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Margo Kingston: building bridges

There is an old movie line I often recall: A life filled with activity suggests a life filled with purpose.

I have no hesitation in borrowing that line in applying it is an apt portrayal of well-known Australian author and journalist; Margo Kingston. I’ve been a big fan of Margo’s since her book Not happy, John hit the shelves in 2004, so I was chuffed to be granted an interview with her last week. I was to discover just how active and purposeful her life has been, and still is, and that there is far more to Margo than the book which first introduced her to me.

But first, a little background.

Margo, a Queenslander, graduated from university with a degree in arts and law and practised as a solicitor in Brisbane before lecturing in commercial law in Rockhampton. The move to journalism saw her working for The Courier-Mail and within a year moved to The Times on Sunday. She had since worked for The Age, The Canberra Times and A Current Affair before moving to The Sydney Morning Herald, where she worked until her retirement in August 2005. Her first book was Off The Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip which recounted her experiences (as a journalist) on the One Nation Party’s election campaign in the 1990s. She is also known for her now defunct blog, Webdiary.

“Writing the book about the One Nation Party experience was a testing time for me and I vowed never to write another book again. I didn’t consider myself an author or a person willing to be one. A journalist, yes. An author, no” recalled Margo. At this point I was wondering why she later decided to write Not happy, John, however, a slight hesitation on my behalf gave her the opportunity to proceed with an explanation. “While I was working for the Sydney Morning Herald I was invited by Phillip Adams (from Radio National’s Late Night Live) to be on the discussion panel of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. It was there that Phillip tapped me on the shoulder and said I needed to write a book about John Howard. Of course, the answer was an insistent ‘no’ but the response was “it’s your duty” and one thing led to another and before I knew it I found myself writing Not happy, John“.

It wasn’t long before the book put her on the outer with her employer.

“After a long-term Government everyone in the media seems quite happy with how the country is governed and so after many years of Howard the Sydney Morning Herald had drifted slowly to the right. The publication of the book was frowned upon and my run-ins with the SMH editor are now famous”.

I could sense that Margo is more excited about her post-SMH life, even though when she began her new incarnation she did so as an emotionally shattered soul.

“From the time Not happy, John hit the shelves I was battered from pillar to post at the SMH. They grilled me relentlessly because of the damage this could cause to Howard. I put up with this shit for a few months before I limped away in search of a new Margo Kingston. The old Margo Kingston was driven from the head and now felt broken. Everything was draining the life out of me, even running Webdiary. I’d had enough. The new Margo was going to be driven from the heart and that’s how my life flowed over the next seven years. My new love was my family, my garden, and especially my friends. The latter being the most important. I’m a disaster at love and I chose to lead a celibate life – and you can print that – as I don’t want relationships to interfere with the love between friends. I want friends, not lovers. I also wanted some recovery time”.

In this period of ‘recluse’ Margo began a degree in nursing. It was difficult for me to understand how one of Australia’s best-known journalists would consider such a move, as admirable as it was. “It was the new Margo” she reminded me. “The new Margo that was going to be driven by the heart. I just knew it was the right thing to do”.

Then, after taking an interest in social media recently and recognising what a wonderful and powerful tool it is, the passion for media slowly returned. But it was more than that; it was also the realisation that the old media was leading this country down a dangerous path.

“Journalists used to be a bridge between the people and the powerful. Journalists used to be outside the circle but now they’re inside the circle. They’ve joined the powerful and this very dangerous for a democracy”.

Now she was firing up.

“It’s scary that the media are not doing their job. Many journalist friends have expressed the same concerns; they don’t feel as though they are traditional journalists anymore, they are simply writing what the powerful want them to write. The real turning point for me came after Mark Scott’s treatment of John Faine recently. That was f*cking pathetic. Faine was doing his job and Scott publicly chastised him. The ABC under Scott has lost it’s way. I repeat, it’s pathetic. I’m not going to let that episode go away. It’s the social media users, such as Twitter users and bloggers that will do something about it. We need to keep pushing it”.

The firing continued. “Fairfax, the ABC and even Crikey are too f*cking timid to do anything to upset the powerful. It’s up to social media. And there are journalists in the traditional media who secretly admit that the new, independent media is the way of the future and we must join with them. We need to build a bridge between the new media and journalists who see the corruption within the mainstream media. We need to collaborate and work together. We can do this by luring traditional journalists into the new media and free them of their shackles. If we do this, one day we in the new media will look back and be grateful for the decisions we make today”.

And how does all this feel? “It’s just like the good old days of Webdiary. Social media provides a forum for all Australians and I’m loving it. Without Twitter and my own newly established site Australians For Honest Politics I couldn’t have got the fight back. I see hope now. But first we need to build those bridges”.

Who better to lay the first plank than Margo Kingston?

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  1. rosellajam

    This is brilliant! Thank you both 🙂

  2. Fed up

    Yes, it is coming together much quicker than I could have ever though.

