The New York Times needed info. Then they needed a scapegoat.

Driven insane by unjust captivity, I have unexpectedly emerged to exact revenge against the wicked and mediocre

In search of the elusive press apology

Barrett Brown

I suppose you remember me from 2011?

I was with Anonymous, and you came to me for info on OpCartel.

Then you ran an article stating the kidnapping as fact, which, as is now better established, it actually was.

At the time, I wrote to you, regarding the question of whether such a thing should be reported as fact, “Obviously if I were functioning as a journalist, that wouldn’t be sufficient.”

Barrett Brown
Later you expressed regret on Twitter that you’d reported it as fact.

Barrett Brown
A few days after that you wrote another article with Ravi in which you note that there’s been contradictory information about all this, etc, and it’s all quite a mystery, though you never get around to stating that you yourself reported it as fact, and did so after talking to some of the same people I did, whom I’d directed you to.

Barrett Brown
Then, based on ideas you note to have seen on Twitter, you claim me to be the “self-appointed Anonymous spokesman”, which is not actually a fact, as I’d noted for months and months, in magazine articles and TV interviews, etc; and suggest that my “book contract to write about Anonymous” is relevant to my attempt to do something with whatever materials I could get from the Mexican Anons.

Barrett Brown
Technically I did have that contract, but it was to serve as co-writer on a book about Gregg Housh, the guy who originally asked me to help deal with the press, and his own life and history with Anonymous, as could have been determined rather easily from the book announcements and articles from other reporters who actually did manage to determine that. And that might well have made it clear that I obviously had little to gain in that instance from things I did myself.

Also, this passage: “Why, some might wonder, would Mr. Brown, presumably a real person using his a real name, go public with this information, given the risk?” … seems to imply that you’re not entirely certain that I’m a real person with a real name, even though I was, at that time, a journalist who’d written for a large number of publications, in addition to the work I was doing for free, like trying to get NYT to pay closer attention to Palantir and Archimedes and other firms I’d been researching which later went on to undermine the 2016 election.

Anyway, I went to prison, got out, and found that Adrian Chen was somehow now writing about these same subjects.

Barrett Brown

Despite this:

[Link to 2014 piece on Adrian Chen showing his attempts to buy stolen emails from hackers, whom he’d later criticize without noting this]

Barrett Brown

Anyway, I hope you’ll try to be more careful in the future. Also if there’s someone at The New York Times who might be interested in a heads-up, I’ve found several demonstrable errors in his work — aside the half-dozen articles he wrote about me, some of which he admitted not to believe in a recording I’ve made public — and I’m in talks with The New Yorker today to give them a chance to do an internal review of his work for them, since I’m writing at length about it in my upcoming book from FSG.

Also: [Excerpt from the convo we had when he approached *
me for info in 2011]

***
5:37 PM [redacted]: Ha — I can understand your frustration, but the NYT’s news sense and yours will not always align.
me: That’s true.
***

Barrett Brown

That’s for fucking well sure, isn’t it?

[No reply…]

October 2011 — The Original Exchange

  1. [redacted]: Hey , hope you’re well.
  2. me: indeed
  3. [redacted]: Just wondering if this Mexico thing today is bullshit. Have you heard anything?
  4. me: it’s not at all bullshit
  5. 5:19 PM [redacted]: I mean the rumour that a woman has been released by the Zetas.
  6. me: I don’t know about it being a woman, necessarily, but the release did apparently occur, but not in response to the op; the person was not known by the Zetas to be the Anon
  7. 5:20 PM This person can tell you more
  8. [e-mail redacted]
  9. I’m not sure what other details I can give out at this point
  10. [redacted]: Who is that person?
  11. The email address, I mean
  12. 5:21 PM me: a Mexican Anon whom I’ve been working with on this
  13. [description redacted]
  14. 5:22 PM [redacted]: Can you tell me, off the record, any details about the person who was taken? I’m not going to publish even the hint of a detail, as I don’t want to endanger a life. But it would help in researching.
  15. me: and perhaps more as other informants come to me as a result of the media coverage
  16. I cannot, you’ll have to ask this Mexican Anon
  17. 5:23 PM [redacted]: What evidence have you seen that the kidnap really happened?
  18. 5:24 PM me: None, nor would I have expected to as we have no intention of providing a chance that the person could be identified
  19. however, this other person might be able to tell you more.
  20. [redacted]: But if the person couldn’t be identified, how could the Zetas respond to the threat?
  21. 5:25 PM me: These Anons assumed that the Zetas knew who it was
  22. But obviously they had no way of knowing the exact situation
  23. 5:27 PM [redacted]: So, just to clarify: an Anon was taken by the Zetas. The video was released, then the Anon was released, but because the Anon was never identified it is not clear if it is linked to the op.
  24. me: That’s basically it, yes. But you really should check with [redacted]
  25. 5:28 PM [redacted]: I definitely will, thanks for the email address.
  26. me: no problem
  27. [redacted]: I’m going to ask a stupid question.
  28. If no one has any evidence a person was kidnapped, how do you know a person was kidnapped?
  29. 5:29 PM me: I’m relying on the account of someone I’ve known and worked with in the past and whom I believe to be telling the truth based on the nature of her responses as well as other details I can’t go into due to the present situation
  30. 5:30 PM Obviously if I were functioning as a journalist, that wouldn’t be sufficient. But in this case…
  31. 5:31 PM We already have journalists looking too fucking closely into who the person is, including a review of Mexican records, and as such we’re very reluctant to assist them in finding out more.
  32. [redacted]: But a responsible journalist won’t run the name.
  33. So what difference does it make?
  34. 5:32 PM me: If you take a few minutes to think about the process by which such a name would come up and the nature of the situation in Mexico, and concede that mistakes occur in journalism, you can probably guess.
  35. [redacted]: True.
  36. 5:33 PM me: Again, this would be of greater concern to me if the U.S. media bothered to pay attention to those larger issues on which I have already produced evidence.
  37. As it is, we don’t really need the trust of the media insomuch as that most of our operations are fait accompli when reported
  38. 5:34 PM So, we are confronted with the decision between risking someone’s life and proving that a person exists to reporters with whom we already have an ambivalent relationship
  39. [redacted]: I can see your argument.
  40. 5:35 PM But if you take me, for example, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that might make you think I’m not trustworthy with sensitive information.
  41. me: At any rate, even I have few details on this, so even if I wanted to — and of course I’d be happy to have this confirmed rather than have my outlets deem me untrustworthy — there’s nothing I could do.
  42. 5:36 PM No, you’re the exact opposite.
  43. The Times can be trusted to withhold even information that is of public concern.
  44. 5:37 PM [redacted]: Ha — I can understand your frustration, but the NYT’s news sense and yours will not always align.
  45. me: That’s true.
  46. [redacted]: But sometimes it will, obviously.
  47. 5:38 PM me: But again, I have few details to provide anyway, so I don’t want to waste your time on that particular issue.
  48. 5:39 PM [redacted]: Fair enough. Any details whatsoever — however minor — would be appreciated if you are so minded.
  49. me: Nothing more I can say about the kidnapping victim. I suggest you talk to [redacted] about it.

