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The future of fair dinkum journalism

G'day. Deputy Editor Kerri Browne here on the east coast while Margo flies west to present a public lecture From Barons to Bloggers tonight at the University of Western Australia. Margo's chapter from the book The Alfred Deakin Debate - Barons to Bloggers: Confronting Media Power released in August this year is republished here with thanks to Melbourne University Press. Webdiarists in Perth are invited to join Margo tonight - see below for details...

The future of fair dinkum journalism

Margo Kingston

Margo has created something here that I have not found before. That is a community of ideas and communication that, good and bad, has allowed me to hear from others and articulate my opinion without fear or favour. I have not found this community in the pub, at the club, at work nor in coffee bars. Fairfax has done us all a service by hosting this site and paying you a stipend to continue it. However considering the hundreds of people who write on this blog and the unknown number of readers who lurk whilst building the courage to voice their opinion … I suggest that this blog … is no longer yours or Fairfax's to choose what to do with. You have started something that has grown and is now a part of everyday life for a large number of people.1

I felt confronted to the core when I read this comment from Webdiarist Marc Macdonald in March this year. How could Marc possibly assert that Fairfax, Webdiary's host, and me, Webdiary's editor, publisher, moderator and chief commentator, did not own it?

But once I thought it through, I realised that far from being threatening, Marc was affirming what I'd been striving to achieve since I began Webdiary five years ago with the words: "Welcome to my Canberra diary. I'm allowed to say what I think whenever I like, and lucky you can interact if you like".2

Not that I knew it at the time, of course. I well remember the then-editor of www.smh.com.au, Tom Burton, talking me into disclosing my email address on Webdiary, despite my protests that I'd had enough hate mail since covering Pauline Hanson's 1998 election campaign, and would prefer not to be in direct communication with readers. Once I was, I ditched my little plan to maintain my public voice through a weekly online comment piece while doing the chief-of-staff job at the Sydney Morning Herald's Canberra Bureau. Webdiary quickly became a reader's forum bouncing off my opinion pieces. I loved it!

Webdiary thus became Australia's first mainstream media 'blog ' - although I resisted this description for many years - and, perhaps, Australia's first interactive blog.

For me, it was liberation from the depressing state of mainstream newspaper journalism. In my years in the game, I've watched newspapers cease becoming papers of record. Where once we would follow an inquiry or a court case daily, now we jump in and out, or not even turn up at all until decision day. This occurred in 2003 when Fairfax failed to have a reporter at Hanson's fraud trial, despite the fact that her rise had dominated the news for years. Partly it is because of a contraction in journalist numbers, partly it is a crunch in news space, and partly it is the chase for scoops that will be mentioned on radio and TV, ignoring the fact that only newspapers can give readers comprehensive, value-added coverage of such stories.

Then there are the ever-earlier deadlines as papers focus on glossy supplements rather than news. This has seen the rise of 'managed news' where editors want to know what the news is at morning conference and are loathe to change their plans when news breaks later! Even worse, Fairfax editors started to talk of 'managing' reporters as well as news, and getting rid of reporters whose style was not amenable to 'management'. As the layers of editorial management began to match or exceed that in public service bureaucracies, reporters became content providers, and news was seen as the space between the ads. Our audience became consumers, not citizen readers, and news judgement became a marketing game of creating the mix that pleased advertisers and accorded with consumer surveys.

Above all, I sensed that the traditional way of writing news had become redundant as newsmakers got to know and exploit our news judgement and our deadlines to mould news reporting to fit into their propaganda machines. We weren't adapting to that fact, or finding ways to challenge it. We were in a straitjacket and didn't seem to know it. Or maybe we did, and didn't care. Maybe we had become part of the power elite, not the questioners of it. In short, I didn't feel I belonged any more. I saw the journalist's role as the interface between the people and the powerful, asking questions on behalf of the people, and demanding accountability by the powerful to the people. We had duties, I thought, to our readers as citizens, and to our democracy. This view now triggered eye-glazing or eye-rolling among senior management. I thought they were commercially silly not to see it my way; they thought I was a relic of a bygone era.

Through Webdiary I became the first mainstream media journalist to be employed full-time on Fairfax's online branch. I published speeches and reports in full, so readers got the context and could decide for themselves what they thought of them. I published transcripts of my interviews with people, so they could see how the process worked and how the powerful avoided questions and spun the news. Readers felt empowered, involved and excited by the chance Webdiary gave them to ask their own questions and state their own views at length. They suggested topics for investigation, and became joint investigators with me. They didn't want to be passive consumers of news. They wanted a seat at the table.

But what was Webdiary, what did it stand for, and what was its purpose? I've answered these questions on the run when challenged by readers to do so, thus clarifying what I was depressed about in mainstream journalism and how interactive journalism, which I now see as 'participatory journalism', can help save the profession.3

I took the first step in philosophising Webdiary when challenged to do so by reader Paul McLaren: 'Please excuse my ignorance, but I am perplexed by the object of your section of the Sydney Morning Herald. Could you please tell me why I should contribute? It seems very interesting but a little pointless unless, like I suspect, I am missing something.' I needed a Charter. The funny thing was it took me minutes to write, as though I already knew the answer. It remains true for me four years later: I believe that:

  • widely read Australian broadsheet newspapers are essential to the health and vibrancy of our democracy
  • Australian newspapers are yet to adapt to a multi-media future pressing on the present
  • there is a vacuum of original, genuine, passionate and accessible debate on the great political, economic and social issues of our time in the mainstream media, despite the desire of thinking Australians in all age groups to read and participate in such debates
  • newspapers have lost their connection with the readers they serve
  • the future lies in a collaboration between journalists and readers.

The mission of the Webdiary is to:

  • experiment in the form and content of the Herald online
  • assist in the integration of the newspaper and smh.com.au
  • help meet the unmet demand of some Australians for conversations on our present and our future, and to spark original thought and genuine engagement with important issues which effect us all
  • link thinking Australians whoever they are and wherever they live insist that thinking Australians outside the political and economic establishment have the capacity to contribute to the national debate
  • provide an outlet for talented writers and thinkers not heard in mainstream media 4

Fair dinkum participatory journalism on Webdiary began in 2003. During the 'Honest Politics Trust' scandal I tried without success to get answers from the Australian Electoral Commission on their inaction over the trust and their failure to order disclosure of donations to it. So I published transcripts of the interviews, documenting the spin, the lies and the obfuscation and the AEC's utter failure to abide by its charter to serve voters, not politicians. The simple mechanism of naming names and providing contact points saw readers demand their own answers from the AEC. I published their emails and the AEC's replies-and helped force a rethink by the AEC of its secrecy policy, the intervention of the AEC chairman, and a re-examination of the Trust files. Two of Australia's leading electoral law academics, Joo-Cheong Tham and Graeme Orr, wrote pieces challenging the AEC's stance, setting out the law, answering readers' legal questions and documenting the AEC's history of inaction on political donation disclosure avoidance. 5

This experience cemented my view that the appropriate place for the journalist was no longer at the lectern telling readers what had happened and why. The journalist's place is sitting around the table with her readers, polling expertise and information to get the story. Provided the journalist is trusted and her judgement is respected, everyone is empowered. Properly resourced, I believe the sky is the limit for this type of journalism.

My personal highlight in this regard was a piece called A think tank war: Why old Europe says no. In the lead-up to the Iraq war, reader Alun Breward contacted me for the first time: "I found this article on the website of German news magazine Der Spiegel this week. I thought it was one of the best pieces of journalism on the Iraq conflict I have read and so I translated it". Webdiary thus became the first mainstream media organ in Australia to explain the Project for the New American Century, the rise of the neocons, and their vision for world dictatorship by force. That piece made the front page of Mike Moore's website, was translated into French and Spanish on European websites, and remains the most read Webdiary piece in its history.