    The MSM and the ABC are digging their own graves.

    The financial bind the media find themselves in and the sacking of so many, will hasten the process.

    We all know the power of networking in business and community action.

    The power will come from ,many small people linking up. There is and added bonus, it is not limited or curtailed in any way, by the need toi make money/

  3. Fed up

    PS. Sorry for the typos/

    It is not bridges we are building. It is massive highways, that will cover the nation.

  4. Miglo

    OMG! Margo likes it. 🙂

    Thanks a million, Margo. Much appreciated, as I was when you gave up your time for me.

  5. paul walter

    The very key observation about the incorporation of journalists, once critical outsiders, into the system’s as it’s very mouthpieces is the sort of devastating insight she is capable of.
    Web Diary, her blogsite was a beauty and yes, the sheer workload of moderating an incredibly busy and fractious blogsite, at its peak, would have been enough to discourage many people, let alone continuing newspaper writing and reporting, let alone the nonsense from political opponents and bosses adding to her troubles.

  6. Lynne Hugo-Hamman


  7. theferraripitstop

    A powerful piece on an inspiring woman. I’m now an even bigger fan of Margo’s work having read this. Might just have to follow you too Michael.
    Cheers to both of you.

  8. Miglo

    Thank you, good people.

    Yes, Margo is an inspiring lady. We need more people like her.

  9. Jim

    Moved by an ethical life. Thank you Margo…

  10. Nancy Cato

    This is exactly why I was happy to forsake my newly acquired BeachBummery for a few days to write a piece for AFHP. Margo has integrity; a rapidly diminishing quality in much of today’s mainstream journalism.

  11. Teddy Sea

    There is hope for our great country when good men and women stand up to the powerful and the bullies and fight. Thank you all.

  12. Min

    Margo, it is indeed an extreme pleasure to see you here at the AIMN..huge, huge fan of yours.


    “From the time Not happy, John hit the shelves I was battered from pillar to post at the SMH. They grilled me relentlessly because of the damage this could cause to Howard.

    Therefore one need look no further than the above reason as to why a number of today’s more balanced journos now no longer seem that way. A case of necessity me-thinks.

  13. Joy Cooper

    A wonderful interview with a truly ethical & intrepid journalist, Michael. Margo’s resistance to workplace bullying of epic proportions was courageous.

    With those remaining in the mainstream there could be an element of Stockholm syndrome present.with the seeming acquiescence to the right, perhaps. There is also the possibility this has been compounded by pressure from colleagues with right wing beliefs. Frightening.

    Thank you again, Michael & Margo, for a magnificent interview with a magnificent talent & very welcome addition to the Fifth Estate.& online news.

  14. Noely (@YaThinkN)

    Excellent interview! I started on twitter around the same time as Margo & was just lucky enough to come across her with our combined disgust at Journalists not being interested in Ashby at all. (Brough being in my backyard was a concern). At the time, I did not even know that Margo was such a well-known & respected journalist.

    Knowing what I do now, I am just so grateful that a woman like Margo would take the time to help me, be supportive of trying to get information to the people in my backyard to make a democratic decision, and basically that she is happy to give her time & care & advice to a plain ‘punter’.

    I may have met Margo on Twitter by chance, but she has improved how I ‘think’ and given me a sense of empowerment in that I don’t have to just sit back, yelling at the TV, whinging to the converted (my poor family), but can have the feeling of at least participating in our democracy, even if it is in a small way.

    Thank you 🙂

  15. Suzanne McGhie

    so good to hear Margo’s valued views and opinions again, inspiring! thankyou

  16. Robyn Taylor

    Thank you.

  17. Lorraine Hyde

    Great interview. I have admired Margo’s work for many years,LNL, Webdiary, SMH columns etc. I’ve only just joined Twitter and as soon as I saw Margo’s name I knew I would have the opportunity to hear balanced and thruthful reporting. Margo is never afraid of airing all views and that’s exactly what we need in a democracy, otherwise we have failed. Keep up the great work!

  18. Ricky (Tory Torcher)

    Congratulations Migs, an excellent and enlightening article on someone I consider to be an honest and credible journalist. I follow and support Margo as her conviction produces a narrative that every journalist should hold sacrosanct “truth”.

  19. xiaoecho

    Bravo Margo…

  20. Joy Cooper

    Yes, Min some journos seem to have forgotten the craft of journalism as opposed to the easy road of tabloidism.

  21. Min

    Ricky, how very true..perhaps it’s all too difficult these days, perhaps too time consuming such as one journo last year complained about, to check up on the facts. How much easier to waffle on about rumours, suspicions and speculations than to investigate the facts of the matter.

  22. Truth Seeker

    Migs, like ricky, I congratulate you on a great article, I have been a fan of Margo for a while now, and find her writing engaging, enlightening and enjoyable.
    She is the example that other journos should follow, but sadly, probably won’t.

