Margaret Simons,* the director of Melbourne University's Centre for Advanced Journalism, bemoans the future of journalism in a Guardian opinion piece, Journalism faces a crisis worldwide - we might be entering a new dark age (15/4/17).
Despite her forebodings, however, she remains determinedly chipper:
"[T]here is a new concern for the virtues of the traditional newsroom and what good journalists do. That is, find things out, verify the facts and publish them in outlets which... can generally be relied upon to provide the best available version of the truth. [...]
"The experience of the last decade tells us the citizen-journalist cannot replace the work done by properly resourced and trained professionals..."
Sounds lovely, doesn't it? The problem is that on one particular issue - the contemporary Middle East - as the evidence adduced by this particular citizen-journalist over an almost ten year period has shown, such pieties simply do not apply when it comes to mainstream journalism. Indeed, much of what is written on the subject verges on fiction.
The latest glaring example is the hatchet job on the wife of the Syrian president by the Australian's associate editor Caroline Overington. (Keep in mind as you read her opening paragraphs - all I intend to burden you with - that Overington describes herself on her twitter profile as a "total feminist, no exceptions," and that in 'rebel' Syria, women have been everywhere thrust back into purdah):
"Once upon a time there was a little girl who was known to her friends as Emma, who grew up in a pebbled house in London and went to the finest schools. Emma's father was a doctor, her mother a diplomat, and besides being pretty, Emma was bright and everyone agreed she had the world at her feet. But then, at 25, Emma met a man who took her to his castle in Damascus. She was smitten, so when he proposed marriage she agreed to become his wife and, in the process, became first lady of Syria... And the West rejoiced. Here was a young British woman, at once elegant and poised; a native English-speaker who also spoke Arabic and French; who had worked as a banker in New York; who had been accepted to Harvard; who was interested in the plight of women and girls in the Middle East; who did not cover her hair, and wore stylish trousers. Surely she was the perfect fusion of Arab and Western ideals? That was the fairytale.
"Now comes the nightmare. Asma al-Assad, the British-born wife of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, is now 41 and the mother of three young children. Once so pretty, she is now a repugnant creature, the first lady of hell." (Once adored, now abhorred: the transformation of the Syrian dictator's bride, 15/4/17)
Seriously, would it surprise you to find that Overington also describes herself in her twitter profile as a writer of "sexy thrillers"?
How I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Simons fields questions from her students about the Murdoch press in particular.
[*Simons, it should not be forgotten, was more than happy to take the side of the Israel lobby against false allegations of anti-Semitism directed against Age journalist Michael Backman back in 2009. See my 23/1/09 post The Backman Beat-Up.]