Crikey contacted Fairfax’s chief spinner Bruce Wolpe this morning to ask him about a renewed flush of rumours that the Fairfax/Rural Press Canberra bureaus (Sydney Morning Herald, Age and Canberra Times) will be merged. This time the rumour is quite specific — that the merger will happen after the election.
We wouldn’t want to disappoint Mr Wolpe, so we will publish his response in full:
Crikey is known to us for hearing stuff that has no basis in fact, and then reporting it. Which I am sure you will do again today, even after I tell you they are wrong. (I hope you prove me wrong, but I doubt you will.) They are pure rumours. No basis to them. Absolutely untrue. Not worthy of repeating. Trust that is definitive enough for you.
Good to have that on the record, and we will keep it on file for the future.
To be fair, while the rumour — a perennial chestnut — is running hot, nobody spreading it really seems to know anything. It is speculation, and fear of what one Age newsroom wit describes as the new McCarthyism.
Given that the separate bureaus thing is such a Holy Grail at Fairfax it is worth asking whether the notion is still worth dying in a ditch for.
The justification for separate bureaus is, of course, journalistic diversity, more scrutiny of government, and so on and so forth. All terribly important things. But does the Canberra Press Gallery still provide this, at a time when most influential political reporting does not come out of Canberra and most of the gallery runs as a pack?
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As Julianne Schultz has argued, diversity means “different voices and perspectives, of a picture of the society which is more wide ranging than that of those who share a certain view of the world or economic position.”
With important and honourable exceptions, it’s hard to argue that the Canberra Press Gallery really adds to this kind of media diversity.
As Schultz says, diversity is to do with robust editorial cultures, rather than ownership alone. Strong editorial culture is what is lacking these days, and – I would add — nowhere more than in Canberra.
The truth is that the separate bureaus would be easier to defend if they were doing a more interesting job.
But don’t worry. As Mr Wolpe says, it’s all absolutely untrue.