Dear Sydney Morning Herald: stop insulting our intelligence and do some fucking journalism

If this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald online front page is any guide, we’re in for two weeks of insulting, click-baiting tabloid bullshit Olympics coverage. It has already become truly offensive.

“Michael Cowley? I doubt it’s even this big.” Liesel Jones and Stephanie Rice during training. Photo: Reuters

Today’s top story, by Michael Cowley, involves four-time Olympian Liesel Jones’s coach Michael Bohl angrily reacting to “suggestions” that Jones is unfit, based on some unflattering poolside photographs of her the Herald Sun published over the weekend. (Because we all look our best in our swimmers while bending over, right?)

This article consistently uses chickenshit words like “suggestions” (four times), “speculation” and “some feel that…”, never once attributing any of these claims to anyone. In fact, it is the writer making these suggestions, but using vague language to make it sound like reporting news, rather than spreading gossip.

When swimmer-turned-TV-commentator Giaan Rooney says she’s “embarrassed to be a member of the media” as a result of these stories, you’d think our more seasoned, professional journalists might pause. But no, click-whoring beats introspection any day of the week. As I’ve been writing this, the Herald has published another story, rehashing the same quotes and, of course, republishing the same photos.

Cowley continues his hard-hitting reportage with a story describing how an Australian swimmer and one from the USA were *gasp* talking to each other. The two swimmers “looked flirty in the water together, stopping to chat and laugh at the end of a lap”. What is this, high school? Perhaps Cowley should publish a video of him singing “Blair and Ryan sitting in a tree” next.

This is another in a series of puerile articles in the Herald discussing the possibility that athletes in the Olympic village might, snigger snigger giggle, be DOING IT — this one from the Guardian yesterday and this wire story last week. I mean, really? Take 10,000 young, fit, relatively attractive people, put them all together in a village overseas, away from parental supervision, and some of them might HAVE SEX?! Fuck me dead, that’s a scoop.

Australian pole vaulter Liz Parnov. Photo: Jason South, Sydney Morning Herald

The Herald front page also promotes this story about pole vaulter Liz Parnov. Parnov is the niece of Sydney gold [correction: silver] medallist Tatiana Grigorieva, and many other members of her family are sporty. Liz is also young, fit and not unattractive. (Oh noes, she might have SEX!) But I’m sure her being photogenic had no bearing on the Herald‘s story choice.

Unlike the other stories I’ve discussed, this one contains some actual facts. For example, it says Parnov’s grandmother Natalya Pechonkina “won bronze for Russia in the women’s 400 metres in 1968”. This is not technically true, given there was no country called Russia in 1968. And if you check the reader comments, it becomes apparent the story originally claimed Pechonkina won a medal at the Los Angeles olympics in 1984. When she was 38 years old. In the games the Soviet Union boycotted. A mistake even the laziest journalist could have avoided by looking up Pechonkina’s wikipedia entry and by having a basic knowledge of world history.

In dishing out this slop, the Herald, of course, will protest that it is only giving its readers what they want.

Let me make my case perfectly clear: Do. Not. Want.

We don’t want gossip. We don’t want childish innuendos about athletes’ sex lives. We don’t want stories about people just because they look pretty. We don’t want stories full of errors that one minute of basic research would have caught.

We want stories about actual stuff that happened. Stories that include facts, established by thorough research, and interviews with real people.

If you clowns at the Herald aren’t up to providing this, maybe it’s time you took one of those redundancies and thought about how you might be more gainfully employed as a gossip magazine writer — “a close friend of the couple said…”  — or a fishwife.

39 thoughts on “Dear Sydney Morning Herald: stop insulting our intelligence and do some fucking journalism

  1. “Let me make my case perfectly clear: Do. Not. Want.”

    Most people do want that. The problem isn’t that we have crappy journalists; it’s that we have a crappy reading public.

    • I think the relationship is more symbiotic. Journos dish out crap, people click on crap, journos think people want crap, journos dish out more crap. Which came first, the crap or the clicks?

  2. “Take 10,000 young, fit, relatively attractive people, put them all together in a village overseas, away from parental supervision, and some of them might HAVE SEX?! Fuck me dead, that’s a scoop.”

    Classic, love your humour and you’re spot on with the rest of the article. I’m sick of seeing these types of articles. Validates my reasoning for not going onto any of their “news” sites anymore

  3. I think people click on impulse and are left unsatisfied when all they get is gossip and speculation. Is it any wonder people don’t want to pay for journalism any more?

    Click-baiting is ultimately self-defeating behaviour, but it’s just as impulsive as the clicks themselves. Sometimes we don’t see the wood for the trees…

    • I suspect the reason that people don’t want to pay for journalism anymore is because they’re used to getting it free.

      If readers won’t pay then the media might have to tap into some mainstream audiences’ more base and puerile urges. Having a media industry is not a human right the last time I checked. It’s desirable and healthy and even crucial but not a right. And before you call on the government to fill the breach ask yourself ‘Do I want an Australian Xinhua?’

