Monday, November 29, 2010

Surely you can’t be serous? Part Two – Posetti et al

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 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…


Wolfcat said...

I guess the real question that arises from this post...


which stage of Madonna's career are you singing from....

David Jackmanson said...

Overington is wrong about defamation law. It is a defence to defamation in Australia if you are providing a fair report of a public meeting where matters of public concern are being discussed.

See the second last paragraph of this article I wrote today for a link to chapter and verse on that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. There are many operating in this strange new media space with journalism, communication, law or a combination of other qualifications that make them capable of making a Rational argument and a good read without need of employment in the media to prove their worth.

Greg Jericho said...

that is a damn fine question, Wolfcat.

I'm going with True Blue.

Diogenes said...

I thought Caroline Overington was a "colour writer" anyway, not a journalist. And I believe it was Chris Mitchell who told us that, shortly before she slapped the Labor candidate in a polling booth.

Grahame said...

Overington is one a few journalists showing a strange, defensive contempt for amateur journalists. It's an attitude you can imagine coming from members of an old-world guild. I find it astonishing, because it's so obviously wrong: it's like a scientist claiming to be said because they have a degree in science.

Obvious a scientist is a person that practises the scientific method, and can be judged empirically upon that. A journalist is someone that provides the news, hopefully within a tricky and complex framework of ethics.

Instead of looking at how hard it is to become a journalist, let's look at the quality of a person's work, professional or amateur.

That it was once hard to become a journalist and hard to be heard is an interesting fact, but not terribly relevant.

Saraswati said...

I just read about the Chris Mitchell threat. He needs to worry more about the diminishing reputation of his paper than something that someone has tweeted. I seem to remember a time when the Oz wasn't a tabloid masquerading as a real newspaper.

MrPkD said...

I presume you sing Papa Don't Preach whenever reading The Australian.

L said...

Clearly the ancient profession of journalism needs to be protected from amateurs so that it can continue to produce material of the standard of Paul Sheehan's "alphabet of ecocatastrophe" think-piece.

Pip said...

I don't care if C. Overington is upset when I say again,
"well said Grog, you nailed it !!"
There is just so much piffle in the Oz, I don't even bother with it these days.
The arrogant anti climate change, Labor, anti Greens, anti ABC, anti NBN and anti anyone who disagrees with them was just too much.
They don't seem to understand that the criticism would disappear if they knew how to lift their game and report with less bias.
Actually, it not just The Australian, it's the same with the other New Ltd. rags as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I'm the clown with bile in my gut. Be Awesome if Caroline Overitington could correct the record if I am.
For the record my full name is on my blog.
If I'm not, well us amateurs like our short stabs at fame, as long as we don't try to go all Justin Rose.

anthony said...

As I noted tonight on Twitter, the Oz has, what, at least FIVE journalists covering the "media" beat? Meade, Jackson, Day, Elliott, Overington. That's a lot of effort to spend on a failing attempt to enforce idealogical correctness.

Kyna62 said...

I had to chuckle at this line in Overington's piece "The work of beautiful writers and fearless reporters can’t be done by just anyone". Yes, I've noticed that, and it is one of the reasons I no longer read the Oz. I am far more likely to find beautiful writing and fearless articles when I read good blogs like this one.

Helen said...

So when Mark Scott is quoted as saying that journalists and bloggers now have a symbiotic and complementary role, Overington morphs it into - it's "actually offensive for Scott to argue that anyone can practise journalism"... and "Do they, too, consider themselves to be people with nothing to offer the profession..." Surely distorting someone's message like this is the kind of sloppiness she's supposed to deplore? What a tantrum!

Fake Paul Keating said...

As one of the amiture bloggers with bile in my heart, i have to say that you did nail this one Greg

I ment to my first social media discussion discussing Journalism, PR and SM, and i was the only person not using pen and paper (and streaming the event live via a phone on

A lot of the discussion was on controling the information, but one point missed was everyone is now a journo, and everyone is a PR person even if they have no relation to the company or product.

My view is that today, jouralist have two competing obligations: getting stories out fast and accurate. If you're slow, others will fill the gap. If incorect, people (like you) will point it out. Thats not to say you can not get facts wrong as long as you rapidly and efectively issue correction. Publish once and bury the correction on page 12 is dead.


2353 said...

The Mental Picture of a Ralph Finnes lookalike in a cone bra singing into a hairbrush is just too much :)

Grog, your heading said it all - they can't be serious????

Lad Litter said...

It's even more of an error-fest than we thought: Eddie McGuire started at Ch10 as a sports reporter and Don Lane had a Tonight Show on TCN9 in Sydney long before he ever saw Bendigo St.

Dumb and nasty is a fairly despicable combination of qualities, wouldn't you say?

Anonymous said...

Not only Bert, but I think the great Eddie Maguire started elsewhere.

He was a junior sports reporter for TEN news at a time when they didn't really care much about sport or AFL. Eddie made a name by putting in a lot of his own time covering them.

