Postscript, or, Some Journalists can’t be Trusted*

Those of you who recall my angry, swear-filled post on PIRs may remember that I was interviewed for The Australian that week, then the interview wasn’t used. Interesting, then, to see this piece in The Weekend Australian by the very same journalist:

But one of the most depressing moments in the past few weeks was supplied by an agent who, when approached to contact one of her authors (a woman whose three novels have done so well she has international status), said she did not think it was appropriate for the author to comment. The author was too young even to understand what was going on (she’s 30-odd), according to the agent; besides, she was in the middle of writing a book, so was probably unable to think about anything else. Pathetic.

That “pathetic” agent was somebody very close to me, and this journalist whom I won’t name (let’s call her Ms Sorensen… no, that gives too much away; let’s call her Rosemary S) has only told half the truth. Yes, The Agent did turn down her request to contact The Author, but that’s what agents do: they know where their authors are at, what other demands are being made of them, how close their deadlines are, and they decide what’s best for them. For the record, my understanding is that The Agent didn’t say The Author was too young; rather, she said that The Author hadn’t been in the industry very long. (Also, basic fact check issue: The Author has only published 2 books, not 3).

The other thing that Rosemary S hasn’t said is that The Agent–who is a passionate advocate of Australian books–gave her the number of another author who might be able to help: somebody she had already had a number of long and detailed conversations with about PIRs, and whom The Agent thought might be able to offer useful commentary.That author was me, dear reader, and we all know how that turned out.

As an aside, Rosemary S was somebody with whom I’ve had a friendly professional relationship over the years. We’ve had a few drinks together in the past, she’s slung a bit of work my way, etc. So this is all the more dismaying to me. The two people of whom she wrote are very much in my inner circle, a favourite aunty and a sister-figure, if you will. Am I taking this personally? Well, yes, I am; there is simply no other way for me to take it.

Now, I’m not going to call anyone a fucking liar or even an unprofessional hack. That would be harsh. But I am going to look a bit closer at this word “pathetic”. Tossed off like that in a column, it only has its common meaning: limp, weak, not good enough. In fact, the word means, according to the OED, “exciting pity, sympathy, or sadness”. I certainly feel sad for a professional relationship lost; I certainly feel sympathy for the two good women so unfairly maligned in Rosemary S’s bitter dummy-spit; and, yes, I feel more pity than scorn for the journalist. The whole situation is pathetic, isn’t it?

* of course, some journalists are very nice 🙂

9 thoughts on “Postscript, or, Some Journalists can’t be Trusted*

  1. Sad, isn’t it, that one of the few remaining newspapers in Australia that appears to explicitly aim at quality before broad appeal has turned into such a centre-Right mouthpiece. (As of this morning there are five historical articles on this issue in the Australian’s ‘Books’ section on their website, written by a combination of journalists and think-tankers. None of them present in any way the case for continued protection and they all avoid analysing the data that suggests it’s impossible to say whether books will in fact be cheaper under any new rules.)

    Unprofessionalism is always pathetic — it’s so easy to get right, after all. The Australian has clearly demonstrated its preference for pushing a liberalist barrow on this, and it’s a real disappointment, but the idea of a journalist selectively detailing the responses of individual authors or agents to make the facts read how she wants them to read really is worthy of scorn. She took a piece of interaction and slapped a big layer of her own personal ‘disappointment’ on it, as if that were isolated among all other interactions she might have had with others on the issue, and as if her own personal disappointment should mean anything empirical about authors or the industry or the rules as they stand. Very poor effort.

    That said, if I had an agent and s/he decided for me that I wasn’t prepared (intellectually? emotionally?) to make a comment to a journalist, I don’t think I’d be very pleased. (Also, if the agent in this case actually did say something about the author being unable to think about the issue while in the middle of a book then I think that certainly gave up some juicy ammunition to a journalist with a particular image to push.) Perhaps your friends had already had the conversation, though, and decided what to do if the issue came up.

    The Australian has consistently painted authors as greedy, grasping, irresponsible, and unable to cope in ‘the real world’. It’s really starting to sound tired.

  2. I am still trying to understand why journalists (many of whom are also authors) are being so one-eyed about this situation.

  3. My jaw dropped as I read this, Kim. I’m gobsmacked. Like others, I’m so disappointed that the Australian is being so non-objective and unprofessional in reporting this issue. A journalist’s job is to show both sides of the issue…but they’ve failed to do that in all of their news stories, articles and columns so far.
    Take heart, Kim. Lots of people support the authors and publishers.

    • But that’s the bewildering thing, Jo… this journalist claims she supports Australian authors on this. In the paragraph preceding the one I’ve copied here, she rails against the ‘rich author’ stereotype, only to reproduce it herself seconds later. WTF?

  4. I’m not surprised at all. Am I the only person with a mother who taught me from a very young age that you cannot believe everything said or written in the media. They will always slant things in the direction of how best they can affect the audience/reader.
    The wise old adage still applies: Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear (and in this case, read).
    I wouldn’t give it a second thought, Kim.

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