06 February 2013

The impact of Michelle Grattan

Long-serving press gallery journalist Michelle Grattan announced yesterday that she would be leaving Fairfax to work in a couple of other roles (one of which puts her under a former Fairfax editor). I've long thought she was an irrelevant anachronism but the journosphere as one disagrees: what does it mean to be a significant journalist?

The journosphere loves Grattan because she's stuck around for forty years in an industry that is increasingly uncertain. In an industry led mostly by clueless and arrogant dickheads, Grattan is mostly nice to her colleagues and takes pains to show newbie journos the ropes around Parliament. Female journalists in particular speak highly of her, in an industry with few female role models. She meets the journalistic imperative of being able to churn out 600 words on demand. She reports on things that journalists think are important.

She checked and re-checked facts with politicians before they became part of her stories. This doggedness impresses journalists, politicians, and others in the politico-media complex no end, because they tend to be people in pursuit of the snappy line or the knockout blow and resent having to do the sort of slow, hard grind that was a feature of Grattan's work.

Michelle Grattan joined the Federal Parliamentary press gallery in 1971. In that time she has covered 16 Federal elections, and seen government change political complexion five times, with dozens of changes to the leadership of both government and opposition over that period. She has a wealth of experience to draw upon, and she clearly put it to use for the benefit of grateful journalistic colleagues. She may even use it for the benefit of students at the University of Canberra.

The people left out of the Grattan value equation were the public at large, readers of the various publications which employed her.

For people who don't follow politics closely, but who felt a duty to keep up from time to time, a Grattan article was easily digestible. It reported petty, mundane activities and then linked them to the careers of political participants, as though the fate of those individuals - if not those of their parties, or even the nation! - rose or fell on the basis of those activities.

They rarely did, of course. For Grattan, politics was something that took place within one of two buildings in Canberra. Outside the building was a continent, several excluded-for-immigration-purposes islands and a world that acted as passive recipients of whatever came out of the particular building in use at the time. From inside that building came announcements, largely unconnected to policy developments in that area or to self-interested lobbying efforts, and almost never followed up as to their effect in the country beyond. Wash, rinse, repeat, for four decades.

For people who do follow politics closely - and who are avid readers of Fairfax publications - Grattan's offerings were thin fare. It may be true that if Tony Abbott does not succeed he runs the risk of failure, but there is more to it than that. She had a wealth of experience to draw upon, yet she set it aside in favour of formulaic reporting of the same old same-old, trying to make it sound fresh and exciting and mostly failing. Her daily journalism is an odd combination of grind and hype: each article stands like a bowl of tepid porridge with a lit sparkler stuck into it.

When Grattan wanted to provide context, she wrote a book. Her first book, Can Ministers Cope? (co-authored with Patrick Weller), dealt with the relationships between politicians and the public service. It was written in 1981 and remains a key work in that field, despite developments in both public sector accountability and political behaviour since that time. Her next book, Reformers (again co-authored, with Margaret Bowman) presented interesting people in a dull way. Her next book, which she edited, provided useful introductions to the first 25 Australian Prime Ministers.

Grattan never attempted the High Road of Big Themes, like Paul Kelly and Peter Hartcher. She did not attempt to collect wacky anecdotes (books which are, in effect, the author's Greatest Hits reel) like Laurie Oakes. She reported what was in front of her and was incurious about how taxes brought into the capital were expended in the delivery of public services, and how the delivery of those services framed how politicians were perceived, and how politicians thus perceived went about the communities that they supposedly represented. Her pronouncements and predictions on Fran Kelly's Radio National show had no value at all.

A prime example of the failure of this approach is the figure of Eddie Obeid as revealed by the NSW ICAC investigation. From a journo perspective, the demarcation is simple: Obeid was a member of the NSW Parliament, and therefore federal politics reporters can be forgiven for not having heard of him let alone reporting on his impact in federal politics. There is no reason why someone reporting on federal politics could not have examined Obeid's impact on their field: it's lazy journalism to sit in your office under a hill and be incurious about the factors that influence politicians. This isn't limited to who did or didn't stay at a ski lodge; a journalist needn't have to wait for an announcement.

Another is the repeated attempts of President Obama to schedule a visit to Canberra. Each time he scheduled and postponed, Grattan commented on it. When he eventually came and spoke, Grattan commented on that too. The fact that Obama's speech promised far-reaching change to Australia's foreign policy - and yes, its politics - has simply passed Grattan by. She has treated Obama like a blow-in to Federal politics (which seat does he represent?).

What was important to Grattan was who was making the announcement. What was important to those making the announcement was that Michelle Grattan noticed and passed it forward to the then-large readership of The Age. And so the politico-media circle went around: Grattan noticed those who were important, and those who were important were those whom Grattan noticed, and what those people did was important because Grattan noticed what they did, etc. It must have been fun while it lasted.

Male politicians knew to butter Grattan up, and they did. Women politicians, a minority for most of Grattan's day, found The Doyenne would ignore them if a man of equal stature was making an announcement of equal import. As recently as 2006 she found it hard to believe that Kevin Rudd depended on Julia Gillard to get the numbers to roll Kim Beazley, preferring to believe - and pretend to her readers - that Rudd was a force of nature in himself.

Julia Gillard is the first Prime Minister in Grattan's long experience who did not engage in a concerted campaign of buttering her up before taking the job. Gillard appears less frequently in Grattan's articles 2007-10 than she did elsewhere in the media; since then Grattan has given her substantially less than an even break, and not just because Abbott plays her to get a good run.

