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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

comment on the punch « Previous | |Next »
June 2, 2009

Verdicts on News Ltd's new adventure, The Punch, are rolling in. As could reasonably be expected, belonging to News Ltd is a problem straight off the bat.

Apparently it's supposed to be a showcase for journalism, but as Jason Whittaker points out, there's not a lot of journalism in it. Not of the news breaking, investigative, revered kind anyway.

The Pure Poison guys are stuck into it already, one go at Tory Maguire and one at Mike Rann.

Tim Burrowes thinks it will find an audience and notes the remarkable resemblance to the revamped Crikey site. Mark Bahnisch noticed the same thing, and also makes an On Line Opinion comparison. In that vein, consider also Unleashed and New Matilda. How much opinion can the Australian market accommodate?

I get what the design is trying to do, and like others, suspect that it's partly an attempt to take on Crikey more than

other similar sites, or blogs, but Crikey could well turn out to be the least of its problems.

Selected comments are published right there, on the front page. They're moderated, but as Bolt, Blair and Ackerman know well, there's moderation and there's moderation. Thinking you can establish a reputation on the basis of contribution quality alone (especially when you're not paying contributors) is misguided. The Punch's commenters will contribute at least half of what it turns out to be. So where will these commenters be coming from and what will they bring with them?

Some will probably migrate from similar sites and blogs, but the majority will most likely end up there via the News Ltd funnel. Instant problem. Eyeball grabbing screaming headlines plus the established News Ltd audience. Nothing new there.

The biggest comment draw so far is a story on the 'race row' over attacks on Indian students. Comments here. If it's considered analysis or top shelf informed debate you're after, you'll have to look elsewhere, but Bolt's crew either haven't arrived yet or are being moderated. Mostly.

It's too early yet to see where it's headed, but indications so far suggest that The Punch is already defined by its origins in Rupert News.

| Posted by Lyn at 3:54 PM | | Comments (17)


I had my first, and I suspect my last or nearly so, look and was thoroughly unimpressed with Rann's populist rant and how the site tied it by links to other articles of the same ilk.

Rann's rant wasn't a terribly good point of departure, unless that's where they're headed, in which case, why bother?

You're right about links Fred. There's a blog roll, but it's a token gesture. They do have links to other media sources, but they're pretty token as well and as you say, they toe the line.

Having said that, I don't see how MSM can really integrate. If they did, they wouldn't be themselves anymore.

I am not going to defect from Crikey for pictures of bogan sportsmen caught in ugly poses.

I don't know that Crikey are above bogan sportsmen and ugly poses, but I'm not defecting either. Not unless they can come up with better than Guy Rundle and First Dog on the Moon. And even then there'd be the principle of the thing.

So they reckon that they might shift to a premium subscription model down the track. Who are they kidding? I support Crikey to ensure it survives --not for the content which is often very thin. There is no need to financially support Murdoch.

I didn't know the News Corp conservatives were into 'conversation' and had a love of broad discussion and debate. I was under the impression they were into the culture wars.

MIke Rann reinforces that impression with his populist attack on the legal profession and system.

I see that David Penberthy, the Editor of The Punch, says

It’s not a fancy, la-di-dah site aimed at people with three university degrees, nor is it a site for yobbos who want to engage in mindless abuse.It’s a place for spirited, sleeves-up, energetic, engaging commentary, written by people who enjoy writing, for people who enjoy reading.

Good to see the conservative yobbos at News Corp haven't given up their anti-intellectualism that is part and parcel of the continual appeal to the common sense of the battlers.

Jason Whittaker has an old fashioned idea of journalism. It's straight news and no comment. He seems to be unaware that all news is written from a particular perspective.

I think audience source will be a big factor in whether their subscription model gets up or not. More than content. They won't be getting anyone already familiar with what's already available further afield. Crikey readers have a dim view of MSM already, so I can't see them supporting a News Ltd venture no matter what it does.

On anti-intellectualism, Penberthy talks about writing, reading and commentary. But their market will be largely determined by the market itself in the shape of comments. Reading isn't a solitary activity anymore.

I don't think Whittaker is saying journalism should be free of commentary, rather, that commentary and journalism are not the same thing. You wouldn't call Rann's thing journalism, so what's it doing in a showcase for journalism?

The Punch is already revealing its ugly News Ltd origins by breaching the copyright of a citizen journalist.

I agree with Nan---Whittaker is a traditionalist. He has an ideal understanding of journalism as reportage that excludes commentary He works off the press of yesterday.

Blogging, to me, has become the new Op-Ed page. It is people with often considerably more authority and expertise than the exclusive group of writers with access to newsprint, free of the organisational structure and inherent bias in Big Media, who can provide opinion and analysis on the big and not-so-big issues. As a tool of free and democratic media, as a device of community and global engagement, it is a phenomenal social movement....
But it’s digital Op-Ed, is all. A style of journalism, perhaps, but not traditional news reporting.

