One of the oft-repeated clichés amongst the chattering classes is that the heyday of journalism was in the 1960's and 1970's. The demise of 'hard-hitting long-form investigative journalism' and the rise of social media and GIF-listicles together spelled the death of the newspaper, and by extension, the figure of the journalist - pitted against the vested interests of business and government and unswerving in their loyalty to the public interest and the truth.
As with most successfully propagated lies, this narrative contains grains of truth that allows it to resonate within the broader social experience of declining standards of civic relations and public discourse. The collective dumbing-down of our society at all levels can be readily observed through the lower age-reading levels of politicians speeches and newspapers, the prescribed texts and subjects taken at our schools, and the elevation of third-rate television sophists to the role of intellectuals.
The irony of this reactionary sentiment held by modern progressives is that in the age of 'mass education', the flagship cultural products of the intelligentsia have been spurned by the newly 'educated' hoi polloi. This may be the salve of progressive education policies; as higher education is extended to an ever-growing portion of the populace, literary standards fall, prestige is diminished, and the barrier to entry is correspondingly lower. It doesn't take great skill to regurgitate critical theory talking points and feint outrage at instances of political correctness. The farce of the 'esteemed journalist' such as Laurie Oakes has now been replaced with the increasingly desperate and poorly-paid clickbait interns such as Buzzfeed's Mark Di Stefano.
As journalism competes with purer forms of entertainment such as television and fantasy fiction, it continues to decline as a profitable enterprise and a respected profession. Fairfax is nearly dead. The Murdoch press is posting losses. The marginalisation of conservative viewpoints further accelerates this process, as the radical leftist echo-chamber drifts further and further away from mainstream views. Resembling a runaway form of vanguardism, it appears that the guardians of public (im)morality are losing control.
The force of the market is unfortunately not enough to put journalists out of work. Some of the largest peddlers of fake journalism have traditionally run heavy losses, including Slate, Salon and Huffington Post, due to the benevolence of their owners who place the public good above all else. In Australia Black Books Inc., The Monthly, The Quarterly Essay and The Saturday Paper occupy this space as slick sources of radical pseudo-intellectual critique, owned by property developer Morris Schwartz.
Schwartz' outfits cover the same handful of focused issues: post-colonial theory, regular expositions of bogus Aboriginal claims to sovereignty, refugee 'human stories', LGBTQ* and Feminist activist profiles, multicultural apologia and variations of kvetching over Pauline Hanson and what remains of the 'hard right' of the Liberal and National parties. My own favourite has to be David Marr's regular Quarterly Essay, where he plays out templated Pauline-Putin-Hitler-Trump fantasies over and over.
The radical nature of the critical theory that underpins the worldview of the editorial stance of Schwartz et al is poorly understood by the mainstream, and its hostility to traditional values and white Australia is usually veiled in flowery demagoguery on behalf of the above mentioned victim groups. What distinguishes it from its ideological counterparts at Buzzfeed or Huffpo is its attempt to decouple its political critique from recognised forms. It is just 'The Saturday Paper' (an Anglo-Australian slang term for a weekend broadsheet) not a radical and subversive left-wing mouthpiece.
The other key difference is the use of the longform essay and 'narrative journalism' that does away with outdated notions of facts-based analysis, whilst still denying any kind of political bias. From an interview with the editor of The Saturday Paper, Erik Jensen:
Bill Birnbauer: There are suggestions that you’re looking at least to a few left-leaning, social justice stories. Are the conservative elements of the readership going to be dismayed, or happy?
Erik Jensen: We’re looking at a very straight up and down newspaper. The one niche that we have is long-form quality journalism, the other niche being neglected by newspapers is straight up and down reporting. I’m really not interested in putting together a left-wing newspaper, nor am I interested in putting together a right-wing one. We have conservative writers for the paper.
[...]People tend to think narrative journalism is left-wing. I don’t understand why that is but they just think if something strays too long all of a sudden a communist must be involved.
The other part of that is that it is hard to find very good conservative writers. I’ve, for two years looking for them, been troubling over why this should be and I think a part of it is that good writing requires empathy and a certain amount of empathy often turns people progressive. That’s why the arts, so requiring of empathy as they are, are often peopled by progressives.
