andrew olle

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 :)