Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why Journalists Fear Academics

What's most likely to keep journalists awake at night? That they will be 'scooped'? Please. In 2012 in the age of Twitter? Hardly. After all, they all copy and paste the same PR releases and transcripts. Nope, what really gnaws at journalists is the fear that they will be exposed as flakes, dilettantes, copycats and pretenders.

In days gone by, this wasn't a big risk. After all, academics for the most part were the only likely challengers to the self-appointed authorial voice of journalists. And we knew these sad, bearded trainspotters were locked away in their ivory towers, working on 6-12-monthly publishing cycles. Worse, their 'copy' - when it did arrive - was impenetrable, heavily footnoted and full of heavily qualifying subordinate clauses. Seven universes away, in other words, from The Herald Sun.


But no more. Digital technology and great new media ventures like The Conversation mean academics can publish just as quickly, just as tightly and just as relevantly as the most contemporary tabloid hack, but with far greater authority and without the commercially-driven compromises in which journalism is used as a marketing arm for other content.

Maybe that's what explains the paranoia of The Australian, with its time-honoured, passionately tribal penchant for seeking to destroy the reputations of anyone who would dare to criticise its pompous and self-aggrandising polemics masquerading as journalism.

After all, Murdoch's loss-making broadsheet (circulation 128,000) exists mainly to scratch the itches of grumpy menopausal men and bitter old culture warriors with intellectual inferiority complexes (which is not a bad description of the paper's editorial management BTW.)

The Australian led the charge against the independent media inquiry report, which - given the repeated failure of effective self-regulation - sensibly recommended a government-funded statutory body to force newspapers to properly enforce the standards that they profess to embrace.

Since the report came out, the newspaper has deliberately and calculatedly sought to damage the reputations of academics Margaret Simons, Wendy Bacon, Andrew Dodd and Matthew Ricketson - all journalists who have merely sought to defend the principles of the craft and question the unhealthy dominance of News Ltd. This is what The  Australian's editor Chris Mitchell said:
"Ricketson, Simons and their mate Andrew Dodd (Crikey contributor and Swinburne University of Technology journalism course convener) all worked for The Australian and you would give them barely a pass mark as journalists Seriously. People who I would score four or five out of 10 are trying to determine the future of media regulation in Australia. Everyone in the business knows it is a self-serving joke and these people are dupes for (Communications Minister Stephen) Conroy."
This is classic Murdoch. Paint your critics as elitists and impractical people out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of 'real folks'. It's very hard to fight against. If you dare to question this company and its malignant influence  in our democracy, you are decried as an enemy of freedom. They will destroy you, all the while shamefacedly proclaiming they are the spokesmen for 'the people' against the powerful 'elites'.

And their job is made even easier if you are an academic - a public servant, a thinker - not a doer. Journalists naturally resent academics. They hate them for having the luxury of time. They hate them for their tendency not to come to quick conclusions. They loathe them for their peer review and footnoting and referencing and for their disposition for seeing shades of grey where newspapers want to paint the world as Black Vs White.

And many academics resent journalists for their flip self-assurance, their easy superficiality, their cultivation of populism and their passing off as others' work as their own. Influential US academic economist Brad de Long put it this way:
"One reason that we academics tend to judge journalists harshly is because of their excessive claims of originality. We tend to believe strongly that situating your work and your contribution in the ongoing discussion is one of the very first duties of a writer--and a duty that is absolutely essential to any attempt to inform or educate readers. Journalists act differently. They try to make their readers as ignorant as they can about where the information is coming from. In my view, this is both unethical and ineffective: it tends to lead to great suspicion of journalists, and a discounting of what they write."
 This is the nub of the problem for the mainstream media in this age. They have nowhere to hide anymore. The source material is all out there. We can see how the sausages are made. And the automatic assumption of authorial authority is immediately questioned amid the messy democracy and instant judgement of social media.

Not only are journalists exposed as dilettantes; they are seen as  cheaters and fibbers and fakers. Which is why they hate academics.  And when the academics - many of them former practitioners - insist that journalists live up to the very principles they preach, Big Media seeks to shout them down, besmirch their reputations and say that 'Freedom' is at risk.

Doesn't this seem just a little self-serving to you?

