30 August 2012

Milling chaff

Never mind the vagaries of the online world. This article from the ABC's Jonathan Holmes could have been written in the 1920s about "the yellow press". John Norton or Joynton Smith or "Inky" Stephenson would have reacted in much the same way to Holmes' scenario as his straw man, Mr P.

My blog, and those blogs that really rattle journalists, are not those which make the sorts of claims that Vexnews or Pickering do; they are not even typical of political blogs. This is one point that Greg Jericho makes strongly in his well-written and highly recommended book, The Rise of the Fifth Estate. The blogs that really rattle journalists are those which analyse how well or badly journalists do their job. In many cases, bloggers point out when journalists depart from existing codes of practice (such as they are). Journos hate that, they hate it worse than being unemployed. They deal with it through laughter: laughing off Press Council adjudications, or stern admonitions from judges, or even the gentle chidings from Uncle Jonathan on Monday evenings.

This analysis is one that journalists will only tolerate being performed by other journalists. The fact is that no profession or trade gets to set and enforce its own judgments - and ironically, no journalist would tolerate any attempt by lawyers, doctors, politicians, or [insert other profession/trade here] to do this.

In a free country, where the press play an important role, it is not on for journalists to seek to exclude non-journalists from participating in and shaping debates about what good journalism is and what it should be. Such EXCLUSIVE behaviour is rude, it's stupid, it's unsustainable, choose your adjective; but know that journalists who cleave to this in the name of tradition are kidding themselves.

Fairfax's ability to sort the wheat from the chaff came under serious question yesterday, as they discarded some wheat (e.g. Ian Verrender, Cynthia Banham) and kept some chaff (e.g. Michelle Grattan, James Massola). The people who made those decisions set the editorial and commercial direction of that organisation's output; they are also people Jonathan Holmes has probably known for years and whose judgment he would regard as the best in the business (for the time being at least). Remember the universal acclaim about Greg Hywood's appointment as Fairfax CEO? I do.

A code of practice would probably mean that we'd all have to be nicer to one another, which runs the risk of anodyne comment limiting the potential impact of debate in terms of actually changing the outcomes that powerful people would impose upon us.

Yes, it's beyond the pale to call Leigh Sales a 'cow'; but it is probably no less hurtful to Tony Abbott to question whether he'd be a very good Prime Minister, or even to assert (as this unregulated blogger does) that he's not even good enough to make it to the top job in the first place. Holmes preferred option, a code of practice where journos look after their own, would focus on the niceties and improve nothing for the wider public in terms of either redress or better journalism.

On the subject of Sales' recent comments about "anonymous" people online: I use my real name online just as she uses hers. The fact that she hasn't met me, and that I don't mix in the media-political circles in which she mixes, doesn't make me "anonymous".

Holmes went into some detail about powerful people suing bloggers and experiencing popular condemnation for doing so. He seems to take Australia's libel laws as given, whereas in the past journalists questioned it and wondered how it might be improved. Has he never heard of The Streisand Effect? This phenomenon is extensively documented and as available to him as any other research he did for his article. If you're going to write about the internet and blogging you have no excuse for reinventing such a fundamental wheel. The editor of The Drum should have spiked his article on the grounds that Holmes has taken a lot of space to say not very much, a big no-no in professional journalism apparently.

It's interesting that Holmes cites Vexnews as his example of a typical blog. As I said in my post on The Herald-Sun Intern, it was Vexnews who put a name to 'Anonymous' and all of a sudden every journalist who rushed to condemn her used the name from a site which it was apparently beneath them to read. Does Holmes really believe that no big news story will ever from Chaff Media to Wheat Media if it's big/good enough? Worse, does he expect anyone else to believe that?

As host of Media Watch, Holmes has clearly decided that bloggers are part of his bailiwick now and is at least starting to take them/us seriously. He started on familiar ground of "the yellow press", which should have been like shooting fish in a barrel - but even so, he missed. Get a copy of Jericho's book, realise that your conceptions about "The Blogosphere" might not be as reliable as you need them to be, and start to rethink your assumptions about what media content is - let alone what it could (or should) become.


  1. Charlotte Dawsons hospitilisation as a result of twitter cyber abuse is a wake up call

    Standards must apply

    Cyber bullying and extremely defamotory remarks should be subject to a criminal offence

    We live in a civil society and niceties are a by product of that

    nice and decent

    play and blog nice peeps


    1. Good luck with policing that. It's hard enough to trace graffitists. Niceties make civil society possible, not the other way around. Good luck Ms Dawson.

    2. Many Thanks for your response


  2. As a long time participant in everything Aussie, including politics and news and views reading, I find it insulting (almost) beyond epithets that the journalist "chosen" take it upon themselves to treat us readers as plain, dumb bastards!
    Of all the shit-for-brains tradesmen or professionals that one has to tolerate, the over-verbose, pompous news-skewer that has been the gallery press corps take the f*ckin' cake!
    Do they really think we are all f*ckwits waiting on their every word? Does Grattan really believe that when she hesitatingly chooses her carefully constructed accusing words with Fran Kelly in the morning show we can't analyse her duplicity?
    This is not bogan-ville where we live, bogans do not tune into the ABC. it is a university-educated, long-lived, highly-skilled people-world! For christ-sake give us; the audience, the respect WE deserve or we will give..WAIT A MINUTE, we already have..you the flick YOU deserve.
    Now (as Billy Connelly is want to say), f*ck off!

