Andrew Olle Media Lecture

“Because I haven’t lived in Sydney before, I didn’t quite understand some of the references”, my friend Sue told a couple sitting at our table at last night’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture. Last night’s lecture was given by Kate McClymont, the Sydney Morning Herald investigative journalist who famously writes about crime and corruption in New South Wales. The woman in the couple then related a story about how she had purchased a house from one of the crime world figures mentioned in Kate’s speech. Between purchase and settlement, hers and a bunch of other houses were burned down in suspicious circumstances, I recall her saying. “These are very Sydney stories”, I told Sue.

“I remember Abe Saffron”, is a phrase I’ve commonly heard in social occasions with older journalists. “I reported on the disappearance of Juanita Neilson”, someone once told me. “She’s in a ditch somewhere in the Blue Mountains”, is a phrase you’ll also commonly hear. Everyone in Sydney seems to have a dodgy crime story. Indeed, I know quite well one of the “flamboyant figures” Kate often writes about.

Because of that sense of familiarity, her speech last night got a lot of laughs. I loved this anecdote in particular…

Not that I am saying journalists are infallible. We are human. We make mistakes. Look at me, I identified the wrong person in He Who Must Be Obeid, the book I co-wrote earlier this year with Linton Besser. When I was told that the book would have to be recalled, it was one of the worst days in my entire life. But a setback for one person is an opportunity for someone else. In the middle of my misery I received the following text message.
Thursday 21 Aug 2014 10.36am
Hi Kate, It’s John Ibrahim her (sic) could u pls send me a copy of ur book that be nice…thank u.
Me: Very funny! Who is this really? Kate
“It really is John,” he replied. I had last spoken to the nightclub boss several years earlier when we had run into each other outside Goulburn jail. “I don’t like what you write,” he said. “That’s funny, because I don’t like what you do,” I shot back, mentioning his penchant for threatening witnesses. He pointed out that the charges against him had been dropped.
We ended up talking about our mutual love of the TV series The Sopranos.

As much of her speech dealt with the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Sue and I both loved the fact the couple sitting next to us at dinner included Nick Greiner, the former NSW Premier who set up ICAC, and in fact became the first “victim” of investigation. Really interesting guy to chat to by the way, as was his partner.

The thrust of her speech was that, in many ways, investigative journalism, and investigative journalists are under threat. As well as for economic reasons, there’s the the issue of free speech and she mentioned the case of the Australian journalist, Peter Greste, currently in prison in Egypt.

But she also made the point that all journalism, to an extent, should be investigative.

People often ask me about the secret of investigative journalism. There is no secret. All journalism should use the same tools – curiosity, scepticism and the willingness to take the road less travelled.

The speech will be on ABC TV tomorrow night, and is well worth watching. You might even see me, as they often cross to images of the audience during the televised speech. “The one thing you need to remember is don’t drink during the speech as they’re bound to cross to you just as you’re having a glass”, I told Sue. I knew this from experience. There was one year when they crossed to an image of me twice during the speech: on both occasions I was sipping on a glass of wine. But there again, that’s “Very Sydney”, isn’t it?

Read the speech in full
http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/10/31/4118651.htm?site=sydney

Or listen here

Andrew Olle Media Lecture

Andrew Olle Media Lecture

“Andrew was 47 when he died” noted Mark Colvin at this year’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture. At that point I turned to my friend Sue and whispered in her ear, “I turn 47 next Friday”.

A bit like the moon landing, the death of John Lennon and Princess Diana, I remember vividly where I was when Andrew Olle died. I was home in Lismore visiting family. “Did you know him”, my brother-in-law, Jack asked. “Yes, I did”, I told him, though not as closely as many of my colleagues who worked closely and directly with him. Around the time of his death, I was still very much on the fringe, having recently moved to Sydney from Wagga Wagga.

