Off-the-record Christmas drinks with the prime minister became a news story last night, with AAP running an article on its wires recounting private conversations at Julia Gillard’s yearly drinks with journalists.

The AAP article recounted Gillard and partner Tim Mathieson’s family Christmas plans and quotes from Gillard of how difficult the year had been and her hopes for journalists in the year ahead.

Titled “Julia Gillard and her partner to spend Christmas apart” on News Ltd websites, it ran on sites including The Australian, the Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald and BigPond News. The story went live at 11pm and was amended at 10am today to a story about parliament being extended for the Telstra bill, with only an off-hand mention of the Christmas drinks.

The yearly drinks is a popular event for journalists and is designated a strictly off-the-record event. It cannot even be used on a non-attributable basis and is not for publication. It’s a well-established and well-known rule, say press gallery journos, although this isn’t mentioned on invites and no announcement was made.

AAP deputy-editor Joanne Williamson declined to name the journalist who wrote the troublesome article, and has yet to speak with them, but said they will be counselled on the matter. It has been taken off the AAP website and an advisory email sent to clients asking them to avoid the story, saying: “The story contains information that was off the record and should not be used.”

When asked what went wrong and why AAP’s usually stringent editorial processes failed, Williamson replied: “Human error. It happens. We make mistakes and then we fix them as soon as we can. It happened in the middle of the night and we’ve taken all the steps we can to fix it and address the issue and let our subscribers know.”

ABC News 24 journalist Andrew Greene first pointed out the story’s problems not long after it was published, tweeting “apparently conversations with the PM at end of year lodge drinks are now considered ‘on the record’.”

He again brought it to attention first thing this morning, sparking a debate between James Massola from The Australian, editor of The Drum Jonathan Green, Sky News digital director John Bergin and Ten producer Stephen Spencer over editorial processes on news websites in regards to wire stories.

When Massola noted that “everyone is running it because it’s on the news wire”, Spencer replied: “Yes, I understand that, you all automatically rebroadcast AAP. But there is such a thing as ‘editorial judgment’.” Asked Green: “So these things just slide onto sites without any intervention?”

As Crikey goes to publish, the article is still available on BigPond News. This was news to Williamson.

Peter Fray

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey.

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

For a limited time only, choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%