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Journalism

Jul 27, 2011

The quality journalism project: first up, Laura Tingle

Crikey’s quality journalism project will pick the brains of some of Australia’s most respected journalists, editors and producers to find out what great journalism means to them and where they go to get it. First up is the Australian Financial Review's political editor Laura Tingle.

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We often hear the mantra of “quality journalism” repeated, but what does it mean and how does it apply to our local – and rapidly changing – media landscape? Crikey‘s quality journalism project will pick the brains of some of Australia’s most respected journalists, editors and producers to find out what great journalism means to them and where they go to get it.

The project will quiz a new expert each Wednesday. Think Ita Buttrose, Ten’s George Negus, 7.30 host Leigh Sales, investigative journalist and academic Wendy Bacon and Business Spectator‘s Alan Kohler. Add in editor of The Australian Chris Mitchell, Today host Lisa Wilkinson, investigative reporter and academic Bill Birnbaeur and ABC Radio’s Geraldine Doogue. Plus, Sky News’ Ashleigh Gillon, media writer Margaret Simons, former Age editor Michael Gawenda and Crikey’s own Eric Beecher. And that’s just the start.

From the experts’ answers, we’ll put together a master list of the top 10 quality journalism sources in Australia — TV shows, radio programs, journalists, newspapers, magazines, online publications and more. Each person will divulge their daily media diet and the stories they regard as the best of the best, both here and abroad. We’ll also be asking readers to vote on their top sources and provide their favourite examples of quality journalism.

Alongside the project, we’ll be bookmarking the great journalism from around Australia and the world that we stumble across every day, from podcasts to think pieces, documentaries to photo galleries, essays to infographics.

To kick the project off, we have the Australian Financial Review‘s political editor Laura Tingle:

CRIKEY: What is your definition of quality journalism?

LT: A quality journalist is one whose work you search out, or make sure you read when you see their byline. My husband Alan Ramsey has always raged at his colleagues that they should write for their readers, not for their competitors or their contacts. The more you think about it, this is a good basis for the definition of quality journalism.

In our current media framework, readers have so many choices of what they can read or watch. They will stick with you if they think they can rely on you to tell them something they didn’t know, make them think about an issue a different way, or in the case of political journalism give an insight into how the human game of politics interacts with the process of making public policy. They might not always agree with you and might not like what you tell them.

Hell, they might not even like you. But they will think you will tell them something they don’t know, and that you think they need to know, not because you are manufacturing a controversy on behalf of your publisher, or because you want to be a player in the game, or to play ‘look at moi’ but because it is your job.

In an age where so much reporting is about extreme conflicts in the positions of interest groups, and cliché wars among politicians, the job of quality journalism is to try to fill in the gap in the middle about what the actual policy or political issues at stake might be.

Laura Tingle’s top 10 quality journalism sources in Australia

  1. Neil Chenoweth: People expecting me to list all my press gallery colleagues are going to be disappointed I’m afraid. I’ve put Neil on the top of my list (though the rest of the list isn’t strictly ordered) because he absolutely embodies a quality journalist to me. His work is fearless, relentless, and impeccable. An extraordinary business reporter.
  2. Ross Gittins: Ross has been doing his job since I was a cadet journalist at the AFR in the 1980s. He was scary then and remains so to me. He is utterly his own man in assessing policy, and, unfortunately, is one of the few people left writing about policy in any serious way. He is not afraid to stick the boot in to anyone in the cosy economics club, including the Reserve Bank. He also brings a touch of Realpolitik to his writing about economics, rather than being driven purely by what the markets might say.
  3. Jack Waterford: It is hard to think of anything more enjoyable than reading something Jack has written in The Canberra Times about public policy, the public service or even something just about Canberra. His style and his intelligence mean you can always detect his hand, even when there is no byline.
  4. Phil Coorey: I think the Sydney Morning Herald’s chief political correspondent is the best political reporter in the Canberra press gallery at the moment. He writes for his readers, not for his own glory. He is relentless and unfailingly excited in his pursuit of a story, impeccably connected on both side of politics and prepared to call it as he sees it across the spectrum of issues that get thrown up here.
  5. The West Australian’s Canberra bureau: Andrew Probyn and Shane Wright lead a bureau which every day demonstrates what good tabloid journalism can be. They are relentless, enthusiastic and creative in the way they pursue stories on both politics and policy, without the advantage of writing for a paper that the majority of the political class they have to deal with actually sees.
  6. Andrew Burrell: On national papers it is often very difficult to be heard above the noise from Canberra if you are in another bureau. There are some really classy bureau reporters on the AFR and on The Australian and they don’t always get the acknowledgement they should. I’m mentioning Andrew– who I worked with at the AFR when he was based in Jakarta and in Perth — as a non-partisan example of the breed since he now works at The Australian. He is a class act. Able to cover business and politics in one bound
  7. Sally Neighbour: A journalist who is scarily good in the way she pursues stories in places you probably don’t want to go yourself and ties up every loose end but still manages to present the most difficult and complex stories in the most lucid and compelling way.
  8. Sally Sara: What can I say? We’ve watched Sally go from Africa to India to Afghanistan, from all that wonderful rural reporting the ABC does to current affairs radio. We want to know what she is seeing and doing and for her to take us there.
  9. John Durie: John and I were cadets together at the AFR. If there is a business story running on which I want to get some commentary from a business writer who understands Canberra, he is the one I turn to. I don’t always agree with him, mind you, but I always value his view.
  10. Paul Lockyer. Another high quality part of the ABC rural school. His documentary on the Queensland floods this year was just simply outstanding.

CRIKEY: What media do you consume on a daily basis?

LT: I listen to Fran between 6.30 and 7 and sometimes early AM depending on how the morning effort of getting a 12-year-old out of bed and to school is going. I have a quick look at the ABC and Australian websites at home, read the AFR in the office and skim through the SMH and the Melbourne and Sydney News tabloids. I have a look at The West’s website.

If I have time I have a look through our database for the bylines of some of the people I’ve mentioned above to see if I’ve missed something they’ve written. A day in Parliament House is an exercise in perpetually sorting through chaff to have time to make forward progress.

We might get a couple of hundred emails on any given day and it’s worse at times like the budget or the release of the carbon package. The emails will contain a blizzard of electronic media transcripts. I try to read some of them but, frankly don’t get through them all.

I keep an eye on the AAP wire and look at the various media websites through the day. Sky and ABC 24 are on in the background in the office and you might tune in if you see one of the leaders or frontbenchers talking. The commercial evening news bulletins are on in the background while we are filing and we will watch the Sydney ABC news bulletin at home when I am there. I sometimes watch Lateline, try to always watch Foreign Correspondent but am usually out on Monday nights so have to catch up with Four Corners and other ABC programs online.

CRIKEY: What particular stories — either Australian or international — do you think are classic examples of quality journalism?

LT:

  • Monica Attard’s coverage of Russia as an ABC journo (particularly the bit on top of the tank).
  • Laurie Oakes coverage of the Mal Colston affair and Travelgate.
  • The Australian Financial Review’s coverage of the Rene Rivkin and Alpine Offset affair.
  • Morgan Mellish’s coverage of the Robert Gerard affair in the AFR.
  • Nick Davies from The Guardian for his pursuit of News of the World.
  • The Age’s investigative unit’s –Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker — for their work on Securency.
  • Four Corner’s program on the Indonesian people smugglers from last year.
  • Hedley Thomas’s for his work investigating Dr Haneef and Patel.

Head here to check out the upcoming profiles on the Quality Journalism Project landing page.

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