Another meltdown at the Oz

As I’ve mentioned a few times, the Oz is extremely sensitive to blogospheric criticism. In response, its typical MO has been an unsigned editorial, or a piece by a ‘staff writer’, in which unnamed and unlinked (but easily identifiable) bloggers are castigated for their sins. Typically, the piece ends with a flourish of bravado, in which the brave, though anonymous, editorialist, backed only by the multi-billion dollar resources of News Corporation, pledges to carry on in defiance of the powerful, but unnamed, bloggers arrayed against it.

The script has been reversed, however, in the case of Grog’s Gamut, a pseudonymous political blog which made some useful contributions during the election campaign. Apparently acting under the misconception that public servants aren’t allowed to engage in political activity, Oz journalist James Massola took on himself to out the blogger concerned. He works in the film section of what was the Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts, which suggests that the potential for political activity to compromise his public service role is, shall we say, limited.

There are still some decent journalists working for the Oz, but the paper itself is a sad joke. On the other hand, as Steve Hind observes, the downmarket spiral of the Age and SMH (at least in their online versions) means that there is not much competition.

35 thoughts on “Another meltdown at the Oz

  1. Steve Hind said the Oz ‘critics should save some of their vitriol for the once-great Fairfax papers, who’ve chased the lowest common denominator and ended up just above the gutter.’

    Amen to that.

  2. Our fin ‘sits behind an online paywall,’ where only the rich and fatuous get a chance to read between the lines.

  3. Paywalls have cracks a mile wide el gordo – anything remotely interesting said behind a paywall is going to leak – what the “old style” media moguls dont get is that their paydirt is our eyeball time, not our subscription, and if the product isnt interesting enough to eyeball no-one is going to pay with the same sense of resignation that they used to for newspapers.

    Traditional newspapers have got away for too long with people paying for newspapers simply because there was a lack of subsitutes and it was something to read on the train or bus. A high capital and distribution cost led to cosy oligopolies. Thats all changed / changing.

    But on the internet Google reigns supreme because it does what it does for free, and it gets our eyeballs and there are lots and lots of substitutes to bad news… like good blogs…which is exactly why Massala went for Grog…Grog (and many others like Grog) have been cutting their grass and maybe Grog is a good writer as well as being a public servant and the Oz should offer him a job instead!

  4. Funny, aside from a few OTT opinion writers – Janet A, Phillip A for instance – I think the OZ’s news content is fuller and better than the Fairfax papers these days. And Cut & Paste is worth the price on its own. I guess it depends on where you stand on the great spectrum of values and beliefs.
    The most serious story in Australian media is the decline of Fairfax. As it sheds more writers it will continue to decline. Sad.
    I can’t understand the excitement over GG. Use of a nom de plume by an influential commentator is regarded as a challenge by most journalists. Many at Fairfax would have spilled it if able.
    The same think happened over Hilary Bray at Crikey some time back. People were examining writing style and use of metaphors to try to work out who it was.
    I don’t believe media management is bothered about blogs – individual journalists might be – management is too worried about survival. Blogs are the least of their problems.
    I’m not sure about paywalls. Murdoch believed that lots of eyeballs would pay in advertising before he bought the WSJ but changed in the face of evidence.
    At least Murdoch is trying to do something – most others are slowly dying as they cuts costs, lose revenue, cut costs…

  5. I dont usually find myself on the side of agreement with team Catallaxy but on this matter of Massola and the OZ they are spot on as well.

    Someone has even given Massola a new name LOL. It seems the Oz has clearly had another brain infarction, especially when its even ticking off kits own traditional supporter base despite Grog being a public servant of demonstrable ALP sympathies.

    This was an act of petty bastardry and says more about their fear of the blogosphere than anything Massola wrote in this piece.

  6. Oddly in reporting reaction to the Massola bastardry, they quoted Andrew Bolt’s reaction on Twitter.

    Now that News Ltd has taken down the dangerous @Grog’s Gamut, the Liberals are a shoe-in for the next election

    Trouble was, it was some wag called “Fake Andrew Bolt”

    How amusing is that?

  7. The Oz has continued its practice of employing opinion writers and treating what they say as factually correct, in spite of the evidence that it isn’t the case. Tim Lambert is not short of items in the Oz that he may quite rightly criticise with gusto and vigour.

    The amazing thing is that people put up with this because there is nothing else to read, instead of walking away from print entirely.

