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Tag Archives: Journalism

Doing the rounds in ever decreasing circles

A reporter’s rounds are as much about people as they are about the overnight crime stats and the latest council decisions. If you want to know what’s going on you have to be there. You have to be familiar with the mundane before you can recognise the extraordinary. And sometimes it’s only by knowing the people who are providing the information that you can get behind the dry report to what’s really going on. They’re called contacts for a reason. And staying in contact is probably the hardest part of the ‘local’ reporter’s lot, even with the glories of mobile technology.

One of my favourite stories about the late, great Richie Benaud related not to his legendary role as the Voice of Summer but to his days as a newspaperman back in 1959.

When he wasn’t captaining the Australian cricket team he was a police roundsman for The Sun in Sydney. His ‘other’ job had its advantages when it came to getting quotes out of usually taciturn police officers and a few memorialists mentioned his generosity to his fellow reporters.

One of them was Max Presnell, racing writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, who gave this example in his obituary for Benaud:

In October 1959, the big story was the recapture of Leslie Allan Newcombe, who had been on the run from Long Bay for 13 days with galloping mate Kevin Simmons. The search was described as “Australia’s biggest manhunt”, a title possibly given enhancement by a hack. However, Newcombe was to be put on display at the Criminal Investigation Branch headquarters, accompanied by Ray Kelly – Sydney’s precursor to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry – to make sure further flight was impossible.

Every copper at the CIB gravitated to The Sun’s Richie Benaud – unsurprisingly, because he was Australia’s cricket captain and they were enthusiastic to give him any special insight or colour he required.

Meanwhile Frank Crook, then a first-year cadet with the Daily Mirror and on his first major assignment, was left in the dust of the stampede. When the pictures were taken and the police figured Richie had had his fill, Newcombe and the law departed just as quickly.

Benaud walked over to the young reporter and said: “Get your notebook out”. Crook was given every quote and angle Richie had secured exclusively.

The rounds are the bread and butter of a newsroom. They include police, fire, ambulance, the courts, the hospitals, the council chambers, the shopkeepers, the racetracks – the list can include anywhere things happen.

Back in Benaud’s day they included shipping. My mother was working the shipping round in Sydney in 1965, going on board the cruise liners at the customs point at Circular Quay to interview any visiting celebrities or quirky personalities arriving on our shores.

The shipping rounds ended as jet travel superseded the ocean liners and many other reporting rounds have also withered as times have inevitably changed.

Philip Knightley in his book A Hack’s Progress recalled his time on the lottery round, a fierce Saturday battleground between his newspaper The Mirror and The Sun in Sydney.

The rival reporters, each in their radio cars, would race from the lottery headquarters as soon as the result was announced to be the first to break the good tidings and grab a picture of the lucky winner.

Ten years and a distinguished career in London later, Knightley said he returned to Sydney and was urged by his mother to buy a lottery ticket: “I read my stars in last night’s paper. It says I’ve got to buy a lottery ticket with an Aquarian. You’re the only Aquarian I know, son, so buy a ticket between us on your way to work, will you?”

Knightley protested. “Mum, I used to write those star columns on the paper up at Lismore. It’s all bullshit. Let’s not waste our money.”

Mrs Knightley would not be deterred and, you guessed it, they won first prize. The news was broken with a phone call from a reporter on the Daily Mirror. By that stage, the car race through Sydney’s sprawling suburbs was no more.

By their nature the rounds can be mundane, yielding most days a string of one-par ‘news in briefs’ – or nibs, as they are affectionately known. They can be tedious and a sore test for the shy. Boy Reporter Tim Burrowes, looking back on his 25 years and counting, used to make his calls in the cuttings library, where no one else could hear.

Your own Girl Reporter got through the ordeal by a bit of role playing, working my way up to a morning on the phones by imagining how the fictional Sally Baxter would do it.

But a well-trodden beat could just as easily land a hungry young reporter a page one lead. And woe betide you if your nib turned up on the rival’s front page because you didn’t spot the story’s potential.

