Having
spent 15 years in the press gallery and having had many friends at
Fairfax, there is a degree of truth in the “hard work” argument you put
in Crikey last week. News is a much more aggressive and competitive
journalistic culture; it is a culture of getting the “beat” or the
“scoop.” It rewards aggressive reporting, sometimes – unfortunately –
when it goes too far.

Also unfortunately, it is also a “dog eat
dog” culture where young journos are not pulled into line if they
trample on the rounds or the contacts of their colleagues. Quite the
opposite, unethical behaviour is usually ignored, and in some cases
tacitly encouraged.

Having sat in on many editorial conferences, it has far too few non-conformists willing to question orthodoxy.

Fairfax,
from my observations, probably has too many “precious” reporters who
think they don’t have to do the hard yakka to get the story. Naked
ambition is frowned upon, but it does encourage a culture of healthy
editorial debate on important issues that News generally lacks. What we
actually need is a blend of both News and Fairfax cultures – the
aggression and drive of News and the questioning and more rigorous
intellect of Fairfax. In television broadcast terms, News is Channel
Nine, Fairfax the ABC.

We really do lack a New York Times (despite its recent flaws, it has managed to pick itself up and self-criticise) or a Guardian or a Washington Post.

When I worked in London, the Daily Mirror,
then edited by Hugh Cudlipp, would frequently put a reporter undercover
for six months and more to dig out a scandal. We don’t see that here.
Good current affairs journalism is desperately under-resourced as more
and more money goes into giving the reader what they tell the survey
organisations they want – lifestyle and entertainment.

Returning briefly to The Australian,
in the defence/intelligence area they have three outstanding reporters,
Patrick Walters (who forgets more than he hears), Cameron Stewart (who
used to work for DSD), and Martin Chulov, a real terrier of a reporter.

Don’t forget that Paul Kelly has high level intelligence,
security and diplomatic access and is often “used” by the spooks to
correct and balance damaging reporting – I’ve seen it happen many
times. Often he will contribute inside knowledge without actually
writing.

But no doubt, News and particularly TheAustralian
under Chris Mitchell, is given favoured treatment by this government
and they play to that. Hardly a surprise, they did the same when Hawke
was in power. Keating? Well, he just despised the media proprietors and
had a poor opinion of all but a few journalists, full stop.