[Note: Despite consistent explanations to the Times and other outlets that no one was in a position to confirm the kidnappings, they were reported as fact by the paper — a decision the reporter later expressed regret for on his Twitter account, thereby helping to spawn a narrative to the effect that the original claims were now somehow under dispute. They were later claimed to be a hoax by at least one outlet, Gawker. Months later, Anonymous Veracruz participants would reveal to the Mexican press why they were initially reluctant to provide identifying details about the kidnap victim, who had spoken via webcam with several prominent activists after being released — that he had been involved in selling marijuana and his kidnapping stemmed from a dispute with a “minor” Zeta operative]

Emerson T. Brooking named Resident Fellow at Digital Forensic Research Lab

The Atlantic Council announced today that author and defense analyst Emerson T. Brooking has joined as Resident Fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

Emerson is one of the finest thinkers in anticipating the far-ranging effects of social media in conflicts. He has produced visionary work in this space, and we’re delighted to have him continue that work with our team. — Graham Brookie, Director of @DFRLab

As Resident Fellow, Brooking will lead initiatives regarding the policy application of @DFRLab research products. He will study the intersection of social media and conflict, considering how information manipulation shapes broader trends in the international security environment.

The team at @DFRLab have distinguished themselves as leaders in digital forensics and conflict and elections monitoring. They are working at the forefront of the global information revolution. I’m honored to join them and excited to help advance their mission. — Emerson T. Brooking

Brooking is the coauthor of LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media (2018). LikeWar charts the rise of digitally enabled authoritarianism and the expanding information warfare capabilities of terrorist groups and national militaries alike. It is the only book to feature interviews with both former national security advisor Michael Flynn and former reality television villain Spencer Pratt. LikeWar was honored as a “Book of the Year” by Amazon and Foreign Affairs magazine.

Most recently, Brooking was Research Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — the youngest researcher in a generation to receive such an appointment. He served as an adviser on information warfare to the National Security Council, Joint Staff, and U.S. intelligence community. Previously, Brooking was Research Associate for Defense Policy, also at the Council on Foreign Relations. In that capacity, he studied defense budgeting and strategy, national security bureaucracy, and civil-military relations.

Brooking has published articles in The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, WIRED, and Rolling Stone, among others. He has provided commentary on defense and internet-related topics to National Public Radio. He was recently named to the “Forbes 30 Under 30.”

Brooking holds a BA in Political Science and Classical Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He will be based in Washington, D.C.

For more information or any inquiries, please contact DFRLab@AtlanticCouncil.org.

By the numbers — The Ken

All of us are familiar with the-ken.com’s ‘By The Numbers’ section — where the chosen company’s financial performance is dissected and lovingly scrutinised. Someone in twitter had recently asked if they would publish their own financial summary, that gave me a good excuse to dig this out.

So lets dive right into financials of Kenrise Media Pvt Ltd — yes thats the registered name as per MCA records. The-Ken is a well respected media publishing company, about an year and half old now based out of Bangalore. Their stories are deep, insightful and backed by solid research — thats why you have to pay for good journalism as they call it.

Revenue — 69.4 L

Expense — 1.2 Cr

Profit — (51 L)

Period of operations — Aug’16 to Mar’17

Income

In about 8 months, there’s a subscription revenue of 64.6 lakhs, 4.8 lakhs as return on investment in Mutual Funds. With an average annual subscription fee of Rs.2,750, we can assume they have around 2000–2300 subscribers. There is also an income through specialised patron plans, corporate plans and gifting a subscription, contribution of these to overall subscription revenue is unknown.

Investment in MF — 2.3 Cr

Expense

Staff salary and welfare — 76 L

Consultation — 32 L

Software Expense — 2.8 L

Main expense is on salaries and wages, followed by consultation. Considering they just launched mobile apps, I doubt the software expense listed above justifies the actuals. It could very well be that software development expense is classified under the head of consultation. They also have a defamation suit filed against them for which they will be spending heavily (lawyers don’t come cheap).

New plans

Looks like their subscription plans were revised recently and listed in dollars, that’s more than 100% increase over their initial offer of Rs. 2750 / year

Edit: Rohin just clarified that it stays @ INR 2750 for Indian subscribers. The ‘extra love’ is for subscribers abroad 😉

There is a very good response for their well narrated, analytical journalism which will lead to more subscribers, they are also likely to have a churn from current user base, which will impact their projected revenues and growth rate. While adding new subscribers at a good pace will boost their revenue, reducing churn will indicate how sticky their subscribers are.

Disclaimer — I haven’t spoken with Rohin or Patanjali before publishing this, known them for over an year now.

Outrage Culture is Undermining the Foundations of Journalism

How Our Journalists & Academics Have Become the Contractors of Hysteria

This year is only 3 months old and already it has bestowed us with a fresh lineup of outrage worthy events that have plastered themselves across every social media platform available to us.

I’m talking about the two internet sensations that have become impossible not to see for anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection.

The first major incident that really generated some outrage thus far has been the infamous Gillette Ad, which has had the internet awash for days with the relentless, scathing opinions of social media pundits both decrying and supporting Gillette’s position on toxic masculinity. Whilst this was a one minute and forty-nine-second video clip that managed to cleave the internet into a multitude of warring, vicious and cannibalistic camps; the real protagonist of this year’s outrage belongs to a slightly more recent event.

This being the interaction between a group of Covington Catholic Schoolboys, a Native American Elder, and a group of radical Black Israelites in Washington Square. If that synopsis doesn’t immediately ring bells then the following picture definitely will:

Screenshot: Youtube

The original video that made this image so infamous is actually a very small excerpt from a wider situation. This excerpt; which is exactly 1 minute and 36 seconds long was sprayed across the internet, depicting a group of boys wearing Make America Great Again hats mobbing, sneering and smirking at a Native American Indian Elder who seems to be engaged in a form of sacred ritual. In a vacuum, the image looks disgusting. It looks like an arrogant, smug teenage boy displaying the most abhorrent chauvinism and disrespect possible. It looks like a bunch of privileged white kids spitting on indigenous culture. But things are not always as they seem.

Consult the video below:

In the video, before the infamous scene of the excerpt we can see a group of radical Black Israelites harassing the boys in a way that certainly quantifies provocation. However, it is entirely up to you to decide the moral pervasiveness of the actions displayed in the video.

If you run a quick search on google regarding the event, the sheer number of different stories surrounding the events that transpired in the square have been shocking, to say the least. But almost every article that has been published in the wake of the relatively minor occurrence seems to have one terrifying thing in common:

Journalists are no longer trying to find out objective truths. Social media platforms and the desire to direct traffic, attention and ultimately; money to certain news outlets have transmuted “journalists” into ideological contractors that are paid to dissect information into an easily digestible narrative that can be neatly placed into a political category.

They are all possessed by an ideological goal: and they are willing to do anything to make the “facts” fit into the story that they so desperately need to tell.