Nine later took him up, and the Footy Show made him nationally.

Anonymous said...

As always, Grog - you're a treat to read.


John Kerrison said...

All who report what they see for the betterment of the community and the questioning of power are journalists.

And I reckon you'd be singing 'Ray of light'?

Andos said...

Instead of thinking you're Madonna, you should have a go at brain surgery. If COverington can do it, I bet you can.

Anonymous said...

Good one mate, you f**ckin' nailed it.

Syd Walker said...

A good read Grog, but is it fair for a well-educated blogger "interested in sport, literature and politics" (broad interests) to pass comment on Caroline's Overington's delightful 'Media Diary'?

Caroline is a narrowcaster. She clearly identified her own intended readership in today's article, which for some reason (emphasis?) was replicated in triplicate, with comments disallowed as always. This is what she says:

"HERE at Diary, we know you’re primarily interested in two things: who’s on the move (and how much are they getting paid?) and who’s in strife."

Personally, I think she sells her column short. Anyone interested in how Australia's journalistic 'profession' regularly hands itself awards for 'excellence' may also find it vaguely interesting. But on reflection, that's probably the same small crowd.

It's true that the inception of #twitdef (a twitter hashtag for which we can thank Caroline herself, incidentally – and what a top choice!), Media Diary has become required reading for everyone interested in laughing at The Australian. Now THAT's a LOT of people - more every day,

If I was Uncle Rupert I'd whack Media Diary behind a paywall ASAP. Right now, he might pick up a few bucks. (Bernard Keane's Crikey article about #TwitDef yesterday was cannily deployed behind its paywall to attract new paid subscribers.)

Now real work beckons. I must go milk the yak, secure in the knowledge that while I'm away from the screen our highly-trained, reasonably-paid and multi-awarded Commentariat will keep a serious eye on reality on behalf of us all.

Thank God for the division of labour.

Anonymous said...

Actually the so-called journos who "train" are so lazy these days they simply cut and paste each others lies while bloggers like me have to ferrett out facts.

Like one small fact the lazy buggers keep "quoting" is that "only 30% of Afghan asylum seekers are being accepted", yet the DIAC annual report puts it at 99.7%.

Even when it is sent to the lazy buggers they don't read it.

JCP said...

I had to laugh at Overington arguing defensively for the guild approach (no amateurs allowed) in her column.

The assumption, of course, was that you can only be a journalist if you work in the factory age editorial offices of large media companies, preferably those of News Ltd and that everyone who is not part of this milieu is by definition unskilled.

It should be clear to anyone who consumes a lot of traditional media and web copy that some of the most skilled and astute observors of politics, media, economics and science work outside the media and write on blogs and other outlets to a quality superior to anything found in the mainstream media.

That they often do so in real time without sacrificing the values of accuracy, context, balance and having a distinctive point of view makes them just as qualified to call themselves journalists as most of the undistinguished hacks at News Ltd who spend their days either recycling press releases or writing to the boss' ideological orders.

I was a professional journalist for 26 years, so feel "qualified" to offer the opinion that the writing and analysis on blogs like this and those elsewhere (eg: Lavratus Prodeo and Club Troppo and Possum) is equal to, and more frequently, superior than the declining standards on offer in most Australian newspapers.

What we are dealing with here are the dying throes of a guild and a form of neo-ludditism that denies the possibility of better ways of doing things. This is because the participants are locked into an archaic production structure that restricts their conception of what journalism can be.

fitzroyalty said...

Given that so many of the people allegedly 'trained' to do journalism are such utter cretins, the value of said training is held to ridicule by we new media writers, editors and publishers who rely instead on intellect, education and common sense.

Jen said...

Great piece Grog... :)

mutikonka said...

I've been a journalist for almost 20 years and I wish that what Overington said was true. The reality is that when I follow through on links I see on Twitter and on blogs, I usually find they are well informed and well written pieces that would never have made it through the editorial and ideological filters of News Ltd or Fairfax. It's a sobering reminder to professional journalists like me that 'civilians' can't write just as well, if not better - and they give it away for nothing. Chris Mitchell is the King Cnut of old school journalism.

Will said...

Chris Mitchell sounds paranoid. He must be up to something, such as trying to sling as much rot, rightly or wrongly, as he possibly can onto anything that isn't in line with the oz's inreasingly extreme ideology...

Macca said...

What a quandary;

Do I get information from well written blogs such as this one.


Do I read the efforts of the flystrike infected dross that Murdoch employs.

No brainer really.

Anonymous said...

Overington is trying to flog off road kill as prime beef.

Cantbeeffed said...

Why are certain institutions in MSM so offended by anonymity in blogs? Surely the only thing that matters is the content, not who wrote it. A fallacious piece can be dissected and rebutted, a thorough piece stands on its own.

The only threat I can see from anonymous journalism is the inability to launch ad hominem attacks on the author. Is that the missing element that makes it so galling for 'professional' journalists?

Greg Jericho said...

