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Nov 30, 2011

The quality journalism project: scouring the globe with Monica Attard

After carving out an illustrious career on TV and radio, Monica Attard is going digital with the upcoming launch of her news site The Global Mail. She's the latest subject in Crikey's quality journalism project.

After carving out an illustrious career on TV and radio, Monica Attard is going digital with the upcoming launch of her news site The Global Mail. And with five Walkley awards under her belt — including the Gold in 1991 when she was the ABC’s Russian correspondent — expect the standard of journalism produced to be high.

Attard hosted Media Watch for two years, wrote a book about her time in Russia and started Sunday Profile on ABC Radio. But The Global Mail is her first move online. Wotif.com entrepreneur Graeme Wood is helping to bankroll the completely not-for-profit venture in investigative journalism, which will be similar in model to the US’s Propublica. High-profile Global Mail staff include Ellen Fanning, Michael Maher, Eric Ellis, Stephen Crittenden and Sarah-Jane Collins. And Attard, who approached Wood with the initial idea for the site, will be its managing editor.

Crikey continues to pick the brains of Australia’s most respected journalists, editors and producers to recognise the best of our media. So far our quality journalism project experts 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 BirnbauerMike Carlton and Eric Beecher.

Now it’s over to journalist-turned-editor Monica Attard …

What is your definition of quality journalism?

Hard to limit, but in my opinion it can apply to and range from the “don’t write crap variety” of news story through to long form investigation built on enquiry, research, balance of opinion and presentation that makes what is usually dense material easy to consume.

Balance of opinion is essential. It is usually but not always centred on information that government or institutions or individuals want to keep out of the public domain. I don’t think “long form” journalism guarantees quality. Some long form ends up as no more than pull togethers of information already in the public domain, and no matter how beautifully presented, it is merely a quality pull together. I think quality journalism can be found in the news arena: balance is key. Curiosity is central too. Read The New York Times daily for high quality news reportage: nuance, texture and fact.

I intensely dislike the he said/she said political reportage, which seems in fashion at the moment in Australia. I equally dislike reportage that regurgitates what everyone else is reporting. Part of the problem clearly is reduced staffing numbers leading to homogeneous reportage. But even the most pressed journalist can think of a new question to put to someone to whom no one else is speaking, to give their audience a more complete take and perhaps even turn up some information we didn’t know. Anything less is lazy.

And yes it matters a lot that Australians receive quality journalism. How else do we raise the tone and content of debate and public discourse to make informed decisions?

Monica Attard’s personal top 10 quality journalism sources in Australia:

  1. Four Corners on ABC TV: on the ball, reflective, provocative (usually), often changes the debate by raising new questions, challenges social perceptions. Especially love Sarah Ferguson and Deb Whitmont’s work. Marian Wilkinson is never to be missed. Like most, I would love to see it rove the globe a bit more!
  2. Media Watch, ABC TV: yes I remember I was host for a period, but it is ALL there is keeping the rogues in check. Jonathan has bite and is entertaining.
  3. The Monthly: when it’s good, it’s very good.
  4. The Australian Financial Review: especially Pam Williams and Laura Tingle.
  5. The Saturday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald: usually good reads, informed backgrounders and analysis. And not withered like Monday to Friday!
  6. Breakfast on ABC Radio National: Fran Kelly rarely has a bad day. Don’t know how she does it.
  7. George Megalogenis in The Australian: sane, thorough, thoughtful, expansive and trustworthy.
  8. David Marr: on anything he chooses to turn his mind to, even if I don’t always agree with him!
  9. The Project, Channel 10: because it conveys news in digestible form to young people. That’s important to the national discourse. And I truly, deeply bemoan the demise of the George Negus 6.30 show because it had the guts to tackle political and global issues whilst its neighbours were beating up tabloid stories.
  10. David Speers, Sky TV: because I love a good interview, he is thoroughly professional and always courteous!

What media do you consume on a daily basis?

I start with my radio tuned in to Radio National and Fran Kelly, though I flick regularly between RN, ABC News Radio (for headlines and Marius Benson) and ABC Local Radio (for the 7:45 news and then AM).

On the train to the office, I have a quick glance at The SMH, The Australian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC, Slate, The Daily Beast and take a glance at what I am being fed on Twitter. It’s a half-hour ride. This way I know what I need or want to return to during the day.

At some point during the day I check in on Propublica.org for anything new and The Atlantic.

And I flick through Crikey, reading anything from Bernard Keane and Andrew Crook. In the evening, I watch 7.30 most nights and switch regularly to Sky News (in between other shows): they are usually all over everything. I hate it that the ABC deprives me of Four Corners and Media Watch during the Xmas slumber.

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

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