It was as much about getting to know people as getting the news. Burrowes:

We’d bring free copies of the paper out to the fire station, the local nick and the ambos. We knew them all. As a result, the station officer would have one of his men call me at home if there was an interesting fire. They’d even let me come out on calls with them.

The ambulancemen would look out of the window if we wanted to take a peek at the accident report. The cops would tell us what had really happened.

You’d go to local councillors’ homes and drink tea with them. Indeed, there would be a journalist in every council meeting and covering every court case.

The rounds were where the best shone and the rest fell. Sometimes they were brutal. When I was considering my future career choices and named journalism among them, a number of my parents’ friends – all male – took me aside and warned me what to expect.

One after another they told me their horror stories and said that as a Girl Reporter I could expect to be sent to every car crash, every fire, any opportunity to turn my stomach and drive me out of the game.

It’s hard to remember now whether they meant that Girl Reporters were singled out for special treatment or that as a Girl I might not be up to the rigours of the rounds. In my own experience there was no difference between the assignments handed out to the Girls and the Boys of the newsroom but I’d welcome some other views on that in the comments.

My mother told me one of her first assignments for the Daily Mirror in Sydney was to doorknock a woman whose child had died after being (unintentionally) strangled by the cot bumper she had so carefully made during her pregnancy.

Mum said her knees were knocking harder than the feeble rap she managed on the door, which was quickly slammed in her face as soon as she said she was from The Mirror.

“Don’t worry, love,” said the photographer. “I’ll tell them you went through with it.” In addition to their camera duties, some snappers also reported on the reporters.

Not that reporters didn’t need a bit of stick now and again. Covering your patch could just as easily provide cover for an afternoon at the cinema or the pub and on occasion did.

Newsroom efficiencies have cut down on that sort of waste thank goodness and today’s Boy and Girl Reporters can manage their daily rounds without leaving the office.

Nowhere have these efficiencies been felt more keenly than in the realm of the local reporter. It’s a fight for survival but the slashing of editorial jobs in community newspapers and the restructuring of distinguished rural titles has an air about it of ‘destroying the village to save the village’.

A reporter’s rounds are as much about people as they are about the overnight crime stats and the latest council decisions. If you want to know what’s going on you have to be there. You have to be familiar with the mundane before you can recognise the extraordinary.

Sometimes it’s only by knowing the people who are providing the information that you can get behind the dry report to what’s really going on. They’re called contacts for a reason. And staying in contact is probably the hardest part of the ‘local’ reporter’s lot, even with the glories of mobile technology.

So if you should stumble across a shy Boy or Girl Reporter actually out and about in the community they serve, spare a thought and perhaps a cuppa. They don’t get out as much as they used to.

Further reading:

Richie Benaud dead: In the newsroom and on the field he was a gentleman – Max Presnell, Sydney Morning Herald

25 things that have changed about journalism during my quarter century as a hack – Tim Burrowes, Mumbrella

The news we lose when we cut local newspapers – Shawn Burns, The Conversation

Layoffs/buyouts/staff cuts – the view from America, from Poynter

Fairfax cuts jobs in regional South Australia – Just one recent Australian tale of woe, from the ABC

 

Once I was a Girl Reporter, working in newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong and the UK. Now I’m an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and anything else that takes my fancy. Read more Baxter here. 

China Watching masterclass: Why was Francis James in jail?

Why would the Chinese detain Francis James, a man long regarded in Australia as being sympathetic towards China and North Vietnam? That was the question posed by the Big Baxter in the final part of his series for The Age newspaper in Melbourne in 1971, which we’ve been revisiting as an example of the arcane art of China Watching.

If it was true that he was being held for “profiting from lies about China” what might those lies be? China had already denied that James’ visit to Sinkiang had taken place at all, putting a seal for many observers on their own doubts about his story that he had interviewed nuclear scientists there and found their program far more advanced than had been widely believed.

Since James had been widely discredited, there seemed little point in going to the trouble of locking him up. But what if there was enough truth in his report to make the Chinese keen to check his story out for themselves?

