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.

No shortage of quality here. Photo: Warren Clarke

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.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

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    • acotrel says:

      05:11am | 13/11/12

      Doesn’t Alan Jones have some association with journalism ?

    • subotic says:

      09:23am | 13/11/12


      Is that crap still around?

    • Tron says:

      11:28am | 13/11/12

      Attempts of quality journalism still exist but mainstream media which is what the majority of people receive is pure filth, I bring to your attention last nights ACA was about a bloke who cheats on women he meets on a dating website, with constant references to 50 shades of grey. And do i need to mention Charlie Pickering and co’s so called Journalism on the project??

    • Paul says:

      12:11pm | 13/11/12

      @ Tron - ACA and Today Tonight are to journalism what magazines are to books.

      Unfortunately these days stories that involve months of research and hard work are drowned out by stories that don’t deserve to be called news.  A few examples that you might recognise:
      - Some viral video is trending on the net (Something is ALWAYS trending on the net - It isn’t news!)
      - Here’s a list of popular stuff (Laziness - This is not news, it’s just a list!)
      - Alan Jones said some stuff that we don’t agree with (You DO realise that his ratings have actually increased since this constant focus on him?  Surely you would prefer the public to respond with “Alan Jones?  Is he still alive??”)
      - Here’s the latest diet (Surely one of them should have worked by now?... And it’s not news!)
      - Celebrities get together/break up (Why not keep this to the magazines?  It’s kind of news but… not really)
      - Animal saves the day (OK… So I’ll pay this one - At least it’s better than everything else listed so far)

      I could go on… But then someone might mistake this as news!

    • Author says:

      05:39am | 13/11/12

      It may not be dead, but it’s in Intensive Care.  One in fifty thousand articles might be worthy, the rest is complete garbage, with no thought, no hint of investigative journalism and in this day and age we inevitably hear how whatever the topic is, affects the journalist or the story is all about them.  If your masters expect that people will pay to read this rubbish online, then you better get ahead of the queue on the unemployment line.  Breakfast television is a fine example.  The flood, bushfire, cyclone story where we go live for an entire week with 90% of the time, nothing happens is an example of how ‘originally thought’ challenged the industry has become.  Job cuts will follow, most will be stunned, they never saw it coming and that’s precisely why - too busy copying and pasting crap, rather than being an old fashioned journalist who works to change the world, rather than do a story providing their opinion of what someone else has done or how life affects them.

    • Al B says:

      08:50am | 13/11/12

      Only problem with your analysis Author, is that the rubbish is more popular than the ‘worthy’ to stay off the jobless queue, whattaya think we’re going to be served up more of? Folks get the ‘journalism’ they deserve/want i guess! Honesty of the market….

    • Craig says:

      05:56am | 13/11/12

      Farr, just keep telling yourself this.

      Ironically it is only journalists who publicly write about how journalism isn’t really doing so badly.

      The rest of us are looking on with sadness and regret as a once great institution crumbles into dust.

      Few people bother reading books by journalists anymore. Look at the sales figures (not the ‘best seller’ claims - it doesn’t take many sales to get a book declared a ‘best seller’ in Australia). Twenty or thirty thousand copies in a country of 22 million doesn’t really count when we see sales figures dropping like stones.

      Heck, even I had several best seller books back 15 years ago - only they were sold through the wrong outlets (news agencies) and didn’t count in the stats.

    • Fiddler says:

      06:41am | 13/11/12

      loving the irony of Malcolm Farr defending the standards of journalism. Has about as much credibility as Lindsay Lohan doing a “just say no” anti-drug platform….

    • Brian says:

      07:34am | 13/11/12

      Journalism is DEAD in this Country, One only has to read Malcolm Farr to see what is wrong with Australian Journalists…..Openly Biased to one Political Party..

    • maria says:

      11:21am | 13/11/12

      Openly Biased to one Political Party..

      A political party is a legal organisation with the legal right right to rob the hard working people.

      The mafia is an illegal organisation who extorts or ROB the battlers.


      When journalism is supporting a system rotten to the core and never ever mention the benefit of a system of direct democracy a la Switzerland in which only the people are sovereign with true legal right to repeal or modify any phony laws than of course

      Journalism is DEAD in this Country…. because the media can’t explain the difference between the two.

      Democracy, you either hate it or loath it but direct democracy is the only way to keep the bastards honest and their cronies.

