24 August 2012

Huzzah to the future

Hic et ubique? Then we'll shift our ground.
Come hither, gentlemen,
And lay your hands again upon my sword.
Never to speak of this that you have heard:
Swear by my sword.

[beneath] Swear by his sword.

Well said, old mole! Canst work i' th' earth so fast?
A worthy pioner! Once more remove, good friends.

- Shakespeare Hamlet Act I Scene V
This is quite a long blogpost about how rubbish the Australian media is, and how it can't really be saved, so if you can't bear any more of that bloggy stuff from someone who was never a journalist then what are you even doing here?

Recently a student at the University of Melbourne went on an internship at The Herald-Sun, Australia's biggest-selling newspaper, and afterwards wrote about the experience in the campus paper. It caused a great kerfuffle as pretty much every journalist in the country dropped whatever Big-Time Serious Scoop that they were all working on to denounce the intern for allowing daylight in upon the magic. They claimed this person was irrelevant while intensely demonstrating the opposite; complaining that the intern was ill-informed when this a) wasn't the case, and b) is hardly a barrier to becoming a successful journalist in this country.

Compare the "Anonymous" article above to this, written by someone highly regarded and rewarded over the years for skill and experience in journalism. Is the intern's effort really several orders of magnitude below that of the doyenne? The latter has a byline attached to it, but it (too?) is badly written and tendentious in its logic, the professional pursuing a petty vendetta no less than the student.

Oh, and incase you think I'm being unfair to Ms Grattan with that link: point me to her finest work, go on. Dive into four decades of workmanlike-at-best pap and bring forth the deathless phrase that only she could have coined, the complex development rendered clear and complete by her deceptively simple prose.

It was funny that it followed the path of most media-industry kerfuffles, where such a non-issue became very much an issue, and then quickly became boring; but then again that's fairly typical of the Australian media. I'm not being slow to this issue: it is worth revisiting now that the dust has settled because I think a central lesson has been missed from what should have been a valuable exercise for people who pride themselves on Getting The Story Right and in believing that Stimulating Debate Is A Good Thing.

Mostly the debate went in two ultimately fruitless directions:
  • What happens in the newsroom stays in the newsroom; and
  • Toughen up, princess.
Nobody expected it to maintain the intensity of that week but I didn't expect it to fade away so fast. I thought it would give rise to multiple inquiries and long-form expositions on the subject, as happened at the same university twenty years ago when some female students accused a middle-aged male administrator of sexual harassment. During the early 1990s I can still remember getting onto crowded train carriages in Sydney and seeing several passengers reading The First Stone, day after day.

One prime example - again, highly regarded and retweeted by journalists like Mia Freedman - is this piece by Wendy Squires, who deserves some kind of Germaine Greer Award for Unhelpful Remarks By An Older Woman Toward Younger Ones.
And you seem to have missed the class explaining that losing big mastheads is not a good thing. Not for journalists, the public, or democracy.
  • The Argus shut down in 1957, and then Menzies attempted to ban the Communist Party - no, wait, it was the other way around, those two events weren't related at all.
  • Then there was News Corporation's decision in 1987 to shut down The News, the Adelaide paper that gave the corporation its name. Within five years of that closure, Communist regimes in eastern Europe had collapsed and so had the State Bank of South Australia. Coincidence? Yep.
Democracy survives the closure of mastheads, and so do the public. As for journalists, depends who you mean: old-timers like Wendy Squires, with little to show for their career and less time to make up for it, or promising up-and-comers like "Anonymous"? The latter will flourish whatever form journalism takes; the former not so much, lacking the sense or good grace to provide useful guidance.

Note how Squires bestows a name upon the "Anonymous" student. The name she uses came from this article, on a website that MSM people regard as the very acme of the nasty amateur online world, all that is infra dig and unprofessional and threatening about the Fifth Estate towards the Fourth. Yet, when it suits them, the MSM can (as LBJ once said about Richard Nixon) turn chickenshit into chicken salad.
But before we get carried away ...
Before who gets carried away, o seasoned pro?
... let me first congratulate you on your courage.
In her fourth paragraph, after a few opening volleys of condescension, Squires gets around to what's "first". Apparently, such structural sloppiness would have earned her a rap over the knuckles which would have been seared onto her consciousness and made her The Professional She Is Today (or isn't, as in this case).

