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Film & TV

Jun 19, 2017

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Today in Media Files, it’s feuds all around, with journalist Ginger Gorman calling out the Daily Mail for ripping off her work (again), Chris Kenny getting legal advice over a Gillian Triggs interview published by Fairfax, and former Fairfax journalist Michael West hitting back at Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston.

Good feud guide. Freelance journalist Ginger Gorman has gone for another round against the Daily Mail after it published a rewrite of her Fairfax piece over the weekend about her relationship with an online troll. Gorman’s piece told of her experience over more than a year dealing with a troll whom she’d interviewed for a story. She tweeted this morning that the Daily Mail had plagiarised her story, calling the website “slow learners”:

The Mail‘s story, published yesterday, had nothing new to add and was published under the headline,”‘I was trolling a girl who got hit by a train’: Shocking admissions of an internet troll who spends 30 HOURS a week on his sickening habit.”

Gorman has previously called out the Mail and Mamamia for ripping off a story she’d written for news.com.au about mothers who sexually abuse their sons.

Chris Kenny’s feelings hurt. In an exit interview with The Age‘s outgoing political editor Michael Gordon, Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs talked about coverage of her and the commission by The Australian during her tenure, and she had this to say about the paper’s associate editor, Chris Kenny:

“He keeps swirling the same facts over and over again and they are not true for a start — and that’s all he’s got. I’ve never met him. He’s never phoned me or made any attempt to understand anything. It’s just been a full-on attack.”

The Australian has responded today in the paper by suggesting Triggs could face legal action over the comments, with Kenny saying:

“I will seek legal advice because this sort of abuse in lieu of facts must be countered. My approaches to her office by phone and email over many months for interviews for The Australian and my television shows have been numerous and always rejected.”

Kenny sued the ABC for defamation over a Chaser sketch broadcast in 2013, where Kenny was photoshopped mounting a dog on The Hamster Decides. The case settled with an apology and cash from the ABC to Kenny.

Michael West v Joe Aston. Also stepping into the ring this morning is former Fairfax business journalist Michael West, who now runs his own business news website. West had written about Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston’s pursuit of CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley, and Aston has written this morning in his Rear Window column that West had known Malley for many years, something West has denied:

“Failing to call the subject of your insults before publishing is not just cowardice, it’s a matter of basic journalistic protocol. Journalists are required to make the phone call in order to allow their subjects to respond — and get the facts straight … A detailed rebuttal of Joe’s petty claims would be a waste of time.”

Introducing the newest NT News reporter, No Byline Please. The subs at the NT News must have checked out a bit early when putting Saturday’s sports pages to bed on Friday night. Neglecting to pick up a note from the reporter asking to not have a byline, the request was published where the reporter’s name should have been. Of course, the NT News is never one to shy away from taking the piss, tweeting on Saturday, “our new reporter no byline please is really starting to make his mark at the paper”.

The Parrot calls in from sick bed. There isn’t much that will keep 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones down. Recovering from a health scare last week that took him off air and into intensive care in hospital over the weekend, Jones called into his own show this morning (covered by colleague Chris Smith) to let listeners know that he’s on the mend and should be back on-air next week. He said he’d been “at the exit door” over the weekend, but was now feeling weak, but OK. Jones took an extended break at the end of last year following multiple operations on his back and neck.

Symons apologises for “racist” interview. ABC radio presenter Red Symons has apologised for a controversial interview with colleague Beverley Wang, in which he asked her if she was “yellow”, and asked, “what’s the deal with Asians?”. Symons opened his program on ABC Radio Melbourne this morning with an apology about the interview, which the ABC has since removed from its website:

“The plan was to take on a serious topic, race and culture, and talk with Beverley about a range of related issues. I came across as racist and I was wrong in the way I conducted the interview. This is not who I am, but I acknowledge on this occasion I caused offence and hurt, not only to Beverley but also to our listeners. I offer my sincerest apologies. We need to talk about these issues, but be careful how we consider them.”

The ABC apologised for the interview going to air in a statement on Friday, and said it would review the editorial processes around the content and its use.

Game played in heaven, ignored on earth. Rugby union might still boast it’s the game played in heaven, but in Australia it’s the game now being ignored. It was a case of netball one, AFL and rugby union nil after Saturday’s games, with viewers less interested in what are usually the more mainstream sports.

The Australian Rugby Union might be holding an emergency general meeting in Sydney tomorrow to discuss a lot of issues — the fate of CEO Bill Pulver, the fate of one or two Super Rugby teams and, of course, the loss to Scotland in a one-off test on Saturday. What should be top of the agenda (but won’t be) is the damage that the incompetence, moaning and groaning of the past year is doing to fans’ support.

More people watched the inaugural grand final of the national netball competition on Nine on Saturday night than the Rugby Wallabies v Scotland test on Ten earlier in the day (it was simulcast on Fox Sports, but this comparison is for free to air TV).

Oztam ratings issued yesterday showed 447,000 people watched the netball on Nine on the network’s main and digital channels. Oddly the pre-match figure was 505,000, so nearly 60,000 people tuned out after watching the lead-up — perhaps they were off partying on a winter’s Saturday night?

But the rugby test could only manage 274,000 national viewers on Ten. That was after a pre-match audience of just 113,000. The post-match audience leapt to 450,000 — that’s a real slap at the game and the sport when more than 200,000 supporters can’t be bothered watching the game and tune in afterwards to see the size of the loss.

And the AFL can’t crow because the netball final also had more viewers than the Swans v Richmond game on Seven and 7mate on Saturday afternoon. The Saturday night AFL game had a total of 586,000 viewers, so the netball’s figures stack up nicely. — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV ratings. It was Nine’s night in the in total people and the main channels and Seven’s in the regions. The Voice has lost more ground for Nine — 1.37 million nationally last night for two hours from 7pm (the final half hour making the difference between winning and second to Seven). House Rules was the second most watched program on the night nationally with 1.84 million. But it ended at 8.30 pm and viewers went to Sunday Night which managed a decent 1.31 million nationally. Ten’s MasterChef finished well behind its rivals with 1.01 million nationally. The Voice should really have done better, being the Top 10 elimination. No one qualifies as a must watch at this stage.