I have become seriously concerned that Webdiary is at risk. The problem as I see it is that Fairfax had given over editorial control of a space it had believed was marginal, but then realised was at the forefront of a trend that would revolutionise the paper itself. Issues of 'control', paramount in big media, are knotty to negotiate in this new era, and Fairfax distanced itself from Webdiary as part of my change of status from employee to contractor, and by inserting on my home page: 'The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the Sydney Morning Herald or John Fairfax'.

Yet eight months later in April 2005, global media baron Rupert Murdoch proclaimed himself dead wrong about Internet media and pledged to embrace it, and blogging, in an effort to maintain his dominance in the industry.

A few years ago his son Lachlan told senior editorial management at a retreat that he didn't want reporters using the Net at work because they'd waste their time. Peter Wilson, now London correspondent for The Australian, protested strongly, and cruelled his chances, it was said then, to become the paper's editor. Yet Rupert admitted in a speech I ran in full on Webdiary called 'The Challenges of the Online World' that he'd missed the online boat and was bloody worried about it:

[People's] attitudes towards newspapers are especially alarming. Only 9 per cent describe us as trustworthy, a scant 8 per cent find us useful, and only 4 per cent of respondents think we're entertaining. Among major news sources, our beloved newspaper is the least likely to be the preferred choice for local, national or international news going forward. 6

What did readers now want?

They want to be able to use the information in a larger community, to talk about, to debate, to question, and even to meet the people who think about the world in similar or different ways. For some, [our Internet sites] may have to become the place for conversation. The digital native doesn't send a letter to the editor anymore. She goes online, and starts a blog. We need to be the destination for those bloggers. We need to encourage readers to think of the web as the place to go to engage our reporters and editors in more extended discussions about the way a particular story was reported or researched or presented.

At the same time, we may want to experiment with the concept of using bloggers to supplement our daily coverage of news on the Net. There are of course inherent risks in this strategy-chief among them maintaining our standards for accuracy and reliability. Plainly, we can't vouch for the quality of people who aren't regularly employed by us, and bloggers could only add to the work done by our reporters, not replace them. But they may still serve a valuable purpose; broadening our coverage of the news; giving us new and fresh perspectives to issues; deepening our relationship to the communities we serve. 7

Naturally I felt vindicated. Rupe, I worked that out years ago! But you can't sit back and smile in this game. Who says blogs will destroy journalism? Not me. Done right, I think the new media can restore my profession's reputation with readers. Their response has given me the confidence to believe that if and when Fairfax decides it does not want to be associated with Webdiary, I can make it independent, survive financially and oversee its expansion.

1 In comments to "Webdiary, you and me" at http://webdiary.smh.com.au/archives/margo_kingston_comment/000769.html

2 "Welcome to my diary ... and now for the GST" at http://smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/19/1069027172239.html

3 I began using the phrase after Lateline's Tony Jones so 'named' what I was doing in 2002: 'Kingston's Net site is irreverent, straignt-shooting and interactive. The readers get to answer back, often at length and apparently uncensored. You coul describe it as participatory journalism with attitude.'

4 Webdiary's charter is at http://smh.com.au/articles/2002/04/291019441338099. [Webdiary's new independent charter is here.]

5 See Webdiary 2003 archive from August 22 to September 9 at http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/webdiary/archive/2003/, and chapters 15 and 16 of my book Not Happy John! Defending our Democracy (Penguin 2004).

6 "The role of newspapers in this digital age" by Rupert Murdoch at http://webdiary.smh.com.au/archives/margo_kingston/000899.html.

7 Ibid.

Thu, 22 Sep 2005 6pm - 7pm WST
Tonight's event: Public lecture: From Barons to Bloggers
Speaker: Margo Kingston
Location: Geography Lecture Theatre 1, UWA
Contact: Institute of Advanced Studies: (08) 6488 1340
URL: http://www.ias.uwa.edu.au

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re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

I'm a one week old newbie to the whole blogging phenomena. I'm impressed by the quality of the articles written and of the contributors responses, even the ones I disagree with. The only comments I tend to skip over are the ad hominem attacks, those contributors who insist on playing the man (or woman) and not the ball.

I think that the most important aspect of a site such as this is not simply the opportunity for new views but for as a repository and access point for original documents. It’s a very valuable exercise to read reports and official and semi documents in the original, without the editing and interpretation that takes place in the traditional media. I needn't rely on what some 'commentator' tries to tell me about a government policy, I can read the policy for myself, for example the Amanda Vanstone thread. The other major benefit of a site such as this is the opportunity to hear from experts, such as what Julian Burnside wrote about Scott Parkin. I'm so thoroughly disinterested in reading the views of traditional newspapers resident 'experts' - the usual suspects delivering up opinion about things which they know little or nothing dressed up as authoritative or insightful comment.

However, having said all of the above, I think its fanciful to presume that the internet can or will replace traditional media. The benefits of traditional media, in terms of ease of consumption and portability, eg reading a paper on the train to work or the bus home, make newspapers a highly popular medium. I believe the US experience is one we will likely follow where weblogs act as an adjunct to mainstream media, often breaking news stories which the mainstream then pick up and run with. The internet will only ever be a source of news for the few - (who hopefully can influence the many!)

I say all of this in the context of Howard's push to 'reform' the cross media laws. I believe its dangerously misconceived to view the presence of the internet as an argument to reduce cross media restrictions. This is a niche product, not a mainstream product and its presence, while extremely valuable, shouldn't be used to push for a still lower diversity in editorial voices in this country in the traditional media.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

What concerns me most is that this recent trend away from 'news' to 'content' - ie the dumbing down of journalism, the increase in 'entertainment news' and the brief attention paid to substantial political issues that affect us all, is actually something that we, the Australian people, have ASKED for.

Margo writes that the execs at Fairfax considered her a dinosaur for her views that newspapers have a duty to the citizens - but maybe this is because the executives know from experience that the market (ie us) doesn't reward newspapers for living up this duty? Maybe they are marketing the the Australian population that we have, rather than the population that we Webdiarists would like to believe in?

I don't mean to be gloomy here, but it seems to me that if we had a population that was thirsty for real news with detailed content on significant issues, and that was unafraid to hear the whole brutal truth, then there would still be a market for a newspaper that lives up to the 'duty' that Margo expresses above. However, since we have a population that increasingly wants to bury its head in the sand, focus on the minutae of its own immediate circle, and avoid the difficulty of being properly informed (ignorance is bliss, after all) then papers will continue to decline in terms of real news content.

As an example: I consider myself to have a reasonably well educated group of close friends (about ten of them, all with university degrees, some with two). Two are solicitors, several work for the public service, others work in Sydney city for a variety of multinationals. The other day I asked them all, as an experiemnt, if they could tell me who the new Premier of NSW was. None of them knew. I asked them to tell me who the old Premier was and only three of them knew. I then asked who our Deputy Prime Minister was and they all answered 'Peter Costello'. What's more, when I pointed out that they are entirely ignorant of Australian politics, they all admitted that they don't really care because it doesn't affect them.

That's right - in their view Australian politics doesn't affect them.

We lament the slow death of the 'real' newspaper, but I fear that it is us who are killing it.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say: "newspapers have lost their connection with the readers they serve". I've been an avid consumer of newspapers since I was young but in the past five years have completely lost interest in them.

Finding true information on the internet is still hard, but it's getting there fast as one builds up trust in various web-sites and thier contributers. Webdiary is certainly one I now trust because it brings me so many views of real people, including those who think differently to me.

