Journalism

Upheaval: Disrupted lives in journalism edited by Andrew Dodd and Matthew Ricketson

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November 2021, no. 437

If you have even a passing interest in the state of the Australian media, you may have come across the estimate that between four and five thousand journalism jobs were lost nationally in the past decade. This estimate suggests the scale of an industry-wide crisis in which successive rounds of redundancies became a feature of life in many newsrooms as media organisations turned to cost-cutting in their struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape. The figure, which originated from the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, also points, albeit more obliquely, to the human impact of such cultural changes and the thousands of distinctive individual experiences that such numbers can elide.

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When Alan Rusbridger was a young journalist on the Cambridge Evening News, he fell in love with a university leturer. One night, after they moved in together, there was a knock on their door. A reporter and photographer from the Sunday Mirror wanted to tell the story of their romance to the four million people who ...

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The cover image on Seymour Hersh’s memoir, Reporter, could hardly be improved. Taken in 1974 in the newsroom of The New York Times, it shows Hersh with his left elbow propped on a typewriter with blank paper in the roller, sleeves rolled up and patterned tie loose around an unironed ...

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It was the late Robert Hughes who said that ‘apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world’. Journalist Gabriella Coslovich quotes him in her account of the 2016 Whiteley art fraud trial, repeating the line to one of the accused, art dealer Peter Stanley Gant, as he complains to Coslovich about the ramping ...

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When St Paul’s burned down in 1561, no one was in any doubt that it was the work of God. The debate – and it was a furious one in the press of the time – concerned what this said about His views on the abolition of the mass. Contemporary press reports of the Battle of Lepanto, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the Spanish Armada show how reporting of even the most important events was subject to wide variations in timeliness and accuracy. The church, with its networks of pilgrims and crusaders, played an important role in gathering and disseminating news in the late Middle Ages, but it was often merchants who were behind major advances, sometimes setting up their own networks. When the noise of conflicting reports became overwhelming, they tended to share information and to let everyone work out for themselves, or with friends, what they wanted to believe.

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Hack Attack by Nick Davies & Beyond Contempt by Peter Jukes

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December 2014, no. 367

Bettina Jordan-Barber will soon face trial for receiving around £100,000 over nine years from the Sun newspaper for supplying information while she was an official in the Ministry of Defence. Both the prosecution and the defence during the recent UK ‘phone hacking’ trial accepted that the payments had been made, and that Rebekah Brooks, while she was editor of the Sun from 2003 to 2006, authorised eleven of them totalling £38,000. According to Brooks, it never occurred to her that the person her reporter, who will also soon face trial, referred to in his emails as his ‘number one military contact’ and ‘ace military source’ might be someone in the military. The jury accepted this profession of ignorance, so Brooks was found not guilty of ‘conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office’.

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Talk about unfortunate timing. On 10 December 2012, the New Yorker ran a lengthy profile on Elisabeth Murdoch, the older sister of Lachlan and James. Elisabeth, forty-four, lives in Britain, where – while her siblings have been marked down for everything from, in Lachlan’s case, One.Tel to Ten Network and, in James’s case, MySpace and phone hacking – she has quietly built a reputation as a savvy television producer and businesswoman. The profile is a public relations hosanna – unsurprising given that Elisabeth’s husband, Sigmund Freud’s great-grandson Matthew Freud, is a flack with his own PR firm – with the title declaring its subject to be, in capital letters, THE HEIRESS. The subheading simply states: ‘The rise of Elisabeth Murdoch.’

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Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life by Artur Domosławski, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

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February 2013, no. 348

A famous Polish communist foreign correspondent? It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but actually Ryszard Kapuściński did achieve international fame towards the end of the Cold War, after a highly successful career covering the Third World for leading media in the People’s Republic of Poland from the 1950s. Africa and, later, Latin America were his specialties; he was an enthusiast for decolonising liberation movements and an admirer of Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, and the French-Algerian theorist Frantz Fanon. His books The Emperor (1978),on Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and The Shah of Shahs (1982), on Iran’s Islamic Revolution, were translated and published in many languages in the 1980s. Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie, and John Updike were among those who praised them and welcomed Kapuściński to the international intellectual jet set. In the New York Review of Books, Adam Hochschild hailed him as a master of ‘magic journalism’ (an allusion to the ‘magic realism’ of Jorge Luis Borges and other Latin American writers). Newsweek liked his ‘mordant humor … rather as if Kafka had written “The Castle” from inside the keep’. Interpreting The Emperor as an ‘allegory of totalitarian governments today’, its reviewer concluded that ‘almost certainly [Kapuściński’s] Haile Selassie is a stand-in for Big Brother, the ruler who brings his country to a condition of near perfect stasis …’

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It all began with Prince William’s knee. Not, of course, the phone hacking and bribery and corruption which, as we all now know, was commonplace behaviour in the British tabloid newspapers at the heart of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – that had been going on for far longer. But when, in November 2005, the News of the World carried a trivial story about the prince – ‘Royal Action Man’ – receiving treatment for a strained tendon, he and Prince Charles’s staff realised that this and other leaks could only have come from someone accessing his voicemail. St James’s Palace, fearing a security threat to a future king, called in the Metropolitan Police.

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Peter Robb, in this collection of some of his journalism, quotes E.M. Forster’s remark about Constantine Cavafy: that he lived ‘absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe’. That line is half true of Robb’s subjects in this book. They have a way of existing at an angle to the universe, but they are not at all motionless. The lives in this book have trajectories and velocities that bring out an equal dynamism in the man who recounts them, as could well be imagined by anyone who has read his earlier work about Italy and Brazil (2004) or his biography of Caravaggio (1998).

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