Gillard had the effrontery, the sheer gall, to go for the Prime Ministership without even pitching the idea to The Doyenne. By the time Grattan discovered that Rudd was in trouble, he was finished. It was the biggest political story of 2010 and she, with her ear to the ground and her finger on the pulse and savvy as billy-o, missed it. Since then, Gillard hasn't been able to do a single thing right according to Grattan. Her straight-journalist reporting would set out logical reasons why the PM did or did not do something, but the bruised ego would follow up with an insistence that it was not a good look.

Take, for example, today's serving-out-notice effort:
The Prime Minister's frustration that everything she does is seen in a bad light is obvious.

She feels herself, and indeed is, victim of a media storm but she knows those in her own ranks have fanned the winds.
The PM is the victim of a media storm, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. A small bunch of backbenchers can beat up the story and everyone else, Prime Ministers or Doyennes or whomever, is powerless to report on any other issue than this. This Is The Narrative, baby, and readers looking for more than The Narrative are wasting their time.

Grattan reported on the departure of Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans in the same way every other journalist did: disaster for a shambolic government.
JULIA Gillard's problems with her reshuffle will be how it is perceived.
What Grattan means here is: how it will be perceived by the press gallery, including Grattan. This is an insistence that the press gallery had the primacy that it had last century. It's wounded-ego stuff, the idea that how a policy plays (among journalists for a day or two) is more important than how it works (on people in the community, whose lives and livelihoods and other social amenity depends upon the policy under discussion). She mentions that Evans has been in the departure lounge for the past year, but it didn't seem to colour her coverage of his portfolio or of the Senate over that time.

It took a blogger, Paula Matthewson, to point out that governments lose a couple of senior ministers just before elections as a matter of course. All of those names Matthewson rattles off - Tanner, Reith, McLachlan - are people Grattan knew. There are journalists in the press gallery who were at school when Peter Reith was in his pomp, but Grattan has no such excuse. Grattan could and should have used her years of experience as a counterpoint of calm against the Narrative that this government is shedding ministers willy-nilly. Grattan herself, and all those journos who venerate her, have been shown up by a blogger.

The only reason to read Grattan was to find out what The Narrative is, so that you don't have to wade through all the other Narrative-surfers clogging up the old media's space and time. Grattan had the stature to make The Narrative about more than petty ephemera, but she chose to be one of the gang.

The articles on Australian politics in The Conversation were refreshingly free of The Narrative, but Grattan is likely to kill that; denying the very diversity she has called for at The Age. The site's editor is Andrew Jaspan, a former editor of The Age, so while this might be nice for both these old mates the reader has less incentive to check The Conversation for political articles in this election year. This is what 'new media' apparently means in this country: The Conversation becomes like The Age's A2 section from about ten years ago, while The Global Mail is basically SMH Spectrum from five years before that.

With the advent of ABC24, people can see and hear how the press gallery operates: Grattan had a knack for asking questions in her distinctive March-fly drone that were obtuse, or (when speaking to the current Prime Minister) rude, and so general that any experienced politician could simply bat them away. Her question to Tony Abbott at the National Pikers' Club last week was stupid, a wasted opportunity. She had little to show newbie journalists in how to extract value from a press conference and make attending them worthwhile; to make those who called them both scared to pick you for a question, and scared not to pick you.

A rarely-mentioned aspect of Grattan's career was that she had been appointed editor of The Canberra Times, one of the first women to be appointed to such a role. She was tasked with making that paper more like The Washington Post, with both excellent coverage of politics and the business of government more broadly, as well as relevance on a small-c civic level to people who live in that city.

Grattan had been a Canberra resident herself for more than two decades by then, but clearly had nothing in common with those of her neighbours who bristle at "Canberra" being used as shorthand for the actions of the federal government. She pinched a few politics journos from other Fairfax publications but failed at both tasks. She took newspapers for granted rather than seriously questioning what they were for, what they could do, and how they might have been saved from their current predicament.

The worst thing of all about Grattan was that she was and is a dull writer. No phrase, no sentence, no article of hers sticks in the mind or helps you understand a complex situation. Think about any major development in Australian politics 1971-2013, then go to her article on the matter the following day: marvel at her reverse-alchemy of rendering the interesting dull.

People who don't follow politics closely think it has to be dull, so they don't understand what the problem is. Her role in turning people off politics, in convincing them that it is about anything other than their hopes and concerns for the type of country we live in, cannot be underestimated.

For readers, the news is that just another journo has shifted jobs. Don't make your daughter a doyenne, Mrs Worthington. This is an attitude that will probably appal journos who regard her as the epitome of their craft, but so what?


  1. Grattan should retire to a sour old age of trapping, and having euthanised, the neighbourhood's roaming cats. It just seems to suit her.

  2. Very well constructed & written. I'm in awe. Michelle's articles were very hard to digest which was a shame. Shame also that she allowed her partiality & bias to corrupt her writings later in her career. Time for her to go. Shame about The Conversation though.

  3. This is easily the best thing that has been written on the subject. I don't know where you get the time or the energy to write this stuff, but please keep it up. I find your blog essential.

  4. WOW! She has had a long career, so basically, she was really nice to everyone & kind to newbies, hence all the praise she got from Journo's? Thanks also for the explanation on her treatment of Ms Gillard, has always infuriated me how should could not bring herself to type Prime Minister Gillard, always disrespectfully said "Gillard" :(

  5. Excellent analysis, Andrew.

    The worst thing of all about Grattan was that she was and is a dull writer.

