Dear Ms Prisk,
I hope you are well and had a lovely Christmas break. I have been reading your readers’ editor column for a while now and I have to say that I think it’s the biggest load of self-serving nonsense in the Sydney Morning Herald. And that’s saying something, because the SMH publishes regular columns from Paul Sheehan and Gerard Henderson.
Ok, that is a little harsh. Sheehan and Henderson are full of way more self-serving nonsense. But before you dismiss this is as another “embittered online rant” (as SMH journo Ben Cubby did on twitter when I pointed out the lazy journalism in one of his stories), please hear me out.
I am not anti-Fairfax. In fact, I am a subscriber (although I’m not sure how much longer I’ll persist with a newspaper in which it is becoming harder and harder to find adequate journalism, let alone good journalism). I read your newspaper every morning. I blog about the SMH because I don’t read the Oz or the Tele. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d rather kick myself in the vagina than read News Ltd. Even when I worked there (part-time while studying) I didn’t read their newspapers. And when I want a good laugh, I look at their websites.
But I am baffled about this readers’ editor gig. You have been the readers’ editor for around five months now, and I’m yet to see any evidence of the stated purpose of the role. According to your page on smh.com.au, your role is to be an “in-house advocate for readers” of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun Herald. That sounds great, and I think it’s an important role for a news organisation that takes its audience seriously. We are, after all, the people who buy your product. But I’m not convinced Fairfax does take its audience seriously. Fom your columns each week, it’s clear that the role is less “in-house advocate for readers” and more “these are the reader letters that weren’t good enough for the letters page, so we’ll just quote them here without attribution and sometimes I’ll say they are wrong but I won’t explain why”.
Let’s look your column from Wednesday: Fast and furious came the bouncers, some quite wide of the mark. You quote unnamed readers complaining about the amount of cricket coverage in the news section, yet offered no explanation of why the editor placed these stories in the news section. Nor did you mention any in-house advocating you did on behalf of the readers. The only thing you wrote that wasn’t simply quoting readers was this:
I cannot agree with the criticism of either the headline or the piece… The headline was a play on “fire in the belly”, which is screamingly obvious, and Barrett was not glorifying bullying – he was merely reporting what he saw and heard, and what Pattinson said, in neither an approving nor disapproving way.
Riiiight. So this is what you think being an “in-house advocate for readers” means? In no way does your explanation deal with that reader’s complaint about the glorification of bullying, and you resorted to your own silencing of that reader by calling the headline’s play on words “screamingly obvious”. I’m surprised you didn’t add “or are you too stupid to get that?”. Now, I haven’t read the Barrett article (here’s a hint for online journos: link to the articles being discussed) so I don’t know if it was glorifying bullying or not, but saying that it wasn’t glorifying bullying does not make it so. And what’s with the attitude in the snide “merely”?
It is clear that the readers’ editor column is little more than an opportunity for the Heralds to say their readers are wrong to criticise them. Actually, it’s nothing more than that. If I want to know what readers think of your newspaper, I’ll look to blogs and twitter and, sometimes, the letters page. If I want to know what the “in-house advocate for readers” is doing to advocate for readers, I certainly won’t be reading the readers’ editor column.
Yours in hope for better journalism,
News with Nipples.