Some time ago, in an article about an American political reporter, I came across the phrase 'joie de journalism'.
It struck me as a pretty good description of the way I feel about my calling.
I guess you'd define joie de journalism as hearty enjoyment, delight in the job.
And it's what I've felt since the first day I walked into the newsroom at the old Sydney Daily Mirror, fresh out of Sydney University, back in 1964.
So I was very pleased to receive Mark Scott's invitation to deliver the 2011 Andrew Olle Media Lecture. It's an honour. It's also an opportunity to express some thoughts about the craft that I've found so fulfilling, and which has given me so much enjoyment and fun, over the last 47 years.
It's a chance, too, to make some observations about politics, the field I've covered for almost all of that period.
I'm usually described as a 'veteran' political journalist. I discovered, when I delved into old newspaper cuttings in the process of putting a book together last year, that I was FIRST called a 'Press Gallery veteran' in 1981. So I suppose you'd say I'm a veteran at being a veteran.
Obviously veteran status doesn't equate with great wisdom, but it means I have seen a fair bit. I hope that helps me to bring some perspective to the matters I want to discuss.
And having been around for a while means that I knew Andrew Olle. Not well. But we ran into each other from time to time, and I admired him as a broadcaster and a journalist.
Most people think of Andrew as ABC to his bootheels, but he crossed over to the commercial side for a while, and did superb work as one of the Sunday program's founding reporters.
He had the view-as I do-that there's no reason good journalism shouldn't flourish among the commercials. And, like a lot of other talented and dedicated journalists who were associated with Sunday, he proved it.
As did Paul Lockyer, another brilliant ABC journalist who brought his talents to the Nine Network for a time.
It's true, as Mark Scott has said, that the upsurge of emotion from the public when Paul, cameraman John Bean, and pilot Gary Ticehurst were killed in that tragic helicopter crash near Lake Eyre in August was very similar to the manifestation of public affection and sorrow when Andrew Olle died in 1995.
The esteem in which Andrew Olle and Paul Lockyer were held by the public stands in stark contrast to the way trust in journalism generally has headed south.
That decline in trust is something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately, partly as a result of my involvement with the Walkley Foundation.
It worries me because I'm proud to be a journalist, and because-as a member of the board that judges the Walkley Award finalists - I see how much high-quality journalism is produced in Australia.
Above all, though, the trust issue worries me because journalism is so central to the operation of our democracy.
We like to think of ourselves as watchdogs, keeping the bastards honest, to borrow the late Don Chipp's slogan. And that IS part of our role.
But, probably more important, in my view, we in journalism are the intermediaries in the conversation between voters and politicians that makes the whole thing work. If people lose trust in what we do, how can they maintain faith in the process?
There's been a lot of criticism of political journalism recently, and I don't just mean the 'Don't write crap!' variety levelled by the Prime Minister, though it wasn't bad advice.
Much of the criticism is directly related to this democratic dialogue between punters and pollies that we as members of the Fourth Estate are supposed to facilitate. Trust is just one aspect.
What the criticism boils down to is that the changing character of the media is distorting the conversation with damaging consequences for the way our political system works. Or doesn't work.
There wasn't much discussion of this sort of thing when I started in journalism. There were no college or university courses in journalism then. Media studies was not the fashionable academic pursuit it is today. There were certainly no media lectures like this.
I got into political reporting very early in my journalistic career-after not much more than a year as a general reporter. Most of that year I spent on the Mirror's midnight-to-dawn police rounds shift.
As John Hartigan said, describing HIS career when he delivered the Andrew Olle lecture in 2007, that shift was the best opportunity a young reporter could have.
Because you were the only journalist on duty, ANYTHING that happened was your story. And plenty of big stories-mostly crime stories-happen in the early hours. I thought there couldn't be anything better.
Then, in 1965, NSW went to the polls, Bob Askin led the Liberals into power, the Mirror's state political roundsman resigned to join the new government as a press secretary, and- at the age of 21-I was given the job.
I learned an important lesson in the first few weeks of my stint on state rounds for the Mirror.
The editor, Zel Rabin, called me into his office one morning and tossed some pages of copy across the desk. "Look at that and tell me what you think," he said.