See also:
Margaret Simons Responds to The Australian 
Australia's Most Successful Paper Lashes its Critics - Bernard Keane, Crikey
 Sleazy, Nasty, Dirty and Wrong - Ethical Martini 

52 comments:

  1. Thanks for this reasonable response. All I get from newslimited journalists is abuse and ignorance.

    My reply to the attacks on Margaret Simons has not been published. But you can read my open letter on Ethical Martini

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  2. Isn't Murdoch just terrible! *chinhands*

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  3. My response to The Australian can be read here:

    http://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/caj/2012/05/21/my-response-to-the-australian/

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  4. Really? I'm a journo with a big mainstream outlet, and I don't "hate", "loathe" or "resent" academics. I consider them to be what I consider most of the people I come into contact with every day to be: potential sources for stories. Lazy, lazy stuff

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  5. Agree with anonymous - absurdly long bow drawn here.

    Any time I speak to an academic it is usually to include their perspective as an expert in their field. My job is to convey what they've thought/found accurately, simply and transparently, and I take it as seriously with academics as I do with anyone else.

    After spending my career collating viewpoints on an issue into a story, it's frankly a bit insulting to be accused of arrogance for asking the stupid but important questions and seeking out people smarter than me to share their views with a broad audience.

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  6. The two anonymouses, I'm glad to hear you treat academics with respect, don't deliberately misconstrue or sensationalise what they say, or use them as quote factories for pre-existing narratives - or as in this case, trash their reputations because they dare to criticise journalistic practices. But I'm afraid your standards are increasingly the exception.

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  7. Journalists "hate academics".

    And you illustrate this ridiculous generalisation - not by any sort of academic analysis - by just saying it.

    Hypocrite much?

    If some journalists hate academics, I'd guess it's because of their holier-than-thou attitude witnessed in this piece.

    Once again, we hear from someone who believes that because they have an education that makes their opinion more valid than everyone elses.

    The real reason you don't like the media is because they reflect everything you don't like about people. Which basically means you just don't like people. I hope that gives you the great feeling of self worth that academics get from their lack of a useful contribution society.

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    1. Really, not hvaing an education makes your opinion as valid as someone with an education? How does that work? Unless an opinion is informed it is useless.

      As for a lack of contriubution to society; aside from their role in educating students and writing books to help society understand itself (including history, psychology, economics, literature, politics etc), pushing back the limits of scientific knowledge, inventing things for profit and to help people; aside from all that, you are right they contribute much at all.

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  8. Again, really? Because when I look round my news room, I see many people who do not operate like that, and very few that do. But I guess broad generalisations and sweeping criticisms make for better copy, eh?

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  9. That was aimed at Mr D, obviously

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  10. Mr D, I tend to agree with the two anons. I think you mean SOME journalists hate academics. You might even mean some News Ltd journalists hate academics. As an ex-journalist (aren't we the worst kind?) I continue to be disappointed at what I see as the slipping standards of journalism in this country. However, the majority of journalists, I'm sure, are doing the best they can under increasingly difficult circumstances.

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  11. Agree with Dan - I think the argument could be levelled at some of the coverage cited in the piece but allowing a shot at a whole profession based on a few rogue operators would leave few standing tall.

    Glad I'm not the only journo indignant enough to post on this and stand up for what we do.

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    1. So Dan + Anons, You disagree on Mr-Ds generalisation, okay. .. Give us a number. .. How many people do Journo`s need to launch un-warranted attacks on before the public can `generalise`??

      Of course, you guys are not instructed from above to do this by, editors, boardroom, management because as a `gate-keeper-of-the-truth` who always acts without fear or favor, you would have made the public statements you need to, if this was going on.

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  12. I'm also curious as to why Mr D is so vociferous about this. I don't know exactly what you do, Mr D, but do you have any links to tertiary journalism courses...?
    The 'first anonymous'

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  13. Not a bad rave. But do take care. Academia is just as complicit in serving dominant economic interests as journalists or editors. What, with universities full of would be journalists and film makers, who from my experience as an academic teacher, disdain any process that takes time and does not give a black and white answer to everything. Why do you assume the worlds of academia and mainstream journalism are so different? News of the edufactoryis also out there.

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  14. The first anonymous, I'm not an academic. I was a journalist. I now work in corporate communications in the private sector and in a field unrelated to media or academia.

    The second anonymous, I wish it were a "few rogue operators" and I did not intend to besmirch every hard working reporter with the 'fear academics' label. So my apologies if you feel personally aggrieved.

