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Andrew Olle Media Lecture 2011 -

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Hi, I'm Waleed Aly, welcome

to a special edition of Big

Ideas and the Andrew Olle

memorial lecture. This lecture

was established in 1996 by the

ABC to remember the memory of

broadcaster Andrew Olle. This

year it's Laurie Oakes. Laurie

Oakes has witnessed many a

change in political journalism.

He moved on to 'The Bulletin'

and into television but after

almost 50 years reporting on

national politics Oakes says he

still experience ed still experience ed za de journalism. Welcoming Laurie

Oakes to the lecturn is ABC

Sydney's Richard

Glover. Welcome to the 16th anu

Andrew Olle lecture. I can't

think of a better time than now

to think about journalism, amid

phone hacking, the rise of infotainment. I started in

journalism as a newspaper cadet

nearly 30 years ago. We had old

fashioned, manual type writers

and a collegiate atmosphere. In

my first week I was sitting in

front of my type writer staring

blankly into space and one of

the older journal is asked me

what was wrong. "Writer's

block" I said. He leaned over

my machine, peered helpfully at

my news story and asked "How

can you have writer's block in

the middle of a quote?" It's

through these moments that we

learn. I do think it's harder

now. Few places offer a large

number of cadetships for

journalists to train. The

newspapers in particular are

skint, reader s don't like

paying for a newspaper online.

There's anger towards the few

newspapers with the guts to

charge for con tent. This week

the 'Australian', they

announced they would give it a

go and I think many in our profession are wishing them

luck. Some readers I understand

complain they are hiding

content behind a pay wall and I

don't get this. When we go to a

petrol station we're happy to

spend $5 on an overpriced

chocolate bar or fizzy drink

and we don't say to the bloke

behind the counter "May, mate,

you've put the Mars bar behind

a pay wall." That unwillingness

to pay for good journalism is

in turn a thing that makes it

harder for journalists,

particularly young journalists.

No-one wants to pay for content

"Come anymore. You're always told

"Come on, write something for

us, for our page. Do it for the

exposure, it will be really

good exposure." Has anyone here

heard that? As any skier knows

you can die of exposure,

particularly when you've got no

form of sustenance. It's not to

express sympathy for those who

want to journalists, it's

becoming difficult to have the

time and space and levels and

experience to create important

joumpism which brings us both

to Andrew Olle and to Laurie

Oakes. Andrew first. It's often

said rather glibly that people

live on in the lives of others

but with Andrew this really is

the case. He's one of those

people whose example inspires

us. They say good Christians

ask what would Jesus do, well

good journal ils ists can find

themselves asking what would

Andrew have done. Talk to some

of the people here tonight like

Debra Cameron and Adam Spencer,

keary O'Brien, Mike Carlton,

Jenny Brockie, among many, many

names here and what a treat in

that list to have people from both the both the commercial media and

the ABC in our company tonight.

I'd like to welcome Andrew's

wife Annette Olle and their

children Sam and Nina and I'd

like to introduce you to your

speaker for tonight, the Nine Network's political editor

Laurie Oakes. Laurie Oakes has

been responsible for more

scoops, really big, important

scoops than I think any other

Australian reporter. Fleet

Street wouldn't understand,

he's done it all without once

hacking a mobile phone. I don't

know how he does it. I think he

just hacks people's heads.

Tomorrow's budget papers, I

don't suppose you co... he says

in that avuncular way of his

and people find themselves

harneding them over in a

trance. That's why he's so

still on TV. I thought it was

because he was like a cat

waiting to pounce but now I

think he's downloading their

minds. Laurie Oakes was

inducted in the Logie's Hall of

Fame. In April he was awarneded the perkin Australian journalist of the year award,

now comes the big one, the Olle lecture. Ladies and gentlemen,

please welcome your Olle

lecturer for 2011, Laurie

Oakes. (Applause)

Thank you, Richard. Ladies

and gentlemen, before I begin,

a couple of apologies. I want

to apologise to TV Tonight,

Peter Ford, 'Crikey' and half

the Twitter sphere because I'm

not going to announce my

retirement tonight. I hate

disappointing so many

people. (Applause) And I feel

I should also apologise to the

Chaser boys because I've

decided on reflection that it

would be inappropriate to talk

about the dwarf porn double.

Some time ago in an article

about an American political

reporter I came across the

phrase joie de journalism. I

guess I felt that's the way I

feel about journalism. I felt

that way since I first walked

into the Sydney 'Mirror' office

back in 1964. So I was very pleased anyway to receive Mark back in 1964. So I was very

Scott's invitation to deliver

the 2011 Andrew Olle media

lecture. It's an honour, it's also an opportunity to express

some thoughts about the craft

that I found so fulfilling and

which has given me so much

enjoyment and a lot of fun over

the last 47 years. It's a

chance too to make some

observations about politics,

the field that I've covered for

pretty well off - all of that

time. I'm usually described as

a veteran political journalist.

