In the early 21st century, Australian political journalists still believe there is a 'left' and a 'right', at a time when fewer and fewer of their readers/ listeners/ viewers do. They spent each day on a quest to can negate any opinion, fact or thing so long as you can find another opinion - anyone, anywhere - to countervail any other, and then impose whatever you reckon as The Voice Of Balance. At the same time, they present daily evidence of the sheer uselessness of these notions in describing anyone or anything (how 'left' is Doug Cameron? How 'moderate' is Christopher Pyne? How 'right' is John Madigan?). Yet, when political journalists feel themselves under siege, these meaningless terms group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern in much they same way that Jacqueline Maley does here.
This article is this year's equivalent of the appalling press gallery follow-up to their efforts in November 2012, when it asserted that Julia Gillard's speech against misogyny was really about Peter Slipper and could in no valid way be interpreted as about that aspect of womanhood which involves copping misogyny. People like Peter Hartcher, and yes Jacqueline Maley, engaged in jowl-wobbling outrage at the very idea that it was even possible to interpret any utterance by any Australian politician that didn't accord with their interpretation.
Her original March in March piece (to which the later one refers) reads like one of those sniffy and unkind contemporary reviews of, say, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or A Farewell To Arms which dismissed them as having no lasting value. She covered it the way she covers Parliament, as a theatrical production put on for her bemusement. It is telling that she noticed the puerile and offensive slogans and ignored the polite and whimsical ones - so much for Pembroke-style politeness as the way to get your message through.
When I rang the national convener of the rallies on Sunday, he ... launched into a speech about how his group was used to being overlooked by the "MSM" (mainstream media).A real journalist would have sought independent corroboration.
A real journalist would have recognised that reporting tens of thousands of people on the streets of your town is actually the meat and potatoes of your 'profession', rather than what looked like Maley sulking that her bosses had set her an assignment that she didn't want to cover.
A real journalist, or anyone who cares about journalism, would have recognised that March in March is the latest in a chain of significant community events whose significance the traditional media organisations have entirely missed. Two other examples include the outpouring of grief following the death of Jill Meagher and the seemingly spontaneous memorial services for Reza Berati. Significant numbers of people organised events on the streets of our cities which journalists underestimated both before and while they were taking place. The idea that such events might have a longterm significance and impact is one to which Maley and her superiors simply cannot come to terms, let alone report.
The unnamed national convenor of March in March did pretty much the same as what Pembroke did, except that Maley had to chase him rather than wait for Pembroke's letter to drop into her lap, and that organising a multi-site protest for tens of thousands is more of an achievement than writing a letter in Annandale. Regarding all criticism as abuse, Maley follows this by saying (sniffily and unkindly as you'd expect):
It is strange that people who despise the MSM so much are so angry at being ignored by it.It's fairly standard. Fancy living a 'life' where you are insulated, isolated from that stuff. I wasn't involved in March in March at all, but I'm perfectly happy to go through the 17 March edition of any Fairfax broadsheet and nominate which stories should have been cut or dropped to accommodate more and better coverage of March in March.
I was abused on Twitter for my online story, and also for the fact that it didn't run in the paper.See how journalism works? You can park an idea, find a countervailing one, then you don't have to deal with either. It's disappointing reading, but Maley is like that. She overestimates the extent to which she's covered by refusing to engage with actual ideas about what is actually going on.
Even though they were offended by the comparison when I made it, many of the Twitter/internet critics complained that while the "Convoy of No Confidence" rallies got plenty of coverage in the traditional media, their left-wing protest didn't.Rubbish. Alan Jones didn't give them negative coverage. Those rallies were organised within the traditional media, and got coverage accordingly. Alan Jones did, however, give Jacqueline Maley negative coverage at that event. It is strange that Maley does not appear to regard the Jones-Maley spat with equanimity, and does not simply believe that two countervailing opinions can simply negate one another.
These people overlooked a few key facts - those right-wing protests got largely negative coverage
... and many of the participants complained of bias in that coverage.They would, wouldn't they.
Also, those protests were of greater news value due to the attendance of Coalition MPs and senators, including the future Prime Minister, who famously stood next to a crude sign about Julia Gillard.And the very journalists who breathlessly covered that event were stunned, stunned I tell you, that people would regard Tony Abbott as a rabble-rouser and a misogynist when they didn't even know him. Bloody internet!
Their presence lent legitimacy to a ragtag bunch of extremists, homophobes, nutters and anti-carbon tax protesters who should never have been given any.Whereas what should have happened was that the extremists and nutters should have discredited the politicians, and shown us what sort of government we'd be in for if we voted to replace the then government with this one.
That became the story, particularly because the atmosphere of the last Parliament was so precarious and febrile.Here she is describing the limitations of how the media cover events, rather than the events themselves. Note the switch to the passive voice as a way of deflecting responsibility or even consideration of the media's role in the last parliament.
(remember how Alan Jones, enraged by the poor showing, claimed that hordes of would-be attendees had been stopped at the ACT-NSW border? Adorable!).Remember how no journalist actually checked with either the NSW or ACT Police until days afterward to see whether this was true? Ridiculous!
The lack of coverage of March in March probably had something to do with the fact that, like so much left-wing protest, it was unfocused. The speakers and protesters had a grab-bag of complaints, from asylum-seeker policy to gay marriage to fair trade.By contrast, open any edition of The Australian and what will you find - "a grab-bag of complaints, from asylum-seeker policy to gay marriage to fair trade", and not much journalism to speak of in the 'news' space.
