The frustrations of everyday life tell us that this world can never be entirely as we would wish it, but the temptation to set it right, if only in theory, seems part of the human condition. A compulsion perhaps best left to theologians, the catalyst for such wishful thinking can take some very strange forms – including the pages of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, which these days are very strange places indeed, as a recent Opinion piece by Nick Dyrenfurth attests. In a closer-to-perfect world – a more rigorous one, in any case – something like the correspondence below might have passed between editor and contributor.
Just got your story on that bastard Abbott and how he’s screwing the literary Establishment by stacking the PM book awards with conservative judges. Good stuff! You and I know that prizes, grants and invitations to writers’ festivals naturally belong to those of us on the progressive side of politics because, well, we can think and they can’t. ‘Conservative intellectual’ is the biggest oxymoron in the English language, and I do mean ‘moron.’ Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Anyway, regardless of how you and I feel, I have to go through the motions, so I need a few more words from you to get that ‘full disclosure’ stuff out of the way. I mean, you spend an awful lot of time getting stuck into Gerard Henderson, but nowhere do you mention that he’s been after you for months to provide references for assertions in the introduction to that book you edited with Tim Soutphommasane.
Forgive me for playing devil’s advocate here, but when you write “the appointment of assorted mates including a ‘freedom commissioner’’ on a salary of more than $300,000 a year without even the pretence of due process’. Fair enough, I know you’re talking about Tim Wilson, but shouldn’t you also mention your mate and co-author Soutphommasane’s appointment to the same Human Rights Commission in the dying days of the last Labor government? You need to explain why Wilson’s elevation was less creditable.
Receiver of Accepted Opinions
I really don’t think it is necessary for me to explain why I’m having a go at Henderson because the political in this case isn’t personal. Sure, Henderson has been pestering me for references, citations, and he does it in that annoying pre-post-modern way of his. You know, insisting that facts have meaning. We don’t need to wonder why Hendo isn’t teaching at one of our fine universities, eh?
Anyway, what I have had to endure from Henderson is my private cross to bear and an entirely personal matter between me and him, so reference to it doesn’t belong in my column. I know it is brave and self-sacrificing of me not to mention how I have suffered, but that’s the kind of Labor historian I am.
Now I hope you won’t mind me giving you some advice: It is important for papers like The Age to remember the audience. In Melbourne, a city of more than four million people, your paper now sells not much more than 100,000 copies a day – that’s less than half what it sold when there were only two million people. You’ve winnowed down your readership to its essential core and done a wonderful job of it. Your company once boasted of what capitalism described as ‘A & B readers’, the people who had money and would patronise your advertisers’ stores. Now A & B stands for the kids who are Australia’s future, the ones scoring As and Bs in women’s studies, advancing journalism, social work and sapphic calligraphy – our kind of people, in other words.
Could you sleep at night if you were to regain readers who expected a bourgeois consumerist newspaper, rather than a daily bulletin of ideological insight?
I take your point. How could I have been so silly?
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online