Uh oh. Della’s lunch has raised big questions about whether truth exists and, if it does, is anyone telling it? Craig D thinks he’s got it:
“The Della Bosca blunder is truly a study in the truth. Della Bosca told the truth and self imploded. Beazley says Della Bosca was lying when he told the truth. Della Bosca says he was lying when he told the truth. Beazley must also say he was lying when he truthfully(?) supported a GST some years ago. Della Bosca must have been telling the truth about the GST – a lie could never attract so much attention in Canberra.”
Tim Dunlop pretended he was asking an innocent question:
“Hope you can bear with me while I try to explain this. Actually, explain is the wrong word – while I think out loud.
“I wonder if there isn’t a parallel to be drawn between your comment on the Della Bosca ‘blurt’ and the way you introduced the idea of this Canberra Inside Out forum? Discussing Della Bosca, you wrote: ‘Maxine McKew’s report of her lunch with Della is a must read because the man talked for real. His pathetic excuse that he thought he was off the record only emphasises the dishonesty of public political discourse and imagery.’
“In a similar vein in your introductory column you wrote: ‘I’m allowed to say what I think whenever I like …’
“Now when I read your intro I thought that, um, wait a minute, isn’t that what journalists are meant to do anyway – say what they think? I know sometimes they are meant to just ‘report’ but columnists like you are always meant to say what they think, aren’t they?
“So why is this Inside Out column any different? And does that mean that the stuff you (and others) write elsewhere is not what you really think or what you really want to say?
“In other words, if, as you say, part of the attraction of the Della Bosca blurt is the fact that ‘the man talked for real’ and that we should ‘as journalists and citizens … applaud his honesty’ and that it ‘only emphasises the dishonesty of public political discourse and imagery’, doesn’t your comment about the Inside Out forum beg the same response?
“If part of the attraction of this forum is that you get to say ‘what [you] think’ and that, by implication, this is something to be applauded as out of the ordinary, then wouldn’t we, as citizens, be right to think that it ‘only emphasises the dishonesty of public political discourse and imagery’?
“Don’t get me wrong – I’m not having a big go at you personally, being a fan of long-standing (you and Mike Seccombe often make my day) but I wonder if you haven’t hit on something more central in the state of our relations with our democratic institutions?”
The Herald editor, Paul McGeough, read my diary a couple of days ago and he too was disturbed by the “I can write what I like” line. He, too, said it implied that I couldn’t do the same in the paper.
I am not censored in my paper and certainly didn’t mean to imply such a thing. What I was getting at is that space is limited in a newspaper. Sometimes what I write doesn’t get into the paper because of that or what I write is cut to fit the available space. In the diary, it is self-discipline alone that determines volume.
Also, I often cannot write what I like in a stylistic sense and this is a big attraction of the Net for me. I’ve felt for a while that the current formulae of newspapers are stale and sometimes arid. There’s news style, feature style, opinion style, colour style etc etc. One’s work either fits or it doesn’t make the paper. With limited space, it’s usually impossible to experiment with style.
Since covering Pauline Hanson, I’ve also realised how disconnected we’ve become from readers and how often our opinion pieces are judgmental and closed to alternative perspectives. It’s the same with news – we’ve come to rely on peak bodies to tell us what people feel and think, instead of being on the ground finding out first hand. So this diary is an experiment in attempting to connect and interact with readers in a less formal way while obeying core values of journalism – accuracy and ethics.
As for the unusual case of political honesty via Della, this is one of the most difficult areas for journalists. We must get access to powerful people in order to get the news to our readers. But often they insist that chats be on “background” (for use as information, not for quotation). If you see the journalist as the interface between the people and the powerful, asking questions on behalf of the people and bringing the people’s concerns to the attention of the powerful, then you must admit that their postion is delicate, even compromised. You can easily be co-opted and used and often you can’t tell all of the “truth” because you’ve promised not to in order to get part of it.
But after taking all that into account, your point still stands. One of the problems of political journalism is that we get obsessed with the game, the spin, and forget about “the truth” behind it. Consumers of news, I think, are well aware they’re being spun at and are becoming more interested in the story behind the spin and how “news” is constructed. Newspapers need to tackle that challenge too and I think part of confronting it is to admit the subjectivity of the journalist so the consumer sees the angle from which the reporter is coming and takes account of that when reading his or her work. This does not mean that I am unprofessional – ie that I do not use my best efforts to get the story and to report it accurately. I think it just means that I am being honest with readers. Anyway, Tim, that’s my response, just thinking aloud.
MC Pye of Pyrmont writes: “Margo – do we see the future here in your diary? Is it the death of the apostrophe?
“I like your style – enjoy/think about your thoughts but do you have a trustworthy someone who could intelligently run a spelling checker or an eye over it for those little details? Or is it part of the ‘spontaneous’ on-line SMH style? (Lovely pun tho’: ‘Wither the Labor Party’ rather than ‘whither’)”
The apostrophe absence was not an expeiment in style but the failure of the CyberNews system we work on to pick them up when the story was transferred from Microsoft Word. The on-line operation is small, frenetic and frantically busy at the moment so you get the product pretty raw. We will improve.
MC Pye also wonders how she can answer yes or no to polls.
“They tend not to have the alternative I want to answer. Maybe (as originally trained in science) I’m just a qualified-answer sort of person. But wouldn’t a lot of people be? Most of life – well, the stuff that’s worth thinking about/discussing – isn’t Yes/No.”
Agreed. But with my poll, you can do Yes/No depending on your mood, AND send an e-mail to explain your answer. Speaking of which, David Eastwood, of Sydney, suggests the first poll question and states the case for a yes vote:
“Are we a banana republic?
“Our leaders make a large play of deferring to the tradition of a now distanced colonial power and weren’t they looking chuffed at the pomp and circumstance?
“Our Government flies in the face of current wisdom and attempts to regulate the internet – like they do in many third world countries.
“Our Government gives incumbent media heavyweights protected access to a new media channel at the expense of competition – perhaps to continue to curry their favour and maintain a managable oligopoly. This one’s been a popular play in a number of non-democracies near here for a while now.
“Our Prime Minister pointedly avoids big moral questions like apologies and republicanism by mechanisms cleverly setting the rules and other devious and not so devious means, like they do in many African countries.
“I wonder if it would be possible to synthesise a list of criteria that define a banana republic and test our current status?”
Herald bureau chief Michelle Grattan reminds me that just because I’m on-line doesn’t mean I can be inaccurate. I said in yesterday’s Della Bosca rave that Labor planned to fight its third GST election in a row. Wrong. The first two were in 1993 and 1998. 1996 was Howard’s “never-ever a GST” triumph.