It was an editorial on the new Askin government's education policy, and I thought Zel had written it.
But I screwed up my courage, passed it back and told him: "Sorry, but I think it's rubbish."
"So do I," Zel said with a big grin. "Rupert wrote it." And he tossed it into the bin.
Moral of the story--you don't have to go along with what the boss wants, or what you think he wants. Even Rupert Murdoch. I've always been glad I got that one nailed down early.
It didn't take me long, after moving from midnight-to-dawn to state rounds, to discover that the drama and intrigue of politics made it more exciting than crime.
The characters were much more interesting.
And the stories I handled every day were important. What happened in politics mattered to people a lot more than a shooting at Kings Cross.
For me, that was by far the biggest attraction of covering politics. That it mattered. It served a public good.
Political reporting has been my raison d'etre ever since.
The best insight I ever gained about what it takes to be a good political reporter came out of a book that I found in the Parliamentary Library very soon after arriving in Canberra as Bureau Chief for the Melbourne Sun newspaper in January, 1969. The book, Inside Parliament by Warren Denning, had been published in 1946.
Denning--one of the gun political reporters of his day-- wrote: "The man assigned to this work (they WERE all men back then) has to be alive to every pulse-beat in the Parliamentary body, able to detect the slightest trace of abnormality, able to sense that things are going wrong, that something is out of tune, that somebody is 'up to something'..."
Then came this delicious paragraph.
"The good political journalist's attitude to politics is much like that of a trained musician to his instrument-he relies on feel and touch, on an innate, subconscious directive."
Denning illustrated the point with an anecdote about an evening in 1931, when word got around Parliament House that Joe Lyons was leaving Canberra for Melbourne on the night train.
Some Press Gallery members thought "It's just a minister catching a train," and went home to bed.
Others saw it as unusual for a senior minister to leave while the House was sitting and wondered why.
The most enterprising of them raced down to the station, leaped aboard as the train pulled out, and had quite a yarn when he got off again at Yass.
From what Denning called "a trifling fact" came a story that really was history-in-the-making-Lyons' resignation from the Labor Government which led to the formation of a new conservative party under his leadership and the defeat of Labor at the next election.
An innate subconscious directive. An instinct. A nose for things that are out of place. That can 't be taught in journalism school, but without it you're in the wrong job as a political reporter.
You're also in the wrong job...and here comes a confession... You're in the wrong job if you think that political journalists can or should be entirely up-front and open in their methods. Sneakiness comes with the territory.
I noticed with a degree of alarm that the issues paper put out a few weeks ago by the Media Inquiry headed by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein QC raises the possibility of prohibiting journalists from gathering of information by subterfuge.
Take that to its logical conclusion and we'll be out of business.
In the face of canny politicians, tight-lipped bureaucrats and armies of spin merchants, rat cunning and the ability to bluff are sometimes all we've got. I'll give one example to show what I mean.
Back in 1974 one of my colleagues in the Melbourne Sun bureau heard that there was an interesting diplomatic appointment in the pipeline,but when we started making inquiries we ran up against a brick wall.
That Ministers and minders would not provide information was neither here nor there. Secrecy in government is normal.
What was not normal was the slightly panicky tone of the "no comments". The touchiness seemed out of proportion to what a mere diplomatic appointment would warrant.
As Denning would say, something was out of tune. So I paced up and down and tried to imagine what might be big enough to cause such sensitivity.
Eventually it occurred to me that Gough Whitlam's biggest problem was that his government did not control the Senate. In the Senate, brooding and disillusioned, sat Vince Gair, former leader of the anti-Labor DLP.
If Whitlam could persuade Gair to accept a diplomatic post, I reasoned, there would be a casual Senate vacancy which a Labor candidate would fill. The Senate problem would be solved.
It was only conjecture, a scenario I'd invented, but it made sense. So when I began my next round of phone calls I pretended I had hard information. "When will Gair take up his diplomatic post?" Shocked silence at the other end of the line. Then: "How did you know about that?" Bingo. Sure it was subterfuge, but subterfuge in the public interest.
