Previous Event: 14th November 2013Newspapers B&W By JonS Licensed Creative Commons
Malcolm Brown the ethics of journalism
Family is my life
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:
- You’re leaving tomorrow: conscripts and correspondents caught up in the Vietnam War (Nth Syd, Random House 2007) ISBN 978-1-74166-581-9
- Cold Blooded Murder: true crimes that rocked Australia (Syd, Lothian 2006) ISBN 0-7344-0961-3
- Australia’s Worst Disasters (Sth Melb, Lothian 2002) ISBN 0-7344-0338-0
- Bombs, Guns and Knives: violent crime in Australia (Syd, New Holland 2000) ISBN 1-86436-668-0
- Australian Crime: chilling tales of our time (Syd, Lansdowne 1993, 1995, 2001, 2004) ISBN 1-86302-312-7
- Rorting: the great Australian crime (Syd, Lansdowne 1999) ISBN 1-86302-605-3
- Justice and Nightmares: successes and failures of forensic science in Australia and New Zealand (Syd, University of New South Wales Press 1992) ISBN 0-86840-061-0
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!