Larry Pickering & Michael Smith: Woodward & Bernstein, or Burke & Wills?
I have spent a fair bit of time over the last two years reading and commenting on political blogs. I had an idea that it might be a good business concept to launch a political blog. I found out quickly that that was a terrible idea, because there was no money in it. The subsequent closing of Larvatus Prodeo has left a void on the left side of the poliblog space, which was the subject of my last post. In that time, there has been a gradual but unmistakable connection made between mainstream right-wing journalism and the poliblogs on the right. The Australian newspaper, most notably, has begun littering its pages with references to Catallaxy Files, Professor Bunyip, and other members of the hive of scum and villainy that is the wingnut blog brigade. This culminated during 2012 with the AWU scandal, which was engineered in large degree by Larry Pickering and Michael Smith. Their reports percolated back up through the Australian and eventually made their way to the ABC and Fairfax, such that by the end of the recent parliamentary session it was the Opposition Leader himself who was prosecuting the case based on evidence first aired on these supposedly disreputable outcast outlets.
I praised Pickering and Smith as having "new noise and energy", which Andrew replied "consisted merely of being noticed by the MSM". But that's kind of the point. Worthy but unseen journalism is not worth much. If independent journalism is going to be important after the fall of Fairfax, it must be viewed by the public in large numbers, not hidden away behind paywalls for the rich minority. The right has seen the light, and it has now established an ecosystem to carry the nutrients from the fertilised fungi that is a Pickering or Smith post all the way up through the food chain to a national audience. The right also have created a bully pulpit to cower the "centrist" media into following their agenda, so that while the Australian itself is not widely read, it has colonised other media to run their editorial lines.
Where are the vehicles for Margo Kingston, or even Andrew himself, to carry their messages to the average Aussie in language they can understand? No, The Drum doesn't count, and neither does The Conversation. That's the echo chamber. Margo can post all she likes at New Matilda, and I don't wish to be unkind, but her stuff merits a larger audience than NM and her Twitter followers.
My praise, such as it is, is for the fact that the right have got themselves organised. The left are being far too passive. You may say that journalism should not be debased like that, with everyone taking sides like it's a schoolyard fight. Welcome to the future, it's here and the Fairfax dynasty aren't going to save you! This is what happens when the old self-funded institutions of journalism die. The survivors are subsidised by millionaires, or live via other means like Pickering and Smith. So far, no mass medium journalism publication has arisen from Australian new media, because the economics don't work and the professionals haven't taken it seriously. Yet.
Ex-MSM journos would need to reskill if they are to be the founders of whatever it is that is going to come next, to replace the role Fairfax has played. Andrew is right in those points. While I wouldn't go so far as to say the online journalism scene in Australia is terra nullius, though, there is a big hole in the middle of its continent, and the only incursions so far have been made are restricted to the coastline. There is so much more potential yet to be realised. Pickering and Smith are like some of those hopeless early explorers, doomed to perish in the desert due to poor planning, lack of support and antediluvian notions of competence. We remember ostensible disasters like Burke and Wills today though, because they blazed the trail that others followed with far more success. Who will follow in their muck-flaked footsteps to bring civilisation to the scrub?