Making Headlines: How Chris runs the country after gulping a ‘large Shiraz’

October 20, 2016

Reading the first few chapters of Chris Mitchell’s hastily written memoir Making Headlines, it’s easy to get the impression that the editor-in-chief of The Australian was not only editing what he unselfconsciously describes as the ‘best political paper’ in the country, he was also running the country from NewsCorpse’ Holt Street bunkers in Sydney’s Surry Hills.

It seems that Prime Ministers, Treasurers and leading politicians from both major parties were super keen to get Mitchell’s advice about policy pronouncements, Cabinet appointments and which hand they should use to wipe their arses.

Five of the 12 chapters are devoted to Mitchell’s recollections of his, and The Australian’s, relationships with Prime Ministers. Alongside his character assessments of them, Mitchell recounts numerous instances of invitations to Prime Ministerial digs – the Lodge in Canberra and Kirribilli House in Sydney – and secret and not-so-secret rendezvous with the PM to discuss government policy, Ministerial appointments and political tactics.

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Bleeding the ink from newspapers: How long have we got?

August 29, 2016

I have to say it: “I have a grudging respect for Chris Mitchell, the former editor-in-chief of The Australian.”

Under Mitchell’s leadership from 2002 to 2015 The Australian cemented its place as the go-to source of news and opinion from the centre-right perspective.

Mitchell’s ‘take no prisoners’ editorial style and his willingness to pick fights with anyone to his left (that’s a lot of people) has helped The Australian to survive for many more years than it should have.

Apart from a brief period in the 1980s and 1990s, The Oz has been a loss-making paper for most of its life. As early as 1975 Murdoch complained bitterly about the cost of producing a national daily broadsheet. The printing, transport, newsprint costs and the wages of journalists were all out of control in those days.

It’s not much different today. But, ever optimistic, Chris Mitchell was bravely spinning the line that all is well at The Australian. According to Mitchell’s latest comments, The Oz is still making money on its subsidised sales to hotel guests and airline customers and News Corp is committed to keeping the title alive, even though it appears to be shrinking before our eyes.

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The view from Disneyland — you can see the Newscorpse bunkers from here

February 8, 2015

There have been two important speeches at the National Press Club in the past week or so. One of them got bucket loads of media coverage and has turned into a national story of gargantuan significance. EM covered it here.

The second NPC speech received some coverage, but there have been few ripples across the pond and the story has died. However, EM can’t let it go because it is a subject dear to our heart — Freedom of the Press.

Just two days after Two Punch delivered his wooden and self-wounding speech on Monday, perhaps fatally injuring his own prime ministership and his political party in the process, the chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney, gave an address to the gathered scribes and interested onlookers.

Disney’s speech won’t kill off the Press Council, but he is leaving soon anyway and his replacement has been announced, Professor David Weisbrot; so, in some ways, the address was a valedictory.

Disney also used the speech to make some thinly-veiled comments about the role of destabilisation and undermining of the Council’s authority by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorpse.

newscorpse log

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Black and white and Reds all over: My last 2014 post about The Australian

December 29, 2014

It must be some sort of ignorant bliss to be a columnist or leader writer with The Australian and to live in the certain knowledge that Chris Mitchell’shair is always right about everything.

Not having to think abstractly or go outside the rectangular box of its pages to find something as subtle as flux, contradiction and 50 shades of grey must make for an easy life of absolutes without the worrying niggles of nuance and self-doubt.

Mitchell's hair

The superbly talented and all-round whisky-loving cartoonish genius, Mr Onthemoon drew this.

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Once more on groupthink: Repeat after me “We’re all individuals”

May 29, 2012

Accusations of bias and groupthink at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation are not new.
What is new is the intensity and ferocity of the attacks being mounted in the national broadsheet.
The Weekend Australian‘s double-barrel blast across the bows of the ABC is a good example. That it was followed up with an editorial is either overkill or hubris.

All this from a news organisation that in 2003 successfully resisted groupthink in its line on the Iraq invasion. Only 175 of Murdoch’s newspapers world-wide backed the invasion editorially. It would be churlish to mention that this was 100 per cent of his mastheads at the time.

The latest complaint about the ABC also throws into stark relief the lack of self-reflection within the national broadsheet.

The Australian has been at war with the ABC for many years and a quick search of the paper’s own database shows a remarkable tendency to launch broadsides at the ABC and its staff for perceived bias or alleged breaches of some unwritten code of balance.