    Beating Ms Grattan's lack of intellectual curiosity on the nod.

  6. Good riddance to the relic from an 'age' where jurnos were jurnos and gumboots were two and sixpence a pair. Now if only Coorey would take the hint!!

  7. Great blog Andrew. Grattan had definitely gone past her use by date (20 years too late?) and I for one will certainly not miss her inane and dreary commentary.
    It's just a shame that more of the Abbott sycophants in the Press Gallery won't follow her lead and bugger off so we can actually get some fair reporting.

  8. Grattan wrote piece after piece and gossiped with Fran Kelly day after day about the disgraced and depraved Peter Slipper.

    Since it was revealed the extent of the political fit up by the liberal party not a word of apology.

    She thinks she is Helen Thomas, the thing is though Helen Thomas was and is one of the best reporters ever, sort of like Martha Gellhorn brilliantly portrayed by our Nic in Gellhorn and Hemingway.

    In short Grattan is just a dry and penny dreadful old gossip.

  9. Thanks once again for an interesting post Andrew.

    I was initially pleased to hear that Grattan would be taking a role at the University of Canberra. Given that she apparently has no academic qualifications, I erroneously thought that her role would be in the field in which she's experienced - journalism. This would have meant that The Conversation's charter, the first words of which are "Give experts a greater voice..." would have limited her contributions to subjects relating to journalism.

    Alas no. The Conversation's own piece on it yesterday says that "her role at the university will include teaching and research projects in politics and political communication" and that she would be The Conversation's "Associate Editor (Politics) and Chief Political Correspondent".

    It must be galling to those in politics departments across Australia to know that the new gatekeeper for matters political on the site will be the person who saw the same Prime Minister's misogyny speech as the rest of us but somehow could only see enough to say:

    "The Prime Minister threw everything into her argument, which revolved around trying to pin the ''misogynist'' label on the Opposition Leader. It was perhaps the only weapon available to her, but it sounded more desperate than convincing."

    It's hard to imagine how more contributions of that quality (and the quality of those you outlined above) can possibly assist in The Conversation's stated aim of allowing "for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues."

    I hope that university politics departments generally, and those within the site's founding partners in particular, react to what amounts to a giant raspberry to them and their field from The Conversation's editor Andrew Jaspan in employing an old mate of his.

    Marc Roberts

    1. I don't like Grattan's work any more than Andrew does, but Michelle and I are both graduates of the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Arts, and both majors in Political "Science". Certain lecturers used to love reminding us Michelle's position at the top of the list of our illustrious alumni. Always makes me chuckle to remember it now, and I wonder how much claim they lay to her these days.

    2. I often wonder how Grattan felt after writing those pathetic words, only to see Gillard's speech praised in nearly every major newspaper across the globe, translated into however many languages, and the world 'Gillard' turned into a verb by the Democrats in their election campaign. I've said a few dumb things in my time so I can imagine it would not have been pleasant.

      Of course, the fact that Grattan's hatred of Gillard distorted every word she wrote is widely known. But my favourite will forever remain the piece she wrote castigating Gillard for her embarrassing failure to get Carr up as FM, a sure sign that she'd lost control of the party and should resign to save herself further embarrassment ... all of which was published about 45 minutes before Carr was introduced as FM.

      Sadly, as others have pointed out, Grattan was not alone in serving up dross and many, many more remain in place. Gawd help us all.

  10. Bushfire Bill6/2/13 4:18 pm

    She won't be missed.

    The Coke Bottle glasses were - as Michelle herself would put it - a "metaphor" for her frame of reference: myopic, narrow and benighted by tunnel vision.

    It must have given her a thrill when Prissy Pyne himself cited, in parliament no less, her call for Gillard to "fall on her sword" at the beginning of the Slipper-Thomson week back in April in order to save the party and the nation the ordeal of despatching her.

    Gillard didn't oblige, and is still upright, even as The Grattanosaurus lumbers off for a professorial sinecure teaching Ancient History, er "How To Be a Gallery Journo" at Canberra Uni.

    Alas, an edict from Her Grattannic Majesty no longer has the clout it once used to wield.

    Michelle's problem was that she let her obvious distaste for Gillard get in the way of reasonable, much less "Fair and balanced" reporting. She habitually referred to "the Media" as if they were those fellows, over there, the ones in the huddle, when it was her own bitchiness that constituted the problem.

    She had it in her dwindling power to distinguish herself from the pack she disdained so much, but in the end declined to do so. She talked down to her readers and alienated them. Who wants to be treated like

    (a) a schoolkid and

    (b) an idiot for preferring the Labor way of doing things?

    It was not only Grattan that made that mistake. As the "media" go out of their way to tell us we are poorly and aimlessly governed, the ennui at large that such lazy writing generates destroys public confidence and ultimately kills newspapers through the loss of that confidence.

    The spectacle of a failed industry - print journalism - telling anyone how to run a business (or a country) is bad enough, but to confess to readers that doing so is personally boring to them, as Grattan did in the 2010 campaign, takes the take.

    She could have made a difference. She could have talked up her patch - the ins and outs of government - with the odd sign of enthusiasm here or there that even real estate or sports journos manage to do every now and again, but she chose the path of nihilism and thus, effectively, retrenched herself.