In the regions House Rules topped the night with 742,000 viewers, followed by Seven News with 673,000, Nine News 6.30pm was third with 506,000 viewers, Sunday Night was fourth with 496,000 and Nine News was fifth with 460,000. The Voice could only manage 404,000 and MasterChef 278,000. — Read the rest on the Crikey website

Journalism

Jun 13, 2017

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Today in Media Files, The Australian‘s campaign against GetUp has dragged in business journalist Michael West, and he’s hit back. And Channel Nine has been named in a lawsuit over the death of a man in a 2013 Melbourne siege.

Good feud guide. Former Fairfax business journalist (and occasional Crikey contributor) Michael West has hit back at The Australian after being drawn into its campaign against the Australian Press Council’s newest member, GetUp director Carla McGrath. West, who now runs his own website, has been working with GetUp and the Tax Justice Network on an investigation into 20 multinational companies and their tax affairs, which the Oz reckons isn’t very independent. West has detailed the back-and-forth with legal affairs reporter Chris Merritt over on his website, writing:

“In any case, receiving a tutorial on journalistic ethics from the folks at News Limited is a bit like being accused of being a Nazi by Adolf Hitler.”

Channel Nine sued over siege death. The mother of a man killed in a police siege is suing Channel Nine over a journalist’s involvement, The Age has reported. Convicted rapist Antonio “Tony” Loguancio called Nine Network chief of staff Kate McGrath numerous times during a 43-hour siege in Glenroy, Victoria, before he fatally shot himself in 2013. One of the phone calls lasted almost an hour. Police had been searching for Loguancio for almost a week before they found him, prompting the siege.Victorian coroner Audrey Jamieson called on the Australian Press Council to revise its guidelines in March in her findings into Loguancio’s death. Jamieson found that McGrath had interfered with a police investigation but had not caused the death. According to Liam Mannix’s report over the weekend, Loguancio’s mother, Lesley Gilmour, lodged a suit in the County Court of Victoria last month, saying McGrath’s action had interfered with police’s ability to peacefully end the siege. Nine told The Age it rejected Gilmour’s version of events.

More Age departures. The Age columnist Martin Flanagan is yet another of the writers to be leaving Fairfax in the latest round of cuts. Writing his last reflection published over the weekend, he paid tribute to his brother Tim and reflected on his 32-year career in his final sports column. Walkley award-winning health journalist Julia Medew is also leaving, as is The Age‘s science editor Bridie Smith and political editor Michael Gordon. Crikey is keeping track of those leaving Fairfax here.

Front page(s) of the day.

The Grauniad downsizes. The so-called liberal, serious Guardian newspaper is to join its more conservative and populist UK rivals (such as the Daily Mail and The Sun) by going tabloid. It’s abandoning the Berliner mid-sized paper shape it’s had since it spent 80 million pounds on new printing presses in 2005. The move is designed to continue the cost cutting that started a year ago, in an attempt to reduce continuing operating losses.

Rival publisher Trinity Mirror, which owns the weekday and Sunday Mirrors and the Sunday People, will print The Guardian on its presses. Since The Guardian started printing the Berliner size back in 2005, its daily sales have fallen to an average of 154,010 copies a day, compared with 367,478 before. And despite the growing digital audience, it still makes most of its money from print. It is now getting millions of pounds a month from “supporters” who pay a series of fees, which is a small glimmer of hope. Management says it will be profitable by 2020 under a three-year cost-cutting plan, which is now in its second year. Some 300 jobs in the UK and US have gone in the past year as part of this plan. — Glenn Dyer

News Corp’s confected ABC-bashing. A few years ago, News Corp Australia hack Piers Akerman criticised the ABC for broadcasting the world’s most popular pig, Peppa, without realising the show was a favourite of kids broadcasts on News Corp Australia’s 50%-owned pay TV monopoly, Foxtel. Last week the same ignorance was on display when the likes of Andrew Bolt criticised the ABC for screening two hours a day of content from the Al Jazeera news channel (in the very early hours of the morning). 

The man time forgot, Senator Cory Bernardi, also chimed in. Bolt failed to acknowledge that Al Jazeera is carried on Foxtel on channel 651, as did Bernadi and The Australian, whose Cut and Waste column had another go last Friday.

Why criticise only the ABC and not Foxtel, which derives a benefit for News Corp and co-owner Telstra (Jazeera pays to be broadcast on Foxtel)? Al Jazeera has been broadcast on Foxtel since 2012, and the deal brought no protests at the time.

But wait, Bolt, Bernardi and other motor mouths have missed a new potential channel of terror. They should also be calling for Foxtel to drop beIN Sports, which is the rebranded Al Jazeera Sport global operations, spun off in 2013 and renamed. It is on Foxtel and Fetch TV (a Foxtel rival) and broadcasts a lot of soccer from Europe and other regions and rugby union — offshore tours by the revolutionaries in the Australian Wallabies and the NZ All Blacks. — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV Ratings. Solid wins for Seven on Sunday and Monday nights (nationally and in the metros and the regions) with House Rules starring on both nights, along with Seven News. Ten had a poor night, being pushed to fourth in the main channels in the metros by the ABC, thanks to the very good figures for Four Corners‘ excellent revisiting of the Queensland corruption story of 1987 (Moonlight State by Chris Masters) via the brave police whose whistleblowing led to the Fitzgerald Royal Commission, the end of Joh Bjelke Petersen and his Police Commissioner, the corrupt Terry Lewis and the jailing of minsters, police and others. Four Corners was watched by a solid 1.15 million viewers nationally, 808,000 in the metros and 350,000 in the regions.

I would have liked the intro last night from Sarah Ferguson to have at least mentioned Phil Dickie’s breakthrough reporting in The Courier Mail early that year on the crime and corruption in Brisbane’s sex and gambling industries (which Bjelke Petersen and his racing minster Russell Hinze said did not exist), but Four Corners was the stand out program last night — of any type. — Read the rest on the Crikey Website

Companies

May 8, 2017

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Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood

Things moved quickly on Saturday. By 6.30 in the evening, Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood had confirmed a $2.2 billion takeover bid by US leveraged buyout group TPG Capital. The crew from TPG are asset traders — they are not there for the journalism.

In 2006, TPG bought Myer for $1.4 billion (their input was $450 million), sold the flagship Melbourne store for $425 million, stripped out the cash, loaded Myer up with debt, floated it on the sharemarket and turned $450 million into $2 billion in three years. The piece de resistance? When the Australian Tax Office came after them for $678 million and tried to freeze TPG’s accounts it was too late; they had siphoned it offshore.