The congratulations serve to hide another nasty swipe that is leavened by the unintended humour of:
Because a newsroom like the Herald Sun's is actually a microcosm of real life ...
No, it isn't. It never was. You're kidding yourself, and those who told you that were kidding you and themselves; you should not be passing forward this self-serving and ultimately unhelpful bullshit.

The newsroom of the Herald Sun is no more a microcosm of 'real life', or even real life in Melbourne, than the things growing under Wendy Squires' toenails are a microcosm of Squires herself. Show me the demographic stats of the rapidly-shrinking staff versus that of Melbourne or Victoria or Australia or [insert your definition of 'real life' here] as a whole. Show me the mature and dignified manner in which the Herald Sun copes with even mild and constructive feedback (never mind the trolls).

The only people who think that "a newsroom like the Herald Sun's is actually a microcosm of real life" are those who entered such newsrooms at impressionable ages, have known no other working environment or intellectual stimulation other than those the job provided, and who face a post-newsroom future with the same dread that "Anonymous" has for the prospect of going into one.
And so, your shock at life outside the bliss bubble of like-minded souls at uni is understandable. It's a cacophonic mash-up of personalities and politics in the working world - as I'm sure your course teachers will explain in due time.
More sarcasm from Auntie Wen, with the hope it will give her arguments a force they don't have. Think about a university, now about a tabloid newsroom: if you had to label one "a cacophonic mash-up of personalities and politics", and the other "the bliss bubble of like-minded souls", which would you apply to which?
You see, a lot of people have found your comments ungrateful ...
At the risk of displaying journo-like qualities, which people? A lot of like-minded souls?
That you had the opportunity to learn at the coalface of newspapers, only to ultimately decide it was all too grubby and beneath you. People who really want to learn can get shitty about things like that.
Not really. I like to learn. I reckon it must have been like going to Sovereign Hill and watching coopers or loom-weavers or COBOL programmers at work. Dying trades are so cute!
Let's look at some examples in your story. There's the senior Hun journalist you recall asking, "Why are they [the gay community] making such a fuss [in regard to gay marriage rights]? It's been this way for millennia, why change now?"

Another affront you mention were comments on a piece about an overweight man who was trying to lose 200 kilograms through hypnosis: "Of course he's fat, look at what he eats" and "How does someone let that happen?"

In being mortally offended by these statements you seem to have overlooked the pink elephant fact that a significant portion of the Australian population is saying the exact same things as the staff at the Hun. Maybe not in your media class, Sasha. But I'm sure any minute your teachers will explain that most journalists don't go into the profession to preach to the converted. The real aim - and thrill - is to educate, enlighten, entertain and inform.
What's missing from that is the example Squires wants to show (what she assumes is there but can't prove) where the dross of oafish comment was turned into  educative, enlightening, entertaining and informative pieces. And printed in the Herald Sun. Squires assumes they are there (you there, stop laughing), but she can't provide any proof. That's a no-no in terms of lofty journo ideals, but you'd have to check with Squires or "Anonymous" as to whether newsrooms are cool with no-proof journalism these days.
But back to your complaints. It appears "white, elitist opinions" were not the only affront you endured during your work experience incarceration. You were also personally slighted - "I was consistently subjected to patronising attitudes, being referred to as 'Little Bud', 'Champ' and 'Kidlet'. Men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them."
Again with the sarcasm. Kim Powell deals pretty comprehensively with the idea that such people are just trying to be friendly or inclusive, and without being snide like Squires.
But where you disappointed me most, Sasha, is that you missed the very point of your argument, which was a valid one. Yes, the media deserves to be outed and shamed. I have spent 20-odd years in the business and can attest, heart and soul, to experiencing rampant sexism and more. In fact, I wrote a novel about this very thing ... set in the world of free-to-air TV where I unhappily resided for a year. The opportunity to expose the abhorrent treatment my female colleagues and I endured was worthy of not just burning career bridges, but detonating and decimating them. So, I get where you're coming from.

But without sounding like the relative who walked to school barefoot in the snow - it has always been a lot worse than you exposed. There was too much emotion and not enough fact in your argument. The instances you note hardly make a toe-curling point in an environment where women are still sacked for being fat, pregnant, old or, worse, opinionated.
So a student with a short experience in a newsroom did not draw upon "20-odd years in the business" (is the hyphen redundant there?) but upon what was personally witnessed and recorded. This makes her a poor journalist, does it? Surely decimation would be redundant following a detonation? And if Squires' career bridges really have been burnt, why isn't the option of being published in Fairfax closed to her?