    1. Great riposte!!

      The peanut gallery has spoken!!


  3. I rather suspect that Mr Holmes is aware that just as 'bloggers are challenging traditional media, they are also challenging traditional media criticism. As such, he may end up uniting with the big boys against the perceived common enemy.

  4. I didn't bother reading Holmes in the Drum after watching Media Watch on Monday. Holmes had such a narrow view of blogs and bloggers and used visuals of Pickering's blog as his example. All I could guess is Holmes must be near the end of his reign on Media Watch and is no longer interested. Holmes presented what he occuses the media of, an unresearched opinion piece of little value to the debate.
    I would love to know what the viewing statistics of this blog and others such as IA are when compared to the Australian

  5. My problem with what Morris said wasn't that he said something derogatory about Sales. It was his choice of language.

    If Morris had said that she was a bad journalist, a biased interviewer (we all know that the Tories claim that the ABC is biased) then that would have been an OK thing to say. It wouldn't have crossed any lines.

    When Mr Elder critiques Abbott, he doesn't do it in a personal manner. As a man in public office, Abbott would expect negative remarks. It's all a part of the job.

    Morris crossed the line when he compared Sales to a robust animal. When Hawke said Abbott was as mad as a cut snake, he wasn't using a gender specific slur.

    Morris' choice of words is akin to what girls at school will do - use a gender based slur to inflict as much pain as possible without crossing the line and using a swear word. It's indicative of how the Right has been playing the game since the hung parliament.

    1. O/T, but I can't let that go past, RugbyFan. If you think it's only girls who use gender based slurs to bully others at school, you really need to pay more attention. (The fact that you were describing something a man said might have clued you in.) I'm speaking as the mother of one schoolboy and one young woman who has, of course, been through school. Regrettably, the incidence of teenage boys using "gay" as a slur and using other gender based insults is legion. And yes, I call them on it, every time.

    2. Hi Helen, I don't think that it's only girls who use gender based slurs to bully others at school.

      I was paying particular attention to the word "cow" which was only ever directed at females, not males, when I was at school.

      Would you agree that since the hung parliament, the Coalition (and their supporters) have set a new standard for personal attacks, often (but not always) based on gender? I'm thinking chaff bag, ditch the witch, Bob Brown's bitch etc etc

    3. You were doing so well on the gender front until that last paragraph of your first tweet.

      I think that you see people at their worst or best when the pressure is on; some have rise while others have sunk. I'm struggling to think of members of the Coalition who have really risen to the challenge of the hung parliament.

    4. "I'm struggling to think of members of the Coalition who have really risen to the challenge of the hung parliament."
      Thank you for addressing the most pertinent point that I raised.

      Gender, as we all know, is a word that means many things. It can refer to biological sex. It can mean sex-based social roles. It can also refer to sexual identity. I was using it in the context of biological sex, and commenting on all of the inappropriate sexist remarks made toward Gillard.

      I was also simply making the point that the word cow is often used by juveniles - and within this group it is usually an insult directed at girls, by other girls. Boys are often less nuanced! However, you're both right, Helen and Andrew, boys can also use the word in a similarly unsavoury manner.

      The word 'gay' has taken on a whole new context to kids these days. Rightly or wrongly, the reality is that often they don't know how wrong it is to use the word gay as a slur. They use the word to simply assign a negative connotation. Again, you're right Helen, boys and girls will both do this, but in my experience (educator in another life) the poor use of the word gay is something more readily adopted by boys.

  6. I watch a lot of live interviews broadcast on ABC News 24, I would like to know the names of the "anonymous" journalists asking those really dumb questions, you know the ones that never make it to the prime time evening News re-edit.

    Don't have to worry about questions with an Abbott interview as the sound setup is carefully arranged so that no viewer can hear the question being asked, this saves him a lot of effort as he can answer "This is a bad government, a bad tax, a baaad leader etc" (yeah stick to the script son).

    If he gets boxed into a corner, a staffer throws him a lifeline.

    So journalists like their little bit of anonymity.

  7. Of late, Jonathan Holmes has made some odd claims : such as the absurd idea that current libel laws are adequate (tell that to the Average Joe who can hardly afford one visit to a lawyer let alone fund an action)and the idea that Julia Gillard must answer questions when asked, as he claimed in his last show.

    I think he has fallen into the same trap as Richard Akland- an excellent law commentator- the belief that the real world of destroyed reputations via tabloids is all about the top 1%, politicians and the well heeled. Those who have no power to fight a rampant media outlet doesn't seem to matter too much yet they are the majority.

    This Ivory Tower that most journalists seem to live in is crumbling yet they climb higher and higher demanding to be left to their own devices and that we public should respect our betters.

  8. It's been like drawing teeth to get the old media to take the "new media" seriously. There's been the obvious paranoia about newspapers closing (which has some truth), threats to journos jobs etc. The revenue stream thing is interesting. "Follow the money" is the clue from before Watergate. But bloggers haven't yet found agency that links their humble mind matters and life style comments to advertising money. When this agency finally sorts itself out, online bloggers who aspire to intelligent comments will start to make the dinosaurs take notice. It can't be just the Huffington Post who provides a platform?

  9. The Pure Poison blog at Crikey performed an invaluable service by keeping the conservative mainstream media accountable.

    Its closure by Crikey is an immense loss.

  10. The Huffington Post has won a pulitzer prize for its journalism

    Take it seriously old media

    How many times were the ipa on Pure Poison

    Disturbing amount which was weekly