    This latest malarkey though: I have no idea what the fuss (at the Oz) is about; perhaps using a nickname for the purposes of writing a blog is an offence in Iran but it isn’t in Australia, is it? “No your honour, I am unable to reveal my source.” on the one hand, compared to “Here is his real name ’cause we don’t like him.” Love the Oz, luv their work.

  8. @Donald Oats

    Interestingly, as Conroy pointed out on Q&A the other night, barely 12 months ago the Oz ran a noisy campaign to block the SA government from forcing bloggers who make election comment to reveal their identities. Now it seems that it’s their duty to the public to “out” those who merely have a political opinion, regardless of whether there is an election on or not.

    Truly, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

  9. Fran, the problem is that there is a big difference between the state forcing everyone to disclose more information and give up their privacy, and an individual or organisation deciding that there may be some use in uncovering information that another individual would prefer they did not uncover. The latter is clearly more necessary and justifiable in a free society than the former, however much the merits of individual cases may be disputed. I don’t see much hypocrisy in that.

    I have the misfortune of living in South Australia, and the South Australian government really are some of the worst authoritarian control freaks and bullies of any administration in the country. Their attempt to force all online commenters to disclose their true identities during the last election campaign is but one example of that. I am grateful to all the media outlets that successfully scuttled that one.

  10. @Fran Barlow
    You know its just breathtakingly hypocritical that journalists want to be able to not disclose sources, whistelblowers and unamed persons within Labor or liberal trying to bring their colleagues down or they want to not disclose a public sector rort or political scandal (take Good old Godwin Grech for example – he got quite a bit of information out before he was exposed).We still got no coverage on exactly who he was feeding what.

    Then there is the scandal now where some extremely senior officer in OPI has been carting home boxes of ASIO information (eg phone records) presumably for sale to people like the Hells angels or other assorted criminals. That senior person has been busted but hasnt been outed and you can bet the OZ wont touch the story!

    This piece is really scraping the bottom of the barrel but are we not long suffering here in Australia?. MSM feed us a regular diet of trash journalism and its OK for their rags to have carry lengthy windy political opinion pieces. Its probably cheaper to hire contentious windbags than to do a good job.

    … but when their “scoops” are now about a blogger being outed for discussing politics in the blogosphere, its obvious there is no news, they have no people on the ground doing any serious investigative journalism and they are employed cheaply to do cheap stories. They just lost everyone across the board on this and whatever business vision they may have once had.

  11. @Monkey’s Uncle
    says “Their attempt (SA Govt) to force all online commenters to disclose their true identities during the last election campaign is but one example of that. I am grateful to all the media outlets that successfully scuttled that one.”
    I agree with MU on that point and the Oz did play a role in that scuttling as much as I and others think the Grogs Gamut case is sad journalism. Expanded heavy handed authoriy going on in sleepy SA.? Reminscences of Joh’s QLD?. Whether the heavy handedness comes from Govt or Industry is irrelevant.

  12. Pr Q said:

    There are still some decent journalists working for the Oz, but the paper itself is a sad joke. On the other hand, as Steve Hind observes, the downmarket spiral of the Age and SMH (at least in their online versions) means that there is not much competition.

    The degeneration of the MSM over the past decade or so – not coincidentally contemporaneous with the rise of on-line media – has been one of the more depressing aspects of my middle-age. That goes for broadsheets and tabloids alike. Obviously the proliferation of on-line media had reduced the status of the MSM.

    Not so long ago the metro dailys were written and read by men of the world. Nowadays they affect a very effeminate gait. In fact it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the typical daily metro from womens magazines.

    NTTIAWWT so far as it goes, its good that gay kulturmeisters, matronly gossips and hysterical teenage school girls have something to fuss and bother about. Thats what womens magazines are for. But its pretty thin gruel if one is interested in the real mechanics of power, money and machines.

    Its particularly depressing to see the Age, once the flagship of Victoria’s superior moral and intellectual culture, fall from grace. Once upon a time I held the Age in reverence, with leaders of men like Graeme Perkin, Creighton Burns and Dennis Warner on the bridge. Not coincidentally most of these grizzled old journos had been war correspondents or seen action themselves. They commanded (not demanded) respect.

    Nowadays the Age’s columns reflect the interests of its dwindling readership of status-conscious, desk-bound liberals. The business. society and current affairs pages are obsessed with who is in and who is out. The top ratings and banner headlines go to celebrity gossip and real-estate movements. With celebrity real-estate being at the top of the press pecking order.

