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Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Cost Of Self-Righteousness Is Relationship - Which Is Probably Why His Critics Gave Waleed Aly The Thumbs Down For His Andrew Olle Media Lecture

Last night I attended the Andrew Olle Media Lecture  which this year was given by Waleed Aly, the journalist whose short summaries of issues facing contemporary society on the television show The Project, as well as his column in the Sydney Morning Herald have catapulted him to being a sort of elevated 'rock star' journalist, which eventually won him a TV Gold Logie.

Until last night I had never liked Waleed Aly very much. Although I often thought that he was morally right on most of the topics he spoke on, there is always something that singes my nostrils about the self-righteous and often makes me switch off. I think that mode of thought is derived from a sagacious older man who once, during a squabble with my father, said to me "the cost of self-righteousness is relationship. Think about that. You can't relate to someone if you think you're always in the right".

And so that is how I felt about Waleed Aly when he got up to speak. "Here we go!" I thought. And not because I am bigoted, but more just because I like to keep things fresh, I was already yawning by the third time that the once progressive and now boring and repetitive statement of "But first I would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet tonight, the Gadigal people, part of the Eora Nation of the Sydney Basin .... " had been delivered (Is it not possible that one person can say this at the start of the event and leave it there).

When Waleed began speaking there was a great deal of setting up disclaimers by which he wanted the audience to know that he was just as much a part of the problem as the rest of the journalists and media outlets in the room. Was it contrived? It didn't seem so. He seemed to genuinely want to hold himself as accountable as the rest of his peers in the room. He then followed on by talking on a range of issues, perhaps drawing some of them out unnecessarily, but the points he made, which made sense, were as follows:

1. People don't take enough time to consume news.
2. Journalists therefore don't take enough time to prepare and report on news properly.
3. Ratings mean that sensational news always shuts out other equally important but less glamorous news and current affairs.
4. Because television reigns supreme, if somebody doesn't look or act on television quickly and relate to viewers, it often means we don't get the best experts delivering our news, but merely those who perform the best for us.
5. Sharing and speed are focal points in news these days which causes news outlets to try and creating content designed for speed and sharing, which reduces the originality and depth of the content.
6. The world is in a state of confusion.
7.  That according to a French sociologist Bourdieu, television's great limitation is time. That Plato once said that the difference between a philosopher and a lay person is that the philosopher has time, which he said, television prohibits because everybody is under constant pressure to perform within limited time.
8. Because there is not enough time for journalists, they often pick the lowest bearing fruit.

In a nutshell, that is what I took from the lecture. And given that I am in that space with keeping a blog and social media profiles, I couldn't agree more. This week, just by coincidence, I decided to sink my teeth into traditional print media for both menswear magazines and newspapers. I hadn't done it in at least a month, owing to the iPad, S7, desktop and laptop I always have handy. Why the hell would anyone want to read a printed word when you could get anything you wanted just by searching google....

But the experience was a delightful one. I read the Rake (skimming most, reading some), I read parts of Men's Style and GQ Australia. I read the Financial Review (skimming and reading), the SMH and I still have one more newspaper to go through but I can't remember which one it is.

What I did find most interesting was the difference in the quality of content offered between the men's magazines. What I found most interesting was that the format of GQ and Men's Style was beginning to look like a website and geared to be a too cosy relationship between content and the advertiser. Whereas, in The Rake magazine, there seemed to be a bigger and more distinct gap between the advertiser and the content, and the content was more in the feature writing style which really gave you something to sink your teeth into rather than the kind of writing that you switch off from  two paragraphs in and never return to the magazine. I noticed that at the end of doing both cover to cover, I put The Rake aside for future reading, and had the others ready to toss them in the bin.

What has Waleed Aly got to do with all this? Well, I never liked him much because I thought he was self-righteous, but the more I think about it, he was right last night and the media organisations he was preaching to should listen up. When content takes time to create, when it's not just about getting somebody to click to get another ad served in the browser, when the writing is strong and the visuals that accompany it are too, people will pay dearly for this. I think I paid $20 for my copy of The Rake and I will come back to it. I happily pay for a good film on iTunes or a Netflix (or the like) TV subscription for a great series. But what I don't want is thoughtless crap designed to make me click and share. It might work once, twice, three times even, but eventually you won't buy into it.

Journalism, like Italian cooking, should be slow cooked from great ingredients. I think that's what Waleed Aly had to say but it took him a great deal longer to say it. At the end, when many of his fellow peers were giving him the thumbs down, I was upset. I had finally come to admire Waleed Aly, right when he was no longer 'trending'.

Congratulations Waleed. I hope you have a long, successful and prosperous career and I'm sorry I judged you for being self-righteous. That was very self-righteous of me.

Waleed Aly and his wife, Susan Carland. Photo credit: GQ Man Of Year 2015 - www.sbs.com.au

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