I realised I couldn’t be a journalist in the first five minutes of my first journalism lecture.
It was February 1985, my seat was sticky with sweat and the lecturer’s pen was leaking a purple splodge into the pocket of his short-sleeved shirt. I remember watching that stain spread. I remember being bored, and I remember thinking, if this is journalism, I’ve made a hideous mistake.
The lecture was about media ownership. I didn’t care about it then, and I’m not all that interested it now. Which is odd; I’m a voracious consumer of all kinds of media, some of my best mates are journalists and I know who owns what is very important.
But here’s my selection criteria: If it’s interesting, I’ll read it, watch it, listen to it. If it’s boring, I won’t.
Does that make me a mindless consumer? Possibly, but it seems that recently, when something unpalatable is written the response is, ‘Typical Fairfax,’ or ‘There’s Murdoch, up to his old tricks,’ or yes, even, ‘Here we go, Mia Freedman has rallied her acolytes again.’
It’s much cooler in some circles to discuss who owned the media than the actual message. I know one academic who says to his newsagent of a Saturday morning, ‘I’ll take a Fairfax and two Murdochs, thanks.’ What a toss.
Admittedly, I got a little bit interested in the News Of The World phone hacking scandal, because it was, you know, a scandal. But the bits that had me fascinated were when Wendi Deng threw herself Clint Eastwood style between a pie and her husband. Also, I wondered how Rebekah Brooks manages her hair on humid days.
More recently, I raised an eyebrow when Gina Rinehart made a move from mines into newspapers. The Rinehart family story interests me, in much the same way I enjoyed Dynasty in the early eighties. Without the Rose Hancock episode and Gina’s kids crying poor providing a juicy backdrop, I’m not sure I’d have stuck with it.
The logical, intelligent part of me tries to stick to what’s important. But there’s too much of it these days. Everything is crucial, a must-see, a must-read. The health of my kids, the future of our democracy, the survival of our planet depends on me being up to speed. But I can’t do it, I can’t care deeply about everything. Climate change, education funding, childhood obesity, famine in Africa, federal leadership crises, milk price wars, Tasmanian devils with facial cancers; it’s all too much. Media ownership hasn’t made it onto my keep-me-awake-at-night list.
The academic in the newsagent would say I’m a fool. I say I’m selective.
What’s the big issue you know you should care more about but can’t?