Friday, November 4, 2011

All Thumbs

CRIKEY! contributor Margaret Simons, once a gleeful party to the planting of a fraudulent essay in Quadrant, is moving up in the world, switching from Swinburne to the Parkville Asylum, where she will fill Michael Gawenda’s shoes as director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism. This is a plum post, what some might regard as the apogee of a righteous career. “At this crucial time for journalism,” notes her predecessor, “I am confident Margaret will ensure that the Centre plays a vital role in journalism education and in improving and supporting the practice of good journalism.”

Journalism education? Like being able to give the kiddies some pointers on mobile phones in court, for example, the ban on whose use every lawyer, attendant and visiting school teacher knows about? It is, however, a topic the tweet-prone exemplar of modern reporting appears not to have grasped, as the Australian reports today, and certainly not to the satisfaction of Magistrate Peter Mealy, who has banned the press paragon from covering in bursts of 140 characters or less the committal of a police officer accused of leaking details of a pending anti-terror raid.

Poor Margaret is a bit miffed about this, variously offering to engage in dialogue with Mealy, posting a broken link to court guidelines and getting all huffy about The Australian’s report of her tweeting travails:
I dispute penultimate two paras. My coverage fair and accurate summary, which is all journalistic court reports in any medium are
As an ever-rising academic, not to mention someone wreathed in the aura of decency, accuracy and probity that an association with Crikey! imparts, Margaret surely would not mind if the news-consuming public took a quick look at those penultimate paragraphs. Here they are
“Her coverage of the testimony given by Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus also challenged traditional standards of fair and accurate court reporting.

Due to the space restriction on tweets, Simons in some instances published questions put by counsel separately to Mr Negus's responses, included few direct quotes and made no distinction between evidence given from the stand and testimony taken from previous statements.”
Here is one of the tweets from the Center for Advanced Journalism new director. It would seem to confirm the first of The Australian’s assertions:

Q. Was Neath significant op? A. Yes. Q. What aspects raised level of seriousness of leak?

Her next tweet quotes Negus indirectly, but she gives not the slightest indication he is responding to the question left hanging at the end of the tweet she “disputes” having sent, at least as The Australian summarised it. After that, many questions are tweeted with what may, or may not, be responses relayed separately.

Then there is the second of The Australian’s assertions, that Margaret’s flying thumbs produced “few direct quotes and made no distinction between evidence given from the stand and testimony taken from previous statements”. Simons “disputes” this as well, despite this message from her mobile:

Key doc. is account of talk between Oz editor Whittaker and Negus. Described in court as considerably embarrassing to Whittaker

Followed by … nothing after that to indicate what was said on the witness stand and what was quoted from the document, whose eventual release Margaret celebrates with a jubilant “we won”.

When Margaret takes up her new post and the pro forma lessons in the wretchedness of Rupert Murdoch are done, there might be a little time for a quick lesson on court reporting. To that end, the Supreme Court’s  guide, Media Policies and Practices, might prove most informative --  especially the section below (underline added at the Billabong): 
Use of electronic equipment in Court:
Journalists may use personal laptop computers, digital assistants, and mobile phones capable of transmitting emails, for electronic note-taking, messaging by text, and filing stories, so long as that use does not interfere with the proceeding.

Journalists should not use such equipment for recording or for the contemporaneous publication of material on the internet (blogging, twittering and similar), without the express permission of the presiding Judge.
Journalists should desist from use of such equipment, if requested to do so by the Judge
As Gawenda sees it, his successor’s appointment is a step toward “improving and supporting the practice of good journalism”. In the light of the new director’s eagerness to dispute the indisputable, one can guess she will be introducing some fresh electives.

Amongst them, perhaps, Denying You Screwed Up 101.

UPDATE: Unconstrained by any limit on the number of characters she can publish, the Pending Parkville Poobah has taken to Crikey!, where she expands on the topic of her courtroom tweeting. Trouble is, she doesn't expand on her charge that The Australian is being unfair in describing her torrent of thumb-typing  as challenging "traditional standards of fair and accurate court reporting."

In the interest of full disclosure -- a prime concern, one would think, for a journalism educator -- she might have taken those two "penultimate paragraphs", reproduced them, and defended herself against the specific criticisms that questions were tweeted without answers and that the nature of evidence was no specified as either documenatary or verbal.

But there was none of that, not at all. Instead, just a blind link to The Australian story and a blanket assurance that her reporting was "fair and accurate."

So perhaps there is yet another elective on the horizon: The public has a right to know, sort of


  1. One helluva gotcha Prof.

  2. Gawd, those tweets were appalling. And she reckons that's fair and accurate reporting?

    This is a great get, Prof.

    From Gawenda to Simons. Not what I'd call a step up.

  3. Prof, thanks for taking the time to investigate these tax-thieving bastards when the rest of us don't have it.

    Thank God someone is keeping them accountable, even if only on a blog.

  4. Almost as good as reading:

  5. I was interested in the Australian article this morning. I have grave fears about the Media Inquiry if this is the class of academic we have (along with certain others of course - at Uni of Technology Sydney for example. Never was a more appropriate description than the one Private Eye uses: "UTS - formerly known as Sydney Tech"). Simons is not the only worry, of course.

    Still, in the Media Inquiry hearings in Melbourne on Tuesday, they will hear from probable rent-seekers and I see that Mayne and Beecher are on the list, along with 2 hours set aside for Professor Manne. Could it be some Murdoch criticism is on the agenda? As if!

    M Ryutin Sydney

  6. So Marg is off to Melbourne Uni.What's the betting on her writing a turgid paper on fearless reporting, starting with her cosy email to ABC chief Mark Scott?
    It came to light when some time back she published some emails supposedly to head off the Herald Sun.

    Included was this little gem where she reported in to Scott:

    "From Margaret Simons
    To Mark Scott
    Subject: Gerard Henderson
    14 April 2008
    Dear Mark,
    Thought you should know about this. Gerard Henderson rang me last Friday to ask about our interview that led to the story published in Crikey about the complaints process review. He wanted to know whether I had rung you, or you me.
    I told him that ABC PR had asked me if I would be interested in a story about the complaints process review, and that I had replied that I would. I told him that you had then rung me. I also emphasised that your comments about him were in reply to questions posed by me, rather than being volunteered by you.
    I did not, of course, tell him anything about the off the record parts of our conversation.
    I don’t know what he plans to do with all this, but I am sure it will be something. At the very least, I gather he plans to write to you.

    Director of Advanced Journalism? What a joke.

  7. Prof, it looks like the cleaners have been busy at Twitter.
    Now, early Saturday morning, four of your links return:
    "Sorry that page doesn't exist"
    The failed links are:
    ...getting all huffy... of the tweets...
    ...despite this message...
    ...we won...

  8. Skeeter -- well that's a mystery. Several of those tweets can no longer be found ('least I can't find them) and the URL of others appear to have gained two extra digits, rendering the links invalid. I have updated a couple of those you cite.

    Can anyone explain how URLs are reborn with extra digits? Also, it's worth bearing in mind that Twitter is a peculiar beast, with some tweets taking considerable time to appear (sometimes).

    It is hard to believe that a pillar of journalism would tamper with the record, so let us just put it down to Twitter's vagaries.

  9. Visual evidence, like screen shots, work better than quotes. You can always link to the original post via a screen shot of the tweet, or whatever. That way, if an original tweet goes missing, the evidence still remains.

  10. It's a funny old world,these type of journos are going to turn around one day and wonder why and how they are in a Gulag!

  11. The rot isn't just at Melbourne.