Among the many people who had cast doubt on Francis James’ story were experts from Columbia University and at least some of the Hong Kong-based journalists known as China Watchers.

What was China Watching? Bax described it as “counting the Mao badges in every picture and checking the top-people lists out of Peking (Beijing) more diligently than any teenager ever studies the top 20 pops.”

In spring 1969, when James’ controversial visit took place, Sino-Soviet relations were openly hostile. “China and Russia were in confrontation along hundreds of miles of their border and war – even nuclear war – was a real danger,” Bax wrote.

In March 1969, just before James entered China, armed skirmishes had broken out resulting in heavy casualties and for months there were fears the Soviet Union would launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. At the same time Moscow was wooing unaligned Asian nations with the Brezhnev Plan, a security pact aimed at isolating China among its neighbours.

And then along came Francis James with his claims that China’s nuclear capacity was far more advanced than anyone realised.

What if, Bax wondered, James had made some error “in fact or in interpretation” when reporting on his visit to Sinkiang? How would the Chinese react, especially since James had also travelled through Russia?

What if the Chinese assumed that he got some of his material from the Soviet Union?

“So the most popular theory is that the Chinese arrested him because they suspected he had used material gathered by the Soviet intelligence system and because he embarrassed them among their Asian neighbours,” Bax wrote.

If James was facing espionage charges, there would no trial – and no official word – until he had written a satisfactory confession. “That is a pity, because the Chinese are bound to prove far more stubborn than James.”

One thing Bax was sure of, and went to great pains to stress, was that James would be treated well, contrary to the prevailing ideas of the time in Australia and the West:

“Stories of torture and brainwashing during the Korean war and Hollywood trash like Fu Man-chu films have done great damage to the image of Chinese prison officials. One old nun I once met believed all prisoners in China were given weekly ‘manicures’ by plier-wielding gaolers.”

In fact, foreigners imprisoned in China reported afterwards that they had been well treated and Bax included the testimony of a few in his report.

It was a small consolation in the absence of any news but, as Bax detailed, there was little more that could be done to find out what was happening until the Chinese were ready to speak.

Official approaches had yielded nothing, enquiries from friends and supporters had met with silence. In London a committee had been set up to work for James’ freedom, presumably through companies with Chinese business interests and diplomats from friendly countries.

Apart from that, Bax reported he had raised the matter many times with journalists from Hong Kong’s communist newspapers who visited China.

“They always return with no news and I have great doubts as to whether they actually made inquiries,” Bax wrote.

“Any communist reporter from Hong Kong who runs around in China asking questions about foreign prisoners would risk having questions raised about his political integrity.”

And there the story rested for almost another two years until, just as Bax had predicted, James turned up one day at the border.

“An immigration official on the Hong Kong side will reach for a telephone and that will be the first anyone hears that the ordeal has ended,” Bax had said. And so it proved, but that’s a subject for a later post.

Final part of a Baxter Special Report into the arcane art of China Watching, based on a three-part feature in The Age newspaper. Links below to previous posts or skip to Further Reading if you just want to read my father’s original articles for The Age.

Part One:  The Francis James mystery: A masterclass in China Watching

Part Two: China Watching masterclass with Francis James

Further reading:

Part one: Francis James: where is he? – Jack Spackman, The Age 16 March, 1971

Part Two: Puzzle of his great scoop – Jack Spackman, The Age 17 March, 1971

Part Three: Was he pawn in war game? – Jack Spackman, The Age 18 March, 1971

Sino-Soviet Border Disputes (March 1969) – from ‘Nixon’s China Game,’ PBS

Your Girl Reporter blogs fortnightly on the past, present and future of journalism – from growing up in Hong Kong, to working in the UK and now observing the state of the world from my native Australia. Read more Baxter here

China Watching masterclass with Francis James

In November 1969 Australian Francis James was last seen in China, trying unsuccessfully to cross the border back into Hong Kong. For three years there was no word on his whereabouts although it was widely assumed he was being held by the Chinese. In 1971 my father the Big Baxter wrote a three-part feature for The Age newspaper in Melbourne on the Francis James mystery which today is a masterclass in China Watching. After setting out the story of his disappearance in part one, Bax turned his attention to why James was of interest to China in the first place. 

