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Tag Archives: The Conversation

The moral principles of independent publishers

The perilous future of the Australian Independent Media Network should be a wake up call to those of us hungry for an alternative to main stream media. But The AIMN’s travail — a funding shortfall — is a phenomenon besetting all media.

Advertisers are abandoning metropolitan daily and regional newspapers and ditching local radio and television, in favour of a slew of multinational online outlets.

So apart from contributing our intellectual endeavours and kicking in a few dollars to keep The AIMN and other outlets afloat, how can independent publishers survive?

It is worth examining the history of a singular aspect of journalism which for years, have kept readers coming back to their favourite medium.

The Walkley Awards is Australia’s equivalent of the U.S. Pulitzer Prize. Both are regarded as the gold standard for journalism and its affiliated efforts. Like it or not advertisers are attracted to media that employ award winners. This is because a coveted Walkley helps the financial bottom line. There is no harm in this as long as editorial and advertising keep their distance within the corporate media enterprise. At least this is how it used to be, but the old order is long gone. As long as revenue streams flow, people are employed, but in times of scarcity such as now, workers join dole queues.

Despite the best efforts of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, thousands of journalists and allied staff are heading for the scrap heap. And yet writers keep writing, and their work, thankfully, picked up by outlets such as the The AIMN.

Most scribes and photographers adhere to a code of ethics, but browse a tabloid – print or digital – and it is obvious those ethics have all but vanished.

So to paraphrase V.I. Lenin, ‘what is to be done?’

I would like to see some kind of loose alliance of independent publishers such as Michael and Carol Taylor, coalescing upon a new, independent award system which extols the output of journalists’ now writing for small, but significant new media outlets.

Dennis Atkins, Michael Pascoe, Paul Bongiorno, Elizabeth Farrelly, John Birmingham Samantha Maiden, and many others — some Walkley Award winners — have for whatever reason, abandoned the Murdoch/ Nine News cesspits.

Along with the AIM there are publishers with increasingly familiar mastheads such as the New Daily, The Guardian, The Conversation, The National Times, Crikey, Independent Australia, The Monthly and so on. Some are big, others small, but all appear committed to the ethos articulated in the MEAA’s Code of Ethics.

Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, comment and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be responsible and accountable.

So chip-in to your independent publisher. Organise GoFundMe pages, or crowd fund them. Pay for their services. Read their journalists and organise boycotts of the Usual Suspects. Support the A.B.C. and S.B.S. And tell your local State and Federal Member to be more critical of mainstream media, and to avail themselves of writers and journalists who adhere to a set of moral principles that govern their behaviour as scribes.

When English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote in 1839, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” he meant that communication — particularly written language or advocacy of an independent press — is more effective than violence.

In this day and age I shudder to think of a future without independent publishers and fearless advocates such as The AIM Network.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

 

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An Open Letter to Michelle Grattan

Michelle Gratton (photo by smh.com.au)

Michelle Gratton (photo by smh.com.au)

Dear Michelle Grattan

I’m writing to congratulate you on your new job as Professorial Fellow at University of Canberra and your other new job – Associate Editor (Politics) and Chief Political Correspondent at The Conversation.

I couldn’t help but notice that your article on your new platform this week, Gillard and Baillieu offer stark contrast, was no different from what you have been writing since 2010. In fact, it could have been an article cut and paste from things you have already said, and have been saying constantly for the past two years. I just wanted to let you know that I, as a member of the ‘Mr and Mrs Average’ community that you mention in this article (which I assume means anyone outside of the Canberra Press Gallery), am sick to death of your campaign to fuel the fires of ‘leadership tension’ within the government. I am sick of your chosen ‘narrative’ that Gillard is lacking in credibility, that she is desperate, and that she is a failed Prime Minister, because frankly, your view of reality, and that of the electorate, are so far removed from each other that they must exist in separate universes.

It was interesting that when you left The Age, you offered this advice:

“Diversity matters because we need many voices – as many as possible commenting on politics and interpreting politics and I think what we’re seeing at the moment is too much concentration of voices, frankly.”

