Malcolm Brown the ethics of journalism

the ethics of journalism

Previous Event: 14th November 2013

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Malcolm Brown the ethics of journalism

Family is my life

Malcolm Brown

MALCOLM BROWN                           14 NOVEMBER 2013

Malcolm Brown retired August 2012 after 40 year career with the Sydney Morning Herald where he was a Senior Writer and Editor.

 Malcolm is the author of 7 books:

Malcolm spoke to the group about his many and varied experiences as a journalist and gave an insight into the world of newspapers.

Malcolm was motivated to try his hand at journalism when he recognised the interplay between three elements that together form a piece of work of creativity: Intellect, Emotion, and Picture. It was the creative element that drew him to the career rather than having any particular barrow to push.

He commenced work in his home town of Dubbo and it was not long before his involvement in researching and writing articles lead him to ‘live and breathe’ his work.

Malcom joined the SMH in 1972 and he recounts that starting work there was like stepping into a picture book where again, the three elements of intellect, emotion and picture were formed and reformed again in stories that ranged from:

Busking with a guitar for three days

Meeting the Governor of New South Wales

Reporting on the Janelle Patten murder trial on Norfolk Island

Ascending in a hot air balloon in the bicentennial year 1988

Reporting in Bahrain during the Gulf War, wearing a gas mask when locals had no such protection


Lindy Chamberlain trials & interviewing Winmatti, an aboriginal elder at Uluru

Interviewing the ousted Prime Mimister of Fiji

Accompanying the Fred Hollows Restore Sight campaign in Vietnam

Meeting members of the Viet Cong

Participating in an Australian – German cultural interchange

Malcolm denies that journalists can ever reach a peak of objectivity as they, just like everyone, have their own filters through which they view the world.  The journalist’s role, however, is to write what she/he sees, hears and not put his or her own interpretation on it. Further, as professional observers, journalists learn to present their knowledge professionally and to present each side of a story.

What happens to the story once it reaches the editor’s hands, of course, is another matter. Malcolm openly acknowledges that the newspaper / media proprietors’ wishes / politics play a role in an editor’s work which then flows down to how articles are treated. Malcolm’s balanced (in his opinion) articles were often severely edited and then did not display the even handed consideration that was intended; he found the bias of Fairfax frustrating.

Influence was not only brought to bear through his employer but also by other parties interested in his journalism. When reporting on the Building Industry Royal Commission, the unions tried to pressure Malcolm both directly and through his employer to present his reporting in a light favourable to the workers. Malcolm would not be part of it and stuck to his guns.

Regarding the current status of journalism, Malcolm believes that the quality of writing remains good and that members of the populace who want real facts and to hear both sides of any story, will continue to rely on professional journalism for their ‘news’.

Whilst the Electronic Revolution is here and must be accepted, news by twitter / social media will provide an alternative but will never be considered serious journalism.

Encouraging those interested in journalism to pursue their dream, Malcolm also pragmatically advises to complete an alternative qualification in order to have a back up plan!