While the Chinese authorities were silent on Francis James, Bax cited one report, unattributed but accepted as reliable by experienced China-watchers, that James had been held ‘for making profit out of lies about China’. That report, according to Greg Clark writing after James’ death in 1992, came from Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett.

To appreciate the full meaning of such a charge Bax wrote, “we must re-examine why James went to China in 1969, not once but twice, and what he did the first time he was there”.

But before we get into the second part of our masterclass, who was Francis James before he made his highly contentious visit to China in March 1969? His obituary in the UK’s Independent newspaper describes him as, among other things, “publisher, businessman, journalist, airman, churchman and prisoner.”

His attire included silver-buckled shoes and breeches of purple velvet, finished on a flourish with a cape, a wide-brimmed hat and dark glasses. The hat and glasses were to protect his eyes, seriously damaged when his Spitfire was shot down in World War II.

Your bespectacled Girl Reporter can attest that Francis’ contact lenses, made especially for him by a Harley Street specialist, were terrifying thick, hard discs of enormous size which were enough to convince me to go glasses all the way.

Back in Sydney after the war, James edited and published The Anglican, an independent newspaper with a distinctly High Church Tory tone, and never stopped referring to what we today call the ‘mainstream media’ as the ‘secular press’.

He printed the original Oz magazine on The Anglican’s hallowed presses when no other printer would touch it and was consequently a defendant in the first Oz trial of 1964.

He was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and in 1965 persuaded Australian bishops to write an open letter to Robert Menzies, then prime minister, calling for an honourable and peaceful settlement.

In 1966 he stood, unsuccessfully, for Parliament on an anti-war platform and, in March 1969, where Bax resumes his story for The Age, James was in Hong Kong after a friendly visit to Hanoi.

Bax, stringing for the Sydney Morning Herald, was asked to get a comment from James who had just been named in the Australian Parliament by then prime minister John Gorton as a “well known apologist for North Vietnam”.

In the course of their half-hour conversation, James told my father that he was heading to Russia, via the remote areas of north-western China and would be leaving Hong Kong “in three days.” It was this first trip to China and its aftermath that Bax explored in detail in the second part of his feature for The Age.

James had returned from this visit with sensational claims that he had visited the Lop Nor nuclear weapons site in the remote province of Sinkiang and interviewed three of China’s leading nuclear scientists.

The trouble was that experts and prominent journalists – including the respected Editor of Hong Kong’s Far Eastern Economic Review Derek Davies – regarded many of his claims as unlikely, right down to whether he had actually visited China at all.

I imagine James’ humiliation would have been complete when he attended a luncheon in New York with a group of church leaders on the very day in July 1969 that a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry denied James had visited the nuclear test sites.

For anyone who knew Francis James, the idea that he would return to China in an effort to clear his name seemed reasonable according to Bax, who again starts at the beginning and works through the evidence, clearly showing us his workings, including his own failure to ask an important question.

Bax admits he was puzzled as to how James had scored a visa for China but never got around to asking about it because “James is one of those people who make the impossible sound easy and the difficult sound trivial”.

He retraces James’ known movements in the days before he left Hong Kong bound, not for China, but for New Delhi and compares his claimed itinerary with flight schedules to determine, in the end, that the disputed China trip was possible, if unusual.

What was also unusual was that when James returned to Hong Kong in October that year on his way back to China he failed to contact any of his Hong Kong friends, a group which included my father although he does not make that explicit in his articles.

Bax also noted that the October trip to China, which ended in mystery, was not on James’ itinerary when he left Australia six months earlier.

James crossed the border into China on 24 October 1969 and was seen four or five days later “holding court” in a lounge in a Canton hotel.

On 4 November he caught the train from Canton to Hong Kong.

