Amateur journalism ~ theatre notes

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Amateur journalism

I see the chairman of News Ltd, John Hartigan, has some harsh words for bloggers. In an address to the National Press Club yesterday, he claimed that "amateur journalism trivialises and corrupts serious debate", and that only well-trained professional journalists wrote reliable news. (This, I am sure, has nothing whatsoever to do with News Ltd's launch of its blog-style commentary website The Punch, "Australia's best conversation"). As he is further reported in the Age:

"In return for [bloggers'] free content, we pretty much get what we've paid for - something of such limited intellectual value as to be barely discernible from massive ignorance," he said. "Like (Paul) Keating's famous 'all tip and no iceberg', it could be said that the blogosphere is all eyeballs and no insight." He said blogs often gave a platform for "radical sweeping statements unsubstantiated with evidence".

Mr Hartigan has a point, but as always in these debates, he's comparing the worst of blogging with the best of journalism. If you reverse the comparison, and compare the worst of journalism with the best of blogging, you can come up with a completely different picture. For example: if professional reporters are such glowing avatars of responsible fact-checked journalism, how come the hoax story of Jeff Goldblum's death got flashed around Australia on Monday, hmmm? I read it on the Age's website...

And everyone who has been interviewed for the mass media knows the perils of misquotation. I was once interviewed by a print journalist with no visible notebook, who then drew a series of wholly moronic quotations from her less-than-vivid imagination. I mean, I'm happy to stand by my own stupidities, but it tries your patience to be made to look more idiotic than you actually are.

As in so many parts of my life, I have a foot in both camps. I'm a blogger who got an old-fashioned and thorough training in print journalism back when dinosaurs roamed Flinders St. In those days, the line between journalism and fiction was sometimes very thin indeed: I once, with these very eyes, watched a weather-beaten hardened cynic of a journalist completely make up a rattling story for the front page of a (now defunct) newspaper, after an afternoon of fruitless phone calls turned up no confirmation whatsoever of a headline-grabbing rumour. But even that seems preferable to the routine processing of press releases that constitutes so much contemporary reporting these days.

So, sure. If traditional newspapers produce fine journalism, I'm all for them. Sometimes they do. But you can be sure that very often the very structures of news gathering mitigate against such things. I'm totally with Mr Hartigan when he says that "amateur journalism" trivialises and corrupts serious debate: but his argument would have more strength if it didn't so often grace the mainstream media. Maybe a case of taking the beam out of his own eye first?

15 comments:

Born Dancin' said...

I read half of Hartigan's speech yesterday - I actually think he makes a few good points about print journalism needing to devote more resources to stories and hire, rather than fire, more writers.

He does end with a big "how cool is the Punch?!" rave though...

I wonder if the address was what inspired Jake Wilson's piece in the Age today, which heartily endorses Theatre Notes?

Lloyd said...

Piers Akerman makes a mockery of his entire thesis, as does Andrew Bolt and numerous other News Ltd journalists.

Even their 'serious' journalists have been exposed as agenda driven hacks.

Dennis Shanahan, Greg Sheridan, Glen Milne, not to mention Christian Kerr, Christopher Pearson and Janet Albrechtsen.

Seriously, being lectured by a company that can put up something as pathetic as The Punch as an example of new media is the biggest joke of the week.

Alison Croggon said...

Gosh. Just caught up with the Age. I don't know what to say.

Well, I agree Hartigan has a good point that if newspapers are to survive, they have to invest in quality journalism, rather than press the panic button and rush onto the death spiral of ever declining journalism, driving diminishing ad revenue, etc. Did he point out that, while dailies have on the whole been in decline worldwide, the in-depth news magazines (both online and print) have seen a surge in readership? And how can shlock journalism really compete with the endlessly dazzling schlock of the internet?

But it is a bit rich. News Ltd, after all, practically invented modern tabloid journalism. Murdoch founded the Australian as his flagship broadsheet ("quality journalism") but he made his squillions with papers like The Sun (the British edition) and News of the World, which make Australian tabloids look like Samuel Johnson, and his push into the US was initially through the National Star (which he founded) and the NY Post. I'm old enough to remember The Sun during the Falklands war, with Samantha Fox perched lasciviously, boobs akimbo, on a giant gun or that notorious headline GOTCHA when the Belgrano was sunk. My god. It was only afterwards that he took over the flagship broadsheets like The Times or the Wall St Journal. I actually find Murdoch fascinating: he's an excellent litmus test of where the smart money will be in corporate journalism.

Lloyd said...

But then again, their arts coverage is 2nd to none!

Alison Croggon, Iain Shedden and the ALR almost make up for the deficit in other areas.....

epistemysics said...

At my university (and I assume it happens at most universities around Australia), you can sign up at the start of the year to the Daily Telegraph for free - you get a card which you flash at the uni newsagent when you pick up your paper. It conjures up images of drug peddlers giving their customers a discounted taste to get them hooked before raising the price...

Anyways, I get both the Telegraph and the Australian. Why do I get the Telegraph? For one reason only - the crosswords and puzzles. Interestingly, there's not much difference in price between the Telegraph and the Australian at the RRP - so much for "you get what you pay for"? I can think of many blogs that I'd pay for over spending money on a Telegraph (this blog included). So yes, a foot in both camps. (And I know I sound like a newspaper snob!)

Also, I just came back from watching the latest David Williamson play (Let the Sunshine), and it had these few lines in it:
WIFE: I just need some intelligent opinion, I can't get any up here!
HUSBAND: What do you need to go to Sydney to get intelligent opinion for? You can get all the intelligent opinion you need online. In fact, there's so much intelligent opinion online I can't read it all!
(Or something to that effect.)

I'm not quite sure if that's a defense of blogs or not - but if you can't quote theatre on a theatre blog, then where can you?

Michael Magnusson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

Define unsubstantiated arrogance -

"something of such limited intellectual value as to be barely discernible from massive ignorance,"

How many blogs does he read, I wonder? News limited is hardly in a position to define intellectual value and I look forward to more ridiculousness from them as their position as arbiters of what we should know and how we should think declines into insignificance.

ChikaBebe said...

i wanted to become a journalist someday


ChikaBebe

Tony Comstock said...

Hey, speaking of beams and eyes, now sounds like a good time to tell you about my new project theintenttoarouse.com

We just covered 9 Songs, Shortbus, and Destricted will be coming up on your intellectually bankrupt defense of Bill Henson shortly. Dates for the Australian leg of the tour are falling into place, including Melbourne.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Tony. Btw, just because you disagree with someone doesn't make them "intellectually bankrupt".

Tony Comstock said...

Alison, I didn't say you were intellectually bankrupt, I said your defense of Bill Henson was intellectually bankrupt.

Still surfing those Russian bestiality websites?

Alison Croggon said...

I beg your pardon, Tony? Noice, I don't think. And yes, just to rephrase, just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean their arguments are intellectually bankrupt, although I am beginning to wonder.

sydney arts journo said...

And then you throw this into the mix and see what Hartigan's colleagues in the UK have been doing and it becomes all the more interesting...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/08/murdoch-papers-phone-hacking

Enjoy.

sydney arts journo said...

(I'm ignoring the goose above.)

Alison Croggon said...

Or this from today's Guardian - three separate inquiries into phone hacking by News Ltd journalists!