November 1, 2012

Editor’s Note

November 2012 Editor's Note

By John van Tiggelen

How different things look in spring. Take ‘Rudd’s forces’. Back in the gloom of winter, they radiated real menace. Now they’re more like a ‘trick or treat’ Halloween posse. There they go, door to door, trying their darnedest to look scary: Kim Carr grimly reaping, Bruce Hawker the ghost who walks, Peter Hartcher pining ghoulishly, Mother Thérèse casting spells, Rob McClelland as a jack-o’-lantern. And Maxine McKew sure wore out some shoe leather for her lollies this week.

It is all rather cute, especially in the context of what actually transpired last month in federal parliament. The prime minister gave a speech that the press gallery, in its collective wisdom, decided was so self-serving as to be hypocritical, and as such wasn’t worth reporting either on its own or in full. A few years ago, that might have been that. We, the readers, listeners and viewers, would have been left to rely on the accounts of Grattan, Hartcher, Uhlmann, Oakes, Kelly, Crabb et al, which, but for a few bons mots here and there, concluded pretty much the same: the PM had tried to defend the oleaginous Peter Slipper; she was a loser.

But gatekeepers are fast becoming old hat. Within hours, social media had spread footage of the speech to almost anyone not yet of baby-boomer vintage. For all its staging as a political diversion, the speech manifestly stood alone from the Slipper affair. It was about the sexism of Tony Abbott, and it was magnificent.

Indeed, the upstaging of the press gallery, more so than Facebook’s commercial throttling of Alan Jones in the fortnight prior, will resonate as the moment social media became a serious player in Australian politics. Until last month, many of us in what’s left of the mainstream media were prepared to humour the young and tweet-happy by acknowledging that social media had done its bit in the Arab Spring and all that, but in a western Democracy the whole shebang just seemed a little graceless and immature. All those glib one-liners. Did we really want our news passed around by peer relations, rather than edited? Yet you don’t need more than 140 characters to share a link. People clicked on the speech footage and sat transfixed, for 15 absorbing minutes. There was a time prime ministers were admired for their powerful speeches. It turns out they still are. Funny that should come as news to the press gallery.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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