Oh, and she failed to write a novel about it, so that makes her a failed novelist as well (Squires may well be a failed novelist herself; I'm not going to rush out and buy her tome either, but having written a novel is no proof or otherwise of journalism)?
I reckon you will make an editor one day. It just won't be on a mainstream publication; that is, one that will reach the very people whose opinions you want to change.
What will "a mainstream publication" look like by the time "Anonymous" is as old (and hopefully more distinguished) as Wendy Squires is today? Who will guarantee that the Herald Sun will even exist then, let alone be classified in that manner? Maybe you could get a youngster to show you how to Google, Wendy, it won't hurt a bit.

It's time here to do what intra-journosphere squabbling will never do, and that is raise the standards of journalism. I am an enthusiastic consumer of media, an industry with declining sales, so whether you have 20-odd minutes of journo experience or 20 years, you need to keep in mind a saying from my profession that should apply to the profession trade of journalism:
Never assume. It makes an ass of u and me.
Wendy Squires has made much, much more of an ass of herself journo-wise in her small-f farrago than "Anonymous" has, and has fewer excuses. But far from being fully condemnatory of the oafs she worked with, and offering pissant excuses for those she didn't (but who Powell and "Anonymous" did), Squires has missed the wider point about such behaviour that "Anonymous" grasps clearly and strongly.

Imagine an experienced journalist and/or a manager of same, and who happens to be male. Imagine such a person presented with a young female intern, making her feel as though the most important thing about her is the shape of her body and her youth: the intern may be guilty of a lack of judgment at having come to such a place, but the senior journo/editor definitely is for creating and maintaining such a culture.

Senior journos and editors who are stuck in that mindset, and who are doomed to propagate that mindset, cannot be said to have otherwise impeccable news and business sense (though this is one of the abiding fantasies of the journosphere). What other misjudgments have these clowns made along the way that have contributed to the decline in sales and sheer damn respect that has beset the Australian media, and sent once-proud organisations to the brink of bankruptcy and irrelevance?

It is a cop-out to say that sexism and harassment exists everywhere; most other organisations have measures in place, and cultivate supportive cultures, that minimise if not eradicate such behaviour. Do you want cop-out merchants running your company and training future staff? What hot stories or business opportunities are going begging because the cop-out boys, the leerers and scoffers, the group-thinkers who all went through the same cadetship program, occupy the commanding heights? What emerging technology have they waved away as a fad, only to embrace something that is crumbling before their eyes? "Anonymous" knows that sometimes the only way you can get someone off their high horse is to shoot the horse.

All that crap that Squires and other experienced journalists go on about how people who've survived long enough in a newsroom have "a nose for news" and that sexism and other forms of social myopia are mere human flaws that can be overlooked (or written about in throwaway novels) is rubbish. If you're running a wilfully dumb organisation, you have no business telling me what is going on in the world. "Anonymous" knows that she is going to have to carve her own main stream in a new landscape, because Squires and her pals are going to bequeath the next generation of journalists pretty much bugger-all.

Alexandra Wake of RMIT and Jenna Price of UTS both administer internship-style programs for journalism students, and wrote pretty much the same article in response to the "Anonymous":
  • We have to maintain good relationships with the people you dumped on, "Anonymous", thanks for nothing!
  • Aww, it's alright and no long-term harm done, thanks for caring!
  • You've got to be in it to win it!
I have some sympathy for their positions, but I despair of the idea that those who run our major media organisations are the same people who can turn things around, including fostering and hiring people who are better than they are.

Price gives an example of how her journo-persistence paid off:
A long, long time ago, in a newspaper far, far away, I was a bossy cadet who called herself a feminist. The blokes on the subs desk would make fun of me endlessly. But we women reporters collectively organised to get the term Ms recognised by the then editor-in-chief. A tiny victory.
In the community which that newspaper covered and served, that battle had been fought and won 10, 20 years before. If the subs or the editor was as across that community as journo-lore assumes they are, then that "tiny victory" would have been won long ago. This isn't to belittle Price's efforts; it shouldn't have been her role to manage upward like that in an organisation that should pride itself on its openness.

