Tag Archives: Journalism

Man’s opinion changes between his early 20s and late 40s

I’m still chuckling about people who think that Joe Hockey having a different opinion now to the one he had almost 30 years ago is a BIG STORY.

When Joe Hockey was a uni student in 1987, he protested about the introduction of a $250 admin fee. Now, 27 years later, he’s part of a government that wants to make uni so expensive that students will be in debt for the rest of their lives. Women will cop the worst of it. (I couldn’t find anything on how the changes will affect Indigenous students, but we already know that the Budget hammers Indigenous people, with over $500 million cut from Indigenous affairs, including $160 million cut from Indigenous health programs, $3.5 million cut from the Torres Strait Regional Authority, $15 million cut from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, $9.5 million cut from Indigenous language support, and that’s before you consider the GP co-payment and disgusting cuts to youth welfare. If you have an education link, please let me know and I’ll update this.)

Yesterday, the online editor at smh.com.au ranked the Hockey story in the top spot. The same story was still in tops (“above the fold”) this morning until 10am-ish, albeit with the date changed to today. I haven’t checked News Ltd sites because frankly, I couldn’t give a shit about their coverage.

Please note that I’m not saying it shouldn’t be reported. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t talk about it. What I am saying is that, as far as journalism goes, it shouldn’t be the most important political story of the day. I saw journos on twitter congratulating each other over what a “good get” it was. Huh? That Hockey’s views about tertiary education were different when he was in student politics three decades ago is hardly a “GOTCHA” moment. Not least because his 1987 opposition to the $250 fee was reported last week (and at the time).

Mind you, I’m questioning why it was considered the most important political story on smh.com.au on a day when a video of some guys not getting caught in a tornado made news around the world, so I shouldn’t be surprised and why the hell am I wasting my time getting shitty about this stuff?

I’m yet to see a decent argument about why this story deserves the coverage it got. One argument is that it’s important because the education changes will affect a lot of people.

Yes, the changes do affect a lot of people, but what has a decades-old change of mind got to do with that? If it had happened in the last 12 months, then sure. But it’s probably closer to two decades ago, since he was president of the NSW Young Libs from 1991-1992, and made noises about changing Commonwealth funding of education in his maiden speech to Parliament in 1996. It’s an interesting side story, but it’s hardly OMG IMPORTANT.

Another argument is that it’s important because it gives his views context, and highlights his decision-making process.

Except it doesn’t do either of those things at all.

What does knowing that he said one thing in 1987 and now believes the opposite actually tell us about his decision-making process? Nothing. It tells us nothing.

What context does it provide to the current education debate?

None.

But, you know, writing 466 words about what is said in an old video is a hellava lot easier than doing the kind of journalism that is actually important and useful. Yay, jernalism.

The special women’s section

The Guardian has a new women’s section, called She Said:

Bold, insightful and provocative, She Said is here to bring you a fresh perspective on what’s going on. The Observer’s female writers, and some occasional special guests, will post reaction to breaking news along with thoughtful, witty analysis and general musings on life. No topics are off limits – from politics and world affairs to sport and culture, food and fashion. Not to mention our daily irritations and celebrations.

Making an explicit effort to include women’s voices in the news is an excellent idea, but it is a terrible idea to put them in a special section that men will never read. It’s the same complaint I have about Daily Life (another complaint being that the content is often indistinguishable from the lifestyle and entertainment sections), and about the All About Women Festival at the Opera House, where well-off women will pay to see other well-off women talk about stuff they already agree with. Some of the festival will be interesting – Ilwad Elman and Mona Eltahawy are speaking – but is unlikely to lead to any real change because it’s pitched as an event for women. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a lot of benefit in women talking with each other about how to change things, and in writing for each other about our opinions and lives. We do that all the time, and I enjoy it and learn a lot from it. But if cultural change is the goal, then it won’t happen this way.

