Friday, December 16, 2011
The Right Stuff - The FEIJOA Awards, 2011
Good journalism these days tends to get done despite rather than because of the institutions that support it. As anyone who has had to put up with me and many others banging on in recent years, the slow death of the business model supporting journalism has decimated the craft in the past decade.
But amid all the press release churnalism and he-said-she-said stenography and feeding of a relentless 24/7 cycle and low-cost opinionating and manufactured culture wars and dial-up controversy, some great journalism still finds its way through the cracks of the crumbling edifice of the MSM.
Everyone has an opinion on what defines good journalism. The old school says it's all about "scoops" and "exclusives". However, in an age when anyone can publish instantaneously, armed with nothing more than a mobile phone, this seems like a dead end road to me. (Think back to the Rudd coup and the spectre of journos sitting on cable news shows reading tweets off their iPhones). What's so smart about being "first with the news" on a story that's going to break anyway?
My thinking is that the best journalism - particularly in an age when everyone has their amps up to 11 - is more of a quiet achiever. It sheds new light on public issues and encourages people to think about things in different ways. Good journalism is more about standing back from the noise, creating some perspective and "whispering" in the audience's ears.
Good journalism eschews just being another clearing house for the predictable talking points of the dug-in partisans of all sides. It makes no assumptions and takes nothing for granted. It asks the questions that need to be asked, but which never seem to be - because everyone else is so focused on generating "gotchas" and "gaffes" for the 24-hour cycle.
Finally, it might sound obvious - but the best journalism is about serving the reader or the listener. It's not about feeding the insatiable machine or beating the opposition by five minutes or pandering to the prurient or confecting cheap outrage or impressing other journalists.
Ultimately, good journalism is about increasing our understanding of an issue, a person, an event; it's about revealing - in the public interest - what is otherwise hidden or obscure. And it is about asking sometimes difficult questions in a way that yields answers. Increasingly, though, with so much information already out there, the best journalism is about explanation. It uses digital tools to bring together all the existing data to make sense of complex issues in a vivid, memorable way.
With the above criteria in mind, here are the inaugural annual Failed Estate International Journalism Awards (The FEIJOAs) for 2011:
The Lord Monckton Roadshow - Wendy Carlisle - Background Briefing, ABC Radio National:
So much Australian media coverage of the Monckton circus - by pretending there is a serious debate around man-made climate change - neglects to show that this indeed is a circus of the insane and that the odious 'Lord' Monckton is a paid puppet of the fossil fuel industry . The fearless Wendy Carlisle, in this report, goes behind the curtain to show the men manipulating the levers.
Politics and Plaster Ducks - AKA Kitsch as Kitsch Can - Guy Rundle, Crikey: For my money, no-one writes better about the exhaustion of conventional politics than Rundle. This piece - about the denial by media and politicians of a changing world and the retreat by the Julia Gillard-led Labor Party into banal paeans to "working families" - hit just the right note at the right time.
Labor Hopeless, Abbott a Hollow Man - Laura Tingle, AFR: Sometimes the best journalism just dispenses with the mealy-mouthed fake objectivity and comes right and says what we are all thinking. Laura Tingle is better than this at most, using this column to poke fun at the ridiculous rhetoric coming out of both sides of politics in Canberra. "Oh for goodness sake. Enough," she writes. "Pledges in blood. Policy run on the smell of intestinal fortitude alone. We are supposed to be talking about who becomes prime minister here, not an action man movie."
The Skype Scandal - Hugh Riminton, Ten Network: My pick for 'scoop' of the year. It involved the careful unmasking of systematic bastardy and misogyny in one of the nation's most prestigious institutions. In many hands - particularly in the blokey culture of commercial television - this could have turned into tabloid salaciousness (where the reporter wags his fingers and winks at the audience all at once). But with the classy Riminton on the case, that was never going to happen.
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields - Channel Four via ABC Four Corners: Not an Australian production, but bravely aired on our own Four Corners, this terrifying piece of current affairs television exposed the bloody final weeks of the quarter century war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamir Tiger secessionists. The awful, uncensored images brought home more than anything I have ever seen the capacity for human beings to descend into barbarism. When we talk about journalism that pulls no punches, this is it.
Australian Exceptionalism - Possum Pollytics, Crikey: The biggest lie in Australian media is that the vast middle class are "doing it tough". It's almost become a mantra for News Ltd, which has become a propaganda service for people earning $150,000 a year - a community for whom hardship is defined as not being able to afford the movie channel on Foxtel. In this piece, Australia's most unheralded economic journalist Possum delivers a massive reality check, backed by hard evidence, to a population that seriously wants to believe that Australians are hard done by.
Go Back to Where You Came From - Cordell Jigsaw Productions/SBS: Campaigning documentary journalism masquerading as a reality TV show, this three-part series on SBS dealt with the seemingly intractable refugee issue in a way that showed up all all the talkback radio/tabloid newspaper bigotry and grandstanding for what it is. Every Australian who purports to have an opinion on the so-called "boat people" should watch this before inflicting their views on the rest of us.
There are plenty more potential nominees out there. Sally Sara of the ABC, David Crowe of the AFR, Stephen Long of the ABC and Peter Martin of the SMH/Age are some of my favourite writers. Outside the MSM, I would nominate Melissa Sweet at Crikey, Ben Pobjie of New Matilda, Mark Bahnsich of Lavratus Prodeo, Nick Gruen of Club Troppo and Tim Dunlop of The Drum/B Sides.
We're lucky to have these people either online or offline in dead trees media. It's not all bad. It's not all a failed estate. Some of it still succeeds. We should celebrate it.
Posted by Mr D at 3:18 PM