When is journalism 'good' as opposed to 'bad'? Is 'bad' journalism what happens when the journo just recycles a press release delivered to promote a 'big' event, one that involves either money or celebrity? And so 'good' journalism, by this yardstick, would be where a journalist pursues a less-well-trod path to deliver a story, or a single fact, that otherwise would have gone untold?
Two stories currently in the press illustrate my opinion of 'good' versus 'bad' reporting in the field of the arts. The arts are, unfortunately, one of the less-well-represented fields of endeavour, in the Australian press. Compared to the amount of coverage that sport gets, the arts are definitely a poor cousin.
The first story, by Corrie Perkin, is a headline piece in The Australian about the first Southeby's sale of 2007, due to be held tomorrow in the Paddington Town Hall. Big profits are expected. In fact, visual art generally gets better coverage in Australia than other arts precisely because of this aspect of it: there is money to be made. The final message in this story: "Australian art has been undervalued." This is designed to attract punters to Paddington tomorrow, to bid: "Sotheby's catalogue is truly a wonderful catalogue and is beautifully poised in the marketplace because of the current conditions."
You couldn't buy such good PR.
On the opposite side of the fiscal divide is theatre, covered in a story by Kelsey Munro in The Sydney Morning Herald. Tommy Murphy has "the best ear for dialog since David Williamson", according to Munro.
But what is striking about this story is a little-known and obscure fact: Murphy's new play (which closes today at the Parade Playhouse theatre at NIDA) was "commissioned by Cranbrook School's head of drama, Robert Wickham, after his students studied Strangers in Between".
Now this is interesting! Cranbrook School is one of the most prestigious private schools in the country, and is situated smack in the middle of Sydney's conservative heartland. Murphy, the playwright, is gay, but that fact does not seem to have bothered Wickham. What this story tells us is that there is a lot of cultural activity being carried on outside the spotlight that money always brings to bear, and that stereotypical roles are sometimes reversed in the most charming manner.
Well done, Cranbrook. For my money, this story is of far greater interest and relevance than the one about Southeby's gargantuan auction. The SMH reporter has given us a delightful glimpse into a little-known element of what private schools (cashed-up and independent-minded) can do that no other institution in the country does.