I believe now that as most newspapers are being run by businessmen who have never actually been journalists and who are only interested in profit margins, they are killing off their own products through ignorance. Sensationlism and the lives of show biz people and other such 'light' material, always a part of the newspaper industry, has really taken over as the main product being pushed and it becomes quite tiresome, while really fascinating and important stuff, as in the Pauline Hanson case, is treated in much the same manner and thus reduced to another sideline.

Reading about Rupert Murdoch's past, as he seems to be the person really pushing these changes in the print media, it appears to me he was never a great newspaper man but an entrepreneur who merely uses the print media for profit. I'm not so sure his splurging of millions on the internet will be the great success he believes as he's left his run so late.

Unless he manages to find some way to actually control the internet and the way he seems to pander to the egos of people like Bush, Howard and Blair that could well be his agenda.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

You know Margo, you could always go to News Corp, and join Murdoch.

Going independent is a big step, it's starting a small business. You had a bit of a start, with already having a market share and being able to take your 'client list' mostly across with you when you left Fairfax. But seeing whether it is viable or not requires to put your money where your mouth is, and that requires courage, which I respect. Now I guess we see how far it goes, hey?

And doing this is much more fun than I imagine J-school would be. I don't think I can just walk into a job after contributing articles and submissions here, but it is good experience, and I'm sure most would agree.

And you never know. Maybe a wealthy contributor will come to the party with an arm's length funding deal. Or maybe News Corp. Who knows?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Hooray for me and everyone else who wants to contribute to democracy by enagaging in dialogue; the esential ingredient in democracy. More power to you and your loved ones, Margo. May they ever strengthen and inspire your embracing of vulnerability and humility, cause that's what it took to do this.

Ed Hamish: I don't normally interject gratuitously Jenny, but thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

You look at the student numbers in journalism courses and think, "where are they going to work?"

The answer to that is becoming clear. "Who are they going to work with?" is another question entirely.

As a high-schooler I was lucky enough, after a work experience stint, to be allowed to 'wag' school for a day a week to write for the Portland local rag. Sitting in that office I learned to type on little slips of paper, being given information and suggestions by the sub, weekly watching the process of a country newspaper coming together.

There existed in that office, at all times, complete unity and dedication to the publication of the next edition.

Experiences like that can't be recreated in a classroom.

My point is that the next generation of journalists are going to need the same mentors, collegues and readers as their forbears had, and with the potential sense of isolation a writer can encounter while blogging into cyberspace, the only way for cultural support for journalism to exist is the creation of online communites bearing such a cause in mind.

In the short time I've been around Webdiary I've been on a learning curve unlike any other. I've come to admire the strength of character and depth in insight of many of the participants here.

Somewhere in the back of things I sense a vague, rumbling sense of unity around here. The signs are good.

Those who are keeping Webdiary together should feel proud of themselves. Journalism, like everything else, is affected by the symbiosis of supply and demand. Webdiary is creating a supply of good interactive writing, and the demand seems to be spreading.

Sometimes the 'natural order of things' needs to be given a 'gentle push'.
Thank you for being pushers.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

G'day Stuart, late at night and am just reading this new thread. You obviously had Bob Wall choking on his Rice Bubbles at the mention of Margo selling out to Murdoch or the like.

Bob, a personal nightmare of mine also.

Having watched this Webdiary for a while, it's surprised me she has kept going. She must have the constitution of an ox and the hide of a rhinoceros.

On apologising one time to her for an irritable email concerning a political issue, she wrote back giving me just the faintest example of the shit she was recieving from some of the even less controlled and more Neanderthal types. What we may loosely describe as 'debating' styles certainly came from a more rustic, monsyllabic and 'muscular' trajectory.

I, too, reckon she has put body and soul into this, and if Stuart is correct, she is very brave indeed trusting us by putting her money where her mouth is.

Because without participants there is no show and no advancement and the lack of tolerance we show each other must have Margo Kingston pondering on whether it has been worthwhile, when we are at our collective worst. The comments in the thread universally follow a theme that Margo described early, talking about commodification/'processing' of Media and its stories from the world.

For me, it's been incredible to find out over time that so many others, including some with otherwise diametrically opposed points of view, have united in questioning the lack of substance offered by much mainstream media.

People DO want to toss ideas around and have hard facts about the real world, free of 'mediation'. Is it likely that media will get worse as more of us seeking substance abandon the mainstream media department store for the informative niches within the vast mall of the internet?

In the thread concerning Marie Coleman I ended up finding some sense in the Rob Wearn and Stuart Lord blogs, not because they agreed with my own long-cherished views but for precisely the opposite reason.
Now, if some find my viewpoints on subjects as curious as I find theirs, and I'm sure they do, then so much more the need for this unique site, with its instant devil's advocates to test out any ideas or assumptions too complacently held. It's usually prickly, but 'no gain without pain', outside of a person's comfort zone.

'Til now I've put up with some of you through gritted teeth, only sticking around because of the feeling some of you will feel as frustrated concerning me. The reward for patience has been access to the comprehensiveness and depth of a coverage and resulting insights that ensue in debates with many voices.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Stuart Lord, I recall someone else commenting that you use "it was a joke" or "I was being sarcastic" as an escape when questioned about comments you make. So to repeat it again is pushing things somewhat.

As to any counter you might make to me then I have to point out that as you have been outed time and again for breaching WD ethics you thus have no credibility. That you persist in your behaviour despite being exposed displays a lack of integrity.

As for missing the point - I saw your point a long time ago. As did some other 'diarists. You have to be a lot more clever to get away with what you have tried.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

As an occasional reader (and far less occasional poster) I'm a little perplexed at the post below by Bob Wall, which did nothing other than attack another contributor in a dishonest fashion. I re-read Stuart Lord's contribution, which was a fair minded and respectful comment following the article above. For a site that had moderated comments I'm interested in why a post which is nothing other than a personal (and spiteful) attack on another contributor was allowed.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

About twenty years ago, at the launch of a small boutique merchant bank in London Rupert said that the industrial revolution's tools were big factories but our age is coming into the information revolution and its tools are going to be DATA... the writing was on the walls back then as to his intents and how he will position himself (and family, hint, Lachlan) to dominate that sector. What is happening now, unfortunately, will only be understood and felt by the masses twenty years later - I commend you Margo and Co on trying to bring the understanding to NOW.


re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Bob Wall Apart from doggedly avoiding the point, Bob, you missed mine completely.

I know Margo has been and is risking her own money. I was stating my admiration for that. However, whether it is viable or not remains to be seen, doesn't it? Whether this can be a self sustaining operation? Again, I admire the courage it takes to go across to start a small business with an financially untested market. It was a good start that the 'client list' came across - the contributors and possible financial supporters that were at the old Webdiary. However, Margo has previously stated that she will run Webdiary for a year to see how it goes - if it works out, then great. If it doesnt, she said she would offer it up to someone else to run with, from memory.

And for the News Corp part, Bob, it was a joke. Something you don't get, do you? Must be because of your close proximity to being one.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

I'm so thoroughly disinterested in reading the views of traditional newspapers resident 'experts'

Hear, hear, Kevin! The tired and predictable 'analysis' of Milne, Adams, Bolt, Ramsey et al. surely only appeals to those who enjoy having their prejudices reinforced. And Webdiary is at its best when it gives us the primary sources minus the 'spin'.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

How many people are actually reading the between 10 and 60 million blogs out there? The Numbers Guy tries to figure it out...

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

PS Simon: You need to find some more interesting friends.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Hi Simon,

We lament the slow death of the 'real' newspaper, but I fear that it is us who are killing it.

