The Media Satchel – warm and fuzzy feelings

Media bulls at the gate. The Financial Review's Capital magazine debuts
Last week we witnessed the resignation of Senator Bob Brown, who instigated the call to investigate media practises in this country, resulting in the Finkelstein Report, which has set in motion a big, messy chain of events taking up many column inches (several trees pulped in the process).

These include this week's revelations about the integrity of journalism schools (see "Degree of doubt for journalism students" and "Uni journalist school passes 'fail' students" both published in The Australian), which could be seen as a special thank-you to the academic community for its other-wordly thoughts on journalistic nobility; The Australian Financial Review's investigation into News Corporation's pay television practises; and a near immeasurable number of stories (pages and pages of copy) devoted to defending Aussie journalism. 

So it's nice to be feeling something warm and fuzzy emanating from the nation's press.

Oddly enough, Bob Brown got the tick of approval from The Australian's editor-at-large Paul Kelly in a front-page column in the weekend edition. He called Brown "irreplacable" and "an authentic, an idealist and an ideologue". He was also placed amongst a table of long-term readers who have departed "on a high" (along with Bob Carr, Peter Beattie and Steve Bracks) and called "a politician of his times" in the paper's editorial, which signed off, "We wish him a happy, fulfilling farewell".

Bob is not the only one who's had a "change of heart". If we don't know what we've got 'til it's gone, then The Australian will most certainly suffer from a lack of Brown's colour on its pages. If Brown were in the habit of buying The Australian, which he may well be now, he would have been chuffed.

Speaking to The Conversation (the site produced by Australia's academic community) back in June 2011 (before the News of the World fiasco unfolded in July), then-Senator Brown told Sydney University politics professor John Keane, in a lengthy, heart-and-soul discourse, about the moment his consciousness of media bias was raised:

"[On] the day that we announced we had gone into an arrangement to form government with Gillard, not Abbott, when we had a press conference. The Australian had three journalists spread around, who were just hammering us. Not in a way which was aimed to get information but in a way which was accusatory in its nature even though there were questions attached and that’s been the case ever since.

On the day before [the agreement] we had a front-page editorial dressed up as a news story from Denis Shanahan saying there should be a new election. Then a few days later we had an editorial that the Greens should be “destroyed”. And then we had Rupert himself in Australia saying “the bloody Greens”.

They just picked a bad day. I have been giving them a fair riposte at various press conferences since then. I have had three of them come to me and say: “Why are you being hard on me or us, why do you ask us questions?”

And I say because this is a free and open democracy and I must say that when I question them about why they work for
The Australian, on each occasion, they’ve said to me: “Because it pays more money.”

Admitting to being a bit "tetchy" about the issues, a frustration The Australian noted in its weekend editorial ("journalists...have noticed a marked crankiness at press conferences in the past 12 months that would have been unheard of in years past"), Brown conceded that there are simply "issues like carbon and koalas and so on that are important."

And therein lies the struggle: journalists believe that the issues they care about are important, too.

"I’m here to try and do what I think is the right thing," said Brown. "In other words, to look at what is going on with our society and to try and foster the good and try and hold back to reform the bad... it ought to be for the people to make and break governments and it is for the Fourth Estate to be informing them."

At the time, he also shared sympathies for the Press Gallery ("I think they are intelligent, discriminating people") and a press under threat from the internet:

"If they feel under siege I’ve got a bit of sympathy for them. We’re the smallest of the three major political players and it might be that they are picking on the smallest, therefore least able to defend itself, entity. Maybe the lion is going for the zebra calf. I don’t know."

Of course, the Greens and Labor will together continue to provide ample fodder for The Australian's political and national affairs pages as it goes about lubricating the wheels of democracy. The lion may be more Aslan than animal right now, but we need not fear being bored. To conclude with this golden thought nugget from Brown: 

There is a very great danger in thinking you’re right about anything. In fact I see too much of that around this place. You have to go where your heart is.

Unfortunately, for many journalists, it's about going where the money is. The SMH reports on the burgeoning media empire that is King Content, which has 1000 freelance journalists on its books who "write as many as 800 blog posts a month for American Express, National Australia Bank, BankWest and others". 

The Australian Press Council (APC) is looking for a new Executive Director "responsible for developing and monitoring standards of reporting in newspapers, magazines and websites". Earlier this month, Seven West Media split from the Council to set up a new Independent Media Council to handle complaints.  

Meanwhile, in the world of TV, while "Seven ate Nine and Ten", Foxtel has eaten its regional rival Austar (the ACCC has approved the acquisition with a list of provisos).  

In the week Australia has announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the confrontational image of a bloodied and distressed 12-year-old girl named Tarana taken by AFP photographer Massoud Hossaini after a suicide attack in Kabul last December has won a 2012 Pulitzer prize in the Breaking News Photography category. 

"I'm humbled to be an Afghan who can be a voice for the painful life and moments which people have here," said Hossaini. "I know that whoever sees this photo will think about the photographer but I hope they don't forget the pain Afghanistan's people have in their life."

The awards for journalism, letters, drama and music, established by newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, also celebrated the work of online news organisations The Huffington Post and Politico. David Kocieniewski of The New York Times won the award for Explanatory Reporting for "his lucid series that penetrated a legal thicket to explain how the nation’s wealthiest citizens and corporations often exploited loopholes and avoided taxes." 

On that note, today sees the launch of The Australian Financial Review's new magazine, Capital. As the Greens seek to put forward a stronger "economic vision" for Australia under the leadership of Christine Milne, the international business community is still wary of market volatility ("caught between the bulls and bears as attitudes to risk change daily", wrote Brendan Lau in the paper's Monday edition), this new quarterly title, "profiles the big deals and key decision makers in corporate finance, investment banking, law, and in the nation's boardrooms."

Inside the slick magazine are ads for Virgin Australia, BMW, UBS, Comm Bank, Macquarie Bank, NAB and Mont Blanc. Edited by James Eyers and incorporating Fairfax's CFO brand, its aim is to "drive debate about the evolution of Australia's capital markets as they continue to play a central role underpinning the nation's prosperity" in the shape of "compelling, long-form journalism", "snappy profiles of personalities" and "cutting-edge opinion".

It's all very glossy and cool with articles on future proofing, the relationship between debt and equity and a look at the trading floors of Wall Street but it was the Occupy Wall Street story that first grabbed me. PIMCO CEO Mohamed A. El-Erian is quoted:

"At the end of all this, it's my deep belief that we're going to end up with a better balance between labour and capital, between finance and the rest of the economy, and between current and future generations. The reason why this is a youth-driven movement – like the Arab Spring – is that the young people realise that their future was mortgaged in order to allow some other sector of society to enjoy a standard of living beyond that they deserved."

That's a sentiment Bob Brown would likely agree with. And while there is a danger in "thinking you're right about anything", it's a glimmer of truth we would all do well to reflect on.

Girl With a Satchel