“According to the Foreign Affairs Department in Canberra he was seen on the train by a group of travellers and these same people later saw him arguing at the border with Chinese officials,” Bax wrote.

“They crossed over the bridge into British territory, but he did not. And since that day nobody outside China has seen or heard anything of him.”

Part Two of a Baxter Special Report into the arcane art of China Watching, based on a three-part feature in The Age newspaper. Links below if you want to read ahead or stay tuned for the last part of this masterclass in my next post.

You can also catch up with Part One here: A masterclass in China-watching

Further reading:

Part one: Francis James: where is he? – Jack Spackman, The Age 16 March, 1971

Part Two: Puzzle of his great scoop – Jack Spackman, The Age 17 March, 1971

Part Three: Was he pawn in war game? – Jack Spackman, The Age 18 March, 1971

Burchett, Wilfred Graham (1911-1983) – Tom Heenan for the Australian Dictionary of Biography

And more from Your Girl Reporter on Francis James:

Francis James – international man of mystery

The Curse of James 

Your Girl Reporter blogs fortnightly on the past, present and future of journalism – from growing up in Hong Kong, to working in the UK and now observing the state of the world from my native Australia. Read more Baxter here

A masterclass in China Watching

In November 1969 an Australian named Francis James disappeared without trace. He was travelling by train from the southern China city of Canton, now called Guangzhou, to Hong Kong. He was last seen by his fellow passengers at the border arguing with Chinese officials.

A year had gone by with no word of James or his whereabouts when in January 1971 my father the Big Baxter sent a telegram to Chou En-lai, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China, pleading for information.

It was the springboard for a three-part feature Bax wrote for The Age which, in their entirety, make for a pretty good masterclass in the arcane art of China Watching.

From 1949 through to the 1970s the People’s Republic of China was largely closed to the outside world, making straightforward reporting of its affairs impossible. Thus was born the China Watcher – a term which covered journalists, diplomats and spies.

Most of them were based in Hong Kong and their work consisted of endless weighing and measuring of the official against the unofficial in an attempt to get a glimpse of what was actually going on behind the Bamboo Curtain.

What’s interesting about Bax’s articles on Francis James is the way he shows us his workings. He’s very upfront about the limits of his investigation and leaves it to us, the readers, to judge whether his conclusions stand up.

He’s less upfront about something which today would probably be considered a glaring journalistic omission. While he drops enough hints to make it reasonably clear, he never explicitly mentions that he and Francis James were friends.

While they were close friends in later years I have no idea how well they knew each other before James’ imprisonment but the nature of both men leads me to presume they would have taken a pretty instant liking to each other.

And, once he’d done his spell in the Matilda Hospital after his release, it was to the Baxter residence in Macdonnell Road that James repaired for the remainder of his recovery.

When I read today Bax’s three-parter for The Age I find the same mixture of fond regard and caution that he always seemed to hold in equal measure for Francis.

Without his underlying friendship for his subject I wonder if my father would have written such a scrupulously detailed account of all his sources, named and unnamed – and for the purposes of our China Watching masterclass, note well when sources are unnamed.

Bax’s cable to Chou En-lai went unanswered, the latest failed attempt to establish James’ whereabouts.

“If one deals only in hard facts, all we can say is that nobody outside China knows where James is or what is happening to him,” Bax wrote for The Age.

“But, if one is prepared to accept reasonable theories and to believe there is a pattern in official Chinese behaviour, then it is possible to put together a fairly credible picture of what is happening to James today.”

Bax proceeded to lay out those theories and make the case for and against each one.

He drew on meticulous research of what little information was on the official record, the testimony of eyewitnesses and inferences drawn from what was known of James’ character.

It was possible that James had left China by some unknown route, said Bax, but highly unlikely.

“One of his better acquaintances has pointed out that if he had left China surreptitiously he would now have to be living somewhere in anonymity. To the people who know the gregarious Francis James such a suggestion is laughable.”

So, assuming that James was in China, Bax (prime suspect for the role of ‘better acquaintance’) next asked where exactly he might be.