The idea that you can only reform an institution from the inside is one with which I have great sympathy: I'm a gradualist by inclination, and in my politics I regard the various flavours of far left and right as irrelevant with their calls for smashing this and that. I took the in-it-to-win-it approach to membership of the Liberal Party, another organisation not lacking in obtuse oafs. Increasingly I'm not convinced the Australian media is as good an example of gradual reform either, despite what Wake and Price might hope. You don't have to become a Muslim to deal with Lashkar-e-Toiba. If you did an internship at Phillip Morris it might turn you off smoking, whether or not Wendy Squires gets pissed off about that. No amount of push-from-within could turn Cobb & Co into Qantas.

However much you might have to work with the sheltered workshop that is the Herald Sun, and whether the people there are naughty or nice (or a bit of both), the fact is there is a duty to prepare students for a workplace where the people who run it are probably running it into the ground. There's little an intern can do to change it; to throw your heart and soul into it might be no less educative or constructive than the good old point-and-jeer.

I am not saying that Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood is anything but a gentleman, but I will wager he has worked with many of the same sorts of people that Squires and "Anonymous" identifies. He may even have such people report to him. He has been in his role for some years now and had to announce these results: when he was first appointed, he was praised for being steeped in the sorts of newsroom cultures that Squires romanticises and "Anonymous" demonises. And yet, if his career had been in merchant banking or something other than journalism, how could things be worse? Has he rooted out the sorts of boofheads that all those quoted above have had to deal with, or are they still running the show and making the sorts of misjudgments whose consequences Hywood had to announce yesterday?

Huzzah to the future indeed. The future may or may not include the Herald Sun, but journalists whose tolerance for feedback is so low that it trips up their bullshit detector have less a place in that future than they assume. An oaf who has been wilfully blind and deaf to changes in our society simply cannot report usefully on it, let alone run organisations that do so: this is the enduring importance of what Twitter called #interngate. When "Anonymous" realises that, the future in journalism may be more assured than it might appear; I'd certainly give her the benefit of the doubt over some of the socially-retarded fools clogging up that industry.


  1. I thought it was a witty riposte by her

    Just imagine what really goes on in those young liberal functiƓns these days sir??


    Any one care to disclose and spill the beans??


  2. Well said, what really annoyed me about the responses to this girl's 'expose' was how many people dismissed her story by saying 'oh well what did you expect from The Herald Sun?!'.

    As if we needed another sad inditment of the media culture in Australia they dish one up on a platter. If about the best you can hope for from the newsroom of a major Australain newspaper is sexism, homophobia and various other shades of intolerance then what is the point of the thing. Bring on oblivion i say, hopefully the demise of the fairfax group generates a bit of creative destruction in the media landscape.

  3. You make some excellent points Andrew, and I agree that the media in this country is too far gone. Clearly, the blame rests more with the media 'industry' than the individual journalists when it is the industry who chooses to bestow honours on such mediocre journalism. The same sorts of journalists who seemingly ignore Labor backbencher Steve Gibbons' calls for harsher penalties for wrongdoing within the media.

    'Yell out "fight!" on a street corner and a crowd will always come running--at once attracted and repelled by the violent spectacle of man acting on his most primal urge. The draw of two men fighting is as old as civilization itself| but as far back as Plato the sport of fighting has been at odds with the notion of a civil society'. These aren't my words, they are the blurb to the 2011 film called Fight. Sound familiar? It sounds exactly like Abbott's playbook every single minute since the 2010 election. The MSM should be ashamed. Yet, to have shame, you need to have standards. Finkelstein anyone?

    I liked what Richard Ackland wrote about the Right's paltry defense of the status quo: "Abbott's clunky speech did not finesse the boundaries. His attack on the government's deliberations on the convergence review and the Finkelstein proposals for a News Media Council to patrol journalistic standards shows that he is quite content with the idea that a self-regulated regime, with one company straddling like a colossus the print and pay TV business in this country, is a great way to protect free speech.

    But then, freedom of speech is a freedom to sprout spurious notions."

    And why would anyone on the Right want an end to the spurious comments? Especially when things are going so well for their PR campaign. Tony Abbott's ubiquitous and never-ending fear campaign about the state of the economy, has finally reached the point where Australians are now more pessimistic about the state/future of our economy than our friends in Europe! More accountability would bring less uncertainty - anathema to Abbott in his present incarnation.