(I’m not talking about breaches of the ABC’s editorial guidelines which are rare; but an unwritten code set by The Australian in a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”.)

A more cynical person might wonder if this is not just a little bit pots calling kettles.

“I know you are, but what am I?”

“Oho!’ said the pot to the kettle; “You are dirty and ugly and black! Sure no one would think you were metal, Except when you’re given a crack.”

“Not so! not so! kettle said to the pot; “‘Tis your own dirty image you see; For I am so clean -without blemish or blot- That your blackness is mirrored in me” [Wikipedia]

At the moment the fixation of the national broadsheet is focused on the Media Watch program and the ABC’s coverage of climate change.

Accusations of misreporting (deliberate or otherwise) have been flying between the two for weeks now and frankly, despite my intense interest, I find it hard to pick a winner.

It has become a “he said, she said” war of words that has seen both sides try to overwhelm their opponent with tactics of attrition and endless arcane paper trails involving emails, an exchange of unanswered questions and perhaps deliberate distortion of timelines and events.

At a more general level, it seems to me, the issue is really one of who do you believe. Read the rest of this entry »

Twitdef encouraging more forensic scrutiny of The Australian

December 3, 2010

Have you seen Caroline Ovington’s short Media Diary entry on the #twitdef saga from The Australian. It was written one day after Julie Posetti received a lawyer’s letter demanding an apology to Chris Mitchell. Is that significant?

Media Diary | November 30, 2010 | 0 Comments

THE ABC has obtained audio of former rural reporter for The Australian Asa Wahlquist speaking at a journalism conference in Sydney last week.

The tape is here.

Canberra academic Julie Posetti live-Tweeted the event. Her Tweets are a fair summary of what Wahlquist said.

Wahlquist, who left the Oz a month ago, has told Mitchell that her comments have been taken out of context.

The Australian’s editor in chief, Chris Mitchell, says the Tweets are defamatory of him, and that Posetti did not contact him to get his side of the story.

And there it rests.

(There’s some confusion on Twitter as to what `there it rests’ means. It means: that’s all I have. I have no more.)

“I have no more.” What a sad admission for a senior journalist with excellent access to many sources on this story – including Chris Mitchell. Ovington could have consulted any number of independent media law experts. I’m sure Mark Pearson would have spoken to her about defamation, fair report and comment, or possible defences.

Mark has had plenty to say.

So too has another independent media academic: NYU’s Jay Rosen.who did a great Q&A with Woolly Days’ Derek Barry.

Rosen told me he saw it as a critical part of a larger battle.
“As the Murdoch empire faces the loss of the emperor–his lost grip, his inability to master digital, or his eventual passing–it starts behaving erratically and in that state it becomes rather dangerous: to itself, but also to other people and to cultural treasures like freedom of the press,” he said.

But the Empire has an Achilles Heel, according to Rosen: “Murdoch cannot master digital.”

In fact, Ms Overington could have written a cracker of a piece just by reviewing what the blogosphere was talking about. But maybe Jay Rosen’s got a point.

The suggestion’s been made that Overington’s diary note signalled that Chris Mitchell was prepared to drop his legal action and that acknowledging that Posetti’s tweets were “a fair summary” was a sign the paper would back off.

The #twuckup has also åttracted attention on science blogs. The debate has widened into an examination of several issues.

An interesting one, that I’m sure will cause Chris Mitchell some regret, is the focus on The Australian’s climate reporting.

On The Drum Jonathan Holmes also has another go on that score too.

It’s also worth noting that this is not Julie’s first run-in with The Australian. She explains it all in this post on The Drum from 5 October this year.

What appears to have surfaced here is that The Australian actively campaigns against its social media critics.

If the allegations revealed here are true then it’s a national scandal.

If you believe the accounts of several Twitter users who contacted me last week, bullying tactics were employed in the process of trying to manage the criticism of The Australian – and James Massola’s stories specifically – as tweeters reacted en masse to Grog’s Gamut’s outing.

They claimed that a reporter on The Australian had telephoned their employers, asking for action to be taken against employees for comments (some using very strong language) directed at James Massola via Twitter.

One of those allegedly targeted – an employee of a large corporation who asked to remain anonymous – told me:

“(He) contacted someone at my work to complain that I was being unpleasant… on Twitter. My work stated that employees were free to speak their minds on their own time. It did however leave me with a sense of caution – no-one likes having their employment threatened by a major newspaper’s employee merely for expressing an opinion.”

As you can see, there’s certainly a fire burning around here somewhere – just look at all that smoke.