      Yes, the reporting is awful. But this is the deeper dilemma:

      The clicks may be the only thing is left to fund good journalism now the so called rivers of gold have gone.

      [I redacted a section of this comment because it was an ad hominem attack. The commenter didn’t provide a real email address so I decided my best option was to remove the offensive part and leave the rest. See my comments policy. –Josh]

      • That’s bull hit Josh. I asked if Caspian was an IBM PR. That’s hardly an ad hom attack.

        [It was the way you said it rather than what you said. Happy to discuss by email (address at top right). –J]

  4. The author is right – people like real news but it’s crap they click on when there is barely any of the original. When there is, it’s poorly written, researched, and largely pieced together from AP reports or images stolen from other outlets.

  5. Shut-up Josh. If I miss out on seeing a single hot Olympic Facebook nipple-slip on the intarwebs because of this I will be coming after you personally!

  6. People are shocked by this rubbish, but they still BUY it, which PAYS the “journalists”.

    So many people were disgusted by the paparazzi when Diana died, but did they stop buying papers?

    There are so many who hate Murdoch now, but does anyone say “I’m not buying his stuff anymore?”

    It shits me.

  7. Thanks for bringing this up, I think the recent “dramality” shows and tabloid type coverage are not beneficial for us as a society.

  8. Hang on – misogynist?? Jones is presumably under some kind of contract in which she has enormous public $ spent on her facilities, coaching, training and travel to events – $ that obligates her contractually to do 2 things:
    1) Turn up to swim in peak physical condition to compete at the top of her game, and
    2) Not to post photos on Facebook of her handling any firearms (unless she also qualifies for the shooting team, in which case it’s OK).

    It may or may not be legitimate for a journo to comment on any failure to do these two things – that’s arguable. But if they’re saying the same thing about Jones as they did about Greg Ritchie or Mark Cosgrove (the SA cricketer sacked for being too fat), then I don’t see how it can be misogynist. Likewise, if journos point out that Julia Gillard has a big @ss and that Tony Abbott has big ears, I don’t see the sexism in that. I’m pretty sure I remember some comments pointing out that Thorpedo wasn’t quite at his thinnest during his comeback either.

    Now maybe people’s weight is off limits and commentators should only comment if Jones swims a substandard time and doesn’t meet performance standards considered reasonable. Maybe not even then – perhaps ALL negative comment is off limits. But whatever the standards are for sporting figures, let’s have them for both genders.

  9. If you actually PAID you’d get the good stuff in the newspaper. You pay nothing, you get nothing. What do you expect? Something great for nothing?

  10. I laughed at the sex articles. Although, I’m starting to think the whole ‘orgy at the village’ scoop was nothing more than a media plant by the US Olympic team as a form of preemptive damage control incase an Olympian does something bone headed like tweet that they had an orgy with the water polo team or even worse posts a photo of the act.

    If we think the media reaction to a couple of knobs posing with guns was bad, imagine the firestorm a sex scandal would cause, especially in the US.

  11. A great little article which is only slightly incorrect, in that the vast majority of journalists who worked at the Herald have now left.

    Consequently I think that it would have been great if Gina (I shit icebergs so there’s clearly no global warming) Reinhardt had bought the Herald because it might have affected and reduced her total net worth! The herald is seriously going down the shitter and it might have taken a bit of her with it…

    Over 70% of the herald articles are now news wire (this is heresay but I’ve been told this by someone who ought to have a good idea of the percentages although I would love to know the exact figure). Many of the senior Journos have now taken redundencies, and pretty much all of the subs are gone, the rusted on readership is falling off, they are still incapable of capitalising on their web presence and basically it is the end of objective journalism in Australia because rather than setting the standard the managers have decided to appeal to the lowest common denominator…

  12. I despair at the way the media bring people down. If they were not Journalists would it be classed as being a bit of a bully. Was dawn Fraser a big bird and also if i remember correctly so was Ilsa Conrad. Not all thin racehorses win as overweight rachorses win too.

  13. Great Josh. I finally see someone criticising the annoying use of vague words by journalists that don’t want to be responsible for their own opinion. I’m so tired of “there are reports” (what report????), “there are calls” (who is calling for????) and “there are concerns” (who is concerned????).

  14. I haven’t purchased a paper in decades because most of the news is bad news, but with the Olympics I was tempted until I started to see reporters interviewing other reporters just like on TV. Just give me the FACTS and nothing but the FACTS. I don’t need or want human interest stories.

  15. FWIW, earlier this afternoon I heard this story referred to on radio 702 as “The SMH saying Liesl Jones is a dugong.” Many in-car lulz ensued, as is often the case during James Valentine’s program.

  16. I don’t read papers any more, although I did buy one last week because we needed some paper to light the fire with. It’s not good enough, and I don’t want to support their crap efforts with my time or my money. Nice blog by the way.

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