Mainstream journalists must mix it with everyone else

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Victoria Rollison is astounded that David Speers decided to exclude Independent Australia from membership of the Canberra Press Gallery.

Press Gallery head David Speers chats with his boss, Rupert Murdoch. (Image screendump from SkyNews interview on YouTube.)
Press Gallery head David Speers chats with his boss, American media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. (Image: screenshot from SkyNews interview on YouTube.)

THIS POST actually started its life as a very long comment on Mr Denmore’s excellent blog post: The God Complex. But when I went to submit the comment, everything disappeared and I thought, stuff this, I will just write a post instead.

Mr Denmore’s words struck a chord with me. In fact, he reminded me of a foggy frustrated idea that’s been buzzing around my head for months, that I haven’t quite managed to write into a post yet. So thank you Mr Denmore, because now it’s flowing out.

I couldn’t agree more that the media landscape has changed. Now that us independent bloggers are having our say, it seems more and more obvious that the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (that is the mainstream journalists), is this:

they spend all their time desperately trying not to show what they really think, whilst we do the complete opposite.

There’s no doubt that many of us bloggers who write about politics, media and the nexus between are utterly fed up with the work produced by mainstream journalists. And the mainstream journalists are fed up with us.

I’ve written a lot over the last few months about the failures of the mainstream media, but I’ve never managed to entirely portray the difference between us quite as eloquently as Mr Denmore. In his post, he writes about two problems with the attitude of mainstream journalists — the view from nowhere and false equivalences. If you haven’t already, as I said, this post is definitely worth a read.

John Curtin chats with the Canberra Press Gallery, which has barely changed since that time.

Mr Denmore concluded with the following suggestion to mainstream journalists:

If they are to succeed, they are going to have to stop seeing themselves as boundary riders, referees and voices of God and get in among it with everyone else.

It was the words among it with everyone else which fired me up. Mainstream journalists have become absolute experts at writing articles, or speaking on the radio, or appearing on TV show panels, and providing many words, without actually telling anyone what they actually think. It’s as if having an opinion is an unforgivable sin. Because having an opinion equates to partisanship and if you’re partisan, you can’t possibly be professional.

Of course, I’m not talking about those journalists who make a living out of campaigning for their political party. The Andrew Bolts and the Piers Akermans and the Chris Kennys; I’m talking about the ones who are meant to be providing fair, balanced and interesting political commentary. I’m talking about those who we expect to see policy analysis from, but we end up just getting hollow narratives along the lines of ‘they’re all as bad as each other, so we may as well make a joke about the whole thing’. That is, the Annabel Crabbs, Philip Cooreys, Peter Hartchers and Waleed Alys. And worse than offering bland nothingness in the place of real analysis, they offer sideshows and irrelevant innuendo in the place of a real, in depth, look at something that’s really important. Like the future of our country, or the effect a policy will have on our community.

And still it gets worse.

It gets much worse when these people treat anyone that does write about policy as if we’re too close and too partisan to matter.

The Canberra Press Gallery is not partisan in the slightest.

Those of us who do care about politics care about it not because it’s the topic we happen to make a living writing about. We don’t fixate on it because it’s a ‘thing’ and it’s ‘entertaining’. We care about politics because it actually does matter. And when we care about policy, and we write about how much we care about it, it’s as if our words are somehow tainted with the hysterics of being passionate about a topic. As if we’re just offering a biased opinion, and that this opinion therefore doesn’t count. Because we care too much. This is the attitude that oozes out of mainstream political journalists and commentators. And I’m sick of it. Surely a prerequisite for writing about politics is caring about the outcome?

A perfect example of this attitude was the Press Gallery’s decision to lock out Independent Australia journalist, Callum Davidson, from the ‘in club’. David Speers, the current president of the Press Gallery, provided this reasoning for the decision to reject Davidson’s application to join the Canberra Press Gallery:
‘Your website appears to be opinion-based rather than a news site. We have received numerous requests from similar sites which have also been declined.’

I was dumbfounded when I read this.

The first reason is because the Press Gallery generally doesn’t offer ‘news’ in any way shape or form that isn’t also easily categorized as ‘opinion’. News comes thick and fast, usually instantly, and by the time the Press Gallery has time to present it, we already know the facts and all that is left for them to talk about is their analysis of these facts. Their opinions of the facts. But these ‘opinions’ just look different from the opinions you see on Independent Australia because most of the writers on Independent Australia care about the subjects they are writing about.

The second reason I was amazed was because I get most of my news from sites like Independent Australia these days — since these sites are the only ones interested in actually finding out what the hell is going on in Canberra.

Independent Australia has just raised over $50,000 to investigate the Ashbygate affair because of its well-known investigative ability, yet is dismissed by David Speers as an "opinion website".

No doubt Press Gallery journalists are sick of people on social media begging them to investigate the circumstances behind James Ashby’s decision to take Peter Slipper to court, but guess what — there’s a reason we’re begging. It’s because we just can’t believe that mainstream journalists have become so cynical, so lazy and so unambitious that they wouldn’t be desperate to investigate this story for themselves.

It is really exciting that Independent Australia has managed to raise funds from the public to investigate Ashbygate. But it’s also depressing because the mainstream media should be doing this. And Independent Australia is the publication that the Press Gallery have decided ‘doesn’t count’, because they have too much opinion on their site. They’re offering us exclusive news and the Press Gallery is trying to block their access to the source of this news. It’s ridiculous.

I know I’m just one of many bloggers who write on this subject, and more than likely everyone in the Press Gallery has never heard of me. But that has never stopped me providing my thoughts. I write because I care. I always write about issues that are important to me and I think that’s obvious in the way that I write. If that makes me partisan, and therefore unqualified to provide an opinion, so be it.

I wish, just for once, we could read an article in the mainstream press and actually get to the end with some sort of idea of what the journalist thinks. We need to feel them get amongst it with us, because otherwise what they produce is bland, boring and completely irrelevant.

Don’t they ever wonder why their readership is declining?

(This story was originally published on and has been republished with permission.)

Click on the image to catch up on IA's full Ashbygate investigation.
Click on the image to catch up on IA's full Ashbygate investigation.

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