I discovered when I delved into

some old newspaper cuttings in

the process of putting a book

together last year that I was

first described as a veteran

member of the press gallery

back in 1981. So I suppose

you'd say I'm a veteran at

being a veteran. But obviously

veteran status doesn't equate

with great wisdom,

unfortunately. It does mean

though that I've seen a fair

bit and I hope that helps to

give me some perspect ive on

the matters I want to

discuss. And having been around

a long while has other

advantages. One is that I did

know Andrew Olle, not well, but we ran into each other from

time to time and I admired him

as a journalist and as a

broadcaster. Most people think

of Andrew as ABC to his boot

straps but he crossed over to

the commercial side for a

while. But he did superb work

as one of the 'Sunday'

program's founding reporters.

He had the view, as I do, that

there's no reason that good

journalism can't flourish among

the commercials. Like a lot of

other talented and dedicated

journalists who are associated

with the 'Sunday' program, he

proved it. As did Paul Lockyer,

another brilliant ABC

journalist who brought his talents to the Nine Network for

a time. It's true, as Mark

Scott has said, that when the

upsurge of emotion that

occurred when Paul, cameraman

John Bean, and pilot Gary

Ticehurst were involved in that

terrible helicopter crash, the

up surge in emotion was very

similar to the upsurge of

public emotion and when Andrew

Olle died in 1995. The esteem

in this Andrew Olle and Paul

Lockyer were held by the public

stands in stark contrast to the

way trust in joumpbl ism generally has generally has headed south.

That decline in trust is

something I've been thinking

about quite a bit lately,

partly as a result of my

involvement with the Walkley

Foundation. It worries me

because I'm pround to be a

journalist and because, as a

member of the Walkley board, I

see how much high quality

journalism is produced in this

country. Above all, though, the

trust issue worries me because

journalism is so central to the

operation of our democracy. We like to

like to think of ourselves as

watchdogs, keeping the bastards

honest, to borrow Don Chipp

rr's phrase and that is part of

our role, a very important part. But probably more

important, I think, we in

journalism are the

intermediaries in the

conversation between voters and

politicians that makes the

whole thing work. If people

lose trust in what we do how

can they maintain faith in the system, in

system, in the whole political

process? There's been a lot of

criticism of political

journalism recently and I just

mean the "Don't write crap

variety" levelled by the Prime

Minister, although it's not bad

advice. Much of the crim -

criticism is directly related

at this democratic dialogue

between punters and politicians

that we as members of the

fourth estate is supposed to

facilitate. Trust is just one

aspect of that. What the

criticism boils down to is the

changing character of the media is distorting the conversation with damaging consequences for

the way our political system

works, or doesn't work. There

wasn't much discussion of this

sort of thing when I started in journalism, there were no

college or university courses

in journalism then, media

studies was not the fashionable studies was not the fashionable

academic purr - pursuit it is

today, there certainly with no

media lectures like this one. I

got into political reporting

very early in my journalistic

career after not much more than

a year on general reporting and

most of that year pent spent on

the 'Mirror's midnight to dawn

police round shift. As John

Hartigan said when he delivered

the Andrew Olle lecture in 2007

that shift was the best

opportunity a young reporter

could ever have because you

were the only journalist on

duty, anything that happened

was your story and plenty of

big stories, mostly crime

stories, happened in the early

hours, so I thought there

couldn't be anything better,

quite frankly. And then in 1965

NSW went to the polls, Bob

Askin led the Liberals into

power, the 'Mirror's state

political roundsman political roundsman join

resigned to join the government

as political press secretary

and I was given his job for

reasons I still don't

understand. I learned an

important lesson in the first

few weeks of my stint on state

rounds for the 'Mirror'. The

editor Zel Rabin called me into

his office early one morning

and he tossed some pages of

copy across the desk. He said, "Look at "Look at that and tell me what

you think." It was an editorial

on the new Askin Government's

education policy and I thought

Zel had written it but I

screwed up my courage anyway

and I passed it back and said,

"Sorry, but I think it's

rubbish, Zel." "So do I" he

said, with a big grin, "Rupert

wrote it" and he tossed it into

the bin. The moral of the

story, of course, you don't

have to go along with what the

boss wants or what you think he

wants, even Rupert Murdoch. I'm

always glad I got that one

nailed down early. It didn't

take me long after moving from

midnight to dawn to State political rounds to discover

that the drama and intrigue of

politics made it more exciting

than crime. The characters were

much more interest ing and the

stories I handled every day

were important. What happened

in politics mattered to people,

mattered a lot more than a shooting shooting at Kings Cross. And

for me that was by far the

biggest attraction of covering

politics, it still is. It

matters, it serves a public

good and political reporting

has been my raison d'etre ever

since. The best insight I ever gained about what it takes to

be a good political reporter

came out of a book I found in

the parliamentary library very

soon after arriving in Canberra soon after arriving in Canberra as bureau chief of the

Melbourne Tsun newspaper in

January 1969. The book was

called 'Inside Parliament'

written by Warren Denning and

published in 1946, so it was an

old book even then. Denning,

one of the gun reporters of his

day, wrote "The man assigned to

this work" and they were all men back then of course. "The

man assigned to this work has

to be alive to to be alive to every pulse beat

in the parliamentary body being

able to desect the slightest

abnormality, able to sense that

things are going wrong, that

something is out of tune and

that somebody is up to something. The good political

journalist's attitude to

politics is much oliex of of a

training musician to his

instrument. He re-lice on feel

and touch, on an inate, subconscious subconscious directive."

