Friday, October 1, 2010

Pyne and Hardy and Green. Oh my!

Today was an interesting news day. That's why I love my job. You never know what the world's going to throw at you next.

On this occasion it was a post by ABC columnist Marieke Hardy who wrote a vicious (to say the least) piece about how much she (or to use her own language "Australians") hate Liberal MP Christopher Pyne.

The day started off this way:

I read political reporter for The Australian, Samantha Maiden's tweet around midday:
"I like @ and theres some decent stuff on The Drum but I didn't think much of this "
I then tweeted myself:
"Tasteless journalism: If @ writes like that would you trust her to write a serious political piece?"
Following this I discussed my wonder at how such a hateful, bias opinion piece got published in the first place (particularly by publicly owned, The Drum) with my workmates.

When I returned from lunch I was welcomed with this story on our homepage in tops (tops is to online news what front page is to broadsheet) about how The Drum's editor Jonathan Green offered a personal apology to Pyne, admitted he was wrong for approving Hardy's article and pulled down the opinion piece.

My subsequent tweet read:
"Thanks @ for bringing @'s horrid column about Pyne to the 'editor's' attn. Forced @ 2 wake up to itself."
From there, I went on my merry way home to work on the tower of university assignments due next week.

About half an hour ago I received this tweet from Green himself:
"@ sam maiden brought the column to my attention? dear me."
Not wanting to get on Green's 'bad side' but fearing I already was, I ventured to reply:
"@ If she didn't the timing of the apology and Sam's blog was uncanny to say the least. How did it slip through in the first place?"
Here's what ensued.

Green to me:
"@ read what i wrote."
Me to Green:
"@ Of course I've read it. On Monday you approved it, on Friday you brought it down. On Friday Sam wrote about it, people tweeted, etc."
Green to me:
"@ sounds pretty circumstantial to me. I'm guessing you're just guessing."
Me to Green:
"@ you're guessing right. Right or not, the incident brings up interesting questions about opinion pieces, pc-ness and the media's role"
Green to me:
"@ for sure."
I left it there, I thought things had come to their natural conclusion.

Earlier in the day, around the time Green's apology went up, Maiden tweeted:
"@ I don't think it had anything to do with me. Suspect I wasn't only person who thought it wasn't a great look."
She wasn't. Tweeters threw around comments like this one from @AnimeMonko
"@ Agree. I'm not very happy with the ABC/The Drum being used for overt character assassination"
and this one from @ghostof3LO
"@ imagine the uproar if a conservative wrote a column like @ 's about Julia Gillard or Bob Brown"
Whether Maiden's column did or didn't inspire Green to take down Hardy's column is an interesting point of its own right but I think the bigger discussion is whether a) Hardy's column should have been published in the first place and b) whether it was the right decision to take it down and therefore what that means for both Hardy as a journalist and The Drum as a source of "analysis and views on the issues of the day" (as its slogan suggests).

Bigger yet, the incident calls into question age-old journalistic values of objective and tasteful news reporting. Yes, opinion columns can show more flair and criticism than a hard news story but does that mean unbridled bias is acceptable too?

Green said himself in between tweeting to me:
"i'm beginning to think i have rather quaint ideas about news value."
To my question above- not Green's statement- I argue no. As I was discussing with David Campbell (the singer, not the ex-politician) earlier in the night before my twitter conversation with Green, stories are "censored" in the newsroom everyday in the interest of political correctness and avoiding defamation. This censor is called the editor. As media theory says, they are the 'gatekeeper/s' to what the public do and don't hear, see and read- through the mainstream media, at least. Now that we have blogs and other glorious forms of social media the power of this role has somewhat diminished (although let's not get too ahead of ourselves).

What do you think about todays turn of events? Would you have acted differently if you were in Green's shoes? Do you think Hardy's column was acceptable? How would you feel if you were in Pyne's shoes?


Darren G. said...

Several points:

(1) You're confusing Antony Green, the ABC's election analyst (though you've spelt it Anthony) with Jonathan Green, the editor of The Drum. Antony had nothing to do with the Hardy piece and you didn't have a Twitter conversation with him.

(2) You misread Dominic Knight's tweet. He wasn't genuinely suggesting the article was outrageous; he was humorously drawing attention to the fact that it's still available via Google cache.

(3) I disagree that "the incident calls into question age-old journalistic values of objective and tasteful news reporting". Why should the values of news reporting - particularly objectivity - come into play with respect to opinion pieces? It seems to me that expecting any level of objectivity in opinion is contradictory. Why shouldn't unbridled bias be acceptable in opinion pieces? Isn't that their whole purpose?

(4) More specifically, on the Hady piece: I've found some of her work amusing in the past but I didn't think this one was very funny. I reckon THAT's why Jonathan Green shouldn't have approved it; not because of tastelessness or bias. There have been plenty more tasteless and biased pieces on The Drum and especially the Unleashed section; that's kind of the point of them, and part of the reason I read them.

Darren G.

Darren G. said...

...and by Hady I meant Hardy. Though I'm sure some her critics think she's from some Hades of the Left.

Darren G.

Maryann Wright said...

Hi Darren, thanks for your comments.

Regarding the first two, they have been duly noted and fixed (thank you).

On the second two, I think a line has to be drawn on opinion pieces. I think it is decent to present a balanced opinion (a for and against case). Hardy could have balanced the piece (although that is surely wishful thinking) at the very least with comments about WHY she thinks Pyne should be bitten by dogs, etc. Instead it was an all guns blazing attack on his character.

If someone were to do that on David Campbell post gay sauna incident or President Obama on speculation over his religion then everyone would be crying foul.

Yes, she was trying to be 'funny' but humour can easily slip into damaging someones character and then you have to start thinking about things like defamation.

On the other hand, we'd like to think Aussies aren't stupid and know we can make up our own minds about someones character but I don't think it's a good example the media is setting if they think it's o.k to slag off some people who can probably take a joke and not others because then we get into dangerous grey areas.