Indeed, a flair for seeing "the story" is probably the most important cultural distinction in the industry when separating exceptional journalists from the ordinary ones. Recognising a story and priortising it, often when events are still developing and when time is short, are what great editors are made of.
That's why the storm over the Gillard speech - irrespective of the tedious arguments over the definition of misogyny - has created such a defensive reaction among some in the gallery. The public essentially is accusing them of being bad at their jobs.
Some of the more considered journalists, like Lenore Taylor, said the public fist-pumping about the speech was completely understandable, but did not take account of the context - that Gillard was implementing a "deliberate, tested strategy of capitalising on the Coalition's relative unpopularity with women due to Tony Abbott's political aggression by conflating it with the unsupportable allegation that he actually hates females".
Well, yes. But sometimes you can be so close to a story that you don't grasp its wider impact. When a gallery member insists its job is not to "laud speeches" but to "make predictions about whether political actions will deliver votes", it rather proves the point that they don't get what's going on.
The fact is the media environment is becoming more diverse. The 'institutionalised' press - as traditionally defined - is finding itself less at the middle of things and more at the margin. New social media allows people to tailor and define news according to their own cultural norms, not those of a exclusive cadre.
This is a global phenomenon, by the way. We are moving away from the idea of an accepted "narrative" of public issues that is delivered to us all on the evening TV news as we eat dinner on our laps or in the morning as we pick up the newspaper off the lawn. It is a trend well articulated in an academic paper published early this year by the Brooklyn Law School in New York:
"Regardless of when the institutional press can be said to have come into existence, today we are witnessing an erosion of that entity, in favor of a more cacophonous and diverse media environment. At its most extreme, this cacophony takes the form of technologicalOf course, this emerging cacophony also raises the risk of there being no "accepted" version of events; that there are only perceptions and that people will gravitate around the sources of information that best fit their existing prejudices. Arguably, this is already happening. And not just with the new media. Rupert Murdoch's 'The Australian' makes no apologies about presenting a view of the world that resonates with its highly conservative, middle-aged, largely male readership.
developments that allow consumers of information to tailor the information they receive. This development completely erases, or at the very least severely erodes, the editorial judgment
component that marks traditional journalism."*
Indeed, such is The Australian's propensity for mixing partisanship with 'news' that some commentators, like economist John Quiggin, question whether it can fairly described as a newspaper. In fact, as blogs more and more resemble professionally written traditional media, the old media looks more and more like blogs.
"I don’t see this as a problem requiring a regulatory solution, as suggested by the Finkelstein Report," Quiggin says. "Rather, we simply need to recognise that 20th century assumptions about 'the press' have ceased to be applicable. The Australian looks like a 20th century newspaper, just as Fox resembles a 20th century US TV network, but both are far more like political blogs in terms of their content and operating procedures."So 'the news' isn't what it was. It isn't owned by anyone. It is increasingly contested. And as bloggers scale up and embrace some of the craft qualities of journalism, the mainstream media increasingly "moulds" news to satisfy the world views of its target markets.
The implications of all this we are just starting to grapple with.
*'Going the Way of the Steam Engine: The Institutional Press, the Internet and the Paradox of the Press Clause," William D. Araiza, Brooklyn Law School