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Nov 23, 2011

The quality journalism project: Crikey‘s Eric Beecher

Eric Beecher is the publisher of this little online gazette and he's the latest respondent in Crikey's quality journalism project.

When Crikey garners mention in some sections of media, it’s usually preceded by the words “Eric Beecher’s”. Yes, Beecher is the publisher of this little online gazette — plus a pile of other new media publications including Smart Company, StartUp Smart, Property Observer and The Power Index.

Beecher’s a former newspaper man — at age 33 he became the youngest ever editor of The Sydney Morning Herald — turned online publishing tsar. Along with Diana Gribble, he founded the Text Media Group, which they later sold to Fairfax. They then created Private Media and bought Crikey in 2005. In 2007 he won the Walkley Award for journalistic leadership. Plus, he’s chairman of Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, a cultural hub for books, writing and ideas.

But what does the busy media junkie read?

Beecher is the latest expert in Crikey‘s quality journalism project, where we quiz Australia’s top media players on how they define good journalism and where they find it. Past respondents include Laura Tingle, Leigh Sales, Chris Mitchell, Alan Kohler, Wendy Bacon, Mark Colvin, George Negus, George Megalogenis, Marni Cordell, Tom Switzer, Ashleigh Gillon, Ita Buttrose, Michael Gawenda, Fran Kelly, Tim BurrowesBill Birnbauer and Mike Carlton.

Now it’s over to publisher Eric Beecher …

What is your definition of quality journalism?

This is the definition I used in my submission to the current government media inquiry: it is the journalism that reports and analyses the institutions of democracy — governments, parliaments, the public service, courts, police and army, academia, business, science, education, media and other key institutions. It is the journalism that investigates and interrogates those institutions and their issues on behalf of society. It is the journalism that fertilises society with ideas, commentary and analysis. And it is journalism that needs to be conducted responsibly because it operates under a tacit public trust.

Eric Beecher’s personal top 10 quality journalism sources in Australia:

  1. AM, ABC Radio: Unvarnished, objective, timely, contextual news reporting and analysis. Pure journalism juice at the start of the day.
  2. SBS World News: Somewhat ironically, the SBS hour-long 6.30pm news bulletin exploits its low budget by delivering the best dollops of global TV news broadcasting of the day without the ratings pressure to grind or dumb it down.
  3. The Australian: The liveliest, most ambitious, most comprehensive (and most annoying) newspaper in the country.
  4. Peter Hartcher’s coverage of national affairsThe Sydney Morning Herald’s political and international editor demonstrates the magic formula in Australian journalism that is now so rare: q = t + r + c (quality = time + research + contacts).
  5. Counterpoint, ABC Radio National: Almost every time I stumble across this eclectic program, hosted by Michael Duffy and Paul Comrie-Thomson, I get an intelligent surprise.
  6. The Weekend Australian Review section: As arts and culture sections shrink elsewhere, this is the package that leads the pack: thoughtful features, serious profiles and terrific book reviews that don’t necessarily match all those preconceived notions.
  7. John Silvester and Andrew Rule: They used to be partners in crime writing, but they now work on competing newspapers in Melbourne (The Age and the Herald Sun). This is not only the best crime journalism in Australia now, but possibly ever, it is the closest we get to Runyon-writing and the closest we get to the seedy, bitchy, internecine Australian underworld.
  8. Ross Gittins: The Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor makes the mechanics and psychology of economics seem so logical, because it mainly is, so why can’t anyone else write it so seamlessly?
  9. Fran Kelly: No-one matches Fran in Australian broadcasting for juggling or mastering the brief, which is why ABC Radio National Breakfast is the place to hear, and be heard, in national affairs. End of story.
  10. Crikey: OK, I’m completely biased in this choice, but in a world of corporatised, homogenised pack journalism I believe deeply in what Crikey tries to do and often (not always) achieves. And I’m so proud of the talent it has nurtured and the passion that underpins that talent. End of plug.

What media do you consume on a daily basis?

SMH and Age online … Radio National BreakfastAMThe Australian and Financial Review in print (followed by handwash) … The Daily BeastBusiness SpectatorSmart CompanyThe Guardian online … Crikey … London TelegraphFinancial Times … The Power IndexMumbrellaProperty ObserverPMSlateThe New York Times … the Romenesko media blogEureka ReportRoy Greenslade’s blogPoliticoLateline … plus Newsweek, The Economist, Time and The New Yorker each week, and Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair and The Monthly each month in old-fashioned printed formats.

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

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