9 Aug 2012

Bring On The Digital Future

By New Matilda
A Melbourne Uni student has been hauled over the coals for writing about life in the Herald-Sun newsroom. Why was her article treated like treason - rather than legitimate criticism?
So you want to be a journalist? Good luck, kid. It's never been easy to find a job as a journalist and these days, the supply-demand equation has no flattering angles. Thousands of journalism graduates and aspirants are scrambling for what jobs are left in a profession that's tanking — or transforming so fast no one really knows what's going on.

Unpaid work, menial work, endless internships — these have quickly become part of the standard career path for rising journalists. Hard work might be a staple but journalism as a profession has changed. It's hard to say what a successful career in journalism will look like in a decade.

This week, a media and communications undergraduate from Melbourne named Sasha Burden Uni published an account of her time as an intern at the Herald-Sun in Farrago, the Melbourne University student magazine. The article, titled "The Hun Mole", ran anonymously but the author's identity has since been revealed.

In brief, she had "a horrific time". Her story contained lots of juicy inside goss from editorial meetings. Hers is a story in which "fairly low expectations" didn't get met. Her idealism was squashed and so was her plan to work as a journalist. Sexist shits, homophobic banter and dumb jokes were the order of the day. It all sits nicely with the macho romance of the newsroom that gets cultivated by journalists of a certain generation and inclination. Sexist workplace culture is apparently unremarkable — but calling it out is something else.

"The internship was supposed to reveal the inner workings of my chosen profession and to inspire me in my future career path. If this is the case, I may as well kiss my journalism career goodbye," Burden wrote.

It's lucky that Burden has crossed the Hun off her list because its editor-in-chief wrote a pissed-off letter to the university's internship co-ordinator, bewailing her failure to give the Hun a right of reply.

"It is ironic that Ms Burden criticises the supposed bias of Herald Sun reporters and lack of balance in Herald Sun reports, yet at no stage in the drafting of her Farrago article did Ms Burden offer HWT a right of reply to any of the criticisms raised,'' Gardner wrote in his letter. ''We would have liked the opportunity to address her concerns while she was here but at no time during her two-week internship did she raise ... any issues or concerns relating to the nature and the people and processes she was exposed to.''

The story quickly changed from one girl's disappointing newsroom experience to the unfair victimisation of the nation's best-selling newspaper, hurt language and all. How can any organisation trust its interns after this? Wasn't she given a great opportunity to see a "genuine" newsroom in action?

But what kind of opportunity are we really talking about? Now that the old copy-kid to cadet career path has dried up, and the links between student press and big media no longer exist, internships aren't an added extra. They're the only way into the industry. Perhaps under the old model Burden might have been developed her skills inside the Hun newsroom and been immunised against its worst excesses. But university j-school programs insist students sanitise and sell themselves to the big media companies for short stints in work experience. No wonder expectations are let down — journalism students don't get to be in the club, nor are they likely to even get a job. Being humiliated on top of that is just icing on the cake. And that's before you look at the HECS bill.

If criticism from the Hun's big guns wasn't enough, there's been a barrage of criticism from journalists and media types who characterise Burden as a naive ingenue who needs to harden up. There's been lots of scoffing too about her use of the word "heteronormative". Dishing the dirt on journalists doesn't make you popular and many revealed their glass jaws. Those who weren't taking potshots at Burden for being precious and pretentious stuck to being condescending.

Alexandra Wake from RMIT called it a hard lesson in newsroom culture. "Many workplaces are filled with older staff, many of whom have joked and laughed through too many tragedies, usually as a way of coping. It's part of the challenge of the new generation to change inappropriate attitudes."  She thinks the "the Herald Sun should be commended for offering a "warts and all" opportunity in their newsroom to potential journalists." The host of Radio National's PM, Mark Colvin, said "I've never known a newsroom where people didn't say insensitive things and use dark humour'.'

Andrew Landeryou worries that the story "might make many other newsrooms less enthusiastic about trusting journalism students with a genuine exposure to what goes on in their world."Landeryou is a big fan of tabloid culture, dishing up a cheap and easy attack on Burden's based on her other contributions to Farrago. It's sleazy stuff — and a big load to dump on an undergraduate.

When such a various and distinguished retinue of older journalists weighs in to criticise a young and inexperienced student journalist for being, well, young and inexperienced, something is amiss. But it's nothing new. Generation X got used to being slagged off by Baby Boomer cultural elites — the topic of Mark Davis' important 1997 book Gangland.

"Younger people just can't get it right. They're either full of piercings or complete prudes. Whatever the case, they just aren't it," he wrote. It's no delight to see Burden being hauled over the coals in the same way. Shouldn't older journalists be listening to what young people entering the profession have to say? Dylan Welch from the SMH was one of the exceptions. He tweeted, "no surprise the Australian media is so often criticised when this is how we behave when we are criticised."

The response to the Farrago article speaks volumes about generational misrecognition and disdain. Young journalists are useful for their tech-savvy, or their angle on "youth issues", but not their values. This is why it's particularly striking that Burden's sign-off has got less attention than the rest of her article.

"If Australia's big mastheads all function like this then I say bring on their decline. Rip down the banners that have led to media exclusivity and elitism. Huzzah to the future of online, diverse reporting."

