25 June 2011

Advertise your own irrelevance

Dear Mr Hywood,

My name's Geoff Strong*. I'm employed as a journalist with The Age, which is a newspaper in Melbourne. I'm redundant, so please sack me. You can see from my latest offering that I have no idea about reporting in the twenty-first century, so please, do us both a favour.

You take take out the subbies too. I'm a bit ambivalent as to whether Julian Assange is a journalist or not, in my capacity as Gatekeeper of the Profession, but the subbies have decided that it's my job - no, our job - to take pot-shots at the most valuable source the news media has ever had.
IN ABOUT April last year, just before his name became a byword for, depending on your viewpoint, either transparency or treason, I attempted to interview WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Armed with a mobile phone number passed on to me by a colleague from an unknown source, I found myself talking to Assange himself. His response to the call was understandable and hypocritical.

His first words were: "Where did you get my number?" When I offered a vague explanation, he expressed displeasure that it had been passed on to me. It was a natural response given his organisation was in the process of severely embarrassing the almighty US government by releasing the video from an American attack helicopter showing non-combatants, including two Reuters newsagency staff, being shot dead. Assange had reason to cover his tracks, but missed the irony in being contacted via leaked information.

We conducted a stilted discussion in which he said he had already been interviewed by Good Weekend (published subsequently), said he might talk to me if I had some information to trade, and required that I text my phone details. Apart from acknowledging that he received my SMS, I never heard from him again.
Here's a guy who trades on information, so what I did was dodge a direct question and offer him nothing. That shows you what a smart operator I am.

If irony is what's defined in that song by that Canadian lass just recently, then you can see it was pretty ironic for Assange not to talk to me. While it's true that every press sec and PR type in town fobs me off, I'm buggered if I'm going to cop that from Julian No-Mates! I'll rubbish him in The Age - and when you've been done over by The Age, there's no coming back. Assange will come crawling any day now, any day. Nobody can survive a going-over from The Age. Thanks for letting me use the paper for this purpose, Mr Hywood.

The US government is in the news, Julian Assange is in the news, I just assumed that they had equal standing, y'know? Apparently there is this belief that individuals have a right to privacy but corporations and government don't, but as an old-school journalist if I want a story I just go out and get it - and when I don't have a story, I'll beat it up until it looks like one.
Many would dispute Assange's claim that he is a journalist, but I agree that in a loose sense he probably does qualify.
Yes, if the Journalists' Club hadn't closed down, I might let him buy me a drink. As the Gatekeeper of the Profession of Journalism, I have standards you know. This is a guy who's released more stories than The Age ever has, so maybe possibly I just might, y'know, begrudgingly consider him a journalist, I suppose, if I had to. If he asked nicely. Which he didn't, the bastard.
Journalism is changing as traditional news organisations contract. A couple of years ago I calculated there were probably three or four former journalists who had crossed to what we still in the business consider "the dark side", for every one left working for the mainstream media.

By the dark side I mean spin doctoring, public relating or otherwise manipulating information fed back to their former colleagues. Incidentally, I can't blame people taking this path given the contraction of media jobs; people have to earn a living.
When I say "calculated", what I really mean is "pulled a number out of my arse". I assume that's what you mean when you talk about "the value proposition of journalism". I can't blame PR people for doing what they do, because like a good journalist I depend on them absolutely for anything I write. I tried interviewing a guy once, gee it was hard work!
Another change is the proliferation of dissemination outlets from organisations like ours, either online, a digital copy of the printed paper or an exclusive edition pitched to the disciples of Steve Jobs.
I know that people who drive Fords aren't "disciples" of Henry, nor necessarily subscribe to his views about workers, Jews etc. See, Mr Hywood? I just don't get it.
We call these things platforms, a recently appropriated word which in the past was associated with railways stations, the manifestos of political parties or the type of shoes worn by people who favoured bell-bottomed trousers.
I don't mean "we" in the first-person-plural sense of the word, or even in the royal sense-of-entitlement sense. Me and the boys down the pub tried to think of a word other than "platform" and we couldn't. Seeing as political parties don't have platforms any more, you may say: why can't media have them? But I'm old-fashioned, me. Don't get it, never will.
Ha ha! Used to work, Mr Hywood! Not at all like The Age, where our critical faculties are absolutely everything! No, I meant the other place.
Bearing a name almost as challenging as an Icelandic volcano is Kristinn Hrafnsson. His last name pronounced a bit like "Frobson", except that the beginning sounds like a sort of guttural Nordic throat clearing.
Xenophobia is an essential quality in any journalist, particularly in an increasingly globalised world - and especially in a multicultural city like Melbourne, where Age readers fancy themselves as part of a vibrant community, I thought it would be in the paper's best interests if I carried on like some mindless gibberer. Yes, even though he gave me the time of day and answered my inane questions, even though he is more of a journalist than I'll ever be, I thought it best to frame Mr Hrafnsson up-front like that.
Hrafnsson does have traditional journalist credentials - he has even recently been made redundant ...
C'mon, redundancy is the new black. I want some!
He says he is not sure about the future role of journalism and can't see where the business is going.
Believe it or not, a personal encounter with Geoff Strong of The Age failed to convince him. There's no pleasing some people.
Privatisation of things previously run by governments has been a factor; journalists have not been able to overcome that.
Because when a PR person says "no", that's it really. You may as well just give up.
And we see previously strong media organisations, like The New York Times, sitting on stories because they have been asked to do so by governments. This would not have happened in the 1970s."
Having spent all that time sucking up to government to regulate in favour of media organisations, we at mainstream media now find ourselves in a Faustian bargain with government. Teetering on the precipice of irrelevance, the last thing we want is for government to start fiddling with the corsetry of regulations that keep us solvent, let alone extending some of those "controversial measures" that have snuffed out the rights of others.
Hrafnsson's views were a little depressing. The upside was that he had no problem with how I obtained his phone number.
That's what the punters pay for: thorough reporting and insightful analysis. It's just a pity I can't do it. Fancy getting the chance to interview Kristinn Hrafnsson and Julian Assange, and having only this excrescence to show for it! The twenty-first century can only get more confusing, Mr Hywood. Please, all I want is to eat a cold pie and drink a flat weak beer and cheer for a footy team that doesn't love me back.

Please, sack me now. It's the only vindication as a journalist that I could possibly hope for.

* No it isn't! I'm Andrew Elder, writing a satirical blog piece as though I were Geoff Strong. I'm not "an anonymous blogger" just because you haven't met me.


  1. That Hrafnsson is a really nice guy, too. He came into the Brisbane community radio station early in the morning straight after a flight at his own suggestion and gave us a 20 minute interview.

    Just quietly, we got more out of him than this Age muppet.

  2. Lt Fred, why am I not surprised? Any link to audio of this event?

  3. I think you're being pretty harsh here but I accept that Strong needs to pull his head out of the sand.

    His entire column could easily be summarised in one tweet, something like "just phoned Julian Assange - he is a douche!".

  4. PK, I'm tired of journalists boasting about how they don't get it. There are hundreds of journalism grads after a job like Strong's so he should give over and do whatever he needs to.

    If Geoff Strong had phoned me, and if he was vague when I asked for information, I'd probably react as Assange did. Do you really think Strong deserves the benefit of the doubt?