I used to work in commercial TV drama, and knew perfectly well that the words I wrote were just the filling to keep people watching the ads. The news in newspapers is there to make people read the ads. The quality of the news and sophistication of the commentary reflects the market of the advertisers. (Remember once upon a time, the Saturday SMH's two big chunks were (a) news/opinion/sport and (b) mainly classifieds? People just left the classifieds in the shop and took the rest. So Fairfax mixed them up. If you want the interesting bits, you now have to take the classifieds as well. And try not to think of the trees.)

Now, though, it's all going pear-shaped, and the reason for that is the Net. Publishers like Fairfax are enormously dependent on classifieds for revenue, but print classifieds are vastly inferior to their online counterparts, where search facilities allow buyers and sellers to efficiently find what they want. The print media are losing their primary source of income, and that is what is killing them.

That's what Murdoch's worked out. He knows that to maintain his media power, he needs to go online--that's where the money is.

[Disclaimer: My husband works for Sensis, Fairfax's main rival for classifieds revenue. That doesn't make me biased, just a bit realistic, I think!]

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Stuart Lord, "But seeing whether it is viable or not requires to put your money where your mouth is, and that requires courage, which I respect.

Margo has been doing that, or don't you read her comments? You lack the courage to acknowledge your errors.

"Now I guess we see how far it goes, hey?"

Are you not doing your best to undermine WD?

"And doing this is much more fun than I imagine J-school would be. I don't think I can just walk into a job after contributing articles and submissions here, but it is good experience, and I'm sure most would agree."

It is not fun enduring people disonestly pushing their agenda.

I hoipe you are aiming in a career writing fiction, your record here indicates that is your specialty.

"Or maybe News Corp. Who knows?"

Proves my points.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Hi Margaret, you've put forward an interesting take on things.

Are you theorising that the decline of the quality content in newspapers is a reaction to the advertising revenue threat posed by the internet? That is, since the revenue from classifieds is drying up fast, the newspapers have been forced to turn to commercial advertising and this has somehow diminished the quality of their news coverage?

Can you explain this further - why would a shift in focus from 'classifieds' revenue to commercial advertising revenue lead to a decline in the quality of news presented by a newspaper?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

I have this hope that in their efforts to 'control' the internet, the big media owners will stumble under the weight of their own egos. Some things are just too powerful.

On a more individual level, the internet, if we have access and unfortunately not enough around the world do, makes it impossible for us to claim that we 'don't know what is going on'. The very short attention span of the media on the aftermath of Katrina can be rectified by going to the daily eyewitness reports from those helping with relief efforts at www.michaelmoore.com, for example. We can browse media across the globe (most countries have English dailies and sites like google have translation programs built in to them... dictionaries are only a click away), log into local government, NGO, union, company and individual websites or blogs to find out what is really going on. Increasingly, there seems to be many topics our neutered mainstream media trys to keep off the air and that our governments don't even want us to think about.

This world needs more Margo Kingstons.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Margo, despite the squabbling between a number this form of communication is a delight and a boon.

Thank you Margo for pushing ahead with WD and for persisting in the face of so many of us abusing you and each other.

Thank you for providing a place to speak. I enjoy interplay between readers which happens less than I would have expected. The friendly banter from those actually talking to each other outweighs those (including me too, at least sometimes, who attack others and their thoughts).

Re Lachlan's comment about ignoring the internet. Doesn't show much business acumen does it, that approach?

The internet is the future, here today. Bugger the newspapers and their standard format. One interesting issue I have found is that the online versions of the papers have a lot less advertising than the hard copy and again I wonder about the people who provide this to the world.

Suits me not to see all those ads, I just think the authors have missed the boat by trying to encourage us to buy hard copies when all we actually want is the words and stories, such as they are. Same level of business acumen.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Paul Walter, did you see this:

"Global media baron Rupert Murdoch is steaming ahead with plans to dominate the internet, telling investors to expect his strategy for conquest to be unveiled within weeks."

"The chairman and chief executive of News Corp told a US investors conference overnight that the internet was still his No 1 priority and its revenue potential was enormous."

Could be the subject of a James Bond film. Oh, it has been.

Margo has in the past revealed some of the bile she receives and also linked us to other places where the vitriol, abuse and obscenity aimed at her is unconscionable. It is also representative of the dimunition of our democracy which WD is trying to prevent and repair.

Fundamental principles of democracy include honesty, openness and accountability. We who have seen how that is occurring in government and elsewhere and come here to discuss and debate these issues must surely do so by complying with those same democratic principles.

And they are part of WD ethics.

Those who do not comply condemn themselves.

People have the right to put whatever argument they wish but are required to do so honestly. As I have said before - an argument that cannot be honestly put is no argument at all.

So many of our freedoms and liberties are being torn away that we must protect what we have and set about restoring what has gone.

Margo is special - there was her comment a couple of days ago about editors only managing a few weeks before it got too much. all David Roffey's comments about how he would exorcise the demons when he stepped into the breach. Yet Margo endured the worst of it - up half the night and at a time when there were other pressures. Rare courage and endurance.

That deserves suport for what Margo wants to achieve.

Shaun Forster, you made your comments on an isolated incident. I made mine based on four months of Stuart's record. I, and others, have exposed faults in his methods. If I am suspicious of anything that emanates from Stuart's keyboard it is the result of experience.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Investigative journalists are what we need. Can anyone imagine that Woomera and Port Hedland would have been able to prosper if gutsy journos had gone in undercover? It has always struck me as bizarre that our journos are happy to go to really safe places like Afghanistan and Iraq but not to Woomera.

How come folks? More terrified our your own government than bloody Taliban and Hussein regimes?

When people look back on these last years will they recognise their spinelessness?

It took until Cornelia Rau being found for journos in this country to stop taking the word of DIMIA or Ruddock or Amanda.

Were all the journos so convinced there could not be the level of corruption and rot we now see could not exist in Australia?

After the kids overboard scandal I said there would be further ramifications - it took years didn't it?

The HREOC report into kids in detention got a mention or two and was forgotten until Lee Glendinning got photos of the last group of babies and kids in Villawood with the bar code kids.

The question is why those bar code kids and not the other 3,900? What was it about those kids that finally found consciences for example in the libs?

Has anyone ever asked the libs or the gutless ALP why they thought it was a good idea to lock up and torment all those kids?

Why did women have to give birth with 24/7 guards in their hospital rooms? Anyone want to do a retrospective of the most memorable and shameful photos from the last few years?

The most shameful and sickening stories? Why has it been left to the few usual suspects like David Marr, Penelope Debelle, Julie Macken, Andra Jackson and a few others?

I remember when the tour of the Port Augusta housing happened one journo swallowed the whole thing hook line and sinker. The pretty china and goods - which were taken away the next day and replaced with plastic plates and cutlery to avoid suicide attempts.

I had a shot at this person and was received with high moral outrage.

We need investigative journalists and leaks in DIMIA to bring them to their knees. I believe some of the staff need to be in prison for people smuggling and other crimes.

We can't rely on the senate though - they have sold out and refuse to investigate individual cases for this new inquiry.

The witness list is the same old same old with very few exceptions. Course the level of hostility in most of them hasn't been factored in but lessons will be learnt.

Anyone, someone out there who is a great investigative journo want to do the retrospective?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

A most fascinating insight into the workings of the Australian media and the origins of webdiary. The media are big corporations and should a journalist's values and convictions become at odds with those of corporate Australia one would expect that that journalist would be slowly filtered out of the system, precisely what has happened in Margo's case.

Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media" point out that the media "serve to mobilise support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity, and that their choices, emphases, and omissions can often be understood best, and sometimes with striking clarity and insight, by analysing them in such terms". They go on, "perhaps this is an obvious point, but the democratic postulate is that the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived". The reason for this is quite obvious for they point out that "the twenty four [NB there are less now] companies are large, profit seeking corporations, owned and controlled by quite wealthy people". Hence, "the dominant media firms are quite large businesses; they are controlled by very wealthy people or by managers who are subject to sharp constraints by owners and other market-profit-oriented forces; and they are closely interlocked, and have important common interests, with other major corporations, banks and government".

One would expect this to hold in an Australian context. That the gutter Murdoch press and the pathetic major commercial TV stations with their morally challenged "current affairs" programmes, talk back radio and so on can be described in the above terms will be taken to be uncontroversial. The quality broadsheets however, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, are the two flagships of Fairfax holdings, the traditional mouthpiece of the establishment. It is usually taken that these two broadsheets cannot be described in the manner of Herman and Chomsky's model of the media, that they provide sober and objective reporting of the day. It should be stressed that according to the Herman and Chomsky model if there should be such a thing as the manufacture of consent in Australia then one would expect it be precisely in these two broadsheets that the most important work is to be done. This is because their readership is composed of the educated managerial classes, what Michael Albert refers to as the co-ordinator class. As Chomsky points out the capital owning class must be able to subject this class to deep indoctrination for the present system to be able to re-produce itself.

An interesting research project would be to examine the Australian media, esp Fairfax, to demonstrate whether the Herman-Chomsky model applies in an Australian context. From my own reading I think the evidence for this thesis is extensive.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Can I just interject and say I'm really enjoying the quality of discussion in this thread?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Bob Wall, with Murdoch I reckon there is a starting point for following through the process of reification. It is not JUST coincidence that 'history repeats'. Seems Murdoch comes from a place in society where behaviours of generations and centuries have been reproduced within a subculture within a culture.

If we went back three or four centuries we would identify Murdoch in the example of an archetypal Puritan Father embarking on the colonisation of a wilderness in America, contending against the elements, subjugating a benighted heathen conveniently claimed to be incapable of ordering its affairs, as fearful of the wrath of God then as tycoons are of 'market forces' in this epoch.

Maybe we could recognise our own ancestors in the defeated cavaliers or even the rambunctious 'levellers' and 'diggers' and their feisty women, who fell foul of Cromwell and Fairfax.

Two hundred years ago the scene would have changed, with earnest and fierce factory capitalists ranged against Irish Catholic or Welsh Methodists or Scottish Presbyterian dissenters, who formed the nucleus of the transported Tolpuddle martyrs and others.

Today contestation goes on, now occuring between people and groups of a like mindset, against likewise who identify with an opposite for good motives or bad; Is odd to contemplate the notion of the actual embrace the paradoxical and antithetical yet these seem central to the dynamic unfolding of reality and what we sense to be the human condition.

From the stand point of things like parental love and care myself and say Stuart Lord could have had identical experiences, yet but it seems actual and perhaps necessary, as at least a component for the social dynamic, that a dialectic or opposition exists that maybe must exist for the contention and evolution of ideas and thus effective surviving coping mechanisms; thus survival and reproduction of the meaningful actual.

Generations come and go; the gene pool remains the same. Or perhaps it just morphs so slowly as offer hope of respite for our species in a immensely distant future, along the lines that the writer recalls Sir Fred Hoyle proosing somewhere, the other day.

So it starts to sound after Neitzsche, but Neitzsche was less likely to allow for change, suggesting instead, in effect a sort of cut and run, a retreat from unreality almost in protest, including through aestheticism or hedonism, for those who 'saw through' the system. You can rebel, perhaps crudely like Kate Moss, or more subtly by doing something difficult and classy; something 'done right', even if it is maybe ultimately pointless. Is there an element of this in what someone like Kingston does, knowing what she must know of life?

We can adopt the conservative position that the elements of reality preclude transformation and it is better to salvage what we can. This is hardly a frivolous viewpoint and it is realistic in not demanding too much of reality.

It says the best hope is to stand back and allow things to sort themselves out; accept 'reality' rather than risk worsening things by interfering out of misplaced idealism.

But there are those who feel this is too pessimistic, and even if it isn't, still a way should be sought, somehow to employ the lessons and two-edged gifts of history for 'better' things, to ease intolerable suffering for others that we'd hope others would seek to alleviate for us. For those convinced, then there are decisions to be made as to methods and priorities relative to (perceived) reality/realities, and often even better-natured conservatives are involved in these approaches since they (re)assert values in the face of, or even because of, futility and absurdity.

Market forces or direct intervention? 'Tough love', or yielding up more materials and money even when at our own expense and with no guarantee in the way of outcome? Sympathy for tragics beyong rescue, or Quixotic or Christ like self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming realities?

I think most people who contribute here must self-evidently be beyong the lowest levels of inauthenticity described by Kierkagard, but the levels of self-sacrifice some propose are intimidating and others will be sceptical or want to back off.

And Imagine that must be the origin of the frustrations you and I, Bob, would feel as to someone like Murdoch, who sees things in ways that seem so diametrically alien to what the likes of us would see as fair, right, realistic and decent. Hard to imagine others would have ever felt me to be so recalcitrant as I see Murdoch or Packer.

(Hmmmm... goose just walked over my grave... what have I missed... surely not?)

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Hi Simon, I'm not suggesting that there is necessarily a causative relationship between changing advertising revenue streams and the decrease in quality, but it might be there. Perhaps the publishers are so desperate to increase circulation to compensate for lost classifieds income that they're trying for lowest common denominator content.

It's also possible that the quality is decreasing because those who want more sophisticated and in-depth news and commentary now have far more and easier options for obtaining it. I used to buy the Herald every day, for decades. Then it went online, and I stopped, except on Mondays when I wanted The Guide. And along with reading the SMH online, I also read The Age, Crikey (subscribers' version), The Australian, The Guardian and the New York Times online.

I'm probably not typical, but I think I do represent an increasing section of the community (here and elsewhere) that doesn't rely on newsprint for news any longer. The Net is leaching away readership from them in a massive way. And while a website like the Herald has ads, I don't see them, thanks to the mighty Firefox. If I want to buy something that I'd once have looked in the paper for, I go online. So it's pretty mutual: dead tree newspapers don't have anything to offer people like me, and I don't have anything to offer them.

Papers like the SHM are in a tough spot. They recently had an online survey about readers' habits (reading the SMH online or off, etc), and asked if people would be prepared to pay for it. The Australian now sells an online version of its complete paper, with every page, delivered. Would you pay to read them? I'm not sure I would. I'd want a far better standard than currently exists to go back to shelling out money for it.

Anyway, I'm rambling a bit, but I think one thing is certain and that is that print newspapers are going the way of the thylacine. Classifieds and news are undergoing a divorce, and newspapers will be the inevitable casualty.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Margaret Morgan, I subscribed to the Australian's online edition for six weeks when I was abroad and was thoroughly impressed with the way it works. You need to download a reader to do so but basically you get the exact printed version on your screen. In my case I would connect my laptop to the internet in my hotel and it was there waiting for me to read in the morning. No dirty newsprint or wasted paper.

Actually I cannot believe other newspapers like the SMH haven't organised themselves to do similar - they must be losing heaps in sales and advertising revenue by being so slack. I've since taken out subscriptions to two technical magazines which I previously purchased intermitently in newsagents, except now I get every monthly copy. Those running publications who don't get into this soon really are going to miss the boat completely.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Hi Bob, I'm gently jolted back to reality reading your post. Forgot how spoiled we are with some thing like this. In an ideal world it would be different, but things are tenuous here in the real world, with a stack of black and gloomy history books to read as a reminder lest a person get too complacent.

As Trevor Kerr says, there are some good posts here. I just read good recent ones from Richard Tonkin and Marko Beljac. The situation Marko describes is only getting worse with hedge and pension funds wielding such clout nowadays.