TPG’s bid for Fairfax is complex and conditional. Yet the historic Australian media house is now “in play”. Its investment bankers will be running about, trying to tee up a rival offer, get an auction going. Meanwhile, striking journalists at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age — and a few from The Australian Financial Review — are unprotected. Fairfax is playing chicken. It has not taken them to the Fair Work Commission.

This is now a deadly game of bluff between management and journalists risking their redundancy packages, their financial futures, on a matter of principle. They are fighting the decision by management to sack 125 journalists and they are angry that Fairfax bosses have been enjoying pay rises while workers are being shown the door.

[Editorial bloodbath: Fairfax cuts run deep, staff walk off the job]

And they will not be happy about this: the top four executives of Fairfax Media were secretly given $6.7 million in share options in a transaction that the company failed to disclose in its annual report. The sneaky pay deal involved half of a $13.4 million options package awarded by the board.

The company’s last redundancy round was in April 2016 in which 120 employees either left or were fired. Two months later, at the end of June, a large tranche of executive options vested and Fairfax “cash-settled” them for chief executive Greg Hywood, general counsel Gail Hambly and chief financial officer David Housego.

Only 15.25 million share options were disclosed, however. Another 15.25 million “rights to options” were also cash-settled in favour of Hywood, Hambly and Housego, but these were not disclosed in the annual report.

Another executive, Allen Williams, formerly managing director of the Australian Metro Publishing business, was also a beneficiary. Sharemarket sources told michaelwest.com.au the secret options deal was “underhanded”.

Further, executives had “no skin in the game” in relation to the options as they never took equity in the company but the “notional” options, whose exercise hinged on the discretion of the board, were settled for cash.

Chairman Nick Falloon was asked for comment but was unavailable. A spokesman for the company denied on Friday there was a failure of disclosure and responded by email that the deal was “in the best interests of shareholders” (full questions and answers are at the bottom of the story).

On August 30 last year, a change of director’s interest notice was filed with the ASX for chief executive Greg Hywood. It revealed that Fairfax cash-settled 8 million options but did not include the other 8 million notional options. Cash proceeds were $5.6 million.

Including Fairfax exec Allen Williams’ entitlements, the options deal for the top four Fairfax executives was worth $13.4 million of which $6.7 million was not disclosed.

When it comes to sly remuneration practices, Fairfax management has form. A few years ago, while working at Fairfax, we wrote a story exposing the board for paying its executives dividends on unvested stock. Along with executives in a handful of other companies, Fairfax managers were effectively benefiting from remuneration they had not earned.

Striking journalists have expressed concern that, in sacking more journalists and reducing staff in the metro news division from 500 to 375, management was further abandoning its professed commitment to quality journalism.

The aim of the latest redundancy round is to cut $30 million from a metro media cost base of $130 million. At the interim results in March, Fairfax disclosed it was cash-flow positive (cash-flow for the half was $1 billion), was sitting on $118 million in cash and $147 million in long-term debt on a net asset base of $1 billion. It is not in bad shape, though if the weekday newspapers are closed the fall in ad revenue will entail further cost cuts.

[Fairfax shares spike after rumoured TPG takeover]

If fresh capital is raised in the partial spin-off of real estate classifieds business, Domain, it will bolster the group’s cash position (though an official decision on the sale is yet to be struck and guidance is for a pro-rata allocation to existing shareholders).

Last year, despite the sackings, chairman Nick Falloon and the company’s non-executive directors enjoyed a collective pay rise from $1.48 million to $1.64 million while disclosed pay for the top three executives rose from $4.8 million to $5.2 million.

As for the secret options, they were neither disclosed nor expensed. The cash cost to shareholders of the 2014 allocation was $10.7 million.

QUESTIONS TO FAIRFAX CHAIRMAN NICK FALLOON AND EMAIL RESPONSE BY A SPOKESMAN

1. Is it true that only half the options for Fairfax executives from financial years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were disclosed and expensed?

Spokesman: No

2. Why is it that only half of the 35.6m options held by three Fairfax executives from 2015 and 2016 appear in the company’s financial statements?

Spokesman: See above.

3. Why did the board elect to cash-settle the 15.25m options which vested after June 30, 2016, and also allow the 15.25 million notional options which were never issued to be cash-settled for $10.7 million?

Spokesman: It was in the best interests of shareholders.

4. Do you agree that this amounts to a “secret pay package”? If not, why not?

Spokesman: No. See answers 1, 2, 3.

5. Please explain how, in the present environment, Fairfax staff should not be upset at the rising pay of executives while deep staff cuts are taking place? Is the behaviour of the board and executive of Fairfax appropriate?

Spokesman: No comment.

All details relating to your questions were properly disclosed in the relevant remuneration reports to shareholders.

*Disclosure: this journalist was fired by Fairfax last year but does not deem himself to be a disaffected former employee.

*This article was originally published at Michael West

Business

Jul 15, 2016

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In Japan, they pay a lot less for Australian gas than we do in Australia.

Last month, the spot price in Japan was US$4.27 per gigajoule whereas the average spot price paid in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide in June was US$6.87/GJ. Australian consumers paid, on average, 60% more for gas produced in Australia than did our customers in Japan.

This is even more bizarre when you consider that, before the gas is shipped, 6365 kilometres to Japan at a cost of US$0.75/GJ, it first has to be liquefied at an LNG plant at a cost of US$1.50/GJ.

We are being skewered; every consumer and every business that uses gas is being gouged. Spiraling energy prices — electricity costs have doubled in recent years too — are all part of the train wreck that is Australia’s energy policy.

Not only is our east coast gas market controlled by a cartel of three producers — Santos, Origin Energy and the Exxon/BHP marketing nexus in the Bass Strait — but gas distribution is also controlled by a fabulously profitable pipeline troika.

Australian Energy Regulator (AER) data shows the return on the equity of one pipeline asset is a dazzling 159%. It’s the sort of return that would have been acceptable to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

As pensioners shiver this winter — “energy poverty” is on the rise — the gas cartel could also send more manufacturing businesses in Australia to the wall, or drive them offshore, as was the case with leading fertiliser group Incitec.

The spot gas market run by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is illiquid, lacks depth and is tightly controlled by the three dominant players. Although they call it a “market”, it is not really a market. A real market requires transparency and price discovery. This is a cartel and cartel prices recently spiked to $14.40/GJ on July 5.

To lend global perspective, the average spot price on that day, July 5, of US$10.80/GJ, was more than three times the spot price of US$2.69/GJ on the same day in the US, where there is a true market.