It exposed a plan to steal control of the Senate. Exposed it, as Whitlam discovered, in time for action to be taken. The result was a double dissolution election.
Which brings me back to the point about it being the public interest aspect that particularly attracted me to political journalism in the first place.
I have a concern now that this idea of a kind of public trust, which I thought so important when I was young, has become a bit unfashionable.
Or, if that's too harsh, that it is not as front-of-mind as it perhaps should be as we go about our work.
In December last year, the Media Alliance published a report on the future of journalism titled Life in the Clickstream and based on surveys conducted by Essential Media.
One of the findings was that journalists overwhelmingly believe that what they do benefits the public and that, without their work, society would be worse off.
To be precise, 93 per cent of journalists agreed when the proposition was put to them, 63 per cent agreed strongly.
But, while it's encouraging that most journalists give a positive response when called upon to think about it, what really matters is whether they're consciously guided in their job by the view of journalism as serving society.
My answer would be: Not enough. And I certainly don't exempt myself from that.
I suggest that many of us get caught up in what we do and sometimes lose sight of why we're doing it-something that's likely to get worse in the new era of non-stop news and stretched resources.
I'm concerned that we don't highlight to young journalists as much as we should, within media organisations and in academic institutions, the relationship between what they do and the public good.
And I'm certain that we don't discuss sufficiently-among ourselves and in public - the obligations that the public welfare side of journalism imposes on us.
If the community at large was aware of, and involved in, such discussions, it would go a long way, in my opinion, to stopping the slide in trust that I've mentioned.
Now, let me try to relate that little sermon to some aspects of the media's coverage of politics.
Namely: the entertainment/trivialisation/dumbing down issue, the dreaded 24-hour news cycle, or news cyclone, and the negative, indeed scornful way the media habitually regards politicians.
Critical commentary about how the media fulfils its responsibilities in political coverage has been hard to miss of late.
- Articles that appeared during and after last year's federal election campaign with headings like "The Politics-Media Death Spiral".
- The book Sideshow:Dumbing Down Democracy by former Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, published early this year.
- And the well-publicised claim by Jay Rosen, Journalism Professor at New York University and a big-name commentator on media issues in the US, that political coverage in this country is broken.
The "dumbing down" accusation is the most potent of the charges levelled against the media. Or rather, against the media AND politicians.
A rather jaded spin merchant from one of the parties told me recently: "It's a race to the bottom and we're egging each other on and we're both equally responsible."
The argument is that, with media organisations under siege from commercial pressures and technological innovation, the balance in political reporting has shifted away from providing information and towards entertainment.
And that this, and the way politicians have responded, is trivializing politics and dumbing down debate.
I think it's over-stated.
A common complaint in this context, for example, is that sound bites in TV news reports on politics are too brief; that you can't say anything meaningful in seven or eight seconds.
Well, the most powerful, most effective political sound bite of the last 15 years in Australia was undoubtedly John Howard's "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come".
It took him precisely 5.9 seconds to convey that killer message. The applause that greeted it lasted four times as long.
Good politicians adapt. They learn to make the best use of what's available.
There's also an element of "shoot the messenger" in some of the criticism.
I have in mind particularly the claim that the media is responsible for politicians failing to make decisions and develop policies in the national interest.
In Sideshow, for example, Tanner writes that, because of growing media dominance, QUOTE "The creation of appearances is now far more important for leading politicians than is the generation of outcomes. " UNQUOTE
He even says politicians should not be blamed for surrendering to these pressures.
Jay Rosen, who was in Australia for last year's federal election and returned in August this year for the Melbourne Writers' Festival, went further.
Interviewed on the Lateline program about why he thinks our political coverage is broken, the professor told Tony Jones: QUOTE "There was a time when the political system decided what policy was, what their stance was going to be, and then of course consulted their advisers about how to present it. Today...it's almost the reverse of that. What's going to work in the media is presented first and then figuring out policies that you can announce that correspond to that comes after." UNQUOTE
Do you follow the reasoning? Politicians make policy decisions on the basis of what will get the most favourable media coverage rather than what's best for the nation--and somehow that's the media's fault.