Reportage from Afghanistan, for instance, is interpretation from a particular perspective (the journalist is embedded in the army).

Rann's column in Punch was not journalism as reportage --it was commentary and made no bones about it. Australian journalism today is a mixture of interpretive reportage and opinion pieces. It is traditionalists who reduce journalism to reportage.

--yeah i wondered when they would do that. The Punch is more visual than Murdoch's text based The Weekly Standard in the US. Given all the layoffs that are happening around the country they would increasingly need to rely on the visual work of Flickr photographers. It's a bit rich, given Murdoch's claims about Google stealing his content.

Love your by the way.

In no way do I have an "old-fashioned idea of journalism", Nan, and nor am I a "traditionalist", Gary.

I believe - and always will - there needs to be a clear line between news reporting and news commentary. News reporting strives to be as balanced and impartial as any human being can ever be - believe it or not - while opinion is, more often than not, a particular point of view. The reader MUST know which is which - the integrity of the press depends on it.

Now, News Ltd can launch an opinionated blog. That's fine. Opinion and analysis is part of telling a story. But let's not pretend - as Penberthy does - that this is some sort of radically innovative online project that will "celebrate journalism". As I wrote, It doesn't. It's a blog. Good luck to them, but yet another blog is no solution to how we are going to sustain news reporting in a digital world.

Journalism dies, Gary, when we give up the fight for impartiality and simply report through all our prejudices and biases. In whatever medium it is - and I don't care which, I'm no newspaper romantic - it is impartial news reporting that must be the basis for every other new/social media.

I keep making the same argument. Commentators, opinion columnists and assorted public figures call themselves journalists, so there's confusion between reporting and opinion when they all get clustered under the same title.

A journalist can do reporting or opinion, but when they're doing opinion they're not doing journalism. A chef doesn't become a horticulturist because they've grown a flower.

Journalism is poorly defined. On one hand, it has an unusual accreditation system which leaves it open to interpretation. On the other, credentialism doesn't necessarily produce quality. It doesn't help when journalists are rewarded with columns.

James + Lyn,
I have to differ. It is your position that I am rejecting lock stock and barrel on philosophical grounds.

Your position distinguishes between reportage (journalism) and commentary (not journalism eg., blogging) ) and defines reportage (journalism) as impartial and balanced news reporting. It is a classic position of the role of media in liberal democracy, and it is what I am characterizing as traditional.

It is traditional because "balance and impartiality" has been interpreted in our empiricist culture as the facts, just the bare facts. This is designed to exclude personal subjectivity, which Jason interprets in terms of "our prejudices and biases." On your account these prejudices and biases need to be removed, if we are to be good journalists that give citizens the information they need to act in a liberal democracy. The media asthe fourth estate is the watchdog of democracy etc etc etc

Now you can do this in a way----eg.,the reporter states that "Kevin Rudd said adios" when asked a question in a radio station about recent comments made by Sol Trujillo about Australian culture and society. However, my argument is that this reporting of 'adio's by a journalist is written in a specific cultural context: Australia is being characterised as 20 years behind the (American) times, Sol experiencing racism whilst he was here, and racism in Australia. Hence the word 'adios' said by the PM is being interpreted ( eg., on the ABC's Q & A) in terms of whether it is a racist remark or not. that is the question is framed.

No one is really interested in the bare facts--Rudd said x at a specific time in a particular location---as it is the various interpretations of what 'adios' meant in this context that is of interest to the participants on Q + A, and it these diverse interpretations that are the subject of the debate. What is really being debated--if we interpret the subtext of the Q + A event-- is whether Australia is still a racist country--that is the supercharger issue that gets people going.

So my argument is that in the ordinary language of our political culture/media culture there is no such thing as neutral or impartial. It's an ideal that is used to judged the present which always comes up short. We never get to the ideal. 'Neutral', for instance, has been reduced to presenting two sides on an issue (eg., Labor and Liberal on Q& A), whilst 'impartial' falls victim to the tacit interpretation of the meaning of a word in a particular context of an on- going conversation.

So I am arguing that, contrary to the traditional claims of empiricists about the bare facts being foundational and all that, we are embedded in a circle of cultural interpretations. That is our starting point in any ongoing conversation that we have. Our biases and prejudices (we all have them) is the perspective that we bring to the conversation about racism in Australia.

the craven anti-intellectualism of many Australian conservatives turns my stomach.

yep. the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion; for the most part have weak intellectual groundings and are weak in conception. Consequently they would be political flops.

The Coalition's response to, and policies that counter, the global financial crisis is a case in point.