    Honesty and integrity are rare commodities in the ranks of journos these days, and should be cherished and nurtured and with that in mind, thanks Migs for giving people like Margo the forum to spread the light of journalistic honesty and integrity across the black hole of MSM lies and spin.

    Keep up the great work 😀

    Cheers 🙂 😀 😎

  23. Branko

    The problem with social media is that it ends up being sequestered behind an array of little scattered pages, sites etc with members who become increasingly protective due to trolling, “the other”, etc. and then one ends up with a bunch of people writing really good stuff but essentially preaching to the converted and writing for a fan club.

    The media, like it or hate it, reaches the masses. I had the interesting experience of getting involved in the blogosphere some time back. When I started, there was around 500 blogs in Australia, by the time I finished there were over 80,000 and everybody had lost readers, managing comments was a war with the spambots and the hit and runs, and an amazing number of blogs are gathering weeds today as a result.

    If you want to start a revolution, hiding behind a wall, closing the door and speaking to your own faithful is not the answer! You have to engage with a wider world! And if you try to do so using inflammatory and jargonistic approaches, or make the mistake of calling yourself “independent” while always backing the same horse, and thus not being independent of mind at all even if independent in ownership, you will fail to be taken seriously by anyone except those who you are already in agreement with and hence do not need to convince.

  24. Miglo

    Branko, you make some very valid points and ones that should be heeded.

    You might be pleased to know that they have been given consideration. For example, our posts attract much more reader interaction on Facebook than they do on this site. Our aim is to spread our message and we do so by utilising all aspects of social media.

    And we don’t confine our sharing of the posts on left-leaning Facebook groups only. We understand that we’d just be preaching to the converted, as you say. We throw them out there on neutral or moderately right-leaning pages as well, and many other discussion groups.

  25. Sandra Searle (@SandraSearle)

    I’d like to add my congratulations to both Margo and you for a great interview Migs.
    The bridge to be built between journalists in the OM and the 5th estate can only be aided by people like Margo and I’m sure that there must be quite a few journos out in the MSM who really do care about truth (maybe secretly), but are bound by financial commitments.
    In the meantime, we should all remember that TRUTH is an absolute must to having a democratic society, To know the truth, we should always hear both sides (or more) of any debate.
    I class myself as a swinging voter who has swung to the left over the past 10 years or so. It would take a lot more than what we are being fed by both the LNP and the Media to make a change. I do not, at any level, tolerate lies, either deliberate or by omission.
    Migs, I for one will always welcome reading 2 sides of any viewpoint. Its the only way in which we can learn our truths.

  26. Ricky (Tory Torcher)

    Min there is never ever any excuse for not checking the facts. The fabrication and convienient contextualisation of facts is criminal. Too many jounalists aspire to be opinion writers and forget what reporter means. The first principal of journalism is finding and reporting the facts, a concept lost on contempory MSM. Margo’s work asks, explores and finds fact, pre not post opinion.

  27. goodrumo

    Reblogged this on iheariseeilearn and commented:
    The Awesome Margo Kingston…

  28. goodrumo

    I had no idea of what had gone before, (forgive my inexperience, ignorance), I need to chase up Margo’s books, appreciate the leadership, courage and inspiration Margo shows and shares. Power to you Margo, and if you happen to read, have you even taken the Keirsey temperament sorter? http://www.keirsey.com/sorter/register.aspx (it maybe of interest with your medical/psychology studies also), I am a personologist, (among other things) and your achievements are incredible and fascinating. Thanks for everything you do.

  29. Miglo

    Some fabulous comments about Margo appeared on a number of Facebook pages where links to this article were provided.

    In summery, people out there consider her to be someone special. Some others had wondered why she was out of the loop for all those years and are now happy to be brought up to date. Everyone – and I mean everyone – loves what she is doing now.

  30. Miglo

    Also, her brilliant book Not happy, John will be available as an ebook in about 10 days time. I’ll keep you posted.

  31. mrharmony60

    Miglo, like many, I’m thrilled Margo is back. As an aside, as a tradie, i once worked on a property where I came across a “not happy John” sticker on a bin. Enquiries revealed that the John i was working for turned out to be John Valder, whom some say is credited with putting Howard into the Lodge. This revelation resulted in some regular interesting conversations over coffee with some great stories told. Amazing how Valder went from being a big supporter to absolutely loathing Howard. John Brogden, (the local member at the time in Valders electorate) apparently was a regular to sit at the feet of the political master and listen to words of wisdom..Another conservative that turned progressive with advancing years…

  32. Susan Taylor

    Love this. Margo Kingston is one brave lady and very much needed. So glad she has “discovered” social media with what is happening with MSM & one Mark Scott

  33. Marion Hosking

    For an example of trite and ineffective journalists just watch a video of journalists questioning the recent winner of ‘best actress’….. mind boggling! However, I think this is the standard required by the ‘big boys’ and we continue to buy it???????

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