WALKLEY ISSUE 62
AUGUST – SEPTEMBER 2010 $9.95
INSIDE THE MEDIA
What’s the story? Behind the lines of narrative & politics Laura Tingle John Bergin Robert Wainwright John Nichols Buzz Bissinger Marni Cordell
PLUS The NYT vs WSJ Bernard Lagan
Danger in Bangkok Phil Thornton, David Dare Parker & Jack Picone
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YOU E EVEN SH T NOT OULD MISS
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CONTACTS AND SPONSORS
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SYDNEY Tuesday 19th October 55th WALKLEY AWARDS GALA DINNER MELBOURNE Thursday 9th December 2010 The Crown Ballroom
The young and the restless The next generation of Walkley winners: the Young Australian Journalists of the Year
OUR MEDIA Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda? By Marni Cordell Independent news site New Matilda will rise again
SPECIAL FOCUS: NARRATIVE Don’t delete the f***ing expletives By Buzz Bissinger A Pulitzer-winner tells it like it is
The wolves and Wall Street By Bernard Lagan The NYT vs the WSJ in a Manhattan smackdown
No wrong ways to write. Right? By Matthew Ricketson Journalism beyond the inverted pyramid
SPECIAL FOCUS: POLITICS Falling down the miner’s shaft By Laura Tingle The media didn’t serve its readers in its reporting of the resources super tax
How Kevin fell (on Twitter) By John Bergin What does KRudd’s toppling teach us about the role social media will play in the election?
The poll with three heads By Robert Wainwright Amid the excitement of the UK election, people turned to television rather than Twitter
FUTURE OF JOURNALISM Power to the people By John Nichols Will the shifting media landscape foster journalism that nourishes democracy?
Get ready: The news is coming By Harry Dugmore The South African experience shows community media does make a difference
Knight crusades for journalism By Flynn Murphy Spotlight on the innovative winners of the Knight News Challenge
LIVING LANGUAGE Let’s get lexical By Susan Butler The year’s new dictionary entries, and why spellcheckers are un-Australian
Inside paper houses By Tim Douglas Within the walls of a renovator’s delight, hid a treasure trove of ancient newsprint
PAYING TRIBUTE As Peter saw it By Michael Bowers Political commentator and columnist Peter Bowers was one of a kind
REVIEWS Lurching to the rite By Graham Freudenberg Is there anything wrong with ANZAC?
Past imperfect By Alan Kennedy A new novel took this seasoned hack back to his copy-boy days
Fox on the run By David Salter Alan Reid, the “Red Fox” and a legend of the Canberra press gallery
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW… …to do freelance health reporting By Melissa Sweet Including the perils of SLF Syndrome
THE 55th WALKLEY AWARDS A note from the chair By Quentin Dempster
2010 Walkley categories
ON THE COVER
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE Getting the bigger picture By Richard Moran A cameraman will rarely put down the camera and get involved, but there was no choice in Haiti
Thailand’s murky political colours By Phil Thornton Working amid the red shirt riots was particularly dangerous for journalists
Can we shoot journalists? By Jack Picone A photojournalist had a chilling, sniper’s-eye view of the Bangkok riots
Illustrator and author Shaun Tan imagines the future of communication. Artwork based on The Lost Thing, a short film by Passion Pictures Australia in association with Screen Australia, www.thelostthing.com
WALKLEY ISSUE 62
AUGUST – SEPTEMBER 2010 $9.95
INSIDE THE MEDIA
TRANS-TASMAN TALES New track for trainees 29 By Brent Edwards NZ pioneers a new form of workplace training for journalists
What’s the story? Behind the lines of narrative & politics Laura Tingle John Bergin Robert Wainwright John Nichols Buzz Bissinger Marni Cordell
PLUS The NYT vs WSJ Bernard Lagan
Danger in Bangkok Phil Thornton, David Dare Parker & Jack Picone
WALK ME LEY CONF DIA
ER – TH E ON ENCE YOU E EVEN SH T NOT OULD MISS
55TH WALKLEY AWARDS CALL FOR ENTRIES – DON’T MISS THE DEADLINE: SEPTEMBER 1
8/07/10 1:33 PM
THE WALKLEY MAGAZINE
New era, new challenges
ver the past 18 months, the global financial crisis has exposed both the strengths and weaknesses of our industry and our union. While the impact here has been less significant than in some other countries, here it has acted to turbo-charge long-term trends that are reshaping the news media in Australia and New Zealand. We have to get our strategies right to equip us to deal with these challenges. The crises and challenges that have beset news organisations have also affected the Media Alliance and revealed areas where we are vulnerable. We may simply not be big enough and our membership across the media and entertainment industries may be too diverse for us to be able to build and grow when times get tough. At our 2008 Federal Council, we recognised that to build for the future we needed an industry strategy for an industry union. Specifically, this meant: • Shaping the media, entertainment and arts industries so that these are strong, vibrant, independent industries with worthwhile and well-paid jobs. • Shaping our union so that it properly reflects our industry and is structured and resourced to most effectively shape our industry. However, the recent changes have exposed the limits of this approach with the resources we have and revealed that we are under pressure from long-term trends apparent in the news media that are unlikely to be reversed, even as economic conditions recover. These include: • Loss of advertising in both print and free-to-air broadcasting which undermines local and Australian production. • Significant cuts in the numbers of editorial staff on newspapers and magazines. • More people working as freelance, casuals or fixed term contracts who have different needs to those in permanent employment Last year, our Federal Council looked again and identified key questions: • Are we simply too small to continue to achieve all the things our members expect of us? And do the changes in our industry
Editor: Jacqueline Park firstname.lastname@example.org Contributing editor: Jonathan Este Assistant editor: Clare Fletcher Subeditor: Jo McKinnon Editorial staff: Alison Larsen Editorial intern: Jessie Warren Cover illustration: Shaun Tan Solicitors: Minter Ellison Lawyers Design: Louise Summerton Production management: Gadfly Media Address: Walkley Foundation Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance 245 Chalmers Street, Redfern, NSW 2016 Visit our website at www.walkleys.com Advertising inquiries: Alison Larsen 02 9333 0917 Alison.Larsen@alliance.org.au To subscribe visit http://magazine.walkleys.com/ or phone 1300 656 513 Disclaimer: The views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of The Walkley Foundation or the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.
CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME The Walkley Magazine, the only forum for discussion of media and professional issues by and for journalists, welcomes contributions from journalists, artists and photographers. To maintain the tradition and be worthy of the Walkleys, The Walkley Magazine aims to be a pithy, intelligent and challenging read, and to stand as a record of interesting news in the craft and profession of journalism. It is published five times a year and guidelines for contributors are available on request.
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mean that we are only going to get smaller? • Should we look instead at partnering or merging with other organisations to create a new, larger union? If so, how should we structure a new union and which union or unions should we seek to partner within this process? Federal Council established a Future Strategies Working Party which met in Sydney on Monday June 7. The committee had a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing the union, and agreed on a range of actions to take the discussion forward to enable the Federal Executive meeting in August to make a decision. One of the options under consideration is partnering or merging with other organisations to create a new larger union. The process we are entering enables us to properly identify our collective vision for the Alliance and consider what common ground we share with potential partners. For my money, our vision ought to be to assist workers in allied industries in building vibrant and flourishing media and entertainment industries in Australia and New Zealand. Together we can identify common aims and objectives, professionally and industrially and, with the strength that working together will give us, we can work out the best ways to achieve those long-term goals. As much as any large media organisation, when facing these profound structural changes in our industry we need to demonstrate flexibility in our approach to the challenges ahead. This is important for us as an industry as it is for our union. But as we celebrate 100 years of working together to protect and improve working conditions for journalists I am sure we have the will to rise to this new challenge. Thanks to this great history we share, we have forged a strong identity and a common purpose. Together, that identity and purpose will guide us as we decide where we are headed. Christopher Warren Federal Secretary Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance
WALKLEY CONTRIBUTORS John Bergin Buzz Bissinger Mike Bowers Peter Broelman Jo Brooker Susan Butler Jason Chatfield Marni Cordell Tim Douglas Harry Dugmore Brent Edwards Rod Emmerson Rocco Fazzari Lindsay Foyle Graham Freudenberg Andrew Fyfe
Matt Golding Karl Hilzinger Adam Hollingsworth Fiona Katauskas Chris Kelly Alan Kennedy Jon Kudelka Bernard Lagan Brett Lethbridge Reg Lynch Richard Moran Flynn Murphy John Nichols David Dare Parker Jack Picone Sarah Reed
Matthew Ricketson David Rowe David Salter Melissa Sweet Ron Tandberg Phil Thornton John Tiedemann Laura Tingle Andrew Weldon Robert Wainwright Lisa Wiltse Thanks to AAP Image, AP, AFP, Newspix and Fairfax Photos
(c) Artwork by Shaun Tan, based on ‘The Lost Thing’ a short film by Passion Pictures Australia in association with Screen Australia, www.thelostthing.com
W. O N K BOO ONE
THE WALKLEY MEDIA CONFERENCE 2010
What’s the story?
THE YOU NT EVE D NOT L SHOU ISS. M
POWERFUL NARRATIVE AND OTHER TALES FROM THE FUTURE MONDAY AUGUST 9 – THURSDAY AUGUST 12, 2010
There’s a rocky road ahead for journalists but the Media Alliance and the Walkley Foundation are driving debate about the way our industry is changing and what you’ll have to do to survive the turmoil. It’s going to be a feast of ideas from August 9-12, with specialist training workshops, masterclasses, discussion and international keynotes. The conference will also include a day dedicated to freelance journalists. John Nichols, The Nation (US) Bob Dotson, NBC’s Today (US) • Jay Rosen, NYU (US) Harry Dugmore, Rhodes University (South Africa) Heather Allan, Al Jazeera English • Laurie Oakes Annabel Crabb • Kerry O’Brien Malcolm Turnbull • Chris Masters James Bradley • Caroline Overington Sophie Cunningham • Mark Dapin Anna Broinowski • Peter Fray Campbell Reid • Tim Burrowes Julie Posetti • Ben Naparstek Olivia Rousset • Sophie Black David Marr • Malcolm Knox Alice Pung • Mark Scott
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Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda? Online political journal New Matilda has closed for now, but editor Marni Cordell is still plotting its future course. Cartoon by Fiona Katauskas
lmost six years after it first made its way into cyberspace, the independent news and analysis website New Matilda (NM) has ceased publishing. A number of theories are doing the rounds about why we hit the skids – a big defamation suit? Pressure from the Israel lobby? – but I can confirm the reality is more mundane: we simply ran out of money. It’s difficult to encapsulate those six years in one article because the site has had a number of incarnations since it was launched in 2004. The original newmatilda.com was the brainchild of former Gough Whitlam staffer and News Limited boss John Menadue, who was frustrated with a shrinking public sphere under the Howard government and set out to create an incubator of public debate and policy. The site was launched to quite a big fanfare but was seen in some circles as predictable and earnest. “You’re preaching to the converted,” was the common criticism back then. In my opinion, the level of debate had sunk so low after eight years under Howard that the converted were in need of a preacher. Within months, the site gathered a loyal band of subscribers and contributors and Menadue was able to rally the financial support of dozens of like-minded individuals to keep the site afloat for two and a half years. During that time most of the content was only accessible to paid-up subscribers, and the site itself was clunky and slow to load. Suffice to say our readership was loyal but modest. That all began to change in 2007. In February of that year, facing its first potential closure, NM was bought for the princely sum of $10 by “mysterious Gold Coast mathematician and self-styled philanthropist” Duncan Turpie. We dropped subscriptions, launched a new website – and got a new government. The site evolved from its public policy role into an independent media outlet of news, satire and analysis. Politics moves on quickly but it is instructive to remember the environment that we, as journalists and editors, were operating in prior to Rudd’s victory. Issues that under Howard were deemed only to be the concern of the loony left – climate change, closing the gap, refugee rights, the things that New Matilda had been addressing all along – became mainstream. Debate flowed more freely and our readership grew. New Matilda’s last year has been her most successful and it’s a sad irony that we are being forced to call it quits now. However, we do have plans to rise again. On behalf of the current staff, I have negotiated to take control of the site and we will be working to raise enough money to relaunch. NM’s audience, archive and stable of writers are too valuable to shelve for good. Since we announced our closure on May 27, we have been bombarded with support and advice on how to stay afloat. We’ve also been contacted by several business interests with proposals that ranged from content sharing to stripping
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the New Matilda brand and refitting it for new purposes. However, none of these suggestions fitted our vision for the site and, importantly, there wasn’t any room in these offers for us to develop ideas about NM’s future directions. So instead of taking them up, and provided we can rally the right kind of support, we intend to go it alone. Looking to the experience of media start-ups in the US and the UK, we have realised that the days of the single-revenue media outlet are over. Nowadays, small outlets are finding new ways to fund their work through what Texas Tribune founder John Thornton calls “revenue promiscuity”: “You have to get it everywhere and often.” They are trading on the quality of their journalism and their trusted brands to build relationships with other media outlets to which they provide niche
We have plans to rise again… New Matilda’s audience, archive and stable of writers are too valuable to shelve for good content. And they rely on a broad and growing base of philanthropists, funding bodies, foundations and individuals who see that as the media industry cuts costs, the survival of public interest journalism requires them to put their money where their mouth is. These outlets are doing important work to fill the gaps left by a shrinking media industry, often with little money and few staff. They are run by veteran journalists – very often former investigative journalists whose time-intensive jobs were the first to go when newsrooms tightened their belts – and they survive on contributions from the many generous individuals and organisations who support their work. These start-ups provide inspiration for a new collaborative model that will see the New Matilda site transform into a provider of quality analysis and public interest journalism that has life beyond our little corner of the internet. When we relaunch, our primary aim will not be to drive hits back to our own site – the model that advertisers dictate is king – but to inject new, quality journalism and analysis into the Australian media environment. In this way we hope to inspire enough of you out there to deem us worthy of your financial support. Marni Cordell is the editor of newmatilda.com and has worked as a journalist and editor in independent media for the past decade Fiona Katauskas is a freelance cartoonist; www.fionakatauskas.com
Photo: Lisa Wiltse
In the social pages
At the picture show On May 20 at Tusculum in Potts Point, the new home of the Walkleys’ Slide Night in Sydney, photographers and their friends, family and fans came to celebrate great stories through great photography. At night’s end the audience voted for their favourite from Louise Kennerley’s sassy ladies of roller derby, the amazing knitted jumpers of New Zealand’s curlers by Braden Fastier, Lisa Wiltse’s evocative images of a Mennonite community (above), and the teams of the World Elephant Polo championships, shot by Krystle Wright. The winner on the night was Lisa Wiltse, whose series “The Mennonites of Manitoba, Bolivia” documented a community that time seems to have passed by. Their simple clothes and rejection of many modern conveniences are the legacy of a 16th-century European preacher named Menno Simons. They settled in Bolivia’s farmlands more than 50 years ago, coming from Mennonite colonies in Canada, Russia, Mexico, Belize and Paraguay, looking for a better life. However last year suspicions were confirmed that many women and teenagers had been drugged and raped by some men in the community. Lisa won a Coolpix S8000 camera courtesy of Slide Night sponsor Nikon Australia, and is currently working on a project documenting the effects of climate change on the people of Bolivia.
In social media news, Facebook is up, Bebo is down, and Weibo – or Chinese microblogging – is zooming. But is social media even news? Well it is when media companies lose millions of dollars on it. The Guardian reports that AOL sold social networking site Bebo for under US$10 million in June, after acquiring it for US$850 million just two years earlier. It seems the social network ran out of steam as its predominantly younger user base grew up and switched to Facebook, and were replaced by nobody. Meanwhile, Facebook – with over 400 million active users, and a conservative growth rate of over 300,000 users per day – continues to build its empire despite renewed privacy concerns over users’ private messages being sent to the wrong inboxes earlier this year, criticism of the way Facebook shares information with other sites for targeted advertising, and criticism of CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself over allegations that several years ago he said users are “dumb f**ks” for trusting him with their private information. But while a number of anti-Facebook sites have sprung up, and even some Facebook alternatives which promise to be “more ethical” with user information, this doesn’t really matter. Facebook continues to burgeon, as users seem more concerned with Lady Gaga than their own privacy (the starlet becoming the first artist to receive 10 million “Likes” on a Facebook fan page in July, beating US President Barack Obama to the title). Meanwhile on the harmonious side of the Great Firewall, the launch of Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo by Chinese blogging giant sina.com has many China-watchers pegging it as the next great form of expression in an internet sphere which has blocked Twitter and Facebook. But the same awkward and ever-shifting self-censorship requirements apply to Weibo as to other Chinese sites, and objectionable material is liable to disappear in the night.
SA’s finest rewarded The seventh annual SA Media Ball was held on May 15 at Adelaide’s National Wine Centre, with SA’s cream of the crop rewarded for their outstanding work in 2009. Co-hosted by ABC Online’s chief political writer, Annabel Crabb, the event saw the Sunday Mail’s senior investigative journalist, Nigel Hunt, named Journalist of the Year for his outstanding body of investigative, news and feature reporting. Earlier in the night he’d been honoured as best print journalist for stories including an exclusive report on corruption within the SA Jockey Club. The ABC’s Kerry Staight was named best TV broadcaster, while freelancer Sharon Mascall-Dare was named best radio broadcaster. The Advertiser’s Sarah Reed took home the award for best photographer. The annual SA Media Awards are administered by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and recognise ethics and excellence in reporting by South Australian journalists and media professionals. Another of SA’s finest, Murray Nicoll, was posthumously inducted into the Media Hall of Fame, recognising his outstanding contribution to the industry over his 50-year career in print, radio and television. The all-rounder and dual Walkley winner had died just weeks before the event and was remembered in a moving tribute. Nicoll’s work included some of the state’s most memorable moments, including his live report for Radio 5DN from the 1983 Ash Wednesday
In their hands: Sarah Reed won best photographer and best feature photo series for her “Who Cares for Carers?” series in The Advertiser.
bushfires in front of his own burning house. His contribution to the industry and to young journalists was acknowledged by his Seven Network colleagues. His widow Franke accepted the award. For details of all the winners on the night go to www.samediaawards.com.au.
THE WALKLEY MAGAZINE
From left: Drew Ambrose, Latika Bourke and Sophie McNeill.
Melbourne Writers Festival
It was a funny old night on June 23 at Goldfish Bar in Sydney’s Kings Cross. The Walkley Foundation and Media Alliance were midway through the winners’ announcements for Young Journalist of the Year when the room full of journalists became very unsettled. Murmurs started to circulate the room… tilt… Gillard…! The Chaser’s Chris Taylor, co-host of the ceremony, asked what should have been the most clued-in crowd in Sydney if it were true and guess who had the answer? Our very own Young Australian Journalist of the Year for 2010, Fairfax Radio’s Latika Bourke. Latika accepted her radio win, and later the honour for the overall Young Australian Journalist of the Year (which required a speech), in the midst of filing the biggest Australian political story of, quite possibly, the decade. Her phone battery had died and in her speech she thanked everyone very gracefully but admitted she would rather be somewhere else – near her phone charger. Latika then dashed off to do her job, albeit in an evening gown. Other winners on the night included SBS TV’s Sophie McNeill, the Sun-Herald’s James Brickwood, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Erik Jensen and Drew Ambrose for ABC Online. See pages 27-29 for some Q&As with our winners.
The Politics of History Sunday August 29, 1pm 2009 Walkley Book Award-winner Graham Freudenberg and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke bring together a wealth of knowledge of politics and political journalism. Press Freedom: how does it impact on what we read? Saturday August 28, 10am Moderated by Neil Mitchell (3AW), this panel includes Ross Gittins (The Age), 2009 Walkley Award-winner Duncan Hughes (The Australian Financial Review) and Lenore Taylor (The Sydney Morning Herald). The Stories behind Politics Saturday September 4, 2.30pm Walkley Award-winning journalist Annabel Crabb, journalist and author Jenny Hocking, and Walkley-winning cartoonist Peter Nicholson discuss what makes political stories so compelling. Moderated by Heather Ewart (ABC).
Brisbane Writers Festival Photo: Adam Hollingsworth
Oh what a night!
September 5 The Politics of History With a career writing speeches for the likes of Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam and Bob Carr, this year’s Walkley Book Award winner Graham Freudenberg (Churchill and Australia) knows politics. Here he talks with a man who follows politics, national affairs editor for the Courier Mail, Dennis Atkins.