A pity others of a more adversarial mind could not have accepted the invitation to meet here, employing the thread as a novel neutral site for exchange of ideas under non-antagonistic circumstances. When differences have been already been excessively highlighted, similarites or things in common could count in a promising way as new sources for discovery.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

On the topic of journalism online, Reporters sans Frontières has just released Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, free for download on its website.

"Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.

"Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles."

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

On the other hand, Malcolm let's make this more of a "level playing field" and swap topics!

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Malcolm you just gave me the most shocking flashback in years... ever had one of those dreams when, as an adult, you're back in school with the realisation that you have to do it all again? Or is that just my own version of catharsis?

I've never read Delderfield, and only vaguely remember watching "A Horseman Riding By" once or twice. Saw a review somewhere that said that the ending of Diana would "make a hormonal teenager sob".

Can I ask you what the point of your "homework exercise" is, and if you know where I might find an online version of the book?

If you're asking if I can 'spit something out' in a hurry to assess my level of comprehension and reinterpretive abilities, I am prepared to exchange you for a similar thousand works from your good self on, say, the evolution of traditional folksong into rock'n'roll.

But let's allow for previously made plans to replenish the spondulix supply and make it Tuesday... Please, Sir?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

As in life, there are a few commentators here to whom I am coming to accord respect.

As in life, respect is not all.

Marilyn Shepherd (and some others), I doubt you know what it is like to be on the receiving end of journalists’ commentary. While I have no personal animus against our webhost, she and I have never met and she’s a little tardy replying to emails (no doubt she’s busy – so am I). She is a journalist and I am a lawyer: natural enemies.

What though does “fair dinkum” mean in this context? Because of the sort of lawyer I am, because I am a minor and so-far unsuccessful politician, because I am a consummate public speaker and advocate, I have much to do with journalists (much to the chagrin of the Bar Association). Some of those journalists are contemporaries and we like one another. I am still a lawyer and they are still reptiles.

They are not called reptiles for nothing: your reptile moves swiftly, changes its position in a moment and can attack seemingly from any direction. It also imposes a severe bite, sometimes fatal. It is (with one or two exceptions in the sense that the hypothesis is so-far undisconfirmed) completely hypocritical: a story is a story; and the story is the story – for today. Tomorrow there is another story.

If you punters knew the truly incestuous relationship between politicians (even those as lowly as myself) with the media, the fornication, the recrimination the petty jealousies etc, etc, you just might think them all human beings. Yet every day they all need to be fed, and every day they demand a different relish and every day they prate the title 'reporter'.

There was a time when reporting was reporting available factual material (even if it later proved to be unreliable or wrong) rather than opinion. Now, it seems otherwise.

Is that fair dinkum, Margo, gentle soul?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Paul Walter, very tasty post. Interesting historical perspectives.

We share frustrations and fears. On the matter of debating methods - that is what I worry about - ie lack of honesty. Debate is great if honest and with no tricks.

On the internet - such a wonderful development. Information available on everything from everywhere. On a personal level, as an impoverished external student the ready access to research material the internet provides is a great boon. I did my Hons thesis solely from the internet - databases available through my university library as well as other online sources. Now we see the spread of online units - I get to guest on some online unit discussion boards, enjoy the interraction and wish it had been available when I was an undergraduate.

On the threat of Murdoch and the like - knowledge is power, which seems to be his driving force. So can the internet be bent to the likes of wills such as his as much of the mainstream media has been?

It is something we need to try to prevent lest we lose this free interchange and accession of knowledge.

We need to care for and nurture those fora which provide space for our voices. WD is important and I do agree with Margo; "It is more than a blog."

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Richard Tonkin, by Monday, I want 1,000 words on R F Delderfield's Diana.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

A terrific time it was - I was there, and I was seriously impressed with the short but punchy speech by Hon Judi Moylan, who introduced Margo at the University of WA. Just now setting up for the next event in Fremantle - a few hours to the launch, see www.safecom.org.au/club-chaos.htm. The Webdiary website shows on the HUGE Cinema screen - and it looks just fine!

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

I'm going to get ripped to shreds for this, not least because it's a plug for The Australian Financial Review, and it may seem to be off-topic, but it fails to satisfy the accepted criteria for linear rigour. In other words, it's loopy.

The AFR of Sep 23 dropped open to a two-and-a-bit pages middle spread on Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Brian went a little off-message, after hitting the wall, and took about two decades to come back. Reference #1.

This AFR has a kind piece on Mark Latham, by Elizabeth Kazl. Latham's record is put up for analysis by some of the experts who recruit for executive jobs. The result isn't all bad, not by a long shot. Reference #2. Could he re-position himself for a come-back, at a time of his choosing?

The Opinion page of this AFR has a piece ('Parties that kill idealism kill their posterity') by a student at UniSyd, and former ALP member, one Audrey Belford. She notes the passion and drive of young people, and their simultaneous lack of enthusiasm for contemporary political structures. "Positive change here means enriching democracy for the future. A failure to do anything means more decline. The ideas are out there. Will anyone act on them?" Reference #3.

Meanwhile, Labor under Beazley is about to take a thumping over uranium. The Tories are firing up their blowtorches, and the risk is that the green fringes of Labor are going to be severely scorched.

I would like to know if someone with the creativity, the intellect, the drive, the ability for dispassionate dissection of issues, and the youth, of a Mark Latham, can stand apart from the issues that will capture the nation's freewheeling youth. Latham has superb organisational skills, if the recent sustained burst of publicity for his book is an indication, and he is not afraid to steal the national focus for himself. If he lets his wounds heal, the new scars will make impressive credentials for leadership in a renewed political battle. I would not be surprised if a few legends are looking at him with interest. Latham has effectively told Big Corporate to Cheney itself, and if he maintains and strengthens his independent posture, he could attract enough allies to form a powerful new nucleus of concern for the public interest.

I guess I'm wondering how decent bloggery will co-exist with a decent print daily that does not give free (as in no charge) access to its articles. And how the two spheres will interact, and whether the end result will be for the good, in terms of fostering decent leadership.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

C Parsons: "The reason Murdoch is so big in the west is ... the way he presents news more or less makes sense to most people".

Hence people who complain about Murdoch, Packer, Fairfax etc do so with "no moral authority... reasonable expectations", etc.

This is incredibly silly stuff.

Of course the nonsenses perpetrated by Big media make sense when they are recognised as by and on behalf of, vested interests. The "agreement" with the fantasy "opinionated journalism" of Shanahan, Sheridan, Bolt, ACA, Sixty Adverts etc, etc "makes sense" only through the massaging of fact-challenged material, precisely TO induce false conclusions, through the massage of prejudices born precisely out of the fear born of ignorance. Prejudice then negates real facts when they turn up, completing the disconnect.

Then brain-washed ignoramii can assault those few who have bothered to develop their critical faculties; the means of locating and discerning real information from the ocean of disinformation they are innundated in from commercial media, and then analysing this against their own painfully-acquired critical techniques and body of knowledge.

C Parsons, you delude yourself, or are deluded, in exactly the same way as those of the 16th century were concerning their imaginary witches and witch-hunts.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Malcolm B Duncan, thank you for the precis. The parable is worth considering.

Given the spontaneous nature of your response I'll endeavour to reciprocate.

With the emigrees of earlier centuries from England, Scotland and Ireland to America came their songs and music. While their melodies blended and disappeared within major populaces, in the pocketed mountainous regions a transgenerational aural tradition passed along immaculately preserved cultural fragments.

The movie Songcatcher included parody of noted ethnomusicologists such as Cecil Sharp but demonstrated how the music had survived within an active culture, often in its original form. Many changed and forgotten ballads and tunes were rediscovered in virginal form and preserved for posterity.

