So last week a friend of mine, University of Canberra journalism lecturer Julie Posetti, was threatened with a defamation suit by the editor in chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell. This all happened because she was attending a journalism conference in Sydney where former journalist for The Oz, Asa Wahlquist, was speaking (it was the same conference where earlier in the week ABC Managing Director Mark Scott mentioned me in a speech, that set off a mercifully brief bit of “grogsgate”). Posetti was live tweeting the event – a thing done by many journalists during press conferences – it is basically tweeting as the you listen. Mitchell took issue with the tweets that Posetti did, because he alleged that the alleged tweets that Posetti tweeted about and which she alleged were what Walhquist said were not what Walhquist said.
Now I wasn't at the conference and I am not a legal expert, so I have no comment on who is right or wrong. I will say though that an audio of the conference has now appeared which suggests, according to the ABC that “much of the information tweeted was actually said.”
Personally though, I think the entire thing is utterly silly.
I have had some experience in being the centre of The Oz’s attention, though thankfully no lawyers were involved. But actually my first direct contact with The Oz came not through the whole revealing of my name, but through a response to the blog post I wrote during the election that caused all the fuss.
The post stated (among many other things) that the media had ignored the Liberal’s policy announcement on disabled education funding. Now later in the week Matthew Franklin of The Oz got in touch with me via Twitter (a direct message, so it’s not public) in which he essentially made it clear that he knew I didn’t like him, but that that was no reason for me to misrepresent him – because he had actually written a piece on the Lib’s disability policy.
I quickly did some research and found that he had indeed written one – the day after I had written my post, so it was not completely surprising that I had not referred to it given my inability to see into the future. But nevertheless I did in my next post mention Franklin’s article and actually gave it a fair bit of discussion (yeah I bagged a lot of it, but I also gave him a big rap for being the only one to do a half decent job on it).
I should at this point say that he never asked to know who I was, and the fact that I was just “Grog’s Gamut” made me no less accountable for what I had written – and no less able to correct the record.
Since then he and I actually converse quite a bit on Twitter. I doubt we have ever agreed on anything political or media, but like mature adults we enjoy a good discussion and find enough common ground on Dylan songs and the brilliance of Heart of Darkness to get by. I will still bag his articles if I think he writes something particularly foolish, and he will defend himself on Twitter to me and others. Some others get abusive towards him, but he and I are always civil.
That is how adults behave.
That is how I would have expected the editor in chief of the flagship paper of News.ltd to behave when he felt wronged by a person tweeting something that may have been read by 5,000 of her followers (less I’d assume – I follow her and I didn’t see the tweets because I was at work and not on Twitter and I, like most people, don’t go through every single tweet I’ve missed in the previous 8 hours when I get home).
But hey, different strokes. I know which way I think is nicer.
It is hard not to see all of this as part of The Australian’s ever more obvious unease with new media – blogs, Twitter etc. The amount of time they spend trying to knock such media beggars belief. And whenever the issue arises you can generally expect Caroline Overington to be sent out to play the role of full forward – especially if it can be combined with a kick to the ABC, as happened last week.
On Saturday, Overington wrote a piece on the speech by Mark Scott at the journalists conference last week, where he suggested that:
“Media organisations like the ABC and The Australian need to accept that we now operate in a shared space. That the days when we exclusively controlled the agenda are gone. The space is shared by professionals and amateurs, and smart media organisations will embrace the energy and insight of the non-professionals and use it to ultimately strengthen their offering.”
Not exactly earth shattering stuff – for Overington though it’s barbarians at the gates stuff:
To Diary’s mind, it is actually offensive for Scott to argue that anyone can practise journalism. It’s insulting to people actually trained to do it. Diary in fact wonders what the journalists who work for Scott—there’s about 1000 of them—make of his statements to that effect. Do they, too, consider themselves to be people with nothing to offer the profession that can’t be done by the unskilled and the inexperienced online? That they are no better at gathering news or making contacts or assessing and analysing information, than anyone else?