Yet it is not merely against the efficient US market where Australian gas prices seem grossly inflated. Our largest export market is Japan. On that same day in Japan the contract price was US$7.23/GJ.

Besides the stranglehold of the producers’ cartel, gas prices have shot up because the transmission system in Australia, that is the pipelines, is extremely expensive.

Gas transmission is dominated by the pipeline-owner APA Group.

APA is one of the very best performers on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Since floating in 2000, its shares have delivered its investors a return of 1304%. In share market vernacular, this is a “13-bagger”, increasing in value 13 times its original investment in 15 years. A truly phenomenal run, and a credit to management.

Unfortunately, their shareholders’ gains have been their consumers’ losses.

APA returns

How does an essentially dull business make such scintillating profits though? It runs unregulated monopolies charging its customers monopoly prices.

The recent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Inquiry into the East Coast Gas Market produced a number of examples of price-gouging by the monopoly gas transmission providers. The other two are Jemena and QIC. While the ACCC did not name the offenders, its dominance suggested to most observers, including APA itself, that APA must have been one of them. It denies predatory pricing, instead putting its success down to lifting pipeline capacity, getting more gas through each pipe.

Chief executive Mick McCormack told the audience at an industry dinner in Sydney last week transmission charges made up only 5% to 10% of retail gas prices:

“So the pipeline industry hasn’t been the party putting very steep price increases to the market — we’ve just charged what we’ve always charged and tried to grow the gas market.”

Ominously, he also flagged a research report from investment bank JP Morgan estimating prices would rise a further 40% over the next decade.

Responding to questions for this story, an APA spokesperson said the group was making the same rate of return as it did when it listed, saying the 66% rise in prices was mostly due to the effect of trebling of demand from the three LNG projects at Gladstone in Queensland (offshore demand had sucked away domestic supply).

“What is certain is that the pipeline transmission charges have not contributed to increases in the domestic gas price. APA has not increased pipeline tariffs on its east coast pipelines in real terms for at least a decade, so any increase in delivered gas prices hasn’t come from APA so called ‘gouging’ its customers,” said the statement.

In its inquiry, the ACCC noted many examples of price-gouging in the transmission industry and it found that price rises would not have been nearly so rampant if the monopolies were regulated.

“So too does the internal analysis carried out by one pipeline operator, which indicated that it is earning 70 per cent more revenue than it would if it was subject to full regulation.”

Lest we be accused of selective quotation, the ACCC goes on to detail a selection of pipeline augmentation projects carried out in the last two to three years in the following graph. The Australian Energy Regulator has a benchmark return on equity for 2013-15 on such regulated projects of 7.1% to 8%. For the weary consumer though, these projects were not regulated.

Only one of the projects came in under the AER’s benchmark. The expected returns on these projects being 1.4 to 20 times higher than the benchmark return – with the most extreme example producing a staggering return on equity of 159%.

The lack of regulation of APA’s monopoly assets is detailed by APA itself in its annual report.

APA Group Assets

The lack of regulation of many of APA’s gas transmission pipes is in stark contrast to the situation in Europe, New Zealand and the bastion of capitalism, the US.

It appears that overseas, even in the US, it is recognised that monopolies need to be regulated.

In the US, all major interstate transmission pipelines are regulated unless the pipeline operator can demonstrate that it lacks significant market power. No pipelines have been able to demonstrate this to date.

The US market also demands high levels of disclosure by pipeline operators. They must report on a quarterly and annual basis:

  • the pipelines balance sheet, cash flow statement and profit and loss;
  • detailed information on the value of the pipeline’s assets and accumulated depreciation;
  • detailed information on the revenue received for transportation, storage and other services and volumes transported; and
  • detailed information on the costs incurred in the provision of services, including the cost of any capital works under construction.

In contrast, customers wanting to use a transmission pipeline in Australia must head into negotiations essentially blind to any of these negotiating tools. The market in Australia is completely opaque with all the information withheld by the transmission companies.

Our governments and regulatory bodies allow this price-gouging, even defend it, despite the encroaching scourge of energy poverty and the deleterious effect of high gas prices on the economy overall.

Globally, the price of gas, along with tumbling crude oil prices, has been crashing but in Australia prices have been marching steadily higher. On the spot market on June 30, the price even touched A$29/GJ.

*Bruce Robertson is an analyst with IEEFA.org

*This article was originally published at michaelwest.com.au

Journalism

Jul 12, 2016

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Fans of now-freelance journalist Michael West might have thought the lead item on the ABC news last night looked familiar. ABC business journo Stephen Long interviewed tax insider George Rozvany, who was West’s key source for his exclusive investigation launched yesterday, and the resultant news package led with pretty a very similar story. It didn’t mention West, nor did the introduction by the host, although West first brought the story to light.

Once a journalist uncovers something or gets someone on the record, going to a journalist’s sources for a fresh interview without mentioning the original piece is fairly common practice. It’s not plagiarism to ask a source similar questions. A source has no responsibility to speak only to one journalist — it’s often in their interest to speak to a variety of outlets. That said, journalists understandably don’t like it.

West took the ABC to task on Twitter over it last night. Juanita Phillips, who fronts the ABC Sydney bulletin, sent West her “humble apologies” on Twitter, saying she hadn’t been aware West had broken the story. On PM’s broadcast of the same story, host Mark Colvin mentioned West at the end, telling readers how to find his website. Long said on Twitter this morning that he had suggested Colvin make the plug. “[West] and I are great mates and credit to him.”

It wasn’t the only similar incident on the ABC yesterday. In the morning, Junkee discovered that Pauline Hanson’s policy platform had been plagiarised from a number of sources. The youth news site claimed it as an exclusive, but a few hours later, the ABC had reported the story, without mentioning Junkee. This morning, the text on the ABC’s story was amended. The second paragraph now reads:

“Chunks of the party’s policies on halal certification, sustainable development and medicinal cannabis have been copied off the internet, the Junkee website reported.”

Meanwhile, West said on Facebook this morning that he was glad the ABC gave the story a good run. “It is of great public interest.”

“[W]hile I was disappointed there was no attribution, this is a grey area. The reporter Stephen Long did a great job. We have been friends for years. Although I did ask Stephen to link michaelwest.com.au if possible, there was no explicit agreement, signed in blood, that there had to be attribution.

“Media organisations often don’t credit their sources. They don’t like to credit other media if it is not necessary. In this case, it was not a condition of running the story. I had introduced Stephen to the source, George Rozvany, and the result was a compelling, well produced story which led the evening news.