There's no political editorial - it's just that good writing requires empathy and a certain amount of empathy often turns people progressive. There is no left and right - just righteous and selfish. This is the level of delusion maintained by the minions of billionaire property tycoons with a monopoly on longform print journalism.
In February 2009, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wrote an article for Schwartz's magazine The Monthly titled The Global Financial Crisis. It contained the ideological justification for what would become Labor's disastrous economic legacy: the squandered proceeds of the mining boom surplus built up over the Howard years, the re-inflation of the housing boom and the blowing up of the federal balance sheet, staving off technical markers of recession whilst destabilising a financial system that is now but one external shock away from crisis.
Bailing out the boomers and the banks was the great act of 'smashing capitalism' that The Monthly's editors hailed as a progressive critique of neo-liberal economics. This is the great illusion of the progressive agenda of Schwartz et al. They do not represent 'the people', 'the downtrodden' or 'the forgotten'. They are the monied crony class that directly benefits from whoever is in power. Morris Schwartz AM is the recipient of an Order of Australia, the "principal and most prestigious means of recognising outstanding members of the community at a national level". Morris' wife, Anna Schwartz, is a prominent art dealer and gallery owner. From a glowing interview in Fairfax:
''Anna, at heart, is interested in how art shapes and changes our culture. She is not just in it for the red sold stickers,'' Smith says.
Fortunately, she does not have to be. Morry Schwartz is a powerful Melbourne property developer (he redeveloped the GPO in Bourke Street and built the twin Watergate apartment towers in Docklands) and publisher of The Monthly magazine and The Quarterly Essay.
And it helps that Morry's brother is married to Carol Schwartz, the daughter of Marc Besen, the billionaire chairman of Highpoint Property Group and founder of the Sussan clothing chain. Anna's daughter, Zahava Elenberg, is an architect with Elenberg Fraser.
Making connections is vital in the art world, says Smith, since it is usually ''high net worth individuals'' who have the cash to collect paintings, sculptures and, increasingly, video installations.
The "high net worth individuals" are predictably milked twice - as patrons and customers of degenerate art in Anna's Gallery and readers of of Morris' pilpul. Such is the state of "highbrow" culture in Australia.
Strange Days, 2013
It does not go unnoticed that in an earlier piece Generation Less Will Have Its Day, The Editors of The Dingoes reviewed with some level of commendation two pieces of writing by Black Books Inc.'s authors Jessica Rayner and Richard Cooke about inter-generational inequity and the housing crisis. Unsuprisingly, both are millenials themselves, and neither appear to conform to the various flavours of intersectionality cherished by their colleagues.
As we noted last year, neither of their critiques 'speak truth to power' and patently ignore some of the major underlying causes of their areas of study, being mass third-world immigration and a government-backed finance boom. Nor can they reconcile the contradiction of the ethics of one-world solidarity and maintaining first-world living standards. They are playing their role, albeit in good faith (the writers - not editors)- effectively functioning as controlled opposition to neoliberal finance capitalism with flaccid critique and no reform agenda.
The rougher edges of Schwartz' cronies were revealed last week on The Drum, when aforementioned Erik Jensen of The Saturday Paper, defending the Human Rights Commissions legal powers to prosecute alleged instances of racism, announced in a moment of effete fluster that:
"Racism is the reason I have a job, racism is the reason you have a job..structural privilege predicated on racism is the reason that we all have jobs. Everyone on this panel has a job because they benefit from some kind of racism"
Exposing the public to this kind of extremism via the legitimacy of these loss-making publications is one of the major accomplishments of Schwartz and his ilk. Fortunately, these kinds of hysterical displays and absurd claims likely contribute to racism inflation. As noted by Benoist, dilution leads to trivialisation, and extracting maximum mileage out of these words is something we should encourage at all levels.
The public should be made aware of the propaganda apparatus that justifies some of the most unpopular and undemocratic components of the state bureaucracy (The Human Rights Commission), peddled catastrophic economic and border control policies, and dishonestly props up pecuniary interests whilst claiming a reputation of honest reporting and serving the public good.