“A good journalist always wakes up angry.”
by Dr Mark Hayes
(apologies to Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Duvall)
As a new university teaching Semester has just started, or is about to start, here’s an exercise I often deploy early in introductory communications studies tutorials to get students thinking about their media consumption habits.
“How many of you really, really enjoy being shouted at?” I ask, in a friendly voice, smiling at the class.
“Go on. It’s quite safe to respond,” I say, encouragingly. “You are among friends.”
University classes, certainly at an Australian Group of Eight (Go8) sandstone institution, are not usually populated by dunces or dummies. Many students come from private schools, or upper strata public schools, they’re upper or at least middle class in background, they all have up-market laptops, all have mobile phones and most have iPhones or equivalent, and to even be there in this kind of a class, they’d have to have achieved a very high tertiary entrance score as well as survived, even thrived, in the fearsome, ultra-competitive, struggle called Years 11 and 12 of high school.
These students are experts at ‘sussing out assessment traps and tricks, at tunneling into the marking criteria to winkle out the cantrips they’re certain are hidden somewhere, and at saying or committing themselves to nothing until they find out it’s for assessment, or they can get some other advantage out of saying what they think the assessor wants them to say.
Being, for the most part, very practiced street level post-modernists, these new communications studies students are very media savvy. They’re saturated in it. They’re like goldfish in the goldfish bowl. A decade or more earlier, to cite Philip Adams’ concise definition, students like these, certified post-modernists, would have probably thought The X-Files was a documentary series.
Until some smart ass with greying hair and beard, glasses, a bad back, calling themselves a ‘doctor’ – Who? – comes along and asks them, “Who here really, really enjoys being shouted at?”
Nobody raises a hand.
Occasionally, a very brave, or reckless, soul pipes up, asking something relevantly acute like, “Is this for assessment?”
Quite occasionally, four eyed gray beard is mildly shocked when a particularly brave or reckless soul, no doubt seeking to curry favor with the tutor because why else would they do it; certainly not in a spirit of actually seeking to engender class discussion or contribute to learning something, pipes up and says something like:
“Of course nobody likes being shouted at!”
Almost a breakthrough! Pedagogic engagement! Might even have momentarily gotten their attention!
“Ok. Can I assume most of you don’t like being shouted at?” he asks, seeking some sort of affirmation.
A few tentative nods, no doubt encouraged by the demonstrated fact that the single participant who dared speak hadn’t been failed, docked some marks, or been verbally lashed for actually speaking in class.
“Right,” says gray beard, leaning on the lectern because his back’s rather bad today.
“Who here today listened to commercial radio or watched commercial television before coming to Uni?”
Class eyes narrow with suspicion, a wave of body language indicates a certain tenseness. ‘Here comes the ambush,’ they seem to be thinking. Their high school experiences have inured them to the certainty there just has to be a trick in here somewhere.
“It’s OK to be honest,” he says, reassuringly, peering over his glasses, “You’re among friends.”
Having created a supportive and welcoming class environment by not verbally dismembering anybody, yet, the class relaxes a little, and a few hands start to be raised.
“Only a few of you started your day by listening to or watching commercial media to get some sort of a handle on today’s news?”
“I usually listen to ABC Radio National Breakfast and AM,” pipes up the earlier brave or reckless student.
Gray beard feigns a heart attack, recovers, and grins broadly, saying “Hold that thought”.
Sensing strength in numbers, with a few hairy eyeballs cast at the quite probably brown nosing freak, others in the class actually commit to something and assert that they only listen to and watch commercial media by a vast majority show of hands. That took a while.
“Ok folks,” gray beard, who actually might have been around when 9/11 occurred, and who will later admit to remembering where he was and what he was doing when he heard JFK had been assassinated too, says, “nobody here likes being shouted at, but almost all of you admit that you only access commercial media. That about right?”
Class nods in general agreement, still alert for the assessment item tacked on to this class exercise.
The freaky student looks at the others like they’re brain damaged. This one’s clever. They’ve sussed out what’s coming.
“Nobody here likes being shouted at but almost all of you actively seek out and use commercial media regularly and often, right?”
More affirmative nods of tentative agreement, a few eyes darting about to check to see if Names are being taken somewhere.
“Does that strike you as odd?” Grey Beard asks. “Anybody here heard of cognitive dissonance?”
Gray beard, despite quite significant anecdotal evidence to the contrary, still lives in hope that somehow, these students, eventually, might become more astute media consumers, and a few might actually stop having the media do things to them and become people who use the media for and by themselves.
Soooo… There we were, ruminating on a recent tome by the German critical theorist, Axel Honneth, with ABC News Radio burbling on the digital wireless, as one does on Friday, February 25, 2011, and our ears were assaulted by the unctuous tones of one Alan Belford Jones, AO, upbraiding Julia Gillard for daring, Daring! to be late for an interview on his 2GB breakfast programme. How dare she keep Mr Jones waiting!