Maley confronted a swirl of ideas that couldn't be adequately boiled down to simple slogans, people with so little respect for her pampered press gallery ways that they didn't even maintain message discipline. Part of the trade-off for mobilising tens of thousands of people is that you have to cast a wide net to fit everyone. If you look at pictures of big marches from yesteryear, like the Vietnam Moratorium of 1970 or the protests against the Greiner government's cuts to NSW education in 1991, you will see placards that had nothing to do with the supposed focus of the protest.
You show me an organisation that maintains a strict message discipline, and I'll show you an organisation that has a large and proactive operation dedicated to keeping journalists happy. And by 'happy', I mean a
Maley showed us nothing about March in March, but plenty about her sheer inadequacy at the fundamental journalistic skill of having to forage for a story. She doesn't even have the excuse of having been a 'kid reporter'; you can imagine how 'unfocused' an event with a name like "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" would have been.
The whole thing was interesting because it demonstrated the widening gulf between what is popular on social media and the internet, and what traditional media organisations consider newsworthy.See, it isn't true that everything Jacqueline Maley writes is drivel. In that line is one of the central questions of our age. Watch Maley botch it, though:
Sometimes the two overlap, but whether the bloggers, tweeters and other internet denizens like it or not, newspapers still get to make that call.Almost every article of hers I've ever read has been read online; does that make her an "internet denizen"? Yeah, it does.
Given that Maley's original article was published online and not on wood pulp, and that for every wood-pulp reader there are five to seven online readers, why is it significant that her superiors shunted it from the wood-pulp version? Why did her headline-writer claim the story wasn't 'run', when clearly it had been? She diminishes the piece herself ("sniffy and unkind", which hardly distinguishes it from the accumulated dead weight of her efforts). After all that, this much diminished piece, its writer and publisher(s) are apparently pivotal to agenda-setting in this country.
Is Timothy Pembroke's open letter responsible for more hits on Maley's article than the article to which he referred (and the various inducements that Fairfax brings to its articles) could manage beforehand? I wouldn't be at all surprised. Where is the evidence that Maley, or her superiors, have engaged with the ideas that Pembroke put forward - at all, let alone in comparison with those who put their positions more stridently.
One thing on which you can agree with Maley: people who edit newspapers definitely decide what goes into newspapers.
Newspapers, edited as they are by humans, do get it wrong, and the Herald should have covered the marches.Note that this admission had to be made by a middling employee who can't even get her stories inked onto wood-pulp. It has not been made by one of her superiors who confuse never admitting you're wrong with never actually being wrong.
Contemporary newsrooms have constrained resources, papers have fewer pages due to declining advertising, and the increasing clutter of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle makes news selection confusing.Oh, fuck off - and I mean this sincerely. This is self-interested mewling by people with no idea about their own jobs, or anyone else's.
We're all busy. We all face constrained resources and a deluge of information. Media organisations used to present themselves as the people who'd sort through that deluge and present the news you needed to know about what was going on: that was what we would now call their business proposition. Now, they are sniffy and unkind, blowing up non-stories and ignoring real ones, and their opinions and judgments are no better than mine or yours. You have to forage for news like an old-school journalist, and as old-school journalists do it's hard to maintain respect for those who have it all handed to them. That lack of judgment is what really killed the traditional media - the internet has been coming at them for decades, and the fact that it went from irrelevance to menace so quickly is evidence of news organisations' lack of judgment and bad management. The employment of Jacqueline Maley is another.
There is no such thing as "the 24-hour news cycle" when it comes to federal politics. Whether you're a press gallery journalist or not, you can listen to AM and read the newspapers online from home. Press gallery journalists maintain Canberra hours, rolling into the office after 9 and furiously drinking coffee; their working day is over by about 2.30/3pm when their employers' daily deadlines close, and they watch the nightly news or Lateline along with the rest of us. Watch how Maley and her colleagues (particularly those who have been around a while) bellyache when somebody puts out a press release at 5.30pm. I've had to work late from time to time and so have you; I still need to know what's going on, which means that Jacqueline Maley is among the last people I consult for said knowledge.
Press gallery journos who confuse themselves with people who work hard can and should jump in the Lake - no, they should all just fuck off. Just because something buzzes around a newsroom like a blowfly in a dunny, it doesn't mean that it should displace actual news on the public record. People who edit newspapers should recognise their own limitations and reorient their output to what interests non-journo people - writing by journos for journos isn't even working for the journos.
But the left does itself no favours if it resorts to insult, vitriol, and mad muttering in dark corners of the internet.Take out the reference to the dreaded internet, and 'the left' has been doing that for a century at least. Tony Abbott wouldn't be where he is without "insult, vitriol, and mad muttering in dark corners of the internet", along with simpering deference from Jacqueline Maley and her colleagues.
Defenders of corporate journalism claim that big news organisations can afford lawyers and stand toe-to-toe with other powerful organisations. One of the downsides of corporate organisations, in the media or not, is that they foster drones and jobsworths with no initiative. An obtuse journalist should be a contradiction in terms, like a taxi driver who barely understands the city they traverse, but they exist nonetheless. Jacqueline Maley is an obtuse journalist. Whatever comes out of March in March, it will have more of a future than she does.
Her fulminations carry no weight, they reminded me of the French taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. She has been weighed in the very balance she would impose on others and has been found wanting. The quest goes on.