Yesterday, Rodney Ranners made his way by wheelchair and train from the far western suburb of Seven Hills to Sydney’s Town Hall to farewell departing statesman Gough Whitlam. One of many public mourners reportedly turned away after receipt of an email confirmation, Ranners told The Sydney Morning Herald, “I came all the way in because my carer received an email, I haven’t got the email, I don’t have a mobile phone. They won’t let me in.”  The paper reported he was close to tears.

News outlets interviewed emotional others who had travelled with the promise of a Town Hall seat from Perth, Townsville and all corners of a nation transformed by the great leader. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, responsible for administering public requests to attend, says on its website that its original advice to applicants of successful registration no longer held due to “overwhelming demand”.

Perhaps the department had supposed current public detachment from political life extended even to our great and newly dead representatives. Whatever the case, there were many mourners, most particularly those without regular access to digital networks, left to their grief on the street.

Of course, over-attendance is not the worst thing that can happen at a state memorial. Nonetheless, the departmental failure to accommodate the faithful was a false note in an otherwise tuneful opus of remembrance and you’d have to have a heart harder than the NSW Labor Right not to feel for those offered then refused admission.

Like many Australians, I had one eye on my news feed and the other on the memorial yesterday in an effort to feel, as Ranners had hoped to feel, part of this important moment in civic life. At around the same time pictures on the ABC and Fairfax emerged of those sad faces turned away, another report of an impeded entry to a vital event surfaced. And the delights of their contrast were too much to refuse.

Someone, it seems, may or may not have been cut off from the canapes at a Melbourne Cup corporate marquee.

Yesterday, The Australian’s media editor Sharri Markson was the subject of a brief gossip item in The Age. Business reporter Colin Kruger had stated that Markson, an invited guest at the top-drawer Emirates tent, had been so persistent in her attempts to interview the ABC’s Barrie Cassidy (we can only imagine what Markson might have asked: “Who are you wearing, Barrie? TROTSKY?”) that Cassidy had made his displeasure known to his hosts and Markson was asked to leave the party.

The reporter, known both for her courage in outing leftist techniques of indoctrination at our universities and in bringing back the denim playsuit stylings of Rachel from Friends, was displeased with what she held to be a false account and took to Twitter throughout the day to say so. While much of the adult nation was thinking about Vincent Lingiari and the Wave Hill walk-off, all centrally referenced at the service, Markson was preoccupied with claiming her own rights to title. Apparently incensed she could be denied in print the full privileges permitted to her proud people, she delivered the “Full Emirates statement” to her few thousand social media followers. It was an iPhone screen capture of about 40 words from a lady called Bridget:

“Sharri Markson was an invited guest at the Emirates marquee on Emirates Melbourne Cup Day,” it read. “We can confirm Sharri was not removed from the marquee at any stage during the day.”

Inspiring, right? A bit like when Eddie Mabo overturned the doctrine of Terra Nullius.

And then, the vindicating glory that followed in The Australian was a bit like when Whitlam ran desert earth through the stockman’s hands of Lingiari. Or, you know, maybe it was more like when Ross and Rachel finally got together. Whatever analogy you prefer, the Oz certainly prefers to champion its own and did so in a piece claiming that Fairfax was “under pressure”.

“Write something, you contemptible tools. Write something beyond the margins of your cosseted world in which most of us only have a passing interest.”

Fairfax is, of course, under pressure but so is every orthodox print publication in the nation, and this is due less to the snide reporting of goings-on at Spring Carnival piss-ups for the absurdly self-important than it is to the demands of the era. There’s a range of pressures exerted on traditional press, some of which Kate McClymont touched upon in last week’s Andrew Olle lecture and many of which are best understood by a glance at the ASX. One peculiar response by traditional media to the technological and financial pressures bearing down on them has been to report often on social media stoushes. There is little doubt that Kruger anticipated the traffic Markson would drive to his story and even less doubt, if her frequent updates on the matter are any indication, that Markson thought the same.

And so, on a day that Noel Pearson delivered a speech that deserves examination at the memorial service for our greatest prime minister, Fairfax and News played a tedious set of self-referential ping pong. This, no doubt, would have delivered page views to both parties but what it does for what remains of the value in either masthead is damage. For how are we to maintain any sort of serious interest or trust in idiots arguing for their right to enter a VIP tent when there’s some guy on the telly beginning to explain the difference between land rights and native title?

Of course, we can’t. And part of me wants to see these two news companies locked in a legal battle over the right to nothing that costs the same as 17 Wiks and in so doing destroy each other. The atmosphere of absolute self-interest and laminate-pass “exclusivity” that informs such a battle should stay in the hideous Birdcage row at Flemington and never be discussed by actual “journalists” if they care at all for their own survival.

What in the name of sponsored champagne is Markson doing devoting the lion’s share of her work day reporting on reporting on reporting that is all about her and why can’t The Age pretend she simply does not exist? I mean. Seriously. Markson might delude herself she’s having a Marcia Langton moment in claiming her right to be acknowledged as a legitimate guest of a frigging airline but really, she is just coming across like Samantha in Sex and the City 2.

Of course, one can always argue that certain news is trivial and that there’s something more Ebola-ish to focus on than such-and-such a thing. But what sort of tin ear doesn’t hear the cruel death of a horse above the din of their Cup Day shindig and the happy death of a great man who was remembered, as he probably would have liked, for his formative role in addressing indigenous Australians with something like respect?

The sort of tin ear that favours cheeky denim and stories about herself. The sort that now peoples the bleak little newsrooms of the present. The sort that wouldn’t know a moment of national significance if it asked them to marry them in the final episode of Friends.

If dead thoroughbreds and living legacies of great leaders no longer engage Australians, then I’m Makybe Diva.

Write something, you contemptible tools. Write something beyond the margins of your cosseted world in which most of us only have a passing interest. Write like you’re not as stupid as you like to imagine we are or, who knows, your influence might dwindle to the point where you’re never offered gratis hors d’oeuvres and a gift bag again.

We don’t expect greatness. Not the kind of greatness, for example, that would inspire Rodney Ranners to travel by train and by wheelchair just to show esteem. But, we do expect not to be left out on the street listening to a VIP discussion that excludes us. Stop talking about yourselves. It ain’t news.

Peter Fray

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