    The only pity is that it took so long for Grattan to fade away. The young, bright, optimistic ones she might have inspired are now too well schooled in misery to be able to change now. I fear whoever succeeds the old dinosaur will be just as ill-suited to their environment.

    1. The glasses analogy is Gold!!!


  11. The judgement of the reading public echoes yours. I didn't see one comment lammenting Grattan's departure from Fairfax, only her arrival at The Conversation. Over at Crikey's facebook page the question was asked 'what will this mean for the standard of political reportin at The Age?' The overwhelming resonse that it should improve due to Grattan's departure.

  12. Well written, Andrew, I confess I stopped istening to her morning diatribe with Fran Kelly some time ago. It is good she has gone but pity the poor students.

  13. Never a truer word could be spoken about Michelle Grattan than to reiterate the old maxim:
    'You get the face you deserve.'
    That is, Sour Puss.

  14. Andrew you have produced an article here that is spot on in describing not only Michell Grattan but a number of other political so called journalists who fail to grasp their responsibility in reporting facts or the detail of politics in Australia.
    The ABC could do with a clean out and employ journalists that have not been contaminated with the Howard legacy of re-education to support and propagate the extreme right in objective.
    Thank you Andrew your hard work.

  15. Passing strange that Grattan to this day is labelled by the coalition as a leftist is it not?

    As usual, Andrew, you mistake the difference between reporting news and writing opinion/analysis. You want a fusion in news reporting, but then you only judge analysis favourably if it coincides with your own opinion. ie - you want journalists to write news in a way you would write it: according to your views. That's not how they are trained, even at the moment. In the future, maybe different.

    I have no time for the AllStars groupthink and you make very good critique most of time. But your tendentiousness not only gets in the way, it takes away.
    On the other hand, I will concede that it is your bias expounded from a moderate Lib perspective that makes the blog worth clicking on.

    1. I worked with Michelle for three years and she was rarely nice to me. then again, I was a bloke. I have no problem with her rudeness, but she did very little to promote talent that threatened her own patch. she was the weakest of the Big Swinging Dick gallery giants - couldn't see the big picture for the trees, unlike Kelly, and couldn't break a big yarn to save herself. Oakes towered over her. this relic should have been sent to pasture years ago. very good analysis Andrew.

    2. bb, I wasn't aware that Grattan was labelled a leftist, or a rightist for that matter.

      My problem with Grattan's reporting was that her frame was in the wrong place. She might have been diligent as all get out within that frame, but she was focusing on the wrong things and describing them badly.

      As for opinion: she wasn't entitled to claim that every inconvenience or difficulty for the government was "disaster", "chaos" etc, especially given her experience. I don't confuse reporting with opinion, but the latter is definitely based upon the former.

  16. I an an avid follower of politics. All my adult life I have been aware of Grattan's reputation as a political commentator but have always struggled to read her articles to the end - yep obtuse, dull and increasingly biased.

    I agree its a shame that she will be Associate Editor of The Conversation

  17. A notable point with Grattan's moving on is how The Conversation is now becoming a refuge for those flung off the good ship Fairfax.

    So much for these new sites offering new voices and perspectives, we're just seeing more of the same old, same old.

  18. Harsh but true

    Megalogenis was very kind to her on twitter

    That speaks volumes

    Great work as always Andrew

    John Faine must go from the a.b.c now


    1. I think by the way Faine is commenting lately he is preparing for a move somewhere.

  19. As a woman of a certain age not much younger than Grattan I have always found her an embarrassment, disappointment and yes dullsville in the extreme.

    Why any media outlet would employ her either in print or radio is a complete mystery to me.

    I don't despise her. She doesn't even stir passion. She is a cypher. Her role was to stupefy and divert.

    I wish she and her ilk would disappear. But alas. They are the cockroaches. They are the black pigs.

  20. colin mallett6/2/13 10:24 pm

    I wrote to Michelle when she was writing for the Canberra Times urging her to take some time off and travel the country. What dulled her in my view was being stuck in the Canberra mindset for far too long.
    20 odd years ago I respected and enjoyed her insight.

  21. I always thought it was so strange that a journalist of such high acclaim could not find a way of calling the Prime Minister of the day the Prime Minister! It was always Julia Gillard or between gritted teeth Ms Gillard. And now affectionately as she is about to exit the hurly burly of politics reporting, it's the PM!

  22. Lachlan Ridge7/2/13 1:52 am

    I have been blessed to have read this blog for nigh on four years now. In all of that time I have never seen anything other than an offhand dismissal of Grattan, which is probably more than her writing deserved. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, her writing should not be put aside lightly, it should be thrown vehemently across the room in disgust.

    I am forwarding the link to this blog to a number of friends because it is a brilliant exposition of how the Emperor's New Clothes has overtaken policy development in this country and left us with the infrastructure bottlenecks, the increasing shift of the share of the nation's capital away from the household sector and the incremental erosion of what may be loosely (but not Stephen Loosely) described as values.

    More power to your keyboard Andrew, you are an oasis of thought in the desert that is pubic commentary in this country. You cast out cant and ignorance like a cool breeze in a heatwave. You would make Eric Blair cry that someone continues to love the English language enough to use it for good, instead of ill.

    Makes a damned fine change from the dreary professional oracles looking for exciting opportunities, going forward.

  23. Chris Grealy7/2/13 4:21 am

    Yep, just another bitter conservative hack with nothing interesting to say. I was astonished when the journos lauded her. I had assumed they would be as glad to see the back of her as I am.