In the hours following the release of the video of the internet many news outlets including The New York Times and Washington Post were quick to lash out with accusatory statements attacking and defaming the boys from Covington Catholic School. Whilst it is of critical importance to criticise the ugly heads of bigotry, racism, and intolerance wherever they may appear, it’s slightly more important to make sure that the findings are correct in the first place. And in this case, as in so many others; that never happened. As aforementioned, journalists from what used to be the pinnacle of journalistic integrity: The New York Times, didn’t even bother to spend 20 minutes looking for context before publishing an op-ed defaming the young man, now known as Nick Sandmann, as the “embodiment of white patriarchy”.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Numerous high profile academics and authors have called for the public shaming and doxing of a 16-year-old boy. Including renowned author Reza Aslan taking to Twitter to ask his followers whether they have seen a “more punchable face”.

The following VOX even managed to consult an Education Professor to create a story that works neatly into the narrative that they sought to portray. Once again, regardless of the larger context.

The silence of Nick Sandmann
On Friday, students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School encountered a Native American elder at the March for…www.vox.com

How is it that academics, intellectuals, and journalists whose official role in society is to scrutinise, doubt and double check the narratives we take for granted, have been able to fall victim such childish and vile misbehavior. Reza Aslan and other prominent media figures such as Kathy Griffin (below) have not only called for the shaming and defamation of school children, they have also called for actions of violence.

Whilst these seemingly malicious incidents continue to appear in news media and will continue to be permeated into our lives in a way that calls for our so easily obtained outrage, it is unfortunately now up to the news reader to run a sceptical eye over anything that seems immediately emotionally volatile. The fact that intellectuals, journalists and academics, the very people who are supposed to protect us from misinformation, are so easily manipulated into acts of outrage, demonstrates that something is deeply rotten in the state of media. In a vacuum, the things that we engage with on our news feeds are so good at creating an emotional response, it begs to question, is that their very purpose?

These events are not a sign of the times. Our reaction to them is.

Broken: Unsplash

Accusations of intolerance, sexism, and endless other -isms have become the new currency for social media in the world of digital speech, as journalists have allowed themselves to become the contractors of outrage.

It is the feeling of simultaneous outrage and confusion that keeps us so fervently engaged with our devices. And so, as stated by Colin Horgan:

“Confusion is what keeps us coming back, what keeps us addicted, and what keeps us asking for more.”

However, I think that whilst confusion is an essential component to our current addiction; it is a fundamentally baser drive that compels us to continually engage with social media. It is our ability to be outraged that keeps us so closely connected to our devices because devices are no longer merely inanimate objects that we use to browse the internet, they are keepers of our beliefs and the broadcasters of our identity in the ever-expanding digital world.

Thomas Mitchelhill
|Philosopher 
|Political Analyst 
|Existence Enthusiast

Fear and loathing among live-streamers

Every year it’s the same conversation.

Us: “We’re closing the office from the 20th to January 1st.”Them:
“What?! So everyone gets two weeks of paid vacation?”Us:
“Yes.”Them:
“That’s amazing!”

What’s amazing is that it’s still rare. Since starting SuperData seven years ago I can still count the number of companies that do the same on one hand.

Common comment #1: “Easy for you to say, you’re the CEO.”Correct. It would be a terrible business decision to instill an unsustainable work culture.

Common comment #2: “Easy for you to say, your company is only 30 people.”
Correct. But you also said that when we were 2, 10, and 20 people. It hasn’t, in fact, gotten easier over the years to free everyone’s schedule for that long. We’re a service provider with customers, after all. But giving people a chance to rest and pursue other interests is what makes us successful.

Anyway, here’s an early holiday wish for you. I wish that in 2018 you, too, will work with people who are focused. That at the end of each day you will feel fulfilled and part of something meaningful. And that there is no idle busy-ness happening in your office. That you’ll be valued for your contributions and paid in full and on time. And finally that, wherever possible, you will provide these things for others.

It is the season of giving. It is the time of the year when you show your appreciation for the people with whom you spent most of your time. From where I sit two weeks of vacation shouldn’t be amazing. It should be average.

Fear and loathing among live-streamersIn a refreshing moment of honesty, one of the hottest Twitch streamers today is going on hiatus after admitting to
cheating on his wife. Contrary to the image that is emerging of what happens off-camera in traditional entertainment industries like TV and movies, here’s a media personality who doesn’t get away with it. DrDisrespect has been on the rise in 2017: in April he broke 400,000 channel followers, and is currently at 1.3M. Channel views quadrupled over the same period. My guess is that this will only boost his numbers. Meanwhile in China the biggest streamer on Douyu, Wh1t3zZ (a former League of Legends runner-up team member with 13M followers), was questioned for cheating in PUBG. Despite refusing to apologize on the grounds that he’d been falsely accused, PUBG publisher Blue Hole banned his account. To make matters worse, his girlfriend and agent was exposed for owing money to their employee and resorted to racial slurs off camera.

Disney acquires most of NewsCorpAfter weeks of speculation, the cat is out of the bag with the announcement of a $66B acquisition. Specifically, the Mouse bought NewsCorp’s international cable networks, regional sports networks, 20th Century Fox Film and TV studio, FX and National Geographic Cable Network, the 39% stake in Sky, and 30% of Hulu. This gives Disney a market cap of over $200B, making it larger than Comcast ($186B). The move comes largely in response to the threat (opportunity?) of digitalization (aka Netflix) and Disney is banking on its content library.

That said, Disney is betting on its past, not its future. Disney has announced it is cutting ties with Netflix but has yet to explain what its ‘going it alone’ strategy will look like. Different from digital competitors like Netflix and Amazon, which are both quickly building up their own libraries, Disney’s deal lacks an emphasis on back-end analytics. Instead of hoping to successfully produce and distribute the ultimate must-see content (whatever that is), Amazon and Netflix focus on finding efficiencies and solving the discovery problem. More so, especially Amazon excels in using its user data to inform its content acquisition strategy. Meanwhile, Disney is doubling down on cable TV which sees dwindling subscriber numbers. And good luck getting that tide to turn after its execs kill off most of Fox’ more fringe movie productions and shovel more superhero sequels our way. Silver lining? I have a new favorite Disney princess: Ellen Ripley from Alien. Link

The UK released its annual report on young people and gamblingWhereas Brexit is wholly disinterested in the long-term chances for the next generation, this report does a pretty good job laying out the challenges for 11–16 years olds as far as gambling is concerned. Despite 80% having seen ad on TV, the report classifies only 0.9% as problem gamblers, which should tell you roughly how effective advertising is nowadays.
Link

Nintendo sells so many Switches it doesn’t need mobile. Right?With
10M units sold, the Nintendo Switch has outperformed even the most optimistic of forecasts from earlier this year. After ramping up production, suddenly everyone’s an expert on how well things are going at Nintendo. But few seem to notice that the firm’s mobile effort is still at an early stage. So far, even its strongest IP has managed to only earn the company meager returns. Content aside, could it be that Nintendo is too distracted with the Switch’s success to formulate a solid mobile platform strategy for its long-term?

