By Kate Doak.
As a young Transsexual woman, I’ve experienced what it’s like being “outted” to people in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable or safe. I’ve been bullied, sworn at, assaulted, lied to and ridiculed by others, purely because I’m supposedly something “different” to what they are used to. It’s not a pleasant feeling having somebody take control of your life in some way shape or form, and use it against you in order to suit their own ends.
As many of you within the Australian political tweets fraternity would know, a public servant who writes under the pseudonym “Grogs Gamut” was “outted” earlier this week by James Massola, who writes the “Capital Circle” column for “The Australian”. James Massola decided to publish Grogs Gamut’s real name under the supposition that Gamut is now a political figure, given his comments on media coverage of policy announcements during the recent Federal Election campaign, as well as his acceptance of an invitation to the recent Media 140 conference in Canberra. This last point is particularly strange given that there were numerous public servants at the conference.
James Massola has argued throughout the week since Gamut was “outted” that he did so with the interests of the public in mind. With arguments ranging from “the public should know when a public servant is biased”, through to “Grog put himself in this position”, James Massola has been gently stoking the flames within the volunteer and academic media, in order to promote the circulation of his own work online. That’s typical of most print journalists within the political confines of Canberra, as the more hits your stories are getting, either online or otherwise, the safer your job becomes.
James Massola has been claiming that going after Grogs Gamut hasn’t been about getting revenge on a critic whatsoever. If you believe that line, then I’ve got a Pelican for sale that knows how to tap-dance as well. By it’s very nature, the Canberra Press Gallery is a conservative institution. Unlike many other parts of the media industry, change isn’t welcome to many of those who have clawed their way from obscurity into the nation’s limelight. Nor is criticism, especially when it’s constructive.
Ontop of that, James Massola would have had to of known that Grogs Gamut was invited to the Media 140 conference by it’s Australian convenor, Julie Posetti. Possessing one of the finest journalistic and academic minds around, Julie is nobody’s fool when it comes to anything of a political or media nature. If anyone were able to verify whether somebody has a political agenda or not, it would be a prominent Journalist, who just also happens to teach Journalism students for a living.
While Massola was well within his rights to “out” Grogs Gamut, was it the morally right thing to do so? Grog hasn’t lost his job (yet), so no harm done, right? It’s cavalier attitudes like this that either get people hurt, or end careers. In more than a few situations, it’s resulted in both. What would have happened if Grog had of lost his job over this? If you look through his entire blog, Grog has been meticulous in making sure that he only blogs on issues that are already in the public arena, and never on anything that could possibly come across his desk at work.
Around midday on Friday, James Massola did a live audio interview via a web-stream on “The Australian”’s website, with fellow Canberra Reporter Latika Bourke, and his editor, Geoff Elliot. In an attempt to justify the actions of “The Australian” over the past week, Massola said why he published details about Grogs Gamut, while Latika Bourke was coached into saying why she disagreed with some of the characteristics of online Bloggers. What followed to this “Journalistic Threesome”, was a diatribe as to why the “established” media were right on this issue, while everyone else, including journalism academics, are wrong.
What’s surprising is that no one with a Blogging background was included as a part of this broadcast, even though the topic was “Blogging” itself. While some might argue that Massola’s background with the pro-Catholic “Eureka Street” during his early career might qualify him as a blogger, there’s a difference between “writing for work” like journalists do, and “writing for fun”.
That in itself raises a question: why did James Massola and Geoff Elliot choose Latika M. Bourke to be a part of that interview? As many of you (from Australia that is) are aware Latika Bourke is employed by 2UE, which is owned by Fairfax. Fairfax owns both “The Sydney Morning Herald” and “The Age”, which are in direct competition with “The Australian”. Given that News Corporation have their own journalists who have just as much experience in Canberra as Latika (some of whom are also more experienced in social media), it’s surprising that she was called in for this “interview”.
Now if you listen closely to the recording, nearly every time James Massola said something Latika Bourke was in complete agreement. Now nothing against Latika Bourke, as I think that she’s one of the smartest young journalists to have covered Canberra in a long, long time, though something stinks about this. Latika Bourke is normally rather blunt with both her questions and her answers, so seeing her act pretty much as a “yes-man” to everything that Geoff Elliot and James Massola were saying is just plain weird.
During the conversation, I tweeted the following to James Massola which he then proceeded to read out on-air:
Massola then proceeded to state that I’d missed the point and that he’d praised Grogs Gamut during the early part of the campaign. While that much certainly is true (the praise), it doesn’t explain why he suddenly thought that Grogs Gamut was instantly newsworthy now. Media 140 is predominantly an education-orientated organization, rather than a professional one in the sense of the National Press Club. The conference run by Julie Posetti was designed to benefit both professional journalists and bloggers alike, regardless of politics. In that regard, Grogs Gamut had as much of a right to attend Media 140 as anyone else, particularly given the apolitical insight that he gave on the coverage of the 2010 election. If “outting” Grogs Gamut’s identity wasn’t newsworthy at the time of the election, then it can only come across as an act of spite by “The Australian” now.
Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics.