny portrays men as animals, no better than dogs. It's sexist bullshit in the extreme.

Jim Toomey at TED

Digital capacity

The following is a presentation I gave to the Local Government Web Network Conference in Sydney last week.

I’m Jason Richardson, Corporate Communications Manager at Leeton Shire Council. Leeton Shire is located in the NSW Riverina region between Wagga Wagga and Griffith.

I’d been in my role for a bit over a month when I attended this conference last year and I found it fascinating to meet a variety of people who maintain Council websites, from IT to public relations to administrative staff with a bit of management too.

Quick show of hands, who identifies as being IT staff? PR? Admin? Manager?

From these varying roles and perspectives we’re united by being at the forefront of communications technology and I think we all know how daunting this can be.

There are more options available to us than we can hope to utilise.

Quick poll, whose council has a YouTube channel? Who has a Twitter feed? Who has a Facebook page that they have established?

It’s funny but these names all feel familiar and a bit old yet we’ve been using them for less than four years. I don’t think I’m alone in saying it sometimes hurts my head a bit to think about it.

So maybe you can imagine how it must feel for people who don’t have email.

Lily Allen used the term “neo-luddite” when she embraced a move away from online technology but I propose we use a less pejorative term that recognises the spectrum of technological know-how in our communities: digital capacity.

Capacity refers to capability. The notion of environmental capacity has been around for decades and informs discussions of sustainability.

Specifically I’m using the definition of capacity as the ability to hold, receive or absorb; or a measure of such ability.

Population demographics pose a challenge to digital capacity in Leeton Shire. Like many country towns there are above average numbers of young and older people but less than average numbers of people between 20-40 years.

It is quite literally a generation gap and one quite obvious in the usage of a new medium like Twitter. Here’s a record of tweets in Leeton last Friday.

The issue of digital capacity became obvious to me when I developed a new tourism website last year. Analytics show the most popular page is for accommodation where only a third of the businesses listed have a website and one does not have email.

For many events the Tourism website is their only online presence, aside from what gets reported on the local newspaper’s website. There are nine annual events listed on the site and of these only two have a website.

The tourism coordinator Brent and I talked about this and also with our managers and an idea developed to hold a workshop to show tourism operators all the online tools available for them and to try and whet their appetites for getting their businesses online.

I wrote workshop notes identifying useful sites and applications, particularly services offered by Google, as well as making the argument that advertising in the Yellow Pages isn’t enough to be sure of reaching an audience these days.

The media release I wrote to promote the workshop discussed how, back in 1995, Bill Gates wrote a book on how the ‘information superhighway’ was going to change our lives and that new business opportunities would appear like those when automobiles became widely used.

The motel, or motor hotel, is one example of such a business and tourism operators should know many visitors currently plan their travel through online research and that it’s important to reach them on the web.

On the day of the first workshop I pulled up the Analytics data to show that people were visiting the Tourism site to find contact details for businesses and it was educational for me to hear their questions, including one about Google business listings.

I was lucky that Bern’s blog post on managing business listings came my way. That’s the one reprinted in Stories this year.

At the Workshop I talked about Google a lot: setting up an email address with Gmail, putting up a website cheaply on Google Sites, writing a website with a view to search engine optimisation, recording traffic with Analytics, advertising with Adwords, monitoring reputation with Alerts, embedding YouTube – all the good stuff.

At the end we asked what we could do to help and the attendees were keen for a presentation by people who build websites.

We held a second workshop and invited two businesses to discuss their services and prices. They also covered a lot of the ground we’d previously gone over on why they needed to be online and the way to ensure you can be found.

Then we crossed our fingers and hoped that the designers and tourism operators would go away and make websites together.

To be honest I don’t think a single website has appeared as a result of these two workshops and, when only two people showed up for the third workshop...

Well, I thought the exercise might be ready to be written off.

However, given my background in PR, when you’re not getting the results you planned it doesn’t mean you’re not getting results. You just need to recalibrate your expectations and find a way to spin the result as a win.

While the results we’d hoped for haven’t appeared, there were a number of positive outcomes for Council.

The two people who showed up at that third workshop went on to become finalists at the recent Inland Tourism Awards and one topped their category.

Also, at the last Council meeting the Mayor congratulated these finalists and the minutes record the “enormous benefit” they said they had gained from the Tourism Operator Workshops.

And the workshops were successful as a way of building and improving relationships with members of our community. This has been invaluable.

So while the workshops didn’t lead to more businesses setting up websites it was successful as a public relations exercise and hopefully that those attended learned something, thus increasing digital capacity in Leeton Shire.

Another good outcome has been our tourism coordinator Brent has established a Twitter account, set up Google Alerts and has been digging deeper into Analytics.

We know these resources are good and, while it’s not core business for councils, sharing this knowledge can empower people and can benefit our communities.

Leeton Shire Council plans to run the web workshops again next year and will open them up to all local businesses. We hope it will engage this sector of our community with as much success in strengthening relationships and improving digital capacity.

I encourage you to consider how your councils can improve digital capacity in your own communities.

After watching Inception

After watching Inception, read this Donald Duck comic.

It's amazing how many key concepts the two share and the deja vu enhances the film.

I'm a bit late to this. Thanks to Andrew.

Subliminal advertising

Have the Nationals been courting the deaf Mexican migrant demographic?

Seen in The Area News' letters to the editor.


A few weeks ago I had to wait an hour at the medical centre to see a doctor, which isn't too bad considering when I made an appointment again recently I was told it would be a four-week wait.

Anyway, while I was passing time in the waiting room I flicked through this book of photography and bible quotes.