Gold farming is back: this time in VenezuelaInstead of performing back-breaking labor, a growing number of Venezuelans is playing games for money and getting paid better. Runescape and Tibia are popular mostly because of the lack of infrastructure and high-end PCs.
Link

Apple buys Shazam at $400M valuationMusic is quickly becoming a new frontier among tech giants. In addition to announcing an equity swap with Spotify, Tencent is also eyeing a floatation of Tencent Music to the tune of $10B. With the acquisition of Shazam, Apple is taking its own steps toward doubling its services revenue to $50B annually. Shazam wasn’t doing so hot because it struggled to make a living, so Apple paid well below the $1B valuation from Shazam’s financing round.
Link

The French are banning mobile phones from schoolsAs part of his campaign promises, French president Macron is looking to make good on banning smartphones from schools. Already the devices weren’t allowed in classrooms. But it’s looking like kids up to 15 years old will not even be allowed access to their phones while at school at all, including during recess. Experts warn about the practical challenges, which is a familiar brand of fatalism in France. You have to remember, though, that initially TV was going to boost educational efforts, too, only to be ousted from the class room. It’s an amazing idea: to think that technology alone is not a shortcut to Enlightenment.
Link

Archive here.

2017: the year in review

January

• Stunt man Johann Ofner is killed in a workplace accident during the filming of a music video in Brisbane on January 23.
• New MEAA Musicians director Bow Campbell joins MEAA.
• Equity member Ray Meagher, best known as Alf on
Home and Away, is awarded an Order of Australia Medal in the Australia Day honours.
• The MEAA flag flies high in a sea of rainbow flags at the Melbourne Midsumma Festival Pride march in St Kilda.
• A massive backlash from the journalistic community in response to a blog post by MEAA member Ginger Gorman forces publisher
Mamamia to remove an article from its website following accusations of plagiarism.

February

• Dozens of Equity and ECS members take up the opportunity to comment to a parliamentary inquiry into the future of the film and TV industry through an online submission tool set up by MEAA.
• MEAA tells the Fair Work Commission it will vigorously oppose a new attempt by screen producers to remove a raft of basic workplace rights for actors and other workers in the film and television industries.
• Campaign launched by MEAA on behalf of Manus Island detainees journalist Behrouz Boochani, actor Mehdi Savari and cartoonist Eaten Fish. Dozens of writers, journalists, and performers sign an open letter calling for the men to be brought to Australia.
• MEAA member Peter Grace wins an Oscar for best sound mixing on
Hacksaw Ridge.

March

• MEAA calls for a total rethink of metadata retention laws, after a Senate committee hears that ASIO has been using Journalism Information Warrants to secretly trawl through the metadata of journalists and media organisations in the hunt for their confidential sources.
• A new restructure of production for the ABC’s news services results in 42 people being earmarked for redundancy.
• Dancers at the Australian Ballet talk tough in negotiations with management over a new enterprise bargaining agreement, dangling the prospect of industrial action if their demands are not met.
• MEAA members at Melbourne & Olympic Parks celebrate a new collective agreement that gives priority to staff who are directly hired over agency temps.
• MEAA condemns One Nation leader Pauline Hanson for banning ABC journalists from attending her WA election night function on March 11.
• Journalists at Private Media, which publishes
Crikey, Smart Company and The Mandarin, win a 30% penalty rate for early starts, setting a new precedent for other digital media organisations to follow.
• MEAA welcomes the axing of the controversial Catalyst Fund, established by former Arts Minister George Brandis, but calls for the full restoration of the $105 million stripped from the Australia Council in the 2015 Budget.

April

• Fairfax Media announces another $30 million in cuts to its Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms. Meetings of MEAA members in both cities also roundly reject attempts by management to impose ideological direction and to interfere with masthead independence.
• The Australian entertainment world is shocked by the sudden death of satirist, writer, actor and director John Clarke of a heart attack on April 9. Clarke was an Equity member for more than four decades after arriving in Australia from New Zealand in the mid-1970s.
• The Fair Work Ombudsman investigates unpaid work at the Australian Grand Prix after MEAA exposes a potential breach of the Fair Work Act after hundreds of casual workers were sent a text message offering them the “opportunity” to work for free.
• MEAA’s new CommsPro membership for people working in public relations and communications is launched with a “great debate” in Sydney over the future of journalism.
• News Corp editorial staff in Brisbane pass a unanimous vote of no confidence in senior management following news of a restructure of the business, including photography and production, that would result in significant numbers of staff being made redundant.
• Further pressure grows on the government’s metadata laws after revelations that an Australian Federal Police officer accessed a journalist’s telecommunications data without being granted the necessary Journalists Information Warrant.
• Equity joins the campaign to maintain local content quotas for children’s drama after the free-to-air networks combine forces to lobby for the quotas to be abolished.

May

• To coincide with World Press Freedom Day on May 3, MEAA releases its annual report into the state of press freedom in Australia, titled The Chilling Effect.
• The same day, Fairfax Media vote to take industrial action for seven days in protest at the company’s decision to axe the equivalent of 125 full-time equivalent editorial positions, or 25% of its metropolitan daily journalists. The action means none of the company’s federal parliamentary staff are available to cover the Budget on May 9. More than 10,000 members of the public sign a petition supporting the journalists.
• The journalism world is saddened by the death of ABC broadcaster Mark Colvin, a MEAA member for 33 years. We also farewell legendary football commentator Lou Richards, a great friend of the Australian Journalists’ Association over the years.
• MEAA’s submission to the Senate inquiry into the future of the film and TV industry calls for government leadership through standardised production and location offset rebates, the restoration of funding to the Screen Australia agency, and a revamp of local content rules to rope in streaming video platforms.
• The casts of
Barracuda, The Family Law and Cleverman win the 7th annual Equity Ensemble Awards on May 22.
• MEAA joins the international campaign to call for the withdrawal of criminal defamation charges against two East Timorese journalists over a story that was published about the nation’s prime minister. Among those offering support is Peter Greste. As a result, Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo writes to the court not to convict the two journalists and they are cleared.
• On May 18, MEAA celebrates 25 years since the amalgamation that formed the present day union.
• MEAA appears before a Senate Select Committee inquiry into the future of public interest journalism. The inquiry was established in the wake of the Fairfax Media job cuts.

June

• Concerns for the future of jobs at Network Ten after the debt-stricken company is placed into voluntary administration.
• MEAA member Julie Davis, a ticket attendant at the Melbourne Cricket Ground who is wheelchair-bound, successfully wins an undercover car parking space following a union campaign over her unsafe working conditions.
• Consultation begins for a new screen industry workplace health and safety code. The extensive code will be the first significant overhaul of safety in the sector for well over a decade.

July

• Equity opens a survey of sexual harassment, criminal misconduct and bullying in the Australian theatre industry.
• Dozens of people who worked on the Melbourne Grand Prix become potential recipients of back pay after intervention by MEAA about the employment by labour hire giant Adecco of “volunteer” staff.
• MEAA’s National Media Section committee calls on the Walkley Advisory Board to reconsider its decision drop the category for international reporting.
• MEAA Equity members Adele Perovic, Noni Hazlehurst and Justine Clarke and MEAA crew member Dan Oliver give evidence at a July 20 hearing of the House of Representatives inquiry into the sustainability of the film and TV industry. They to urge greater government support and leadership in the sector.
• Jo Chandler is named freelancer of the year at the mid-year Walkley Awards in Sydney on July 26.
• MEAA’s submission to the Senate inquiry into the future of public interest journalism warns that governments can no longer stand on the sidelines but must step in to support independent journalism to preserve democracy.

August

• MEAA writes to the Fair Work Ombudsman about a potential breach of workplace laws through the use of unpaid workers by the Virgin Australia Supercars Championships.
• An injection of 32 fresh faces are elected to MEAA’s Federal Council following the elections held in July. In other changes, Marcus Strom is elected President of the Media section after the retirement of Stuart Washington.
• Eliza Goetze, from the
Bundaberg News Mail is announced as the inaugural winner of the Caroline Jones, Women in Media, Young Journalist’s Award.
• MEAA condemns as a “dangerous step” a proposed inquiry into the ABC announced by One Nation today as the trade-off for support for the government’s media reform package.
• Launch of a ‘Good Jobs Charter for Digital Media’ to push for a fair set of workplace standards in this fast growing sector.
• The Equity and ECS sections of MEAA join with the industry bodies for live performance and screen to back a yes vote in the marriage equality postal survey. “We believe the time has come for the Marriage Act to be reformed to allow same sex couples to marry,” they say in a joint statement.
• MEAA calls on the Turnbull government not to stand in the way of the proposed acquisition of Network Ten by CBS so that months of uncertainty for employees can end.

September

• MEAA helps to host a visit to Australia by East Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki, who spends a week at Fairfax Media in Sydney with funding from the Balibo Five-Roger East Fellowship.
• On Equal Pay Day on September 4, MEAA calls for concrete action from media organisations to close the gender gap which is 23.3% in print and publishing and 22.2% for in broadcasting, well above the national average. The action required includes transparency about gender pay, family-friendly workplaces, and the dedication of annual merit pools to fixing the problem of unfair pay.

Home and Away crew win significant back pay after MEAA members took action when they noticed return travel payment when on location had not been passed on by Channel Seven.
• Federal Parliament passes legislation removing the two-out-of-three media ownership rule which had been in place since the early-1990s. “This is a poor day for media diversity,” says MEAA. “The last important protection — the two-out-of-three rule — has been abandoned and there is nothing in its place.”
• The Make It Australian campaign is launched around the country on September 18, bringing together MEAA, Screen Producers Australia, the Australian Writers’ Guild and the Australian Directors’ Guild to fight for the future of the screen industry. More than 700 people take a selfie in support of the campaign.
• One of the nation’s most prolific and highly regarded performers, Ken Blackburn, is announced as the recipient of the 2017 Equity NZ Lifetime Achievement Award.

October

• The film industry is changed forever after Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace over numerous allegations from female actors of sexual harassment and assault. The fallout will spread to Australia later in the year.
• In response to growing concerns and complaints about the attributed re-use of journalists’ work online, MEAA asks freelancers to take part in a survey about their own experiences of being plagiarised as part of a campaign to stamp out the practice.
• Members of MEAA’s Equity and Crew sections head to Canberra on October 18 to lobby politicians to support the Make It Australian campaign for the film and TV industry’s future. Actors Bryan Brown, Sigrid Thornton, Sean Keenan, and Matt Day, actor-director-writer Leah Purcell, sound technician Ben Osmo, production designer Fiona Donovan and special effects expert Dan Oliver represent MEAA in the delegation. About 1200 people send emails to politicians as a result.
• Queensland police raid the offices of the ABC in Brisbane on October 25 in an attempt to identify the source of leaked Cabinet documents. MEAA says this is an “outrageous attack on press freedom”.
• The newly-elected Labour government in New Zealand announces it will repeal the ‘Hobbit Law’ which classifies all film workers as “independent contractors”, unable to bargain collectively and receive other benefits associated with being an employee.
• About 250 people attend the first Women in Media national conference on the Gold Coast on October 27 and 28 with the theme ‘Media is changing … you can too!’

November

• MEAA and Screen Producers Australia issue a joint statement on November 1 declaring zero tolerance for sexual harassment. The statement follows the exposure of high-profile cases of sexual misconduct in film and the media, including Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
• Media Monitoring company Isentia makes 29 jobs redundant and relocates the positions to the Philippines in a decision that follows a sharp fall in revenues.
• Anger as dozens of suburban newspaper journalists in Sydney and Melbourne will find themselves jobless just weeks before Christmas in yet another round of cost-cutting by the two largest publishers. Fairfax shutters six suburban mastheads in Sydney and sheds more staff at
The Weekly Review in Melbourne, while News makes a 20% reduction to the editorial staff of its Leader group in Melbourne.
• Former Australian Journalists’ Association Victorian President, Gold Walkley winner and journalism academic Philip Chubb, dies on November 9 after a battle with cancer, aged 66.
• Crew members at Opera Australia overwhelmingly vote up their new agreements, locking in pay rises of 2%, 2.5% and 3%. Members fought to maintain conditions, and most importantly limited the ‘non rep’ agreement to its original purpose — musicals, regional, and outdoor opera.
• ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie confirms a sweeping restructure of the broadcaster to focus on multi-platform content, but questions remain about the impact this will have on staff.
• MEAA formally complains to the prime ministers of Australia and Papua New Guinea after journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani is arrested on November 24 during protests on Manus Island. “The actions and statements of PNG police confirm that Boochani was targeted during the police operation on Manus. That is a clear assault on press freedom,” says MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy.
• Comedienne, actor, advocate and activist Noeline Brown is presented with the 2017 Australian Equity Lifetime Achievement Award.
• MEAA welcomes the announcement of an inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into the impact of social media giants like Facebook and Google on media advertising and journalism.
• Following a call from Women In Media national convenor Tracey Spicer for women to come forward with stories of sexual harassment and bullying, a major expose is published of years of offensive behaviour of former TV host Don Burke.
• Michael Bachelard and Kate Geraghty win the Gold Walkley Award for 2017, while the former political editor of
The Age, Michael Gordon, is honoured for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism.
• Fairfax Media and
HuffPost call it quits on their Australian joint venture, throwing most of the Australian editorial staff out of work. Staff had repeatedly asked for information about the local edition’s future but were told nothing until the announcement, an act which MEAA describes as “disrespectful”.

December

• MEAA Crew members are big winners at the AACTA Awards industry luncheon: for a second year in a row, Katherine Brown and Troy Follington are part of the team that won the AACTA for Best Hair and; Fiona Donovan, takes out the award for Best Production Design in Television; and Paul Brincat and Shanti Burn are winners for Best Sound in Television. Equity member Osamah Sami is a joint winner of the AACTA for Best Original Screenplay for Ali’s Wedding, in which he is also the lead male actor.
• MEAA welcomes the announcement on December 4 of an inquiry by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into the impact social media giants Facebook and Google are having on media advertising and journalism.
• On December 7, legislation is passed by Federal Parliament making same sex marriage legal in Australia, following the 62% vote in favour from the postal survey on the issue.
• The report of the House of Representatives inquiry into the future of the film and TV industry is released with both good and bad news for MEAA members. It recommends almost doubling the film location tax offset to 30%, but a 25% cut to the feature film production offset. It also puts in doubt children’s content quotas for commercial free-to-air TV.
• The Entertainment, Crew & Sport section honours three screen industry stalwarts and union activists with special awards. Ray Brown, key grip on dozens of films and TV series including
Crocodile Dundee and The Matrix, is made a lifetime member, while Julie Deakins and Jenny Ward receive Gold Honour Badges.
• Equity announces the collaboration of all state theatre companies to develop more effective processes to combat sexual harassment and bullying. It follows an Equity survey of 1124 performers and theatre workers which found at least 40% had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment.

Switching perspectives: Journalists as reflective practitioners

(This piece was first published on the Postcards for Peace blog on 13th March, 2019.)

Journalists are so engrossed in chasing stories, following up with sources, and working long hours that they rarely get the time to sit back and reflect on how their journalistic voice is shaped by their position, privilege and politics. Their gaze is directed outward as their job is to report on events unfolding in the universe, and help their audience make sense of what is happening and the multiple actors shaping that reality.

What would it be like to have journalists pause for a few moments and shift this gaze inward? What might they learn about themselves through this process? Once they become more aware of how their nationality, geographic location, race, skin colour, education, gender and sexual orientation inform their worldview, how can they integrate this self-knowledge into their journalistic practice?

These are some of the questions that animate the work of Beirut-based Jenny Gustafsson and Angela Saade who jointly run ‘Switch Perspective’, an initiative that works closely with journalists, bloggers, photographers, filmmakers, social media campaigners and communication officers in non-profit organizations towards developing what they call “media free of stereotypes.”

They organize two-day trainings for professionals in Lebanon, and three-week workshops for professionals in Lebanon, France and Germany, with a strong thematic focus on migration. Their purpose is to foster a culture of critical thinking and self-analysis among media professionals. They have conducted four local trainings and two international workshops. The participants have included people of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, German, French, Polish, Spanish, American, Dutch, Iranian, Moroccan and Algerian heritage.

“For as long as I have known, the media is biased. It reinforces stereotypes and power inequalities in the world by amplifying the voices of those who already have an established voice,” says Gustafsson, a journalist who grew up in Sweden but has made Lebanon her home since 2009. With an academic background in political science, she has reported on migration, development and cultural traditions from places as diverse as Saudi Arabia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Libya, Algeria, Tajikistan, Guatemala and Honduras. She is also the co-founder of Mashallah News, a digital platform highlighting urban popular culture and social issues from across the Middle East.

“Looking at my own life has made me aware of my privileges. I am a woman, I am not from an elite socio-economic background but I am White and my Swedish passport opens up doors that are not available to others. There are so many Western journalists reporting from Asia, Africa and South America but very few from these countries having a voice in big mainstream international news outlets. The Western, Orientalist world-view is setting the agenda for the rest of the world,” says Gustafsson.

She tries to use her privilege to tell stories that can challenge stereotypes. When she reports from places usually designated as conflict zones, she offers narratives that foreground beauty, agency and compassion instead of exoticizing or fetishizing the people there. A recent story of hers talks about a Muslim man in Kolkata who is the caretaker of a Jewish synagogue. Yet another is about a community of men in Saudi Arabia who don’t conform to traditional media representations of Arab men because they wear flowers in their hair.

Saade is trained as an anthropologist. Migration is not a distant topic for her. Though she spent her early childhood in Lebanon, she was forced to leave for France with her family during the 1975–1990 civil war. She speaks Arabic, English, Spanish and French. She is the co-founder of Jibal and Tabadol, both of which are organizations concerned with social justice, cultural diversity and anti-discrimination.

“With the different terrorist attacks that happened in France, I found that even my activist friends who were sensitive to the topic of stereotypes and power dynamics in society were highly affected by the way Islam and migrants were being portrayed in media,” says Saade. Her personal experience as a refugee, and her intimate experience of French as well as Lebanese society have contributed to how she thinks about journalism. She finds these trainings and workshops rewarding because participants have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn about their internalized racism and Islamophobia through reflective practice and peer sharing.

“I felt the need for a deeper change not only in terms of the words we use but also in terms of how we approach issues. I wanted to bring media practitioners together to think constructively because they have the potential to highlight injustices, empower people, and affirm that reality is more complex than it might seem,” says Saade.

They are aware that attitudinal shifts can take a long time, and results may not be seen in the span of two days or three weeks. Nevertheless, they want to continue doing this work. There are plans to bring out a publication that would document their content and pedagogical approach so that other facilitators can offer similar workshops and trainings. They are also looking for funding to start an exchange programme involving journalists from Lebanon and Bangladesh because knowledge sharing among these professionals from the global south can significantly intervene in correcting the lopsided world order that is reinforced by media.

(Photo credits: Switch Perspective)

The week in sexual assault news: A running back, top editor and new evidence against Roy Moore

Sexual assault news is inundating our feeds and inboxes, and it can be tough to keep track of the latest. We rounded up the most recent stories here.


Woman accuses Oklahoma football star of sexual assault

The University of Oklahoma’s breakout star, running back Rodney Anderson, is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in her apartment. The woman is seeking a protective order, saying that she fears for her safety. Anderson, 21, denied the allegations in a statement, which said he did not “force himself on any woman.”

Top editor accused of sexual harassment

Dylan Howard, the chief content officer for American Media Inc. (owner of National Enquirer, Us Weekly and other major gossip publications), was accused of sexual harassment back in 2012, when he was working out of the Los Angeles office. An internal investigation produced a report that said Howard, who liked to call himself “Dildo,” did not show serious wrongdoing. Howard quit shortly after, but the company rehired him a year later with a promotion. Former employees have come forward recently to discuss Howard’s behavior.

Two former employees, one a senior manager and another a reporter in the L.A. office, agreed to be publicly identified to discuss Howard’s behavior.

“The behavior that Dylan displayed and the way he was and the way the company dealt with it — I just think that it has to be made public because it’s completely unacceptable,” said Maxine “Max” Page, a former senior editor at RadarOnline. She complained to the human resources department about Howard’s behavior on behalf of two female reporters.

Allegations come out against major radio host

Public radio host John Hockenberry has been accused of sexual misconduct by an author and some of his former colleagues.

Suki Kim said she met the former WNYC “The Takeaway” host John Hockenberry in 2014 as a guest on the radio program. He later sent her a series of emails that made her uncomfortable, asking for her home address so he could write her letters and entitling a subject line: “Need another dose of you,” she wrote in an article published on New York Magazine’s website.