Events pitched at women and special sections on news sites would be fine if talks and conferences and tv panel shows weren’t just a parade of white men talking to white men. How often do you see episodes of QandA or The Project in which women outnumber men? And they’re just there talk about stuff, not necessarily “women’s stuff”? How many news stories in which women are expert voices on something other than parenting? As long media organisations continue to quarantine women’s voices from the “real stuff”, then they can kiss my arse.

The Guardian, like smh.com.au, has realised there are clicks in publishing women’s voices, but they clearly don’t see them as being a part of the “real news”. The news where men write 70 per cent of the front page stories, are the focus of 72 per cent of the stories, and appear as experts in 78 per cent of the stories (figures from The Blokeyness Index and to be fair, they pre-date The Guardian‘s Australian arrival). It’s not hard to find female experts, but it’s apparently too hard for most journalists to look for them. If news organisations were serious about including female voices in their news cycle, then editors would simply send copy back to the journo if it doesn’t include a female voice. It’s not rocket surgery. (And it might mean we stop seeing so many one-voice stories. But that’s another post.)

Brand new year, same crappy reporting

** Warning: This post discusses male violence against women**

Hey look, it’s a bright new year and journalists are STILL pretending that male violence against women and girls just happens all by itself.

A man attacked two girls in a park toilet. His attack has been described as “horrific”. This is how it’s being reported. (Please note: these are the morning versions of the story.)

Ben McClellan’s story for dailytelegraph.com.au – Family’s fury at horror of young girls being indecently assaulted in a Sydney park toilet – doesn’t mention the perpetrator until the third paragraph, and even then, he just writes that police are looking for a man:

IT is every parent’s nightmare – two young girls enjoying a family picnic at a familiar park wander out of sight for a few minutes and into a public toilet block where they are sexually assaulted.

Guildford’s tight-knit community are angry and shocked that the sisters, aged two and six, were attacked­ yesterday just 30m from where their family was enjoying lunch.

A police hunt for a man of Middle Eastern appearance has entered a second day after the girls were attacked after they went into the toilet block at Campbell Hill Pioneer­ Reserve in Guildford about 1.30pm.

McClellan removes the man from his crime, and puts the focus on the actions of the girls. It might seem harmless, but the focus on the victims’ actions is insidious. I’m not suggesting that McClellan is implying that a two-year-old and a six-year-old are responsible for the man’s crime, but when you focus on their actions it feeds into the cultural message that, as a female, your actions influence whether or not someone else commits a crime. That if you weren’t doing this particular thing, or in this particular place, then this horrific thing wouldn’t have happened to you. That’s complete nonsense. And it’s certainly not the way we talk about male on male violence – that the men who are in hospital somehow influenced another man to king hit them.

But I shouldn’t single McClellan out, because most journalists do it.

Online at dailytelegraph.com.au, the standfirst hides the man in the section of the sentence no one really pays much attention to:

If you read quickly, you miss that the man is there.

If you read quickly, you miss that the man is there.

The story at smh.com.au is unbylined AAP copy – ‘It’s horrific’: Sisters, aged two and six, sexually assaulted in Sydney park toilet – and is only a little better. When it does finally mention the perpetrator, it puts the focus on his actions:

Police have described as a “parent’s worst nightmare” the sexual assault of two sisters, aged two and six, in the toilet block of a western Sydney park.

“The parents involved in this are absolutely devastated and so is the immediate family,” Detective Acting Superintendent Peter Yeomans told Macquarie Radio on Friday.

“It’s horrific, what has happened to them.”

The girls were approached by a man inside the toilet block and he indecently and sexually assaulted them, police said.

Shame the same can’t be said for the online editorial team:

Nope, no mention that someone did it - it just happened.

Nope, no mention that someone did it – it just happened.

At abc.net.au, the standfirst focus is on the attacker (even if they did call it a sex assault):

Finally! Someone is reporting this crime the same way other crimes are reported.

Finally! Someone is reporting this crime the same way other crimes are reported.

The headline is as bad as the others – Girls aged 2 and 6 indecently assaulted in park at Guildford in Sydney’s west – but at least the story itself is better:

Sydney police have established a strike force as they continue to hunt for a man who attacked two young girls in a toilet block in the city’s west.