Residency opportunity for writers
The Walkley book award featured this year at the Shanghai International Literary Festival with Graham Freudenberg in the spotlight. Now the The M Literary Program is offering two three-month residencies in 2011, one in Shanghai, China and one in Pondicherry, India. Applications are now open to writers of fiction, literary non-fiction or poetry whose residence in India or China would benefit their work. More at www.m-literaryfestival.com
National Newsbreaker. On Australia’s first 24-hour news channel, Sky News Political Editor David Speers led the rolling coverage as Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister. As an election looms, he is the man to watch for the latest news, as it happens. Sky News delivers Australians unrivalled 24-hour coverage and is the first for breaking news. Australia’s News Channels
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LOCAL CH 600
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BUSINESS CH 602
A-PAC CH 648
8/07/10 10:42 AM
The streets of Bangkok were among the world’s most dangerous for journalists as clashes erupted in May. Italian freelance photojournalist Fabio Polenghi was shot dead on May 19, a day when 14 people were reported killed and a number of media workers wounded in violence on the streets. Polenghi was the second media worked killed in Thailand’s capital, after Japanese cameraman Hiro Muramoto was killed by gunfire on April 10. Find out more about the situation for journalists in Thailand on page 25.
Fiji’s regime screws the media… again A new media decree imposed by Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s military regime in Fiji will further impinge journalists’ rights to report freely and fairly. The Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which the administration made law on June 25, permanently installs the sweeping censorship that has been in force in Fiji since “temporary” emergency regulations were imposed in April 2009. The decree is little changed from a draft that met with international condemnation when it was announced in April this year. Under the controversial law, the regime and its authorities will decide what is fair, balanced and quality journalism. A six-member Media Industry Development Authority appointed by Fiji’s minister for information will “ensure that nothing is included in the content of any media service which is against public interest or order, or national interest, or which offends against good taste or decency and creates communal discord.” A one-member Media Tribunal, appointed by the president, can make orders that compel media organisations to reveal sources, and journalists and media organisations can be fined and jailed if the tribunal rules that news reports breach the regime’s media codes. The law retrospectively requires that all media organisations be registered with the authority and 90 per cent owned by citizens of Fiji. This action clearly targets the Fiji Times, which is owned by News Limited. The paper, which has a staff of about 180, is the only local media outlet to try to maintain critical independence despite attacks, threats, intimidation and more than a year of strict censorship. The International Federation of Journalists, to which the Media Alliance is affiliated, has called for Fiji’s government to step back from the coercive and ultimately destructive law and move to a cooperative independent regulatory system supported by local media and recognised by the international community.
Satire in 140 characters As well as a resounding case study in how not to handle crisis communications, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico sparked hilarious updates from the anonymous comedians who commandeered the @BPGlobalPR Twitter account. A week into the crisis, the fake account had far outstripped the official feed @BP_America in followers. @BPGlobalPR issued tweets such as: “Keep in mind, the more your interest in the oil spill wanes, the less damage the oil does. #outofsightoutofmind #day67”; and “Anyone accusing us of tarring and feathering pelicans is ignorant. They feathered themselves. #bpcares”. Fake corporate and celebrity accounts are nothing new. Closer to home, the satirical Twitter accounts of the likes of @FakeSteveConroy are often more prolific than their real-life counterparts. The 140-character format has proved a boon for satirists as well as the shortattention-spanned; perfect for spoofing not only people, but also the oft-clumsy attempts of politics and public affairs to manipulate social media.
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Don’t delete the f***ing expletives Journalism isn’t dead, says Pulitzer winner Buzz Bissinger, and it’s time to dump the office cubicles, light up a smoke and hit back at the critics by telling some damn good stories. Illustration by Jo Brooker
torytelling sounds simple and it is simple. There’s a beginning, a middle version. And what he said has always lingered as music to my ears: “You guys and an end. But there’s a craft to telling a story in 50 centimetres (as the took a good piece and fucked it all up.” best columnists do) or 500 or 2000. Then there are all the beautiful tools I think that phrase serves as the perfect wrap-up of what is happening to that come hand-in-hand with storytelling: pace, dramatic foreshadowing, us today. Because of various forces, so many of which we cannot control, the creating a sense of mystery where questions do not get answered until the end, wonderful profession of journalism has been taken and gotten all fucked up. keeping your eye on the reader, developing plot, developing character… If I ran a newsroom today, the first thing I would do is throw in about five tons You learn these by paying close attention to the articles and books that you of old notes and old newspapers, get rid of all the cubicles and the carpeting, and admire. Not the words, quite frankly, but how the writers structure the piece. demand every reporter start smoking and drinking again. How do they hook you in? What do they describe? And how do they use quotes? We need to be who we are again. We have gotten the shit beaten out of us so Quotes are great if they are great. But few quotes much that we have become defensive, sheepish. really are great. In too many narrative pieces they Instead, let’s be who we are – different, filled with are way overused and just get in the way. They are flaws, pains in the ass, but still the nation and the clunky, boring and regurgitative, which is why so world’s greatest defence against injustice, greed, many gifted writers say “the hell with it” and just thievery, lying, cheating and all the other things make them up. the Catholic Church stands for, thanks to the But maybe the most important, and difficult, superb reporting of the Boston Globe. way you learn about storytelling is by actually The point is we still do what nobody else does. trusting good editors. Resources have been tightened but, at the end of I was lucky to learn at the feet of two really the day, we save a society from itself. good editors. The first was Deborah Howell, who Every day, tens of millions of column inches are I worked with when she was the editor of the still written in this country. Every day, thousands Pioneer Press in St Paul, Minnesota, in the early of photos are taken. Every day, millions of feet of 1980s. Deborah was Texan, sassy, saucy, blunt (to video footage are recorded. put it mildly), loved journalism and journalists So forget this idea that we are dead. We are more than anyone I’ve ever met, and wasn’t afraid not dead. Roughed up a little bit, maybe, but still to do battle with even the biggest prima donnas. kicking, still producing, still caring. I was a pain in the ass when I worked with About six months ago, I decided it was important Deborah – a sour, smart-assed, sullen 25-year-old personally to keep my hand in newspapers, so who was convinced I should be working at I began to write a twice a month column for my The New York Times. old paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. I thought I knew everything. I chafed at The column focuses solely on local issues. anybody touching a single word in a single I say what I feel, so I tend to piss off people sentence. But Deborah refused to relent. And and I get lots of email feedback. A lot of it is she was the first editor to literally pound into me actually wonderfully positive, but I get my share that narrative journalism and non-fiction can be of tough ones. The ones that affect me the most summed up in one word: storytelling. are the ones saying: “I cannot wait until your You learn storytelling by making mistakes, paper goes out of business.” by overwriting, overdoing – but that’s okay. As More and more my reaction to them is this: Deborah said, “I’d much rather fucking have a “Fine. I agree. I can’t wait until we go out of Those who pray for the demise of fucking reporter who fucking overwrites than business. And then I can’t wait and see what fucking underwrites because when you fucking journalism are assholes. But since we morons like you will do when you don’t have a overwrite then there is fucking something to newspaper to depend on. And I also can’t wait to are essentially benevolent, we have an fucking play with.” see what we as a society will do when we no longer obligation to save them from themselves have any source of dependable information.” My other great teacher was Gene Roberts, who edited the Philadelphia Inquirer and made that So when somebody sends me a nasty email, paper into the greatest writers’ newspaper of its time. He said virtually nothing, I write them back in exactly the same tone and language they use with me. I take and mumbled when he did. But it was part of his calculated brilliance, because great joy in this. I think we all need to fight back more. when he spoke it carried enormous weight. I have promised time and again not to abuse these people but I still do. Not I remember writing an investigative-type piece – and those pieces, though necessarily because I am proud of what I do, but proud of what the profession still important, can also be really boring clunkers, filled over and over with such sexy does: the bravery, the refusal to give up – work that is often difficult, frustrating, enticing phrases as: “during an 18-month investigation, 498 personal interviews, and always on the verge of falling apart and lonely. a review of 18,090 pages of documents, the paper has learned blah, blah, blah.” Those who pray for the demise of journalism are assholes. But since we are I’d tried to avoid that and written what I thought was a story with a decent essentially benevolent, we have an obligation to save them from themselves. narrative arc, despite the necessity to substantiate the claims I was making. Then the metro editor got hold of it. Then the city editor. Then the assistant This is an edited extract of a speech to the Boston University narrative conference. managing editor. I think a few homeless people outside were solicited as well. Roberts had read the initial version, suggested a few changes in his elliptical Buzz Bissinger is a Pulitzer-winning writer and contributing editor at Vanity Fair way (which often made the Dalai Lama seem pithy), then read the revised Jo Brooker is a freelance illustrator; firstname.lastname@example.org
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The wolves and Wall Street Sales have risen since Rupert Murdoch and Robert Thomson took over The Wall Street Journal, but not everyone is impressed, writes Bernard Lagan. Illustration by Rocco Fazzari
rom his glassy office at News Corporation’s Manhattan headquarters, Robert Thomson looks upon a lavish, curiously muted, newsroom at The Wall Street Journal. Headlines and market updates dance on outsize wall-mounted screens above the sober faces beneath. Deadline is approaching on this June Friday afternoon – unescorted by the rowdy, knockabout currents that run in Holt or Collins Street. Only the large Sidney Nolan canvas that warms Thomson’s wall speaks of his roots and those of the Journal’s owner; it depicts a man hunting gold in a far-off landscape. The editor’s rangy frame is dressed in his signature black, his mood ebullient; it has been a good few days for his Wall Street Journal. The newspaper has drawn unaccustomed praise from journalism’s high priests, the Columbia Journalism Review, which has suggested that the Journal has entered Pulitzer prize territory for a lengthy, revealing series on the BP rogue gusher and for an arresting front-page photo of an American soldier in Afghanistan reading the Bible to a downed comrade. It is a welcome respite from the Review’s often sneer-laced chronicling of the Journal since Rupert Murdoch elbowed out the indolent Bancroft clan by persuading them in 2007 to take US$5 billion for the newspaper that had been in the old New England family since 1902. Among the barbs from the Columbia Journalism Review’s staff writers since:
“The Journal is being made to resemble the Financial Times. The FT is a fine little paper, just like Britain and Australia are fine little countries.” “That’s the difference between Katharine Graham and Rupert Murdoch. She doesn’t need a biographer to tell everyone why she was great.” “Great newspaperman? You don’t get that by owning a lot of newspapers... neither will owning 100 New York Posts and Sunday Tasmanians.” “What’s lost in this scenario is what makes American newspapers distinct from and superior to their Anglo-Australian counterparts: fully developed features, investigations, and just plain original reporting – that is reporting that takes longer than a day.”
Under the Journal’s old regime its best writers could be allowed a year on a single feature or, as an unimpressed Thomson put to it his staff, the gestation of a llama Thomson’s Journal is frequently scolded from the towers of Columbia University’s journalism school for abandoning what Americans call the long-form narrative. Under the Journal’s old regime its best writers could be allowed a year on a single feature or, as an unimpressed Thomson put it to his staff, the gestation of a llama. He is reproved for pushing writers to come up with more scoops, for seeking more energy in the newsroom, for running larger photographs, for increasing the space given to national politics and for daring to run police stories. He counters that some American journalism schools – he does not name Columbia – continue to peddle unresponsive journalism, which has failed its readers. “It has been journalism by and for journalists that has been complicit in and of itself in the decline of newspapers; too many of them have been unreadable, too many of them have been running articles that, though worthy, were not worth their readers’ time,” he says. To most newspaper u journalists in these cruellest
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uof times, the changes being wrought by Thomson and Rupert Murdoch at The Wall Street Journal would be familiar enough, de rigueur even. Newsroom hamster treadmills are spinning ever faster, demanding longer hours, more stories, more scoops, written across more platforms – and with no, or scanty, pay rises. But The Wall Street Journal is different. This has long been a newspaper where the epic feature ruled the front page. News began on the inside, at page three. The front page was, by and large, a place of reflective storytelling, a sanctum for the elegant feature that was the paper’s identity. For decades there was an orientation ritual for new recruits to the Journal. They were presented with the newspaper’s account of an event seven decades old: the Japanese air raid on the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Those 110 fiery minutes took America into the Second World War – but the Journal’s story was far more than an account of the bombs falling, the fleet burning and 2403 people dying. The headline read: “War with Japan Means Industrial Revolution In the United States”. It portended the future: what the attack would mean for America’s industry and economy. The concept was the vision of the Journal’s new managing editor, Barney Kilgore, who had taken over just before the attack in 1941. Thus began the Journal’s singular trademark of long, handsome feature writing that took readers behind the news or into the future. Under Kilgore’s “visionary genius” – as his new biography is called – the Journal’s paltry circulation was to lift from 33,000 to over one million. It became the most trusted paper in America and the largest circulating; it was for this fruit of Kilgore’s vision that Rupert Murdoch paid $5 billion.
dealing. Unimaginable pre-Murdoch, a bulldozer tumbling into a hole and the recovery from the Hudson River of a teenage girl who committed suicide on the eve of her posting to a far-off Army base have made recent picture stories in the Journal. And the paper’s frequently idiosyncratic front-page feature survives. The early results for Thomson are certainly encouraging. Since he launched the New York section, weekday sales of The Wall Street Journal have risen by 13 per cent and sales of the enlarged weekend edition have jumped 18 per cent. But can it match and sustain its challenge to the grunt of The New York Times? Aside from its burly, dedicated New York sections such as arts and real estate, the Times has legions of accomplished reporters and writers in the city covering beats such as police, politics, education and workplace. While the Journal’s trim new sports section launched under Thomson can fairly claim to have the classier reads, the Times’ is vast and comprehensive – if sometimes clunky. While not a lot has changed about the Times since 30 years ago, when the writer Jan Morris called it half a paper of international record and half a parish magazine with full obituaries of respected local insurance managers, it does, still, have more firepower than any other newspaper. As what promises to be an epic newspaper war unfolds, Rupert Murdoch’s real intention is still unclear. Does he wish to create a foil for the Times, replicate it, or bring it to its knees? Robert Thomson portrays the struggle and prize as a quest to preserve great journalism in tumultuous times. “Nostalgia is not a strategy. It is a symptom of the crisis in which we find ourselves. As a society we need journalists and journalism. But we won’t have
It is, for the guardians of the American journalism tradition – an assault on much that they believe is exceptional about their craft The Journal’s page-one features launched gilded writing careers: Geraldine Brooks, from Sydney’s western suburbs, became a Journal foreign correspondent reporting from Africa and the Balkans and then a Pulitzer prize-winning novelist. Her husband, Tony Horwitz, won a Pulitzer for the Journal when he lifted the rocks that hide low-wage America by going to work undercover in a chicken slaughterhouse. It is not just the culture of a single newspaper within his stable of more than 130 that Murdoch is changing at the Journal. It is, for the guardians of the American journalism tradition – an assault on much that they believe is exceptional about their craft. They are precious about it, of course. Rupert Murdoch is not without his meddlesome reputation and he hardly helped by hastily ousting the Journal’s newish and well regarded managing editor, Marcus Brauchli, who had the misfortune to complete his mission to the top a few months before Murdoch burst through the doors. The proprietor, however, if not a changed man, then seems the man for print’s changed circumstances. The journalists at the Journal today work in a spanking new mid-Manhattan newsroom that extends over two floors of dazzling glass, steel and beautiful wood finishes. And, almost alone in America, the paper is hiring. Robert Thomson is surely Murdoch’s top editor. He came to the Journal after six years editing The Times in London and has brought much of what is to admire in British journalism: relevance, the discipline of tight writing, greater elegance, wit and irreverence. As great a paper as The New York Times is, it would be improved by more of all. It is the Journal’s quarry these days. At April’s end the Journal unveiled its most direct assault so far on the Times – the launching of a daily section dedicated to New York news and features. Though extra staff had been hired well in advance, there was no telling scoop ready for launch day. More had been expected and the Columbia Journalism Review crowd, predictably, roundly pilloried the new venture. But a couple of months have improved the Journal’s effort. It has energy, a snappier layout and lively graphics. It has more recently invaded long uncontested Times territory with stories on school overcrowding on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and brought life to New York’s frenzied back-room property
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great journalism unless there is an investment in journalism, and we won’t have investment in journalism if the profession seems to be a forlorn financial cause,” he told a group of New York City’s leading journalists in June. Josh Prager was not among them. He left The Wall Street Journal a year ago, after 13 years on the paper. He joined in his early 20s as a news-desk copy kid after surviving a bus crash that broke his neck and rendered him, initially, a quadriplegic. He cheerfully volunteers to learning nothing at all about business in his years on the Journal, yet he walked out the door marvelling at the long leash the paper had given him as one their most valued feature writers. Prager could ask for – and get – a year to write a story. He was that good. He wrote himself into Journal legend, turning in epic pieces on the Swedish wartime hero Raoul Wallenberg, the spying secret behind a legendary baseball game, and how a chilling mass execution in Iraq came to be recorded on film. None of them were remotely concerned with making money – or losing it. But all made the Journal’s front page and Prager’s reputation. He realised the writing was on the wall after hearing Murdoch and Thomson complain that some stories were too long and took too long to write. Asked for his view of today’s Wall Street Journal, Prager told me: “Readers looked to The Wall Street Journal for two things. They looked for unsurpassed business coverage and the best narrative feature writing in newspaper journalism. Basically what those men [Murdoch and Thomson] decided was that the second of those things, really special narrative non-fiction, did not fit with their vision of a newspaper so they just got rid of it. I can tell you that it wasn’t just that I loved writing them, it was that I loved reading them and they were what made our paper so special. The sort of yin and yang.” The painting in The Wall Street Journal editor’s office is Rupert Murdoch’s but only its creator, Sidney Nolan, knew if the old prospector had found gold. Or if his hunch was empty as the land on which he stood. Bernard Lagan was the UK’s The Times’ Australian correspondent before moving to New York in 2008 Rocco Fazzari is an artist for the Sydney Morning Herald; smh.com.au/rocco
Falling down the miners’ shaft With the resources super tax it was politics, not policy, that ruled. Laura Tingle was gobsmacked at how some in the media swallowed the miners’ line
t was 1993. Paul Keating had surprised most people by winning the 1993 election. The economy was struggling out of its worst recession in half a century, and the government was embroiled in a battle over native title. Among those in the forefront of this battle was the mining industry. The prime minister entered the lion’s den, addressing the miners’ annual dinner in Canberra. This year, of course, the same dinner became a focal point for industry anger over the then Rudd government’s plans for a resources super profits tax. Controversially, Kevin Rudd was invited but didn’t go along. But it is not the fact Paul Keating confronted his critics while Kevin Rudd didn’t that is the point of this story. It is the argument that Keating put to the miners, despite the bruising recession: it was Canberra that had got it right about where Australia should go next, not the business community. “The great agent for change in the 1980s was not the private sector of Australia, but the public sector,” Keating said. “It took Australia from basically an industrial backwater to a modern country again, opening it up. That change has continued and much of it has benefited the mining industry.” Keating’s argument encapsulates much of what has changed since 1993 in the way public debates about policy and politics are conducted. In the age of major reform in the 1980s and 1990s, it was policy that ruled. These days it is politics. Then, the community assumed governments would act in the interests of the community as a whole while business would act in its own interest. A reforming government made policy the base from which its political performance was assessed. The ramifications for the way the media worked, for the way lobby groups worked and, as a result, for the way politics worked, cannot be underestimated. A policy issue would be put up and debated not primarily on the basis of whether it was good or bad for the government’s fortunes, or whether industry groups would like it, but whether it was good or bad policy. Lobby groups were seen as rent seekers or, pragmatically, as groups seeking greater advantage from a policy outcome, not potent political opponents or representatives of the national interest whose claims about the impact of policy could go unquestioned. In such an environment, Keating was able to assert Canberra’s better grip on the country’s needs and get away with it despite the devastation of a savage policy-induced recession. This started to change under the Howard government. A lobbyist with long links to the Coalition observed to me that, in the Hawke/
Keating days, you had to come to see ministers armed with microeconomic modelling to back your case, while in the Howard era you had to come armed with focus group polling and research. It doesn’t mean the Howard government didn’t engage in significant reform, but the way it was measured had started to be seen in a different light. The language of political interaction has changed, too. Bureaucrats and politicians now talk about lobby and interest groups as being “stakeholders” in an issue or even “clients”. As a public service friend of mine commented, this puts them “in the tent” and, as a result, holding a legitimate stake that must be appeased by government, rather than outside the tent just hoping for a hearing. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the criticism of the Rudd government – that it didn’t let anybody into the tent. Everybody now expects to be appeased before policy is even announced.