Denning illustrated the point

with an andeck dote about an

evening in 1931 when word got around Parliament House that

Joe Lyons was leaving Canberra

for Melbourne on the night

train. Some press gallery

members thought just a minister catching a train and went home

to bed. Others saw it as

unusual for a senior minister

to leave while the House was

sitting and wondered what was

happening. The most enterprising of enterprising of them raced down

to the station, leapt aboard as

the train pulled out and he had

a great yarn when he got off

again at Yass. From what

Denning called a trifling fact came a story that really was

history in the making. Lyons'

resignation from the Labor Government which led to the

formation of a new conservative

party under his leadership and

the defeat of Labor at the next

election. So an innate, subconscious directive, an

instinct and nose for things

that are out of place. That

can't be taught in jourm -

journalism school but without

it you're in the wrong joub

job as a political reporter.

You're also in the wrong job,

and here comes a confession,

you're in the wrong job if you

think that think that political

journalists can be or should be

intirly up front and open in

their methods. Sneakiness comes

with the tore toir. I noticed

with a degree of alarm that the

issues paper put out a few

weeks ago by the media inquiry

headed by former Federal Court

judge Ray Finkelstein QC raises

the possibility of prohibiting

journalists from gathering

oftion by subterfuge. If you

take that to its logical

conclusion we'll be out of

business. In the face of Kanny

politicians, tight-lipped

bureaucrats and armies of spin merchants rat cunning and the ability to bluff is sometimes

all we've got. I'll give you one example to show what I

mean. Ba ck in 1974 one of my

colleagues in the Melbourne Sun

bureau heard there was an

interesting diplomatic

appointment in the pipeline.

That was all. When we started

making some inquiries we ran up

against a brick wall. The

ministers and their minders

would not provide any

information but that was

neither here nor there, you

expect secrecy in government,

it's normal. What was not

normal was the panicky tone of

the no comments we were

getting. It seemed out of

proportion to what a diplomatic

appointment would warrant. As Denning would

Denning would say something was

out of tune. So I paced up and

down oand tried to imagine what

might be big enough to cause

such sensitivity. Eventually it occurred to me that Gough

Whitlam's biggest problem was

that his government dint have control of the Senate. In the

Senate brooding and disillusion

ed sat Vince Gair former leader

of the anti-Labor DLP. If

Whitlam could persuade Gair to Whitlam could persuade Gair to accept a diplomatic post I

reasoned, there would be a

casual Senate vacancy which the

Labor candidate would fill. The

Senate problem would be solved.

It was only conjecture, I

invented it, but it made

ensense. When I began my second

round of phone calls I pretend

ed I had hard information.

"When will Gair take up his

diplomatic post?" Shocked

silence at the end of the line.

"How did you know about that?"

Bingo. I hope Ray Finkelstein

takes note. It was subterfuge,

but it was subterfuge I would

argue in the public interest.

It exposed a plan to a in time for action to be taken. The

result was a double dissolution

election. Which bling brings me

back to the point about it

being in the public interest

aspect that particularly

attracted me to the political journalism in the first place.

I have a concern now that this

idea of a kind of public Truss which I thought so important which I thought so important

when I was young, has become a

bit unfashionable. Or if that's

too harsh, that is not as a

front of mind as it perhaps

should be as we go about our

work. In December last year the

media alliance published a

report on the future of

joumpblism titled life in the

click emissions trading scheme

rr based on surveys conducted

by meshl media. One of the

findings that journalistsover

wemingly believe that what they do benefits the do benefits the public and that

without their work society

would be worse off. To be

precise 93% of journalists

agreed when the proposition was

put to them 63% agreed

strongly. But while it's

encouraging that most

journalists give a positive

response when culled upon to

think about it what really

matters is whether they're

consciously guided in their job

by the view of journalism as

serving society. My answer

would be not enough and I Derrynly don't exempt myself from that. from that. I sugt that many of

the us get caught up in what we

do and sometimes lose sight of

why we're doing it, something

that's likely to get worse in

the new era of nonstop news and

treched resources. I'm

concerned that we don't high

light to young journal iftss as

mution as we should within

media organisations and in

academic instulingss the

relationship between what they

do and the public good. And I'm

certain that we don't duss si

efficiently among ourselves and

in public, the obligations that

the public welfare side of the

journalism imposes on us. If the community at large were

aware of and involved in such

discussions igts #w0u8d go a

long way, in my opinion, to

stopping the slide in trust

that I've mentioned. Now let me

try to relate that little

sermon to some aspects of the

media's coverage. Namely the entertainment and trivilisation, dumbing down

issue, the dreaded 24-hours new

cycle or news cyclone and the

negative way the media

habitually treats politicians.

