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Adventures of a Girl Reporter, Australia, Observations

Sorting through the wreckage – a year in review

Well, that was a year to remember. It started badly, and went mostly downhill from there. It was bookended by terror on the streets of Paris as the City of Light dealt with not one but two ghastly massacres within the space of 12 months. For the most part, what stood out in the response of Parisians was dignity and courage. 

Here in Australia, in spite of the gathering storms, we still had plenty to laugh about – mostly courtesy of our prime minister Tony Abbott and his grown-up government. And in Queensland we started the year with a snap election. Premier Campbell Newman was booted out after a single term which was distinguished by wars on most sections of the population, from gays through to public servants to judges and bikies, not necessarily in that order.

He was probably always going to go, but was the scale of his defeat determined by the distinct lack of sausages on Election Day? You read it here first: Exercising suffrage insufferable without a sausage

Some ignored the sausage theory, and instead blamed Newman’s defeat on Tony Abbott’s Australia Day knighting of Prince Philip just days earlier. That was a glorious start to a year overstuffed with gaffes, blunders and frankly strange pronouncements in front of an ever expanding line of flags. By February Abbott was facing his first leadership challenge – which he won convincingly (61-39) against an empty chair.

In March the Abbott Government demonstrated its commitment to freedom with a swingeing range of data retention laws that most people, especially Attorney-General George Brandis, had trouble understanding. The majority of journalists had very little to say about the data retention bill until someone pointed out that it might make their own lives a little awkward, prompting Your Girl Reporter to observe: Good luck citizens, we’re on our own

In April a personal pressure came to a head. It had been building since the New Year when the current Mr Baxter and I decided to do the grown-up thing and buy a house. Months of house-hunting, house-choosing, house-buying and house-moving ultimately took their toll and I experienced the most prolonged flare-up in several years of my charming immune disorder, the impossible to spell Ankylosing Spondylitis: The highs and lows of living with an immune disorder

Luckily I had half a dozen pieces ‘in the bag’ – a term which back in the day referred to an actual clear plastic bag pinned to a cork board over an Editor’s desk. I had intended to intersperse the Francis James posts with more on the China Mail closure and other stories about Hong Kong in the 1960s and 70s but I lost my narrative thread in the brain fog that goes with an AS episode.

The debilitating effects of my immune system attacking my joints continued pretty much through the rest of the year. I don’t write much about AS but the response to my two posts about it in 2015 made me wonder if I should write more. Views welcome.

Francis James - a masterclass in China WatchingIn fact, my second post on the subject was the most popular of the year. To hell and back – a hero’s journey with ankylosing spondylitis was my second book review of 2015 and broke a Baxter rule. I had intended to only ever write about books I haven’t read – as demonstrated by my piece on Harper Lee’s ‘new’ novel, Go set a cat amongst the pigeons

For me, the Lee book was all about the daddy issues and that’s something Your Girl Reporter knows a bit about. It wouldn’t be the Baxter blog without some stories about my dad Jack Spackman and this year I had two personal favourites. I wrote Stringing out a living – Our Man in Hong Kong as a prelude to the centrepiece of my Francis James articles, a Masterclass in China Watching, based on a three-part article Jack wrote as a stringer for Melbourne’s The Age newspaper.

One thing led to another and in Rock n Roll trolling, California-style I recalled one of the last times Dad and I shared a newspaper at the breakfast table.

By August the AS was under control enough for me to return to my beat covering the past, present and future of journalism and I was privileged to attend a discussion of armed conflict and the media organised by the Australian Red Cross here in Brisbane. My rusty shorthand prevailed enough to turn in the following report:

Greste, Page, Ware and Wockner – a century of journalism on the frontline

That was followed by a lament for the local Boy and Girl Reporters and the pressure they’re under to stay on top of their beat in these days of diminishing resources with Doing the rounds in ever decreasing circles

marching-infantry-wearing-bootsI mostly stayed away from political commentary in 2015. There was just so much material that it was in danger of swamping the blog and making for a very one-note offering from Your Girl Reporter. But the debacle that became known as Operation Border Farce was one that could not pass unremarked. The militarisation of civilian functions like immigration and customs is the most visible of the chilling encroachment on our freedoms enacted by the current government of Australia.

Protestors were mobilised within an hour through social media after an official press release advised that Border Force officers in their shiny new paramilitary uniforms would be stopping people on the streets of Melbourne and checking their visas were in order.

Subsequent revelations obtained under a freedom of information request by Crikey have confirmed Your Girl Reporter’s assertion that the problem with the press release was its accuracy. You read it here first: Words matter – but don’t shoot the press officer

When I capped the end of a remarkable year with a visit to Melbourne I was proud to stop at Flinders Street Station and say to the current Mr Baxter. “Here, right here, is where the people of Melbourne made their stand.” The impromptu protest was a great example of how perfectly capable are ordinary citizens of taking the measure of a situation when they are given the facts. If all press releases were as accurate we’d have no need of journalists.

THAT dressWhich brings me to the reason Your Girl Reporter was in Melbourne, capping off a hell of a year in the company of the current Mr Baxter who picked up a Walkley for his punny headlines: And then he Walkley’d away with my heart

It was a rare privilege to join with the best of a profession which performs a vital public good and celebrate another year of their truth telling in ever more straitened and difficult circumstances.

When it comes to great journalism I fear that society will not notice its passing until it is too late. That will be partly because, although we know it when we see it, we don’t really know what goes into making the good stuff. Heck, most media organisations don’t appear to know what goes into it, which is why each new survival strategy seems to kill it a little more.

In 2016 I’ll continue filing my reports from the past, present and future of journalism in the hope of preserving some of that really good stuff, the commitment to truth telling with integrity.

C Sally Baxter 2015

That’s my last post for 2015. Wishing you all a happy and peaceful end of year celebration. I’ll be back at the end of January but don’t despair! There’s plenty of that good stuff in the Baxter archives. Try some memories of a colonial childhood in Hong Kong here

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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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