    Therer are exceptions, McGeogh, Colebatch, Gittins. But the rest seem to just be going through the motions, phoning their lines in. The AFR is the exception which proves the rule. It is effectively off-line, which proves its product must be worth something.

    Its with a sinking heart that I open the Age’s op-ed section which is still fixated with the clapped-out post-modern liberal agenda: p*rn addicts, abortion righters, euthanasians, gay marriage, drug liberalisers, feminist careerists, indigenous activists, republican die-hards, asylum-seeker support groups et al. I suppose one can make reasonable arguments for that lot. But, going by the weary predictability of the op-eds, it must be getting harder for burnt-out liberals to muster much enthusiasm.

    One wonders what they would make of the more substantial social problems experienced by the despised red-necks out in the suburbs. The plague of cheap condos springing up in latte land suggest they prefer not to know.

  13. It seems to me the degeneration of mainstream media started about the same time as the degeneration of mainstream economics.

    I think the computer and the internet has something to do with it but Im not sure how to express the link I see. Mainstream economists seem to want to replicate and present computer logic as research and the mainstream media wants to use computer logic to give us news or gossip on the cheap…but is it what we really need or really want?

    There is something wrong with the picture in both media news reporting and economics reporting and writing and perhaps computer logic and programmes has something to do with it. Are computers working for us or are we working for them?

  14. I think the degeneration of the paper media is due to mainstream demand for current events to be summarized in an entertaining way rather than detailed with informative journalism.

    That path worked while the papers had a monopoly on distribution. But the internet is bringing home the fact that gossipy, entertaining, vaguely accurate opinion articles about current events are a lot easier to write than thorough reasearched and informative journalism. As such they now find themselves with far more competition they can manage.

    They are keeping afloat on their big established names, but slowly more people will realize they can just get the same gossipy stuff online for free. This is only the beginning because a lot of adults are still conditioned from the pre-internet days to buy and read newspapers, but much of the new adults are from a generation who don’t remember those days.

    That said there will always be a demand for “official” news, but I think in the future that it will be in the format of TV news companies with news websites on the side. One or two newspapers in each country may survive to feed off what little demand there is left for printed news, but given all it’s shortcomings (takes 24 hours to update, has to be bought or delivered, doesn’t allow readers to comment in live discussions) I don’t see it being in much shape by 2050.

  15. I regard the time as long overdue for a political campaign against the OO (aka The Australian). This arrogant swaggering component of the Murdochracy is a living, breathing insult to good public policy. Far from articulating critiques of public policy, it is now openly subversive both of evidence-based analysis and established usages of cultural life in this country such as the right to privacy. Their publications have also infected the ABC, whose lazy and witless journalists take the latest talking points from the OO as if it were the News and frame discussion accordingly. News Ltd is not merely a media organisation. It’s a virus that is causing a chronic illness in public culture.

    A little while back, it declared that The Greens were hypocrites who were bad for this country and should be destroyed at the ballot box. Those of us who support good public policy should respond that the OO are hypocrites who should be destroyed in the marketplace.

    Not paying for their tatty sub-intellectual rag (and its equally ugly sister The Telegraph) is not going to do the job. No self-respecting person I know buys this stuff and in any event, the cover price barely pays for delivery, let alone production. We must keep in mind that however it may appear, readers are not their customers. Readers are their audience, i.e. their product, which they market to the customers that keep them afloat — advertisers. If we wish to hurt News Ltd, we must convice advertisers that that sections of the audience that they pay good money to access online and in print are being prejudiced by their support of News Ltd publications — that such support damages their standing.

    We have, after all, laws in this country restraining people from giving financial support to or profiting from criminal activity. It is illegal to coerce members of parliament, judges, juries and public officials to secure favourable treatment. It’s very clear that this is what the OO and its related set of replicating viruses do. Advertisers in these publications are in practice behaving just like someone funding the contamination of a watercourse, or facilitating the spread of a serious disease or the blackmail of public officials.

    We should make this plain to companies like Vodaphone and the ANZ Bank, whose adds sit alongside screeching editorials defending the outing of GrogsGamut author Greg Jericho, and beside Terry McCrann insisting that Marius Kloppers is bent on destroying the company he runs by advocating a carbon price.