Critical comment about the how

the media fulfils its

responsibilities in political koverpage has been hard to miss

of late. Examples include

articles that appeared during

and after last year's federal

election campaign with headings

like the politics media death

spiral. The book 'Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy' by

former finance minister Lindsay

Tanner published earlier this

year. And then the well pebble

sized claim by Jay Rosen,

journalism professor at New

York University and a big name

commentator on media issues in

the US, the political coverage

in this country is broken. Well

the dumbing down accusation is

the most potent of the

criticisms and charges levelled

against the media, or rather

against the media and

politicians. A rather jaded

spin merchant from one of the

parties told me recently, it's

a race to the bottom and we're

egging each other on and we're

both equally responsible. The

argument is that with media

organisations under siege from

commercial pressures and technology innovation, the balance in political reporting has shifted away

has shifted away from providing

information and towards

entertainment and that this,

and the way politicians have

responded to it is trivilising

politics and dumbing down

debate. I think it's

overstated, quite frankly. A

common complaint in this

context, for example, is that

sound bites in TV news reports

on politics are too brief, that

you can't say anything

meaningful or worth while in 7

or 8 seconds. Well the most

powerful and most effective political sound bite of the

last 15, maybe 20 years in

Australian politics was undoubtedly John Howard's "We

will decide who comes to this

country and the circumstances

under which they come." It took

him precisely 5.9 seconds to

convey that killer message. The

applause that followed lasted

four times as long. Good

politicians adapt, they learn

to make the best of what's

available. John Howard did it,

Paul Keating could do it, other

politicians can do it. But

there's also, I think, an

element of shoot the messenger

in some of the criticism. I

have in mind particularly the

claim that the media is responsible for politicians

failing to make decisions and

develop policies in the

national interest. In Sideshow

for example, Lindsay Tanner

writes because of growing media

domination "The creation of appearances is far more important for leading politicians than is the

generation of outcomes". He even says that politicians

shouldn't be blamed for

surrendering to these

pressures. Jay Rosen, who was

in Australia for last year's

federal election and returned

in August this year for the

Melbourne Writers' Festival

went further. Interviews on the

'Lateline' program about why he

thinks our political coverage

is broken, the professor told

Tony Jones "There was a time

when the political system

decided what policy was, what

their stance was going to be, and then of course consulted

their advisers about how to

present it. Today it's almost

the reverse of that. What's

going to work in the media is presented first and then

figuring out policies that you

can announce that correspond to

that comes after." You follow

that message, politicians make

policy decisions on the basis

of what will get the most

favourable media coverage

rather than what's best for the

nation and somehow it's the

media's fault. It's trash,

quite frankly. The problem that

Tanner and Rosen describe is

down to weak politicians, not

the media. Really, can you

imagine Paul Keating being so

timid? The solution doesn't lie

with the media, politicians

need to grow a back bone. There's undoubtedly been a

change in the way the media

treats politicians, I don't

dispute that. The way it treats politics and political issues

but it began a long time ago

and the factors driving it are not within

not within anyone's control.

Over the years the tabloids

have gone downmarket and

broadsheet newspapers have

adopted a more tabloid approach

to broaden their appeal.

Broadsheets became tabloids in

some cities, prime time

commercial TV kurnlt affair -

current affairs programs once

relied on by politicians to

reach a mass audience hardly

touch politicians now. And in

commercial television news and I'd say the

I'd say the ABC does it as

well, we try to packet politics

in the most exciting way we

can. The reasons for this is

obvious enough. In today 's

media world you have to grab

your audience. Things are not

as they used to be. Audiences

now require grabbing. Many of

those moaning about the media's

performance seem to think that

the nation is crying out for

more quality news programs,

more analysis and heavier

current affairs programs and

articles. Well they're

dreaming. If that was the case

'Four Corners' would outrate

'Masterchef' and I'd still be

doing interviews on the

'Sunday' program and I'd still

be writing f for 'The Bulletin'

magazine and George Negus would

probably still be on air. Also

in this Internet age audiences

no longer sit passively and

watch or read whatever's put in

front of them. They have more

choices, platforms, mobile

nomadic, attention spans are shorter. They're harder to

reach and harder to please.

They're less likely to read

newspapers, less inclined to

sit in front of the TV set for

the evening news ouft habit. While politicians might

complain about the media

complain about the media triflialising politics they understand the problem very

well. Ask any political party

back room operator why Labor

and Coalition election campaign commercials rarely feature

detailed explanations of policy

and if they're honest, they

will answer "Because no-one

would watch." If you want to

see real dumbing down of politics, treat yourself to a

look at the recent election

campaign commercials from both

campaign commercials from both

sides. Some who criticise what

happens today where politics

and the media intersect seem to

have an odd view of what things

used to be like in what they

presumably regard as the good

old days. I was amused by

Lindsay Tanner's assertion that

"As politics has been subsumed

by entertainment it has drifted

inextreabl into the celebrity

world." He cites Cate Blanchett's attendance at Kevin

Rudd's 2020 summit as evidence

of that. As I read that I could

hear Gough Whitlam's voice in

my head saying Crocodile Dundee

style "That's not celebrity,

comrade, this is celebrity." At

the front of the hall for the

opening of Gough's 1972

election complain were Bobby

Limb, Little Pattie, Bert

newton, Judy Stone, lead actors

from the two top rating

Australian cop shows of the

time. What seems like half the

cast of 'Bellbird', various

artists, authors, athletes and

football stars plus a former

Australian cricket captain.

