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Adventures of a Girl Reporter, Australia, Observations

It’s getting darker – a year in review

Time to kick the shit of 2016 off our shoes and contemplate the mire of 2017 which lies before us. Anyone else feel exhausted at the prospect? None more so, I expect, than the journalists who have worked tirelessly to cover the rising tide of what looks more and more like fascism in the United States and Europe, a tide that laps even the fair and far shores of Australia.

And for what? To have their good work – and there has been some truly great work from journalists in 2016 – overwhelmed and largely overlooked in favour of what we are calling Fake News.

It’s a new term for an old phenomenon – and an effective sucker punch to an enfeebled Fourth Estate which was swiftly pronounced guilty of producing its own Fake News. Google it yourself – 17.9 million results for ‘fake news stories from the mainstream media’ with Breitbart leading the pack, naturally.

It’s getting darker. In a post-truth world what’s a poor journalist to do? Hint: Same as in the pre-post-truth world: More. With Less.

One thing we probably won’t have to read again for a while is another think piece on the irrelevance of Twitter.

Yes, 2016 was also the year Twitter came of age. If Facebook has matured into a news publisher, with all of the benefits and none of the traditional responsibilities, Twitter has blossomed into the most closely watched social media service in the world, all thanks to Donald Trump’s beautiful account.

That didn’t get Twitter’s Jack Dorsey a seat at the meeting of America’s ‘tech elite’ with the President-Elect and three of his children. Reports are Trump kept his tiny hands busy by stroking a big cat, which looked remarkably like his hair, as he warned the assembly, “All your algorithm are belong to us.”

Or at least, that’s how I heard it. In a post-truth world, you decide.

A Democracy Sausage in action. It's a non-negotiable feature of polling day in Australia.

A Democracy Sausage in action. It’s a non-negotiable feature of polling day in Australia.

‘Post-truth’ of course was the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year but here Down Under ‘democracy sausage’ was named by the Australian National Dictionary Centre, without even the fig-leaf of a hyphen to disguise the fact that it’s clearly two words.

But this is a post-truth, post-definition kind of world and the accolade, appropriately enough, only makes sense if you smash the two words together and add a Twitter hashtag.

Many overseas observers were understandably nonplussed about Australia’s word(s) of the year, with some questioning if it (they) referred to long queues at the polling booths. Nah, mate, it really is a humble sausage and it has finally been elevated to its rightful place as the symbol of how we do democracy.

Your Girl Reporter has been a proud supporter of the democracy sausage since long before it was fashionable, as you would expect.

In Australia, where voting is compulsory it’s also easy. We don’t have our elections in the middle of a working week. We don’t have to travel to hard-to-reach polling stations with limited voting times. No. We vote in our local communities on a Saturday and we enjoy a fund-raising barbecued sausage in a slice of bread once our solemn duty is done.

It was too small a consolation for a record number of Australian voters this year who opted out of our own interminable campaign in 2016 by taking the pre-polling option long before the parties had finished laying out their well-planned and clearly costed policies for the nation.

Your Girl Reporter turned to Chinese astrology for a little light relief in the face of the eight-week campaign, checking out the horoscopes of the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull and his opponent Bill Shorten to see who might prevail in the Year of the disruptive Monkey:

Australian election campaign no longer a one-horse race – Sally Baxter, May 2016

The Australian election – all eight dreary weeks of it – seems so long ago now, fading into irrelevance next to the gobsmacking rise of The Donald. And Malcolm Turnbull has, similarly, faded into office and is now a shadow of his former self. Can you hear a Monkey laughing?

The year 2016 has been disruptive, chaotic and generally agreed to be one of the worst ever. What made it harder was the loss of so many beloved artists, starting in January with the shock death of David Bowie.

David Bowie’s death means everything and nothing – Sally Baxter, January 2016

They tumbled so fast and so hard that 2016 quickly put us all on a grisly, involuntary Celebrity Death Watch. How many of us first assumed Bob Dylan had died when in fact he had won a Nobel prize?

By the time Leonard Cohen checked out – just as the ascendancy of Trump was confirmed – a fair chunk of humanity seems to have decided that 2016 had done enough to be called as Worst. Year. Evah.

It’s not quite over and Monkey may yet have a bit more shit to fling before he makes way for the Rooster on 28 January, 2017.

Whatever the new year holds, here’s to a bit of a break before we re-enter the fray. I will be taking one from now until the end of January with just one more post to come for 2016, and that will be some light summer reading.

See you back here in 2017. There’ll be more Adventures of a Girl Reporter, more stories about growing up in Hong Kong and more observations on the past, present and future of journalism.

In the meantime, as we ponder an uncertain future in the post-truth age, let’s remember that now, as always, if you don’t read newspapers you are uninformed. If you do read newspapers, you are misinformed. So said Mark Twain.

Or did he? In a post-truth world, you decide.

© Sally Baxter 2016

Further reading:

‘I’m here to help,’ Trump tells tech executives at a meeting – David Streitfeld, New York Times 14 December 2016

Democracy sausage: it’s Australia’s word of the year – Elle Hunt, The Guardian 14 December 2016

Did Facebook just kickstart the real Infowar? – Gideon Resnick and Ben Collins, The Daily Beast 16 December 2016

The cynical gambit to make ‘fake news’ meaningless – Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic December 2016

Covering politics in a “post-truth” America – Susan B Glasser, The Brookings Institution December 2016

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Fuller? Orville Hubbard? Ezra Taft Benson? Apocryphal? – Quote Investigator, 3 December 2016

Want more Baxter? Your Girl Reporter had this to say on the democracy sausage:

Exercising suffrage insufferable without a sausage – Sally Baxter, February 2015

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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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