In the age of major reform in the 1980s and 1990s, it was policy that ruled. These days it is politics The fashionable view of the Rudd government might have been formed around notions of policy incompetence. But – particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis – why is it that in Australia these days we seem to give more automatic credibility to what the private sector says than the public sector? Do perceptions of government incompetence at selling a message alone explain the way the resource rent tax debate unfolded? From day one, the resource tax issue was seen through the political, rather than policy, prism. A government under pressure was presumed to have cynical, revenue-raising motives, and little chance of landing a difficult reform. At the Canberra end, the story was only whether an embattled prime minister would backflip on the tax (as he was seen to have done on the emissions trading scheme and other election promises), or whether it was hurting the government in the polls. The presumption was that a government desperate for revenue to meet a promised budget surplus was cornered without room to manoeuvre on the tax. Even senior figures in the government conceded the way it embarked on the public debate on the resources tax was inelegant to say the least. It let itself get caught with a reform it wanted to back, without the time to do it properly. If the report had not been released within days of the Rudd government’s u
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Why is it that in Australia these days we seem to give more automatic credibility to what the private sector says than the public sector?
Cartoons by: (on opening page) Jason Chatfield, www.jasonchatfield.com; (this page) Fiona Katauskas, New Matilda; Brett Lethbridge, The Courier Mail; David Rowe, The Australian Financial Review; Ron Tandberg, The Age
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u credibility being shredded by the decision to delay the emissions trading scheme, the prism through which people saw the reform plan may have been very different. This doesn’t account for why the government didn’t think it could have an idea out in the public domain – like the very concept of a special tax for the resources sector that reflected the non-renewable nature of resources – in a sophisticated debate for months before the release of its response to the Henry taxation review. Ministers have said Treasury secretary Ken Henry gave several speeches in 2008 and 2009 about the so-called “Dutch disease” – the economic phenomenon where massive growth in the resources sector hollows out and depletes the rest of the economy. Kevin Rudd told parliament that there had been plenty of references for those who were paying attention to the direction the Henry review was moving. (Why didn’t we all take more notice of those couple of paragraphs on page 27 of the report on the architecture of the tax system?) But under Rudd we did not have the debate about what the booming resources sector was doing to the rest of the economy, and whether we needed to do something about it. The underlying policy questions surrounding the new tax were rich and complex ones, including: do we really want to have another uncontrolled commodity boom and are we prepared to slow its progress? This is a political heresy in a country with a history of spectacular booms and busts, where voters hate the busts but are even more determined to enjoy the booms without constraint. The idea of deliberately restraining the speed of a boom runs the risk of being seen of depriving Australia of its one and only chance for economic greatness. This point emerged in a recent interview with the Western Australian premier Colin Barnett on Lateline. Asked whether he was suggesting resources would simply be left in the ground if the resource super profits tax was introduced, Barnett gave an honest but illuminating response. “No, they won’t,” he said, “but if I take the West Australian example, I believe there is a realistic $170 billion worth of mining and petroleum projects that could get underway in the next five to seven years. “Now my estimate is that the state will lose about a quarter of those. In other words, Western Australia’s not going to go into recession. It will continue to grow strongly, but the spin-off benefits will not be as great as they could have been. And that’s a tragedy for Australia.” Yet consider the contentious issues on the other side of the boom equation. The downside of a commodities boom is very fast growth that pushes up the exchange rate, interest rates and inflation; sucks in high levels of immigration; swallows slabs of the skilled workforce; and puts pressure on our cities, infrastructure and water, whether we are ready for those pressures or not. These are issues that are exercising the minds in the Reserve Bank and the federal Treasury, for starters. We are simply not managing to keep up with the demands of the resources boom on the economy as they currently stand, let alone if they escalate. But these sorts of issues never got a go in this debate. This is perhaps a result of the speed of spin. The news cycle has sped up, the agenda has exploded and, with it, the time in which journalists can devote to really getting into any particular issue has shrunk. Most issues in politics these days are one-day wonders. In the case of the resources tax, it was easy for the media – and useful for both the federal opposition and the mining sector – to concentrate the debate on the processes of discussion, rather than on the tax itself. After all, the tax was unbelievably complex; its exact impact on individual companies was unclear for the very reason that many issues did remain open for negotiation with the government. Jonathan Holmes wrote on the ABC’s The Drum website recently, that it’s been too easy for the media to engage in what has been called “he said, she said” journalism on this issue rather than work out what it all means for themselves or, more importantly, provide any authoritative independent guide to what the tax was all about and a way of assessing the
How Kevin fell (on Twitter) When Kevin Rudd was toppled, the Twitterverse was first with the news. What will be its role in the next election, asks John Bergin. Cartoons, Jon Kudelka and Peter Broelman
A It’s been too easy for the media to engage in what has been called ‘he said, she said’ journalism on this issue rather than work out what it all means for themselves… various claims made about it. This job should only become more important when the government, as the proponent of the idea, dismally fails to explain it. Without a doubt, a government regarded as being too obsessed with the short-term news and spin cycle had been floundering under the weight of a sustained argument for which it was not well equipped. Equally, the mining industry – boosted by some key strategists from the previous Howard government – had run an exceptionally smooth spin campaign. As my Australian Financial Review colleague Louise Dodson documented, the miners adopted much of the working style of a political campaign office. During a daily early morning phone hook-up of minerals industry insiders, “the media message is polished, focus group polling is dissected and advertising is planned for radio, television and print,” she wrote. The miners managed to deflect attention from the fact they didn’t want to pay more tax by talking glibly about their desire for tax reform (and only making it apparent on background that “reform” to them meant paying less tax). While they complained bitterly about attacks on their honesty by the Rudd government, they also engaged in a ruthless campaign to ensure smaller miners did not break away from the larger miners’ political attack. They also used the small, interwoven network of company directors in Australia to ensure other business sectors did not come out to support either the resource rent tax, or the proposals to cut company tax and make other tax reforms funded by the resource tax. As a member of the Canberra press gallery, which is always being criticised for being too “up” one government or another, or too focused on politics as a game, I was depressed at the way the political end of this story was reported, but truly gobsmacked by the proselytising nature of the copy churned out by mining and business writers. For example, while the government’s preparedness to consult with the industry was dismissed as a fiction, a joke and a chimera, the industry’s refusal to concede any ground was seen as a perfectly legitimate position. Whatever the government’s significant flaws, the mining industry was treated in this debate without the degree of scepticism which might be applied to a rent seeker, and instead with the respect applied to a “stakeholder”. And the media did not serve its readers and viewers particularly well.
lmost 20 years ago, it took Paul Keating two challenges and his resignation as federal treasurer to oust Bob Hawke, the most electorally successful prime minister in Australian Labor’s history. It was a slow-boil story six months in the making. Now Kevin Rudd has the dubious distinction of being the second Labor prime minister knifed, and the first to be dumped by a party before completing a first term. Rudd’s dumping was the second federal leadership spill within the space of a year to be covered extensively on the micro-blogging and social networking service Twitter (the first was Malcolm Turnbull). Twitter was informing its users of happenings in Canberra’s halls of power at a speed television, radio and print couldn’t hope to match. One of the first signals that a Rudd leadership crisis was afoot came in 140 characters or less. “Kevin Rudd’s leadership is under siege tonight from some of the Labor Party’s most influential factional warlords. Watch ABC News. NOW!” tweeted ABC News 24 political editor Chris Uhlmann on the Wednesday evening. It was just one missile in an opening salvo from the public broadcaster that broke the story wide open: Labor’s factional powerbrokers were on the verge of ousting Kevin Rudd in favour of his deputy Julia Gillard, a leftwinger from the outer western suburbs of Melbourne. As the night wore on, it became a clear that Rudd, who had gone from soaring approval ratings to nosediving popularity in the space of two and a half years, was in for the chop. “Text from Labor MP: ‘it’s done. There will be a new PM tomorrow’,” tweeted 2UE political reporter Latika Bourke. “Cabinet source: it’s all over, Gillard-Swan ticket has the numbers locked in,” wrote Sky News political editor David Speers. When the Labor caucus finally decided on Rudd’s fate the next day, the “Twitterverse” was the first to know the outcome. “Labor MP text: it’s Julia no ballot,” wrote News Limited’s Samantha Maiden. The brief message quickly found its way onto newsreaders’ lips and was dropped into wire copy. The breakneck pace of the strike on Rudd’s prime ministership was only intensified by the immediacy of the real-time web. All this foreshadows one salient truth: Australia can look forward to a federal election that will be conducted and covered via social media in ways previously unknown. u
Laura Tingle is the political editor of the Australian Financial Review
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u The first hint that online activities would play an increasing role in political life came in 2004, when a techsavvy, US Democrats campaign manager called Joe Trippi used the internet, blogs and social media services to raise funds and support for presidential hopeful Howard Dean. And Twitter itself first shot to prominence as a political tool when Barack Obama’s campaign team used it extensively in the 2008 race to the White House. It was a handful of avid tweeters, particularly Annabel Crabb, which helped cement Twitter in the Australian political lexicon. The backchannel that has developed around Question Time is an online equivalent of a coffee klatch, with the most unlikely participants. Search for the hashtag “#qt” – used to aggregate Twitter commentary – on any given sitting day and you’ll discover an online space inhabited by a motley assortment of press gallery journalists, wonks, bloggers, incognito staffers, satirists and politically engaged citizens. Also joining this theatre are the politicians themselves, who regularly trade barbs on matters of policy and performance both inside and outside the chamber. When questions surrounding the Liberal leadership rose to a crescendo in November last year, Twitter was a natural fit for reporting the fast pace of events, with journalists roaming parliament house and recording our politicians’ every move. At the same time, we saw politicians use Twitter to send signals to their own party. The first sign that Joe Hockey’s support for an emissions trading scheme was wavering came when he used social media to canvass the public’s views on the matter.
It’s a safe bet that politicians… will use the likes of Twitter in an effort to bypass journalists and commentators and communicate directly with the public While traditional mediums such as television, radio and print are somewhat hamstrung by their linear design, the real-time web can explode into a constellation of opinion, commentary and analysis thanks to the unassuming hyperlink. Links to images, documents, audio and video – and, of course, people – give social media seemingly limitless dimension and freedom of movement. Journalist and academic Julie Posetti has written extensively about the way the Liberal leadership spill played out online and is confident that the next election will be “Twitterised”. “Twitter will be a platform for citizen journalism, interactive political reporting and engagement between politicians, voters, analysts and the fourth estate,” she says. “It will also be a reporting, news gathering, commentary and news dissemination platform for individual journalists and media outlets.” Former digital director for Malcolm Turnbull, Thomas Tudehope, says the recent leadership contests demonstrate the rising prominence of social media in mainstream political discourse. “For journalists the rise of social media, and in particular Twitter, will dramatically alter the way in which they will cover fast-paced election campaigns,” he says. Tudehope says that Twitter is already used to sound out ideas and provide observations, colour and atmospherics to stories that might otherwise fall by the wayside. “Some journalists often use Twitter to test a story or provide a tidbit of information that is not substantive enough for a full-length story but of interest to the community,” he adds. But while some have suggested social media will reshape political participation and coverage, others believe such predictions may be premature. Freelance writer, blogger and prolific political tweeter Malcolm Farnsworth
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says aside from the obvious benefits of the immediacy and the personal linkages it creates, social media is yet to have a significant impact on the way Australian political events play out. “Being able to exchange the odd snippet of chat with a well-known politician, journalist, television or radio host or blogger is all well and good, but unless this leads to something more substantial on- or off-line, I think it’s pretty shallow engagement,” he says. Blogger and Crikey political contributor Possum Comitatus sees the benefits of Twitter, but feels that its abilities are sometimes overstated. “Twitter certainly makes the media world smaller and faster but, ultimately, finding out that some event has occurred five minutes before it appears on Sky News or current affairs radio isn’t exactly a world-changing app,” he says. He adds that the medium, like any other, is only as good as its users. “Like most social media, it is what you make out of it – a source of info, an interactive community to socialise with, a platform to advertise your content, or simply a vehicle to vent spleen and annoy others with mindless rot,” he adds. While it’s true that Twitter’s speed is unrivalled, attempts by mainstream media to harness its wider appeal and impose structure have been met with mixed responses. The recent Twitter debate between the NSW premier Kristina Keneally, state opposition leader Barry O’Farrell and Greens MP Lee Rhiannon left many people bewildered by its chaotic nature. Farnsworth says the debate, organised by Nine Network state political reporter Kevin Wilde, is a classic example of a traditional media outlet thinking it could migrate a television debate into the realm of social media. “No-one has yet come up with a method for integrating social media with traditional methods,” he says. Stephen Spencer, Network Ten chief-of-staff in the Canberra press gallery, says that the exercise “shows [Twitter] hasn’t got a hope of ever replacing traditional media.” But while Tudehope admits that social media may not supplant mainstream media any time soon, at its peak it can be at least as competitive as television and radio. “Political tragics were glued to their Twitter stream, not to their TV, for the latest news on the spill,” he says. It’s a safe bet that politicians, now mindful of how both spills unfolded online, will use the likes of Twitter in an effort to bypass journalists and commentators and communicate directly with the public. “Ultimately, [Twitter] gives people a much larger opportunity to make a ****head out of themselves – which we’ve already seen with some journalists and will undoubtedly see with political candidates at the election,” quips Possum. John Bergin is digital news director for Sky News Australia Jon Kudelka is a freelance cartoonist; kudelka.com.au Peter Broelman is a freelance cartoonist and 2009 Stanleys cartoonist of the year
FUTURE OF JOURNALISM
The poll with three heads It was the closest UK general election in decades, and the Twitterverse was agog – but it was old-media television that people turned to for the story, writes Robert Wainwright. Cartoons by Andrew Weldon and Lindsay Foyle
hen it comes to election-night coverage, I’m a political tragic – happiest alone in a lounge room in front of the TV where I can concentrate on the unfolding ballot-box drama. It is the one time when politicians, confronted by the realities of numbers, drop the shackles of spin and admit their fears of loss or utter cautious claims of victory. Votes mount, count percentages climb and seats hold or fall. Analysts predict, retract and call again. The tension builds and by midnight you usually get a pretty good feel for who is going to get the keys to 10 Downing Street. So it was with much anticipation that I switched on the BBC coverage of the UK election in May to watch the expected demise of Labour, the return of the Tories and the rise of the Liberal-Democrats. There was presenter David Dimbleby – suave, silver and understated – who’d fronted election nights since the 1970s, and the abrasive Newsnight host Jeremy Paxton, backed up by an array of visual technology, splashing exit poll results predicting a hung parliament on the tower of Big Ben and even counting the flagstone steps along Downing Street to the door of No.10. But the whole thing fell flat. By midnight just three of the parliament’s 650 seats had been declared, the only drama a rush by one northern council to declare in record time. Others would not even begin tallying until the next morning, rendering Paxton’s attack-dog questions almost meaningless and leaving the technological flagstones loitering at the top of Downing Street. Internet and social media coverage concentrated on concerns about voters being turned away at some booths because of varying interpretations of voting laws by local officials – the confusion caused by a clearly antiquated electoral system which panders to role play and village hall tradition rather than the increasing complexities of modern politics. The excitement only began to mount early the next afternoon as the flagstones filled step-by-step for David Cameron, falling agonisingly short of the glossy black door as Dimbleby, still suave and silver 18 hours after the broadcast began, declared the exit polls had been unerringly accurate. Then the human drama began. It would take a week for Gordon Brown to yield to the inevitable bitter divorce from the British public as David Cameron and Nick Clegg agreed to an unenviable marriage of convenience. The BBC, Sky and ITV camped on the lawns of Westminster Square where coverage was
maintained by a constant line of commentators; as one columnist later wrote, reporters “flitted like crazed pigeons between 19thcentury buildings… pecking nuggets of spin from the ether.” Newspapers – whose pre-election coverage mostly lacked policy rigour in favour of overt partisanship – dwelt on analysis of the previous day’s negotiations and what might happen. Websites, many with rolling screens of updates, were left scrambling to fill uneasy gaps or were forced into bold predictions, such as a memorable announcement by one news site of an agreement in principle between Cameron and Clegg, only to be swamped an hour later by Brown’s announcement that he would resign as the UK’s prime minister to help secure a Labour coalition with Clegg’s Liberal-Democrats. There had been enormous anticipation in the election build-up about the role of social media, much of which did not exist when the last election was held in 2005. But the impact was limited, perhaps even peripheral, and certainly far from influential. Facebook’s triumph was that 14,000 users downloaded voter registration forms in the lead-up to the election while roughly 30,000 Twitter users (around the same number as for a soccer match) were active during the three leaders’ debates. The consensus post-election was that Twitter was used mainly by party hacks to mobilise supporters or generate disquiet, such as the Tory attempt to discredit Nick Clegg – #nickcleggsfault – in the wake of his clear first debate victory. Cameron told The Guardian newspaper: “I’m not on Facebook, I don’t tweet. Social media, I don’t really get. Politically I know it’s a great opportunity; personally, I don’t want to be ‘poked’ or whatever it is.” There is no doubt that social media has its role in speeding up news cycles. It’s used by many old-media journalists to update fastbreaking stories and it’s engaging more people than ever before. But the evidence of its actual influence is confusing and, at least for now, a measure is virtually impossible. One site, The Media Blog, reported a survey of 1055 users which concluded that almost 70 per cent of the respondents read more newspapers or watched more TV because of the election, and 82 per cent said social media such as Facebook and Twitter had been the cause of their involvement. Another firm, Echo Research, described the use of social media as “game changing” and claimed 50 per cent of people turned to the u internet for their information. Facebook,
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u it said without providing evidence, minister) Nick Clegg stood on camera had been better at addressing policy between Gordon Brown and David such as health and the economy than Cameron, quite literally, as a bridge traditional media. between the two extremes. The idea of a new political direction Yet their survey of 1024 voters also became the dominating narrative for showed that face-to-face discussions at the last weeks of the campaign. In the the pub far outweighed social media as end, voters decided Clegg wasn’t the being influential, and that television was white Obama the polls’ bounce after the the most trusted source of information, first debate had suggested. But despite with more than a third of those actually losing seats, the Lib Dems held surveyed saying TV was more important the balance of power, and now valuable in 2010 than five years before. cabinet posts, highlighting the danger of By comparison, British media research mainstream media such as newspapers, company Dollywagon concluded: which had previously largely ignored “Twitter doesn’t seem to have rocked Clegg, in over-filtering their views. the boat too much ... Twitter’s role in Veteran British television presenter the election campaign was limited to Jon Snow insisted the internet would providing an outlet for partisan views “augment” but never replace television and the sharing of General Election news, declaring: “New media is more ‘Oh my God’ moments.” The consensus post-election was that Twitter dependent on what we do now than it The biggest gaffe of the campaign was 10 years ago. Google did not put was in the dying days when Gordon was used mainly by party hacks to mobilise the helicopter above Downing Street Brown was caught on an open supporters or generate disquiet when [Gordon Brown’s] car departed microphone referring to voter Gillian for the palace. It’s all about content, Duffy as a bigot. Again, it was a content, content and people forget that at their peril ... It’s no good thinking moment created by television and enhanced by radio. YouTube reported citizen journalists are going to tip out on to Downing Street and give us HD less than 60,000 views. Likewise the debates, a first for a UK election, pictures of Mr Brown leaving Downing Street.” which turned a flagging campaign into the most exciting in memory and Peter Kirwan, writing for The Guardian, concluded: “The new [media] confirmed the power of television. There were 330,000 YouTube viewers ways remain weaker, and less influential, than anyone guessed. On dangerous for the first debate but that fell away to a handful for the second and third. ground, the old ways persist.” By comparison, the Britain’s Got Talent clips over the same period each got between two and three million hits. The debates themselves were not only new to Britain but raised the notion that Robert Wainwright is a London-based senior writer for The Sydney Morning the election was a more complex proposition than a fight between the leaders Herald and a two-time Walkley finalist of the two major parties. The Liberal-Democrats were not just a third wheel in Andrew Weldon is a freelance cartoonist the system but an acknowledged force, and their leader (and now deputy prime Lindsay Foyle is a freelance cartoonist and writer
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Power to the people The internet will not save journalism, but John Nichols believes demanding citizens can. Cartoon by Reg Lynch