Some chully accompanied Gough

out on to the hustings. I

remember at a campaign rally

remember at a campaign rally at

Griffith in NSW, Alwyn Kurts

who was the star of Homicide he

seemed more adept than the seasoned pollies at dealing

with interjectors. He shut up

one protert tester by telling

him "I spent a lot of time here

in my youth, young feller, for

all you know, you could be

heckling your old man." I also find

find amusing the frequent claim

that a delight in reporting

gaffes is evidence that the

modern media is trivialising

politics because my re -

recollection of Billie

McMahon's campaign was it was

one long gaffe. Producing such

gems as "We will honour all the

problems we made." Billie couldn't even copy

couldn't even copy Winston

Churchill's famous V for victory sign without messing it

up. He did it backwards. None

of this though gets journalists

off the hook. It doesn't

relieve us of the

responsibility to provide

voters with these sort of

serious information that they

need to make proper judgments

at election time. What a

transmit signals from the

electorate to politicians. The

media alliance code of ethics

says quite specifically that part of

part of the journalist role is

to inform citizens and animate

democracy. Recently I had an

argument with the producer of a

news-related television

program, I won't say which

program or network, but he told

me he didn't want an interview

with Wayne Swan because "He's

boring and the numbers go down whenever he's on." I've heard

that a lot in recent years,

that sort of thing, too often.

I understand it but I don't

accept it. If we're fair dinkum

about the public service aspect

of journalism we can't be

totally dominated by ratings,

circulation figures and numbers

of hits on a website when it

comes to covering politics. If

we're not fair dinkum about the

public service aspect, in my

view, we couldn't be calling

ourselves journalists in the

first place. By the way it

might cheer the critics up to

know that there are clear

signs, I think, that a kind of rebalancing, a move away

rebalancing, a move away from

the sideshow ac and back to a

more serious approach to

providing information is taking

place. It's driven partly, I

think, by a revival in an

interest in politics in the

community at the moment. The

extraordinary political events

of the last couple of years

have left many Australians feeling disillusioned,

certainly. In some cases

alienated. But they're not

disengaged. They feel strongly,

they're talking about politics,

they want to know what's going

on. The feedback I get in my

job leaves no doubt about that.

And it's starting to be

reflected in news coverage.

Nine in Sydney has been running

politics very prominently in

the 6pm news as a deliberate

strategy and far from being

bored people are tuning in as

the ratings show. On morning

and afternoon news bulletins

across all networks, interviews

with politicians are becoming almost standard

almost standard fare now.

Another key part of the

rebalancing is the emergence of

24-hour news services because

politics is bread and butter

for Sky News and ABC News 24. Also technological advances in

the field of graphics are

making it easier for television

to deal with material that

might once have been considered

too dry. We could put slabs of

information on the screen in a

way that's interesting, eye catching

catching and digestible. It

frees TV news to a significant

extent now, I think, from it

dependence on pick churs, with

luck it will help to make

redundant a lot of the silly stunts that politicians engage

in because they've been told by

their minders that their

messages won't get a run on

television without visuals. But

if this means we see less of

Julia Gillard in hard hats and

fluoro vests and less of Tony

fluoro vests and less of Tony

Abbott's smuggling budgies or

dashing from butcher shop to

fish market then I say bring it

on. Nothing, I think,

trivialises politics more than

these stunts especially given

the bad puns and strained

analogies that TV journalists

reach for as they try to make ridiculous pictures relevant to

the issue of the day and I'm

surprised that politicians

haven't twigged already that

they're counterproductive. The

final element in the rebalancing I'm talking

rebalancing I'm talking about

is of course the way the

Internet has so dramatically

increased the availability of

information about political,

social and economic issues.

Anyone who thinks they're being

short-changed by the mainstream

media can access directly the

material available to political journalists, speeches, press

conferences, triments, policy

announcements, all of it. If

there's been a dumbing down then the trend

then the trend is now the other

way, and that's good news. The

bad news is that it brings us

to a discussion of the nonstop

news, aka 'The Hamster Wheel'

if you will excuse an ABC guest

speaker plugging an ABC

program. The way new technology has speeded everything up has

done some good things obviously

for journalism and for

politics. In my book 'On the

Record' I tell of an incident

in the 1969 federal election

when I sought a reaction from

Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam

to something Prime Minister

John Gorton had said. Whitlam

wanted to be sure of the words

Gorton had used and he wanted

to know the context before he'd

comment. So I had to get an

audio tape to where Whitlam

was. A Labor staffer carried it

in his luggage on his flight

from Sydney to Perth. It wasn't very quick.

very quick. With today's

technology, of course, Whitlam

could have watched the speech

live on Sky News or ABC News 24

or tweeted and emailed a

response before Gorton had left

the platform. It's all in real

time and that's produced an

astonishing change in the space

of just a few years in the way

that journalists work, across

platforms, filing around the

clock, trying to keep World Cup the insatiable demand. It's not

the insatiable demand. It's not

as frantic in Australia yet as

it is in America and Britain

but we're getting there. Journalists and politicians alike, politicians because

they're expected to constantly

feed the hungry and rapidly

growing news beast are still

trying to come to grips with

all of this with the new

technology and the way it

operates to work out what the

implications are. The last

technological development that

had an impact even remotely

comparable was the introduction

of television. Politicians had

trouble adjusting to that too,

not all of them. Gough whit Lal

took to it like a duck to water

but Billie McMahon was one who

battled. In the 1972 election

the first real television

campaign in this country Billie

was told by Liberal Party

strategists that his policy

speech had to be prerecorded

for TV. So a camera and video

tape machine was set up in

tape machine was set up in the

Prime Minister's office in

Sydney turning it into a do it

yourself television studio so

that he could practice. Every

day for a week Billie sat at

his desk delivering the speech

to the camera, playing it back,

getting feedback from his wife

and staff and then doing it

again over and over. Until

eventually fed up with criticism of the way he looked

and the way he sounded poor old

Billie announced "If I can't

please anyone I may as well do it with my head in

it with my head in a toilet

bowl." Well Julia Gillard's

made of sterner stuff, no

toilet bowls for her. Hyper

bowls perhaps.But she vented

her frustration over the

24-hour news cycle at a media

lunch in Brisbane a year ago.