“I’ve always worked on the principle that the story comes first and byline scuffles are just an inevitable part of the caper that is journalism.

“It is quite plausible that, in this instance, had the ABC producers deemed it was necessary that an external organisation, such as the incipient media empire michaelwest.com.au, had to be credited with the story, then the story may not have had such a good run. All’s well that ends well.”

West might not be holding grudges, but things like this pose a broader issue for how journalism is meant to be funded. Journalists are happy to see their stories followed up elsewhere, and it serves the public interest to have important stories widely disseminated. But if readers and viewers are never told where a story originated, how can they hope to reward and visit the media outlets responsible for the heavy lifting of originally unearthing a story?

And when it’s the publicly funded broadcaster — operating on a news budget that runs into the millions — that’s failing to attribute, is it adding insult to injury?

Update: two days later … 

On Tuesday, an opinion piece by yours truly made the point that journalistic follow-ups that don’t acknowledge where a story came from threaten to undermine the business models underlying original journalism. The piece used two examples from that day, both involving the ABC. But ABC sources have since told Crikey we weren’t being entirely fair to Stephen Long, the business reporter whose story on the nightly television news centred around the views of George Rozvany, who had been the key source in former Fairfax journalist Michael West’s exclusive investigation released earlier that same day.

Turns out West and Long had spoken of doing stories on Rozvany ages ago, when West was still at the SMH. The idea was anything Long did would run on the same day as West’s piece, to maximise the impact. With that in mind, West introduced the two, and Long interviewed Rozvany last week (rather than, as our piece assumed, in response to West’s story that day). There was no set agreement that the ABC would credit West with having broken the story, as our piece on Tuesday quoted West saying.

Journalism

Jul 11, 2016

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Investigative business journalist Michael West, who was recently told by The Sydney Morning Herald his skillsset wasn’t “aligned with Fairfax strategy going forward”, this morning launched his new website — a home for the journalism he has every intention of continuing even though he no longer has one of Australia’s major media companies behind him.

West’s latest investigation was due to run in the Fairfax papers the week after he was sacked (a term he uses — Fairfax says it was a redundancy). He took the story with him. It’s live this morning on both his website and The New Daily, which has syndicated it. It looks at the role of the big four accounting firms — PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young — in both facilitating tax minimisation for their clients and advising governments on how to combat it.

“They are both architect and engineer,” says tax insider George Rozvany in West’s investigation. “They sell the (tax avoidance) schemes to the multinationals; and in the case of the LuxLeaks scandal last year, they arranged the deals in secret with government, to the detriment of all other sovereign nations and their taxpayers”.

Speaking to Crikey on Friday, West said he had no doubt the investigation would “ruffle a few feathers” and help pull together the links in the public’s understanding of global tax minimisation schemes.

“Over the past four years, the public’s become aware that multinational tax avoidance is a big problem. Conservatively, it’s one trillion US [dollars] into tax havens a year, which is slipping out of the grasp of Western governments. We know the companies doing it — most are household names.

“What hasn’t been clearly identified to date are who are the those who engineer the scam and so on. And that’s the next leg of the stories.”

This has been West’s bread and butter for years at Fairfax, and he says stories on tax avoidance and minimisation have always struck a chord with a wide readership. So have stories on the energy sector — another area West plans to keep reporting on. He’s hopeful he can figure out a business model to keep doing what he did at Fairfax independently,

On the business model, he says he’s got a few ideas but is coy on the specifics. He says he has a potential backer, but it’s early days.

“I will take contributors, I will syndicate, and I will look to do special projects for particular funding as well,” he said. “My state at the moment is zero income, small child, large mortgage.”

On the website’s name (michaelwest.com.au), West seems ambivalent. “I always wanted to make story first and not myself. Unhappily, Fairfax have somewhat made me a martyr for the crime of journalism.”

When news of West’s departure from Fairfax was broken by Crikey in May (his was one of several dozen redundancies as Fairfax looked to cut costs in editorial), hundreds of figures in media and politics were quick to offer their support. West says his phone ran hot, but he doesn’t think it was entirely about him. “I think my sacking became a symbol of what’s happened in the mainstream media, and of disappointment with Fairfax,” he said.

“I think in this area of the media, there’s such a hole now. You have Fairfax being gutted of experienced journalists in this area. There’s very few people left who can read a balance sheet, very few who have the courage to go after big corporate stories.”

Though he is quick to point out Adele Ferguson is still at The Age. When he got a tip, West recalls, he’d often ask whether someone had also approached Ferguson. “We were rivals and colleagues,” he said. “But still, there’s very few people left to prosecute these kind of stories.

“I think there’s a big public need for it.”

Media briefs

May 24, 2016

5 comments

Senior Fairfax business columnist Malcolm Maiden was one of those who put his hand up for voluntary redundancy two weeks ago. His last day is Friday. He’s been with Fairfax since 1980 (when he joined The Australian Financial Review) and has been The Age‘s senior business columnist since 2007. Maiden’s column yesterday was about how technology was making many jobs obsolete.

He’s one of several big departures from Business Day, which include investigative journalist Michael West.

Until two months ago, Business Day had a close relationship with the AFR, publishing much of the same copy. But as part of the most recent Fairfax restructure this was changed, with Business Day operating more as a separate entity, with its own reporters and commentators. It might be difficult to do that with fewer reporters — both Business Day and the Financial Review have lost a lot of staff this redundancy round.

Today another staffer leaving Fairfax with a redundancy, illustrator Rocco Fazzari, has a piece on the ABC on the death of political cartooning. He writes:

“In my time in the profession, 28 years at The Sydney Morning Herald and two at the Canberra Times, I have witnessed at close range the disruption of picas to pixels and, along with the demise of the newspaper, that of the noble profession of cartooning/illustrating to its current tenuous position.

“It seems cost-cutting in the modern newsroom has made the cartoonist an easy target, with Fairfax Media recently making redundant dozens of experienced journalists, myself included.

“More are sadly bound to follow, as clickbait fever runs amok and digital metrics fail to register the beauty of a quirky piece of line work or the cleverness of a metaphor.

“We are a slow-moving target in the crosshairs of management.”

Business

May 13, 2016

5 comments

Senior business reporter Michael West, whose work appeared in the Business Day sections of the Sydney Morning Herald and Age, is leaving Fairfax today.