He discounted a report that James might be under room arrest in a Canton (now Guangzhou) hotel called the Hsien Chiao.

No such place, Bax’s research confirmed, although there was a hotel by that name in Peking (now Beijing), well known to anyone in the China-watching business – citing two foreign correspondents who had stayed there.

One was Reuter’s Anthony Grey who stayed at the Hsien Chiao as a free man in 1967 on his first night in Beijing. He was later imprisoned (elsewhere) by the Chinese from 1967-69.

The other was British journalist Eric Gordon who was held under room arrest in the same hotel for more than a year with his wife and teenage son when his employment with the communist regime was disrupted during the Cultural Revolution.

“Any report that places it 1000 miles south of its actual position must be suspect, in full and in detail,” said Bax.

If he was in Canton, he was probably in the main prison. Bax related the story of another good friend of the Baxters, the cartoonist and journalist Bill Yim.

Yim had spent a year in the Canton prison after getting picked up by the authorities while on assignment for UPI. After six months behind bars he was tried as an American spy and sentenced to 12 months, with the time already served taken into account.

It was possible James had been transferred to a Beijing prison, depending on the charges he was facing but they were unknown. Bax explored that option with another renowned China Watcher, Norman Barrymaine, also a former prisoner of the Chinese.

Bax said there had been one report, accepted as reliable by experienced China Watchers, that James had been held ‘for making profit out of lies about China.’

No attribution is given for that one report and we’re left to assume that he’s run it past each of the experienced China Watchers he’s already mentioned and each has given it their blessing.

After all that meticulous showing of his workings, it’s a glaring omission but it allows him to finish part one with a set-up to part two – the complicated question of why Francis James might have been imprisoned in the first place.

Links below if you want to read ahead or stay tuned for more Baxter. I’ll be returning to this masterclass in my next post.

Further reading:

Part one: Francis James: where is he? – Jack Spackman, The Age 16 March, 1971

Part Two: Puzzle of his great scoop – Jack Spackman, The Age 17 March, 1971

Part Three: Was he pawn in war game? – Jack Spackman, The Age 18 March, 1971

And an excellent introduction to China Watching:

Assignment: China – China Watching – from the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute

Your Girl Reporter blogs fortnightly on the past, present and future of journalism – from growing up in Hong Kong, to working in the UK and now observing the state of the world from my native Australia. Read more Baxter here

An Open Letter to Fairfax Media Limited

Image courtesy of abc.net.au

Image courtesy of abc.net.au

To whom it may concern,

A great deal has been said about the media in Australia of late, especially with regard to political coverage.  Most of it has been necessarily and appropriately critical.  Many Australians feel that the media has failed them and continues to do so.  Not even the people’s ABC has been spared, and rightly so.  Its coverage of the current election campaign has been little more than a failed social experiment in journalistic sloth.  Essentially reblogging stories from other news outlets regarding polls conducted by those news outlets is hardly journalism.  Nor is posting Twitter feeds in the place of actual analysis.  But you, Fairfax, are not innocent in this or removed from the public’s critical glare.  Fairfax News unashamedly joined the Julia Gillard lynch mob and cheered at the gallows.  The negativity that the Gillard Government faced from the MSM, right across the board, was unrelenting.  Your anti-Labor leanings have noticeably softened with her departure, but there is still a great deal of work to be done if any kind of balance is to be restored to the presentation of political information and opinion in this country.  I presume you care about that.

You would be studiously aware, no doubt, that the main focus of the public’s criticism has been News Corp.  The reasons for that are as obvious as the glaring and daring headlines, transparent and tenacious as they’ve been in driving the Murdoch agenda to seat Tony Abbott in the Lodge.  It’s surely incontrovertible that the Murdoch press has fully embraced the philosophy and modus operandi of the Tabloid Press.  Australia has been confronted for too long with the jaundiced jabbering of pseudo-journalists of the Gemma Jones ilk, who would be far more appropriately assigned to writing gossip columns.  Mind you, the difference between that and what is presently being offered as news is one measured in yoctometres.  That the Murdoch Media Machine has made this choice, taking some of Australia’s most respected print media outlets with it, is plain enough.  What may not be so obvious is the potential benefit that exists for Fairfax in this betrayal of all things intellectually and morally credible.