It's tosh. The problem Tanner and Rosen describe is down to weak politicians, not the media. Can you imagine Paul Keating being so timid? The solution doesn't lie with the media. Politicians need to grow a backbone.
There has undoubtedly been a change in the way the media treats politics. But it began a long time ago, and the factors driving it are not within anyone's control.
Over the years, the tabloids have gone downmarket and broadsheet newspapers have adopted a more tabloid approach to broaden their appeal. Broadsheets became tabloids in some cities.
Prime-time commercial TV current affairs programs-once relied on by politicians to reach a mass audience - hardly touch politics at all any more. And in commercial televisions news--I'd say the ABC does it as well - we certainly try to package politics in the most interesting way we can. An entertaining way, if you like.
The reason for all this is obvious enough. In today's media world, you have to grab your audience. Things are not as they used to be. Audiences now need grabbing.
Many of those bemoaning the media's performance seem to think the nation is crying out for more high quality news and analysis and heavier current affairs programs.
They're dreaming. If that was the case, Four Corners would outrate Masterchef. And I'd still be doing interviews on the Sunday program and writing for The Bulletin magazine.
And George Negus might still be on air.
Also, in this internet age, audiences no longer sit passively and watch or read whatever is served up to them. They have more choices, more platforms. They are mobile, nomadic. Dipping in and out. Attention spans are shorter. They are harder to reach and harder to please.
They are less likely to read newspapers, less inclined to sit in front of a TV set for the evening news out of habit.
And, while politicians might complain about the media trivialising politics, they actually understand the problem very well.
Ask any of the political party back room operators why Labor and coalition election campaign commercials rarely feature detailed explanations of policy, and-if they're honest-they'll answer: "Because no-one would watch."
If you want to see a real dumbing down of politics, treat yourself to another look at recent election campaign commercials from both sides.
Some who criticise what happens today where politics and the media intersect seem to have an odd view of what things used to be like in what they presumably regard as the good old days.
I was amused by Tanner's assertion that QUOTE "As politics has been subsumed by entertainment, it has drifted inexorably into the celebrity world". UNQUOTE
He cites Cate Blanchett's attendance at Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit as evidence.
As I read that I could hear Gough Whitlam's voice in my head saying, Crocodile Dundee-style: "That's not celebrity, Comrade. THIS is celebrity."
At the front of the hall for the opening of Gough's 1972 election campaign were Bobby Limb, Little Pattie, Bert Newton, Judy Stone, the lead actors from the two top-rating Australian TV cop shows of the time, what seemed like half the cast of the ABC television soap opera Bellbird, various artists,authors, athletes, and football stars, plus a former Australian cricket captain.
And some of them accompanied Gough out on the hustings.
At a campaign rally at Griffith in NSW, I remember Alwyn Kurts, star of Homicide, proved more adept than the seasoned pollies at dealing with interjectors.
He shut up one protester by telling him "I spent a lot of time here in my youth, young feller. For all you know, you could be heckling your own father."
I also find amusing the frequent claim that a delight in reporting gaffes is evidence that the modern media is trivialising politics.
My recollection of Billy McMahon's campaign 39 years ago is that it was widely reported as one long gaffe - every day producing such gems as "We will honour all the problems we have made."
Billy couldn't even copy Winston Churchill's famous V-for-victory sign without messing it up. He did it backwards.
None of this, though, gets journalists off the hook. It doesn't relieve us of the responsibility to provide voters with the sort of serious information they need to make proper judgements at election time.
Or to transmit signals from the electorate clearly and accurately to politicians.
The Media Alliance code of ethics says quite specifically that part of the journalist's role is to "inform citizens and animate democracy".
Recently I had an argument with the producer of a news related television program. I won't name the program or the Network.
He told me he did not want an interview with Wayne Swan because "he's boring and the numbers go down whenever he's on".
It's the kind of thing I've heard too often in recent years. I understand it but I don't accept it.
If we're fair dinkum about the public service aspect of journalism, we can't be totally dominated by ratings, circulation figures and numbers of hits on websites when it comes to covering politics.
If we're not fair dinkum about the public service aspect, in my view, we shouldn't be calling ourselves journalists in the first place.