  24. Grattan has written 10 million words not one of them memorable.

  25. Michelle Grattan appears to be a sad, angry woman (love the idea about the glasses). Sadly, she may be able to infect students studying journalism - hope not.

  26. Bushfire Bill7/2/13 7:52 am

    "A notable point with Grattan's moving on is how The Conversation is now becoming a refuge for those flung off the good ship Fairfax."

    I wasn't sure how long The Conversation would last as an independent/alternative source. Once it achieved a readership it was pretty inevitable that the goons would move in and force a takeover.

    It'll be interesting to see Grattan explaining, in that Mother Hen way of hers, the workings and context of politics, to a bunch of highly intelligent PhD types who can read and (one must assume) at least come near to being able to think for themselves. Not your average Grattan fodder.

    Meanwhile, back at Fairfax, we're seeing the gradual concentration of opinionation that is inevitable when the drones and workers, subbies and gumshoe reporters take their packages, leaving only the "stars" behind to fight over the increasingly thickening mud in the bottom of the drought-stricken media river.

    That they all write basically the same thing ensures that their remaining readership will eventually amble off to more interesting fields.

    The "Chaos" line didn't have much impact on the polls, at most a couple of per cent. Beat ups ain't what they used to be!

    Their anti-government mindset was perfectly illustrated by last week's confected outrage at the resignations.

    The official line is that Carr's and Roxon's departures came from nowhere. Read: "Nobody leaked it to us".

    Things that come from nowhere qualify as Acts Of God, like being struck by a meteorite or a falling piano. No journo can be blamed for the Almighty's whims!

    So, there was all the pre-press conference speculation, followed by the press conference itself, a short pause for breath (if you missed it you were blinking), and then a launch into the fairy tale they'd pre-concocted about chaos and instability.

    Missing the story in the first place (as Andrew points out, they should have at least workshopped it, as these things are commonplace) their authority was reinstated by eschewing reality and inventing one of their own.

    Half their readership - the half that doesn't want Tony Abbott as PM - were lost right there. What other business can afford to alienate half its customers and then lecture others about how to run a business?

    You'd think someone would twig that there's an opportunity to be different just waiting to be exploited, but it's too easy to wind down to career stumps by blocking every ball and ignoring scoring opportunities.

    Toe the line, take the package and be a Professor.

    Way to go!

  27. Nice piece Andrew.

    The radical divergence on social media in the wake of the announcement was something to behold. Journalists - many of whom presumably know Grattan personally - were effusive in their praise. Non-journalists, those that only know Grattan by her written output, were scornful.

    As for The Conversation, I can't help but be disappointed by the appointment. More "new media" blowing their budgets hiring dinosaurs of old.

  28. Michelle had an impact on this household.
    Sorta like the straw that broke the camel.
    We used to listen to ABC Radio National Brekky show most mornings.
    Used to.
    But usually having to stop whatever we were doing at the time to walk over to the radio to turn it off after Fran and Michelle's inane partisan bile became too much to tolerate became too repetitive.
    Eventually one of us asked the other "Why are we listening to this crap?" and when no good answer came we decided to give the show a big miss.
    Hopefully Michelle's belated retirement will mean she gives the Brekky show a miss but, sadly, even her absence won't get us back as listeners.


    1. When Grattan appeared, it was time for me to go and catch the train into work. I was hoping John Doyle would make it a mission to cajole her into uttering the phrase "Prime Minister Gillard", but sadly no.

    2. Waleed Alys Drive show isnt bad....

      Its witty and progressive.

      Hes in Canberra this week and the interviews....well some are ,great

      Sinodinos did well last night,very informative discussion on policy

  29. Great piece.

    Of late, I've often found Michelle's commentary as stating the obvious and rarely focusing on anything outside Canberra.

    She has made a valuable contribution to the political discussion but maybe it's time for her to 'go out to pasture' - an apt yet totally misleading idiom where I come from.

    Tex (@3wisedonks)

  30. It also says much about the press gallery that all the journos who called her The Oak Tree (because nothing could grow underneath her) were so effusive in their praise when her departure was announced.

  31. Brilliant article, keep it up!

  32. Thanks Andrew and contributors in the comments section. An insightful read as always.

  33. Lstely her performance has been characterised as lazy, careless, disinterested ..... and there has been speculation that she was moving on and just not bothering to put in any effort to make her work acceptable. Well, now we can see that, yes, she is moving on. There was also speculation that she's moving into the Liberal political sphere in a paid capacity. Certainly, her often-pointless attacks on and routine criticisms of Julia Gillard could lead one to that conclusion.

    1. Disinterested is NOT how I would describe Grattan's performance - it means impartial.

  34. Where were the headlines?: Grattan leaves Age - Press gallery in crisis.

  35. I recall an election campaign photo from some years back showing the press gallery seated on a mini-train waiting to be taken to somewhere for the fatuous pic op of the day. In one of the front carriages - as befitting someone of her seniority in the gallery - sat Ms Grattan.

    She looked mightily displeased, but she was still sitting there. As you point out above, she chose to play the game.

    She should have gotten off the stage-managed political mini-train years ago and done some real reporting, or found another job.

  36. An excellent and insightful article, thank you. Your sentence "Her pronouncements and predictions on Fran Kelly's Radio National show had no value at all" sums it up. I used to listen to Fran and Michelle a few years ago while driving to work hoping to get some insight, but after a few months I had to concede her analysis was rubbish, she just did not understand and was not able to explain what actual political forces were affecting any given situation - and that's what I want to know, not her way off-target assumptions.

