Crikey‘s aviation blogger Ben Sandilands passed away on Friday after a long illness. He had written the Plane Talking blog for almost 10 years for Crikey, and had previously been an aviation reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald, with almost 60 years experience.
The loss of Ben Sandilands was a huge shock. He has been a presence in Australian journalism for decades – many readers would have read his work growing up – and perhaps we’d just assumed he would always be with us, always there to answer questions about aviation, to quash a conspiracy theory, to offer a guide to the arcane world of regulation and safety, to tell us what pilots and engineers were saying about incidents around the world. When disaster struck, Ben was the journalist we turned to, because we trusted his expertise and his judgment. Now he’s gone, and he leaves a huge, probably unfillable, gap.
There aren’t enough journalists like Sandilands around any more, and the impact on our media, and what readers and audiences get from the media, is palpable. Ben knew his subject area as well as any expert, and better than most. But more than his expertise and his contacts, accumulated over decades, he had two gifts – an appropriate journalistic scepticism of anything he was seeing and hearing, and a capacity to render often impenetrably complex technical issues into not merely readable but engaging analysis. His ongoing coverage of the tragedy of MH370 – particularly his capacity to separate lurid conspiracy theory from intriguing possibility – was probably the best in the world.
It’s pro forma when a journalist passes to laud their work. But the loss of Ben is a painful reminder of what we’re losing more broadly in the media. As the media business model collapses, we have fewer and fewer journalists like him; specialists who retain a good journalist’s capacity to tell stories that engage the layperson are a luxury few outlets can now afford, and we’re all the poorer for it.
Ben will be remembered in a more detailed obituary in the coming days. If you knew Ben and would like to speak to Crikey journalist Sally Whyte, she can be contacted here.