Who is the world’s outstanding journalist?

Who is the world’s outstanding journalist? It’s a question which seems particularly important given the current status of journalism; the rise of fake news online; and, the need for journalists to be constantly posting to get their employers’ online media figures up.

It’s also a very difficult question to answer because how do you judge?

Is it some journalist in an oppressive state who keeps plugging away at exposing the truth and facing the threat of murder at the hands of State actors or criminals?

After all, the roll call of murdered journalists is a long one over recent decades. In Ireland and Northern Ireland Veronica Guerin and Martin O’Hagan were both murdered after investigating drug-dealing. In Malta Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered after pursuing and exposing corruption at the highest levels of politics. Ahmed Husein in Ghana was murdered for exposing football corruption. Jamal Kashoggi was murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Embassy because he had offended Mohammad Bin Salman. Vadym Komarov was murdered in the Ukraine as a result of his investigative journalism and Jan Kuciak was murdered while investigating corruption involving the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta.

What criteria do you use to judge is probably an insoluble problem. Woodward and Bernstein brought down a President. A great story but the assistance of Deep Throat was as critical as any of their investigations. Woodward’s recent monumental works are formidable but are largely captive to their sources – indicating the eternal verity that journalistic scoops are often a product of mutual interest rather than anything else. Indeed, the great untold story of the media is just how much reporting is so heavily dependent on sources rather than initiative.

Then there are all the bloviators – such as Paul Kelly of The Australian – even if he is only one example of similar journalists around the world particularly in the US and UK.

Old-fashioned investigative journalists, although probably not risking their lives, such as The Age’s Adele Ferguson, deserve to be ranked among the best in the world.

It is also hard to judge journalists in other languages so if the blog was going to nominate anyone it would probably be an English-speaking journo, specifically Ireland’s Fintan O’Toole who is speaking in Melbourne in March at the University of Melbourne where he is a 2020 Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellow. He was part of the 2019 Sydney Antidote festival at the Sydney Opera House and anyone interested in his versatility, style or intelligence should read his Irish Times piece on the Yeats Test (the centre cannot hold) which was reproduced in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations newsletter in 2018.

O’Toole has written almost a score of books including biographies of Sheridan and an expose of Serbian war crimes in Kosovo; contributed to the New York Review of Books and other publications; won the Orwell Prize for Journalism; was a Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College Cambridge; and, has recently been a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University. In 2011 The Observer listed him as one of Britain’s top 300 intellectuals indicating either that a leading progressive newspaper was ignorant of geography or is still in thrall to an English colonial view of the world.

His two most recent books – you would call them brilliant if that word’s over use could be replaced by a better superlative – are Ship of Fools and Heroic Failure; Brexit and the Politics of Pain (recently updated as The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Rise of Nationalism).

The first is an extended analysis of the end of the so-called Celtic Tiger and how the global financial crash brought down governments, developers, bankers, politicians and others in Ireland. It details the corruption, the extravagance and the sheer greed and foolishness of much of the Irish establishment and, not least, the suffering that was inflicted on ordinary Irish citizens when the inevitable crash came. Arguably the resurgence of Sinn Fein in the 2020 elections is a product of the years and years of austerity inflicted on the ordinary Irish people since the crash.

O’Toole’s Miegunyah lecture will be delivered at the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Lecture Theatre Arts West Building University of Melbourne on Wednesday March 11 between 6.45 pm and 8pm. It’s free and you probably need to book early to get a seat. Disregard the alumni stuff on the site (which is in a very odd form at present but you can scroll down and make some sense of it) and non-alumni can attend as well.

Meanwhile, some good news on the Australian media front: the latest Roy Morgan Research Print Readership results for total cross platform audiences for both print and online audiences for State-wide and metropolitan media shows some interesting results – circulation of all the Murdoch media titles has dropped while all the others have increased.

The Herald-Sun is down 7.7%; Daily Telegraph 15.5%; The Australian 4.43%; and, Courier-Mail off by 1.4%. The SMH is up 1.2%; Age 1.2%; the AFR 14.1%. Sorry about Perth but The West Australian may have dwindled below any measurable level and wasn’t in the Morgan figures.