henever a new technology disrupts old ways of communicating, be it the printing press, the radio transmitter or satellite dish, there is a tendency to imagine that the change will transform things for the better. But as anyone who has watched television devolve into the “vast wasteland” Newton Minow warned us of back in 1961 knows, technologies never deliver us to the promised land. People decide, through their consumer choices and through their political decisions about regulatory and spending policies, whether a new technology serves the common good or undermines it. That’s certainly true of the internet. There is no question that Australians – like Americans – are getting more and more of their information from websites. Nor is there any question that the web has the potential to enrich and expand our democratic discourse and democracy itself. But there are no guarantees that the shifting media landscape will foster the sort of journalism and debate that nourishes a vibrant and engaged civic and political life. In fact, there is reason to be genuinely concerned about whether the internet can fill the journalism void left as newspapers and broadcast news outlets collapse due to falling revenues. Newspaper journalism, the traditional source of original news at the local, state and national levels, is in meltdown in the US. The nation’s newspapers continue to shed as many as 1000 employees every month and major dailies such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (now online only) and Denver’s Rocky Mountain News have shut their doors. In fact, more than 140 newspapers closed in 2009 alone. What citizens should be asking is not whether the future will be digital. That question has already been answered. Digital it is. The real questions are these: 1. To what extent is original journalism produced for the web replacing the print journalism that has been lost? 2. If the answer is that the journalism is insufficient, what do we the people need to do to defend our democratic discourse? Earlier this year, we got an answer to the first of those questions, and it was unsettling. The “How News Happens” study of news gathering and reporting in Baltimore, Maryland, was released on January 11 by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Baltimore was well chosen. It’s a large US city with a diverse population and major universities that are on the cutting edge of technological innovation. As such, it offers a range of media, both old and new. What the Pew study found was that the vast majority of new information, or “enterprise reporting”, is still generated by old media, especially the city’s daily newspaper, the Sun. In fact, only about five per cent of the news stories that Pew says “tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media
outlets” were generated by new media blogs and specialised websites. But this hardly justifies a chorus of hosannas from the battered newsrooms of Baltimore – or New York or Melbourne or Sydney. Why? Because the Pew study also confirms a point that has been overlooked for far too long: The collapse of journalism is not due to the arrival of Google or the internet or even the Great Recession. It began before the internet posed any credible threat to the advertising base or circulation of newspapers. Pew determined that the Sun’s hollowed-out newsroom is producing 32 per cent fewer original stories on any subject than it did in 1999, and 73 per cent fewer stories than in 1991. The internet may be accelerating the deterioration of traditional commercial media, but it is neither the cause of nor the solution for the problem of disappearing journalism. There can be no serious question that the numbers Pew found for Baltimore are essentially the same for virtually every community across the United States. And meeting with union activists at the World Congress of
Journalism should best be understood as a public good… like national defence, national parks or public education the International Federation of Journalists in Spain in May confirmed for me that the challenges faced in the US are being experienced – although not always so severely – in other countries. While researching a new book on the crisis in American media, my colleague Bob McChesney and I determined that the digital age, for all its revolutionary effects and democratic potential, does not guarantee that we will have journalism in the 21st century. In other words, Baltimore’s circumstance is America’s – and potentially that of much of the rest of the world. The reason is simple: Doing journalism requires resources to pay, first and foremost, for skilled labour. The internet has no solution for the vexing problem of generating and sustaining commercially viable journalism online and, truth be told, it probably never will. That is because journalism should best be understood as a public good. It is something our society desperately needs, and that people want, but that the market cannot adequately produce. In this respect it is like national defence, national parks or public education. In the past 125 years, advertising has provided the lion’s share of revenues to support journalism, which obscured this reality because it made us think the market would always generate sufficient news. But advertising, especially classified advertising, u
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u was never attracted to journalism per se, and it has discovered superior routes for reaching consumers. Now that advertising is on the way out the door, journalism is back to where it was for the first several generations of the American republic. What did Americans do then? They instituted enormous postal and printing subsidies to spawn a vastly larger (and independent) newspaper industry than would have existed otherwise. The American government, from Washington and Madison and Jefferson to Jackson and Lincoln, all simply assumed that the subsidies were mandatory to have the calibre of press required by a self-governing society. They were right then, and we would be wise to draw from them as we struggle to get out of our current crisis. Our political debate needs to turn rapidly to studying and considering ways to use public money to create a viable independent and competitive non-profit and non-commercial news media sector. If we do so, experience in Europe suggests it will also create an environment in which commercial news media will be able to prosper. As resources for journalism decline, there will still be news, but it will increasingly be lightly edited or even unedited material, much of which will be highly sophisticated, generated by governments, businesses and other self-interested parties. Our research indicates that the ratio of public relations officials to journalists has gone from just over 1 to 1 in 1980 to nearly 4 to 1 today. Unless we change course we are about to enter a golden age for propaganda and spin. A coherent understanding of social affairs will be impossible to establish. It will be a dream world for charlatans, demagogues and conspiracy theorists. And here’s a final disturbing fact from the Pew study. Of the news stories that shaped the agenda in Baltimore during the survey period, only 14 per cent were categorised as coming from the grassroots – from real people expressing real concerns which were then covered by old and new media. The vast majority of the stories, 86 per cent, had as their primary source powerful economic and political interests that were seeking to spin the discussion
The ratio of public relations officials to journalists has gone from just over 1 to 1 in 1980 to nearly 4 to 1 today to favour their point of view or, quite frequently, were out to shape the discussion so that only their point of view was seen as credible. That’s a controlled discourse. It is not what any responsible American should desire. And it is something that responsible citizens of other countries should fear – both because of America’s immense power on the planet, and because so many other countries are now asking, or soon will ask: If the internet is not going to save journalism – and democracy – what will? The answer will be looking them in the mirror. Only organised and engaged citizens, who refuse to permit the disappearance of independent and aggressive journalism, will assure that they have the information to govern their own affairs. If citizens do not organise, if they do not get engaged, then power – both economic and ideological – will shape our discourse, to a greater extent than ever before. And the 21st century will become a daunting time that rewrites George Orwell. The fear will no longer be that “big brother is watching us”. The fear will be that we are watching big brother – a media system that entertains us, that occupies our time, that tells us what to think but that never provides us with quite enough information or analysis so that we can think for ourselves. John Nichols is the political writer for The Nation magazine and co-author with Robert McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism (Basic Books, $46.95). Reg Lynch is a regular cartoonist for The Sun-Herald and Boss magazine
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Get ready: The news is coming Harry Dugmore is helping to put the journalism back into citizen journalism, and it’s working
an democracy work and good government happen without local media? The two are not the same thing, of course. Authoritarian governments can get the trains to run on time, and tip-top democracies can still have badly run councils. A double whammy is to have both low levels of democratic participation (even though people might vote once every five years), and poor government services. In many parts of South Africa, we have both whammies. Can local media, or ‘community’ media, make a difference? And if it does, how does it do that? Our general experience in South Africa is that community media does make a difference, if only to make graft, corruption and inefficiency slightly more likely to be exposed. A more specific example, of Grahamstown, reinforces this “gut feel” that good local journalism can play both watchdog and more proactive, get-people-involved roles. In Grahamstown, a city of 100,000 people, we enjoy a twice-a-week community newspaper, Grocott’s Mail, which has been going now for 140 years. Anecdotally at least, many believe that the reasonable performance of our local council and police – compared to others in South Africa – might have something to do with the volume of coverage by Grocott’s Mail. But how can local media achieve greater volumes of credible journalism that is good enough to make a difference? To be commercially viable, most community papers (and of course even most commercial papers) run on razor-thin staff complements. It is hard to get one reporter to a council meeting, let alone cover all the sub-committees. That’s where citizen journalism could play a huge role. When our Iindaba Ziyafika (“the news is coming”) project won a substantial three-year grant from the US-based Knight Foundation, the idea was to create and explore modus operandi that might have some useful lessons for elsewhere in the world. The term citizen journalism has always been controversial. But we take the view that journalism, citizen or otherwise, has to adhere to some of the norms of short-form news journalism. Citizen journalists have to learn that stories need to be “told” (so a short narrative needs to be constructed) and that the story needs to give as full a picture as possible about the subject matter, and still be as fair and balanced as it can be. Fullness, or at least adequate context, comes from focusing on the basics of who, what, where, when and how. Fairness stems, in part, from being open about your motive (why you the writer, or the paper, or both, are running the story), balance (not just covering the bad stuff), multiple sourcing (“one source is no source” is one of our mantras) and affording a clear right of reply. None of these is easy to do, but getting it mostly right means you have a much better chance of creating the kind of stories that readers are more likely to trust and act on.
Two young citizen journalists, part of the Iindaba Zifyafika Schools Outreach Program.
We want our writers to not just write about what is wrong, but to ask and explore how it is to be fixed Achieving this is not easy. In our experience, papers that want to do this need to provide a fair amount of training and, harder still, need to seed something of a “community of practice”. This concept, coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, suggests that ongoing learning takes place best in groups where new knowledge and approaches can be easily shared, and where the sense of belonging to a group is a critical spur to a sense of identity, the development of which is the key to mastery in any profession. We offer our citizen journalists 20 hours of training over six weeks. The training focuses first on story selection – what is important, what is happening, what can be changed. Then we spend a lot of time on finding sources and interviewing skills. Many trainees are amazed that there are people whose job it is to talk to the media, and that they will talk to our CJs, especially if they develop some credibility with those sources. Then we talk about how to achieve balance and fairness. But we also talk about going just that bit further than “standard”, “objective” commercial media pieces, to working out ways to create more “empowering” and “solution orientated” stories. We want our writers to not just write about what is wrong, but to ask and explore how it is to be fixed. Better still, follow up, and follow up some more (something many papers have become poor at) until something happens! Post-training, we now also provide a dedicated citizen journalism editor and we encourage the most promising citizen journalists from each course (about 30 people complete each course) to attend diary meetings. We’ve also created our own citizen journalism diary meetings. And we pay for published articles and photos. It is a very modest amount, R100 (around $15) for a published article, but in a town where more than one in two people are unemployed (and for youth under 30, unemployment is two out of three), u this can and is becoming a useful way to get some additional income.
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u Of course, when hearing about our approach a lot of people throw up their hands and say, okay, wait a second, your so-called citizen journalists are trained, there is post-training mentoring, their copy is edited and fact checked, stories are paid for, and you even encourage them to join diary meetings with all the pros – how is this not just journalism en masse, rather than citizen journalism? And if they are producing good stories, that make some difference, how is this not just a way of generating cheap copy? How is this not exploitative? And when the Knight Foundation grant is gone, how could you afford to give volunteers 20 hours of training, payment for stories and photos, and a sense of belonging to a group of people with an emerging quasi-professional identity? (Yes, we give our citizen journalists press cards.) These are all good questions, but these citizen journalists remain dedicated and committed, some now for more than a year, because they know how to craft stories that do ‘get things done’. (Most often it is by shaming local officials into doing their jobs better, or getting local police to stop using the disabled parking bays when doing their grocery shopping!) They also get some of the collegiality and conviviality that comes from a work-like experience. Many are unemployed, but some have jobs and want to make a difference. About four or five people in each training group really get into it, and are we working hard to figure out why that is, and how to up these numbers. Our first courses in 2009 produced few viable stories and little long-term interest. It was only when we created a more holistic experience, honed in on the training and the post-training ‘space’ to build confidence and start creating some sense of identity as citizen journalists, that we started to see more regular contributions and, even more gratifyingly, some great journalism. Taken overall, our approach has produced about 70 published stories we would not otherwise have had in the past six months. It’s early days, but watch this space – it might yet be filled with citizen journalism some day. Professor Harry Dugmore is MTN Chair of Media and Mobile Communications at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. For examples of citizen journalism produced by the Iindaba Ziyafika project, see www.grocotts.co.za/category/section/mymakana
Knight crusades for journalism Document clouds, cartoons, games and social media for Marines; winners of the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge prove innovation comes in many guises, writes Flynn Murphy
n the US, they know how to do things big. The people are bigger. The environmental disasters are bigger. And not-for-profit funding of innovative new media projects is commensurate in size. The Knight Foundation, the Miami-based patron saint of new media, has dished out US$2.74 million in grants to the winners of its annual News Challenge this quarter. Out of around 2400 applicants, 12 promising projects will share the sum in the fourth round of a five-year international contest that funds proposals which tap the interactive and collaborative potential of digital technology, and “promote informed, engaged communities”. “The free flow of shared information is essential for communities to function in a democracy,” says Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen. “More each day, the information flows through and because of digital technology.” This year’s winning ideas include an authoring tool which produces game equivalents of editorial cartoons for use in online publications, a collaborative way for the public to pitch and pay for stories on public radio, and a project to document the experiences of US Marines deployed in Afghanistan using social media. A running theme across the years has been hyperlocality, with local wikis, dynamic maps, and EveryBlock – a site which functions as a geographic filter for news, organising civic information (from public works to crime rates), news articles (from mass media to local blogs) and elements of social media (such as pictures from Flickr albums) into neighbourhood-based feeds.
JAMES BRICKWOOD James Brickwood has been named the Photography Winner in the Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards for his work in The Sun Herald.
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Among this year’s recipients is Teru Kuwayama, a photographer who has spent many years shooting conflict and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and Iraq, both independently and as an embedded journalist. His project, One-Eight, will use the social web to document the lives of a battalion of Marines deployed in Afghanistan. “At best, I’m an accidental journalist, and I’m certainly not a technologist,” Kuwayama tells The Walkley Magazine from California. “I spent my earlier years in the punk/hardcore scene, and the raw, independent, DIY ethos of that community was formative for me,” he says, adding that much of his work is about bypassing conventional media channels to “communicate through open, digital networks.” But Kuwayama is well aware of the inevitable ethical issues surrounding his project. “Concerns about compromising ‘operational security’ or being used as a ‘tool of propaganda’ aren’t fundamentally different on the web than they are in print. It’s the same old diatribe about the perils of embedded journalism.” And he shuns the misconception that he is simply coding a military version of Facebook or Twitter. “They exist already. There’s no need to replicate them.” Following a landmark decision by the US Department of Defense earlier this year, many Marines already use social media. The question Kuwayama is asking is how this can be used to create a more complete picture of the deployment, and inform the wider discourse on US foreign policy and onthe-ground military issues. But that’s only if troops in Southern Afghanistan can secure access to the internet, he adds. Another of the big winners this year is The Cartoonist, a project to develop a simple and free tool to create the game equivalent of editorial cartoons, for use in online publications. One of the creators of The Cartoonist is Ian Bogost, an associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology who researches the expressive power of games and their potential use in journalism. He says it has been hard to establish the legitimacy of his work. “Games are just a medium, like writing or moving images. They can do many things.” Nobody would wholly dismiss the mediums of writing, photography or video as ‘mindless escapes’, he explains, but they tend to do this with computer games. “The trick with any medium is to know when to use it and why. Cartoons have a proven track record in drawing in readers, particularly in relation to local issues.” Bogost says most online journalism is really just a digitised form of traditional journalism: text, audio, video. He explains computers are capable of much more than this – they can simulate systems and behaviours. In a time of frenzied budget-slashing in traditional media, some fear Bogost is creating a tool which will take the jobs of professional cartoonists. This is a concern aired in comments on his blog. But Bogost says it was the fact that the jobs of traditional cartoonists are already in danger that caused him and his partner Michael Mateas to conceive the project, which he hopes will “contribute to the extension and reinvention of editorial cartooning in an interactive form.” “It’s important to be very attentive to the purposes and traditions that we want to continue culturing, and to extend them into the future. If we succeed, it will have been because we’re helping to bring back the role of the cartoonist, albeit in a somewhat different form”. One of the great Knight Foundation success stories has been DocumentCloud, which took out a two-year grant of more than US$700,000 in 2009. DocumentCloud is developing free open-source software, and creating a community of journalists which use it, in order to turn primary source material into web-published, archivable data which can be dynamically searched and shared. “DocumentCloud came from the realisation that the reason journalists are not sharing primary source documents isn’t because they don’t want to, but because there isn’t a suitable technology that enables them to do so easily,” says Aron Pilhofer, one of the creators of the project. The self-described journalist-turned-designer is better known as editor of interactive news technologies at The New York Times.
Ian Bogost’s authoring tool The Cartoonist, developed with Michael Mateas, will use interactive games to extend cartooning into the online sphere. Photo by Gary Meek.
“It’s important to be very attentive to the purposes and traditions that we want to continue culturing, and to extend them into the future” “DocumentCloud, I hope, will replace the tried-and-true methods of document-based journalism, which normally means a highlighter, notebook and Post-it notes.” Pilhofer and his team hope to create a world where the piles of coffeestained Freedom of Information documents gathering dust in newsrooms across the world become part of a searchable pool that anyone can access, highlight and tag. But he says the design challenge is to make the interface intuitive enough that journalists will make the switch. This means including optical character recognition to make even the fuzziest PDF documents searchable, and entity extraction, which means automatically tagging all the people, locations, dates and companies within the document for easy indexing. DocumentCloud will also make it easy to publish source documents alongside a story, as well as providing for annotations which will draw readers to whichever parts journalists think are important, and show off their hard work. “Transparency is a major emphasis for government right now in the States, and we think it should be for media as well.” Anyone will be able to download the DocumentCloud software and start their own cloud. It is the professional community of users which contribute a level of accountability. “The general public will be able to search any and all public documents in our repository, but only those organisations and individuals that meet certain criteria will be able to actually upload documents.” “The vast majority will be news organisations, watchdog organisations and public archives – groups that have a vested interest in ensuring the documents they commit are newsworthy and advance the public’s knowledge about important issues of the day. And those groups will need to be willing to stand behind the documents they upload and publish.” So far, close to 100 news organisations have signed up to the project, with 4500 documents submitted and 154,000 pages processed. Pilhofer says news organisations have started publishing the documents, citing the example of a Chicago Tribune investigation into corruption allegations against former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevic. Flynn Murphy is a journalist for the Media Alliance
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Getting the bigger picture On assignment in Haiti, Richard Moran stopped his camera and manhandled concrete to help save a child’s life
s a cameraman, my job is to film events and not be a part of them. It’s very rare to put the camera down and get involved with what’s going on in front of you. But that’s what happened earlier this year when Robert Penfold and I were in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the country and its capital Port-au-Prince. Two days in and the theme was depressingly familiar: death and destruction. There was no reason to think day three would be any different as we set up to interview an Australian aid worker at the Save The Children offices. While we were getting ready, some locals told us that a child was alive under the rubble of a nearby housing block. We raced over to the site and found a man crouched down in a hole among the building’s ruins. He put his finger to his lips and we heard for ourselves the muffled cries coming from underneath the concrete. During the past two days we had not seen any trained rescue teams on the ground. There was no-one to call for. It became apparent that if this child were to be saved, the people standing above him or her would have to do it. Deiby Celestino was our translator and fixer on this trip. It’s an important job in countries where language and access can be difficult, but now an even more important (and potentially dangerous) job lay ahead for him. As Deiby started to move bits of concrete in an attempt to create an opening, I filmed his progress, as did another Australian TV crew. I can remember Rob asked him as he worked if he thought he could succeed. He said, “I don’t know but I am going to try.” I admit I thought his chance of success was pretty slim, but I also reasoned that a coordinated effort to move rubble might help and it would be better if someone gave him a hand. So I stopped rolling tape and started to help him. There was an obvious question: What happens if the rescue is successful and you have nothing to show for it on camera? Luckily the other TV crew realised the seriousness of the situation and offered to share any footage shot from then on. For all the talk of rivalry out on the road (and it does exist), there are times when, hopefully, even us win-at-all-cost TV-types can work for the greater good. For about 20 minutes we threw pieces of concrete clear before Deiby uncovered the feet of a dead adult. There was still no visible sign of the child so I suggested to Deiby he call out “come here” in Creole in case he (or she) could crawl towards us. Deiby crawled back into the small gap that was opened and did just that. In what seemed like only a couple of seconds later, the tone of his voice changed as he called out, “Rich I have got this baby by the arms.” He emerged with a toddler, not crying, eyes wide open and possibly as stunned as we were. He passed the child to me and from there she was lifted to safety. For the few moments she was in my arms I was almost emotionally overwhelmed for probably the first time in my professional life. Not that there was time to savour what was an incredible moment. I had to quickly grab my camera and pick up where I had left off earlier. The little girl’s name was Winnie. She was about 18 months old and we learned she had lost her entire immediate family in the earthquake, which claimed more than 200,000 lives in total.
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Top: At first, Richard (in green shirt), filmed the rescue as his fixer Deiby Celestino shifted concrete. Above: There was exhilaration as Winnie was freed, and Richard picked up his camera again. Left: Winnie the day after, with Deiby and Richard.