    • JT says:

      07:38am | 13/11/12

      Your evidence journalism is not dying is the Wankly award handed out by journalists to journalists? If this is the limit of your self-awareness than no wonder journalism is in the toilet.

    • Author says:

      07:54am | 13/11/12

      LMFAO…a book written over a speeding fine.  What kind of person would buy that book let alone expect it would sell?

    • Steve of QBN says:

      08:51am | 13/11/12

      @Author.  It was about how one of the leading lights in Australia thought he could avoid paying a measly $75 fine and ended up doing time for it.

    • Steve says:

      07:45am | 13/11/12

      The quality that Farr points to are actually books authored by journalists, and filtered for quality by publishers.  It is not the daily rubbish we get served up.

      Journalists are as reviled by the public as the politicians they sometimes report on.  This takes some doing.

      When the last newsroom shuts down, I will not shed a tear, probably won’t even notice.

    • ramases says:

      07:45am | 13/11/12

      If your a judge then the whole industry must be in dire straits. I’ve never seen anything written by you that didn’t have a distinct anti Abbott stance but then again I suppose that qualifies these days as journalism, what a crock.
        Honestly you wouldn’t have a clue about real journalism unless somewhere in the piece there was an opportunity to sink the boot into either the Lib/Nats or Abbott or both and praise the calamitous Labor Party and its back stabbing, lying leader.

    • gabrianga says:

      07:57am | 13/11/12

      This is pure comedy genius.

      To defend of today’s journalists who do little more than collect Media Releases from the “boxes” in the Canberra Press Gallery and regurgitate them is pure pantomime

      Farr like his idol Laurie doesn’t even bother to try and hide his political bias these days even lolling around the set of “Insiders” uttering platitudes to Gillard and Co.

      Dead but not quite buried?

    • Stephen Matthews says:

      03:40pm | 13/11/12

      Kinda like Bolt,Ackerman,Devine,Henderson…....they aren’t biased

    • I hate pies says:

      07:58am | 13/11/12

      Haha, you’re saying that journalism isn’t dead because you give yourselves a pat on the back? The only time the general public was even remotely interested in the Wanklys was when Glenn Milne got up drunk and embarrassed himself.
      Every man and his dog knows that journalists don’t do journalism anymore; they cheerlead for their team and pass it off as “opinion” or “analysis”. That’s why the public are turning elsewhere; traditional media sources serve them complete and utter garbage. Case in point - every Mal Farr article on the punch.

    • SM says:

      08:07am | 13/11/12

      The problem for newspapers is that by cutting journalists and setting up “super” news desks the quality of the content will fall even further which will only speed up their inevitable demise

    • iansand says:

      08:19am | 13/11/12

      Journalism is not dead because journalists are writing books.

      Note to Malcolm:  Books are books, not journalism.  You could be describing a symptom here.

    • acotrel says:

      08:27am | 13/11/12

      I watched Kerry O’Brien on TV giving a lecture on journalism at the Uni of NSW, a couple of days ago - interesting stuff.

    • gabrianga says:

      08:43am | 13/11/12

      I drove O’Brien around Kakadu many moons ago and no doubt you got an earful of the tripe he was dishing out then.

      Forgot he was a Labor “minder” when he made the move to ABC.

    • Peter says:

      08:38am | 13/11/12

      It has emerged today that Gillard has lied about the conveyencing on the property central to the AWU WRA scandal. Again it is ignored by most MSM. Interestingly the information has been published in the Age who along with the ABC dominates the left media. Many media have been intimidated by the Prime Minister. Some Journo’s dont want to beleive it, some are such strong supporters of labor that they are happy to ignore it. One large section of the Canberra press gallery has even rung the PM to voice disapproval over the reporting of this story. How can this section ever be believed when they act like this and then write an article attacking the opposition EVERY week?

      Compare this to the outrage displayed after a unsubstancialted report that Tony Abbott punched a wall near a womans head 35 years ago. No one has come forward to verify the claim but it was read as gospel truth by many including the author of this piece. It helped the PM weive together her disgusting and again unfounded attack on Abbott in parliment.

      Journalism is dead.There is a lack of courage, a lack of decency but an abundance of bias. One of the few, who has more to lose than most, is Chris Ulman. He is a fine reporter who provides balance. Its a pity that we do not have a press gallery full of people like him. Until we do, journalism is dead.

    • Chris Stevens says:

      09:25am | 13/11/12

      Journalism isn’t dead in this country by a long shot. I know she works for a different organisation but Joanne McCarthy of the Newcastle Herald deserves some sort of award for her dogged pursuit of the child sex allegations against the Catholic Church.

