Journalism stalwart to offer insights at festival

Declan BushAugusta Margaret River Times

Ominous questions about the future of journalism will colour veteran journalist Kerry O’Brien’s talk on media and politics when he guest stars at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival next month.

O’Brien will share stories from his 49-year journalism career, appear during a panel discussion with Jane Caro and talk about his recent book about former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

The former ABC Four Corners, 7.30 Report, and Lateline host told the Times the need to hold the powerful to account was stronger than ever as traditional media struggled to stay afloat.

O’Brien said the media faced “enormous challenges in staying relevant” as newsrooms shed staff, radio stations merged, and regional media filled pages with national content at the expense of local news.

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“Papers everywhere are thinner. The ABC is trying to strengthen its regional services, but everything comes at a price,” he said.

“The more you cut and the more you affect the quality of your reporting, the more you’re undercutting your own brand.

“If you abandon the quality and the analysis and the depth … you’re rooted, you’re just digging a grave for yourself.”

O’Brien said issues like the replacement of skilled jobs by technology and the growing reach of corporations across borders were not getting enough coverage.

At the same time, politicians used platforms like Twitter to “deal direct” with the public to avoid scrutiny.

“The irony of our time is that (while) we are awash with information, governments and corporations in many ways are more secretive than ever,” he said.

O’Brien said there had always been manipulation in politics, and there were still politicians driven by the desire to achieve good for their constituents.

But he was concerned governments were collecting and storing more and more personal data online.

“I do not believe our politicians deserve to be trusted with the amount of information they already have,” he said.

Despite the challenges, O’Brien said he kept an “innate faith in human nature, for all its ills”.

He said a healthy scepticism was a fundamental part of journalism, but said “if you wake up and you’ve become a cynic, you’ve lost the game”.

The Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival runs from June 2-4. Tickets are available from Arts Margaret River.

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