Of course I knew his work as exemplary for anyone working in either radio or television. One of my proudest moments was around the time when Andrew, working on what was then 2BL, “crossed live” to the morning show I was hosting on ABC Radio in Wagga Wagga. It was around the time when our local member, Joe Schipp (also the NSW Housing Minister) was in trouble with his own party for speaking out publicly, critical of then NSW Premier, John Fahey. It was comments Joe Schipp made on my program that led to the front page headline, “Shut Up Joe”. Anyway, Andrew crossed live to my program to gain a sense of the pulse of Wagga Wagga, and it made me immensely proud.

For many years I was involved in the organisation of the Andrew Olle Media Lecture, though now it’s just a pleasant night for me to get dressed, go out, enjoy a night out with colleagues, and listen to an interesting speech. And this year my friend Sue came along as well.

“Do you think any of the young ones know who Andrew Olle was”, she asked me on the weekend. “Probably not” was my reply, though noting you don’t need to have been around and working as a journalist in Andrew’s time to appreciate the ideas and principles behind the lecture.

This year’s lecture was delivered by Mark Colvin who was around when Andrew was broadcasting. In fact, he was a friend of Andrew Olle, and it was lovely to hear him describe their working relationship in these terms…

We were friends from that time on, and we worked together again on Four Corners in the late eighties and early nineties. Andrew was a perfectionist and a stickler for facts. He also had a remarkable journalistic eye. Like every other reporter on the program, I used to write links for him to read before and after the story I’d put together. Andrew would retire to his office and shut his door, and after awhile, like every other reporter on the program, I’d find that he had torn my links apart and come up with something completely different. It would have been annoying, but in almost every case you had to admit that he’d improved on your work. He had a particular talent for finding the one key aspect of the story you hadn’t emphasised enough, and bringing it to light. Andrew was also at the time Australia’s best interviewer.

Mark Colvin

Mark Colvin

The speech with littered with references I could strongly relate to, such as Mark’s experience working as a journalist in regional NSW, and reporting on fires around Cobar.

That fire around Cobar burnt out one and a half million hectares. One and a half million.
I remember interviewing people who’d seen rabbits and kangaroos with their fur burning running, panicked, across firebreaks and spreading the blaze to new areas.
I remember seeing the air over and around a stand of trees – not the trees themselves – explode into flame as a spark hit the halo of evaporated eucalyptus oil they were giving off in the heat. I think I was in Cobar for a few days, sleeping on floors and filing around the clock, before the fire was sufficiently under control for Sydney to pull me out.

He also spoke about the legendary “Nagra” tape recorder.

A word about technology: I was carrying a Nagra, a superb Swiss tape recorder we used in those days. Nagras were highly engineered, almost unbreakable – years later I saw one that was still working after being run over outside the Soviet Embassy in Paris by Mikhail Gorbachev’s limousine – but they weighed several kilos and they had to be regularly refilled with a dozen D- Cell batteries at a time. Of course, you also had to remember to take plenty of tapes, usually recycled ones because they were expensive.

“There was a time when it was said women couldn’t be reporters because the Nagra was (apparently) too heavy for them to carry”, I told Sue.

In stark contrast to the days of the Nagra, the tools of the trade these days are more portable and instantaneous. A journalist or reporter should be able to spend less time, these days, dealing with the “difficulties” of field reporting than in the past. There SHOULD be more time for journalism.

Unlike many older journalists who’ve failed to keep up with technology, Mark is a great example of someone who has understood and adapted to the new era of journalism, most notably on Twitter. Like the Nagra of old, Twitter (and other modern technologies) have become the tools of the trade of the modern journalist. And like all tools, they’re only as good as the person using them. The right tools in the right or wrong hands can result in good, bad, or indifferent journalism.

“A bad tradesman always blames his tools”, my brother-in-law Jack (who was a mechanic) told me many years ago. And that’s the thought which came into my head as I listened to Mark speak. Both Mark and Jack are right, you know.

You can read the full speech here.