The gleeful abandon with which the Murdoch Press has thrown off the shredded rags of any vestigial sense of journalistic integrity has been most unedifying.   Aren’t there laws about disrobing in public?  But whilst the journalists of News Limited indulge in their collective streak across the playing field of Australia’s media landscape, a task goes unattended.  A void has been created in the news market in this country, as well as in the hearts and minds of politically engaged and concerned Aussies.  That void is simply one of reasoned, objective journalism that does not ignore the code of professional ethics governing it, but instead takes pride, both professional and personal, in adhering to it with consistent authenticity.  It is that of a media that does not attempt to obfuscate the difference or blur the line between journalism and commentary or opinion; a media that does not set out to manipulate the perspective or emotions of its readers when reporting news; a media that seeks to report news rather than be the news.

I put it to Fairfax News that they have an opportunity to take that market share and fill that commercial and emotional void.  Yes, news is resource heavy and doesn’t attract the profits enjoyed by other facets of the media, but no price can be put on the status and pathos afforded a respected and trusted news service.  I assert in the strongest possible terms that in what is commonly known as the Mainstream Media, no such news service exists.  You only have to look at the social standing of journalists to know this is true.  People simply no longer trust you.  And that is nothing less than a cultural tragedy – one that we ignore at our peril.

The demand for real, balanced, ethical journalism is alive and well.  Australians all over this land are crying out for it – into their beers and into their keyboards, or in some cases both things simultaneously.   The market for it is genuine and not just something artificially generated by the ephemeral passion and pandemonium of an election campaign.  The significant rise of alternative on-line information sources is testament to this fact.  Rest assured that if the Coalition should prevail on September 7 much of the public is excruciatingly aware – and some of it dangerously and naively unaware – that the Murdoch media empire will not provide the sort of scrutiny of Government that the people of this Nation require and deserve.  Current circumstances make that patently clear.  Neither the Murdoch press nor the Coalition are going to look that particular gift horse of reciprocity in the mouth.  If they did, the stench of the halitosis might well render them as catatonic as Tony Abbott in an awkward interview.

This is a defining moment, I believe, not only in Australia’s political history, but also in its media history.  Fairfax has the opportunity to capture not only a specific share of this media market, but also a place deep in the spirit of average Australians.  It’s an opportunity for Fairfax to reverse, or at least mitigate the trend of cynicism directed at Australia’s media with respect to news and political coverage in particular.  This is not hubris, nor is it excess maudlinism.  It’s real.  The need is real.  The demand for that need to be met is real.  Can Fairfax enter that reality?

Now, you may feel you already have a place there, and it’s true that to some extent you do, but you must surely also appreciate that the larger market share for real news and real journalism is not a mere abstraction but something tangible and there for the taking.  This particular market, made available by Murdoch’s deliberate and seemingly joyous relinquishment of it, doesn’t require capital investment; it requires intellectual and moral investment.  All it takes for that market to be in your hands is to heed the calls of the people and to meet their demands for better quality political journalism.  I believe Murdoch has handed this opportunity to you on a gold plated, solid silver platter.  Even Bargain Hunt couldn’t put an estimate on its value.

You have before you the opportunity to be the news service that Australians trust uppermost.  You have the opportunity to return the craft of journalism to a place of respect in our communities.  Please don’t underestimate or dismiss the significance of the absence of that trust and respect in Australian society.   It has been socially cancerous.  Cynicism is cancerous.  Who can the people trust?  It seems not the politicians.  Nor is it anymore those whose brief it is to cut through the jungle of Machiavellian Madness and give us some clear, unbiased and informed vision into that which effects our everyday lives.  There was a time when journalists appeared to feel the moral weight of meaningfully and objectively informing the community.  There is a certain sentimental yearning running through the Australian psyche right now with regard to that time.  You can either tap into that sentiment and become culturally relevant, or you can strip off and let it all hang out with the cavorting clowns of the Murdoch Circus.

