30 September, 2011

Andrew Bolt is Not a Journalist

Much has been written and said – and much more will be – about the Andrew Bolt verdict this week and how it pertains to free speech.  I have already written several times about how the right to free speech does not entitle you to be published or paid for it, or give you immunity from the consequences of exercising that right.  I see no reason to restate that point with fresh examples.  As to whether the law he was sued under is an ass, I will leave that to people who are more learned and passionate on the subject than I am.* 

What I take issue with is the way Andrew Bolt is frequently referred to as a journalist.  He is not.

Journalists break stories.  The closest Andrew Bolt has come to breaking a story in recent memory was dropping a teaser about having a story that would force Julia Gillard to resign, and then throwing a hissy fit (again, related to free speech) when the story he was (presumably) referring to had to be quickly pulled on the grounds that it wasn’t true.  What kind of country are we living in when you’re stopped from publishing a story just because it isn’t true?

Andrew Bolt makes more new than he reports.  Like an Australian Ann Coulter (a comparison he would probably consider a compliment) he makes a career out of saying increasingly outlandish things and then cries about censorship whenever he is called out on that outlandishness.  That’s not journalism.

Journalists report the news.  It could be an impending political scandal, a war, a traffic accident or a cat stuck up a tree – you just never know.  Journalism is more than staying in your office, doing all your research on Google, writing a daily “Here’s what I reckon about that” column, and posting photos that readers have taken through their windows on your ’blog.

I am not saying Andrew Bolt has never been a journalist.  I know that when he first got his job at the Herald Sun, it was as a journalist.  I don’t doubt that he has some journalistic blood.  I know he chooses to identify as a journalist.  I am saying that what he does now, is not journalism.

“But Bill, you’re not a journalist.  Who are you to say who is a journalist and who isn’t?”

No, I’m not a journalist.  I never have been one and most likely never will be.
But I reckon I know one when I see one.  And I reckon I’m at least as qualified to decide who should or shouldn’t be called a journalist as Andrew Bolt is to decide who should and shouldn’t be called Aboriginal.
That’s free speech for ya!

* My pick of the commentary on the case:
David Marr: "In black and white, Andrew Bolt trifled with the facts"
Jonathan Holmes: "Bolt, Bromberg and a profoundly disturbing judgement"
Michael Gawenda: "Bolt's columns did not deserve to see the light of day. End of story"
Mike Carlton: "Nuts come out after the truth has bolted"


  1. I would have thought that a journalist's job was to journal things. To record the particulars of an incident or an event then publish and/or report their findings to the public.

    I was taught at school that a journalist must not be biased in their reporting because it is important that the public are able to form their own opinions and and make their own judgement without the journalist's influence.
    I believe that while it is sometimes entertaining for a Journo to be outspoken about their views, and while I don't mind being challenged by the views of a reporter, I think there needs to be a balance of about 90% of just the facts and 10% of personal opinion..

    I know very little about journalism but I think I would like a lot more fact & a lot less crap when I want to be informed about something.

    Bron :)

    Could be completely

  2. Bias is a very loaded term in journalism. I think it's natural that anyone who informs themselves on a topic is going to form a view about who's right, who's wrong, who's acting in good faith and who is telling porkies. The reporter wouldn't be doing the complete job if they remained completely dispassionate about the story, but that gives others the opportunity to call bias when they are not portrayed as they would wish to be.

    When it comes to Bolt, there is no question that he is not reporting on stories but rather expressing opinions about them. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm doing it right now. It's just not journalism.