THIS quality journalism, it can be very confusing. Like global warming we hear about it often, yet can never be sure that which is presented as evidence of its existence actually cuts the mustard. Could it be akin to obscenity, famously described by a US Supreme Court justice as something that would define itself when he saw it? Or is it all a mere matter of length, a view SBS’s Bill Code seemed to endorse while chatting last week with Global Crab editrix Monica Attard?
“There’s some really good long form content on there, some of it so long that I didn’t get a chance to finish it,” confessed Code, evidently a fellow who believes size not only matters, it matters most of all.
Ms Attard was quick to agree, modestly likening her site's windy offerings to those of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker for “contextualising in a very nuanced way”. As an indication of her team’s expertise in this regard, she mentioned the lustrous presence on the Crab’s advisory committee of US journalist Paul Steiger, most recently known as founder of the non-profit Pro Publica journalism collective.
Well, yes, that is one of the feathers in Steiger’s cap, which he will no doubt wear whenever air-freighted to Australia for star turns at Crab patron Graeme Wood’s dinner parties and quality-journalism symposia, of which we can expect plenty. If he is lucky, Steiger will jet home with cheque in pocket and having faced no questions more ticklish than his preference for calamari alive and flapping or calamari floured and fried.
But there is one little incident in Steiger’s past that would be good to know more about. It happened back in 2007, when Steiger was a big fish – not a cephalopod, mind you – at the Wall Street Journal and the rapacious Rupert Murdoch was closing in, chequebook in hand. Murdoch sent Steiger a little note announcing that a bid was in the offing, as Business Week noted at the time. Steiger, who can no doubt speak at great length about the public’s right to know, did not think access to that particular item of information extended to his WSJ colleagues, as he uttered not a word to reporters working on the takeover story.
This was curious to say the least, as Murdoch’s henchmen had been reported as making noises about the need to deal sternly with WSJ reporters who delved into Wendy Deng’s various lives before she became the third Mrs Evil. As BusinessWeek columnist Jon Fine observed, “I didn’t think this situation could get more complex, conflict-ridden, and unpleasant for the Journal’s newsroom. But Steiger’s move ensures it just did.”
Steiger left the WSJ with career prospects intact, retaining a part-time sinecure as the Murdoch newspaper’s editor-at-large, which cannot be too demanding a gig as he also found time to launch Pro Publica, the institution which so impresses Ms Attard.
“Editorially [Steiger] has one of the finest editorial minds in the United States, so he can give us his view,” she gushed in her awestruck, provincial tones to SBS.
Steiger’s view, perhaps, on all matters but his part-time employer’s confided machinations.