It amused me to see this single raised digit among the otherwise banal contents of the book.

Facing up to Facebook

What follows is an article I wrote for the Local Government Web Network that was printed in their Stories publication for 2010.

According to a survey by Sensis of 1500 people from across this country, 90% of Australians can access the internet from home. It is not surprising then that many community discussions are moving online and the most popular location is Facebook.

In July 2009 the Online Community Engagement blog claimed there are more than six million accounts on Facebook which identify Australia as their home country, around 28% of the population (although some people have more than one account). Data suggests that Facebook users are more concentrated within cities, for example a search showed that about 400 Facebook users identify Wagga Wagga as their location – only around 1% of the town’s population but possibly 1% that consume less media from other sources.

More recently, The Nielsen Company reported there are 9,895,000 Australians using social media websites (although, again, many of these users may have mutliple accounts). Nielsen claim our country leads the world for the average time per person spent on social media sites, with the average Australian spending nearly seven hours logged-in during December 2009. No wonder Facebook is second only to Google as the most popular website for Australians.

One of the key recommendations in IBM’s 2008 report Leveraging Web 2.0 in Government is to “meet citizens where they are online.” Leeton Shire Council, where I work, has Facebook profiles for The Roxy Theatre and the Leeton Library. Locally, other councils are also using this approach, notably Wagga Wagga City Council’s Riverside project, which uses Twitter and Facebook to befriend locals and raise awareness of the consultation process and release of draft plans.

An increasing challenge for councils will be responding to criticism on social network sites, where the debate is public yet proponents can hide behind pseudonyms. No wonder there’s a recommendation in the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s 2009 report, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0, that ''engaging with the tools and platforms of social networking should be accepted as a valuable and productive way for public servants to share and develop their expertise.''

Social network users are already having an impact within Australia with criticism of Ipswich’s Bell Street by a group of about 900 on Facebook leading to the establishment of a taskforce and the announcement of a safety audit for the street which features two methadone clinics, a sexual health clinic, a taxi rank, bus and train station and pub.

In a sign that not all public servants understand how to engage the community, Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter claimed to have been so disgusted by comments from the ‘Rockhampton Sucks’ Facebook group users that he decided to quit social media all together.

So how should one best engage the community via Facebook? You could spend hours responding to criticism from a ‘troll’ – internet slang for someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages – yet reading these angry criticisms can be a great way to quickly research opinions on local subjects and evaluate the level of interest among others on the social network. An online presence doesn’t have to be interactive, like the approach of Wagga Wagga’s Riverside project mentioned earlier, by befriending locals they could draw attention to materials located elsewhere online, ensuring ownership of the content – an important consideration in light of the recent defacing of Facebook pages.

Social media is a new frontier for community engagement and it will be interesting to see what is successful. In recognising this new field, I think the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have established a useful set of guidelines that are worth considering for anyone representing a council online:
  • Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
  • Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
  • Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
  • Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.


Summer nights

Thinking of summer nights -- and I am thinking of them longingly as it's the middle of winter -- this is one of the sights among the many bugs on a warm evening at Pindari.

The hawkmoth is truly a wonder.

Wind-powered music

This is one of my favourite recordings of 'the wires' at Pindari, a large-scale aeolian harp. (Click here to learn more.)

It was a summer evening and the gentle pulsing was created by a light breeze and the temperature slowly dropping. Warm nights are glorious with the light of the stars and the sound of 'the wires' joining the cicadas and occasional rumble of a train or truck.

041207PM by bassling

Thinking of Kay Hull

Many have described retiring Riverina MP Kay Hull and her efforts. It's been said that she knocked back promotion from the backbench so she could focus on the needs of the Riverina. Charles Sturt University Vice-Chancellor Ian Goulter described her as like a terrier when he opened a veterinary lab named after her.

Anyway, I was particularly impressed with how she handled a request from my mum to transport cutlery from Canberra to Leeton.

A Riverina view of the federal election

Below is an overview of how the federal election is playing out locally that I wrote for Crikey.

While Crikey reckon the Nationals will keep the Riverina, it will be interesting to see what effect the retirement of longstanding National Kay Hull has. The Liberals must think they have a chance as I've had three communications, including two addressed letters from candidate Andrew Negline, so far.

The Nationals have sourced a strong candidate in Michael McCormack, former editor of Wagga's Daily Advertiser newspaper, while Labor's Robyn Hakelis has run afoul of the "born and bred" cliches in the local media because she's only lived in the region for a few years. Vocal One Nation candidate Craig Hesketh is running again, while the Greens have a new face in David Fletcher. There's also Tim Quilty of Liberal Democratic Party, Sylvia Mulholland of the Christian Democratic Party and independent Matthew Hogg, who's been doing a lot of work to raise his profile. A late addition is Rhonda Lever representing Family First from her home in Sydney. It's been reported that she's a reluctant candidate who agreed to run as long as she did not have to campaign, answer questions or participate in any way.

It probably will go to the Nationals again though as they have enjoyed a huge majority of votes in previous years. However, it's great to see the largest number of candidates ever running for the Riverina.

A key election issue here is the release of the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) plan, which has been tipped to include cuts to irrigated farms. With the region contributing to 38% of NSW's vegetable production with a lot of this exported, the trade off for environmental flows will be felt by consumers and in reduced exports. The Australian Farm Institute says every Griffith farmer feeds 150 Australians and 450 foreigners each year.

The MDBA have pushed back the release of their plan and this has been widely viewed as way of avoiding water becoming an election issue. While the MDBA protest that they're working to produce a "plain English" version of the plan, it would seem the delay fits with Labor's approach of deferring discussion about climate change.