I, too, was outraged, apoplectic even, at Ms Gillard’s perfidy and lack of basic good manners. But what does one expect from a Labor politician who the previous day had announced Australia was going to have a carbon tax.
I can guarantee you that Ms Gillard would not treat any ABC announcer with such disgraceful lack of courtesy, but we all know that, on the ABC, Labor politicians, all of them, get a free kick, bludgers on the public, taxpayer, teat Labor politicians and ABC staffers all are, every single one of them.
Quite obviously, given the hung parliamentary outcome of the 2010 Australian election, and given Ms Gillard sternly promised Australian voters that were she re-elected there would be no carbon tax, she shredded any claims to legitimacy she might have had as Australia’s elected Prime Minister. She’s a liar.
Anyway, why does Australia need a carbon tax when, in effect, the Government in waiting, led by wise and responsible Mr Abbott, is, at the very least, very highly skeptical indeed about anthropogenic global warming, and quite rightly so too. Harrumph!
In extra-high dudgeon I tracked down Mr Jones’ Page at 2GB and there was assured that:
“[Alan Jones is] Australia’s most popular talkback presenter, Alan Jones is a phenomenon. He’s described by many as the nation’s greatest orator and motivational speaker. Alan has the mind and capacity to make complex issues understandable to the largest Breakfast audience in Australia.”
I’m so pleased and reassured that Mr Jones ‘… has the mind and capacity to make complex issues understandable…’. Thank you, oh thank you, 2GB for facilitating such a one as Mr Jones to explain things like climate change and a carbon tax to inhabitants of Struggle Street across this wide brown land of Australia, like me. Or I’d like Mr Jones to be able to do so but it appears his wonderful radio programme is not broadcast directly here in Brisbane.
Like Marvin the Paranoid Android, I wonder if Mr Jones, AO, also has a brain the size of a planet.
For a taste of how top rating, highly credible – the two being inextricably linked; high ratings = high quality – commercial broadcasting of this kind is done, at least listen to, and even Download the MP3 of this remarkable interview. Keep it for posterity. Stick it in your MP3 or iPod high rotation play list. It just has to be heard in all its aural glory, repeatedly.
Mr ‘I Run Sydney’ Jones, AO, skewered Ms Gillard, made mince meat of her, sliced and diced, and slowly roasted the twitching bits.
Just check out the Comments to this News Corporation report of this especially memorable interview.
Or Mr Jones, AO, even for him and his kind, went so far over the top this time even he needed an escape capsule to return from low Earth orbit.
Seriously, even Sydney’s Daily Telegraph’s Peter van Onselen was sufficiently angry to opine thusly:
“Whether you like or loathe Julia Gillard’s decision to impose a carbon tax as a precursor to an emissions trading scheme, no prime minister should be chastised and condescended to the way Sydney shock jock Alan Jones did [on Friday, February 25, 2011] when he interviewed Gillard on radio.
“It is well known Jones has been ill lately, but his illness clearly hasn’t hampered his haggle for a fight.
“Jones started with the PM by devoting air time to slapping her on the wrist for arriving 10 minutes late.
“He seems to forget he is no longer a schoolteacher of young boys; he was speaking to the leader of the nation. An apology from Gillard wasn’t enough, nor was the explanation that she had a prior interview which ran over time (as did Jones’ interview because the PM struggled to get a word in edgeways between Jones’ attacks and the many unprompted recordings he played to her).”
For a bit of sanity, though, we sought out the ABC’s Barrie Cassidy [and we all know what he's like don't we; one-time press secretary to Labor PM Bob Hawke; 'nuff said].
Commenting on PM Gillard’s ‘interview’ with, more like haranguing by, Alan Jones, and, on the same morning by Melbourne’s equivalent, Neil Mitchell (who came for Ms Gillard with a fence paling rather than borrowing Jones’ iron bar), Mr Cassidy opined:
“Hopefully, elected politicians on all sides of the political divide were listening and making the judgment that you can stand up to such posturing and leave unscathed.
“Most of the shock jocks are preaching to the converted; adjusting their rhetoric to match what they believe are the particular prejudices of their audiences. Few of them, as a result can turn a vote.”
I’ve long since agreed with one of the USA’s most famous journalists, I.F. Stone, who once said that, ‘A good journalist should always wake up angry’ and have long since, upon awakening and feeling all is right in my world, actively sought out something, a media comment, an Op-Ed column in, usually, The Australian, which quickly removes any sense of bonhomie I might have had and replaces it with a suitably grumpy mood.
Because I don’t get Alan Jones on my wireless, crystal, AM, or digital models, in Brisbane, I think I’ll replace my mighty MacBook Pro’s start up chime with a clip from Mr Jones’ memorable ‘interview’ with Ms Gillard so, I too, like a very worrying majority of my first year university communications students, can start my day by being shouted at.