Sadly, like mating insects preserved in amber, the means of preservation prevented continuation. The ability to transmit and receive information via ceramic discs and radio waves ended the cultural isolation, and inevitable assimilation occurred.

Cultural recidivists such as the Carter family kept the music alive until it could be redefined into a living tradition. When June Carter married Johnny Cash a cultural lineage that spans generations was reborn. A similar case applies with the most listened-to reinterpretations of American folk - the 'Sun Studio' recordings of Elvis Presley.

On another thread Woodie Guthrie begat Bob Dylan begat The Birds begat Jethro Tull begat Dire Straits begat The Whitlams begat the John Butler Trio.

Today we face a newer possible cultural diaspora, but still need to build the farms and houses for the media emigrees to preserve their knowledge and abilities.

To quote The Castle, "It's a vibe kind of thing."

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

"Those running publications who don't get into this soon really are going to miss the boat completely."

You're right, Michael de Angelos. And they're going to have to ensure that the standard they provide is high. After all, we're going to have to pay for the content (fortunately the mode of delivery is vastly cheaper) rather than advertising paying for it.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

If we are to assume human behaviour is reasonably consistent enough to state meaningfully that at a general level it is also reasonably predictable, subject to the variables that define 'demographics' of course, then why should we expect people's media consumption habits to differ that much from any other form of consumption?

I mean, there are main-stream markets for media products - and niche markets for media products.

Any media entrepreneur, either big or small, who loses sight of this central fact will quickly find themselves servicing either some obscure niche market - crackpot political or social views say - or none at all.

People who object to the Murdochs and Fairfaxes of this world largely do so with no more moral authority, nor reasonable expectations or grounds than people who complain about people watching mainstream movies or eating white bread and sausages instead of watching SBS and eating brioche with pate de fois gras.

It may not be to your personal taste, but your personal taste means nothing to people outside your personal taste bracket.

They do their thing. You do your thing.

I was reminded of this last night when, watching SBS, I saw a teaser for some stupid documentary which is going to argue that the Kursk submarine didn't sink.

It was "torpedoed by the Americans".

Yeah, right.

So, apart from sneering cynics like me, who's going to watch this idiotic documentary?

Well, obviously that niche market of paranoid conspiracy nutters who would think it a reasonable proposition that a submarine cannot just sink of its own accord - the kind of ghastly industrial accident that might affect a nuclear powered submarine in the same way as, say, it did Chenobyl.

No, for these folk the only reasonable explanation for a submarine sinking would involve a conspiracy of silence between the Russians and Americans to cover up the deliberate sinking of a Russian sub by an American sub.

You know, like Mosaad set up the September 11 attacks and the Americans faked the moon landings.

Most people are going to watch the SBS teaser and say 'Yeah, whatever' - and turn to TCN for the Julia Roberts movie or Newlyweds.

A reasonable choice under the circumstances.

The reason Murdoch is so big in the West is that, in general and over the long haul, the way he presents news and comment more or less makes sense to most people.

Certainly more sense than the way either Islam on Line or Green Left Weekly (ie Granma) portrays events.

These latter choices may service a niche market over here, but they'll never do any more than that.

Imagine if Marilyn Shepherd were to produce, say, her own radio news service. Perhaps with all the passion and commitment she displays here on this web blog.

There can be little doubt she'd put in the hours and energy to make it work.

But would that be enough?

Would people long listen to her editorials and reports with any confidence as to their accuracy or authority?

Or would they just go 'Yeah, whatever' - and turn back to MIX 109.5 or TODAY FM?

The question niche market service providers have to ask themselves is, 'Do we want to service the niche markets? Or the broader community?'

If they think they're operating at the margins simply because everyone else is stupid or ignorant, they're deluded.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Simon Ellis and Margaret Morgan, you are both right in your views and are on the same side of a bigger discussion.

Yes, classified revenues - which were the backbone of mainstream titles - have been eroded over time because of competing sources and outlets. And yes, thinking Australians who would like more in-depth reporting are in the minority, hence mainstream catering for the majority.

I believe the real issue is that of research (or the lack of it) by journalists in order to facilitate better quality journalism.

The commercial constraints in meeting deadlines do not allow editors the 'luxury' of having journalist resources tied up in time-consuming and complex research activities. That is, other than going over previously published data from a narrow range of sources. The result in most cases is 'lack of context' on just about every story of any significance.

This situation emanated from the actions of groups like News Corporation to 'consolidate' all news material before dissemination to their multitude of titles for mass publishing. Remove the first six or eight pages (news usually relevant to the local populace) from most Murdoch titles and you will get pretty much the same gumph regardless of where you live in Australia. All newspapers are run as cost centres and journalism per se does not produce any revenue.

The information is out there, but the cost of obtaining anything near a balanced perspective somewhere close to the truth does not fit the business profile. Hence the value of a forum like this, which garners views from across the whole spectrum.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

I see, Richard Tonkin, you have read (or vaguely remembered) To Serve Them All My Days (actually a two volume set) by Delderfield. His answer to Goodbye Mr Chips (and better).

I shall not only accept your swap challenge but deliver it off the top of my head in far fewer than the thousand.

Delderfield was a school teacher of the old school: he had a good degree and a good brain but he wanted to be a novelist. His passion was (apart from passion) the Napoleonic period. He wrote five or six books dealing with Napoleon's rise to power, his generals and his fall. He also wrote an (as yet undetermined by me) number of minor novels about living in Britain around about the time Delderfield lived in Britain - part of the lesser tradition one might have thought.

He knew people and was adept at portraying them, old or young, over many different periods of history but particularly during the collapse of the Britain in which he had grown up. He was a sort of romantic version of Correlli Barnett [insert link].

He wrote well, he wrote often and he told us much of the human condition as he understood it and as it continues to apply to all of us.

Ask you more?

Read on. You'll find his novels in paperback in every secondhand bookshop in the country and available in every public library. What greater Testament To Honour could one ask?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Margaret Morgan. Your unwarranted elitism regarding that only people with lower than average IQ's reading and believing Murdoch newspapers again shows why so many switch off when listening to 'progressive' viewpoints. When you say 'the smart people agree with me, the dumb ones disagree' those people you just called dumb will turn around and give you the finger. And will continue to do so.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Jenny Stirling : "Paul, in Kierkegaard's efforts to understanding of the upper rungs of ethical development, he failed to see the importance of happiness."

Babette read an ad. The Stanford Linear Accelerator 3-Day Particle Smashing Diet
"She picked up another tabloid. The cover story concerned the country's leading psychics and their predictions for the coming year. She read the items slowly.
"Squadrons of UFOs will invade Disney World and Cape Canaveral. In a startling twist, the attack will be revealed as a demonstration of the folly of war, leading to a nuclear test-ban treaty between the U.S. and Russia.
"The ghost of Elvis Presley will be seen taking lonely walks at dawn around Graceland, his musical mansion.
"A Japanese consortium will buy Air Force One and turn it into a luxury flying condominium with midair refuelling privileges and air-to-surface missile capability.
"Bigfoot will appear dramatically at a campsite in the rugged and scenic Pacific Northwest. The hairy, upright man-beast, who stands eight feet tall and may be evolution's missing link, will gently welcome tourists to gather around him, revealing himself to be an apostle of peace.
"UFOs will raise the lost city of Atlantis from its watery grave in the Caribbean by telekinetic means and the help of powerful cables with properties not known in earth like materials. The result will be a 'city of peace' where money and passports are totally unknown.
"The spirit of Lyndon B Johnson will contact CBS executives to arrange an interview on live TV in order to defend itself against charges made in recent books.
"Beatle assassin Mark David Chapman will legally change his name to John Lennon and begin a new career as a rock lyricist from his prison cell on murderer's row.
"Members of an air-crash cult will hijack a jumbo jet and crash it into the White House in an act of blind devotion to their mysterious and reclusive leader, known only as Uncle Bob. The President and First lady will miraculously survive with minor cuts, according to close friends of the couple."