Not a male stripper

Male Stripper

“Oh my goodness”, I thought to myself. “I look like a male stripper…”

I’d removed my shoes, my socks, my pants, my jacket and my shirt, but I was stuck on the bow-tie. Oh my goodness, who invented the bow-tie?

I’d spent close to five minutes trying to get it right at the beginning of the night – and it’s a faux-tie, not a bow-tie by the way – and at the end of the night, close to midnight, I found myself struggling to get the bloody thing undone.

There’s usually only a couple of times each year when I get dressed up like this, and the Andrew Olle Media Lecture is one such night.

I’ve been to all but a few of them over the last ten or fifteen years, and they’re always interesting, always fun, and a wonderful opportunity to catch up with colleagues.

“Unlike an awards night or something like that, they always have some substance because of the lecture itself”, I told a colleague who was attending for the first time. In addition, you have the fund raising element in support of brain cancer researcher.

This year’s speaker, Laurie Oakes spoke about the industrialisation of journalism…

The trend overseas is towards more predictable news presented in more uniform formats because this is more efficient. It’s sometimes described as McJournalism or–in the words of the BBC’s respected political correspondent Andrew Marr-”bite-sized McNugget journalism.”

He spoke about the issue of declining public trust in journalism. He also argued politicians were, themselves, to blame for the so-called “dumbing down” of political reporting.

If you want to see a real dumbing down of politics, treat yourself to another look at recent election campaign commercials from both sides.

He went on to say…

Politicians make policy decisions on the basis of what will get the most favourable media coverage rather than what’s best for the nation–and somehow that’s the media’s fault. It’s tosh. The problem Tanner and Rosen describe is down to weak politicians, not the media. Can you imagine Paul Keating being so timid? The solution doesn’t lie with the media. Politicians need to grow a backbone.

As always, it was an interesting and fun night. And now, aged in my mid-40s, I no longer felt the need to go out socialising afterwards. No, I caught the bus home, and was back in my abode by about 11.30. It was some time, however, before I got to bed, thanks to that stupid bow-tie :)

The speaker in full flight

Big Night Out

Norwegian-style gravad lax

A mate who was sitting one seat away from me – who spends his working life as a food critic – noted there was something special on the menu for me, The entree at this year’s “Andrew Olle Media Lecture” was gravad lax, a typically Swedish meal, though the descriptor in the menu had this particular version as “Norwegian style”. Accompanied by herring in a teppan’yaki style batter, it was a very lovely entree. The main was good too – I had the chicken – and so was the desert and other parts of the night. Given the scale of it all, I’m constantly amazed at how they can dish up 300+ meals simultaneously without any obvious stuff-ups.

The venue was the Shangri La, by the way, or the old ANA, as many older people still refer to it. On my annual calendar, this is my annual “big night out”. Most of the time for the last five or six years, though, I’ve been working, as I’ve always had some involvement in the planning and implementation of the night. But this year I’ve had no involvement, and for me it was just a night to relax, have a great meal, chat, and generally enjoy life and just to experience the event as a “punter”.

I wasn’t around for the first one, but I’ve been going regularly to the “Olle Lecture” since the second was delivered in 1997 by Jana Wendt. As I recall, she and Channel 9 had just parted ways, and there was a “story to tell”. Along the way, there have been various journalists, media owners, and media players most of whom were on “their way up”, though some have some “made their way down” again.