West confirmed his compulsory redundancy but declined to comment further. In a tweet after this piece was published online, West wrote: “Told my skill-set not aligned with Fairfax strategy going forward.”

west

West is one of the country’s most hard-hitting investigative business journalists. His detailed coverage of the tax and accounting practices of big business has been crucial to providing politicians with the information and ammunition necessary to go after tax-dodging businesses in recent months. The type of journalism he does is complex and often bitterly contested. His stories often need the careful eye of a lawyer — the type of journalism that needs a big media business to afford it.

In Australia, this type of costly investigative business journalism mostly falls to Fairfax. Fairfax’s executives say they’re proud of it. In a recent opinion piece CEO Greg Hywood spruiked the company’s focus on investigations. “At no time in Fairfax Media’s long history has the company devoted more resources and support to this area. That won’t be changing,” he wrote.

While all of Fairfax’s journalists investigate things to differing levels, West’s redundancy will have multinationals breaking out the bubbly, with one fewer check on corporate malfeasance. And it is good news for News Corp; West, a one-time News Corp employee, has been a major thorn in the company’s side for years, covering its financial dealings and tax-minimisation strategies. His work has been heavily disputed by News Corp, which has often put great pressure on Fairfax over it. In recent disputes, Fairfax has stood firm.

In its most recent redundancy round, the company has cut a swathe through the ranks of its business journalists. The Financial Review, which has been insulated from previous rounds, is bleeding staff. Most of the cuts, many of which are voluntary redundancies, are from Sydney, and represent a thinning of the ranks of the dedicated business rounds reporters who power the Fin’s Companies and Markets section.

Veteran economics editor Alan Mitchell is out, as are international editor Tony Walker and Asia Pacific editor Greg Earl. Property guru Robert Harley is gone (a blow to the paper’s most extensive and lucrative section). Media editor Dominic White is departing, as is Jared Lynch, who used to write on media and marketing but now covers several industries. As is aviation reporter Jamie Freed, financial services reporter Shaun Drummond, accounting editor Agnes King, personal finance reporter Kate Cowling, and workplace reporter Rachel Nickless. Financial services reporter Ruth Liew, agriculture, construction and manufacturing reporter Tim Binsted, court and legal affairs reporter Marianna Papdakis, and gaming and resources reporter Perry Williams are all leaving. Deputy opinion editor Mark Lawson, who also covers climate and energy, is leaving. Ky Chow, hired from Sky News four years ago to head the Fin’s multimedia team, is leaving. The paper is down a cartoonist in Rod Clement. As we’ve previously reported, workplace columnist Fiona Smith is also leaving. Business Day, which has been sharing stories with the Fin, has also been hit. Digital editor Chris Jenkins has taken a package. Stephen Cauchi, a twenty-year veteran who has most recently been covering markets, is out. And senior Business Day columnist Malcolm Maiden has also put his hand up.

At the Sydney Morning Herald, another investigative giant has taken a redundancy package. Gold Walkley winner Anne Davies, the papers’ investigations editor, departs after 22 years on June 10.  At The Age, Lawrence Money, responsible for the obituaries, says he’s “taking the dough”. Senior writers Suzanne Carbone and Jill Stark, both at the same paper, are leaving, as are opinion editors Paul Austin and Sushi Das, environment editor Tom Arup, and reporter Alana Schetzer. The Sydney Morning Herald‘s national affairs editor Tom Allard is leaving — he’s a former Indonesia correspondent too, which gave him an uncommon insight into our most populous neighbour. Supreme Court reporter Mark Russell has also taken a redundancy after 13 years at Fairfax. Senior arts writer Philippa Hawker has also left, despite her readers starting a public petition to save her job.

Clement is not the only cartoonist to go — the arts departments of the metros have been hard hit. Age journalist and illustrator John Spooner is out, as is Sydney Morning Herald illustrator Rocco Fazzari. 

The Queensland and West Australian outposts have also had departures. WAToday’s Aleisha Orr is leaving, and at the Brisbane Times, reporter Kim Stephens is out.

Companies

Jan 6, 2015

5 comments

This is the second installment in a five-part series on Australian business journalism. Read part one here.

Though the financial crisis was not of our making, Australia in the boom years was buoyed by all-time high commodity prices and a tide of easy money surging out of the United States.

Banks and non-banks alike tapped heavily into overseas credit markets, financial engineers had a field day, US private equiteers launched highly leveraged bids for iconic Australian companies like Coles, Myer, Qantas, Nine and Seven, and at the tail end of the boom ill-advised local institutional investors were even buying up the same AAA-rated but incomprehensible derivatives that were about to turn toxic.

Certainly Australian financial journalists could not have busted open the American sub-prime debt markets — a task that even journalists in the US did not take on, with a few exceptions like Gillian Tett, then-capital markets editor of the Financial Times, who turned an anthropologist’s eye to credit markets and warned they had turned insular as early as 2006. She was branded a doomsayer.

Is it a failure of the financial press that Tett was such a lone voice? Veteran Australian business journalist Trevor Sykes argues it is “a bit much to expect the journalists to declare the sky is falling if no one at the top of the banks or the regulation system has detected the fact”. He cites the chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, Alan Greenspan, who admitted after he stepped down it had been beyond him to understand the risks and complexities of some of the most toxic mortgage-backed securities, called “collateralised debt obligations” (CDOs), emerging from Wall Street:

“I didn’t understand what they were doing or how they actually got the types of returns … that they did. And I figured if I didn’t understand it and I had access to a couple hundred PhDs, how the rest of the world is going to understand it sort of bewildered me”.

Sykes defends finance journalists, saying that “of all the people you could throw rocks at — the banks who lend the money, directors who run the company, the regulators — the business media are the only ones who don’t have any official role whatsoever. We don’t have any responsibility, except a general moral one to try and tell the truth”. At the same time, in a telling indictment, he believes Australia’s business media was more credulous in the lead-up to the latest financial crisis than ahead of the 1980s stockmarket crash:

“In 1987, in Australia, the collapse here involved people like Alan Bond, Christopher Skase and various others who had been criticised in the press … there were plenty of warning bells there. I think there was more scepticism at that stage in the rest of the press as well. This time around though it whacked us on the bottom a bit. We didn’t see how far all the counterparty risk was going to go.”

