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December 19th 2013 print

Roger Franklin

The ABC Site That Time Forgot

Current affairs used to mean, well, current. At The Drum/Unleashed, the ABC's online opinion site, they appear to have fed the dictionary into a shredder

rip vanWhen Chip Rolley, the venerable Anne Summers’ life partner, was appointed editor of The Drum after what was without a doubt a rigorous selection process, it was possible to believe the ABC was trying something new and innovative by installing an opinion editor with little if any experience of actually editing and publishing opinions. True, Rolley had formerly organised the Sydney Writers’ Festival , but that annual conclave hardly represented a recommendation, given that conservative guests tend to be trotted out only as temperance preachers once produced dipsomaniacs to illustrate Demon Rum’s damage, debilitation and degeneracy.

Well we need not have worried, because Rolley is doing something different – so different no newspaper editor or opinion-site captain has ever before considered following the trail he is blazing. Rather than update the homepage with fresh columns, as we here at Quadrant Online do in the belief that readers might like something new and interesting, he has decided to leave untouched almost everything on the Unleashed homepage — untouched and out-of-date for months and months and months.

Why not visit the home page and see what the ABC regards as current affairs? Do you notice the Hot Topics section on the home page? Well here it is what it looks like:

drum1

The top story dates from 10 weeks ago – September 30 – and has Mungo McCallum explaining why Tony Abbott is a dill who cannot stop those boats.

Overland editor Jeff Sparrow’s contribution – Australia’s inhumanity to asylum seekers —  is of similar vintage, as is Paul Karp’s view that Australia is to blame for the deaths of would-be boat people whose vessel foundered within sight of the Indonesia coast. Taken as a three-part unit, perhaps Rolley intends visitors to regard that section not so much as  “hot topics” but as the Abbott-haters’ readily accessible standard liturgy. You know, the way churches leave hymnals in the pews so the faithful can sing in tune.

Having re-defined news as “olds”, Unleashed really hits its straps further down the homepage with the Recent Stories section.  It might just be that the folks at the Macquarie Dictionary are doing some consulting work at the ABC because “recent” has been re-cast with the same dash and urgency that saw the definition of “misogynist” broadened overnight to include Tony Abbott.

There are eight stories in the section, every single contribution dating from the first weeks of July.

One of the things they teach young journalists — or used to teach them — is to avoid confusing readers, and it is here that Rolley’s approach does fall short, evidenced by Wayne “one of Australia’s foremost thinkers on sport”  Goldsmith’s advice to cricketer Ashton Agar. Trouble is, his column concerns the last Ashes series, in England, not the current contest, which Australia has just won in grand style — a triumph in which Agar played no part.

A little further down, PM Kevin Rudd is offered lots of advice on the best ways to manage the economy and win the then-coming election.

It must be lovely to work at the ABC, where everyone knows you and your partner and the editor-in-chief is Mark Scott.

The only downside would be those irregular moments when you might wonder if Scott awarded himself that editor-in-chief title in order give the typography of his business card an extra line of aesthetic balance. Up until now, most editors in chief could be counted on to supervise the work and monitor the up-to-date diligence of their subordinates, but such appears not to be the case at the national broadcaster.

If only the ABC was not obliged to get by on a paltry $1.2 billion a year it might be able to afford additional updates. Scott should air that line at the next Senate Estimates hearings, which would need to be held in a much bigger auditorium.

There would be an eager crowd to see him try that one on.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. He is available to replace Mark Scott should Abbott & Co decide to clean out the national broadcaster’s Augean stable