Andrew Olle Media Lecture

Andrew Olle Media Lecture

2009 Andrew Olle Media Lecture – Julian Morrow
2008 Andrew Olle Media Lecture – Ray Martin
2007 Andrew Olle Lecture – John Hartigan
2006 Andrew Olle Lecture – Helen Coonan
2005 Andrew Olle Media Lecture – John Doyle
2004 Andrew Olle Media Lecture – Chris Anderson
2003 Andrew Olle Media Lecture – Harold Mitchell
2002 Andrew Olle Media Lecture – Lachlan Murdoch
2001 Andrew Olle Lecture – Kerry Stokes
2000 Andrew Olle Lecture – Eric Beecher
1999 Andrew Olle Lecture – Steve Vizard
1998 Andrew Olle Lecture – John Alexander

And this year it was the Editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger who

has overseen the newspaper’s website being voted best newspaper website in the world, while he has been named Editor of the Year three times and he is also noted for fighting, and winning, a number of high-profile legal cases involving free speech issues and corruption in government.

His central thesis concerned the The Splintering of the Fourth Estate, which he observed in these terms

Digital is biting most fiercely on the press, if only because we have somehow to earn our own living (I will qualify that in a moment) and don’t enjoy the sheltered protection of licence fees or government funding. As digital eats into the press, so the press has turned its fire on public broadcasters, imagining that if only they went away everything in the garden would once more come out in bloom. And so the balance between these three separate ideas of journalism begins to teeter.

Cocktails to end the night

A highlight of the speech was his 15-point – very good summary – of how important Twitter is, and how it’s often under-estimated by many working in traditional media.

I’ve lost count of the times people – including a surprising number of colleagues in media companies – roll their eyes at the mention of Twitter. “No time for it,” they say, “Inane stuff about what twits are having for breakfast. Nothing to do with the news business.” Well, yes and no. Inanity – yes, sure, plenty of it. But saying that Twitter has got nothing to do with the news business is about as misguided as you could be.

“I’ve never heard Twitter intellectualized in such a manner before”, a colleague said to me as we chatted after the speech.

As the official part of the evening came to an end, a few of us made our way to the Horizon Bar on the 36-th floor, I think. I’d only ever been there once before, but remembered the view in particular. With cocktails starting at $20 each, it’s not the kind of place you chuck em down with gay abandon. But with such a great view, you’re hardly inclined to.

Very memorable night. The only downside was arriving home at about 2.00am, and discovering it was more difficult to take off my bow-tie than it was to put it on. Nothing to do with the cocktails of course :)

Andrew Olle Media Lecture - Cassie, James, Cath, Wendy

Andrew Olle Media Lecture

Andrew Olle Media Lecture - Cassie, James, Cath, Wendy

Andrew Olle Media Lecture – Cassie, James, Cath, Wendy

It was another of those regular “big nights” for me.

The “Andrew Olle Media Lecture” is one of my favourite nights of the year, professionally-speaking. I get to dress up (in the same tux I’ve been wearing for several years), I get to do a bit of schmoozing, and I get to hear someone interesting talk about the state of the Australian media.

According to this year’s lecturer, Julian Morrow from “The Chaser”, this was memorable as a year of comedy gaffes. He cited not only the “Make A Realistic Wish” sketch, but also the controversy around Kyle Sandilands, “Hey Hey, It’s Saturday” and a few others.

In tonight’s lecture, Julian apologised unreservedly to those people who had been hurt by the sketch, in particular those who had lived through childhood cancer, or have lost a child in such circumstances.

They are the people that I’m sorry about. I know that they have, arbitrarily, been afflicted with grief caused by one of life’s cruellest realities. You’ve got tears enough in your life if that happens. A comedy show shouldn’t add to those pools of grief. Lest there is any misunderstanding, if you are one of those people, I want to reiterate my sincerest apology to you for the unwarranted pain that sketch caused when you have already have too much suffering in your life.

He added he also understood why many people were offended by the sketch, defining these people as a second group who were usually motivated by compassionate, well-intentioned feelings.

But there’s a third group, he argued, that weren’t hurt by it, didn’t see it when it was first broadcast, and to an extent were expressing feelings of mock outrage. This was the group, he argued, who heard about the sketch through re-broadcast, re-transmission and so on.

