This is not deja vu all over again. This is not a rerun of last week’s blog in which I wrote about taking part in a journalism forum at Presbyterian Ladies’ College in the inner west Sydney suburb of Croydon. (If you would like to read that, just scroll down to my previous posting.) Just think of it as a supplementary blog!
I posted my speech to the forum, attended by about 150 students and teachers, but the blog was running long, so I decided to write about the Q & A this week. Joining me as guest speakers (pictured above, from the left) were: Nick Cater, editor of The Weekend Australian; Peter Charley, executive producer of the SBS current affairs program, Dateline; Anna Patty, state politics reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald; and Helen Trinca, managing editor of The Australian. That’s me at the podium. We all took turns!
Organised by PLC English teacher, Adrian Richmond, the forum was aimed at exploring how we report the news in an ever-changing world. The students asked intelligent questions about many media topics, including their concerns about the future of journalism and newspapers — concerns shared by the guest speakers.
In my speech, I was a bit pessimistic about the students getting jobs in the mainstream media, as The Australian has estimated the number of entry-level position each year in the low hundreds — only a few dozen more than the size of the audience last Thursday. But when one student asked us if we were sad about the death of newspapers, I was able to tell them a positive story about my friend M.E. Sprengelmeyer, the Washington correspondent of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, until the newspaper was axed by its owners. Despite being devastated by the demise of his paper and the loss of journalistic jobs, M.E. was not deterred, and followed his dream, using money he had saved, to buy a small local newspaper in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, the Guadalupe County Communicator. He became the publisher, editor, chief reporter, photographer, columnist, and distributor of the weekly community paper. The Communicator has thrived under his management, lifting circulation with a mix of local politics, community and sports news and a hard journalistic edge led by an enthusiastic editor-in-chief. ME believes the future of print is in print.
And there is, of course, a future in video journalism, as Peter Charley pointed out in his speech. He predicted, not surprisingly, given the nature of Dateline, that the PLC students would end up as V-Js. And I might add they may not wind up in television, but online. There’s a story in the Media section of The Australian today about 14-year-old Jacob Arnott, who started The Sporting Journal as a blog a year ago, and it’s now a website, with 15 writers (http://bit.ly/K5Rzyc). So successful has it become he and his father and another Journal writer are travelling to London to cover the Olympics. And Jacob has proved to be a budding entrepreneur, forging an alliance with another teenager in Canada, who runs Felice News, and they plan to produce an online show called Your Olympics. Jacob’s father, Troy Arnott, points the way for would-be young journalists around the world: “The internet has opened up … this world of opportunity to young entrepreneurs who can get all this media access. It’s somewhat unfathomable.”
LIVE-TWEETING A SPEECH
I was grumbling last week about a technical glitch which prevented me from showing highlights of Channel Nine’s Sunday Program, where I worked for 20 years, during my speech. Then I came across a fascinating story on the Nieman Journalism Lab website, a project on the future of journalism from the famous Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. It’s all about Amy O’Leary, a New York Times reporter, who live-tweeted a speech she gave to a Boston University conference. You can read all about it here (http://bit.ly/LWtiLF), but basically Amy decided she wanted to live-tweet her speech on a projector behind her so that the audience would get the real point of what she was trying to say. In other words, she summarised the speech as she gave it in 140-character tweets! She had a technical glitch, but she had friends in the audience who helped her with the tweets. And here I was complaining about not being able to show a highlights package. Amy O’Leary has seen the future of journalism, and she is tweeting it!
One PLC student also asked about the future of women in journalism, understandable since this is a ladies’ college. While there has been considerable gender discrimination in past decades, chronicled by two of the panel, Helen Trinca and Anna Patty, I had to say television is chock-a-block with very good female producers. In fact, I will name some: Brihony Speed in the Canberra Bureau of Sky News; Mary Davison and Fiona Pie, in the Sydney newsroom at Channel Nine; Elisabeth Bowdler, former producer of Ten’s Meet the Press and now a lineup producer in Ten’s Sydney newsroom. Just a few of the myriad female producers and reporters in Australian newsrooms. And some of these producers are moving into the top jobs as news directors: for example, Cathie Schnitzerling is the head of news at Channel Ten in Brisbane. And the ABC has a number of women in senior management roles, eg Kate Torney, who was appointed director of news in 2009 and here are a few more women on the ABC website: http://bit.ly/KW9EKi So my advice to the students at PLC is not to worry, the world of journalism can be your oyster.
There was one question near the end of the forum about ethics: the use of sensational and horrific images in both the print and electronic media. Most of the panel agreed it was not necessary to show them, but I have to admit I heard a convincing argument to the contrary this morning on ABC Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly from Patrick Coburn of the British newspaper, The Independent, in Damascus. (http://bit.ly/KWauea) When Fran Kelly asked him what the impact of The Independent printing the photo of the 32 bodies of children killed in the city of Houla on Friday, he said: “People should see this and make a judgment. I don’t think massacres on a battlefield should ever be cleaned up. Wars that I’ve covered in Iraq and elsewhere, you never seem to see the movies of these things … so I think it is the right thing for the Sunday Independent to do.” Here is what Patrick Coburn wrote in The Independent today (http://ind.pn/Lvhlu5 ) As I said, a convincing argument, but I don’t think there’s any justification for showing the pictures on television without a warning. Nor do I think there’s any justification for any media outlet to continue to broadcast or print photos of people jumping out of windows at the World Trade Centre during 9-11. I’ve seen enough of those pictures to last a lifetime.
And finally, Peter Charley urged the students to read the literary journalism of writers like Tom Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Gay Talese, et al (I would have added Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin to his excellent list). I suggested the students read the 25 commandments for journalists created by Tim Radford, former science, letters, arts and literary editor of the Guardian newspaper, when he was asked to do some media training years ago. As the Guardian subeditor put it in the standfirst, Radford “condensed his journalistic experience into a handy set of rules for aspiring hacks.” It is aimed at British newspaper journalists, but I recommend it highly (http://bit.ly/KJkIg4). My favourite is his 22nd commandment, and I’ll let Tim have the last word: “Read. Read lots of different things. Read the King James Bible, and Dickens, and poems by Shelley, and Marvel Comics and thrillers by Chester Himes and Dashiell Hammett. Look at the astonishing things you can do with words. Note the way they can conjure up whole worlds in the space of half a page.”