Police say the girls, aged two and six, went with family members to Campbell Hill Pioneer Reserve in Guildford yesterday afternoon.

Officers say the man approached the girls about 1:30pm (AEDT) and took them into the toilets where they were indecently assaulted.

It is astounding that this still needs to be spelled out to journalists. After all, they spend so much time online that this can hardly be the first time they’ve come across this issue. But what is more astounding is that they show so little desire to think about the words that they use. A while ago I started emailing the journalists who write these stories. Usually my emails are ignored. The one response I got was along the lines of “OF COURSE I don’t remove the perpetrator from his actions, see, he is mentioned in the story”. Yes, but four or five pars in, and never in relation to the actual violence. I even used other examples of that journalist’s crime reporting side by side to illustrate my point, but it obviously went over their head.

Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute runs a course for journalists on how to cover sexual assault. She says that “in addition to being precise about the language they use to describe sexual assault, journalists need to get a lot smarter about the research in order to describe it in a way that is accurate and that conveys the gravity of the situation,” (interview, 2008, p. 14 – reference below).

McBride uses the example of media coverage of HIV/AIDS – in the late 80s and early 90s, journalists focused on who had it and how they got it, end of story. Then, they went and actually learned about what they were reporting on, and the focus changed to the bigger picture. She says the same approach is needed for media reporting of sexual violence:

“Once you start realising that this story about sexual assault is really meant to hold the court system accountable, and this story about sexual assault is meant to provide some insight into what happens to victims and how devastating it is, and this story is about children and how systems fail to protect children, and this story is about public safety… once you start learning how to figure out the journalistic purpose of individual stories and types of stories, then you can start to apply different tools in different ways. So you become much more precise in your approach,” (interview, 2008, p. 14).

Journalists need to figure out how to cover the rest of the story. (And that means doing more than just tacking on a sentence of statistics at the end. That’s as meaningless as putting the contact details for Lifeline at the end of a story about someone dying from mental illness.)

The story does not start and end with this man’s attack on these two little girls. When one in three girls will be sexually abused before they turn 16, it is not good enough that journalists report male violence against females without any context. It is not good enough that any wider discussion of male violence against women and girls will be left to a single article in the weekend papers that will only be read by the people who are already talking and writing about this stuff online.

Look at the way the alcohol-related violence in Kings Cross is reported. At first the journalists focused on the victims, portraying them as innocent people who were just enjoying a night out with friends. That almost never happens when a man attacks a woman. Then the journalists focused on the perpetrators, and the public discussion very quickly became “how do we stop young men hitting other young men? How do we find a solution to this awful crime?”. One in three girls before they turn 16, but no, let’s keep pretending that these are just random attacks that are not part of a massive problem.

The mainstream media shapes the way we think about our world and shapes the language we use to think about it. As long as journalists keep reporting that “a woman/girl was assaulted in her home/public place”, that will continue to be the language people use. People will continue to think about assault as something that just happens to women and girls who are unlucky. People will continue to think two little girls were attacked, rather than what actually happened: a man attacked two little girls.

Reference:
The quotes from Kelly McBride come from an unbylined interview, headlined ‘Time to give more thought to how we cover sexual assault’, in the winter 2008 issue of Media, vol. 13, no. 3, p. 14.

It’s time to get new journalists because these ones are borked

This is the main election story on smh.com.au this afternoon:

Incredibly useful reporting from Tony Wright, the national affairs editor of The Age.

Incredibly useful reporting from Tony Wright, the national affairs editor of The Age.

Yes, that’s right. The national affairs editor of The Age has written 375 words about a four-year-old child in the background of a photo. And the online editor at smh.com.au has decided the story is SO DAMN IMPORTANT that it’s the main image.

You can’t make this shit up.

And it IS shit.

Meaningless, trivial shit that gives their audience exactly ZERO information about the election.

Oh wait, there was one bit that could have been vaguely useful:

Mr Rudd visited the Ryde Uniting Church to talk up his government’s multicultural policies. The church runs regular English classes for the local Korean community, and Mr Rudd was keen to announce that his government would make the Korean language one of the top-five priorities for teaching in Australian schools.