You will remember what she

said. "We're in a media

environment now where you could

make a blockbuster

announcement, someone is

tweeting about it while your doing

doing the press conference, journalists can be doing a

stand up using you as a back

drop. By the time you get back

to your office journalists are

interviewing journalists a bt

what the announcement may or

may not mean and two hours

someone will ring my press

secretary saying have you got a

sphoir for us." Bill Clinton's

former press secretary Dee Dee

Myers say it's produced a form

of attention deficit disorder.

And that's dead I

And that's dead I right. The

'Washington Post' bureau chef

said a big story is one that

lasts half an hour and then we

move on to the next shiny

object. The Prime Minister's

point was that in this

situation it's almost

impossible to explain and argue the case for complex measures

and policies. There's no time

for voters to get a handle on

it before the media has moved

on. And she said this "It puts

an onus on the media and the way

way we disseminate information.

We've all got to play our

part." Well, I happen to think

that's true and here comes the

sermon again. If we genuinely

believe that serving a public

good, oiling the wheels of

democracy is part of the

journalistic mission statement

then the onus is on us to try

to do something, to ask

ourselves if there is a way to

slow down the news cyclone when issues sufficiently important

issues sufficiently important

to the political debate are involved. I frankly don't see

why we can't do that. I don't

see why some matters can't be

earmarked so that they're not

immediately tossed aside to

make room in the news cycle for

the next shiny object, the next

thing to come along. I don't

see why they can't remain on

the news agenda long enough for

people to get a handle on them.

It's not something you can institutionalise but it could be

be done, I think, this

earmarking of issues for

special treatment. It could be

done by individuals and

individual media organisations.

Journalist, and I include

executives as well as frontline

reporters, make judgments all

the time about news values, the

prominent issues and events

should be given, how they

should be treated. This is just

another area where that kind of

individual judgment could be

exercised, otherwise in this

relentless Internet-charged

environment the necessary dialogue between politicians

and the electorate can't

proceed, well not effectively

anyway. But there's a catch, of

course, there always is. In

this new high-speed, non- stop

environment journalists will

have less time for proper

consideration of such matters,

less time to make such judgments. Especially since the

judgments. Especially since the same technological advances

that have speeded everything up

have also undermined the

economic foundations of media

organisations so there are

fewer staff and resources to

covering the whirling cycle of

continuous news. White House correspondence complain that

they're becoming no more than

wire service reporters. They

have no time for anything else.

An article in the 'The Columbia

Journalism Review' a year ago

said the hamster wheel is

investigations you will never

see, good work left undone,

public service not performed.

In case you think it's not

happening here, let me quote

from a remarkably candid

interview that Chris Uhlmann,

then working for ABC News 24,

gave to the ACT version of

'Stateline' last November. I'm

surprised he's still working at

the ABC. With the rise of the

new technology, Chris

new technology, Chris

complained, some jobs that used

to be done by others in the

ABC, including editing, which

should be a skill and art form

in its own right, were being

loaded on to journalists to

save money. Chris said, "That collapses the amount of time

that journalists have to do the

job that they're supposed to do

which is to gather and disstill

information." He said,

"Journalists are finding it

increasingly difficult and put under

under enormous amount more

pressure" and he added when the

day came that a journalist made

a mistake because of pressure

to meet a radio deadline, a

television deadline and an

editing deadline he hoped that

management, having put them in

that position, would not leave

them hanging out to dry. Chris

identified another problem

associated with 24-hour news.

He said one of the great

weaknesses is that it lives in

a constant instant that looks

neither forward or back but only

only ever concentrates on

what's going on now. It shrinks the capacity you have to think

about things. Well it's hardly

an ideal environment for making

judgments of any kind let alone

about how and when to apply the hamster wheel brake. But I

think we should try.Now here's

the bit that will have people

saying that Laurie Oakes has

gone soft. I believe that many

of us in the media are doing democracy

democracy no favours with the

negative way we habitually view

politicians and the political

process. In much of the

coverage of the politics and

attitude of absolute disdain

towards politicians comes

across loud and clear. In the

US and Britain the same

phenomena has occurred and it's

been called a culture of

contempt. That seems to be a description that's pretty

accurate for what happens here as

as well. Politicians

collectively, at least, tend to be treated with scorn and

derision as a matter of course.

There's rarely any recognition

there are well motivated people

in politics. Spirited people go

into parliament because they

believe they can be a force for

good, people who want to make

Australia a better place. They're characterised they're

in it for what they can get or

they're ridiculed as

incompetent fools. To an extent politicians

politicians have brought that

on themselves I think by the

way they talk about each other

and Tony Abbott did his bit by

basing the no case on the

public referendum on the

message that politicians can't

ever be trusted. And another

factor is spin, obviously.