- White Noise , Don DeLillo., Viking Penguin Inc, 1984

I don’t know that tabloid media is any more bizarre, deceitful or ridiculous than the stuff you find lying around student lounges and Glebe cafes, quite frankly.
Also, at least DeLillo can claim to have predicted the September 11 hijackings 17 years ahead of time, hey?

Ironically, in a satire on tabloid sensationalism.
How is that any more bizarre than some of the hysterical twaddle written about September 11 on this blog?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Paul, in Kierkegaard's efforts to understanding of the upper rungs of ethical development, he failed to see the importance of happiness. For him, it was an optional extra (a distraction even) which explains his decision to sacrifice his own domestic happiness for the sake of this expensive vision of personal development.

Such a mundane and trite quality- happiness and yet if this is not the ultimate aspiration of freedom and struggle, then what is? I like Aristotle's " Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence" because it balances Kierkegaard's heroic with a humility born of an acceptance of our earthliness.

I am a Christian existentialist, and the living dialectic between the narrow path of ethical purity, and personal happiness. has been the constant thorn in my side since I was old enough to understand there was a choice involved. I finally came to terms with the whole thing when I realised that 'struggle' (dialectic) was happiness and peace, which is why I am now again engaged with politics. I am most myself when I am for 'Other' because that is the highest expression of the best of 'self'.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Marilyn Shepherd: "Hicks is entitled to release as a pom because our government sure won't support him."

Assuming, of course, the British government is any more interested in 'supporting' an avowed racist and self-confessed mercenary.

Margaret Morgan: "You got that right, C Parsons. Most people are as dumb as a plank. Over half of them have an IQ of 100 or less."

Indeed, Margaret.

Some may be surprised that people can indeed be more dumb than average.

Until it's pointed out how overwhelmingly superior are the intellects of the few of us enjoying genuine insight and understanding.

Minds as profound as your own skew the whole bell curve so far to the right that that the mean is indeed incredibly stupid by comparison.

Recently I was at a meeting of peace activists on Sydney's lower north shore. Mumdouh Habib was there, welcomed as a hero.

The mainstream media have tended to portray Mumdouh in a very poor light.

You know, the snide coverage of his recent participation in the City to Surf marathon for example.

As if a disability pensioner recovering from years of torture couldn't do something like that.

Then there was this totally unnecessary report in the Sydney Morning Herald:

"The Department of Foreign Affairs will investigate claims that former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib saw a Sydney man, who disappeared more than six years ago, in an Egyptian jail."

"Mr Habib, who was held in an Egyptian prison from late 2001 until at least February 2002 before being taken to the US military prison for terrorism suspects in Cuba, contacted the Sydney family of Egyptian-born Australian citizen Mohamed Abbass after returning home early this year.

"A departmental official yesterday denied Mr Abbass was in Egypt and said the efforts of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Federal Police, consular officials and Interpol National Central Bureaus had failed to locate him."

"'Egyptian authorities deny the man is in Egypt', the spokeswoman said. Records indicated he entered Turkey from Egypt in 1999, but did not show he returned to Egypt or left Turkey."

"The official view of Mr Abbass's disappearance, which was the subject of an SBS Dateline program last night, has been contradicted by Mr Habib, and by Seham Abbass, who claims to have visited her husband in a jail near Cairo 18 months after he went missing."

"Mrs Abbass said she was taken blindfolded to a prison near Cairo after paying a $2000 bribe. She said her husband begged for help, telling her he did not know why he was being held."

"After the meeting, she was told to pay $200,000 to secure his release. Frightened, she returned to Australia and reported the events to Foreign Affairs."

"The spokeswoman said she had no knowledge of the wife's visit, but the department would follow up advice from lawyer Stephen Kenny that Mr Habib had seen Mr Abbass detained in Egypt."

Now, I find Mrs Abbass's story completely credible, don't you?

And Mumdou's claim that he saw Mohamed Abbass while in gaol there, too.

Only really dumb people not benefitting from our special insights would doubt it.

Say? What do you think? The Moon Landings? A complete media fabrication?

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

"The reason Murdoch is so big in the West is that, in general and over the long haul, the way he presents news and comment more or less makes sense to most people."

You got that right, C Parsons. Most people are as dumb as a plank. Over half of them have an IQ of 100 or less. That's why Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

Murdoch knows how to appeal to such people. He panders to their ignorance, making them proud of it. He exploits the bigotries they have resulting from this ignorance, because to confirm them is to ensure bigger circulation/audiences. For decades, his shining glory in this respect was his antics in Fleet Street, but that's been thoroughly overshadowed by his efforts with Fox News, the favoured 'news' source of every US redneck.

Please, never mistake pandering to mob rule for truth.

To be honest, I think that Rupert Murdoch is one of the greatest scourges of this age. He is the man screaming 'fire' in the crowded theatre. The late and brilliant playwright and screenwriter, Dennis Potter, named his (terminal) liver cancer 'Rupert'. A more fitting epithet I cannot imagine.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Tim Gillin (22/09/2005 9:05:22 PM), thanks for the link. Very informative.

David Eastwood (23/09/2005 3:04:43 PM), I agree, this is a particularly good thread. May there be many more.

Marilyn Shepherd (25/09/2005 1:17:27 PM), I agree with Sid Walker (25/09/2005 4:04:08 PM), this an excellent find, and could be an interesting development. You (and Tim Gillin) have demonstrated very well just how useful the internet and blog sites can be as dynamic (and interactive) sources of info.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Well spotted Marilyn!

What a great story.

So... Hicks may at last get the protection of a Government which at least half-heartedly cares about justice for its citizens - a much better deal than the zero care rating Bonsai & co have displayed in his case.

How ironic it would be if Hicks is in fact released from Guantanamo to 'return' to Britain. Would the Bonsai/Ruddock gang then try to revoke his Australian citizenship? Would they let him travel back here? Having already admitted they can't charge him under Australian law for his allegedly heinous 'crimes', one wonders on what grounds they might disallow him entry? Also, might Blair & co decide to deport this unworthy on the already well-rehearsed grounds that Britons – even citizens - who associate with 'terrorists' may be subject to deportation?

In the old days, transportation of unwanted souls to Australia was all the rage... but what if Australia slams its doors, even to its own citizens?

The mind boggles at how this saga will play out. I have one suggestion. Hicks could simply be allowed to pack his bags and walk across into Cuba, were a modicum of respect for human rights still exists. From there he could travel to Venezuela, were he could possibly find gainful employment helping to build defenses against the threatened US invasion. I also understand that Iceland can be a pleasant – if chilly - retreat from the vengeful enforcers of compulsory modern myths.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Anyway, Malcolm, which journalists exactly do you have "much to do with"? Miranda Devine wrote the best article about you,here. If she is an aquaintance of yours than all I can say is that I'm electrified. If she's not, then I don't see why she shouldn't be, given your solidarity on the heroin injecting room, even though you differ on broader drugs policy.

re: The future of fair dinkum journalism

Amongst most of my contacts, I seemed to have been the odd opinion. Obviously, I was the only one questioning news and reporting and shortcomings of both and an apparent chorus of a single received opinion and view. Now I have found I wasn't the only one. Well done, Margo Kingston. You have done what I have spent several years thinking about doing but didn't have the ability or guts. Perhaps we don't now need that additional national independent paper newspaper.

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