Ok, so what are the other four priorities? And what other multicultural policies was the Prime Minister talking about? DID ANY JOURNALIST THINK TO ASK?

There are three election stories above the fold on smh.com.au this afternoon: the photobomber, a gaffe (discussed below) and 406 words from business reporter Matt O’Sullivan (with mainly AAP copy) about how outrageous it is that Anthony Albanese had a beer with Craig Thomson. Because now you can’t even have a beer with someone you used to work with. Come on, don’t you think there are more important stories to be covering?

Over at dailytelegraph.com.au, there are two election stories above the fold:

Two election stories on dailytelegraph.com.au

Two election stories on dailytelegraph.com.au

One is about how Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott will have a debate on Sunday, which is a very easy story to write – no need for any research or to examine any policy or indeed to ask any questions. Yet despite the story being based on a media release and containing no original reporting and no new quotes, it somehow has three goddamn bylines on it. You’d think that at least one of those journalists would have subbed the damn thing – it’s a mess.

The other story is wire copy from AAP in which Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury is asked to comment on a radio interview he gave. It mainly transcribes the interview. There’s no issue investigation – it doesn’t even go into what they were talking about. Just OMG GAFFE! Smh.com.au is running the same story but unattributed to AAP. I guess you pretend it’s the work of your own journalists when you’re trying to get people to pay for stories that are free everywhere else.

Most people have very little contact with politicians and so they get their political information from the news media. After all, providing information about the world is the central function of the news media. Yes, media organisations are businesses and they need to make money, but providing information to their audience is at the heart of it. So if you’re a journalist and you’re writing stories about the election campaign that contain fuck-all useful information about that campaign, then you seriously need to ask yourself if you’re in the right job. Sure, there’s plenty of room for the funny things that happen during an election campaign, but only if you’re also covering the election issues properly and I don’t see any evidence for that on these major news websites.

In The problem of the media: US communication politics in the 21st century, Robert McChesney writes, “democratic theory posits that society needs journalism to perform three main duties: to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies; and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues” (2004, p. 57). When’s the last time you saw Fairfax or News Ltd do any of those things? Fairfax has even admitted it doesn’t fact-check its stories and has outsourced that basic function to someone else – but just for the election campaign, mind you.

I’ve just realised that I could have saved myself all these words by asking just one question: When’s the last time someone tweeted or emailed a Fairfax/News Ltd story to you saying “wow, great story”?

One more time for the slow learners

Warning: This post discusses male violence against women.

I can’t believe I have to write this post again.

Again again.

So, one more time for the journalists who still don’t get it: when you write your news stories about male violence against women, you need to stop pretending that there is no perpetrator of that violence.

It’s not like they don’t know how to report accurately, because they do it with other crime stories. But when it comes to reporting male violence against women, they like to pretend that violence is a cloud of gas that just hangs in the air waiting to happen at women. No other crime is reported as though there was no criminal.

Let’s start with this story on theage.com.au a few days ago: Tom Meagher says parole board ignored his emails: report. It’s been updated with comments by Victoria’s police commissioner Ken Lay since it was first published, but for most of the day the beginning of the story matched the headline. These were the first two pars (they’ve now been pushed a little lower):

Jill Meagher’s husband has lashed out at the Adult Parole Board, saying it disrespected him and its members are cowards after it failed to answer a series of questions about why her killer was free to prowl the streets and murder his wife.

Ms Meagher was snatched off the street while she was walking home in Brunswick last September. She was raped and strangled in an alley off Sydney Road before being buried in a shallow grave near Gisborne, north of Melbourne.

In the paragraph detailing Adrian Bayley’s crimes, he isn’t mentioned. Not even once. His actions are completely removed from him and just hang there, as things that happened to Jill Meagher.

Now look at this story by Maria Bervanakis on news.com.au today:

All these things that just happened to the girl.

All these things that just happened to the girl.

