I went to see Annabel Crabb, political commentator,  speak last Tuesday night at Newington College in Stanmore. She was the last speaker in a series of talks that are part of the Ethics Centre that is run through the college.

Her topic was, ‘Media and ethics in a hyperconnected world’. Whilst many of Crabb’s observations about the changing mediascape weren’t groundbreaking for anyone who consumes Australian media on a regular basis, they were insightful in the sense that she could offer some great anecdotes from the course of her career, whilst highlighting the contrast between past and present ethical dilemmas.

From old school practices like ‘grass knocking’ (whereby a journalist goes around to a victim’s family’s house to ask them how they’re feeling straight after a traumatic event, and in defiance of your chief of staff’s demands, you knock on the grass, not the front door) to the lack of control editors are now experiencing and the changing nature of the influence of mainstream media as a result of social media undermining any concept of exclusivity or timeliness that newspapers once had. She also made particular reference to her time in the UK working as a journalist and the starkly different ethical ‘code’ that existed, or rather, didn’t exist there compared to Australia.

It was nice to hear that Australia seems to be one of the few places in the world where an ethical code, in various incarnations is consistently somehow adhered to, and not just in a purely regulated way. Crabb conveyed the intrinsic sense of personal respect that has existed within the Australian media, specifically print media, in contrast to places like the US, where a politicians personal life becomes public property as a result of the media tirelessly probing and investigating in an attempt to uncover every significant and insignificant detail about a politicians personal life and airing it without hesitation or contemplation and regardless of consequence.

Crabb was a fantastic speaker, and her stories and insights were incredibly entertaining, slightly self deprecating and at times hilarious. It’s refreshing to see someone who is clearly so consumed by the media industry still retaining so much perspective, and optimism for that matter. Her final remarks about the unadulterated joy of holding a newspaper in your hands and flicking the pages was almost tear jerking (in light of its speculated demise), but she was quick to bring light to the situation by concluding  that if newspapers cease to exist ‘how are people going to know what’s important?’, implying that if people can pick and choose what information they read they will never pick up on the ‘clues’ as she called them, that are obvious in papers, such as a superannuation story being on page one; hint, this one’s important, people. For Crabb, some solice lay in the fact that according to the SMH readership analysis team, a significant portion of people were in fact only buying the paper in the first place, for the tv guide. In which case, nothing will really change.

- Gill Asbury