American political signist

Robert Patterson has written

the real bias in the press

today is not a partisan one but

a pronounced ten dency to report what's wrong with

report what's wrong with

politics and politicians rather

than what's right. I'd argue

that that bias is in part at

least a reaction to the

extraordinary effort to

politicians and governments put

into trying to make us report

things the way they want them

reported. Politicians and their

minders have always tried to

control the message and the

messengers. My very first day

as a State roundsman for the

Sydney 'Mirror' Bob Askin

called me to his office and

said if I did the

said if I did the right thing

he'd talk to me on the phone

every morning and give me a

story. Sounded pretty good. He

told me I'd ring at a

particular time, using a code

so he'd know it was me, a

certain number of rings, hang

up, ring again, no caller ID

back then. And Bob told me that

he had a similar arrangement

with my opposite number on the

rival paper 'The Sun' but then

he said if I ever wrote something he didn't like he wouldn't answer my call the

wouldn't answer my call the

next day and the opposition

would get the scoop.

Concentrates your mind. Since

then obviously political parties and governments have

developed techniques that are a

lot more sophisticated and

professional but just as

ruthless and they've thrown

massive resources into trying

to control what journalists do

and journalists have responded,

I think, with increased

suspicion and resentment and a

growing view of politicians of

all stripes as

all stripes as the enemy.

Whatever the cause it's hard to

deny, I think, that the

contempt for politicians

constantly on show in the media

is a factor in eroding faith in

the political system. An

essential quality for a

journalist is detached scepticism, a journalist needs

to be able to stand back and

see imperfections in people and

institutions. A journalist

needs to be on the alert for

impropriety or incompetence

impropriety or incompetence or

dishonesty or hypocrisy but we

don't need to convey the impression that everyone

involved in politics is

deceptive, venal or useless because apart from anything

else it's just not true. Having

said that I'll keep putting the

boot in where I think it's

warranted but that's the key

phrase, isn't it, where it's

warranted. It shouldn't be a

default position. Now since

discussing the future of journalism as

journalism as the brief, let me

get out my crystal ball before

I finish and try to predict

where some of this is taking

us. Prediction one, what's been

called the industrialisation of

journalisms, more stories being

produced for more outlets at

ever greater speed by fewer

people will gather pace with

consequences that are unlikely

to be pretty. The trend

overseas is towards more predictable

predictable news, presented in

more uniform formats because

this is more efficient and

scheap - cheap protro duce.

It's sometimes described as

McJournalism or in the words of

Andrew Marr bite size McNugget

journalism. My fear is

tomorrow's press gallery will

be serving up journalistic

happy meals. Prediction two,

spin will become even more

spin will become even more

pervasive and powerful, believe

it or not. We probably thought

the black art of spin had gone

about as far as it can go with

Alistair Campbell in Tony

Blair's government. But the

hamster wheel effect is a

spinner's dream come true as news organisations suffer

worsening financial pressures,

cutback on staff and resources,

the PR industry is getting

stronger and stronger, bulking

up as if it's on steroids someone said.

someone said. But increasingly

overworked journalists battling

the 24-hour tyranny and news

organisations forced to do it

on the cheap will be sitting

ducks, a spinner's dream.

Prediction three, political

journalists will be bypassed

more and more. I'm not talking

about politicians using

talkback radio as John Howard

did, nor am I talking about

Julia Gillard going on 'The 7pm

Project' or Julie Bishop starring on 'The

starring on 'The Chaser',

although there will a lot more

of that too. In the last US

presidential campaign all the

candidates made the rounds of

the comedy shos and David

Letterman announced only half

joking "The road to the White

House runs through me." That

will happen here. But what I'm

referring to is politicians,

parties, governments, interest

groups contacting voters

directly via the

directly via the Internet.

GetUp already does it very

effectively in Australia. In

the US Barack Obama's

communications director has

taunted members of the

Washington press core that they

could be rendered totally

obsolete through the use of presidential messages posted directly on to YouTube and

other Internet sites. Finally

prediction four, bloggers will

start to usurp the role of determining what's

determining what's news. This

prediction was going was to be

mine when I drafted the lecture

but I found Julian Disney has

beaten me too it. The Press

Council chairman say Theoklitos

greatest risk that the blog o

steer with its - blogosphere

will push the mainstream media

into a race to the bottom.

That, he believes, is the cut

throat competition of the

future. In Britain,

future. In Britain, political

blogger Guido Fawkes who

happily runs stories without

any of the kind of investigation and verification

that mainstream journalists are supposed to require, boasts

that the news is no longer

defined by big media. And big

media proves he's right by

following him. In the US big

media follows Matt Drudge and

even lower types and of course

it's going to happen here. I know none

know none of these predictions

is comforting, they all reflect

trends that will have to be

resisted. I won't be here to do

it so good luck with that. I

just hope that joie de

journalism remains something

that people interer entering

the profession in the future

can still experience, thank

you. (Applause) Thank you very

you. (Applause) Thank you very

much. And it is a wonderful

thing, you know, tonight we've

got a lot of young journalists

here who watched that and have

had such a wonderful task given

to them by the great man of

Australian journalism, so good

on you, young people, take it

over. Mark Scott is here, the

managing director of the ABC to

give the vote of thanks to

Laurie Oakes. Mark.