Again, there isn’t a single mention of the men who committed the crimes. The headline is terrible – Girl, 15, held on pot farm where she was locked in toolbox and used for sex – and the story begins:

A MISSING teenager was held captive on a marijuana farm in California where police allege she was locked up in a metal toolbox for days on end and used as a sex slave.

Wrong wrong wrong. It SHOULD read: Two men have been arrested for kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl.

Update 29 July: Smh.com.au has done the same thing today with this story:

Apart from the fact that the headline has nothing to do with the standfirst, the online journo has connected the violence to the woman, not the men who did it.

Apart from the fact that the headline has nothing to do with the standfirst, the online journo has connected the violence to the woman, not the men who did it.

And one more, this story from smh.com.au’s Megan Levy yesterday (hat tip to Femo bear for sending it to me): Father abducts son at knifepoint from Sydney home:

A car allegedly used to abduct a baby boy from a home in Sydney’s west has been found abandoned in Bargo, but police say there is still no sign of the child or his father.

The Toyota Camry was found on Avon Dam Road about 6.50am on Friday, nearly 12 hours after the eight-month-old boy and the baby’s 16-year-old mother were abducted from their home in Chester Hill at knifepoint.

It’s not until half way through the story – 7 pars in – that Levy reports that the man assaulted the woman. Hell, she didn’t even mention in the first sentence that he abducted her as well. It would have been terrifying – he has an AVO against him and he had a knife – but Levy almost ignores the man’s violence towards the woman. Why? Seriously, I’d really like to know why journalists report this way. If you’re a journalist, please let us know. (If you’re nervous about commenting, check out my comment policy. It’s a civil ship around here.)

Update 31 July: Dailytelegraph.com.au has done the same thing today:

Oops, the journos at dailytelegraph.com.au forgot to mention that he also allegedly abducted a woman.

Oops, the journos at dailytelegraph.com.au forgot to mention that he also allegedly abducted a woman.

And here’s the story: On-the-run dad hands himself in to Bankstown police:


A MAN, 24, who allegedly abducted his baby son last week handed himself into Bankstown police late last night.

Police spent more than five days searching for the man, who is accused of taking the eight-month-old and his ex-girlfriend from their south-western Sydney home on Thursday.

There she is, tucked into the middle of the sentence.

It’s really important that journalists stop pretending that there’s no one responsible for male violence against women. As Jane Tribune writes in this excellent piece, the way the media frames information “influences, if not dictates, how we think of it”. When you continuously remove the male perpetrator from the story – when you continuously pretend that violence is just something that happens to women – it’s not surprising that so many people still wrongly believe that it’s caused by something the woman did. Because how do we stop men being violent towards women if the public conversation we have about that violence says men aren’t responsible for it?

The ethics of re-writing someone’s personal story

When a famous actress writes a really personal piece about having a double mastectomy, is it ethical to do a detailed re-write to boost traffic to your own news website?

This is a tricky post to write because I could easily be accused of doing the thing I’m criticising. For this reason, I haven’t tagged this post with the actress’s name, I’m only mentioning her name when necessary, and I’m doing bad SEO (search engine optimisation) practice with my links – other than the link to the original piece.

That piece is My Medical Choice by Angelina Jolie, in the New York Times. You should go read it. I have no idea if the decision to tell the world was easier or harder than the decision to have the procedure, but I tell you what, that’s a pretty fucking tough year she’s had.

So. Given that millions and millions of people will want to read it – and that she wrote it for a particular news organisation, rather than, say, putting out a media release – how ethical is it for other news organisations to write their own highly-detailed versions so they get a piece of the traffic?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s just an ethical question. What makes me uncomfortable is different to what makes other people uncomfortable, and regular readers will know that I probably think too much about this stuff.

Fairfax’s Daily Life writer Natalie Reilly has done a re-write, with a screaming headline that includes all the terms people would be searching for. It’s good SEO practice and therefore it’s good for traffic to dailylife.com.au.