Like it or not, this is as an acute analysis of what's ailing the media as you'll find anywhere. And it was penned by someone who will be a part of the future of journalism, not someone clinging to a nostalgic idea of the way things have always been.

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Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 13:59

While I cannot see all the crimes allegedly committed by Herald-Sun staff from Sasha Burden’s perspective – or why simple courtesy at doorways is so heinous – your article, New Matilda, highlights yet again my constant complaint that the media can dish it out but they can’t take it. Having worked for commercial and public media, newspapers and broadcasters, I have yet to find an organisation that actively encourages self-criticism.
It is true that people become institutionalised by media organisations like any other workplace and desensitised to issues that would otherwise have shocked them – have you ever heard what surgeons say when they think no-one’s listening? – but what makes it more offensive in the media is we are also constantly harping on about freedom of speech and the right to be opinionated. It’s our hypocrisy that sticks in my craw, ranging all the way one-sided newspaper campaigns to Alan Jones cutting off callers he doesn’t like. And for an industry that supposedly deals in messages, we do an awful lot of messenger shooting.
After almost forty years as a journalist and media educator I am constantly searching for the answer to the question: Where do all the bright, idealistic, intelligent young journalists go? Yes, journalism can make one cynical, either because we know too little or we eventually know too much, but it can also be a fulfilling and worthy calling if you manage to maintain your integrity. That is possible in mainstream media but it’s bloody difficult and not always successful. All I’d say to Sasha and other young people considering entering the profession today is if you’re going to face hardship and disappointment in a career, journalism is as good as any to choose.

Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 14:12

Thank you so much for this article. There has been a huge knee-jerk reaction to this issue in the mainstream media and it's been blown completely out of proportion. I completely agree with DavidIngram that it's a perfect example of media hypocrisy, but really who could have expected any less from a tabloid like The Hun! That said... My Editor and I just last week said something very eerily similar to eachother as those trans-gender comments Sasha found so repugnant. (And much worse at other times.) I do agree with that the newsroom can be a brash, obnoxious, and dark humoured place, like any other workplace. But to suggest we curtail somebody else's freedom of speech to talk out about these issues is utterly repugnant. The sad thing is that we need writers and journos who speak their minds and Sasha has probably ruined her chances now of ever being hired by a mainstream newsroom.

Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 14:25

When did it become sexist to allow a lady to go through a door first? Read etiquette101, Sasha.

Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 16:11

A suggestion for future interns seeking to lift the lid: check out the 'WITNESS' website first! (I know there's a strong sense of irony to this but, seriously, this sort of thing is what they are interested in exposing!)


This user is a New Matilda supporter. lilbirlblue
Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 17:06

Great article from Sasha - thoughtful, practical and honestly written. It's fine to say "It's the Herald Sun so whut did you 'spect", but I think that misses the alarming point that this is a rag that supports and confirms the biases of a large and frighteningly influential section of the Australian voting population. I appreciate Burden's straightforward approach, and wish her all the best with her journalistic career in a completely non-ironic way.

Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 17:55

I don't know why women resent being treated with consideration by men. They aren't being patronised, they are being treated with respect. I not only open doors for them, I also move away from them when meeting them on the pavement to give them more room and would never hit one. It's the way I was brought up. On the other hand, those who've said that this woman received standard procedure for the "Hun" are absolutely right. As lilbirlblue says, the fact that so many people agree with it is frightening.

Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 18:12

You go Sasha. Keep your head high. Old saying: Empty kettles make the most noise. If you don't understand this, ask your oldest relative.

Posted Friday, August 10, 2012 - 09:37

Truth is treason, truth is illegal, only in the imaginary world of MSM.

Is why the tiny world of MSM is becoming so redundant and irrelevant to those seeking some truth. Learning is entertainment to the many, why bother with MSM at all then?

Personally I found the Bush/Obama Stuxnet 'olympic games' program far more relevant than MSM London offering. MSM is like the shouting store salesman parked at shop front doors with megaphone, nothing more.

Posted Friday, August 10, 2012 - 17:53

Today, Friday, I watched the "Kochie's Angels" segment on Sunrise. Koch, of whom I must admit I tired many moons ago, raised the Sasha Burden topic, immediately focussing on her dislike of having doors opened for her. He stared at the camera in a 'knowing sort of way" and flicked it over to the ladies for comment. The Angels are usually quite good but with a panelists from the Telegraph on it and another likely indebted to it, Sasha was gently 'roasted', told to toughen up and find another line of work. She'll be blacklisted anyway I expect; this is the usual fate of whistleblowers as far as I know. The ethics of today's journalists in general and rags like the Telegraph were not mentioned. I have the fond, but faint hope, that the media will experience some form of regulation in due course; not but because some people have manners either.

Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 18:02

Very good article Newmatilda.com, is all I will say. Your the experts on these kind of issues, leave it to you guys.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 18:28

Suppose an extreme-Left-wing billionaire bought Sasha <i>The Hun</i> as a gift -- how long would it take her to run it into the ground? Weeks? Months?

I can tell you one thing Melbourne Uni's journalism school doesn't teach, apart from manners, and that's humility.

And that goes for you too, Marni!

This user is a New Matilda supporter. thomasee73
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 22:25

There appears to be a spelling or typographical error between "sexist" and "homophobic" in paragraph 4.

And I can't guess what was actually intended.