    It seems to me a sad proof of the adage "it's not what you know, it's who you know", how else can she retire to such green pastures. I suspect even I know more than she does about politics, which is a real worry.

    It's also sad how much she was lauded by the rest of the press gallery. It says to me that so many of them still don't understand that there are people among us who want them to _explain_ to us what's actually going on, what real political forces are at work, not tell us who said what, or make up how bad someone is, or make predictions that are 180 degrees wrong.

  37. Wow. That's great Andrew. And commentors too. Thank you.
    You've nailed all the things I've thought and felt about Michelle Grattan over the decades and why I never became a fan, and long ago ceased trying to read her bland, inconsequential, mind numbing drivel. Like others, I long ago permanently switched off Michelle and Fran Kelly. Dreary and pointless, eventually revolting.

    I hope it turns out to be an opportunity that she is leaving the Canberra press gallery. Hopefully in her absence others might better wake up and pull their heads out of the incestuous bubble of the Canberra press world view. But I note others say there are more like her, oh well, one down.
    A collective mindset like the Canberra Press Gallery would have a name, I should think. Other than say; collective delusional grandiosity or acute multiple psychosis. Perhaps there's something in the DSM.

    I note Prime Minister Julia Gillard had the acumen and honest, good sense to keep Michelle Grattan at arms length. I believe the Prime Minsiter is a woman of great character. She has the morality and perception I want in a leader.

  38. The press gallery has two beacon kights....

    Tingle and Megalogenis

    They deserve accolades not Grattan....

    1. Lachlan Ridge9/2/13 1:17 am


      to Ms Tingle

      {And does she have a Gun License? This country doesn't happen in a vacuum, y'know.))

  39. "By the time Grattan discovered that Rudd was in trouble, he was finished. It was the biggest political story of 2010 and she, with her ear to the ground and her finger on the pulse and savvy as billy-o, missed it."

    As did every single member of the press gallery Allstars, with the exception of Denis Shanahan. At the time every single commenter here currently venting their Grattan derangement would have been excoriating Shanahan and holding Grattan and co up as exemplars. It's shooting the messenger, and all journos love it when it happens to them. Increases their ego.

    Except for Grattan. She would not even be noticing the hysteria. That's what makes her even more infuriating.

    1. In that one instance, Shamahamaham (like a broken clock) was correct. Usually, not so much, hence most peoples' judgement that he was just making shit up, and making himself part of teh Narrative.

  40. Bushfire Bill8/2/13 8:27 am

    Grattan's (hopefully final?) column today contains an outright threat:

    "With Labor reeling under bad publicity, the opposition, which has indicated its IR blueprint will be out in the first half of the year, is reluctant to invite attention to itself. Delaying too long, however, can mean the right moment never comes.

    If the policy is as balanced as Abbott says, he should get on the front foot.

    Who knows, with all the scandal around, the main focus could remain on Labor."

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/abbotts-silence-on-ir-a-problem-20130206-2dyvx.html#ixzz2KFWQ5cEb

    In other words:

    "Hurry up and get some policy out, Tony. We can't keep smearing Labor forever."

  41. I read rumours that Grattan retired, but Fairfax has as much of her stuff as usual. Weird retirement.
    James Adelaide

  42. Bushfire Bill8/2/13 9:03 am

    From Grattan's latest (laughingly called) "analysis" column:

    "The government, desperate for anything to use against the Coalition in battler-land, is saying the policy would increase taxes on people in western Sydney to finance white elephants in the north. But if the rough edges of the discussion paper are rubbed off such a policy has the potential to appeal in some regional seats."

    Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/parliaments-air-of-uncertainty-as-nerves-are-rattled-20130207-2e19s.html#ixzz2KFgT4stO

    I love the way Grattan thinks all they have to do is "rub off a few rough edges" and it'll be a winner.

    Contrast this with her instant - within 24 hours - dismissal of Gonski and the NDIS on the basis of "Where's the money?"


    * redevelop the entire 1,000,000 square miles of Northern Australia,

    * turn rivers inland (or dam them),

    * make the deserts bloom,

    * press gang thousands into working there,

    * change the Constitution to allow differential tax rates between the states,

    * spend billions and billions of dollars doing so...

    to make something work that's been tried before and was an abject failure.

    Just a few "rough edges."

    Wipe its bum, comb its hair, give it its play-lunch and call it "a policy". There's "analysis" for you.

    Thanks God she's leaving.

    And spare a thought for The Conversation.

  43. As if to confirm your critique, Michelle winds up at The Age with an article raising "The Ruddstoration" and following Lib guidelines by referring to Abbott as "Mr Positive" 3 times in a row

  44. Nick the Hippy8/2/13 12:55 pm

    Her final column today was about a possible Rudd challenge... (Yawn). Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

  45. Hey Fran, Michelle Grattan has retired from journalism ... hint hint.

  46. Excellent post, and it articulates something about her journalistic style that I could never quite put my finger on. I wish some commentors could stick to critiquing her as a journo, though, without resporting to sexist slurs about her looks, age, relationship to cats etc. Thanks for your great work.