    The veiled spin from the Right about their fears of the Nanny State seem genuine on the surface. That is, until one looks slightly deeper. The Right does not want extra laws surrounding smoking, as it might diminish their donations from tobacco companies. They don't care about marketing of junk food to children. People like David Miles (regular contributor to The Drum) say we should just not watch TV if we don't like the ads, or say no to our kids. If we don't like what is printed in a certain newspaper or magazine - don't buy it, says Miles and co. Our journalists betray our trust when they refuse to shine a light on these sorts of comments attacking the threat of the Nanny State. They fail us because they refuse to explain that the reason why the Right espouses the virtues of particular personal freedoms is because those same freedoms are exploited by large multi-national companies for profit and free marketeers are more interested in share prices than they are the common good. Fewer laws means greater profits, and higher share prices.

    As Fraser said "No competition, no diversity, making it harder for people to make up their own mind, because people will not be given the choices as they were once given the choices. So much for Australia’s print media." Fewer choices does not sound like the party that promotes individualism. Not to me... but who am I to say that - I'm not part of the MSM.

    It is a sad day when one former Australian leader's words (Fraser) go largely ignored, but a more recent leader can still command media attention at the drop of a hat (Howard).
    Is it because one of those is more of a poster boy for the hard Right agenda? The question is rhetorical.

    In another reference to The Bard, bring on David Williamson's play on Rupert Murdoch - in which Rupert will allegedly be portrayed as a Richard III figure.

    1. Your second paragraph might have applied up until the 1970s, less so now. Look at the differing reaction to biffo at the footy; once a touch of spice, now a self-indulgent distraction. I don't know how you regulate poor journalism out of the media.

      Williamson was happy to take Murdoch's coin when he wrote the screenplay for Gallipoli. Hopefully it will be done well but Williamson's latest form doesn't inspire confidence.

    2. I'm not so sure about the cultural acceptance of violence. I am resigned to it always being in fashion. Take a look at the rise of the UFC phenomenon, kids filming each other fighting on their iPhones etc.

      A good start would be to do as Gibbons says, fine people who knowingly publish lies or incorrect stories. This won't remove poor journalism, but it might inject some accountability, and develop a sharper focus on fact based reporting.

      Good call re Gallipoli. In his defense, that was an awful long time ago... but well after the Digby Bamford tragedy. A story which, sadly, the world seems to have forgotten about.

  4. Go to any restaurant where journalists eat and drink and you will see what really goes on

    Hey some smart cookie should you tube and record it for the masses to see

    Drunken gossip hacks who are really fuckwits

    #inner city hipster that knows too much

    Postscript:a journo from the hun once said to a friend that as they were on a mortgage it was their job to not report it

    Namely a politico who left a senior position in govt


  5. People will continue to get their news from the town crier and gossip. You young whipper-snappers with your fancy movable type and public displays of literacy have no respect for the forces of history. Most people are not educated and nor should they be.

    On a more serious note, did you know that the UNSW students association is going to buy the Sydney monorail? That story was a great demonstration of professional churnalism at its best. Straight from some random fax machine to talkback radio in 20 minutes. Jonathon Holmes could barely contain his delight.

  6. Correction: that quote was from the blurb of the film 'Fightville', as opposed to 'Fight'.

  7. Men were also continuously and unnecessarily
    sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors
    and leave the elevator before them.

    What is an old man taught to be polite to women to do?

    1. Wow

      Chivalry isnt an attribute that is recongnised by some feral feminists


      Listening Dr Cannold..,

    2. As News with Nipples pointed out (I think Andrew gave a link to it), they were probably surreptitiously checking out her arse rather than being chivalrous.

    3. That would be a typical nihilist response from News with Nipples - it's all the fault of nasty(gasp)men, and any gesture that they make has to be interpreted in the worst possible light. God save us from the closeted world of fundamentalist ideologues. If this cadet journalist believes that a male standing back for to leave the "elevator" (sic) is sexist, she should get out more often.

  8. Listened to The Wrap with John Faine and it was akin to what Tanner calls The Sideshow

    Homcon berated the panel and engaged in an anti-union rant

    Repugnant radio by any standards for the abc

    Mark Scott should be ashamed of allowing the right wing yuppy wankers to believe their own sense of self importance and infiltrate the broadcaster