The reports of journalism’s death are greatly exaggerated
Declarations of the death of quality journalism in Australia have been hugely premature, no matter how often front-bar bores and their like keep making them.
These declarations have become one of the staple gripes of hand-wringers, who often see the end of the world approaching in other areas of life. And like many of those other complaints, this one is false.
The evidence is between the hard and soft covers of the long-list finalists of the Walkley non-fiction award, of which I am a judge. The winner will be announced on November 30.
This award exposes the diligence and ingenuity of journalists across a range of issues. It also highlights a number of people who have taken their daily or weekly journalism and expanded it to a higher level of reporting and analysis.
Publishers’ lists of the past five years show non-fiction is a stronger seller than fiction, and most of that non-fiction is coming from journalists.
And the variety of topics is wide, as shown by the nine long-list finalists of the Walkley non-fiction award:
* Broadcast Wars by Michael Bodey (journalist), Hachette Australia. Topical with the disposal of Packer interests in the Nine network and trepidation within other broadcasters, it is a fine primer for those who want to know the background to what appears on their flat screens;
* Mine-Field: The Dark Side of Australia’s Resources Rush by Paul Cleary (journalist), Black Inc. This is all you wanted to know about the coal seam gas industry, as long as you oppose CSG. Cleary gives one side of the debate, and he does it with great detail and original analysis;
* The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny (film maker), Penguin. De Crespigny has transformed herself into a journalist/biographer to record this extraordinary story of the quest by an Iraqi man and his family to find a safe haven;
* Sins of the Father by Eamonn Duff (journalist), Allen & Unwin. Duff expands upon and explains his newspaper reporting on Schapelle Corby and her family, and a remarkable crew of friends and supporters. Ms Corby might be freed from her Indonesian jail next year. This book could shape how she is welcomed back home;
* Hiroshima Nagasaki by Paul Ham (historian), Harper Collins. Ham is one of Australia’s best and most prolific history writers and his books, including this one, give ready and rewarding insights into major events of our region and times;
* Children of the Occupation by Walter Hamilton (journalist), NewSouth Publishing. For the offspring left behind in Japan by Australian and American soldiers, the war continued. They were victimised because they represented the hated enemy, and because they did not look like other Japanese children. It’s a powerful story which includes episodes of great human strength;
* A Tragedy in Two Acts: Marcus Einfeld & Teresa Brennan by Fiona Harari (journalist), Melbourne University Publishing. Einfeld blamed Brennan for speeding in his car as he tried to avoid a $75 fine. But she was dead at the time. That much was known. Harari goes further and details the lives of both. Those who have not come across Brennan before will be enthralled;
* The Sweet Spot by Peter Hartcher (journalist), Black Inc. Hartcher explains why a place seen as little more than a dumping ground for 18th century British trash could become the boldest survivor of a global recession in the 21st century. Short answer: we were clever and worked hard. This book could knock some chips off Australian shoulders;
* The Australian Moment by George Megalogenis (journalist), Penguin. This book also traces our economic success and dismisses glib analysis which gives all credit to China and the mining boom. It is a thorough exploration of how our economy and related structures were right for the occasion. And how our constantly maligned politicians put this backup network together.
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