    1. I agree, anon - I was a bit uncomfortable about the glasses comment, upthread a ways.

  47. This is a brilliant piece and thank you, Andrew for writing it. It validates why, for some years now, I have been shouting at the radio when making the kid's brekkie in the morning. There is NOTHING I have heard Grattan say in recent times that I couldn't have had a red hot go at myself after perusing various news sites and TV shows in the a.m.
    I cannot fathom why RN persevered for so long when there are so many new, vibrant voices to be heard. Politics aside, it's just not good radio. Equivocal, dull and pedestrian.The shout "Grattan's on" was the signal in the morning to vacate the kitchen.
    I am all for increased participation of senior figures in the political debate, but length of tenure doesn't cut it as a qualification.
    Nimbleness, bravery, insider connections and unending curiosity do.
    Again, thanks.

    1. Lachlan Ridge9/2/13 1:25 am

      You're doing your bit Wendy. You've been making people think in this country since you were doing tampon jokes in the eighties, which is no small achievement!

      A lot of us could do well to e sitting in the same room and listening with you Wendy, keep doing what you doing; you're a force for good in this world. You'd put a smile on a lot of exhausted activists' faces if you took on Bronny in Warringah you know! I'd travel from Nimmitabel to hand out How To Votes for you, and never forget the Senate Ms Harmer. You've got more ears than he National Party listening to you!

    2. I'll hand out those how-to-vote cards with you Lachlan! Wen-dy. Wen-dy.

      Glad to see more insightful people than me can see through the current state of biased journalism. It's sloppy and insulting. Nice blog Andrew. 'Follow'

  48. I should add that, if the above sounds disrespectful, I do sincerely apologise.

    Ms. Grattan was an icon to me when I was a young Melbourne journo and her labelling as biased to both left and right on this site can perhaps be seen as a tribute.
    I do congratulate her on a very long and auspicious career and hope she enjoys her new role.

    However, there has to be a level of self-awareness whereby can one can identify when one begins to think of oneself as a "player" although, obviously, un-elected. It's the trap every high-profile writer on politics must surely be aware of.

    The security of tenure enjoyed by many in the "old media" is coming to an end. There's sadness here for the old guard, but also great opportunity for the new. And surely, as everyone in Canberra must know by now, even a week is a long time in politics.

    Watching the assault on old media establishments is the best thing that's happening right now. It's scary for sure. But knocking holes in the walls, throwing open the windows and lettng the breeze blow through?

    It's a good time to be on the battlements,even if you risk an arrow in the neck.

    1. This post started as good-riddance snark, but I couldn't honestly keep it up. Any edifice like Grattan isn't all bad, and can't be lightly dismissed either.

      Women in particular seem to look up to Grattan. Those who cheered the PM's statement on sexism and misogyny must have been disappointed by her insistence that the speech was not about enduring, universal issues but the petty 'context' in which it was delivered, and framed by the Op-pose-ition.

      I think "insider connections" is the least important of the four qualities in your first comment. Part of Grattan's failure was that she overvalued these, and took on lazy notions like "punters", "battler-land" etc., which patronised her readers and made effective communication with them/us impossible.

      You're right about the transition now underway, which must be all the more fascinating for someone who experienced late twentieth-century media from the inside. In the absence of a career plan involving a gradual ascent up established ranks, perhaps one's own credibility and enduring relevance onto platforms not-yet invented may help journalists avoid the busywork that leads them to prodice banal and irrelevant material under the assumption that there is a market for it.

      An arrow in the neck is the least of your worries. Watch out for those RPGs and wonder what those who built the castles would have made of them. I appreciate your insight and the fact that you posted it here.

    2. Lachlan Ridge9/2/13 1:30 am

      Rubbish. Bill put it well earlier. She's written something north of ten million words, and none of them are memorable. That's a paltry return when we consider what Peter Wicks has done with apart time blog in six months.

      Let's not get sentimental here and, to quote Ms Grattan, "over-egg the pudding'.

      And then there's your own lightening rod Andrew? We're all looking forward to your How To Vote.

    3. Lachlan Ridge9/2/13 1:34 am

      And for fuck's sake, let's not let this turn into a Jeremiad of "I come not to Praise Caesar, bot to bury him..."

    4. Oh no, it's a burial: look at the send-off she got from the National Press Club.

  49. Thanks Andrew, however, I disagree about the value of "insider connections". That surely is the best an "embedded" journo can offer. It's Woodward and Bernstein. The stuff young aspirants dream about.
    It's haunting the halls of parliament... and then hanging out where the pond scum congregate. That's what the best old-style police round reporters did ( before phone hacking - lazy bastards).
    For me the greatest failure is that the role of lobbyists - there to thwart every democratic process- goes unreported. It makes me furious. It's as if they are invisible in Canberra. And in NSW - how did McDonald, Obeid and cohorts get as far as they did with their ( alleged) rank corruption? It's an abject failure.

    However - and here's the rub, we all know it - how is the "new media" to afford any journalist the time and money to pursue such labours to run down rabbit holes - often coming to a dead end?
    As a young journo in urban affairs, I was able to spend hours attending council meetings, "grooming" contacts and scouring endless documents.
    I was able to break stories.
    Let's all see how good "new media" is at doing that before we throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    Some good work emerging...lets hope it continues.
    We are all on the same page. Regards etc.

    1. Thanks Wendy. I think we are, but I still reckon part of the shift is the devaluing of "insider connections", and you've unwittingly put your finger on it.

      You can dream of Woodward/Bernstein while going to work as a journo at NSW State Parliament ten or so years ago. To report effectively on NSW State politics at that time you had to develop close connections to Eddie and Macca (but not to the point where you expose the sorts of things that have come to light recently). Dead right it's a failure, but it's also the other edge of the same sword. Where is the value in all those unnamed Labor MPs who whinge about Gillard and who want Rudd back?

