The Age published a comment piece yesterday, Tenacious daily journalism shows the value of a strong media, extolling the high quality of journalism by…The Age itself! Still, if it were an independent assessment by an authoratative body…but no, it was written by one of Fairfax’s own staffers, Darren Gray.
To make the case that the paper is superior, Mr Gray cites two stories The Age has pursued doggedly over recent weeks. One is the unlawful demolition of the Corkman Irish Pub. The other is Victorian government Minister Steve Herbert’s use of his official car to chauffer his dogs, Ted and Patch, from the city to his country property.
Deciding for yourself that you’ve done a great job? And then publicly congratulating yourself? Maybe not the best way to go about it, but Mr Gray nevertheless makes an important point; The Age has done a damn fine job of reporting on the Corkman demolition. I’ve followed this saga pretty closely (see here and here); back on the morning of 18 October – the day The Age first reported the news the Corkman had been demolished – I tweeted:
The Age is doing an outstanding job in picking up the angles on the “cowboy developers” story.
In fact, I was so impressed with the way city reporter Clay Lucas handled the story I followed up a few minutes later with another tweet:
When it comes to the Walkleys, please look at how proactively and imaginatively the media cover the everyday stories.
In his first report (Call for ‘hefty fines’ after illegal wreckers flatten 159-year-old Carlton pub), Mr Lucas gave us much more than the basic facts. He told us about a fire the previous week, the stop-work order issued during demolition, a petition started by students, a recent heritage assessment (with a link!), what the owner paid for the site, and the type and scale of penalties that could apply, including a reference to a recent case.
He reported the reactions of the Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne, the Minister for Planning, the Opposition planning spokesperson, a heritage expert, the president of Melbourne Heritage Action, two local government candidates, and a Melbourne University student (at that stage the owner went to ground).
The story was supported with pertinent before-and-after photographs. In subsequent reports he provided further details e.g. about the owner of the property, a union ban, inadequate handling of asbestos in dumped waste, how demolition changed the value of the site, preliminary plans for a 12-storey tower, the owner’s justification and apology for the demolition, how the government plans to deal with the issue, and more.
The Age and Mr Lucas in particular did an outstanding job in reporting on this important matter. We all know the press is under extreme commercial pressure; Fairfax Media can’t devote diminishing resources to every worthy issue. In this case it correctly anticipated the high level of interest in this story – and maybe also its significant public policy implications – and made an exemplary effort.
In my view The Age’s coverage of the Corkman demolition is pretty good but I don’t know if it is or isn’t best-in-class. For my money, though, day-to-day reporting of the news warrants far more recognition from the industry. As I noted last year, the winners of the Walkley awards for excellence in journalism tend to be weighted toward investigate journalism and long-form stories (see Do the Walkleys promote hard-nosed policy debate? ).
I suspect the Walkleys mirror the idealised way the industry likes to see itself. Exposes involving tips from insiders (preferably with secret video footage) get a lot of media attention and rightly so, but they’re only one part of the media’s role. The vast bulk of “the news” is the grind of everyday reporting. The social and economic implications of those everyday stories can be far-reaching; the way they’re reported warrants a lot more attention and recognition from the industry, starting with the Walkleys (see also Who’s had enough of Fairfax clickbait?).
The Age’s way of acknowledging its staff might be unusual, but I agree with Darren Gray that the work of “Clay Lucas in doggedly investigating what happened deserves to be recognised”. The editors deserve credit too, although what a pity they reverted to form today with this lurid but misleading headline, First they tore down Carlton pub, now they’ve demolished $10.6 million Brighton mansion.