For the few moments she was in my arms I was almost emotionally overwhelmed for probably the first time in my professional life
But Winnie had an uncle waiting for her above the ruins that day and, after a medical examination revealed she had suffered only scratches, she was received into the love and care of her extended family. The story of the Haiti earthquake was overwhelmingly one of tragedy and loss. I will always remember the hundreds of dead bodies on the streets and the faces of the devastated people who mourned them. But I will also remember the face of Winnie as she emerged from the black hole in the ruins that were once her home. Of course it’s a good feeling to know I played a small role in her rescue. But it’s an even better feeling to know that amid all that death and destruction there are, sometimes, good stories to be told. Richard Moran is a Walkley Award-winning cameraman for the Nine Network
Thailand’s murky political colours Reporting on the red-shirt riots in Bangkok was a particularly dangerous job for journalists, says Phil Thornton, and the forces behind the violence are still hidden in shadow A red-shirt anti-government protester is detained by Thai soldiers. Photo by David Dare Parker.
or journalists and photographers, getting close to the fighting, burning, bloodshed and mayhem during the red-shirt protests in Bangkok in May was easy. There were no rules or restrictions imposed, and that made it dangerous. Conflict-hardened photographers, international correspondents, local journalists, bloggers, inexperienced citizen journalists and sightseers were all able to circulate freely between the various warring factions in Bangkok – Thai government soldiers, the red-shirt protesters loyal to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and even the mysterious armed men in black. “Usually there are sides, like in the recent Sri Lanka troubles [where] journalists went with the government or Tamil rebels. Being in either of those spaces gives you an idea where the bullets are coming from. Here there were no battle lines. It was not a conventional conflict, there wasn’t any way to know who was shooting. I think that’s why we had so many [media] casualties,” says Marwaan Macan-Markar, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and the South-East Asia correspondent for Inter Press Service (IPS). The red-shirt leaders surrendered on May 19, but then protesters immediately began burning 38 Bangkok inner-city buildings including Central World, one of South-East Asia’s largest shopping complexes. As the buildings burned, the military and the red-shirt demonstrators intensified the battle they had waged on and off since April 10. When the smoke eventually cleared, 88 people were dead and another 1898 injured. It was a huge display of violence and a reminder of how serious the protesters were about destroying the current Thai government. The violence also proved deadly for journalists – two killed and at least six injured, two seriously. Some red-shirt protesters targeted local Thai media organisations. Channel 3 was attacked with firebombs and gangs of red shirts chased Bangkok Post and Post Today staff from their workplace, threatening payback for what they perceived as biased reporting. Channel 3 reporter Karuna Buakamsri described the experience in the International Herald Tribune. “Shaken by an explosion, I telephoned a government official and pleaded with him to send soldiers to evacuate us. But there was no time to wait. Through choking fumes and flames, my colleagues and I ran down nine flights of stairs, not knowing if the mob would be waiting for us at the bottom.” Many journalists, political pundits, academics and others have analysed Thailand’s last five years of protest as a class struggle between rich and poor, urban city elites versus poor rural farm workers, politically well-connected yellow shirts against the politically disenfranchised and downtrodden red shirts. Others on the margins of the political spectrum have tried to squeeze the conflict into whatever “ism” best reflected their own positions. International journalists came under attack from critics on both sides of the conflict and were accused of shallow reporting, a lack of understanding of the issues and showing bias to either the government or red shirts. To show how much the Thai government felt the international media got it wrong, on u
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u May 29 staff from the Thai prime minister’s office released an eight-page briefing paper called “Misperceptions of foreign media regarding the current situation in Thailand”. The international media also faced hostile editorials in local Thai newspapers; Thai television commentators and social media activists also attacked. Coverage by both the BBC and CNN was lambasted for being inaccurate, simplistic and of taking sides with the red shirts. Individual journalists were singled out for abuse and quickly became targets of social media hate campaigns. Some of the internet commentary made it dangerous for journalists to go out and cover the riot, as they were now targeted and vilified for “taking sides”. “One of the problems with social networking in this situation is that angry people who weren’t journalists could post a whole stream of hateful commentary against formal reporters. The internet became an avenue to target journalists. Genuine criticism is okay, but a witch-hunt, no,” says Macan-Markar. The Thai media did not escape criticism, either. Thai television stations were pilloried for showing a series of Thai soap operas during the heat of the battles instead of on-the-spot, in-depth coverage of the protests. The Thai Rath newspaper said the Thai public had to rely on foreign newspapers and television broadcasters for their news. But the simple black-and-white narratives initially used to explain Thailand’s political unrest soon crumbled as the deaths mounted. Evidence indicates that both Thailand’s yellow and red protest groups are being manipulated by powerful and well-connected forces which are prepared to use violence to get what they want. As an editorial in the Bangkok Post pointed out: “Someone organised it, someone funded it and someone supported it. And they should be punished.” Both sides have clearly branded their followers – red shirts for the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and yellow shirts for the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Both have powerful backers and substantial war chests to sustain, pay, transport and feed their supporters. Both groups have spent fortunes on creating their own media: cable television, community radio, magazines and welldesigned messages and slogans for signs, banners and T-shirts and other merchandise in both Thai and English. Thaksin is accused of being the proxy leader and chief bankroller of the UDD red shirts. The UDD’s occupation of central Bangkok in March came on the back of a decision by Thailand’s Supreme Court in late February to seize $1.4 billion of Thaksin’s money, leaving him with $900 million. The red shirts set out to emulate the success of the yellow-shirt protesters, who had hounded Thaksin out of office in 2006 by paralysing Bangkok with demonstrations, including closing its main airport. The yellow shirts are led by Sondhi Limthongkul, a media mogul and a one-time friend and supporter of Thaksin, who survived an assassination attempt in central Bangkok in 2009. They have a military strategist in Chamlong Srimuang, a former army general and former governor of Bangkok. Chamlong was also a political mentor to Thaksin during the early years of his government. Beneath the surface of Thai politics it’s murky and dangerous. During Thaksin’s leadership, 26 T H E W A L K L E Y M A G A Z I N E
Even long-term locally based journalists had trouble conveying what was going on. Parachute reporters were up against it from the moment they arrived state-orchestrated violence peaked. Amnesty International says that 2819 people were killed between February and April 2004 during Thaksin’s “war on drugs”. “Thaksin’s shoot-to-kill orders were widely implemented and the Interior Ministry was ordered to issue a blacklist [of drug dealers],” it reported. The tourist brochure and poor versus rich myths associated with Thailand initially gave journalists the substance and colour to add to their reporting and coverage of the Bangkok riots. The red-shirt strategists were quick to manipulate this and it soon became their catch-cry – “We’re peaceful demonstrators and we only want a free and fair election.” But the shadows told a different story. Former military men dressed in black were firing assault weapons and M79 grenades from the red side of the barricades at troops and other red-shirt opponents. Jim Pollard, an editor at The Nation newspaper, one of Bangkok’s two English language dailies, says the situation was indeed complex. “Even long-term locally based journalists had trouble conveying what was going on. Parachute reporters, just here for the conflict, were up against it from the moment they arrived. The red-shirt leaders
Above: A suspected red-shirt anti-government protester is detained by soldiers inside the red-shirt protest camp in Bangkok on May 19, 2010. Thai protest leaders surrendered and told thousands of red-shirt supporters to end their weeks-long rally after an army assault on their fortified encampment. Photo by David Dare Parker.
Opposite: Thai soldiers move into the red-shirt camp in Lumpini Park. Government forces used armoured personnel carriers to overrun barricades raised in and around the city centre by anti-government protesters. Photos by David Dare Parker and Jack Picone.
had positioned their struggle as a class war and it was nothing of the sort. It was not a huge rally of poor people against the Bangkok elite. That was a beat-up.” Pollard says there is a need for a number of stories to be investigated. “We need to know who bankrolled the protests, who paid the rioters, were there paid mercenaries, and who were the mysterious men in black?” The presence of these former soldiers was openly acknowledged by rogue army officer and red-shirt strategist Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), before he was killed by a sniper’s bullet. New York Times reporter Thomas Fuller was interviewing Seh Daeng when he was shot, and Fuller said at the time that it felt like the bullet grazed his head. Photojournalist Jack Picone had been filming Seh Daeng just 30 minutes before he was gunned down. “Of all the conflicts I covered this was very dangerous. All conflicts are different – thinking they’re all the same can get you killed or injured,” he says. Picone has covered violence in Rwanda, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Bosnia, Iraq and Sierra Leone. But he says the chaotic street battles made the Thai
conflict especially dangerous. He had no hesitation in wearing body armour. “I knew what was going on. I had covered it for about two months. I’d seen the armed thugs, the guys in black, the trucked-in naïve, harmless village people, lambs to the slaughter and the ranting leadership. The last four days were deadly. M79 grenades, shrapnel and sniping made it unpredictable. We could have died a couple of times. A bullet smashed into a steel door three inches from my head. “An international television reporter wanted me to confirm it was war. I disagreed with his definitions. He already had the story written in his head and just wanted someone to confirm it. It wasn’t war. It went beyond civil unrest. There were more than just two sides shooting at each other. You had snipers, M79s, pipe bombs, and many of the soldiers were young and inexperienced conscripts.” Scott Hornby, a London-based photographer with News International, said he was fortunate to have had friends in Thailand to brief him on the issues behind the conflict before he arrived for his threeday stint in Bangkok. “It was more messy than just city folk versus poor country folk. The lines were blurred, but we were made aware of the complexities.” u
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Can we shoot journalists? Jack Picone had a sniper’s view of the Bangkok riots I am in a Thai Army bunker face to face with a sniper. He looks ordinary enough and has a young, boyish face. He has a high-powered rifle with telescopic sights and next to him is another soldier who has high-tech binoculars. He speaks in a low, reverent tone, relaying information to the rifleman. His conversation seems like a code, a mixture of numbers and coordinates about wind, velocity and direction. It is chilling. The red shirts are about 200 metres up the road. They pop out of the side street and hurl one of their primitive improvised devices or launch one of their homemade rockets (fire crackers) that explode far short of the bunker I am in. I can’t help thinking that the army is replying with heavy-handed and disproportionate force. But then I hear the sickening whirl of incoming highvelocity bullets, coming close to the bunker, followed by the thump of M79 grenades. As the sniper listens to the directions his body becomes absolutely still, one eye closed tightly, the other plugged into the malleable eyecup of the telescopic sight, his index finger flitting between the guard that houses the trigger and the trigger itself. He listens intently to the murmur from his comrade sighting the red shirts through binoculars as they pop out from a side street, hurl a projectile or shout taunts at the soldiers. The sniper’s concentration is intense. Safety catch off, will he squeeze the trigger? A life hangs in the balance. No, the index finger moves slowly back to the trigger guard. I watch these micro moments repeated over and over again with great stress because I know that when he squeezes that trigger somebody is almost certainly going to die or be horribly maimed. His index finger slowly moves to the trigger, a slow, smooth, squeezing movement, then the explosion of the high-powered bullet. The sound is deafening. Ahead of the bunker, Rama IV Road, normally a major arterial road, is empty. The soldiers are becoming agitated by the return gunfire and exploding M79s and send back a rain of bullets at the red shirts. There is a lull in the fire and one of the soldiers yells across the road to an officer in an adjacent bunker: “Is it okay to shoot foreigners and journalists?” I am mortified. There is a pause before the answer is screamed back from the adjacent bunker: “No.” I crane my head around a cement wall that adjoins the bunker and I can see foreign photojournalists in the distance. I call a colleague on my mobile phone and ask where she is. It is close to where the sniper is aiming. I say quietly: “I am with army snipers and I think you are in their sights, get the fuck out of there, move to the side. I would go down the side street now, they are going to shoot!” His finger squeezes again – it is excruciatingly slow – and his deadly payload is delivered again but she has moved out of the line of fire. Jack Picone is a photojournalist based in Bangkok; a version of thes story first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald 28 T H E W A L K L E Y M A G A Z I N E
The good side [of social media] is that it is happening in real time, but my main concerns are the integrity of the information and source Above: A Thai government soldier takes a break during the street warfare which left scores dead and thousands seriously wounded. The discord is often painted as a clash between rich and poor, but the reality is more complicated with all parties involved manipulating the protesters. Photo by Jack Picone.
The number of M79 grenades exploding was a real concern. In the last five days of the protests the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) estimated that 58 M79 grenades had been fired. “I felt very unsafe and we had all the protective gear,” says Hornby. “Just before the surrender, they fired about 12 M79s in our direction and one landed about 30 metres from where we had taken cover. It was hard to know who was shooting at who. It was hard to witness the badly injured soldiers and journalists being dragged to safety.” Both Hornby and Picone have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of social media saying rumours, misinformation, bad intel, government and red-shirt propaganda and the instant feed of Facebook and Twitter all created confusion. At times the information on Facebook and Twitter was wrong and added to the danger, says Picone. “Reports of bombs going off, shootings and that journalists were being targeted caused us stress and made it difficult for us to decide where to take cover. The good side [of social media] is that it is happening in real time, but my main concerns are the integrity of the information and source.” A Media Monitor survey from March 12 to May 30 found that the perception that the traditional media were not covering the events professionally caused social media activity to explode in Bangkok. Many groups were formed to counter a perceived proThaksin bias by foreign media. Twitter’s popularity soared during the protests. It was used to break stories, send photos and videos from the street battles and live reports. Traditional news mediums joined the social media frenzy. Both The Nation and the Bangkok Post were frantically tweeting breaking news and
polling viewers. Picone believes Andrew Marshall, a TIME magazine journalist, provided many of the conflict’s most effective reports through his Twitter posts. “Marshall was like a mini-news agency and because of his credibility you could rely on what he was saying. But I’m worried about who are the gatekeepers? Most of the information is unvetted; how do you verify it?” The Nation’s Jim Pollard says after many years as a journalist he’s quick to spot the good sources from the bad. “Sure the net is full of wannabe journalists spouting ludicrous, inaccurate crap masked as opinion. And both sides, especially the red shirts, used it to disguise the protests as a class uprising. But as a journalist you have to sift the bad from the good… there are some good leads to follow up. News stories are being pumped out via the net. It has speeded up news delivery dramatically.” All the journalists were worried at the lack of safety awareness shown by social media activists during the street battles. Hornby, who has covered the conflict between Georgia and Russia and been in Afghanistan, said while most journalists wore protective vests and helmets, the social media activists had on an assortment of inadequate gear. “About 30 of us were cornered, about 10 had small compacts [cameras] or mini-cams, and while we were taking cover they were taking risks. They seemed blasé about the danger, as if it was some video game.” Phil Thornton works as an investigative journalist in South East Asia. He lives in Mae Sot on the Thai Burma border and is the author of Restless Souls: Rebels, refugees, medics and misfits David Dare Parker is a Walkley Award-winning photographer
New track for trainees In New Zealand, there’s a new way for young journalists to earn their reporters’ stripes, writes Brent Edwards. Artwork by Rod Emmerson
he days of journalism cadetships might be long gone but in New Zealand a new workplace training scheme is helping change the way young reporters learn their craft. Designed to consolidate the skills these new journalists first started honing at university or a polytechnic, the National Diploma in Applied Journalism provides formal, practical training in newsrooms in a reporter’s first year or two on the job. “It takes it from classroom learning to workplace learning with a structure,” says Mike Fletcher, the executive director of the Journalists Training Organisation which is running the new course for the Communications and Media Industry Training Organisation (ITO). He says there is nothing like the diploma anywhere else in the world. “Little old New Zealand has actually developed a journalism training set-up which is unique and I use the word advisedly.” Many journalists with 20, 30 years or more of experience might have been lucky if they received just a day or two of formal on-the-job training. They might question why today’s young journalists require ongoing training from the time they start their first job. But while young reporters, almost without exception, come to their first job from a journalism school, there is a big difference between learning in the classroom and learning in the newsroom. Joan Grace, chief executive of the Communications and Media Industry ITO, says that is where the diploma plays its part. It helps bridge the gap between the classroom and the reality of life as a working journalist. Until recently the Journalists Training Organisation had been content just to monitor journalism schools to ensure they did their job properly. Under the law though, industry training organisations are required to run workplace training if they are to continue getting government recognition and funding. The scheme formally started last year and currently 43 trainees are working towards the diploma, which is now recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (each of its unit standards are the equivalent of level six on the Qualifications Framework). The diploma covers six key areas: establishing, developing and maintaining a news round; news writing; feature writing; court reporting; media law; and ethics. There are already requests for new segments to be added. For instance, community newspapers are keen to see a component on local government reporting included in the diploma course. Unlike an earlier version, this diploma requires minimal study outside the workplace. Each journalist is assigned a supervisor in their newsroom, which is normally the chief reporter. Each assignment is based on the work the journalist is already doing for the newspaper. For instance, when it comes to news writing, trainees are required to submit three pieces of published work to prove they are meeting the required standard. The trainee and supervisor will select the portfolio of work and during this process it is expected the trainee will get more direct feedback about the quality of their stories. The work is then assessed by independent markers. While some senior journalists are dubious about the need for the diploma, Fairfax is taking it seriously. Clive Lind, the editorial development manager for Fairfax New Zealand and chair of the Journalists Training Organisation,
says 17 Fairfax journalists are doing the diploma and the company is linking it closely to its own in-house training. He has high hopes for the new scheme but he recognises its ultimate success will depend on the support that is given to it by newspapers and other news media organisations. As Joan Grace explains, there are radio modules ready to go, but first the ITO must win the support of the industry for the diploma to be extended beyond print to cover broadcasting, including possibly television. She also acknowledges that the success of the diploma depends on the quality and commitment of mentors in newsrooms. If senior journalists are not prepared to back the diploma by helping their younger colleagues, then the system will fail.
“You need executives’ goodwill and resources from the top. Some of the companies are not committing the resources” But working journalists, who are already under stress as newsrooms cut back on staff numbers, wonder if there are enough resources and time to support those doing the diploma. Peter Mackenzie is a subeditor at the Otago Daily Times and the union’s representative on the Journalists Training Organisation. He says the feedback he has been getting does reveal concerns about the workload the diploma might place on those who have to mentor young journalists. “You need executives’ goodwill and resources from the top. Some of the companies are not committing the resources,” he says. Lind agrees that editors and managers of newspapers need to get behind the scheme, and that support might be patchy around the country. But for Mackenzie the value of the diploma is clear. He uses court reporting as an example. He says at the Otago Daily Times two very experienced court reporters are giving their time to helping young journalists come to grips with the special demands of court reporting. “They are able to take young people and explain the process of the court and tell them how to turn a bunch of detail into a narrative which is readable,” he says. Brent Edwards is Radio New Zealand’s political editor and convenor of the EPMU’s Print and Media Council Rod Emmerson is an editorial cartoonist for the New Zealand Herald
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No wrong ways to write. Right? Literary? Narrative? Creative non-fiction? There are more ways to tell stories than in the inverted pyramid, writes Matthew Ricketson. We need to understand and appreciate them. Illustration by Karl Hilzinger
n early June the 38th Quarterly Essay, with David Marr’s 86-page piece on Kevin Rudd, lobbed into the media maw and provided at least a week’s worth of mastication for the politicos, pundits, bloggers and twitterers. Marr did the best part of 20 promotional interviews, including two appearances on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast and on ABC TV’s Q&A panel, where he was chastised by a professor of psychiatry, Jayashri Kulkarni, for an ill-informed, reductive reading of the then Australian prime minister’s character in his essay “Power Trip: the political journey of Kevin Rudd”. Tweets streamed on the bottom of the TV screen showed some enjoyed watching Marr taken to task while many in the studio audience applauded when he returned fire by asking if it was only psychiatrists who could comment on personality. Let’s pause for a minute – all this attention was devoted to an essay… yes, an essay, that literary form normally associated with 19th-century men of letters. All this attention, too, was spent in our up-to-the-second, tweet now, think later media omniverse, where the news cycle runs at breakneck speed and media content on any platform is devoured like a stack of pizzas at an under-17 footy team’s end-of-season party. How did this happen and what does it mean? Well, it helps that Marr is a nationally known commentator and author, but more to the point he deployed journalistic skills of a kind that are all too often squeezed out of newsrooms today. Yes, he did his research and he made an argument about the prime minister’s performance in office, but first Marr grabbed our attention with a gotcha lead: ‘“Those Chinese fuckers are trying to rat-fuck us,’ declared Kevin Rudd.” It is only 11 words but they’re impossible to ignore, not just because of the
But the essays by Marr or, last year, by Annabel Crabb on the then Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull, envelop their argument in first-hand observation of their subjects at work and play in vivid, zestful writing. As journalists they are also habitually attuned to the news currents. Just as Marr’s essay seemed to crystallise a gnawing disappointment with Kevin Rudd in the first half of 2010, so Crabb’s essay managed to both anticipate and make sense of Turnbull’s demise through the so-called Utegate affair. These stories, then, have had a distinct influence on public debate, but that is not the fate of much journalism. If you looked across a month of Australian media, across all outlets and platforms, you’d see the work of Marr and Crabb represents just one strand of journalism; much more space and time is taken up by the news break or the page-seven news piece that incrementally advances an issue, whether in print or online. How do we account for and understand the range of journalistic work? You could say simply “it’s all journalism, mate” and leave it at that, but that would be like saying of Test, one-day and Twenty20 cricket that it is all cricket. Not only are there significant differences as well as similarities between the various forms of cricket, but they influence each other, sometimes with important consequences. Since the setting up of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in the 1970s, one-day cricket has gone from being deplored by the cricket establishment to a grudging concession that it helped rescue Test cricket from death by boredom and helped make Test cricketers better fielders. Twenty20 cricket, too, was initially deplored by purists, but it is proving extraordinarily popular, to the point where various cricket writers are predicting
The omniscient authorial voice implies the journalist knows everything about the subject, but any journalist will tell you that is a bit of a stretch – and if they don’t their audience will swearing but also because of who is swearing – Australia’s publicly pussybummed then PM – and about whom – the Mandarin-speaking PM’s apparently most favoured nation. The Quarterly Essay finishes with a scene in which Marr describes walking with Rudd barefoot on a weed-strewn beach in Mackay, Queensland, before dining together. Out of the blue the prime minister asks Marr what he intends arguing in the essay. It is a question Marr says very few politicians have asked him before, but he answers truthfully. Rudd is hurt – and furious. He does not yell but the dressing down occupies the next 20 minutes during which two boys who come over wanting their photo taken with the PM are told, politely, later. “What he says in these angry 20 minutes informs every corner of this essay. But more revealing than the information is the transformation of the man. In his anger Rudd becomes astonishingly eloquent. This is the most vivid version of himself I’ve encountered. At last he is speaking from the heart, an angry heart,” writes Marr. There is a good deal more that could be said about “Power Trip”: some commentators thought Marr’s analysis of Rudd simplistic and negative, while I found it both tough-minded and alive to the former prime minister’s political strengths. But what I want to highlight here is the power and value of storytelling, and how we as an industry need to develop a language to discuss journalism which is a far more supple form than is commonly thought. Many of the 38 Quarterly Essays that Black Inc. has published since 2001 have been essays in the conventional sense. In 25,000 or so words they have made an argument about a topic and were read primarily for their argument about, say, the Stolen Generation, or climate change or the demise of John Howard’s coalition government.