However, it isn’t until halfway through Reilly’s re-write that she tells the reader the info comes from a piece in the New York Times. When you’re doing a re-write, that information should be mentioned – and hyperlinked – in the first or second sentence. No later. You need to make it very clear that you are writing about someone else’s work. These are the rules I stuck to when I was a journalist and they are ones I stick to now. On top of that, there’s so much detail in Reilly’s piece that there’s little reason to read the original. To me, that’s unethical. You might feel differently.

(Oddly, Sarah Berry has also done a re-write for smh.com.au, so they have two versions on their website. Berry’s is better, in terms of clearly and prominently telling readers to “click here to read Angelina Jolie’s piece in full” at the start and end. It also gives information about the procedure in Australia, so it’s not solely a re-write. However, I think it also gives enough information that readers won’t go any further. I’d be interested to see their stats on how many readers did click through to the original, but of course they will never release that info.)

Re-writes are common practice in newsrooms. It’s how you share another organisation’s work with your audience when you don’t have permission to use it. Wire services send them out all the time. I don’t think re-writes are necessarily bad, but you need to be clear that it’s a re-write. You also need to be really obvious in pointing your readers to the original, in a way that makes them want to go to it, and part of that is not telling the whole damn story in your re-write. Otherwise, you’re essentially just passing someone else’s work off as your own.

I don’t want to single Reilly out, because News Ltd sites also have re-writes of this story, but they aren’t bylined. The piece dailytelegraph.com.au was running this afternoon has been replaced by the news.com.au version. It’s worth seeing the story on dailytelegraph.com.au, just so you can see what happens when you don’t pay attention to your images. Just like the Fairfax pieces, News Ltd’s re-write also leaves the reader with little reason to go to the original. Plus they throw a million links and galleries at you to make sure you’re too distracted to leave the website. Clever, I suppose, but very messy.

Now, I’m not so naive that I think online news is just about reporting news for the good of the people. Of course it’s about boosting traffic for advertising purposes. I’m also not so naive to think that a story about Angelina Jolie and her breasts wasn’t going to make news around the world. But given the highly personal story she’s telling, a better approach would be to say “hey, here’s a few lines of it, go read what she wrote, in her own words and not in ours”. Yes, you still get the traffic, but you don’t look like a jerk.

The King’s Tribune is out

The July issue of The King’s Tribune is out, and you should read it. I don’t normally plug things here, but I really think The King’s Tribune is worth supporting – and not just because I sometimes write for them. It’s $8.95 an issue, or you can get a three-month subscription for $25 (less than a cd if you’re old fashioned and still buy cds. I still buy cds.)

In the July issue, Jane Gilmore interviewed Jonathan Holmes and George Megalogenis about why journalism isn’t dead.

Tim Dunlop writes about the real lesson of The Global Mail.

Jo Thornley writes about what we’ve all agreed on, as Australians (such as warning foreigners about dropbears, and menstrual blood being blue on tv).

Ben Pobjie has some handy hints on how to do journalism, or whatevs.

DragOnista writes about fear-mongers and politics.

Helen Razer writes about new journalism, newer journalism, old crap, Tom Wolfe and mummy bloggers.

Peter Hoysted writes about how busting cults needs political will.

Heath Callaway just wanted to write about zombies but ended up writing about how our political leaders represent what we have become.

Dave Gaukroger writes about online anonymity and nastiness.

Andrew Tiedt on the ACL and why we don’t like them.

There’s Damian Cowell‘s unreliable history of rock.

Justin Shaw on the evolution of cop shows.

Mat Larkin on mystery packages and children swearing.

Upulie Divisekera writes about James Cook, the transit of Venus, and astronomy in Australia.

Larry Stillman writes about the goings on behind Limmud Oz, the Jewish cultural festival.

Sunday Relish on carpaccio, and Fiona Katauskas asks, what would @Jesus do?

And there’s a piece by me on why we should care about the way the MSM treats Lara Bingle.

It also has Justin Shaw’s cryptic crossword, for people – like ManFriend – who can bend their brains.

All that for $8.95 is a freakin’ bargain! Hell, it’s less than a jug of beer at your local, and you’ll be helping to keep good writers from needing soul-destroying advertorial to pay the rent.