The essence of his argument was the overall audience mostly likes and enjoys challenging material. There’s a danger, he argued however, that thanks to replay, discussion elsewhere, mock indignation and so on, that media companies will begin to under-estimate the audience and not be willing to take risks for their primary audiences.

It’s a nuanced argument, and I probably haven’t done it justice here, so I’d suggest you read the speech yourself.

As always it was a very entertaining evening, and it was great, once again, to get dressed up, to be wined and dined, and to discuss some interesting parts of my work.

As someone wrote to me in an email, ” the lecture caused a great deal of subsequent talk – for all the right reasons”. Couldn’t agree more.

Photograph with Ray Martin.

And Then There’s Ray…

Photograph with Ray Martin.

It was the end of a memorable night at The Andrew Olle Media Lecture, the annual cross-media shindig in Sydney.

The lecture was delivered by Ray Martin whose central thesis was that good commercial television journalism is often supported by passionate media individuals, the likes of Murdoch and Packer. When media companies are run by banks and other financial institutions only looking at the bottom line, he argued demonstrably that journalism isn’t well supported in the commercial television sector. As I walked around the room at the end of the night chatting to people, the general vibe was that it was an interesting, well-timed, and well-delivered speech.

One of the funniest lines, though of the night, was delivered by the ABC’s Managing Director Mark Scott, who spoke about last year’s controversial decision to pull the feed from Channel 9 because of their use of the “debate worm”. Steadfastly denying it was his decision (as briefly reported), he said it just wouldn’t happen at the ABC. “I’d dare say any decision to pull the plug would have been mitigated by several committee meetings, until eventually a few weeks down the track the plug would have been pulled”. I’m reasonably sure the loudest amount of laughter in response came from our table, as we all knew exactly what he meant.

After the event was well and truly wrapped a few of us ended up at Ivy, arguably’s Sydney’s grooviest place at the moment, via the Marble Bar.

“Hey James, this guy’s an ABBA fan”, my colleague said to me last night on the fringe of the dance floor at Ivy. She’d met him moments earlier and they were getting along famously, it seems.

It was then she told him I’d been learning Swedish and had recently been to Sweden. “Let me tell you mate”, he said. “If you’re gay and that’s true, that’s really cool, and good on ya, that’s great stuff. But if you’re straight and that’s true, that’s kinda weird”. With apologies to straight male ABBA fans, we both laughed in agreement. “I’m guessing it’s more likely the former than the latter”, he said, and we laughed again.

A few minutes later some cool music came on the sound system and so I thought I’d leave them alone for a moment and go have a dance. “Tell me honestly”, I said to my colleague. “Do you think I can hop on the dance floor for a bit of a groove or am I just gonna look like a tragic 43 year old man in a dinner suit trying to look young?”, I asked.

Generally it’s a bad look, though, isn’t it? A group of well-dressed adult to middle-aged men and women who’ve just been to some sort of corporate function and then find themselves at some groovy bar surrounded by young folk. I kinda think we carried it off okay, though, and had a great time.

Bentley Bar

Two Good Nights

Andrew Olle Media Lecture

Andrew Olle Media Lecture

It’s lunchtime Saturday and I’ve just finished listening back to last night’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture, which I really enjoyed. Last night’s lecture was given by News Limited CEO, John Hartigan, who carried on a theme earlier expressed by Lachlan Murdoch that good journalism and good business aren’t mutually exclusive. In expressing the view the digital age hadn’t “dumbed down” journalism, but had raised the bar significantly, he did however state a concern that younger journalists, these days, spend too much time in the office.

As usual, it was a star-studded event, and from time to time throughout the night I had a wander around the room for a bit of “star spotting”. I have some totally salacious gossip from the night, including confirmation of a high-profile media relationship and the story of a media wanna-be who was indignant that I failed to recognise her. In fact nobody seemed to recognise her. But you’ll have to ask me for those stories in person.