    But the bigger point here is that our largest and most dominant media company - one that controls 70 per cent of the print market - is waging a public war with a handful of academics in order to deflect attention from the real debate, which is how to improve the accountability of the media while preserving its freedom.

    It seems pretty clear that a big part of the commercial media feels under siege and is lashing out at its critics by using its 'news' pages to trash their reputations.

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    1. I happen to believe the Australian's campaign against journalism academics is malicious, pointless and an exercise in vanity by a media outlet that shrugged off the restraining bonds of common sense and impartiality a long time ago.
      However, the concerns it raises about one particular point, the tertiary media courses that now churn out hundreds of graduates a year, are valid. I suspect in their heart of hearts, many of these academics realise there's something wrong with pumping out graduates who have very little hope of finding the job they want and have studied in order to attain. I reckon very few first year journo students enter a course because they want to blog, tweet or write for Crikey. They want to be mainstream journalists, a field that, as we're all aware, is diminishing by the day.

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  15. Hi, This is mainly to the Anonomi(?). You seem to all be journalists - I am an academic (albeit not in the journalistic nor literary fields). However, while you claim "journalists do not hate academics" (which may or may not be true - I have no idea) published articles certainly seem to falsify this claim. Surely "because they have an education" their opinion are more valid than everyone else's (in the limited sphere of their education in any case)? Yet the media (predominantly news.com) insist that any conclusion drawn in academic circles must be incorrect (particularly if anyone at all holds a contradictory stance). See: global warming, anthropogenic global warming, evolution (US), medicine, finance, media ownership e.t.c. Perhaps "hate" is too strong - but come on - it is starting to become rediculous.

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    1. I think we've ascertained that, contrary to Mr D's ludicrously generalised assertions, it's really the Australian we're all talking about. I don't work there, so I can't comment on what goes through their minds

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    2. Not just News Limited journos - the ABC has a few, as do the Fairfax papers. Lazy hackery is not the sole province of Murdoch's employees. (I'm not an anonymouse either, btw.)

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  16. As I see it;

    Mr Demore is an honest insightful blogger.

    The anonomi are Australian journalists, maybe Rupes...perhaps not.

    Do the math.

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  17. If only the "anomoni" had the guts to put their name to the post and then we could really see if they do practice ethical journalism (I realise that phrase is heading towards being considered as an oxymoron)

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    1. Like the author of this blog?

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    2. Err, my name is on the blog if you look for it.

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    3. I must have missed it when I was looking last night.

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  18. "Alistair Robertson was overheard at a media conference on Wednesday saying he would prefer his children to be hitmen or prostitutes rather than the journalists in attendance."

    From Justinian article about Former Justice Brian Sully's retirement function;-

    "The media, as we know, react with savage vindictiveness to any attempt to apply to them those standards of transparency and accountability that they are insistent on applying to other people … The media are not a constitutional arm of government … To suggest that [they are] is legal fiction, a political subversion and a moral absurdity. The media are major money-making cartels. They are not knights in shining armour. Their agenda is power. Their strategy is fear and their tactics are a combination of ridicule, sometimes of the most savage personal kind.

    It got better. The media deal in lies and worse, "finely calibrated half-truths"; they fuse fact and opinion, and there's been a campaign in recent times in the Sydney metropolitan media "which in my time has never been surpassed for the persistent, wilful and vicious mendacity with which it has been conducted.

    It's about time the Bar Association did something about it, the steaming judge declared. It should take the fight to the media by insisting they say not what they are against, but what they are for.

    For the press to be lecturing anyone about perks, indulgences and the need for transparency is, frankly, a little rich."

    I tend to agree with Former Justice Sully and Alistair Robertson, if my kids wanted to be journalists I would just die I think. Much prefer them to be con artists thieves and criminals than a journalist.

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    1. Yes, let's just vacate the field to bloggers, tweeters, etc, who have absolutely no oversight, obligation to correct errors, code of conduct etc etc.
      You don't seriously believe that any blogger has the time, resources or skills to investigate and expose wrongdoing and lying by public figures, for example? Journalist-bashers seldom seem to consider how our politicians, business leaders, bureaucrats etc would be held to account in the absence of mainstream journalism. Every day there are tens of thousands honest, dedicated, over-worked, underpaid journos going about their business, but acknowledging that wouldn't fit the narrative of people like you, would it?

