Thursday, November 20, 2003

How baby boomers have soiled the profession of journalism

No, this isn’t another of my omnibus rants against baby boomers; just a convenient banner for filing two loosely-related pieces under.


The simple answer to this is: “Why not?” God knows that there are enough professionals out there with qualifications, skills and experience in both departments. (Kick it to me!!!!). When reporting your average criminal trial, legal nous will usually have to take a back seat to journalistic nous, but this doesn’t validate the position taken by court reporter, Peter Gregory here. Face it, Peter – the career ground floor which you so presciently got on on in the early 80s is now just a tired excuse for the de-professionalisation of your profession. You – quite rightly – fear the hordes who could do your job much better than you. Where you go too far is in throwing the whole shebang out, just in the protection of your own self-interest – the classic (and only) baby boomer game plan.

Also misguided is Justice Michael Kirby’s apparent view that the courts have a responsibility to reach out to and educate journalists about the law (same URL). If journalists can’t maintain and evolve their own professional standards, “reaching out” to them is like giving junkies money for a fix.

Straight-out bizarro is this recent piece of inspiration from journalism academic John Henningham, apropos of High Court reporting (which is of course a very different game from trial reporting):

Judges are reluctant to engage with the media, and will never discuss their decisions . . . To us non-lawyers, this is puzzling. I can see nothing but a fuller understanding of High Court judges’ decisions if they were to unfold a summary of their reasoning before the media, and respond to questions . . . (If at a loss for words on a particular point, the chosen spokesperson could perhaps be permitted to call on one of his brother judges, or ‘phone a friend’)*

Two points, John. A summary of a case’s reasoning, targeted at a broadsheet’s readership is your job. Do it, or get the fuck out of the business. And your off-the-wacko-meter suggestion for judges to be interviewable like B-list celebrities breaks one of comedy’s golden rules – don’t shit on your hosts/MC, even under the guise of a “joke”.**

* John Henningham “At odds with the court of public opinion” The Australian Media Supplement 20 November 2003 (no URL)

** Henningham’s views were originally expressed as a paper at a High Court centenary conference in October 2003.


Government decision-makers are subject to a cacophony of opinions--from paid lobbyists, think-tank scholars, academics, newspaper editorials, consumer groups, and letters from ordinary citizens. And in the past decade, corporate lobbying has evolved to influence--and, where possible, control--the arguments emanating from each of these sources . . . It's how firms like DCI have flourished by orchestrating pseudo-grassroots movements to simulate or amplify constituent opinion on behalf of corporate clients
(via Crooked Timber)

These “pseudo-grassroots movements” are to journalism like cancer is to flesh. One example: an American PR firm (DCI, of which website Tech Central Station is a subsidiary) organised letters-to-the-editor opposing a break-up of the Microsoft monopoly, as well as launched a group called “Americans for Technology Leadership” – funded by Microsoft.

Such unsavoury “idea laundering” practices are not entirely new – indeed, PR, as I alluded yesterday, has always had at-least equal claim on the “world oldest profession” tag. Something that throws the murky idea practice of idea laundering into sharper relief, though, is the baby boomer grubby fingerprints it has all over it.

Take Tech Central Station (and “journo-lobbying”) founder, James Glassman. A onetime (sixties, of course) student radical, he pioneered the “urban alternative weekly” concept in the seventies; a media-form never harmful to boomers, but one which was later to have devastating repercussions for many Gen Xrs (including me).

In the late 70s, Glassman moved on from mung-bean sponsored journalism, and into Washington D.C. – just in time for the twin fundamentalist revolutions of Thatcher/Reagan and Khomeini. Gerontocratic figureheads aside, the baby boomers were now in charge, sweeping out all before them – and kicking out the ladders for any who tried to come after. As for the deleterious effects of the 70s "alternative" media on the likes of me – we bought into this in the 80s and 90s, working on student newspapers, maintaining the rage and all that. In return we got zilch – just unemployment and unaffordable housing.

The rest of the Glassman story is of near-textbook predictability – he got steadily richer during the 80s and 90s, and was an aggressive stock proponent during the dotcom bubble years, while not, of course, losing any of his own wealth, nor having to face the criminal law music himself (or perhaps, at least not yet). In October 2000, Glassman opined:

We are on the verge of a tremendous wealth explosion, the likes of which has never been seen

A few months earlier, right at the height of the dotcom stock bubble, Glassman had launched his journo-lobbying website, Tech Central Station, of which he said:

I think in a sense we kind of invented a new sort of institution . . . a kind of watchdog in an area in which few people seem to be doing long-term principled thinking on public policy (same URL)

Sorry, I’ve gotta stop writing now. It’s just that a baby boomer (leaving aside the tawdry details on Glassman) using the words “long-term”, “principled” and “watchdog” has got my lunch involuntarily being snorted upwards and outwards.

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