The other great night out I’ve had was dinner with Damo on Thursday at Bentley Bar. As he is going overseas shortly, I took him out for dinner. Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to have the degustation menu which was excellent. And at that point, I’ll let Damo take over the conversation…

short notes here – you can expand as you wish. Don’t forget to mention that all the plates were presented with great imagination and flair, but not pretentiously (to me anyway)

AMUSES BOUCHES

cucumber, olive oil and herb gazpacho – grassy, intense, pure
cured mackerel with preserved lemon – tasty, but don’t remember much
chicken liver parfait ‘sandwich’ – delicious, rich, perfect texture

served with 2004 riesling from Alsace (Jean Luc Mader). Not as limey or one-dimensional as most aust rieslings; a dry, minerally and interesting wine with light honeyed finish


SEARED TUNA WITH HARISSA, AIR DRIED CHORIZO, SQUID INK AND SMOKED MUSSEL

tuna was beyond perfect – glassy texture with very long flavour. amazing.
the other bits were nice but I can still taste the tuna right now

served with 2004 chenin blanc from South Africa (Mulderbosch). typical fruitiness of chenin blanc, though with more complexity than WA versions of this wine make. Not as good as a Vouvray, but a nice drop. It let the tuna shine brilliantly


JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE CUSTARD WITH GARLIC, SOY AND BORLOTTI BEANS

another masterpiece – tiny dollops of garlic puree around the super-smooth custard and scattered beans. each piece had a real purity of flavour – no sense of oiliness, fattiness or anything else, just the essence of each ingredient. worked together marvellously

served with 2005 chardonnay from Burgundy (Domaine Leflaive Macon Verze). I had this wine on it’s own last week, and thought it a bit clunky. paired with this dish it was very good, the richness of the food knocking the rough edges off nicely


STEAMED BAR COD AND EMULSION WITH JAMON AND CHIVES

can’t remember too much about this – certainly wasn’t bad though!

served with 2006 rose from Provence (Chateau Rio Tord). the waiter commented that this was meant to be a palate cleanser, and it was. Not especially vibrant in any direction, but not insipid or bland either


VENISON SAUSAGE WITH HONEYCOMB TRIPE SALAD AND HORSERADISH

this was your favourite, i thought it was great too. again it was the lack of oiliness or fattiness, the intensity of flavour of each ingredient, that wowed me

paired with 2004 shiraz viognier from McLaren Vale (Salomon Estate). Never tried this before, but it had the chocolatey richness you expect from this region. once again the food match lifted the wine, I reckon

ROASTED DUCK BREAST WITH SAMPHIRE OYSTER MUSHROOM KOHL RABI

very tasty dish, though I thought the duck was a little too salty. especially when paired with the delicately salty samphire. small-diced oyster mushrooms were perfect accompaniment, rich and flavoursome. still not sure exactly what the kohl rabi was

served with 2005 Touriga Nacional and Franca from Portugal (Quinta do Vallado). Never tried any portuguese reds before but was very impressed with this: slightly tarry flavours reminiscent of a light zinfandel. Further details elude me, but I know I was a big fan. probably better than the dish, actually!

WHITE CHOCOLATE WITH APRICOT ICECREAM AND FIZZ

Desserts like this should be illegal. I am not normally a dessert lover, however this was the best course of the night. richly flavoured icecream without being heavy, superb white chocolate, all offset by that amazing “fizz”. dunno what it was (sherbet I presume), but it lifted an already wonderful dish into the stratosphere. wow.

Can’t remember what this was served with – too busy raving about the food. I think it was a botrytis something-or-other, wasn’t it?

So as you can see, we had a great night there also. The only disappointment of the last couple of days was my failure – due to time constraints – to attend the Bran podcast party. I really love listening to the podcast and wanted to thank the guys who do it by buying them a drink, but time just got away from me in preparing for the Olle Dinner last night.

It’s another beautiful day in Sydney, so I’ll head out in the sunshine this afternoon, but after the last few days I’m definitely looking forward to a night at home doing nothing.