Today, The Australian published the journalistic equivalent of a clenched fist being shaken at skateboard. You can read it here. It’s got no byline, which is fitting because you get the sense that this article was brought into being not by a single author but by several, who all stood in a circle and wanked into a fax machine. The editorial reads like something drunkenly written on a napkin up the back of the Walkleys while glaring across the room at Latika Bourke.
It’s petty, it’s indignant, it’s self-righteous and it’s angry. It’s also got a kind of haunting and beautiful fragility to it. Like an old man with his bathrobe tangled in a bush.
Confronted with the dawning age of Twitter and Internet and Women Wearing Pants Of All Things, The Australian – daily broadsheet and our nation’s answer to a question I’m reasonably sure no one asked – lashes out. Taking their cue from Dylan Thomas, with this editorial The Oz is is raging, raging against the dying of the light with all the dignity and gravitas of a tantrum on the floor of Kmart.
After what reads an awful lot like an obit to Paul Kelly — “his penetrating insight and peerless authority” – the editorial begins with a paragraph about how pleased they are with all of their other columnists. It has such a strange tone that if I were Dennis Shannahan, Greg Sheridan, Judith Sloan or David Uren, I would begin to worry that I was about to be gently fired.
These are columnists, we are told, who have the wealth of experience required to report the news. When Whitlam was dismissed, they broke the story; when Menzies beat Fadden, they bore witness; when Edmund Barton challenged Alfred Deakin to a hot air balloon race around the world, they were there, cheering from the sidelines as our first and second Prime Ministers soared skyward.
Not so everywhere, alas. The editorial then goes on to lament the current media landscape. This rant reads like something Aaron Sorkin would write after suffering a severe concussion. We’re warned of “callow reporters”, of “trainee talking heads” and a “baby-faced press gallery”. The trivialities of Gen Y are setting the agenda, apparently. Time was that news was reported by serious people in serious hats with cards that said ‘press’ tucked into them; nowadays it’s a 13-year-old zipping about the studio on a segway, blabbing on about Pokemon cards.
Sure to leave no stone unturned and hurled about the glass house, The Oz takes aim at Fairfax, saying that they’ve lost touch with their readers and the respect of the older hands in the newsroom. Ya hear that, Fairfax? Old Man Maguilicutty says you’re shithouse! Go cry into your accolades and circulation figures, pinkos!
It ends, of course, with an attack on the ABC, saying “Triple-J alumni have wrested cultural and editorial control” — which is a reasonably baffling claim to make given that it is less a ‘fact’ and more a ‘thing Nick Cater tells people who are too scared to disagree with him’. Although I will say that making Tom Ballard the host of Four Corners was a bold move.
The most remarkable thing about reading this self-congratulatory, partisan editorial about journalistic standards is the sense you get that at any moment you might be sucked into some kind of terrifying irony-vortex. The lack of self-awareness on show is bordering on impressive — especially when, in an editorial dedicated entirely to self-gratification, The Oz takes issue with The Monthly’s use of the word “onanistic”.
For all its faults, the piece manages to perfectly capture the fear and panic brought on in our newspapers by the digital revolution. It’s like a mosquito trapped in amber, but instead of a mosquito it’s a 60-year-old man having the new photocopier explained to him before angrily asking what was wrong with the old photocopier.
One day, maybe, the DNA from that 60-year-old man will be extracted and make possible the most tedious theme park the world has ever seen, and these titans of journalism can once again roam the earth.
Until then we’ll have to forge on without them, and settle for news of our dystopic future as told by children and robots.
Ben Jenkins is a writer. He tweets at @bencjenkins