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the demise of another form of cricket. What is most interesting is that it is the one-day game rather than Test cricket that appears under threat. The love of Twenty20 seems to be driven by a seemingly unquenchable thirst for speed and excitement, but there is a parallel awareness that speed is not the only attraction of a game. Test cricket offers the pleasures of anticipation and of becoming absorbed in a sporting contest whose character unfolds over five days. There is a similar unquenchable thirst for speed in the media, and a similar enjoyment for what longer forms of journalism offer. Likewise, there may be more people watching the evening news on TV or following news online, but there has long been a hunger for true stories well told. Granted, there probably always will be more people keen to read the cops and robbers stories that John Silvester and Andrew Rule of The Age have made into a virtual franchise through their Underbelly series of books than read Quarterly Essay. But both are part of journalism and both make a valuable contribution to informing and entertaining the general public. This longer-form journalism has been given numerous names, beginning in the 1960s with the New Journalism. But as one of its leading practitioners and (self) promoters Tom Wolfe remarked, any label containing the word “new” is destined for “the garbage barge of history”. More recently, it is has been called literary journalism, narrative journalism, literary non-fiction, creative non-fiction and reportage. Journalists get prickly, and probably rightly so, about anything containing the word literary, and many look askance at reportage, which sounds wanky and Frenchified. Creative non-fiction sounds like a contradiction in terms. Likewise, many recoil at the word non-fiction: why define something in the negative? It could be good that non-fiction makes clear journalism is not fiction, but any journalist with a few years of newsroom experience knows that, sadly, sometimes
it is. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” is a cliché but, like most clichés, it contains a kernel of truth worn thin by repeated use. Narrative journalism is the preferred term of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. I am happy to acknowledge that it, too, sounds a bit pretentious, but at least it signals that there are more ways to write journalism than via the inverted pyramid. Of course, there always have been other ways to write news. Before the development of the inverted pyramid in the 19th century, news reports were usually written in chronological order. Editors fixate on news because a genuine news breaker is still rare in newsrooms, but as Lord Northcliffe once remarked: “It is hard news that catches readers. Features hold them.” Debates about which terms to use are not simply academic; as practitioners, we need a more precise language to discuss the broad range of journalistic work. Words are our most important tool and if anyone doubts their importance they need only recall the false words used by the Bush administration to launch an invasion of Iraq that has seen hundreds of thousands killed or displaced. Most practitioners understand terms like hard news but are less sure how to discuss journalism that takes a narrative approach and draws on dialogue, descriptive scenes and varying tones of voice to tell stories. To take one example, in the April edition of The Australian Literary Review, Leigh Sales of the ABC discussed Mark Danner’s Stripping Bare the Body, about political power and war, and David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers, about an American army unit in Iraq. She distinguished between objective and personal journalism and applied that to the two journalists’ books. She preferred what she saw as Finkel’s more objective approach, allowing readers to make up their own mind about the behaviour of American soldiers. Danner’s use of the first person in his collection
of essays seemed to her gratuitous and she thought he used the experiences of the people he encountered to “illustrate his opinions”. She liked how Finkel was “nonexistent” as a presence in his book and stated that in this he was following in the tradition of Tom Wolfe and the New Journalism. But as Wolfe himself might say: “What in the name of Christ is this?!” One of the most common criticisms of the New Journalists was the epidemic use of the first-person pronoun. Wolfe is all over his work; his voice is instantly recognisable whether he is writing in the first person, which he often does, or adopting the voices of people he is writing about, as he does in The Right Stuff. Sales also approvingly noted that Finkel’s “authorial voice is omniscient” and said its use was similar to that in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, published in 1966 and a guiding light of the true crime genre. That may be, but the omniscient authorial voice is one of the great problems of narrative journalism and it got Capote into all sorts of difficulties mainly because, unlike Finkel, he did not observe first-hand much of what he wrote about. Think about it: the omniscient authorial voice implies the journalist knows everything about the subject but any journalist will tell you that is a bit of a stretch – and if they don’t, their audience will. A second, equally important, reason to develop literacy about the practice of journalism is that whether you find the rapid changes to journalism today frightening or exhilarating (or both), they have profound implications for us as practitioners, not to mention those for whom we write. And if as a nation of sports nuts we can analyse cricket and football in the most sophisticated detail, there is no real excuse for failing to develop parallel skills for our craft. Matthew Ricketson is professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra Karl Hilzinger is a Walkley-winning artist with The Australian Financial Review
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Your 2010 Walkley entry
hat a year it has been for news. I hope you’ve been thinking about your best work and what you’re going to enter in this year’s Walkley Awards. This year there are some small changes to the entry system – it’s never been easier to enter. In 2009, we introduced the online entry system. We had great success with it and hope you found it easier to enter the Walkley Awards. This year we’ve refined the process again, and if you’re entering a print, cartoon/artwork, online or photography category you’ll be able to upload your entire entry online – no need to run for the post office. During the online entry process, you will be prompted to upload your work as a PDF or JPEG for artwork/cartoon. Where there is more than one article in the entry, please upload all PDFs in the individual browse bars provided. Once this is done, you no longer have to post hard copies of your work to the Walkleys. We’ve also updated the entry system for photography category entries. Photographers will upload their high resolution photographs when they enter their entry information. You won’t need to race to the post office either, as with the online upload it’s no longer necessary to post a disc. So get cracking on your entry! And the best of luck. Quentin Dempster Chair, Walkley Advisory Board
2010 Walkley categories PRINT & WIRE SERVICE JOURNALISM u u u u
Best news report Best newspaper feature writing Best magazine feature writing Best three headings
ONLINE u Best online journalism
LITERARY u Walkley Book Award
u Best cartoon u Best artwork (including digital photo illustration & information graphics)
u u u u u u u u u u u
PHOTOGRAPHY u Best news photography u Best daily life/feature photography u Best sport photography u Photographic essay u Nikon-Walkley Press Photographer of the Year u Best spot news* u Best general news* (*winners become finalists in the “News photography” Walkley Award)
Outstanding continuous coverage of an issue or event Best scoop of the year Best coverage of community & regional affairs Best international journalism Best business journalism Best investigative journalism Best coverage of Indigenous affairs Best sports journalism Best social equity journalism Best commentary, analysis, opinion & critique Best broadcast & online interviewing
u Best radio news & current affairs reporting u Best radio feature, documentary or broadcast special
u Most outstanding contribution to journalism u Journalistic leadership u Gold Walkley
NIKON-WALKLEY PHOTOGRAPHIC PRIZES
u u u u
Best news reporting Best current affairs reporting (less than 20 minutes) Best current affairs feature, documentary or special (more than 20 minutes) Best news & current affairs camera
32 T H E W A L K L E Y M A G A Z I N E
u Best community & regional photography u Best portrait photography
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Walkley categories explained In all cases, ‘report’ refers to either a single report or a collection of reports/coverage of an event, subject or issue, although entrants are limited to submitting no more than three pieces of work per category. Only one entry per category is allowed. To register online or for more information on specific categories, entry requirements, group entry guidelines and frequently asked questions visit www.walkleys.com LITERARY Walkley Book Award: The Walkley literary award specifically recognises journalism in book form, and is open to all examples of journalistic non-fiction works by Australian writers. Entries may cover a diversity of issues, from true crime and biographies through to political analysis, business, war reportage, investigative journalism and foreign correspondence, for example. Authors must be Australian citizens or residents of Australia. Titles can be an edited collection by no more than five authors, can be on an Australian or international subject matter and/or historical in context. Entrants must submit the Walkley Book Award entry form downloadable at www.walkleys.com PRINT Best news report: In this category, up to three related news items may be entered. Judges are particularly looking for courageous journalism as well as writing excellence, accuracy, storytelling, newsworthiness, ethics, research, impact and public benefit. Best newspaper feature writing and magazine feature writing: Keeping in mind the parameters of the medium, creativity, originality and writing flair will be highly regarded in this category, in addition to the general criteria. Best three headings: Subeditors can enter their three best headlines. Judges will be looking for originality, flair and the headline’s relevance to the story it heads. ARTWORK Best cartoon: Creativity, innovation, wit and style will ideally combine with newsworthiness and artistic technique for the winner of the ‘Best cartoon’ award. Best artwork: The artwork category has expanded. Judges will be looking for artwork, illustrations, digital photo illustrations or information graphics displaying creativity, innovation and style, combined with artistic technique. PHOTOGRAPHY There is a new entry system for photographic entries. Go to www.walkleys.com and click on the separate ‘photography entry’ button where you will be sent to upload your images and give a brief description of the images, publication and dates. All photographers may also enter the relevant all-media category, eg ‘International journalism’, but entry into any all-media category must be done on the Walkley entry website. You will still be able to upload your images and there is no need to post them in on disc. Entries to all photography categories may be either a single photograph or a series (up to five images) on the same subject – except in the case of photographic essay (up to 12 images) and portrait (one image only). Best news photography: Newsworthiness, impact, technical superiority, creativity and originality will be looked at in this category. The winner of this award will be chosen from the winners of the Nikon-Walkley prizes for ‘Spot news’ and ‘General news’. Photographers may enter once in each of the news categories. Best spot news: Capturing a spontaneous news moment. Best general news: Depicting news-value images on the day. Best daily life/feature photography: Images submitted for feature or magazine purposes. Ideally, they should be human-interest photos displaying creativity, originality and technical photographic excellence. Best sport photography: This category will reward those who capture the emotion and drama of sport. Entries may show action or feature imagery in the sporting arena.
Best photographic essay: Up to 12 images of a news or feature story, of which one photograph must have been published. Nikon-Walkley Press Photographer of the Year: Entrants must submit a body of work of six to eight images showing the photographer’s range and self-editing skill. Body of work can encompass any genre. RADIO In radio, judges will take into account the resources available for the preparation of the work entered and the collaborative nature of this medium. Best news & current affairs reporting: This category recognises short-form radio journalism, from breaking news to reports and analysis. Judges will be looking for entries that make the most of the radio format and have impact, immediacy and creativity. Best feature, documentary or broadcast special: Here, radio journalists have the time to research and explore news issues and current affairs in a longer format. TELEVISION In television, judges will take into account the resources available for the preparation of the work entered, and the collaborative nature of this medium. Best news reporting: In particular, the judges will reward reports demonstrating newsworthiness, courage, impact, incisiveness, public benefit and ethics. Entries in this category may be a single short news report or no more than three related reports on the same subject. Best current affairs reporting (less than 20 minutes): This category was created to recognise daily current affairs and analysis of news events. Reports should highlight research, public benefit, ethics, courage and impact. Best current affairs report, feature, documentary or special (more than 20 minutes): This category will recognise excellence in long-form current affairs, highlighting research, impact, storytelling and public impact. Best news & current affairs camera: This category recognises camera work in Australian news, current affairs and documentary. ONLINE Best online journalism: This category was created to showcase, benchmark and promote the professionalism of online journalism. It recognises original, courageous and ethical journalism in the evolving online field. The judges will also take into consideration innovative techniques in news gathering and presentation including interactives, multimedia, audio, video, animation and live interaction, crowdsourcing and modes of distribution. ALL-MEDIA CATEGORIES The all-media awards recognise all forms of media, including photography, print news and features, online, radio and television news and documentaries and/or a collaborative effort by a group or team of journalists or a media organisation. Outstanding continuous coverage of an issue or event: Open to individuals or media outlets, this category is to showcase in-depth coverage of an issue or event over time. Each entry should include the initial story and up to four subsequent stories over the course of days, weeks or months. The progression of the initial developing story should be apparent from the follow-up coverage. Entries may be across several platforms. Each entry must be accompanied by a supporting statement giving comprehensive details of the story, and how it developed. It should also include the story’s chronology and circumstances affecting its gathering and presentation as well as resources available. All work must be published during the current Walkley period of entry (September 1, 2009 – August 31, 2010), but the supporting statement may make mention of work done prior or after this period. Best scoop of the year: This award seeks to recognise the journalistic resourcefulness applied to breaking news through what is traditionally known as a ‘scoop’. A scoop is defined as a report which contains revelatory facts which inform and
change public understanding or knowledge of an issue or event. The judges will be looking for a significant revelation, with public impact. It will display the skill of the journalist in getting the information and having it published or broadcast, and the degree of difficulty in so doing. Supporting documentation should include a chronology and must include and document the exact moment of broadcast or publication. Best business journalism: This award recognises excellence in business, economics and finance journalism. Best coverage of community & regional affairs: This category is open only to journalists working in the community or regional media and recognises their role in reporting on and informing their local communities. Best international journalism: This award recognises excellence in international journalism in the Australian media. This all-media award absorbs the previous “Coverage of Asia-Pacific region” category. Best coverage of Indigenous affairs: This award recognises excellence in coverage of Indigenous issues. Journalists and photographers working in both the Indigenous and mainstream media are encouraged to enter. Best sports journalism: This award recognises the range of sport reporting, from breaking coverage of games and major sporting events, to issues relating to the sporting industry and features on the people who populate the industry. Single sport reports or a series of up to three related stories may be submitted. Judges will be looking for impact, newsworthiness and creativity. Best social equity journalism: This award recognises the vital role of public service journalism and media reporting which addresses issues relating to social and economic equality, human rights and participatory democracy. The award will be given to journalism that measures business, governmental and social affairs against clear ideals of the common good. Best investigative journalism: Recognising its valuable role, this category will reward well-researched and presented investigations. Best commentary, analysis, opinion & critique: This category is open to those journalists involved in comment and analysis and includes leader writers, reviewers and opinion columnists covering arts, sports, business or politics. Entrants should submit three samples, not necessarily related, to be judged as indicative of their work. Best broadcast & online interviewing: Based on three samples indicative of an entrant’s work, this category will be awarded to consistently good journalism in either radio, television or online. Judges will be looking for excellence in interviewing, both live and pre-recorded, and/or hosting live broadcasts. SENIOR JOURNALISM CATEGORIES The Walkleys recognise excellence for senior journalists in the following categories: Outstanding contribution to journalism: Generally awarded to someone who is not necessarily at the forefront of journalism, who nonetheless has contributed to furthering their profession. Each year, the Trustees recognise the achievements of someone who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the highest standards of journalism – truth, rigour, integrity, fairness – over a lifetime. Nominations can be made through state branches of the Alliance or directly in writing to the Walkley Foundation Trustees, 245 Chalmers Street, Redfern, NSW 2016. Journalism leadership: The Walkley Advisory Board presents this award in recognition of outstanding acts of integrity and bravery in the practise of journalism. This award may be given to an individual, or media outlet. Should you wish to bring such cases to their attention, please write to: Chair of the Board, c/– The Walkley Foundation, 245 Chalmers Street, Redfern, NSW 2016. Please note there are no finalists announced in this category. Nominations could include examples of previous work, citations from senior media and other personal references. Gold Walkley: The Walkley Advisory Board chooses the winner of the Gold Walkley from among the winners of all other categories, except the “Journalism leadership” and “Most outstanding contribution to journalism” awards.
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WALKLEY YOUNG JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR 2010
The young and the restless Alison Larsen asks our Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year finalists all the important questions – and one silly one… OVERALL WINNER + RADIO Latika Bourke, Fairfax Radio, 2UE When did you decide to become a journalist? I can’t really describe the moment because it was a calling for me right from the beginning. I remember circling the course name, Broadcast Journalism, on the front page of a newspaper way back when I was still in primary school. I went on to complete a degree at my local university in Bathurst, NSW. In high school I successfully lobbied to keep discount subscriptions to The Sydney Morning Herald for seniors – there was no way I was ever going to be anything but a journalist. What’s been most memorable? A couple of moments have been particularly memorable. Covering Maxine McKew unseating John Howard as the Member for Bennelong was particularly historic and momentous. I’d nominated six months prior to the election to be the journalist covering her election party, because I knew what a great story it would be if she pulled it off. The night didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere in the hall in Eastwood was electric and when Maxine arrived the crush was positively dangerous but still exhilarating.
The future of journalism – where will you be? I’m not sure anyone can predict where journalism will go, let alone my place in it. I just hope that, at some point, the constant de-resourcing of newsrooms begins to turn around. Personal projects? I have an idea to go back to India from where I was adopted and spend some time understanding the developing country, and in particular its role as an emerging economic giant. What’s your advice for other young journalists? Work hard, seek to understand all the things you come across that you don’t understand and do as much work experience as you can. If you are good – someone will start paying you. Who would play you in a movie? I’d like to say Alicia Keys but who am I kidding?
ONLINE + HIGHLY COMMENDED OVERALL Drew Ambrose, abc.net.au When did you decide to become a journalist? I can’t remember the magic moment but I got interested in journalism when I did work experience at The Age during high school. I wrote a little piece on sloths and
went with a reporter to see the Melbourne Museum before it opened to the public. For a dork like me, it was exciting stuff. What’s been most memorable? Spending four days on Tuvalu as a videojournalist was interesting. The three taxis on the island were booked so I had to travel with my camera gear on a rusty BMX bike. Fortunately, the island was as wide as the airport strip. I got stung by an urchin while filming a piece to camera which resulted in my slipping into the water with a radio mic on. On the plus side, I got my first prime ministerial interview. The future of journalism – where will you be? I’ll probably quit journalism in the next two years. I think that ProPublica, PBS Frontline and National Public Radio are doing some very exciting things in the US with the web. I would like to work on similar web projects here but I don’t think Australia will get to that point for a long time because it’s easier to get hits with the latest escapades from some trash bag. Personal projects? I’m interested in South Asia and exploring a few ideas there… What’s your advice for other young journalists? I’ve learnt a lot by working for a variety of programs and media organisations. Unfortunately you are a commodity – don’t expect training or mentoring. I’ve been lucky to work in a small u
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WALKLEY YOUNG JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR 2010
u work environment with my two favourite Australian journalists. I learned a lot by seeing how they work and having informal chats. Good stories are your calling card so let your work do the talking. Who would play you in a movie? Probably the orang-utan who played Clyde in the Clint Eastwood ’70s classic Every Which Way But Loose.
PHOTOGRAPHY James Brickwood, The Sun-Herald When did you decide to become a photojournalist? A year out of high school a good mate of mine, Dan King, showed me a website called Oculi. It was the first time that I was exposed to contemporary documentary work being done in Australia. We read there was a documentary photography talk coming up at the State Library [in Sydney] which included photographers from The Sydney Morning Herald and a number of Oculi members, so Dan and I caught a bus into town to see it. That was the moment I knew I wanted to make a living out of photography. What’s been most memorable? Recently a photograph of mine taken at Mahon Pool [at Maroubra] was selected to head The Sydney Morning Herald photographic exhibition “Photos 1440”, to be held at the NSW State Library this year. The future of journalism – where will you be? Hopefully still here. The future of journalism isn’t as
Julie Mullen and her 10-month-old son Hendrix at Mahon Pool – photo by James Brickwood
bleak as some make it out to be. But it depends on whether media organisations are still prepared to invest in quality journalism. I’d like to think there’s more to news than just how Lady Gaga conducts herself at a baseball game. Personal projects? One of the more recent projects I have started focuses on the study of characters found at a particular party in Sydney – VOID. The party
Be true to yourself and show respect towards your subjects. Seek advice from those who you admire and respect, and don’t ever feel afraid to ask questions
News Community Media is proud to sponsor the 2010 Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards and congratulates all finalists and winners.
