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Aug 10, 2011

The quality journalism project: the heart of The Oz, Chris Mitchell

Crikey picks 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. Editor-in-Chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell, divulges his media diet.

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He’s the controversial editor from Australia’s most controversial news outlet, the subject of 8000-word magazine profiles, accused of spin and bias by government ministers and critics, and hailed as a visionary by colleagues for making The Australian one of the few remaining must-read papers in the country.

But what does Chris Mitchell read to stay informed? And what is his idea of quality journalism?

Crikey continues to pick the brains of Australia’s most respected journalists, editors and producers to recognise the best of our media. After Laura Tingle and Leigh Sales, we present the editor-in-chief of News Limited’s national broadsheet …

CRIKEY: What is your definition of quality journalism?

CM: I think Australia is well served by mainstream media. We have not had the intense national competition that drove the excesses of the British red tops. There are only two national papers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. Papers in this country tend to be state-based and to compete at a city level. I think all the Australian daily newspapers in the capital cities do a good job holding their city and state governments to account and most run strong federal coverage from Canberra.

The broadsheets have tended to have better world news coverage and better analysis than the tabloids and the tabloids have much better sport and entertainment coverage.

Radio and television produce good quality current affairs and I am particularly taken with the work of Sky News which I think holds its head high in comparison with the best of the 24-hour news channels overseas given its sparse resourcing.

Chris Mitchell’s’ top 10 quality journalism sources in Australia

  1. The Australian: Even Robert Manne says it’s the best newspaper in the country.
  2. The Financial Review and the Wall Street Journal: The AFR has terrific opinion pages and editorials though is more patchy in reporting on national affairs and the WSJ is the best international paper of business in the world.
  3. Fran Kelly and Radio National Mornings/AM: I like early morning AM and I like Fran’s interviews. I like the segments with Warwick Hadfield and Michelle Grattan. I also like the business briefing before the 7am news.
  4. Lateline/Lateline Business: They are the two best mid-week current affairs programs in Australia.
  5. 7.30: Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann are the best journalists at the ABC and even though the program has yet to find its feet in the wake of the departure of Kerry O’Brien, it is still a prime vehicle for politicians.
  6. Slate and Arts And Letters Daily: To keep up with what’s going on around the world and particularly the United States.
  7. Prospect Magazine: I think it’s the most intelligent current affairs magazine I know.
  8. The Times, The Guardian and Sunday Times from London: Across the political spectrum and in investigative reporting, they give me the best picture of what’s going on in London and Europe.
  9. RealClearPolitics: It gives me the broadest and the deepest insight into American politics daily.
  10. Insiders/Australian AgendaInsiders because I have liked the format for a long time and Australian Agenda because it is the single best, deepest and most comprehensive current affairs programme on television anywhere in this country.

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

CM: I start my morning media consumption with a look through The Oz iPad app, particularly looking for any changes from the paper I left behind the night before. I turn on Fran Kelly at 6.50am and stick with Radio National until 7.45am when I move to 702.

During this period I will look at The Age and Herald Sun online and read my home delivery newspapers: The Australian, The Financial Review, The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald. I read till 9am when I take my dog for a walk then get ready to head to work for a 10.30am start.

In the office I read The Courier Mail, The Adelaide Advertiser and the hard copy versions of The Age and The Herald Sun. I look at The West Australian when it comes in.

I have The Herald, The Age and The Oz websites up all day as I do Mumbrella. I dip into various overseas newspaper websites and political blogs during the day and generally check the local psephology sites such as Poll Bludger, our own Mumble and Anthony Green, etc.

I have Sky News on from 10.30am when I arrive in the office until 9pm when I head home for dinner, where I watch Lateline and Lateline Business.

I read The Economist, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard every week and I subscribe to various other current affairs journals but enjoy Prospect most.

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

There are so many examples of quality journalism that come to mind and inevitably many of the ones I will refer to are those broken by some of the brilliant reporters I have been privileged to edit the past 20 years.

  • Hedley Thomas on Dr Haneef in The Australian.
  • Caroline Overington for 18 months on the Australian Wheat Board in The Australian.
  • Frank Robson’s profile on John Marsden in The Sydney Morning Herald.
  • Paul Kelly on the Kirribilli agreement with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in The Australian.
  • The rise of Kevin Rudd and separately the fall of Kevin Rudd as chronicled by Dennis Shanahan in The Australian.
  • The Australian Financial Reviews’s team on Rene Rivkin and the Offset Alpine money.
  • Paul Whittaker on Operation Wallah and Graham Richardson in The Courier Mail.
  • Almost anything Tony Koch has ever written about Aboriginal disadvantage in Cape York in The Australian.
  • Nicolas Rothwell in The Australian on desert art in general.
  • Rosemary Neill’s Walkley Award-winning story in the early 1990s on black violence against black women and children in The Weekend Australian.
  • Ben Hills when he was really firing for The Sydney Morning Herald in the late ’80s and ’90s under John Alexander, especially on corporate crime.
  • Hedley Thomas and Paul Whittaker on Net Bet in The Australian.
  • Kate McClymont on the Bulldogs salary cap in The Sydney Morning Herald.
  • Darren Goodsir in his Daily Telegraph days on Sydney crime.
  • Tony Koch on Chris Hurley and Cameron Doomadgee at Palm Island in The Australian.
  • Andrew Rule’s magnificent pursuit of Geoff Clark in The Age.
  • John Lyons’ absolutely ground-breaking profile of Bob Hawke for The Australian in the mid 1980s.

*Who else would you like to hear from? Email us the media pros you’d like us to quiz.

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