10 December 2011

The Australian media in 2011

See my piece in The Drum.
Your satire shows how shallow and city centred you are.
No it doesn't, it shows that the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery can't get out of its own way. You'll notice no reference to Fukushima, Christchurch, or the various flavours of extremist sticking the oars in to the Greek riots who get Guy Rundle all moist. If you need information you have to go around the press gallery, not rely upon them for anything but the satire which they cannot and dare not get.

You're dead right it's "the same joke written over and again in too many words". That's what the press gallery gave us in 2011. The cracks of light in that united front of blah were the exception rather than the rule. If the press gallery were better, this piece would have been written differently - or not at all.

I slept on it and opened my hard copy of The Sydney Morning Herald today. Blow me down, the very things I protested about yesterday were there, in spades, in two supposedly thought-out pieces on the direction of journalism.

There was this effort by Chris Rau, ostensibly on Bali Dope Boy but seeking to involve us all in the wider malaise (except journalists, of course):
... the media ran videos and photographs of hessian bags put up by his family to protect privacy at their ... home ...
Rau names the place where they live, not exactly lifting herself above the ruck of those who would deny this family their right to get back to their lives.
If a judgment is required, judge the people who feed off the distress of others. They include the agents and the media audience. The media can be judged by how they exploited - if they did so - the family during their ordeal.
You bet judgment is required: it's part of being the discerning reader that media outlets say they want, but whom journos and their managers immediately dismiss should they fail to consume quietly.

Look at the sheer gutlessness in that paragraph. The idea that the prying journalist, breaking laws and unenforceable journo-rules, is really an authentic representative and 'umble servant of thousands of slavering readers hanging out for the latest updates. The idea that editors have an unerring knack for knowing what the public is clamouring for, and that they meet that need in full. These are the sustaining myths of the journosphere but there is no connection between them and what actually happens.

If that story disappeared and was replaced by another story, it would not be missed; it is in the media because people who run the media want it there, and because the story can be captured easily by the lazy and dull-witted people they have chosen as their subordinates. There is no evidence that "media consumers" are hanging out for more and more details on a story that has passed. Against this, Rau's proviso "if they did so" is an appalling cop-out. She really can't believe that a journalist might even be capable of anything unethical.

The only journalist worth the benefit of the doubt would be the one who, when told to go to the place where Bali Dope Boy comes from, refused to do so. Chris Rau can't imagine such a person and has produced no evidence of one.

Bali Dope Boy isn't a story, it's a band name waiting for a band to reap the free publicity.

I was waiting to read how Rau would tie this in to the Finkelstein Inquiry and the unrelenting insistence that journalism must continue to operate above the law. Still waiting.

Then came pifflemonger Mark Textor on datajournalism. Having dismissed it as "pretty chart[s]", he went on and on about it, which made me suspicious.

Textor did not get where he is by "accuracy, objectivity, verifiability and contestability", nor by the release of data that he and others like him do not control or even fabricate. He got where he is by flatly denying that facts were true and insisting that constructions should and must take their place. All those snappy, empty one-liners from The Situation are the very kind of factoids, or non-facts, that Textor would seek to warn you about.

Datajournalism isn't the vaccine against people like Textor but used well, it can make a much smaller place for such people than we find in our politics and journalism today.

The last paragraph is the pathetic bleat of a man watching his business model go down the S-bend. I think there should be a moratorium on "internal polling" of the type excreted by CrosbyTextor, but I'm not one of those gullible editors.

2011 was a year where the Australian media was confronted with the prospect of its own irrelevance and resolved to do more of the same. The consequences of this will almost certainly be damaging but they are definitely risible. let's hope for better in 2012, otherwise the media at their most earnest will only be funnier than they are.


  1. Simon Musgrave10/12/11 8:03 pm

    Homework for Mr Textor: Possum Comitatus' data rich <a href="http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2011/12/08/australian-exceptionalism/>explanation </a> of just how well Aus has done in the past decades. Small problem that Textor isn't making money from the data of course.....

  2. Lachlan Ridge10/12/11 10:42 pm

    Nice work!

  3. I enjoyed the article Andrew. It inspired me to get out Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death". He could see it coming. At the time he wrote (early 1980s) there were two visions of a threatening dystopia - the Orwellian nightmare of "1984" and Huxley's "Brave New World".

    To quote Postman "Orwell feared that the truth would be hidden from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance...Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy".

    I do wonder about the motivation of those in the Press Gallery. I wonder if reporting the latest round of 'bumblepuppy' is what they had in mind as a career when they enrolled in their Media Studies degree.

    The mainstream media really is a sad place these days. Thank heavens for blogs like this.

  4. Journalists blaming the audience is a recurrent theme in the Leveson inquiry in the UK, where one tried to equate it directly to circulation figures as a justification. Yesterday another invented "hypocrisy justification" as trumping "public interest" in the pursuit of The Story. It's a group hallucination of some sort which seems to be connected to paychecks.

  5. PS. Mum and Dad,

    I will have to leave here late, Joolya just decided to reshuffle her Canberra Cabbages. The Press Gallery is in a panic and Latika`s tweeting madly. We are searching like crazy for Mr Rabbit to get our leading quote. We are totally clueless to how this reshuffle fits the Murdoch narrative. Thinking about thinks is not our strong suit. Many Journo`s are looking very ill. Hopefully we will here from Holt Street soon.