MORRY Schwartz’s The Monthly is a publication of the inner-city Left, by the inner-city Left, for the inner-city Left. So it comes as no surprise that the July issue covers the 50th anniversary of The Australian with an article by left-wing academic Margaret Simons titled “The daily narcissist”. Get it?
Simons is the director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne. As such, she influences many young men and women who are hoping to find careers in the media. The question is, what would they learn from her piece inThe Monthly?
The Australian has made an enormous impact on journalism since its birth in 1964. Not only has it been a fine newspaper for half a century, more important, perhaps, the arrival of The Australian provided much needed competition in the media marketplace, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.
There is an easy test for this proposition. Compare the dullness and lethargy of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age before 1964 with what they became in the couple of decades that followed Rupert Murdoch’s creation.
The best advice an academic can give students is to urge them to be well-informed, considered, dispassionate and accepting of legitimate criticism. Simons’s Monthlypiece meets none of these criteria. She uses the word “narcissist” or its alternatives five times with respect to The Australian. Yet there are 17 uses of the word “I”. Simons seems to believe it is important for her readers to know that she has been criticised (the word “attacked” is used) in the newspaper and that this was a “horrible” experience. So what? In her professional career, Simons dispenses criticism. She should be able to accept the same.
Reading The Monthly, it is difficult to know what the director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism is on about. Halfway through her 2000-word essay, Simons declares: “I want to argue that we should talk about it (The Australian) less.” Then, at the end, she maintains that “until and unless” The Australian “returns to sense there are other things to talk about”.
But no one forced the Melbourne University academic to write at length about the paper. Presumably she did so because The Australian is important. Simons concedes that the paper “still carries good journalism” but maintains that “it is lost in its black-and-white world”. This is simplistic abuse. Sure, The Australian is a right-of-centre newspaper. But it breaks many stories, including some that were very detrimental to the Howard government of recent memory. And the paper runs opinion pieces by the likes of Troy Bramston, Graham Richardson and Ross Fitzgerald among other social democratic types.
The Australian contains a greater diversity of views than can be found in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Moreover, the paper is distinctly more devoted to pluralism than Simons’s own Centre for Advancing Journalism, which employs many left-of-centre types but few, if any, conservatives.
Simons’s Monthly piece lacks dispassion. She writes about Murdoch’s opposition to Gough Whitlam’s Labor government in 1975 but not about his support for Whitlam in 1972. She presents The Australian today as a voice for the Coalition but fails to mention that it supported Kevin Rudd against John Howard in 2007.
It is understandable why the leftists in Schwartz’s Collingwood office suffer from the condition of Murdochphobia, which is increasingly prevalent in the inner city. But the director of the journalism school at one of Australia’s leading universities should be able to do better.
Simons’s piece on the alleged “daily narcissist” resembles a download from a psychiatrist’s couch. The Australian is half a century old but Simons has chosen to assess its contribution to Australian society with reference to the paper’s impact on the mindset of her mates and herself. How narcissistic can you get?