36 T H E W A L K L E Y M A G A Z I N E
attracts a younger audience who have a common interest in bass music. It’s so intriguing how varied the crowd is. What’s your advice for other young photojournalists? Be true to yourself and show respect towards your subjects. Seek advice from those who you admire and respect, and don’t ever feel afraid to ask questions. Always remember to have a considered observation when making photographs. Who would play you in a movie? Steve McQueen would be cool. But if you asked the boss the suggestion would probably be anyone from the Jackass crew.
TELEVISION Sophie McNeill, SBS TV
pouring rain in a field in the north of Iraq. And then the bastard producers cut that scene out! The future of journalism – where will you be? Employed. Hopefully? Personal projects? I’m due to give birth in early December so hopefully this project turns out well! Don’t think it will win me any Walkleys though… What’s your advice for other young journalists? Don’t take no for an answer. And once they actually let you in the building refuse to leave. Just quietly take over a desk and become part of the furniture. One day somebody will just send you somewhere. That’s what happened to me. Who would play you in a movie? One of my three sisters. They are all much taller, funnier and better looking than me.
When did you decide to become a journalist? Listening to SBS Dateline’s Mark Davis when he came and gave the Gold Walkley speech in Perth in 2001. I was in Year 12 at high school and I went up and told him I wanted to be “just like him when I grew up”. A few years later when I walked into the SBS offices in Sydney, Mark said “You’re that kid from Perth!” Embarrassing.
PRINT Erik Jensen, The Sydney Morning Herald
What’s been most memorable? Filming hundreds of peacock-worshipping Yazedi followers dancing for hours in the
What’s been most memorable? I was following a businessman the day after an associate of his had been killed. A photographer
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When did you decide to become a journalist? I was sitting in the back of my Year 9 English class, with the brilliant Ms Murphy, when I realised I was quite good at talking. My first scoop involved a girl in the second row and some boy from Year 11. And somehow I ended up on a broadsheet.
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and I chased him across town on foot. After a couple of blocks he turned into an underground garage and I chased him down the ramp. It was only after I had accused him of ordering the hit that I realised how very alone we were and how very irate he had become. The future of journalism – where will you be? I am part of a small band of denialists. I believe that the nature of what we do as journalists will not change fundamentally, even if the platform on which it is presented does. The horsemen of the apocalypse did not ride Google. People are still interested in quality analysis and investigation. And there is nothing more tedious than hearing men on the cusp of retirement telling young reporters their profession is dead. Personal projects? I am writing a biography of the artist Adam Cullen – an account of the life, myth and art of one of Australia’s great painters. What’s your advice for other young journalists? Integrity is a journalist’s only tool. Or, as Christopher Reeve put it in a gripping scene about a corporate takeover of the Daily Planet: “A reporter’s first allegiance is to the truth.” Beyond that, do not be afraid to ask questions of senior reporters. Audacity helps. Read everything. And write as much as possible. Who would play you in a movie? Al Pacino could play me pretty much as he played himself in Dog Day Afternoon. And that Carey Mulligan seemed quite good in An Education. And if all that falls through, I’ve often thought David Spade was in need of a serious role.
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8/07/10 2:05 PM THE WALKLEY MAGAZINE 37
Let’s get lexical Susan Butler unleashes this year’s new lexical items, hyphenated or not. Cartoon by Andrew Weldon
ach year when the Macquarie Word of the Year is up for discussion from British English it must be much the same, but that is no longer true. I encounter the difficulty of being misunderstood when I talk about For example, there is the treatment of verbs ending in -ise. American a ‘word’ in relation to compound items like brain fade or heritage media English favours -ize. British English tried an etymological solution in or elevator speech. “Not one word but two!” the pedants cry. We all talk which they had -ize for words derived from Greek with its -izein ending, about looking up a word in the dictionary and yet dictionary headwords and -ise for words which had travelled through French to get to English. can each have a number of discrete words in them, or combine the words The result is a mixed bag with a tendency to -ise. Australian English into one solid form, or link them with hyphens. The alternative is to talk clearly favours -ise. about “lexical items” but I have hesitated to do that because it might seem On diphthongs like ae and oe British English again favours the a little off-putting. etymologically correct spelling The most common way modern while American English favours a English creates new lexical items is simplified form. In Australia we use a by taking two or more existing words combination, spelling words of high and stringing them together to make frequency the American way and words a compound which means something that are more specialised in the British more than the sum of its parts. We way. So encyclopedia but archaeology. know what an elevator is and we know We have been wedged between the what a speech is, but none of us would two prestige forms of English so firmly know (unless it was explained to us) that we have picked up bits and pieces what an elevator speech might be. from both of them. We can guess – a new form of rhetoric Our word list is like an undies in which debating contestants cram drawer with old favourites, latest into a lift. The real meaning – fashion items, things acquired while “a concise presentation of a product, travelling and items on special, all service, etc, as pitched to someone overlaying some old established policy in the short time available to the on underwear style we have long since presenter as they travel together in discarded. It is impossible to know a lift” – that, we would not guess. what’s what. If we were Germans we would roll The pattern of nicknames all the bits together into a single-word There are those among us who always amalgam. In English half a century like to call a spade a spade, but there ago, we would have felt obliged to are others who follow a perverse and link words with hyphens to make the twisted path, who call black white and connection clear. Not that we have white black. In the game of contraries, any difficulty in speech or writing irony plays a major part so that the in identifying these compounds, Our word list is like an undies drawer with old nickname ‘Shorty’ is given to someone hyphenated or not. We learn them as favourites, latest fashion items, things acquired who is very short, but equally could a semantic unit and they present no be given to someone who is very tall. problem to us. while travelling and items on special Black may be the opposite of white The term “lexical item” seems a bit but what about the other colours? of a mouthful, but if “word” is going to Certainly Australians seem to feel that ‘blue’ is the opposite of ‘red’, and so keep producing the expectation of a single word, then perhaps the followers the nickname for a redhead is ‘Bluey’. Historically, ‘Darky’ was a nickname of the Word of the Year should learn to use the linguist’s term. for someone whose surname was Knight or White. In a more literal fashion Why spellcheckers are un-Australian that nickname also applied to someone who had dark hair or a darker-thanSpellchecker lists quickly bring to light the differences between varieties normal complexion. This came up in the research conducted at Fromelles in of English. Microsoft and Apple are happy to ignore this situation but making an identification of a corpse using army records as a resource, where most users of their products end up finding the spelling options most the point at issue was Aboriginal ancestry or not. It would seem from the unsatisfactory. prevalence of the nickname at that time that it was not necessarily the case. Australian English differs from American English and British English in many subtle ways. There is an assumption that because our English derives Susan Butler is the publisher of The Macquarie Dictionary
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31/8/09 3:12:30 PM
Inside paper houses The walls in Tim Douglas’s broken-down cottage tell a story Cartoon by Matt Golding
gazed up at the house and checked the advertisement again: “Cosy Depressionera miner’s cottage, adorable original furnishings and double-sash timber windows, wistful living areas with ocean cameos and oodles of old-world charm.” It sounded perfect. It looked like a scene from Dresden in 1945. A sorry congregation of smashed windows sank into wilting weatherboards as inexplicable middens of detritus threatened to swallow the entire structure. “It’s a renovator’s delight, mate,” enthused the estate agent. I wasn’t so sure. “At the very least, there’s bound to be some interesting crap in here,” he offered, gesturing to a fist-shaped hole in a wall, through which could be glimpsed the yellowed silhouette of a decaying newspaper. My eyes widened. A curiosity for all things antiquarian had been irrevocably piqued and, before I knew it, my wife and I had fallen – debt over heels – for an utterly uninhabitable hovel. Renovations began in earnest. The first swing of the sledgehammer stopped us in our tracks. As we tore away at the primeval planks, a tattered square of anonymous newspaper floated to the floor. “Hollywood’s precocious youngster: Mickey Rooney,” it pronounced. Rooney, that carbon-datable doyen of the silver screen ... a youngster? This place was older than I had thought. I liberated another page from the wall. It revealed itself to be a copy of The Sydney Morning Herald from May 27, 1943. “Heavy RAF attack on Dusseldorf,” whispered the headline on its front page, squeezed as it was into the first of eight slender columns.
The notion of a home with hollow walls – starved of their life-giving history – left me cold Dusseldorf, one of Germany’s greatest arms centres, was the chief target of RAF bombers who gallantly went over Germany in great strength on Tuesday night. I clutched the flaking 65-year-old parchment, poring over each time-blanched word, each fading character. Whatever happened to gallant soldiers, anyway? The valorous and the valiant are now professional, efficient. Yawn. Give me the florid over the phlegmatic any day. I reached through the wall and seized a copy of the Herald from January 6, 1930. Amid a front-page phalanx of advertisements – from holy water to Tooth’s Lager and pigpens to pork pineapple sausages (hygienic and delicious!) – one item stood out with alarming conspicuity. Lost: Cow, Jersey heifer, last week in the city. 6’’ off rump. A fugitive bovine on the loose in Sydney’s CBD? For a week? I had visions of it falling in with a hardened herd of street cows, grazing median strips after dark, turning tricks for cud… Wherever the mutinous milker ended up, one thing is certain: she was in good company. There were more than a few lost souls on the streets of Sydney in 1930. What for us began as a demolition job had become a fragile exercise in archaeology. We peeled back the boards to reveal reams of newspaper, originally installed as a crude insulation. It was all there: world war, the Depression, homicide, Hollywood gossip, jewel heists, child kidnappings, vegetable robberies, and this heartening article from New Year’s Eve, 1950: “NYE: Beer drought over”. Could
there be in the history of humankind a finer instance of serendipity? The kitchen walls held the most curious collection of Depression-era reportage. A film burst into flames in a cinema hall near Durham yesterday. The operator, with great coolness and clarity of mind, attempted to extinguish the large fire with sand, but was unsuccessful. The band struck up a military march, and patrons calmly walked out. The Sydney Morning Herald, January 6, 1930. The band’s Titanic-esque stoicism is commendable. But, really, is there any honour in going down with a flick? Then this whimsically written tale of DIY justice from the same edition: Mr Herbert Miles, of Brighton Le Sands, was awoken at 2.30am yesterday by the uninvited presence of an unknown visitor to his backyard fowl house. Brandishing the leg of an aged table, Mr Miles tenaciously pursued the offender down the street, where he dealt with him in such a manner he is now an inmate at St George Hospital. Meanwhile, an ominous sartorial warning from the women’s pages, circa 1930, was found cowering beneath the kitchen floorboards: Strenuous games are NOT alluring, ladies. Golf, tennis, swimming – all pleasant pastimes, but, oh, they cost you dear in glamour… and do not lend enchantment to one’s general scene. Newspaper, I am informed, is about as ill-conceived a choice of insulation material as is possible (though likely safer than anything Peter Garrett might suggest). But the notion of a home with hollow walls – starved of their life-giving history – left me cold. And so I set about restocking the new wall cavities with senescent newsprint, adding, rather indulgently, a selection of contemporary organs in an attempt to create my own feeble time capsule. The walls again had their words. I am hopeful that some day these walls will talk once more; that the entombed gazettes and their tales – quaint, queer and quixotic – will again see the light of day. And for that, I take comfort in one of Charles Dickens’ musings: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” I pine for the sledgehammer. Tim Douglas is a Walkley-nominated sub-editor for The Australian Matt Golding is a Walkley Award-winning cartoonist; firstname.lastname@example.org
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PAYING TR IB UTE
As Peter saw it His rapier turn of phrase and lucid observations made political commentator and columnist Peter Bowers one of a kind. Mike Bowers remembers his dad Peter Bowers 1930–June 27, 2010
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Photo: Mike Bowers
ong after his Alzheimer’s made it almost impossible, Dad continued to try to push out pieces. It was the last thing he wanted to give up. He loved words and he loved The Sydney Morning Herald (which he joined in 1959) in just about equal measure. He told me more than once that the training he received as a cadet on The Daily Telegraph set him up for his life in journalism. This love of words started before he had ever realised it. He told me that as a young boy he would escape under the family’s house with a book for a few hours. The house where he would steal these hours was in the foothills of the McPherson Ranges on the Queensland border. It belonged to the Department of Education and was part of the package that came with teaching in a remote, single-room schoolhouse. The seeds that would serve Peter Bowers so well in later life and drive him – a love of the bush and a deep mistrust of authority – had already been sown. The Second World War ended his bare-bum days and he found himself living in Newtown in Sydney. His father had re-enlisted at the outbreak of the war, his sisters had gone to work in munitions factories and young Peter was now sleeping on a sofa, “close enough to the trams in Enmore Road to rattle you out of bed mate.” Later, he told me many times: “The second war buggered our family.” Dad would often say important things in an off-hand way. That was just Pete. My son Oscar now goes to school about 100 metres from where young Peter slept with the trams. Dad’s work with “the dogs” was to be the next great influence in his life. He was very fond of saying that he knew more about the Kembla dogs than the Kembla dogs. This not only led to a start on The Daily Tele in 1948 but it would re-emerge seamlessly in Dad’s writing many years later. In 1985, he wrote of then treasurer Paul Keating… “Black, lean and pouncing, a groomed greyhound with an instinct for the kill. What makes Mr Keating such a tough adversary is that he is a long distance greyhound, a predatory streak that never gives up. Sydney Labor politics blooded him.” As his career progressed and Dad tried other areas of journalism, he’d apply the lesson learnt to politics. In the ’80s Dad decided that tennis was his new passion and he travelled the world to the grand slams that took his fancy. In 1991 he applied his newly found knowledge of tennis to the dismissal of Hawke. “Bob Hawke it strikes me bestrode the Australian stage with the same measure of affection and bewilderment that John McEnroe commanded on the tennis court. McEnroe did as he pleased, secure
All of Dad’s experiences overlapped in his writing and he could move from bush to sport and back again when talking about federal pollies all in the one paragraph in the knowledge that whatever his failings the public would still love him. “To see the best of McEnroe you have to put up with the worst of McEnroe. He made tennis more than sport; he made it an emotional experience for everyone watching. “So it was with Bob Hawke and politics. Emotions stretched and twanging like overtuned piano wire, Hawke like McEnroe took you to the edge with him and pulled you back just in time.” Dad had this ‘look’. It was a look he gave you when he had you cold; as a politician it would have been useful to know this look but as a son it was essential. He would get the look when writing for the paper but you could definitely see it in his TV performances. All of Dad’s experiences overlapped in his writing and he could move from bush to sport and back again when talking about federal pollies all in the one paragraph. This was true of his home life. I can remember more than once being addressed like a banner headline from the front page of a big news day. When Mandie and I were misbehaving at the dinner table Dad gave us this beauty: “Sit up, Shut up and Eat up!” Intensely interested in everything in the space of a few seconds, Dad could give you the chances of the latest swimming star in winning a gold medal and dissect the subtle political plays of the day, or as Michelle Grattan used to say (and Dad loved so much), debating the ins and outs of a cat’s arse. There will be quite a few of you who would have received some of Dad’s political wisdom which sometimes after a first airing seemed colourful and not on the money. I can’t tell you how many times I thought this and yet it turned out he was right. He was fond of pointing out to me how arrogant governments can become, all of them regardless of their political colour. He had a theory… “There’s something in the leather on the
government side of the benches Mikey. It soaks up their arse and makes them arrogant and the longer they sit on their arses the worse they get.” He was also fond of seeking out cadets and trainees. “What are the six rules of journalism?” he would dare them. After a few offered things like “truth” and “dedication and commitment to tell the story”, Dad would wave those answers away. “YES, YES, there is all that but the six rules are Read Read Read Write Write Write.” Dad slowed considerably when we hit the new millennium. We worked together on a trip to Gallipoli where his own dad had fought. We stood at Quinns post, where the opposing trenches were separated only by the modern road. Dad read out what he called the “achingly young ages” of those that never went home. He also thought that this was perhaps the nearest his generation of white Australians could get to feeling what he called “an Aboriginal connection to the land”. Dad confided to his good mate Heather Ewart in 2005 that something was not quite right in his head. As usual he never let on his fears to his family. The closest he got was: “I’m losing my marbles Mikey.” Dad’s last story for the SMH was the obituary of Slim Dusty in 2003. The Boy from O’Grady’s Creek would write the final words for the Boy from Nulla Nulla Creek. Dad had taken quite a few months to write it. The disease was claiming his memory and with it his rapier turn of phrase. He delivered it to the Herald and jumped on a bus back to Canberra. During the trip back Dusty died and Dad dictated the headline over the phone: “Just say goodbye”. As usual, Dad’s words today are better than anything I could write. So let’s just say goodbye… Goodbye you giant of a man. You were a fantastic father, mentor and mate and I was so damn proud to call you Dad. By Mike Bowers
Lurching to the rite It’s true our politicians exploit the Anzac legend, but that doesn’t mean they’re pushing a militaristic view of our history, says Graham Freudenberg. Illustration by John Tiedemann
aul Keating characteristically set the cat among the pigeons when he launched my book Churchill and Australia in 2008. The idea, he said, that Australia “was born as a nation or was redeemed at Gallipoli was an utter and complete nonsense.” In her chapter in the timely book What’s Wrong with ANZAC?, Joy Damousi gives Keating’s version of what’s wrong with Anzac: “dragged into service by the Imperial Government in an ill-conceived and poorly executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched – and none of it in the defence of Australia. This is why, Keating said, ‘I have never gone to Gallipoli and never will.’” Kevin Rudd chose to respond: “Gallipoli is part of our national consciousness, it’s part of our national psyche, it’s part of our national identity and I for one, as prime minister of the country, am absolutely proud of it.” This exchange encapsulates the debate for and against Anzac over the last 95 years, examined critically by Marilyn Lake, Henry Reynolds, Mark McKenna and Joy Damousi in their book, subtitled “The Militarisation of Australian History”. The exchange also reminds us that the Anzac legend has been exploited and manipulated by politicians from the beginning, starting with Billy Hughes. I wrote in Churchill and Australia: From the beginning, the legend of Gallipoli was manipulated to strengthen Australia’s bonds of Empire. The political and military imperatives of the time, in both Australia and Britain, demanded it. Some Australians, like Banjo Paterson, tried to celebrate Gallipoli in national terms, as a coming of age of the six federated colonies, where “the old state jealousies of yore were dead as Pharaoh’s sow”. Pushing his disastrous campaign for conscription – itself one of the great tragedies in Australian political history – Hughes said, “Our soldiers have carved for Australia a niche in the Temple of the Immortals. Those who have died fell gloriously. But had the number of our forces been doubled, many brave lives would have been spared, the Australian armies would long ago have been camped in Constantinople and the world war would have been practically over.” (This was December 1915!) This was the first example of the boast favoured by John Howard, that “Australia punches above her weight”. But we should be wary against saddling John Howard with too much of the burden of what has been the growth of nearly a century, particularly when it comes to a charge of ‘militarisation of Australian history’.