By the way, it might cheer the critics up to know that there are clear signs, in my view, that a kind of rebalancing-a move away from the sideshow and back to a more serious approach to politics - is taking place.
It's driven partly by a revival of interest in politics in the community. The extraordinary political events of the last few years have left many Australians feeling disillusioned and, in some cases, alienated.
But they're not disengaged. They feel strongly. They're talking about politics.They want to know what's going on. The feedback I get in my job leaves no doubt about this.
And it is starting to be reflected in news coverage. Nine in Sydney has been running politics prominently in the 6pm news as deliberate strategy and-far from being bored-people are tuning in.
On morning and afternoon news bulletins across all networks, interviews with politicians are becoming almost standard fare.
Another key part of the rebalancing is the emergence of 24-hour news services. Politics is bread and butter for SKY News and ABC News24.
Also technological advances in the field of graphics are making it easier for television to deal with material that might once have been considered too dry.
We can put slabs of information on the screen in a way that's interesting, eye-catching and digestible. This frees TV news, to a significant extent, from its dependence on pictures.
With luck, it will help to make redundant a lot of the silly stunts politicians engage in because they've been told their messages won't get a run on television without visuals.
If this means we see less of Julia Gillard in hard-hats and fluoro-vests and less of Tony Abbott smuggling budgies or dashing from butcher shop to fishmarket, I say bring it on.
Nothing trivialises politics more than these stunts, especially given the bad puns and strained analogies TV journalists reach for as they try to make ridiculous pictures relevant to the issue of the day.
I'm surprised politicians haven't twigged already that they're counterproductive.
The final element in the rebalancing I'm talking about is, of course, the way the internet has so dramatically increased the availability of information about political, social and economic issues.
Anyone who thinks they're being short-changed by the mainstream media can access directly most of the material available to political journalists-major speeches, press conference transcripts, policy announcements and the rest.
If there has been a dumbing down, the trend is now the other way. Which is good news.
The bad news is that it brings us to a discussion of non-stop news, AKA the hamster wheel, if you'll excuse an ABC guest speaker plugging an ABC program.
The way new technology has speeded everything up has done some good things for journalism, and for politics.
In my book On The Record I tell of an incident in the 1969 federal election when I sought a reaction from opposition leader Gough Whitlam to something prime minister John Gorton had said.
Whitlam wanted to be sure of the words Gorton had used and the context before commenting, so I had to get an audio tape to him.A Labor staffer carried it in his luggage on a flight from Sydney, where Gorton was, to Perth, where Whitlam was campaigning.
With today's technology, of course, Whitlam could have watched the speech live on Sky News or ABC News24 and then tweeted or emailed a response before Gorton had left the podium.
It's all in real time now, and that has produced astonishing changes in the space of just a few years in the way journalists work. Across platforms, filing around the clock.Trying to keep up with an insatiable demand. It's not as frantic in Australia yet as it is in America and Britain, but we're getting there.
Journalists and politicians alike-politicians because they're expected to constantly feed the hungry and rapidly growing news beast-- are still trying to come to grips with it all and work out what the implications are.
The last technological development that had an impact even remotely comparable was the introduction of television. Politicians had trouble adjusting to that, too.
Not all of them. Gough Whitlam took to it like a duck to water.
But Billy McMahon was one who battled.
In the 1972 election, the first real television campaign in this country, Billy was told by Liberal Party strategists that his policy speech had to be pre-recorded for TV.
A camera and video tape machine were set up in the prime minister's office in Sydney, turning it into a do-it-yourself television studio, so that he could practise.
Every day for a week Billy sat at his desk, delivering the speech to the camera, playing it back, getting feedback from his wife and staff, then doing it again, over and over.
Until eventually, fed up with criticism of the way he looked and the way he sounded, he announced: "If I can't please anyone I might as well do it with my head in a toilet bowl."
Julia Gillard is made of sterner stuff. No toilet bowls for her. Hyper-bowls, perhaps.
But she vented her frustration over the 24-hour news cycle at a media lunch in Brisbane a year ago. Remember what she said?
QUOTE "We are in a media environment now where you could make a blockbuster announcement. Someone is tweeting about it while you are doing the press conference.