Cheers to all, some great and interesting comments.

I can't believe I missed the Eddie started at Channel 10 bit as well.

No John, as good a message as Ray of Light would send, I'm an 80s Madonna guy!

PB said...

Overington said "it is argue that anyone can practise journalism...That (journalists) are no better at gathering news or making contacts or assessing and analysing information, than anyone else?"

These were all rhetorical questions but the simple fact is that some bloggers are much, much better at these things than full-time journalists, particularly the analysis of news.

Often journalists just don't have the technical expertise or the time to understand the topic they are writing about whereas bloggers, because they write about topics that they are interested in, perhaps work in professionally, and do it solely because they want to, often have much more insightful and interesting analysis than professional journalists.

Of course there are lots of crap blogs, but the best blogs far exceed the quality of what you can get from The Australian or The Age.

I'd include Grog on politics in that category, Possum Pollytics on time series analysis (any sort), Stilgherian on telecommunications, and lots more.

It's pretty obvious to me that journalists whose main stock in trade is "assessing and analysing information" are in deep trouble.

Unknown said...

But if the journalists aren't practising (surely as they are being paid, it should be more than practise by now) journalism, why can't others have a turn? We wouldn't be looking for better coverage (say of policy during the Federal Election - as noted a few pages behind dear Caroline's gossip section) if they did their job with any degree of skill.

And where is all this brilliant writing she mentioned? Given Ltd News' handbag obssession, have they somehow hired Oscar Wilde?

drsusancalvin said...

I recall 3 years ago phoning ABC talk back to speak to the current Age Editor on the topic of the movement away from print media to the internet. As a life long Age subscriber who had canceled and now roamed blogs and other sites finding what I once looked for in The Age, I felt representative enough to comment. He laughed out loud when I said I read blogs for analysis. He said the internet is full of opinion and error, and if you want well researched reliable information rely on the MSM. It reminds me of the way some doctors react when you mention the internet.

Mark said...

Did anyone else spot the typo in Micahel's (November 30, 2010 8:38 PM) comment?

drsusancalvin said...

All this does remind me of the old saying, "we're talking about you, not to you." Do the Journalists whose work is critiqued on line ever encounter the criticisms?

Terangeree said...

Mark (December 1, 5:11pm), that was not a typo.

The Viking referred to was the King three-and-a-bit nations (Denmark, England, Norway and bits of Sweden), and was succeeded on the Danish throne by Harthacnut.

But I don't think he ever ate Spam.

Chris Grealy said...

I'm sure there is skill involved in good journalism. I haven't seen any in the mainstream media for a good many years though.
The publications which used to be newspapers have degenerated into a mashup of rightwing propaganda, celebrity scandals and advertising.
Sorry Mr Mitchell, your rep was toast long before this.

Anonymous said...

I think the typo Mark was referring to was that, "...civilians can't write just as well, ..."

I'm pretty sure that Michael meant 'CAN' write just as well.

JCP said...

I've written a piece on the same subject over at The Failed Estate for those who are interested:

Anonymous said...

I know who I'd trust for analysis out of the following:

Dennis Shanahan, Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Fran Kelly, Chris Uhlmann (all regulars on the 'fair and balanced' ABC)

... Or ...

Grogs Gamut, Possum's Pollytics, Pure Poison, The Political Sword, The Failed Estate.

No contest actually.

mutikonka said...

Yes apologies for the typo. Should have said 'can'. Old school media, you see. I need a sub to check my copy.

Kirsty Wallett said...

Nicely written Greg! Normally I just enjoy reading your posts but because of Ms Overington's comments about journalism I just HAD to say something.
As someone who spent 3 years and about 20K (I think) on learning to be a journalist, I have to say I couldn't disagree with her more. Elitist views, including that 'not anyone can be a journalist', are just one of the reasons I’ve now left the profession. It seems Mark Scott may be trying to move with the times and be a little bit open-minded, which is encouraging. I hope the elitism will die eventually as online journalism and Twitter continue to go from strength to strength. But the very notion that you would want to insult the very people you’re supposed to be writing news for (i.e the public, which includes the online community) doesn’t make much sense to me. Overington also fails to recognise that not everyone who ‘writes beautifully’ and has an enquiring mind chooses to be a journalist. I’m not saying there’s no basis for journalistic education – there is. But making assumptions about the education and background bloggers is a pretty narrow approach.

RuffnReady said...

"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."

I find that kind of statement highly ironic in the context of another furore over climate science since every man and his dog seems to think they understand the climate better than the thousands of highly trained professionals who have made it their lives' work!

Anonymous said...

I noticed a few people commented on Overington's interesting choice of Madonna as an example of the superiority of professionals to autodidacts...but even more surprising was her example par excellence of Masterchef, the premise of which rests on the contestants not having had any formal training as a chef, but instead relying upon their talent, natural instincts and passion for the job to bootstrap themselves up to the level of professional chefs? Is this not what a lot of new media specialists can also be said to be doing?