Anzac observances are seldom a celebration of martial values… The fact that it commemorates a fiasco and a defeat actually inhibits military triumphalism After all, when John Curtin opened the War Memorial in Canberra on Armistice Day 1941, only 26 years after Gallipoli, he said: It gives continuity to the Anzac tradition. It gives uninterruption to the basic impulses of this nation. It provides for all time to come to the generations that will inhabit this land, a place where they may have brought before them, in the most conspicuous way, the legends of their country, and come to know something of the deeds that kept their freedom unimpaired. This was a month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and a year before the campaigns at
El Alamein and Kokoda entered into the Anzac tradition. I should acknowledge my own contribution to the Anzac rhetoric. In his perceptive essay, Professor Mark McKenna correctly links Bob Hawke’s speeches for the Bicentenary in 1988 and his speeches on Gallipoli on April 25, 1990. Henry Reynolds in his introduction also dates “the extraordinary resurgence in books, newspaper articles, documentaries devoted to the history of Australians at war to 1990, when Bob Hawke became the first Australian prime minister to preside over the Dawn Service of Anzac Cove.” It is true, as McKenna suggests, that our speeches for the Bicentenary had failed u
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u to resonate. Sometime in 1989, I wrote a memo to Hawke urging him to associate himself closely with the 75th Anzac anniversary. The fact that my father had been a stretcher bearer on Gallipoli from May 1915 until the evacuation gave me a personal interest, although certainly not any special entitlement in the matter. But with the original Anzacs rapidly dying off, it was clear that the 75th commemoration would take on special significance. The fumbling leadership of the RSL was no longer fit to hold the exclusive custodianship of Anzac Day; Vietnam veterans had found them so anachronistic that they had formed their own association. In particular I was anxious to break the conservative monopoly on the interpretation of Australian military history.
military event as a pivotal point in Australia’s history, we necessarily militarise that history. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that war is absolutely central to Australian history in the 20th century. I agree that it is demeaning to say that Australia became a nation at Anzac Cove. But hardly any of the great political, social and economic developments of modern Australia were not crucially shaped by the two world wars. Nor do I believe that the Anzac service, even in its current phase, makes for a more militaristic society. In their chapter on the anti-war movement, Carina Donaldson and Marilyn Lake write: “The contest over Anzac Day and then Vietnam (in the 1960s and 1970s) was part of a larger cultural struggle over the sort of society
day. This is not so much militarisation as sacralisation. Marilyn Lake complains that “to write about what’s wrong with Anzac today is to court the charge of treason.” But the way things are going, she is more likely to be charged with blasphemy or sacrilege. The symbolism of Anzac, with its emphasis on sacrifice, redemption, rebirth and even resurrection (“I tell you there is no death” intones the Sydney Male Choir at the end of each Dawn Service in Martin Place) fits readily into the post-Christian culture. Howard saw this and exploited it. The main purpose of this book is stated by Henry Reynolds in this way: “We write because we think it is time to reclaim our national
“No place on earth more grimly symbolises the waste and futility of war – this scene of carnage in a campaign which failed…” I thought like John Wesley about hymns: “Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?”, so I had my own political motives in urging Hawke to go to Gallipoli. My colleague as speechwriter, Stephen Mills, wrote Hawke’s beautiful speech for the Dawn Service, and I wrote the longer speech for the Lone Pine ceremony later in the morning. Neither speech could be remotely said to glorify war. At Lone Pine, Hawke said, “No place on earth more grimly symbolises the waste and futility of war – this scene of carnage in a campaign which failed… Its meaning can endure only as long as each new generation of Australians finds the will to re-interpret it; and in separating the truth from the legend, realises its relevance to a nation and people experiencing immense change over the past three quarters of a century.” So I suppose it can be said that John Howard took us at our word in interpreting Anzac to fit his particular narrative of Australian history. I do not accept the main thrust of the argument of this book, that by choosing a
Australia should become.” That is, the Anzac debate can be productive and positive, by the authors’ own standards. Anzac observances are seldom a celebration of martial values. The protean nature of its meaning is its strength. The fact that it commemorates a fiasco and a defeat actually inhibits military triumphalism. Paul Keating objects to Gallipoli partly because ‘none of it was in defence of Australia’. As prime minister, he promoted Kokoda. While Kokoda represents everything Keating claims for it, it is in fact more focused as a specific military achievement than Anzac. A peculiar characteristic of the Anzac version promulgated by John Howard has been a preoccupation with identifying old battle sites and repatriating bodies. Relatives two or three generations removed are deemed to derive ‘closure’, and the prevailing idea is that any soldier dying overseas – whatever the circumstances – must be accorded a state funeral, presided over by the prime ministers of the
civil and political traditions of democratic equality and social justice in whose name we now ask our soldiers to fight.” This is clearly a political agenda. As one who was closely involved in the efforts to inject elements of this agenda into the various celebrations of the last two decades – the Bicentenary, the Labor Centenary, the Sydney Olympics, the Centenary of Federation, the Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government, and the 150th anniversary of Eureka – I doubt if it will be much advanced by debunking Anzac Day. What’s Wrong with ANZAC? – The Militarisation of Australian History by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, with Mark McKenna and Joy Damousi, published by UNSW Press, RRP $29.95, NZ$39.95. Graham Freudenberg won the 2009 Walkley Book Award for Churchill’s Australia John Tiedemann is an illustrator working for News Ltd in Sydney This illustration originally appeared in The Week
You can’t suppress a powerful question. For in-depth impartial news, current affairs and analysis. Channel 649 bbcworldnews.com
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Never stop asking
Past imperfect A new novel brought back memories of old newspaper days for Alan Kennedy. Cartoon by Fiona Katauskas
he late Buzz Kennedy, journalist and press secretary to the Queen Mother and Bob Menzies, told me once that journalism is the last refuge of the untrained and the unemployable. At the time, in the mid ’60s, I found his words reassuring. It was what I wanted to do. Having dropped out of university and decided sorting through pigs’ and cows’ intestines, otherwise known as sausage skins, was probably not a lifetime career choice, I was given hope that all was not lost. I had just become a copy boy at Frank Packer’s Daily Telegraph. A lad from a sheltered childhood on Sydney’s North Shore, I wondered what had hit me. The first night of my 9pm to 3am shift, I was sent down to the basement where the presses were running. The noise was extraordinary and it was populated by men covered in grease and grime and wearing paper hats fashioned from old Daily Telegraphs. It was a dark satanic mill, churning out the Tele on huge presses. The paper lines roared up into the ceiling, where they disappeared to be bound with wire and dumped on trucks waiting in the Elizabeth Street dock. A few floors up was the composing room – hot and noisy and run by northern English shop stewards who despised journalists more than they despised management. And then there was the editorial floor, full of the weirdest people (mostly men) I had ever met. Bitter and twisted subs, ex war correspondents, onelegged Jack Seton, the marvellous Griffen-Foley. Round the back in the quieter areas, the elegant poet Kenneth Slessor crafted editorials. Next to him was the always rambunctious Ron Saw. Then there was that old-school gentleman Emery Barcs, the Hungarian anti-fascist – indeed, anti-anything that smacked of totalitarianism – who, for his troubles, had been interned in Australia for much of the war. He was the foreign editor. I was bewitched by the place. It had an anarchistic feel. Even though the paper came out each day, there were no signs that anyone was in total control. There was a direct line to the Castlereagh and Kings Head hotels, in case the chief of staff had to interrupt the evening’s romps by asking a few chaps to look in for a while to do some work. In my early days as a copy boy, my most important task came between editions. I had to stand dutifully while the gang of three – editor
I was bewitched by the place. It had an anarchistic feel. Even though the paper came out each day, there were no signs that anyone was in total control King Watson, editor-in-chief David McNicoll and news editor Dudley Burgoyne – decided what flavour ice-cream they would have from the canteen. Burgoyne, sucking on a long-gone-out pipe: “I think the tutti frutti for me, boy. What about you, King?” Watson: “Just get me a bloody ice-cream.” McNicoll, the dandy and gourmet about town: “The tutti frutti sounds excellent, boy.” One night when I was monitoring the police rounds radios, I discovered, after a bit of banter with some fire brigade and ambulance dispatchers, that the activity at Mosman Town Hall around 10.30pm was because the leader of the federal opposition, Arthur Calwell, had been shot (not fatally, as it turned out). I walked over to tell David McNicoll, who paused and considered the news, then said: “Stop the presses.” Then he looked at me and added: “Always wanted to say that, boy.” I had made friends with an old bloke I met in my travels around the building and we were on chatting terms. One night, as I walked beside McNicoll to his
office, where he had some papers he wanted taken elsewhere, I saw the old bloke, with milk-bottle glasses and a shambling gait, coming along the hall. We greeted each other with “G’day, son” and “G’day, mate”. McNicoll was taken aback: “You know that man?” “Not sure who he is but he seems like a nice bloke.” “That’s Sir Frank,” he said. “Oh.” After I was inducted into the world of journalism as a cadet, I learned these mad men knew a thing or two about getting a story. We were still living in the Brian Penton world, where the passive voice was seen as heresy and where any intro over 30 words was considered a novel. As it was pre-computer and you wrote your stories on what I am sure was cut-down butchers’ paper, your wonderful copy could go sailing past your head as you answered the call of the subs’ desk. The throw was usually accompanied by the words: “Rewrite this shit, son” or “We want journalists here, not fucking script writers.” All of which is a long preamble to a review of a novel about newspapers. But reading Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists reminded me of both why I loved newspapers and also of newspaper commentator Roy Greenslade’s dictum that everyone talks about the good old days of newspapers, but there weren’t any good old days. It is just that, as LP Hartley wrote: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” u So it is with Rachman’s book about an
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u English-language paper in Rome, staffed by a grab-bag of journalists from all over the world, but mostly American. It has echoes of the International Herald Tribune, where Rachman once worked. The newspaper in The Imperfectionists is owned by an eccentric billionaire who doesn’t appear to care whether it makes money. It just seems to be an excuse to let him live in Rome, collecting art. His disinterest means the journalists have the dream job of doing their work free from market researchers, advertising clowns and bean counters. They take over the asylum and let their instincts and expense accounts run wild. But after the original owner dies, the paper becomes a focus for family members who are not so enamoured of the venture. Where the owner saw ego publishing which only made modest demands on his fortune, they see a sea of red ink that disfigures their balance sheets. The bean counters start moving in and then electronic media – from radio and television to the internet – descend upon it. Slowly the paper slides into the abyss, with the death knell sounded by the original owner’s grandson, an idiot savant who only has meaningful conversations with his basset hound. It is one long slow car crash and, while the newspaper is fictional, its experiences and the experiences of those sailing in it will resonate with all print journalists. Rachman crafts a collage that, in the end, is a dismal picture. But tucked away are funny stories and human tragedies. Take the pedantic managing editor with his “Bible”, the book that covers style and usage in the newspaper. He cares deeply about grammar – about creeping solecisms, non sequiturs and jargon. For example, he bans the use of GWOT: “Noone knows what it means, above all those who use the term. Nominally it stands for Global War on Terror. But since conflict against an abstraction is, to be polite, tough to execute, the term should be understood as marketing gibberish. Our reporters adore this sort of humbug; it is the copy editor’s job to exclude it. See also OBL; Acronyms; and Nitwits.” There is copy editor Ruby Zaga, who dreams of telling everyone to stick their job but that would mean leaving Rome and going back to
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If you are seeking answers to the way ahead, or even what was the number of the bus that hit journalism, Rachman is not one to provide them the obscurity of suburban America. Every subs’ desk has one: she is always having her “special” chair nicked, she has a cushion for her lower back, ergonomic keyboard, RSI wrist brace and antibacterial wipes (“impossible to feel clean in this place”). She also accidentally writes a very funny heading. The former Paris correspondent is straight out of Evelyn Waugh but enchanting nevertheless. He lives with the fact that his wife has moved in with the Frenchman across the landing and his mysterious son may or may not work in the French foreign service, and may or may not have given him a wonderful scoop. In Cairo, an odd nerdy boy from the US, Winston Cheung, who has been watching too much CNN, is trying to make a name for himself as
a foreign correspondent. He gets worked over by the war correspondent from central casting, Rich Snyder, who arrives like a force of nature. He plunders Winston Cheung’s life, from his flat to his laptop. Winston soon finds himself back studying primatology in Minnesota, still not knowing what hit him. The story of the obituary writer Arthur Gopal is beautifully drawn, as is the small tragedy of the workaholic Craig Menzies. If you are seeking answers to the way ahead, or even what was the number of the bus that hit journalism, Rachman is not one to provide them. Like all of us, he is in the lifeboat and his stories are merely records of the survivors and the casualties. Rachman records the way it was – the way of the world before the war began, when newspaper people went to work, gathered the news, sifted through it, graded it according to importance and then dropped it on the public, who had to take our word for it. Like frogs in the pot warming to the boil, we didn’t know what was happening until it was too late and when we did try to get out of the pot and do things differently, we found our asylum was populated with nongs. They had crept in to feed on the media carcass when it had plenty of flesh on its bones (remember how much people paid for media assets once?). When the pickings became lean, they went after the inmates, the cost centres (journalists) and, in the process, began killing off the only reason the media companies existed in the first place. They forgot that media is a creative business and that success comes when you let the creativity flow and don’t shoot the creative people. Once journalists became content providers for advertising platforms, the game was over. The Imperfectionists is a great match report, even if you don’t like the result. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, Text Publishing, RRP $32.95. Alan Kennedy is a proud member of the Alliance and has been a journalist for the past 44 years Fiona Katauskas is a freelance cartoonist; www.fionakatauskas.com
Fox on the run Alan Reid was a legend of the Canberra press gallery, but The Red Fox had his flaws. Review by David Salter
o for your life, sport.” That was my curt introduction to Alan Reid, the doyen of the Canberra press gallery. As a green young hack in the mid-1960s, I’d tiptoed into the Daily Telegraph office in old Parliament House wanting to cadge some telex time to file my copy to Sydney. Reid was perched in his usual corner like a vulture in a rumpled suit, a roll-your-own durry in his nicotine-stained fingers. It was a Saturday afternoon. All the politicians were back in their electorates, but The Red Fox was still hanging around, just in case. Either that, or he couldn’t stay away. Reid was already a legend of Australian political reporting. In the 1950s he’d been the first to expose the activities of BA Santamaria and his “Groupers” In the ’60s it was his “36 faceless men” scoop that helped keep Menzies in power but also eventually allowed Whitlam to break the unions’ grip on parliamentary Labor. When I returned to Canberra to work for the ABC, a decade after my first meeting with Reid, he still commanded his favourite lookout spot in King’s Hall, and the same desk in the Telegraph office. More than any other gallery journalist, The Fox embodied both the history and standpoint of political reporting in Australia. Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt have now written an admirable account of Reid’s journalistic career. He was a notoriously private man who – perhaps wisely – culled many of his personal papers in retirement. But while the domestic details of his life are scant, this survey of his 50-year innings reporting federal politics is impressive. The book uses the great events of national affairs from 1930 to 1985 as its chronological framework, with Reid’s involvement as a reporter the constant subplot. What’s remarkable to learn is how often this esteemed journalist was prepared to sprint ahead of history’s footprint in an attempt to change its course. Reid, like so many gallery tragics, was fascinated by power, not policy. (It’s no surprise that he named the alter-ego character in his unpublished novel about politics “Macker Kalley” – Machiavelli). Almost everything he wrote, or later said on TV programs such as Meet the Press and Federal File, was concerned with leadership, threats to leadership and winning or losing elections. From the earliest days of his Canberra career with The Sun (1937–53), plots and conspiracies – indeed any form of conflict or melodrama – were his perennial themes. He was a tabloid man, through-and-through. Policy development and the legislative work of government rarely interested him, even as a commentator for The Bulletin in the last few years of his working life. For Reid, politics boiled down to who held power and who wanted to grab it from them – the rest was inconsequential fluff. But he didn’t always get it right. Three times he was on the wrong side of defamation actions prompted by damaging stories he could not substantiate sufficiently. At least twice he attracted the attention of the House Privileges Committee for breaches of parliamentary convention. And his habit of sometimes drawing an exceptionally long bow on the basis of unsourced quotes or information – and then splashing that speculation across the Telegraph front page – earned him
a reputation for poisonous cunning. Liberal politician Paul Hasluck dismissed Reid as “a competent though somewhat venal purveyor of political gossip”, while Labor’s Arthur Calwell called him “the lowest thing to crawl around this House”. (Reid was a good hater: he castigated Calwell at every opportunity for the next 20 years.) At the centre of this book (although not specifically explored in any depth) is the most contentious issue of national affairs journalism: to what extent – if at all – should we tolerate the intrusion of a gallery correspondent’s personal views, or the interests of their proprietors? Reid, almost every time he sat down at his typewriter, crossed what today would be recognised as the threshold where opinion begins to seep into straight political reporting. Fitzgerald and Holt document scores of occasions on which he not only wrote from a plainly biased standpoint, but actively inserted himself into events with the avowed intention of influencing their outcome. So addicted was Reid to the processes of political power that for more than 40 years he acted as much as a participant, go-between and adviser – often even conspirator – as he did as a reporter. Yet despite his staunch and lifelong membership of the Australian Journalists’ Association it appears he never recognised the ethical obligation of disclosure in these situations. It was as if he believed the men’s club of Parliament House conferred on him a cloak of mutually-agreed invisibility.
For Reid, politics boiled down to who held power and who wanted to grab it from them – the rest was inconsequential fluff Worse, at least to my mind, were the frequent occasions on which Reid took, and carried out, direct instructions from his Daily Telegraph proprietor, Frank Packer. These went well beyond the customary subtle indications from head office as to which policies or politicians might be favoured in tomorrow’s news report or column. Packer expected his man in Canberra to toe the company line unquestioningly, and often to take an active role in precipitating events (for instance, the undermining of John Gorton’s prime ministership and ludicrous championing of Billy McMahon in his place). The patient research of Fitzgerald and Holt confirms what any half-aware journalist of his period already knew: Reid pushed plenty of private agendas, but in the end he always did what he was told by his Park Street boss. It’s disheartening that a man whose lifelong socialist sympathies were formed during the Depression (and often called his mates “comrade”) could have so comprehensively sold his soul to one of the most unprincipled buccaneers in Australian media history. As Laurie Oakes remarks in his judicious foreword to this book, Reid “combined the best and some of the worst aspects of political journalism”. Alan ‘The Red Fox’ Reid: Pressman Par Excellence by Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt, University of New South Wales Press, RRP $49.95, NZ$64.95. David Salter has been an independent print and television journalist for more than 40 years. He is currently editor-in-chief of THE WEEK magazine
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THE WALKLEY MAGAZINE
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW…
… to do freelance health reporting (escape the office and avoid SLF Syndrome*) In the first of a regular series, Melissa Sweet shares her tips from more than a decade’s experience. Cartoon by Andrew Fyfe 1. Know what you are I stopped thinking of myself as a medical writer long ago. Do you really want to advertise yourself as covering the world of health from a purely medical point of view? Health care and public health more broadly involve many disciplines. Even publications catering for purely medical or nursing audiences could be thinking more broadly. (It would be great to see them with a public health round.)
2. Know what you want At the risk of sounding like a life coach, what is it that you really want? Are you freelancing because you prefer to work to your own rhythm or don’t like office politics? If you’re unclear about why you’re freelancing, it’s unlikely to work for you. For me, freelancing has meant changing some goals (eg income) but finding it easier to achieve other ones (eg doing the stories that matter to me).
3. Know the essentials One reason I’ve stuck with the round for so long is its complexity. It’s what keeps it interesting but it’s also what makes it perilous for an unprepared observer. It helps to have some basic understanding of epidemiology, the structure of the Australian health system, the role of various lobby groups, and the differences between public health and clinical perspectives. Herewith a shameless plug for a book I co-authored that can help with some understanding of epidemiology: Smart Health Choices: making sense of health advice (freely available online at http://sensiblehealthadvice.org).
4. Have an escape route One reason I went freelance was to escape from being stuck to a computer and phone in a CBD office. Set aside time to get out and about, even if these outings are not directly related to a story you’re working on. It’s often when you find the best leads. And it helps ward off the Sad Lonely Freelancer Syndrome*.
5. Work with a friend Some of my most interesting opportunities have arisen as a result of formal or informal collaborations. It’s much easier to do a book if you have co-authors, not only because you share the researching and writing, but because it’s easier to do the icky bit of promoting it. On a similar theme, it’s probably not terribly PC to suggest shacking up with an IT whizz, but it’s sure made my life easier…
6. If you have a great idea, do it If I did the same thing day in, day out as a freelancer, I’d go mad. For freelancers, what’s great about the times we live in is the opportunity for innovation. The technology revolution means that you don’t have to be a media giant or independently wealthy to be a publisher. Just have a go. The Croakey health blog arose out of an idea tossed around over lunch with colleagues one day. The Public Interest Journalism Foundation evolved out of conversations with Margaret Simons after we attended a Media Alliance conference.
7. Stay across the media The volume of reading on the health round is overwhelming – each day brings a torrent of new reports, new journals and acres of media stories to stay across. But this is only part of the story that you need to follow. To survive, it helps to know
46 T H E W A L K L E Y M A G A Z I N E
For freelancers, what’s great about the times we live in is the opportunity for innovation where the media industry is heading and to evolve with it. Twitter is not only a fantastic source of health leads (my top picks are @AHCJ_Pia; @garyschwitzer) but also of international media industry developments (eg @journalismnews and @jayrosen_nyu).
8. Work for many outlets There’s not much worse news than an unexpected farewell note from your major client (I’ve been there). Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Aim to work for a range of outlets and keep an eye on new opportunities and markets.
9. Think about your market and your business model Always be thinking of your audiences. Who are they, what are their interests and needs, and how are these changing? My business model could be crudely summarised as: I do some jobs for love and some for money, and some for a bit of both. It helps me to understand which job fits in which category. The point is to know what works for you, as well as what does not.
10. Have a knock-off time The stereotype of freelancers enjoying leisurely mornings in cafes is, sadly, not at all accurate. The difficulty is not so much dragging yourself to your desk, but dragging yourself away. In this age of 24/7, it is too easy to find yourself working around the clock, especially if you have developed a compulsive blogging addiction. It’s important to set boundaries around work, and to look after your own wellbeing. I haven’t quite mastered this yet myself, but I’m working on it… Melissa Sweet has been freelancing since leaving The Sydney Morning Herald in 1998. She moderates Crikey’s health blog Croakey, and is a board member of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation Andrew Fyfe is resident cartoonist on Hey Hey It’s Saturday; cccaricatures.com
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