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    2. Anonymous, you're being ironic aren't you?

      "Bloggers have absolutely no oversight, obligation to correct errors, code of conduct etc; etc."

      Why do you think we are having this discussion?

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    3. [ who have absolutely no oversight, obligation to correct errors, code of conduct etc etc. ]

      You must be from News Ltd. you described their code of conduct.

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    4. Mr D, what discussion? You make a ridiculous sweeping generalisation about me and my colleagues and then refuse to acknowledge that you did so. So show me your policy on correcting errors, show me your code of conduct.
      Ian (clearly, like Prince, you believe you only need one name) why don't you read what I wrote above about the Australian and then decide if I work for News

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    5. And as for this, yes, of course a body noted for its representativeness of the wider community and its transparency, the judiciary, should be the final arbiter

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    6. Anonymous, I think you are being overly sensitive. I didn't mention anyone by name. I was talking about journalists and the media in general, not about anyone in particular.

      In general, the media does not treat academics well, which is why so many academics are wary of talking to journalists. It's not just me saying this. Ask most academics how they feel.

      It's why Andrew Jaspan has started up The Conversation, to give recognised experts a safe space where they can illuminate current issues without fear of being misrepresented.

      The second aim of my piece is to condemn the calculated smearing by The Australian of a group of journalism academics who are merely seeking to ensure the profession/craft/trade lives up to its own standards.

      I don't think this is unreasonable. And I'm sorry if you've taken offence.

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    7. Fair enough. I'm just sick of smart arse bloggers and Twitter warriors (and I'm not suggesting you're either) taking potshots at 'The Media' because of the actions of a very few of us. The people here saying journos are worse than criminals seem remarkably well-versed on what we produce, considering how much they despise us.

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    8. And I should make it clear that the only reason I'm not identifying myself here is that I don't want to be fair game for some of the more unhinged denizens of the blogosphere, of whom, as well all know, there are many. It's not hard for crazies to work out how to phone/email journos they don't agree with, as some climate change academics have discovered...

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    9. Anonomous, you state, we have a country full of " honest, dedicated, overworked and underpaid" journalists all, seemingly, dedicated to " truth, justice and the Australian way". Tens of thousands apparently. If this is so, I would ask you......why then do you all tolerate the blatant bias, obsfucation and the incredibly low standards of ethics in the News Ltd group? Why aren't you, as one of the honest, ethical, perhaps mythical 10,000, complaining,campaigning both long and loudly, against this blight on your profession?

      I sense that you believe journalism to be an honourable craft and its practitioners craftsmen. Perhaps this was once a truth. The sad reality, for all of us, is that journalists are none other than well paid factory hands.

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    10. Don't put quotes around something I didn't write. And, do you seriously think it should be my job to point out to the Australian people that a company I don't work for is debasing journalism? Do you think the people who read/listen to/watch my stuff want to minutes or column inches taken up with bagging news ltd? People read the Australian or the Telegraph because they reinforce their prejudices. I can't force them to go elsewhere for their news.

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    11. Well that one of the best cop outs I've ever witnessed. Christ on a stick mate, no-one is asking you to storm a citadel. How about if some of you " honest, ethical, hard working journalists" start trying to redress the balance with a bit of truthful, impartial reporting. Can't that bloody hard.. surely.

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    12. Erm, clearly you haven't read anything I've written.

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    13. Ian, I suspect your comments with anon is falling on deaf ears. Journo`s get bent out of shape when you don`t listen/ read/ like/ them. They get bent out of shape when you call out their BS. Bent out of shape when you ignore them and go run your own blog or tweet. You can`t win. Funny thread though.

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  19. if my kids wanted to be journalists I would just die I think. Much prefer them to be con artists thieves and criminals than a journalist.