Senate Democrats push Al Franken to resign

Ever since six women have accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of inappropriate behavior, a movement led by the Senate’s Democratic women is pushing the senator to step aside. On Thursday, Franken will be making a statement about his political future.

Debbie Wesson Gibson shares new evidence about her relationship with Roy Moore

After The Washington Post broke the story about Roy Moore’s relationships with minors, Debbie Gibson shared new evidence to prove her relationship with the Senate nominee really happened. Moore claimed that he did not know her or his other accusers. Gibson procured a graduation card from Moore that reads: “Happy graduation Debbie. I wanted to give you this card myself. I know that you’ll be a success in anything you do. Roy.”


Congressman returns taxpayer money for using it to settle sexual harassment case

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) is handing over a check of $84,000. He’s reimbursing taxpayers for using public funds to settle a case that involved his former communications director, Lauren Greene, who accused him of making inappropriate comments. The Texas congressman denies he did anything wrong.

Amazon’s lack of female executives

Following the sexual harassment allegations and resignation of Amazon executive Roy Price, CtW Investment Group, a group that advocates for investors, has asked the company to increase diversity among its senior ranks. Currently, only one of the top executives at Amazon is a woman. (The Lily is part of The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos.)

Time magazine’s Person of the Year: ‘The Silence Breakers’

The iconic magazine is recognizing the many people who launched the cultural outcry against sexual harassment this year.

Pivot to subscriptions

TheStreet joins BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Vice and others in a scramble to stop the bleeding from digital advertising, Digiday reports:

Companies across digital media are reaching a moment of truth, one that’s been coming for the 10+ years they’ve failed to turn a profit. But while other publications are now pivoting to video, TheStreet’s already been there, done that, and it didn’t work. According to Digiday, “while video views have grown substantially, according to former employees, boosted by the liberal use of autoplay, consumer advertising revenue grew just 2 percent during the most recent quarter, per the company filing.”

Instead, it’s banking on the value it provides to readers, focusing on events and subscriptions. I think this is a smart move for a niche publication with a dedicated audience, and it’s the approach places like Digiday and The Information rely on. It lets TheStreet focus on how to better serve readers, and it relieves the pressure of constantly chasing the newest trend in advertising. It won’t be the right approach for every outlet, but narrowing focus to a paying audience is at least the start for a different approach.

John Mellencamp: America’s Unintentional Patriot

By Rob Huckins

Near the beginning of a recent performance in Providence, Rhode Island, John Mellencamp told the theater-sized crowd him and the band were going to play “some songs you know, some songs you don’t know, some songs where you can sing along and some you can dance to.”

This simple descriptor personifies Mellencamp’s musical resume almost perfectly, one which boasts as much mainstream success as it does head scratching yet decidedly intentional left turns creatively. On this night, Mellencamp started “The John Mellencamp Show” with a 20 minute film telling the story of his creative origins and subsequent highs and lows in the music business. While mostly received with polite tolerance by most in attendance, anyone paying attention would quickly figure out Mellencamp, now 67, despises the very industry which now allows him to perform whenever and wherever he wants.

Most of the film’s dialogue was comprised of quick anecdotes by Mellencamp about those who doubted him, tried to mold him, tried to control him or simply tried to push him aside. Nobody succeeded and as a result, we are left today with arguably America’s most underrated storyteller and musical troubadour, an artist who has become an unlikely patriot and national treasure, terms he would almost certainly deem absurd.

His music today resembles some of the very best recordings from the 1950s Sun Records era or perhaps early Bob Dylan more than anything considered modern rock or pop. As this night proved more than once, Mellencamp’s voice is intact and robust, resembling more a southern rhythm and blues crooner than pop star. He would likely sound just as good playing at a local fair as he would in this newly restored and magnificent urban theater. After the documentary ended, Mellencamp and his band tore through a boisterous and varied setlist which touched upon some of his most successful hits while offering broad brush strokes of more obscure blues covers, country ballads and folk anthems. Mellencamp didn’t shy away from telling stories of keeping his elderly grandmother company as a young man or playfully embarrassing his longtime lead guitarist Mike Wanchic with a tale of bailing him out a Providence jail one morning many decades ago after being charged with “lewd vagrancy”. When the setlist turned more acoustic-based and introspective, Mellencamp told those not interested in this musical shift to “get the fuck out and go grab a beer in the lobby”. This, after all this time, is the Mellencamp we have paid to come see. And judging by the crowd’s willingness to stick with him through each song, it was worth every penny.

Mellencamp started out as a rising pop star in the late 1970s under the name John Cougar for his first six albums. Of those albums, it was his fourth release, American Fool (1982), that catapulted him to stardom, earning him heavy rotation radio play (at a time when that mattered), his lone Grammy Award and a #1 album. He followed up this success by cranking out albums at a respectably consistent rate over the next thirty -five years, dipping his creative toes in all kinds of genres and working with an array of musicians and other artists. He went by John Cougar Mellencamp for awhile in the 1980s until finally settling on his real name by the early 1990s. He remains an artist in every sense of the word and his recorded work defies any real categorization, filled with songs serving as an American storybook, taking listeners through various incarnations of political division, poverty, increased wealth, social progress, wars and everything in between, all told through ordinary characters who lived each day like they were sold a bill of American Dream goods.

Mellencamp isn’t the only musical spokesperson of his era but he is perhaps its most underrated. Nobody questions the stature of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young or other similar musical icons (also Mellencamp’s generational peers), no matter if they like them or not. Their place in musical lore is secure (even if still changing since they are alive and active). Mellencamp, conversely, is widely popular but often not included in this lofty company directly. Yet his body of work contradicts this modest slight in spades, showing a consistent pattern of knowing how to craft songs with lyrical value, musical accessibility and even pop craftsmanship.

Musical artistry comes in many forms but my favorite indicator of one’s appeal is the Backyard Barbecue Test — have a summer cookout and compile a playlist comprised of the above artists. Who would appeal to those in attendance the longest? You would have a challenge with Dylan or Young in terms of pleasing a general audience after a few selections (both can be considered acquired tastes for many). Springsteen has a large swath of music to pick from and much of it would be fine for most listeners (save Nebraska for the people who stay past sundown and have those extra beers, go with Born in The U.S.A. at the start). Only Mellencamp is a lock in nearly every respect, challenging any listener to dive deep into his discography before finding any song remotely divisive or unappealing to a large segment of a general audience.

It’s a strange contrast — despite his well known outspoken profile and stark lack of political correctness, Mellencamp’s music is almost universally liked by a lot of people, even if they don’t know it yet. This is another measure of a musical artist’s appeal and merit — would someone relatively unaware of this person’s work like it upon first listen? I would argue most would enjoy Mellencamp’s songs from the beginning. This is a rare concept since we are conditioned to think artistic value — REAL artistry — is conditional on the degree of investment required, usually in terms of time or energy. This is akin to going to a museum you really would rather skip or reading a book because people suggest it demands to be read during one’s lifetime. Mellencamp defies this notion fairly easily, especially considering he has taken a far from safe artistic road during his long career.