Until the tide goes out, it can be difficult for the journalist — no matter how skilled — to see where the rocks are. But Fairfax Media business writer Michael West, who wrote the Margin Call column at The Australian from 1999 until 2007, says that’s the job: “I think you can work out where the rocks are. I wrote about the first CDOs — it was Deutsche Bank’s NEXUS notes, I think — because I had a fund manager ring me up and say, ‘I don’t know exactly what it is, but this is going to be trouble, you can just tell’. They looked like a great de-risking product, but of course in the end they became ever-more complex and leveraged and could never be unwound. Look at the most complex things, that’s where the rocks are.”

West’s anecdote also underlines the importance of contacts and the value of a timely tip off — without which a journalist might never twig to what’s going on inside a company. That doesn’t mean waiting for a whistleblower to call, as investigative journalist Ben Hills told Crikey: “There were people on Wall Street who knew what was going on. It’s the journalist’s job to find them. Don’t go along with the crowd saying how wonderful it is … put in a few extra phone calls, there’s always going to be a sceptic. Every bull run that’s ever existed, there’s always a lone voice crying ‘hang on a second!’ It’s not rocket science.”

Yet would even the best journalism have prevented the financial crisis? Hills doubts it: “There is no doubt the GFC and all the scams and frauds that underpinned it would never have gone as far as they did if there’d been proper scrutiny and that’s the job of the business journalist. But do I think a Woodward and Bernstein going in and exposing Goldman Sachs in 2006, would that have stopped the whole scam? No, I don’t think it would have done. I just don’t think journalism on its own would have done it.”

In Australia, some finance journalists were more sceptical than others. ABC business editor Ian Verrender was running the finance desk at The Sydney Morning Herald in the lead-up to the crisis and says his team of journalists went in hard. Kate Askew took on the private equity “locusts”, and relentlessly exposed the rorts and conflicts in the failed bid for Qantas. Stuart Washington’s robust coverage of Babcock & Brown’s Alinta takeover drew the ire of chief Phil Green, at the time one of the big swinging dick merchant bankers around Sydney. Ditto Lisa Murray, now in China for The Australian Financial Review. Verrender recalls one Murray story reporting that Allco had been forced to correct a mistake in its accounts but had somehow arrived at the same bottom line result regardless. First thing in the morning, Verrender recalls, then-Allco chief the late David Coe rang him up furious at SMH’s coverage: “He says ‘your girl doesn’t understand’. I say: ‘I’m not an accountant, I don’t really understand accounting, I’m an economist. But the one rule I do know about accounting is, you don’t start with your bottom figure and work your way up to the top. You start from the top and work your way to the bottom’. At that he hung up on me!”

“Here and in the US, the lessons of previous busts are never learned.”

Adele Ferguson, who joined The Australian as a columnist at the peak of the boom in early 2007 after more than a decade at Business Review Weekly, wrote rigorous examinations for example of financial and property group MFS in early 2007 — particularly, its exposure to ‘management letting rights’ scams in Queensland — which generated a lot of push back from the company. On the front lines before and during the crisis, Ferguson is reluctant to “fail” Australian business journalism:

“No one really knew the GFC was ready to descend. There was a lot of hype at the time. I know myself, writing about private equity, there was some scepticism. For example, KKR putting in a proposal to try and buy Coles would have been the biggest tax dodge out. Just like over in the US, and journalism here, some of what I wrote was exuberant. The critical stuff tends to get drowned out. Just like the dotcom boom, your perceptions change. Greenspan talked about ‘irrational exuberance’ at the time. Right now, how often have we read that we’ve got a property boom and the bubble will burst? But it’s kept going for years. There’s been lots of really critical pieces over the years about property prices, but it is all about timing. What about those people who listened and acted on those critical articles, they would have missed out on the gains?”

Ferguson’s observation is backed up by the research of Sophie Knowles, Gail Phillips and Johan Lidberg in their article for the Australian Journalism Review, “The framing of the Global Financial Crisis 2005-08: a cross-country comparison of the US, UK and Australia”. They found that there was a tendency here and in England to see the financial crisis, at least initially, as an American import.

Sykes himself admits as much, saying at first he thought the subprime crunch was “a Yank problem”. Given their housing mortgage market was so different, with predominantly non-recourse loans, “should an Australian be worried about that? At first glance, no. What we didn’t know about was the derivatives anchored to the housing market.”

Australia’s benchmark ASX200 index, barometer of the sharemarket, peaked in November 2007, before it fell sharply — and kept falling — as the crisis intensified through 2008 until March, 2009, by which time the combined value of our top 200 companies had more than halved.

Almost nobody saw it coming. Michael West now observes:

“There were very few journalists who questioned market valuations and too many believing the bull market was going to run forever. This reflects the tendency of business journalists, rather than using logic and history as their guide, to reproduce the views of those they report on in business. I don’t want to brag as the guy who nailed the top of the market, but I wrote a piece in October 2007 saying it was way over-valued. But I’d been calling the top of the market for two years. I was a huge critic since 2005. I was also a huge critic of the dot-coms a year before that blew up.”

In his 2003 Quarterly Essay Bad Company: the Cult of the CEO, Gideon Haigh picked over the tech wreck — and its Australian reverberations, with the collapse of One.Tel and insurer HIH — and asked how we had fallen under the American spell, dressing up corporate greed as leadership. He cited Yale economic historian Robert Shiller, who wrote that a credulous media is a pre-condition of all bull markets: “The history of the speculative bubble begins roughly with the advent of newspapers”.

Here and in the US, the lessons of previous busts are never learned. One of the great virtues of Sykes’ book Six Months of Panic is to show the crisis was in no way unprecedented: Wall Street’s risk-addled “plague dogs” have, time and again, inflicted huge losses on the rest of America — from the savings and loans fiasco in the ’80s to the failure of hedge fund Long Term Capital Management in the late ’90s — and are only emboldened when they are insulated from the fallout with bailouts from regulators fearful of financial meltdown, in a classic moral hazard.

For Australian business journalists, says Sykes, the cautionary tale may be against parochialism, given recent busts — from the ‘87 crash to the tech wreck to the financial crisis — have all happened in the backwash from overseas. “Maybe we should spend a lot more time looking at what’s happening globally than we do here. But the punters out there aren’t really interested in the grand sweep — what they want to know is how to make a quid next week.”

Read part three of Watchdog or Lapdog? tomorrow.

Companies

Jan 5, 2015

5 comments

This is the first installment in a five-part series. In Watchdog or Lapdog? we ask some of Australia’s top reporters to share their insights from the front line of business journalism.

