Last week, at the end of the Media 140 conference where I was blogging, the day ended with panellist Jason Wilson asking “Who is Grog’s Gamut?!”. In response a handful of people stood up and announced “I’m Grog’s Gamut!” “No, I’m Grog’s Gamut!”. It was a response that had been organised in advance by a some friends (including Wilson) as a bit of a joke because throughout the day the name “Grog’s Gamut” had been mentioned a few times – to the point where Osman Faruqi was tweeting that he had been having a drink every time it was mentioned and that he was pretty well on his ear.
Well no longer do we need to ask the question. Today James Massola of The Australian has taken it upon himself to out me. Apparently knowing I am Greg Jericho is “in the public interest” because the head of the ABC, Mark Scott, mentioned in a speech that my blog post attacking journalists’ coverage of the campaign (and specifically the lack of policy) was mentioned at an ABC executive meeting:
The first example is through blogs and the Twitter traffic. Halfway through the campaign, the ABC Executive met on a Monday morning and discussed the weekend blog by the Canberra public servant, writing under the tag Grog's Gamut. It was a lacerating critique of the journalists following the candidates, their obsession with transient matters, the political scandal of the day. He met a chorus of praise and support, triggering a barrage of criticism of campaign coverage.
So because the head of the ABC took notice of something I wrote anonymously about journalism, I need to be named. I guess the lesson here is if you want to blog anonymously, don’t do it effectively.
Whatever you think of Massola’s decision to out me (and it was certainly not my decision or preference), I will just say he has known who I was since last November. Why he has decided to reveal my name now, given Scott’s speech was delivered on the 2 September, is for to him to say. No doubt he has his reasons and thinks them valid.
The justification for the story actually came from the media editor (yes it is bizarre that I am someone whom the national daily needs to justify outing):
IF you are a public servant and blogging and tweeting, sometimes airing a partisan political line, do you deserve anonymity? No.
Journalists and editors grant anonymity to sources and whistleblowers but Grog's Gamut, or as we know now, Greg Jericho, is an active participant in the public debate via Twitter and his blog. The ABC's managing director Mark Scott cited "Grog's Gamut" criticism of media's election coverage at an ABC news meeting and as a result "we adjusted our strategy".
Fair enough. But if you are influencing the public debate, particularly as a public servant, it is the public's right to know who you are. It is the media's duty to report it.
Take that however you want to.
Now to Massola’s article.
Firstly the headline:
Controversial political blogger unmasked as a federal public servant
Well my unmasking as a public servant actually happened a while ago – in fact Massola did it when he wrote about me on August 7:
Hobby writers keep pros on their toes
A FUNNY thing happened in the political blogosphere last week. The mainstream media got down to some serious self-analysis after a critical post by a Canberra public servant who blogs under the name of Grogs Gamut.
But oh well, he didn’t write the headline, so I’ll let that pass through to the keeper.
Mr Jericho, who was the subject of intrigue at the Media 140 conference in Canberra last Thursday as an "embedded" but anonymous blogger, wore a nametag that gave his first name but not his last.
He knows this because he sat down by coincidence at my table at the conference late in the afternoon. I noticed him, and as he knew my name I sent a private message to him on Twitter letting him know that I was at the table. He did not talk to me on the day, in fact he left before the session ended, which was a pity because we have chatted a fair bit on Twitter and I was interested to meet him. Stupidly I know, but given he had known my name for 10 months, I was not concerned that he would out me.
As for others at the conference, I didn’t out myself at all to any journalists – a few people asked at the post event drinks (by which time all the journalists had left) if I was Grog’s Gamut, I said I was. Strangely none of them gave a stuff what my real name was.
Here’s the fun bit of Massola’s article:
At the height of the insulation scandal that engulfed Peter Garrett, he defended his former minister, writing "Garrett was demoted for no good reason" and that ". . . Garrett has been demoted, despite no-one in the media or the opposition actually being able to explain just exactly with any level of intelligence what he did wrong, he was deemed to have 'bungled'."
Yep I certainly believed that, and still do. How did I come to that view? By reading the newspapers, and then also reading the publicly released reports into the insulation scheme, and then coming to an opinion. It’s just an opinion that differs with that of The Australian’s. I never had any access to anything from the areas that handled the insulation program. I knew as much (or as little) about it as anyone who reads the media.
