25 January 2008

Gimme some journalism

A new government has taken office, and we still know little about what it's planning. We know little because there have been so few articles in the media. There have been so few articles because there have been so few announcements. The media only respond to announcements; the only investigative journalism taking place at the moment are those in the United States staking out the flat where an actor died or the house of a drug-addled former singer. There is plenty to be found out in a new government, where uncertainty is high and loyalty to the incumbents low. The older journalists in Canberra are too lazy to go looking for stories; the younger ones don't know how.

It's tempting to tie the demise of The Bulletin into this, but it was never big on investigative journalism. It was said that Kerry Packer maintained it for sentimental reasons, but it's also true that he wanted to keep it from asking questions he didn't want asked. It was this latter motivation, control and paranoia, that was most important in its latter years and the slow-acting poison that killed it.

Peter Coleman wrote:
The Bulletin may have been able to survive as a literary-political review of modest circulation. But as a weekly news magazine it was suffocated in cyberspace and the blogosphere.

The idea that there was no market for a news/current affairs magazine in Australia has been invalidated by the rise of The Monthly, New Matilda, Crikey, The Diplomat, Griffith Review, Eureka Street and others. At its best The Bulletin was large enough to contain these multitudes, and its own contradictions. ACP magazines could have kept it going if it had wanted to.

Just because Coleman could not have tamed the unruly technologies to which he refers doesn't mean that nobody could have. Australia is a bigger place than it was in Coleman's day, less able to be summed up within one magazine no matter how "bumper". He's right about Newsweek, though. Apart from the odd useful insight into US primaries or foreign policy, it was poor stuff.

Today it is one of those smaller magazines that are most likely to break the big exposes in coming years. The Fairfax broadsheets seem only big enough to take on their state governments, but only when they have gone as rancid as the Iemma government has. This piece by Mark Coultan is exactly the sort of thing that Bob Carr should have copped on a weekly, if not daily, basis during his lazy decade in office. It actually addresses real public policy issues and the nature of governance. This is the very sort of thing that political journalism should be all about.

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