As far as I can tell, only one of those options comes at any real cost.

The mainstream media has gone stark raving mad

It’s official. The mainstream media has gone stark raving mad.

This article was published in the Age today:

For the sake of the nation, Ms Gillard should stand aside

Let me preface this post by saying that I take great pride in writing a blog using my own name. I am Victoria Rollison and these are my opinions. For some people, writing under a pseudonym is their only option. I understand that. But what I don’t understand is why this piece of junk article has no byline on it. It implies it has been written by a newspaper. But we all know newspapers are just mechanisms for delivering words. They are where news articles are published. Newspapers can’t actually write, because newspapers don’t have a brain. Someone, or some people wrote this article and I don’t understand why they are not proud enough of their words to put their name to them. Perhaps they think it gives the piece more gravitas to sound like it’s been written by some higher force, some all knowing being which has more power than just some journalist, editor or media executive hack. I’m calling this out for the bullshit it is. There is no higher power and why the f*ck should there be in a democracy? This piece has nothing to do with the interests of Australia. It has everything to do with the interests of Fairfax media and their unrelenting campaign to bring down Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister. Emphasis on the word FEMALE. Also emphasis on the Prime Minister’s title which is, more often than not, left off Julia Gillard’s name in pieces throughout the mainstream media, including this one.

I would have thought this an obvious point to make, but it seems I have to make it anyway for the benefit of those people who decided to take it upon themselves to write this article: it’s not Fairfax’s role to decide who our Prime Minister is. Fairfax should be telling us the news. Not trying to make it. And since they’ve failed at telling us the news for many years now, who the f*ck do they think they are calling on the Prime Minister to resign as if it’s up to them decide? It reminds me of John Howard’s arrogant statement about asylum seekers:

‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.’

Fairfax are saying exactly the same thing to readers about our Prime Minister. They think it’s their job to decide. This failed media outlet with a failed business model think they are going to play king maker with Kevin Rudd. So it’s beholden to bloggers like me to remind Fairfax of one major flaw in their reasoning as to why they think the Prime Minister should stand down. After saying some complimentary things about Prime Minister Gillard’s performance over the past three years, they announce that her message just isn’t getting through and this is why they’ve decide it’s time for her to go. Excuse me if I just lie down for a moment because I’m overcome with the irony and ridiculousness of this concept.

Why is Gillard’s message not getting through Fairfax? Might it be because you’ve been on a campaign to cause a leadership spill for the past three years, which has completely obliterated any focus on Gillard’s policy successes and the amazing work she has done in reforming this country, and therefore you are saying that because you, and your mainstream media colleagues have ignored policy in favour or rumour and innuendo that undermines the Prime Minister, you have caused a situation where Gillard’s message isn’t getting through? If you don’t see how you’ve created this circular reference, the Mobius strip of leadership tension, then you don’t have the intellectual capacity to be commenting on this situation.

To make this article even more ridiculous, your campaign to undermine the Prime Minister is just making you look desperate. Not Julia Gillard. We know you have a week left to try to get Kevin Rudd back into the Lodge. There’s no news in the fact Kevin Rudd wants to get back into the Lodge. Despite this, and despite the one failed challenge where it was revealed Rudd didn’t even come close to having the support of his Labor Party colleagues and the second aborted attempt where Rudd didn’t even challenge because he already knew he didn’t have the support of his Labor Party colleagues, you still keep flogging this dead horse like a desperate dumped boyfriend who doesn’t get his calls returned.

Maybe if you provided a quality product – full of interesting facts, analysis and real journalism – your business model wouldn’t be in such a dire position. Perhaps if you had made some correct choices in your editorial narrative over the past three years, you wouldn’t need to now be disrespecting your audience to the point where you think you decide who leads this country, all in a quest to sell more papers.

 

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