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Come to the Cabaret old …
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err, Chum … Come to the Cabaret … the evening’s wonderful enertainment.

Well, thank god for that.

Things are not quite as grim as I thought.

Sitting day in day out in the spare bedroom in Howrah Flats, hacking obsessively-compulsively away at producing Tassie Times, a jaundiced view of the Tasmanian meedja world envelopes your jaded concsiousness. Or it has mine.

It is of course the view from afar; the view of one whose professional career was spent mostly one step removed from the ruck of day-in-day-out meedja combat; with its concomitant dangerous and occasionally compromising familiarity with public figures.

Though, in my defence, I’ve done my fair share of meedja conferences and awkward questions to recalcitrant public figures. But, mostly, long ago; so long ago; think Eric Reece, for god’s sake.

My reason for sudden optimism about the state of meedja was enforced on the dance floor and the laden tables of the Hobart Entertainment Centre or whatever it’s called…Elizabeth Pier, just up from T42 (from which I have politely been told too many times over too many years to kindly vacate).

It was the Media Ball; the occasion of awards for the best Tasmanian journalism – under immense pressure with dwindling staff as the online media revolution lays waste – has to offer. (It offered most to The Australian’s Matthew Denholm here)

I love to dance. It’s a tic i’ve been unable to control for nearly 60 years. I swear I was dancing in the womb … but it woulda been to Sankey’s Sacred Hymns and Solos; as the offspring of fundamentalists.

Mind you, there is something wonderful about being brought up by literalist believers and non-conformists; well apart from the three-attendance Sundays in the spare, bare Stowport Gospel Hall where every Sunday of my youth was spent waiting knowingly for Lettie, Trevor, Clarence amd Meryck to succumb to the sun’s golden rays shafting through the gaps in the whitewashed windows; heads toppling on to chest, hymn books dropping, occasional snores erupting, as the cost of the early-morning rise to milk the vast herd at Upper Natone was paid …

I digress and have been unforgiveably distracted by recollection; drifiting off into that other world of so long ago; that world of blood and gore, the suffering Jesus, the fundamentalist terror of sins unforgiven (if only I could find them).

For what fundamentalism and non-confomity give you in spades is scepticism. Not cynicism. A proper balanced scepticism. You do not believe as others believe – specially those Roman neighbours trooping off to the Star of The Sea every Sunday to bow before the all-powerful priest in his ornate Burnie edifice.

Scepticism. At the end of life, I have long believed, lie Love and Paradox. The Paradox of my upbringing was early in life to ditch the fundamentalism of religious belief; be very trashy for a few years; return to it in horror and desperation… then slowly drift away in later life to belief in mystery (the older I get the more mysterious it all is; the more wonderful it all becomes). But the life legacy of non-conformity is to be the outsider and to question.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

My consistent criticism of my journalistic colleagues is that they do not question enough; too easily and readily swallowing the spin which makes up so much of public life; too easily rolling out the same old (mostly conservative and big-business orientated) talking heads. For heavens sake if I hear again the same spiel from the same talking-head consultant on ABC Radio over the bloody pulp mill I will aaarghhhhh …

But in the ruck of 24-hour meedja you can only be a foot soldier obeying the commands of your Overseers; especially during a time of shrinking staff numbers and dwindling revenue.

And the principal reason for he-said-she-said, Magpie simplistic, celebrity-focused journalism practised too much in Tasmania surely has to be seated with the Overseers … the primarily male, conservative middle-aged self-satisfied simplistic-analysers keeping it all nice for the Masters who control the adverstising dollars; in the process failing dismally to realise that Tasmania is so creative; so intelligent; so switched on in a minority of its life. In other words failing to grasp the culture fully; and imposing a simplistic partially-representative tabloid culture instead.

The sort of journalism that prays for car accidents, crims in the dock, thunderstorms, floods, disasters, cute celeb chicks or princesses … but which fails dismally too often to question; fails to dip beneath the surface of so much that is questionable in public life (Paul Harriss’s Altruistic Trips to Sarawak. Ta very much. Rolley takes Ta Ann reins.). Now I ask you … can you imagine a politican in Britain or the US not being, at the every least, thoroughly questioned?.

And what about the broader possible links. As John Lawrence has so forensically revealed Ta Ann Tasmania is a dog (A dog: The financial truth about Ta Ann Tasmania).

So why was many millions of public money directed to a dog? What is going on? Then again, it is only the public’s money so it appears not to matter …

And do we know much about the Hydro connections? Ta Ann is controlled by the family of the most powerful man in Sarawak whose vision is to swamp Sarawak with dams displacing thousands of indigenous who have survived the ravages of the loggers. Hydro consults on the construction of dams (Ta Ann’s links to allegations of rights abuses, environmental destruction. Heat on FT). Are we happy with that?

Surely it’s worth, at least, questioning?

But back to the Meedja Ball. I have to say I was impressed by the questioning young journos; one for example who told me of her distress at stories she thought worthy of Page 1 consigned by the complacent Overseers to the dustbin of Page 40.

And I was impressed by the impact of outsiders. So often it takes an objective eye to shake the status quo. I reckon this guy is starting to do it (And the Editor is …).

And watch out with hope for this guy (Leon Compton moves on).

It takes a while to get to grips with this arcane, opaque island, particularly while the Masters bellow with their grasping, self-interested megaphones.

But I reckon for what it’s worth, things are just a tad more hopeful than that depressing future of journalism love-in I was a part of a few years ago (Be quiet Lindsay and The Morning After Hobart).

Can we recapture the glory days of a century and a half ago when intelligent recalcitrant journos took on the Masters:

THE Launceston Examiner, where I got my start as a journalist, took its name from the great pioneering English newspaper of the early 19th century edited by the Hunt brothers.

Not only did The Examiner of Georgian times print the best writers of the day – Keats, Hazlitt, Byron, Shelley – the Hunts withstood numerous prosecutions by the government. In 1812, they were imprisoned for two years after describing the 50-year-old Prince Regent, later George IV, as a libertine gambler ‘‘who had just closed half a century without one single claim to the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity’‘.

I didn’t know of the Launceston Examiner’s distinguished lineage when I worked there, but learnt of it this week reading a fascinating biography of John West, the newspaper’s first editor and later the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. West believed journalists should be ‘‘useful’‘. Written by Patricia Fitzgerald Ratcliff, the book is titled The Usefulness of John West.

During its years as a penal colony, Tasmania had a surprisingly brave and spirited press. Where Ratcliff deepened my understanding was by showing the part played by religious dissenters such as John West and John Fairfax, the forebear of the corporation that now owns The Age, in making that spirit flourish.

Martin Flanagan: Journalism’s historic battle: safeguarding a liberal press

We can hope …