      Veteran journos like Jim "Mr Denmore" Parker and Michael Gawenda have criticised journalists for not being sufficiently critical of what they report on, and questioning why an individual is seeking to leak particular material at a particular time.

      As far as new media breaking stories,your boast about breaking stories reminds me of the shifting debate about Japanese cars: "they'll never make a family sedan" ... "yeah, but they'll never make luxury vehicles", etc. You won't look at the Craig Thomson thing the same way until you've read this.

  50. Great post, Andrew, especially as you have been careful throughout to avoid the unthinking if not unconscious (and incredibly unpleasant either way) ageism and sexism of some of these commenters, something only Anon at 2.36pm seems to have noticed so far. Grattan's journalism has nothing to do with her gender, her face or her age.

    I think if women looked up to her it was largely because she was such a role model for women in a male-dominated profession. When I was first introduced to the hive of activity that was The Age in 1980 it was known as the Spencer Street Soviet, but it might just as well have been called the Testosterone Times. The fact that Grattan not only survived there but thrived and was respected meant a lot, I think, to women who observed her place and reputation there and saw that it was possible. But her attitude to the Prime Minister has been very much that of a certain kind of woman who has 'made it' in a man's world and believes that merit alone achieved that (almost always true) and that therefore any woman can do the same if she is talented enough (demonstrably false) -- that is, essentially she believes that the playing field is level and women are simply inferior to men apart from a few special women like herself. So feminists may have been disappointed by her reaction to the Prime Minister's 'misogyny' speech (which was in fact the Prime Minister's reaction to Tony Abbott's 'misogyny' speech), but I think very few of us were surprised.

    1. Thank you Kerryn.

      Do you think Grattan regards the PM as simply unremarkable? She seems to regard her as some sort of impostor, waiting around to be replaced by either Rudd or Abbott but not worthy of respect as a Prime Minister in and of herself.

    2. Michelle is jealous of the heights to which Julia Gillard has risen. Many journalists are jealous of the political figures in Canberra. They see them at close quarters and tap into their humanity, even their weaknesses, yet the political figures have so much more power, recognition, perks and attention than the poor old journos have. They are permanently peeved and quite bitchy. What they fail to see is the association with the political machines and the relentless work involved at electorate level when they go home to their states. The Canberra press gallery remains at arm's length trying to dream up another angle to a story they are only half involved in. The leading commentators never cross into that magical territory. Michelle Grattan is furious that she has not been able to read Julia Gillard and to analyse her rise to power. There is something of an idolizing of leading politicians by Canberra journalists. The pollies are flattered and the journos are under the impression they are confidants. I suspect Julia has not played this game. The familiar pattern of power and media has been disrupted by the appearance of a woman. Whoops. Different approach. The media is not happy and Michelle, being one of the leading lights, has found political commentary not built on assumptions that have hitherto been familiar, easy and consistent.
      Sorry Michelle.

  51. Bushfire Bill9/2/13 8:40 pm

    Was she sacked because she was too easy on Gillard, too hard, or for some other reason?

    I guess we'll have to wait and see who replaces her.

    Please God, let it not be Katharine Murphy.

    1. Not sure she was sacked, I think that UCan and the Conversation offered her a better deal.

  52. What about the next gen and their self entitled stance..

    A young uni student has jusy started working with a prominent sports reporter

    They were heard saying that elite athletes were justified in taking drugs as thats the nature of being competitive...

    The moral compass has shifted in a different direction to gen y

    The parameters of whats acceptable is a result of corporate bastardisation and a sophisticated indoctrination of neo_con extremism to replace an organic polity


  53. Like sport,the pointy end of capitalism will destroy organic journalism

    It already has....

  54. Michelle whom?

  55. gosh andrew so many posts,

    i have not read them all,so some one may have ask this, but can you explain
    if a person is not working for a news company,
    how do they stay in the press gallery,
    If this is the case why cannot you join and
    go along to press, conferences
    your self could ask abbott questions, and also the pm.

    1. Parliament House only provides media security passes if they are approved by the President of the Press Gallery Committee. In other words you can't become a member of the Press Gallery if you don't get the say so of the Press Gallery Committee - and you won't get the say so of the Press Gallery Committee unless you are a member of an established media organisation. Once you leave that media organisation you are required to return your security pass (it's a condition of being issued the pass).

      Functionally if you don't have a security pass you can't ask the policitians questions. They hold their security conferences in the private areas of Parliament House where you need a security pass to access.

  56. Forget Grattan......

    Janet Albrechtsen is a cranky old cow

    Why do they keep her???

    Milf mother status

    Sickening but true....

    With the utmost respect to all the lovely and intelligent libretarian women,shes vile

  57. Grattans problem was and still is, is that because she had been around the Canberra Press Gallery so long she was the Queen of everything political and all it entailed in Canberra /thought she "owned" the place. Then Julia usurped her role by becoming PM....therefore the "top" female around Parliament. Grattan has hated her ever since.

  58. @LauraBloomify11/4/13 8:53 pm

    What a good article. And what a relief to read verification of my thoughts every morning for so so many years.

    1. I have come to this blog rather late, but also find it a relief to see I and my circle are not some lone nutjobs who failed to appreciate the genius of Michelle Grattan and especially that we are not alone on a hill in detecting her utter hatred of Julia Gillard - the point at which Grattan's writing on politics went from banal to propaganda.

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  60. More true today than ever