Australian investors lost almost $40 billion to dubious scammers during the global financial crisis, and that’s just counting the dodgy mortgage and property funds, agribusiness schemes and margin lenders that froze or collapsed into bankruptcy. A tally including the losses racked up by the likes of ABC Learning, Centro, and dearly departed merchant banks like Allco Finance and Babcock & Brown would be much, much higher.

For all the recriminations, and the suffering inflicted, nobody went to jail. While there has been justified finger-pointing at the scam promoters, the fee-driven advisers who sold completely inappropriate products to their clients, the banks behind them that sucked in an ocean of fees, the liquidators that made a killing from the carnage afterwards, and the corporate regulator that oversaw the whole debacle, there is one key player that has so far escaped much criticism: Australia’s business press.

The same is not true in the United States, where the financial crisis heated up in 2007 and erupted with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Trillions were sunk into collapses, bailouts and stimulus, millions of jobs were lost, the Federal Reserve cranked up money printing, and official interest rates are still around zero more than six years later.

Over there, conferences have been held and books written focused purely on the role America’s business media played — or should have played — in the lead-up to the crisis. From comedian Jon Stewart’s unforgettable 2009 takedown of the bull-market spruikers like Jim Cramer on cable network CNBC to titles like Bad News: How America’s Business Press Missed the Story of the Century (2010) and journalist Dean Starkman’s The Watchdog that Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (2014), US business journalists have been thrown into the dock, forced to explain themselves, and too often found wanting.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz set the scene in Bad News, arguing business journalists had been captured by the business sources they relied on, in a relationship that had become much too cosy. Eschewing scepticism and investigation, journalists had become cheerleaders for business, participants almost, writing for investors rather than the public. London School of Economics lecturer and Guardian columnist Damian Tambini argued that the business media were slave to a “quid pro quo: access to information is granted, but only on condition that stories are presented in the required manner”.

After an exhaustive quantitative analysis of business coverage in the boom years, Starkman, an editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, could identify only 730 sceptical stories (The Wall Street Journal alone produced 220,000 stories in the same period), and many of those came out either at the beginning of the decade, following the 2000 tech wreck, or at the tail end of the boom — including after the Bear Stearns redemption freeze that signalled the beginning of the crisis in mid-2007 — by which time it was much too late. While those warning stories were worthwhile, Starkman wrote, remember that Wall Street by 2004-06 was completely unhinged — mortgage fraud was happening on an industrial scale, wholesale debt portfolios were being traded for sex. Still there was a complete absence of the front-page exposes or scandals that would have let the general public know what was really going on:

“There were bubble stories … but to get the public involved you need more. You need stories of institutionalised corruption. There’s no way around it … A word about head-on investigations of powerful institutions: they’re not optional.”

“In all three countries, journalists were under-trained, under the pump and overwhelmingly reliant on business and PR sources.”

In Australia, by contrast, the role played by the business media ahead of the crisis has been noted in passing, if at all. In his compelling, award-winning book Six Months of Panic, Trevor Sykes — the doyen of Australian business journalism with over 50 years in the industry — drew lessons from the GFC for non-executive directors, banks, financial advisers, regulators and the legal system, but was silent on the role of the business media. The same goes for businessman and occasional Crikey contributor Adam Schwab’s scathing account of a string of collapses during the crisis, Pigs at the Trough.

Yet arguably, many of the criticisms levelled at the American business press could be levelled at Australia’s business journalists. Indeed, two recent studies suggest exactly that.

In a paper published last year in the Australian Journalism Review, “The framing of the Global Financial Crisis 2005-08: a cross-country comparison of the US, UK and Australia”, three media scholars in the UK, US and Australia compared the performance of the business media in The New York Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian — analysing hundreds of articles — and found the same alignment in all three countries between business journalism and business interests. In all three countries, journalists were under-trained, under the pump and overwhelmingly reliant on business and PR sources. They saw their role as informing the business community, rather than informing and educating the public. Recent developments in Australia increased concern about uncritical, pro-business coverage, with the loss of many experienced journalists amid large-scale redundancies at major metropolitan mastheads. SMH economics editor Ross Gittins, who was interviewed by the authors, drew a sharp distinction between economics journalists and business journalists, and warned the changed commercial strategy of struggling newspapers pushed pro-business coverage to appeal to a business audience. He criticised the overuse of business sources, which led to ideological capture and neglect of the general audience:

“Business journalists talk to business people and end up siding and adopting the views of their sources. They become infected by the views of the people they spend all day talking to.”

University of Melbourne lecturer in media and politics Andrea Carson has written the only scholarly paper I’m aware of looking squarely at the decline of corporate investigative journalism in Australia, published last October in the peer-reviewed Australian Journal of Political Science. Carson noted the general lack of research into corporate investigative reporting in this country (and touched on my controversial Crikey piece last year that attacked “PR-driven churnalism”, “creeping advertorial” and “business reporting with fear and favour”). Based on two quantitative analyses stretching back 50 years and a series of interviews (mainly with editors and publishers, rather than reporters or columnists), Carson concluded that: a) corporate investigative reporting is rare at any time, but b) it was most common in the 2000s, even more common than in the golden age of the ’70s, and was now in decline. Of the general newspapers surveyed — The Age, The Australian, the SMH and the (now defunct) National Times — Carson wrote:

“The scrutiny of the corporate and financial sector by Australia’s daily broadsheets diminished and was commensurate with newspapers’ political-economic environment, characterised by falling revenues, decreased print circulations and staff cutbacks.”

We have a problem. But where do we go from here?

Crikey interviewed some of Australia’s leading business journalists to canvass their views on the state of the profession. Did our finance press fail in the lead-up to the GFC, and if so, how? What particular challenges do we face, amid the wrenching transformation of the media business? What are the opportunities?

In a special series, over the next four days, Crikey will share their insights and experiences on the front line of business journalism in Australia. We were privileged to have in-depth, on-the-record discussions with half a dozen multi-award-winning journalists, including this year’s Gold Walkley winner Adele Ferguson of Fairfax Media; former Age business journalist and prolific writer Gideon Haigh, who wrote this penetrating media series for Crikey in 2012; Ben Hills, former Age investigative journalist and author of books including Blue Murder and Stop the Presses; Pierpont columnist Trevor Sykes, a veteran of the AFR and the former Australian Business Magazine who has covered more booms and busts than anyone in the country; ABC business editor and former SMH editor and columnist Ian Verrender; and Fairfax business columnist and former editor Michael West.

Read part two of Watchdog or Lapdog? tomorrow.