    ...some might say these are a necessary skill set to become a journalist, given the recent News Of The World shenanigans...

    drsusancalvin

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  20. ...grammar fail... apologies

    drsusancalvin

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  21. Mr Denmore, of all the pieces you've written, this is the one that is kept when all others can be discarded.
    It is the best summary yet of what is a very sick mess the dog has left on the footpath- Western news reportage and journalism- that really ought to have any individual questioning their own darker side, for this complete, conscious abandonment of humanity is what required to be a Chris Mitchell or Glen Milne and they are Dorian Grey figures.
    And if they can sink to an unspeakable level, what hope us?
    Last night's Media Watch was an excellent companion for this article, dealing with mass media's attacks on scientists concerned with the likelihood of climate change and other ecological issues and the devastating effects these will impose on human existence if the worst case scenarios developed turn out to be accurate.
    In the meantime, drsusancalvin alerts us to the other factor in play, the manifest rottenness of corporate media as unmasked with the Murdoch Press example, that leads to the obscuring of reality for those seeking to live in the real world and its conscious suppression by people who would be more at home in black uniforms than the clothing of avatars and interlocutors working with the rest for a win-win situation for all in a better world.
    Paul Walter

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    1. Interesting that you mention two journos, both News Ltd, and a campaign waged by one newspaper, owned by News Ltd. I'm waiting for examples of other media outlets behaving in this fashion, because from the comments above, you all clearly believe it's an industry-wide malaise

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  22. You'd rather talk about the last remnants of broadsheet journalism being excised from pitiful, fearful Fairfax prior to the Rinehart take over, or just the pitiful broadsheet remant left of public broadcasting after a decade's vandalism inflicted on the ABC and SBS by intemperate reactionaries and opportunists.
    Not for nothing is the ABC known these days as Murdoch's ABC and no doubt things were hunkering down for a privatisation before the News of the World scandal unmasked Murdoch, revealing him as the unfit owner of media that he is.
    Yes, it's a deep malaise.
    It is a trillion dollar malaise, as Iraq, the Meltdown and Global Warming have indicated and demonstrated, eventuating as it did not least from a failure of integrity on the part of mass media and press to report accurately on right wing politics over that decade.
    Paul Walter

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  23. Wonderful post Mr-D and couldn`t agree more.
    I award you 5 out of 5 `Silver-Trinkets`

    I also enjoyed the `fit-and-proper` comments from the Limited-News-Interns and Editors-In-Waiting who read and understood the submissions to, and, transcripts of, the Finkelstein Inquiry.

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  24. When I think "Australian media" or "Australian journalists" I think: Conservative barrow-pushers. For groupthink and unanimity of political persuasion the Australian media cannot be beaten.

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  25. It's amusing that this post has attracted so many anonymice, Mr D. I know it's been said before, but journos generally do seem to have thin skins and glass jaws.

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  26. This is fantastic stuff! The dearth of serious, ethical media in this country pollutes our national conversation, infects politics, undermines rational inquiry and breeds a weird false consciousness where consumers of this trash literally have no idea about the complexities of life, the world and their place it it. More of your writing and others like you and less Murdoch swill and we'd all be better off.

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  27. Journalists wouldn't be getting such a poor image if they engaged in wholesome, original reporting, respected and built deep relationships with their sources and displayed an understanding of the issues and subjects they cover. My point is there are many bright and intelligent journalists out there who want to do precisely that. In fact, I have a background in both media/journalism and academia. I am currently a journalist. Today, many of my most useful sources are academics who are able to lend a unique perspective even to issues that have been made an overkill in popular media. The problem is that the news organizations we work for do not give a shit if we write really good stories and spend time reporting, researching, fact-checking and narrativizing. In the present-day era of Twitter, most news organizations want, guess what? Aggregated content of course. They want quantity over quality. That means spending time to engage in original reporting, meaningful and sincere writing, investigate into a subject for a story or conduct social and intellectual inquiries, will get us sacked. It is sad but true. Journalism is getting a poor image precisely because of what is known as the culture industry - a phenomenon where consumers are stultified into passive onlookers by media outlets including news organizations, which monetize, commoditize and sell content that the public does not necessarily want, in the hope of staying afloat and competing with other media giants. Get my point?
    Considering selling out and jumping back to academia.

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  28. There's no prospect of my changing the habit of nearly a lifetime if the Australian publishes ad hominem rants such as Mitchell's. You would have thought that they would conceal their contempt for reasoned argument, but apparently low grade stuff like that quoted is out there for several people to see.

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  29. I castigated one economic journo for traipsing into information security and adding to cyber hysteria. I did so via Twitter with a witty but cutting remark. Response? To check my LinkedIn profile, then blocked me from following him on Twitter and indeed he removed my remark. That was the AFR and Business Spectator. Being called out for factual error causes muteness and revision. Learn that at journo school?

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