He also quotes:
In comparison, Mr Jericho wrote that opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt "could write a PhD thesis on environmental political cowardice."
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is "the master of spin" and, on the Rooty Hill leader's forum, "because it wasn't a debate Abbott was able to get away with an inordinate amount of bullshit".
Yep two more opinions. I am disappointed by Hunt, I was a big fan of his prior to dumping his support for the carbon price – I would have liked to see him do as Turnbull did and cross the floor; I actually think his long term career would have been better served by him doing so. And yes, I thought the Rooty Hill format was a joke, because by going last (as did Julia Gillard in Brisbane) he had no need to worry about getting picked up on anything. The format is loaded in the advantage of the person going second.
But here’s the thing: if the Libs had got over the line I would have turned up and kept doing my job as I always have done it (including as I did under Howard) – apolitically. Massola cites the APS Values:
"the APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner".
Damn straight it is. And so am I – when I am performing its functions.
Here’s what the Public Service Commission says about political views:
Participating in political activities
It is quite acceptable for APS employees to participate in political activities as part of normal community affairs.
APS employees may become members of or hold office in any political party.
APS employees, whether or not they are members of political parties, are expected to separate their personal views on policy issues from the performance of their official duties. This is an important part of professionalism and impartiality as an APS employee.
Where an APS employee is involved in publicly promoting party or other views on certain issues, and where their duties are directly concerned with advising on or directing the implementation or administration of government policy on those issues, there is potential for conflicts of interest.
- Well I’d say tweeting and blogging about Tony Abbott at a community forum at Rooty Hill is fairly well smack in the middle of “normal community affairs”.
- I am not a member of any political party.
- I do separate my personal views.
- Once again I have never written about any policy or program that I am directly concerned with advising on or directing the implementation thereof (or even indirectly for that matter).
Massola then has this little analogy:
The revelation of Mr Jericho's identity is the latest in a string of anonymous authors who have been unmasked, from Belle Du Jour, author of the Diary of a London Call Girl -- who was revealed to be Brooke Magnanti -- through to writer Helen Demidenko, author of The Hand that Signed the Paper, subsequently revealed to be Helen Darville (now Dale) and The Australian's own Christian Kerr, who outed himself as "Hillary Bray" while a contributor to Crikey.
Nice: I’m being compared to a prostitute. Here’s the thing – Belle Du Jour was writing about her experience and inside knowledge, so too Kerr when he was Hillary Bray. I have not. I have never offered up any information other than that which is publicly known. Helen Demidenko by contrast was pretending to be someone she was not in order for her work to appear more authentic. Had I been saying I was a political insider, or staffer then the analogy would be correct. It is not.
At least Mossala did quote me saying:
Asked if he was concerned that his partisan political views were not appropriate to his role in the public service, Mr Jericho said: "I never write about anything I do at my work, either on my blog or on twitter. So I thought it easiest -- given that I did not want to have continue saying something was my opinion -- to go under my pseudonym.
"I've worked in the public service under a Liberal government and a Labor government, overseeing programs and policy. I really have no care about who I am working for -- it's purely the policy or the program that is paramount. I've never had any difficulty working for either side. My supervisors have never had any problem. And when I'm writing at home after dinner, I comment on issues that have nothing to do with my work."
Look I know there’s been a fair bit of heat directed at Massola on Twitter. But I’m not here to pick a fight with him. I wish he hadn’t written the piece, but he has, and no, he ain’t getting a Christmas card. Throughout the last 12 months that I have been on Twitter I have often had arguments with journalists. I would like to think I have never been abusive. I have only been blocked by one journalist (I made a snarky comment one Saturday morning that was retweeted by one of her followers), and yet I have never attacked that journalist on this blog – and in fact have even defended her in comments.
I know many journalists on Twitter will think Massola did the right thing. Some, less publically, will not. Debate away if you must. My only bugbear is it would have been nice if he had provided some links to the blog (that is standard courtesy online).
So now everyone (or at least those small few who care) knows who I am. So is the public interest served? Do my words carry more or less weight than they did yesterday? I don’t think so.
I started this blog back in 2008. I chose the name Grog because it was my nickname back in my days at uni in the early 90s (not due to my drinking ability, but due to my illegible handwriting which made “Greg” look more like “Grog” in a note I wrote to a friend). I had been using “Grog”when posting on Poll Bludger. I was actually quoted once by Samantha Maiden in The Oz in 2007 in response to a bad Newspoll where she quoted a few comments made on Poll Bludger by nervous lefties – my comment was actually to tell everyone to calm down and not worry – unfortunately it’s not online anymore.
