Brian Mitchell, editor of the Fremantle Herald, writes:

Re: Journo expenses (yesterday, item 18). Strewth! $200 for a
long and boozy lunch at News Limited and the bean counters don’t lift a
horn-rimmed eyebrow.

Our receptionist came to me today to ask me to
authorise one of my
journos’ expense invoices – $6.60 for two coffees. And we haven’t
increased the $50 budget for food reviews for 15 years either – I’m
trying to get it knocked up to $75 but it’s a bloody battle around the
management table I can tell you. There’s an expectation that a journo
who wants to treat the spouse to a night out can do it subsidised by
the paper, in return for a write-up on the place, instead of expecting
the paper to pay the lot.

It’s sort of fair enough I think but I doubt
the free loaders on the metros would agree. What a bloody industry
we’re in. We get free tickets to all sorts of premieres and events and,
depending on who you work for, we get subsidised lunches and dinners
thrown in, not to mention hampers and dubious gifts from PR companies
keen to get on our good side.

As you mentioned yesterday, for many, “meeting a contact for lunch” is code for
“catching up with a mate and we can’t be sodded paying for it
ourselves” and I gather you see it as humorous, larrikin behaviour,
getting one up on the bosses. But it’s dishonest and unethical. And yet,
we’re the first people to get our knickers in a twist about ethics and
proper behaviour for the rest of the community. I love being a journo
but by God we can be a bunch of bloody hypocrites and wh*res.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to get the tickets to premieres and movies
etc, it’s just that as I’ve gotten older and more curmudgeonly I
realise how easily such things can become abused and how journalists
can cross the line from appreciative receipt of such things, if and when
they occur, to active pursuit of the gravy train, and using their
position as a journalist to do so (with the subtext being – give
me a ticket and I’ll give you a good write-up). Bit off the track from
lunch expenses but a related issue when it comes to lining the pocket.

As for bean counters moaning about the cost of journalists, or in
Hilmer-speak “content providers,” that’s another weekly battle at our
management meetings down at the local Chinese. I try and explain,
patiently and without losing my block, that journalists are indeed a
required expense for a newspaper and, no, they can’t all be replaced
with press releases, advertorial writers and university students.

I’m sure the beaner just enjoys winding me up and watching me go purple
but one day I’m going to pop a blood vessel and fall to the floor dead.
I think the first thing she’ll do is get out her calculator and assess
how much that’s saved the company in wages – then she’ll try and
figure out whether I can be replaced with a lobotomised chimp.