Whatever Scott may think, journalism isn’t easy. To illustrate the point: there was a time when reporters would send links to one another, perhaps with a short notes, saying: “Great piece.” You could open and read it, and chances are, it would be a great piece, meaning a beautifully written, thoughtful, sympathetic, clean piece of prose, written by somebody whose work had been beaten into shape by an army of editors and sub-editors over years.
See a link to a “great piece” on Twitter nowadays, and you generally don’t want to make the mistake of opening it, because chances are it will be absolute dross, produced by some clown with a cartoon character for a picture by-line, a fake name, no sense of perspective, and a good bit of bile in their gut.
“Great piece!” his mates will crow. “You’ve nailed it!” But actually, it will be rubbish. In short, while most of us can boil an egg, Masterchef we ain’t, and while most of us can apply a Band-Aid, we wouldn’t attempt brain surgery. We can sing in front of the mirror, in other words, but let’s not pretend to be Madonna.
The work of beautiful writers and fearless reporters can’t be done by just anyone, and so we must respectfully disagree with Scott, wherever and whenever he suggests that it can.
The piece was headed:
By Scott, there’s skill involved
And she (and the sub-editor who wrote the headline) is right. There is skill involved in good journalism. Take her media diary today where she wrote about the Julia Posetti issue:
The facts are somewhat simpler: Posetti sat in on a conference where serious allegations were made about Mitchell. Posetti published those allegations without checking to see if they were true or asking Mitchell for a response. That’s the kind of mistake journalists try to avoid, but it does happen. If it had happened on a newspaper, the paper would have to apologise, correct the record, and if damage had been done to someone’s reputation, pay recompense.
I thought that a very interesting comment on what happens with journalism in a newspaper given that back in September it was reported in The Australian of my attendance at the media140 conference:
(was it a sick day, a day in lieu, annual leave, did he clear it with his supervisor?)
Because at no stage did anyone from The Australian check with me to see what was true – it was just a question posed. On seeing the article I immediately wrote on Twitter:
for the record I took a day's annual leave to attend media140
Did The Australian “correct the record”? Well no – there was nothing to correct, you see (they were just posing a question).
But look, that is all just details, facts… I’m not really up to speed on it all – not being skilful enough to be a journalist.
I was also interested to read this on Overington’s media diary today:
Soup’s off at Nine
AS of next week, the famed GTV9 television studios at 22 Bendigo Street in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond will be no more. After 54 years in the building, which was once a soup factory, Nine is now moving to the city’s trendy Docklands, and quite a few people in the industry are heartbroken at the shift. Some pretty big names got started at Bendigo Street: Bert Newton for one, Daryl Somers obviously, Eddie McGuire, the late Graham Kennedy and the late Don Lane. There was an onscreen celebration last Friday, hosted by McGuire and Tracy Grimshaw; there will also be a boardroom lunch hosted by Jeffrey Browne, with former GTV9 heads Nigel Dick, David Evans, Ian Johnson and Paul Waldren expected to attend. And there’ll be a big party at the studios on December 10.
Good yarn. Except a few things:
1. The studios will not be “no more” “as of next week”. The Nine News will continue to broadcast from there until early in 2011.
2. “Bert Newton for one”, did not get started at GTV9 TV studio. As page 119 of my copy of the Graham Kennedy biography “King” by Graeme Blundell tells me, Newton started in TV at Channel 7 in August 1957. He started at Channel 9 only in 1959. If Overington doesn't have Blundell’s book, she could have read it here in a piece by Newton himself on the Herald Sun’s website:
I came here in 1959 after two years at Channel 7. Back in those early days, everyone was learning about television.
3. “There was an onscreen celebration last Friday, hosted by McGuire and Tracy Grimshaw”. Well yes, kinda. There was an A Current Affair program on Friday hosted by Grimshaw that featured a segment with (among others) Eddie McGuire, but as everyone knows, the real on-air celebration was on Saturday Night – that event was hosted by McGuire and Bert Newton.
But these are all just details. Facts, minor insignificant facts, I’m sure everything else in her piece is right... And I am but a poor little blogger, unskilled in the world of journalism. What do I know? Guess, I should just get back to singing in front of my mirror pretending to be Madonna…