"Journalists can be doing a stand-up using you as a backdrop. By the time you get back to your office journalists are interviewing journalists about what the announcement may or may not mean.
"And two hours later someone will ring my press secretary and say:'Have you got a story for us?'" UNQUOTE
Bill Clinton's former press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, says what the accelerating news cycle has produced is "a form of attention deficit disorder".
The Washington Post White House bureau chief, describing the same phenomenon, said two years ago: "A big story is one that lasts half an hour, and then we move on to the next shiny object."
The prime minister's point was that, in this situation, it's almost impossible to explain and argue the case for complex measures and policies. There's no time for voters to get a handle on them before the media has moved on.
And she said this: QUOTE "It puts an onus on the media and the way we disseminate information...We've all got to play our part." UNQUOTE.
I think that's true. And here comes the sermon again.
If we genuinely believe that serving a public good, oiling the wheels of democracy, is part of the journalism mission statement, then the onus is on us to try to do something.
To ask ourselves if there is a way to slow down the news cyclone when issues sufficiently important to the political debate are involved?
I don 't see why not. I don't see why some matters can't be earmarked so that they're not immediately tossed aside to make room for the next thing that comes along, the next shiny object, but remain on the news agenda long enough for people to get a handle on them.
It's not something you can institutionalize, but it could be done by individual media organizations.
Journalists - and I mean executives as well as front line reporters - make judgements all the time about news values, the prominence issues and events should be given, how they should be treated.
This is another area where that kind of individual judgement could be exercised.
Otherwise, in this relentless, internet-charged environment, the necessary dialogue between politicians and the electorate can't proceed effectively. But there's a catch, of course. Isn't there always?
In this new high speed, non-stop environment, journalists will have less time for proper consideration of such matters. Less time to make such judgements. Especially since the same technological advances that have speeded everything up have also undermined the economic foundations of media organizations, so that there are fewer staff and resources to cover the whirling cycle of continuous news.
White House correspondents complain that they're becoming no more than wire service reporters. They have no time for anything else.
An article in The Columbia Journalism Review a year ago said: "The Hamster Wheel...is investigations you will never see, good work left undone, public service not performed."
In case you think it's not happening here yet, let me quote from a remarkably candid interview that Chris Uhlmann , then working for ABC News24, gave to the ACT version of Stateline last November.
With the rise of new technology, Chris complained, some jobs that used to be done by others in the ABC-including editing, which should be a skill and art form in its own right - were being loaded on to journalists to save money.
"That collapses the amount of time that journalists have to do the job that they were supposed to do, which is to gather and distil information," Chris said.
"Journalists are finding it increasingly difficult, are put under an enormous amount more pressure."
He added that, when the day came that a journalist made a mistake because of pressure to meet a radio deadline, a television deadline and an editing deadline, he hoped management-having put them in that position - would not leave them hanging out to dry.
Chris identified another problem associated with 24-hour news,too.
QUOTE "One of the great weaknesses is it lives in a constant instant that looks neither forward nor back but only ever concentrates on what's going on now... It shrinks the capacity you have to think about things."
Hardly the ideal environment for making judgements of any kind, let alone about how and when to apply the hamster wheel brake. Now...here's the bit that will have people saying Laurie Oakes has gone soft.
I believe many of us in the media are doing democracy no favours with the negative way we habitually view politicians and the political process. In much of the coverage of politics, an attitude of disdain comes across loud and clear.
In the US and Britain it's been called a "culture of contempt", a description that seems fairly apt for what happens here as well. Politicians, collectively at least, tend to be treated with scorn and derision as a matter of course.
There's rarely any recognition that there are well-motivated people in politics; public spirited people who go into parliament because they believe they can be a force for good; people who actually want to make Australia a better place.
They're characterised as in it for what they can get; or they're ridiculed as incompetent fools.
To an extent, politicians have brought this on themselves by the way they speak about each other. Tony Abbott's contribution was to base the "No" case in the Republic referendum on the message that politicians can't ever be trusted.
Another factor is spin.
American political scientist, Robert Patterson, has written that "The real bias of the press today is not a partisan one but a pronounced tendency to report what is wrong with politics and politicians rather than what is right".