Really? Perhaps you don’t visit any websites except those owned by Fairfax, News Ltd and the ABC, so perhaps your opinion that ‘diversity’ is lacking is understandable. In fact, I couldn’t agree with you more that diversity does matter but I find it fairly hilarious that you’re the one saying we need more of it. You – the person who has written the same thing on the same subject almost every week now for two years, who is clearly obsessed with the Kevin Rudd leadership spill and so clearly despises the Prime Minister and anything her government does – are calling for more diversity. Just a hint Michelle – there is plenty of diversity out there. Been on Twitter lately? Looked at any independent news sites and blogs? Instead of offering the opposite of diversity with your broken record of meaningless drivel about how Rudd is going to challenge at any moment and that Gillard’s government is a failure, you should be urging yourself to be more diverse. How about some scrutiny of Tony Abbott and his potential policies? How about a look at the successes of the Gillard government, which would have to include some policy analysis? Ever heard of policy? How about some diversity in your tired old narrative Michelle?

What really annoys me about you Michelle is that you should know better. You’ve been in the Press Gallery for long enough to have seen it all. You know that Gillard beat Rudd in the 2012 Labor leadership ballot by 40 votes. You also know that Abbott only won the leadership of the Liberal Party by 1 vote. So which leader is in a more precarious situation? This week, when the Victorian Liberal Party ‘assassinated’ their first term Premier, I almost had to assume your Twitter account had been hacked, or that you were parodying yourself with this Tweet:

“Yes, it’s a long bow but reckon this could add to the federal destabilization”.

Maybe it’s time we called you ‘long bow’ Grattan. I think that works.

As Political Editor of The Age, you had a very responsible position. Being a journalist is an important job. Yes, it’s becoming less and less important as media consumers get our news from many different sources. However, you still had the responsibility to watch the political scene closely and to tell us, in a fair and balanced way, what is going on. But while you were focused on un-named sources from the Labor party, who you claimed supported Rudd, and while you obsessed over the imminent Labor leadership spill that never happened, with articles like this, this, this, and this, you were missing some very important things that media consumers should have been reading about. Policy is one of them. Costings of policies is another. Abbott’s relationship with News Ltd and Gina Rinehart is yet another. And how about Ashbygate? You probably thought you were above reporting a conspiracy to bring down a government, but the irony is, you were working on the very same thing! And this wasn’t your job Michelle. It’s wasn’t your job to campaign. It wasn’t your job to tell the Prime Minister to resign. Your job was to watch, analyse and report. People trusted you to do this in a balanced way. You abused this trust every time you turned on your Fairfax computer.

Now that you are at The Conversation, you have an even greater responsibility. According to your new organisation’s mission, you should be providing:

“Access to independent, high-quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism…”

I don’t think any of these adjectives apply to your work as I have seen it Michelle. Your repetition about Gillard’s ‘failures’ are unfair, untrue and unbalanced.

None of this history bodes well for your association with The Conversation. You’re bringing to it the same old ‘Gillard is bad, Abbott is good’ narrative. Apart from the lack of balance, the repetition drives away readers. First we skip over your articles because we know we have already read them before. Then we start skipping over the website altogether. This is sad because The Conversation ought to be a place where we can find independent analysis. But now you’re damaging the brand.

You’ll no doubt write me off as some rusted-on Laborite who just doesn’t want to hear the truth. But you don’t have the monopoly of truth. We know there are people in the Labor party trying to undermine Gillard, but which political party isn’t this true of? And how is this constant speculation helpful for genuine political debate? Even if I were a right-winger, you’d still be repetitive, and not giving us policy substance that is crucial to political reporting. We want to know about policy, and you never deliver this. By ruining The Conversation, you are decreasing the very diversity which you said yourself is lacking in political reporting. So although I’m congratulating you on your new job, I’m not optimistic about what this career move will deliver to media consumers. Perhaps it’s time you fell on your sword.