A review of his albums is a musical tour of creative, interesting, at times perplexing and ultimately proof Mellencamp possesses very little concern for what he should do as an artist as opposed to what he wants to do — a character trait most modern artists of any medium eschew in light of not wanting to forfeit potential commercial gain. This is not entirely lacking merit. After all, if an artist wants to maintain relevance and grow an audience, some measure of fan service goes a long way. Mellencamp, however, did just this in his earliest recordings, work which was imbued with his later-trademark snarl and self-effacing machismo but laced with pop sensibilities of that era, the slick musicianship and polished tone belying the gruff and defiant grassroots singer and songwriter who would emerge years later on subsequent albums.

Following up his breakthrough American Fool success with the more forgettable but passable The Kid Inside, Mellencamp struck gold again with Uh-huh, an oddly titled but chart-friendly album featuring songs that Mellencamp still plays live today. At this point, Mellencamp was releasing virtually an album per year for six years (he released two in 1983 alone) and was developing a reputation as a talented singer and performer with a particular capacity for hit songs.

Undoubtedly, the release of Scarecrow in 1985 marked a significant juncture in Mellencamp’s career for it separated him wholly from the pop music world while still allowing him to succeed in it; a hybrid of sorts that only happens every so often and only with certain artists. It cannot be underestimated how significant an album Scarecrow was both for Mellencamp the artist and for the music scene at the time of its release. By the mid-1980s music had reached its most decadent and shameless synthetic nadir, with the majority of music drowning in keyboards and bombastic, precise percussion designed to align with the video music medium and formulaic top forty airplay. Not all of it was bad but there was simply too much, a classic case of excess in a time where excess was already on display. Scarecrow is a sparse, tight work comprising of a set of songs thematically related but not enough to be lumped into the sometimes silly “concept album” category.

Throughout Scarecrow, Mellencamp channeled 1960s R&B and British pop rock as much as he did country music, showing vignettes of American life no artist at this time came close to replicating with such sincerity. And there were hits from this album, big chart toppers which still find spots in Mellencamp’s live sets today. “Rain on the Scarecrow” is a powerful diatribe against the marginalization of the American farmer, a hot political topic in the 1980s (and fuel for the first-ever Farm Aid Concert) and one Mellencamp still champions today. “Small Town” puts every American folk song in a three-cord blender, creating a middle America anthem for the ages and one of the most recognizable songs of Mellencamp’s career while “Lonely Ol’ Night”, “Justice and Independence ‘85”, “Rumbleseat” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” sound like takes from a great Saturday night at a local American Legion.

Scarecrow has a rare timeless sound very few albums (especially from this time period) achieved, standing on its own as a collection of songs which could sound just as fresh and at home in today’s musical world as it did in 1985. Scarecrow is the type of album every single country artist today would sacrifice their right arm to record. It’s a musically accessible, deeply authentic, lyrically powerful masterpiece, defying the era during which it was recorded and as listenable and relevant in many ways today as it was over thirty years ago. I am absolutely convinced if Scarecrow was released by a country artist today it would be hands down the most successful album of the year while hailed as a masterstroke statement of modern American life for the working class. In 1985, however, it was seen as a really good album among many others released that year.

Mellencamp moved on relatively quickly from this success, cranking out six albums in nine years, never mimicking the material from Scarecrow but never abandoning the themes which formed the foundation of that landmark album. The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy relied more on mandolins and folk-infused arrangements than loud guitars. Whenever We Wanted returned Mellencamp’s amplifiers to maximum volume with guitar-based numbers more in line with his early 1980s work. Human Wheels, Dance Naked and Mr. Happy Go Lucky (1993, ’94, & ’96 respectively) represent perhaps Mellencamp’s wildest and most creatively diverse recording arc with decidedly different sounds on each recording, ranging from Van Morrison covers (“Wild Night”) to dance-pop grooves (“Key West Intermezzo”) and brooding anthems laced with self pity (“Junior”), not only defying easy classification but arguably demonstrating an artistic identity crisis. By the late 1990s, Mellencamp slid into a more consistent adult contemporary groove before finally settling on a sparse, folk-based brand of Americana doled out over a handful of fine and memorable albums, including Freedom’s Road, No Better Than This and a wonderful 2017 country collaboration with Carlene Carter, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies.

It’s necessary to review Mellencamp’s catalog because it remains an astoundingly consistent record of artistic output while featuring a cavalier disregard for any roadmap to pop success, a consistent torrent of hits or even artistic credibility. Yet Mellencamp has managed to accomplish all three of these things and more in the process. Iconography is a curious thing in American culture, often putting people on pedestals and tearing them down with equal aplomb, establishing a supposed canonical club of “great” artists providing very little room for discussion or inclusion no matter how patterns change or one’s impact on society or culture at large. Nobody questions Dylan’s place in this pantheon nor should they. His place is permanent and at this point, nothing could jettison him from this club. Springsteen’s place has become much more secure in recent years and is probably solid (as it should be) as is a few other contemporaries in Mellencamp’s era. But maybe by his own design and resistance to categorization, Mellencamp remains a bit outside this fraternity and continues to do things however he wants, at times making music seem like a side project along with his other pursuits.

He’s a critically acclaimed fine arts painter (he claims to be just as deeply inspired by German expressionism as he is old American folk music), playwright (Ghost Brothers of Darkland County), actor (numerous roles), and collaborator (he wrote the musical score for fiance Meg Ryan’s film Ithaca). He still smokes (according to his own claims) and had a heart attack in his early 40s. He’s had his share of marriages (three and counting), kids (five overall) and political controversies (he’s always been an outspoken critic of American wars and the increased marginalization of the working class. His current tour features him “taking a knee” in protest during each performance). Considering his entire career, John Mellencamp has earned perhaps the most impressive distinction of being compared to the great peers of his generation while simultaneously carving out territory completely his own and unlike anything anyone of his era has done. Mellencamp is as every bit a true artist as anyone alive today. Moreover, he doesn’t give any indication of caring what people think of him or what he does.

Those coming to see Mellencamp on this Friday night in Providence got an understated but masterful performance filled with inspired, rock driven hits (“Crumblin’ Down”, “Rain on the Scarecrow”, “Pink Houses”, “Authority Song”, “Lonely Ol’ Night”, “Small Town”), rockabilly tinged jukebox jams (“Lawless Times”, “My Soul’s Got Wings”) to more dialed down, intimate songs (“Minutes to Memories”, “Troubled Man”, “Longest Days”, “The Full Catastrophe”), a setlist as symbolic and diverse as the artist himself. He played the hits. He played songs that he never recorded. He sang. He danced. He told stories. He was a preacher and a critic. Despite decades of heavy use and a persistent penchant for smoking, Mellencamp’s voice sounded powerful and distinct. His band played great. He channeled James Brown as much as he did Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan. John Mellencamp did it all for two hours and it was every bit reflective of who he’s become in the latter stages of his performing career while reminding everyone present how it should be done. John Mellencamp has done it all and more than once. He is arguably our Great American Storyteller, through art, music and words. You just might have forgotten he was still here.