    • Stuss says:

      09:51am | 13/11/12

      ‘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.’

      Actually, I thought most of the non fiction on the best seller lists was written by celebrity chefs, personal trainers and dietitians. Throw in a couple of self help gurus and some sports biographies, and you’ve probably covered around 80% of the non fiction sold.

    • Chris L says:

      10:03am | 13/11/12

      If we read an article that doesn’t support our views that means journalism is dead!

      If our side didn’t win the last election that means democracy is dead!

      Yep, been hearing such statements for as long as I’ve been alive. I’m sure “this time it’s different”.

    • Big Jay says:

      10:50am | 13/11/12

      I’m going to go into bat for the journo’s here.

      1 - People need to separate what is journalism and what is commentary.

      2 - I think investigative journalism is dead, or at least terminal. Given whats happened at News of the World and Wikileaks.

      I don’t see how a journo can do a major expose without testing the law by way of hacking (emails/phones/facebook), or paying bribes, or accepting leaks from contractually bound to confidentialy, or covert surveillance and so on. They are already trying to put in laws to compel journo’s to reveal their sources.

      I guess they can still do interesting pieces on local issues, scientific breakthroughs, and broader policy research that different bodies are doing.

    • AGHAST says:

      02:00pm | 13/11/12

      Aa I write this there are 26 comments to peruse.22 are negative and to precise they basically are along the lines that journalism has been reduced to load of WANK.So ask yourself “Who comments on WANK”???Of course the answer"Bigger WANKERS!!!!” Why comment at all???? Ego..thrill..bored… to hear your voice ...Fair Dinkum If things are so grim why are reading Malcoms fine thought provoking example of top shelf journalism at all.Get a life you mob.

    • gonefortheday says:

      02:49pm | 13/11/12

      So it has been a long day AGHAST I was just starting to think the same why do so many people read Mal when they know they will hate it.

    • Gordon says:

      03:18pm | 13/11/12

      Yes mate. I though the same.  Bagging an article is one thing, bagging the entire profession that provides the space and the scope for the commentary is just silly.

    • PJ says:

      02:43pm | 13/11/12

      There’s no such thing as a journalist anymore.

      They’re all Socialist Left Stooges.

      “What should we write or say today Prime Minister Gillard?”

      No sorry, it’s worse than that. It’s like “Simon Says..” except it’s McTernan calling the shots for the Australian media.

      “McTernan says write this, McTernan says write that, say this, publish that.”

      I’d love to be proved wrong!

    • sunny says:

      03:48pm | 13/11/12

      PJ Have Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman and the other multitude of right wing stooges slipped your memory. The earth would shift on it’s axis if they ever asked Tony Abbott a difficult question - not that they would get an answer if they did.

      BTW I can’t wait to read The Australian Moment - then whenever you say our economy is completely dependent on mining I’ll be better able to shoot that furphy down in flames.

    • PJ says:

      06:09pm | 13/11/12


      Those people are the only voices against the tsunami of socialist Left propaganda thats shoved down Australians throats though our media.

      The Gillard Government’s spending of $150 million on an army of 1600 PR consultants is paying off.

      In the Canberra press office, genuine journalists are outnumbers 6 to 1 by Federal PR types.

      The Gillard Government spends a further $10 million on Federal media watch Dogs, watching what you, say about them.

      So for better or worst Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman are the thin blue line, along with The Australian and Perth Now.

      The only voices of decent in a near dictatorial media.

      I know Labor voters that are alarmed by the one opinion traffic in Australia.

    • New Economist says:

      03:12pm | 13/11/12

      Oh please Malcom!!!! Congratulations journalists ..... for giving other journalists awards. Ever ask yourself, “If the common Australian was to vote, what exactly would they vote for???”

      Today, journalism in Australia is simply the regurgitation of what a Labor or Green Politician says as truth, while misrepresenting what is said by a Liberal or National Politician. It is as though you have to behave in this manner or you won’t be invited to the next Labor Media Release.

      I simply do not believe that most journalists cannot conjure up a simple indivirual thought ..... let alone analyse the complexities of political policies.

    • kfr says:

      03:42pm | 13/11/12

      Sadly, journalism has in large been replaced by reporters portraying their personal opinions as news and some how being newsworthy. The days of in depth reporting is just too hard these days. Pity for us and why the traditional press is suffering.


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