    It is fair to say that we are few in number, and so we must direct our energies so as to maximise the impact. We don’t yet have the resources to work effectively against all supporters of News Ltd. Therefore, I would urge those who are repelled by the activityies of News Ltd to target these two companies, ANZ and Vodaphone with letters explaining why you mean to implicate them as responsible for the decline in the quality of public debate in this country and as thus commercially unsupportable.

    I’d be very interested if those who make progress on this let me know via my Twitter ID (fran_b__ ) where I wil, retweet useful actions and progress. I am starting a new hashtag there to coordinate searches for this campaign, the string for which is #pwnNewsLtd so please include this in any Twitter feed.

    Best …

  16. Im on board as well…I reckon targetting major advertisers with the newspapers is a great idea of Frans…except call me the older generation if you want…I havent got the faintest idea how to twitter!

  17. @Alice

    1. Go to
    2. Create an account
    3. Log in and post Max 140 char (these are called “tweets”)
    4. Hashtags “#” make items easily searchable e.g #pwnNewsLtd These go in the message body
    5. the @ tag directs to a twitterID eg @fran_b__ directs it to me and ensures I see it
    6. You can elect to “follow” someone which means you see everything that person posts
    7. Others can “follow” you but you can block them
    8. If you have an iPhone or Android or similar you can install a Twitter app and tweet from this device


    Two more targets: GIO/Suncorp; a wood products comany

    Here’s a sample letter. Use at your discretion:

    I am writing to you to let you know that your advertisement was placed next to this editorial by Terry McCrann in the Herald-Sun.

    The article reads in part:

    “KEVIN Rudd set a new benchmark in the annals of Australian politics. He became the first prime minister to be worse than Gough Whitlam.
    His colleagues seemed to agree with this judgment, denying him even the opportunity which Whitlam — and indeed all previous prime ministers — had to defend his/their first election victory. True, their judgment was more that Rudd would be worse than Whitlam for them personally. The damage he could continue to wreak on the nation was an entirely secondary consideration. White cars and other perks always trump the national interest.

    Now, before she has even entered the Lodge, his successor Julia Gillard has embarked on challenging that new “Rudd benchmark” by picking up precisely from where he, so to speak, left off.


    Rudd’s insistence that the ETS be adopted before Copenhagen was bad enough. Now we know Copenhagen turned into Hoppenfloppen. Any move towards a unilateral carbon tax is that much the more irresponsible and stupid.


    So, we have a Gillard government proposing to plough-on, bullheadedly building the most expensive white elephant in our history; and also embarking on a direct attack on our nation’s prosperity, knowing that the first is silly and the second crazy. Do we have to wait three years to pass the accolade from her predecessor?

    In another article, Mr MCrann defames Marius Kloppers as “selling the soul” of BHP Billition and acting in breach of his duty to shareholders of the company by advocating a carbon price. Indeed, it is the position of the Australian, that my party, The Greens, are “hypocrites” and “should be destroyed at the ballot box”. Recently, The Australian thought it newsworthy to “out” an anonymous left of centre blogger called Greg Jericho in an attempt to silence him because he attacked the quality of media coverage from the ABC and the ABC accepted his critique. This constitutes a return to McCarthyism, in my view.

    It may be that your company endorses these views, and the more general attack on quality public policy discussion and subversion of the government by the News Ltd Group. That of course is your right. Certainly, I find the behaviour of News Ltd to be reckless and corrosive of Australian public life. I personally would like to know where you company stands on this matter, for whatever your company’s position, your commercial support of News Ltd implicates your company in these matters.

    You should know that we Greens view with extreme concern this partisan and ideological stance by the News Ltd group, and cannot but view with equal concern those who are accessories to this subversion. Your company’s products would normally be of interest to Greens, but plainly, we cannot be party to the subversion of public life in this country, which, as things stand, doing business with your company would entail.

    You should also know that a campaign is being mounted in cyberspace to boycott companies associated with support of News Ltd. I will certainly be advocating at our next branch meeting on Thursday that we Greens adopt this policy nationally.

    I look forward to a response from your company on this matter

  18. It turns out that the NSW Deptartment of Health is backing the OO.

    Dianne Eggins
    Statewide Major Projects Branch
    Centre for Health Advancement
    NSW Department of Health
    Ph: 9391 9620
    Fax: 9391 9579
    Email: EGGINS, Dianne []

    Who would have thought that the NSW government was using public funds to subvert … the Commonwealth and State governments and the public policy they advocate?