That bias, I'd argue, is in part at least, a reaction to the extraordinary effort politicians and governments put into trying to make us report things the way they want them reported.
Politicians and their minders have always tried to control the message and the messengers.
On my first day as state roundsman for the Sydney Mirror Bob Askin told me if I did the right thing he would talk to me on the phone early every morning and give me a story.
I'd ring at a particular time using a code so he'd know it was me. He had a similar arrangement with my opposite number on the rival paper, The Sun.
But if I ever wrote something he didn't like, Askin said, he wouldn't answer my call the next day and my opposition would get a scoop.
Since then, political parties and governments have developed techniques that are more sophisticated and professional but just as ruthless, and they've massive resources into trying to control what journalists do.
Journalists have responded with increased suspicion and resentment and a growing view of politicians of all stripes as the enemy.
Whatever the cause, it's hard to deny, I think, that the contempt for politicians constantly on show in the media is a factor in eroding faith in the political system.
An essential quality for a journalist is detached scepticism.
A journalist needs to be able to stand back and see imperfections in people and institutions.
A journalist needs to be on the alert for impropriety or incompetence or dishonesty or hypocrisy.
But we DON'T need to convey the impression that everyone involved in politics is deceptive, venal or useless.
Because, apart from anything else, it's not true.
Having said that, I'll keep putting the boot in where I think it's warranted. But that's the key phrase, isn't it? "Where it's warranted". It shouldn't be the default position.
Now, since discussing the future of journalism is the brief, let me get out my crystal ball before I finish and try to predict where some of this is taking us.
Prediction 1. What's been called "the industrialization of journalism"
More stories being produced for more outlets at ever greater speed by fewer people-will gather pace, with consequences unlikely to be pretty.
The trend overseas is towards more predictable news presented in more uniform formats because this is more efficient. It's sometimes described as McJournalism or--in the words of the BBC's respected political correspondent Andrew Marr-"bite-sized McNugget journalism".
My fear is that tomorrow's press gallery will be serving up Happy Meals.
Prediction 2. Spin will become even more pervasive and powerful, believe it or not.
We probably thought the black art of spin had gone about as far as it could go with Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's spinmeister-in-chief. But the Hamster Wheel effect is a spinner's dream come true.
As news organizations suffer worsening financial pressures and cut back on staff and resources, the PR industry is getting stronger and stronger. "Bulking up as if it's on steroids" someone has said.
And increasingly, overworked journalists battling the 24-hour tyranny, and news organizations forced to do it on the cheap, will be sitting ducks.
Prediction 3. Political journalists will be bypassed more and more.
I'm not talking politicians using talkback radio as John Howard did. Nor am I talking about Julia Gillard going on The 7pm Project or Julie Bishop starring on The Chaser, though there'll be more of that, too.
In the last US presidential campaign, all the candidates made the rounds of the comedy shows. David Letterman announced, only half-joking: "The road to the White House runs through me."
But what I'm referring to here is politicians, parties, governments, interest groups and so on contacting voters directly via the internet. GetUp already does this very effectively.
In the US, Barack Obama's communications director has taunted members of the Washington press corps that eventually they could be rendered obsolete through the use of presidential messages posted directly onto YouTube and other internet sites.
Prediction 4. Bloggers will start to usurp the role of determining what is news.
This prediction was going to be mine when I drafted my lecture, but I find Julian Disney has beaten me to it. So I'd better give him credit.
The Press Council chairman says the greatest challenge is the risk that the blogosphere, with its tendency to rush to judgement and circulate scuttlebutt, will push the mainstream media into a race to the bottom.
That, he believes, is the cut-throat competition of the future.
In Britain, political blogger Guido Fawkes - who happily runs stories without the kind of investigation and verification mainstream journalists are supposed to require - boasts that the news is no longer defined by big media.
Big media proves that by following him.
In the US big media follows Matt Drudge and his ilk.
Of course it will happen here.
None of these predictions is comforting, I know. They all reflect trends that will have to be resisted.
Good luck with that.
I just hope that joie de journalism remains something that people entering this profession in the future can still experience.