When I decided to start my own blog I thought it sensible to keep my online name as I would be writing about politics much as I did on Poll Bludger – generally online people keep the same name across different blogs. Also, as a public servant I didn’t want to have to keep making it clear that these views are my own, that I do this as a hobby etc etc.
That said I have never viewed being “Grog” as a free pass to write about anything I wanted to. As said above I never write about my area of policy (at the moment film) except in a very peripheral sense – ie movies I like and the odd promotion of upcoming Australian films that I think looks interesting. I have never written anything which I have gleaned through work. All information I use comes from the media or press releases or public reports. This is pretty clear from anyone who regularly reads this blog – you never find “breaking” or “inside” news here – you find opinion and analysis.
I also have never used advertising – despite quite a few friends who work online saying I’m mad not to. My view was even if I only was to make pocket money from writing partisan political commentary, I would be wrong to do so. I wrote a piece for The Drum, but that was purely on media coverage and made no political comment other than a wish for deeper policy from both sides. Ironically the blog post which got all the coverage included me praising the Liberal Party on its disability policy (though I still don’t know if my daughter would have qualified)!
I chose Grog’s Gamut as a title of the blog because that was the title of some pieces of stream of consciousness guff I wrote for my boarding-college paper during my time at uni. And if this blog continues I’ll keep using the title and name .
So what now? Well we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted. I hope I can keep blogging even if it is just on sport, films, books and the media (geez, there’s some ample material). Maybe the media can’t cope with a blog that gets about 1,000 readers a day. Personally I think they can. As The Australian's Matthew Franklin can attest, if any journalist ever thinks I have wronged them, I will acknowledge any oversight or make a correction.
And despite my obvious dislike of much of what is written in The Australian, the best wrap I have ever received was featured on its website. George Megolagenis in his last blog before going on leave responded to a comment from a reader wishing him well and suggesting that he should read my blog. George responded:
Fri 10 Sep 10 (05:35pm)
Grog had a pretty good campaign I thought.
For a blogger like me, that’s about as good as it gets. And I’ll take it.
I stated doing this blog because having finished my PhD (you can read all 315 brilliant pages here – Massola has, poor fool!), and then shifting to working as a public servant, I craved an outlet to write something other than work related material (fun though that can be – seriously!). People who are writers need to write or they go insane, I count myself as one of those people. And so each night after finishing cleaning the dishes at around 6:30pm and before saying goodnight to my eldest daughter at around 8:30pm, I sit down and write this blog. I could have written fiction, but I found writing on current events easier and less stressful (well I once did).
When I started back in 2008 I was lucky to get more than 20 hits. I recall getting excited to get over 25 consistently. The only people who read me were my family and a few friends. I didn’t care, I just loved to write, and got a kick out of my wife, Dad or sister telling me she/he had liked what I had written. Now I get around 1000 hits a day. It is nothing major in the grand scheme of things, but it is nice to know that what I write is liked by enough people that they keep coming back for no other reason than they like what I write.
No one reads this blog because of who I am. Grog’s Gamut is a nobody – you don’t read me because I worked for so and so, or because I obviously have the ear of someone important, or because some newspaper tells you I am a must read. And guess what, I still am a nobody – I have never worked for so and so, and I still don’t have someone's ear. Though I guess at least The Australian thinks I’m worth reading…
And so that’s it. The ‘big’ secret is now out. Is this the end for me as a blogger and as a public servant? I hope not. I like my job, do it diligently, do it well (in my opinion), and I don’t believe I have contravened the APS code of conduct – if I did I wouldn't have started the blog in the first place. I did not stay anonymous because I thought I was doing anything wrong, just that I seriously did not think it mattered.
But if to keep doing my job means I have to stop blogging and tweeting, well then I’ll do that; this is just a hobby after all. I guess I’ll have to try my hand at fiction. I would be sad if it comes to that, but that is life.
So there you are. Don’t you all feel so much more informed? I must say it’s much more interesting than writing about that horrid old hard to understand policy…
UPDATE: The Oz has now linked to my blog. Also just to clear up some of the comments, James Massola did contact me (via Twitter) to tell me he was going to reveal my identity. The quotes in his piece are from the interview I had with him.