    Strange days indeed …

  19. Fran, Perhaps insane was too strong a word. Perhaps even “out of your mind” isn’t all that accurate.

    You don’t like articles in some newspaper? Join the club, there are plenty of rags around. Eg. try Green Left Weekly sometime for some really unhinged stuff (opinion not even masquerading as journalism, but each issue is cheaper than dunny paper, so has a useful function).

    You can’t live with people having opinions different to your own? (Who decreed YOUR opinions – unhinged impractical rantings – are worthwhile anyway?)

    You can’t stand the thought that a significant chunk of the population are interested enough by what is written in a newspaper to keep buying it?

    You won’t be able to convince the consumers of this broadsheet’s articles to stop buying it, so you advocate brownshirt tactics to cut off economic support for a newspaper.

    Free speech offends you that much? Oh dearie me!

  20. @Steve at the Pub
    Its not free speech at issue here Steve. Did you read the thread? Its the OOs attempts to “out” and castigate an innocent citizen writing under a nom de plume in the blogosphere.
    Thats an attempt by OO to shut down free speech and only because it doesnt align with their usually biased rantings.
    A significant chunk of the population think OO stinks btw.

  21. @Steve at the Pub

    Understandably, SATP, you want this to be about “free speech” but to the extent that it is, I’m the one favouring it and you, by your implicit endorsement of the monoply traders in public discourse, are the one opposing it. News Ltd has an absolutely dominant position in the major cities and even regional centres and rather than being driven by “what the public needs to know” or even “what the public thinks” it is entirely about “what advertisers want”. Advertisers are entitled to a POV, but they aren’t the same as the public, and certainly, media of that type does not underpin a pluralist society.

    If I were a “brownshirt” (Godwins anyone?) I’d be advocating forming gangs of thugs to beat up journalists, so your comparison fails. What I advocate falls entirely within “market mechanisms” — the very thing the OO claims to support. People can choose how to spend their money and if the advertisers learn that consumers want intellectually honest reporting, then they may come to support it more often.

    You say:

    You can’t live with people having opinions different to your own? (Who decreed YOUR opinions – unhinged impractical rantings – are worthwhile anyway?)

    On the contrary, I’ve lived for 36 of my 52 years knowing full well that the majority of the world — the vast majority — would not agree with me much more often than not, and that this would likely persist until the day I would draw my last breath. I’m OK with that, though I’d prefer they did of course. My problem is that most of them will be deprived of the facts and ideas that might cause them to reflect on what they think and wonder if what they thought was common sense was actually common nonsense.

    As it stands, News Ltd is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

  22. STeve writes:

    You can’t stand the thought that a significant chunk of the population are interested enough by what is written in a newspaper to keep buying it?

    the Oz is run at a loss by it foreign owner to try and influence Australian policy. Said foreign owner is a political activist with plutocratic (anti-democratic) and monopolistic power. (See barriers to entry for background on why monopoly status continues). Said plutocrat control 70% of the press in Australia, hence is influence on national politics.

    You won’t be able to convince the consumers of this broadsheet’s articles to stop buying it, so you advocate brownshirt tactics to cut off economic support for a newspaper.

    Actually the brown shirt tactics was to bully dissenting voices (see the Oz attack on the Greens, and Murdoch’s attempt to snuff any attempt at press competition).

    Fran’s tactic is in keeping with the ‘freedom loving’ moves employed to attack Apartheid South Africa.

  23. The last time I actually bought a copy of The Australian – which wasn’t that many months ago (I almost never buy newspapers anyway, whatever their political complexion) – the allegedly political commentary consisted almost entirely of quotes from, yes, you guessed it, unnamed sources.

    “A senior Liberal Party figure …” “An ALP backbencher who did not want to be named …” “A former colleague of Tony Abbott …” and so forth. Paragraph after paragraph after paragraph.

    Unless and until reporters at The Oz and other newspapers overcome their addiction to such anonymous tip-offs, they have an almighty nerve slagging off at the hapless “Grog”‘s reluctance to “out” himself.

  24. @robert (not from UK)
    Exactly robert – they get some innocent who doesnt toe the “opinion line” they want to push and they “out” him like the rabid mind security dogs they are.
    Well I dont agree with the OX not naming the sources they “choose’ To protect in politics (which does matter) and I dont agree with them outing an innocent free thinker in the general public who has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.
    Its party politics courtesy of the Oz…and we know which party that is. Same as the media in the US ramping up the Obama attacks. Same old same old Murdoch. How old is the old bastard? Isnt it time he dropped off?

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