Laurie Oakes. Mark. Tonight in

proposing a vote of thanks to

Laurie I have the rarest of

privileges and it struck me

that it could have presented a valuable revenue opportunity

for the ABC in Canberra. You

can see how appealing this

pitch would be to federal

politicians - an open

microphone for sale, a national

television audience, the cream

of the nation's journalists in

of the nation's journalists in attendance, and the opportunity

to come up here and have the

last word on Laurie Oakes.

Politicians of all colours and

all eras would have been lining

up and willing to pay. How

often have our politicians

found themselves mute in the

face of that Oakes' question,

that Oakes' leak, that Oakes'

demolition of weak policy or

demolition of weak policy or

political pretence? He is the

master or, as I like to

describe him, the finest

political journalist in

Australia never to have worked

for the ABC. And he is, of

course, the only practising

aunl - Australian journalist

to have ever delivered a Federal Budget.

Federal Budget. It's been

wonderful to have him here

tonight and to hear his

insights into the future of our

craft. An aspect of Laurie's

mastery is his powerful economy

with words in his broadcasts,

in his columns, in his

questions. I recall from my

days in broadsheet newspapers

journalists bemoan ing the

sheer impossibility of delivering a

delivering a story's complexity

in only 3,000 words for the

news review section. I imagine

the editor of the Quarterly

Essay get Theoklitos same eye

rolling when he states that

25,000 words really is the

upward limit. But when I think

of Laurie I'm reminded of Mark

Twain saying "I didn't have

time to write a short letter,

so I wrote a long letter

so I wrote a long letter instead." Laurie's unique

ability to work through the

complexity and find a fair,

balanced, complete and elegant

simplicity on the other side of

complexity shows the craftsman

at his finest. And tonight's

speech with a rare luxury of

more space and time than

normally is on offer to him was

again loaded with power and

insight, stripping away flabby arguments

arguments and hollow words. We

greatly admire your economy,

Laurie, but we appreciated you

having a remix tonight that was

an extend ed play because in

your trademark way you took on

some of the big issues swirling

around politics and journalism.

And I think it's fair to say

the message was bittersweet for

the journalists in the room.

There was a strong reminder that

that the Tango that is

political coverage does depend

on politicians, their policy

ambitions and their political

skills. From your experience

you reminded us that the

current criticism of political

coverage may not simply be an

issue of journalistic skills

and the 24-hour news cycle , politicians themselves need to

develop a mastery of these

changing conditions to

changing conditions to

communicate above the clutter,

to cut through the noise and

deliver a compelling narrative. Laurie's final words to

journalists about the

challenges faced and his

predictions were sobering for

all who loved the craft and the

role of journalists. His call

to slow down the news cyclone

on the big issues when it

matters was very important. Tonight we got a sense of

Tonight we got a sense of

Laurie's passion for his work

but his belief in the

importance of what his work

brings and what our work brings

to Australian public life, the

role of journalism as a public

good. How important it is that

Laurie, such a respected

figure, is now, through his

work at the Walkley Foundation

and through addresses like

this, ready to share his insights about the

insights about the craft and

the profession with us, to

inject some practical

perspective in the key debates

facing the media today and to

challenge our thinking and

practice about quality journalism. Finally, I don't

want to say it but I have to

say it, predictably Laurie

Oakes let us down tonight. Some 31 years after

31 years after the event and

with this audience and the

nation watching, Laurie did not

take this opportunity to reveal

who leaked to him the 1980

Budget in its entirety. And we

are still no closer to learning

the source of his explosive

cabinet leaks last year that

rocked the election campaign

and won Laurie every major

journalism award. We admire

journalism award. We admire

your discretion and your

professionalism, Laurie, but we

could have done with some

hints. And any time you want to

drop those hints you are

welcome back to this stage.

Ladies and gentlemen, will you

join me in thanking Laurie

Oakes for a most memorable

Andrew Olle Media Lecture.


Well we're now going to pour

Laurie a very big glass of red

wine and see if we can't get

those facts and names out of

him. It is farewell from the

Andrew Olle media lecture.

Thank you very much for joining us and goodbye.

You can find more of the

smartest talks on politics,

religion, sex and everything

else that generates heated

debate at the Big Ideas website

or by watching Big Ideas on TV.

Big Ideas is on ABC 1 at 11am

Tuesday and Wednesday and on

ABC News 24 at 1pm Saturday and

Sunday. I'm Waleed Aly, I'll

see you then.

Closed Captions by CSI

NARRATOR: 'Previously on Ladies Of Letters...' "Life has become so hectic since Bill's been paying me attention." Oh! (LAUGHS) Bingo. "What are you doing at Christmas?" "Bill suggested that the three of us might go away for a weekend." "Bill and I never meant to end up in bed together." THEME MUSIC

THWACK! THWACK! Oh, good! Is there a letter? Oh. Hello! Oh, is there a letter for me? "Dear Irene, I can't come over this weekend as it's over to Great Positon for the bring and buy.

But I could come the weekend after. How about if I come on the Wednesday and stay till the following Tuesday? Have to be back then as it's my Scientific and Geographical Society on the 31st and we're having a talk on Scottish heather. Oh, look at me, rushing on, and I haven't even said thank you for the kind invitation. Of course! I'd be glad to keep you company. I'm sure it's very depressing having time on your hands on a Sun