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Back You are here: Home Media & Technology Media & Technology Was outing anonymous blogger Grogs Gamut really necessary?

Was outing anonymous blogger Grogs Gamut really necessary?

As a young transsexual woman, Kate Doak has experienced what it's like being ‘outed’ to people in a way that doesn't feel comfortable or safe. She reflects on the motives behind Australian national journalist James Massola’s decision to reveal the identity of an anonymous political blogger.

 

10 October 2010

I've been bullied, sworn at, assaulted, lied to and ridiculed by others, purely because I'm supposedly something “different” to what they are used to.

It's not a pleasant feeling to be outed against your will; to have somebody take control of your life in some way shape or form, and use it against you in order to suit their own ends.

As many of you within the Australian political tweets fraternity would know, a public servant who writes under the pseudonym “Grogs Gamut” was outed earlier this month by James Massola, who writes the “Capital Circle” column for The Australian.

Massola decided to publish Grogs Gamut's real name under the supposition that Gamut is now a political figure, given his comments on media coverage of policy announcements during the recent federal election campaign, as well as his acceptance of an invitation to the recent Media 140 conference in Canberra. This last point is particularly strange given that there were numerous public servants at the conference.

Massola argued throughout the week since Gamut was outed that he did so with the interests of the public in mind.

With arguments ranging from “the public should know when a public servant is biased”, through to “Grog put himself in this position”, Massola has been gently stoking the flames within the volunteer and academic media, in order to promote the circulation of his own work online.

That's typical of most print journalists within the political confines of Canberra, as the more hits your stories are getting, either online or otherwise, the safer your job becomes.

Massola has been claiming  that going after Grogs Gamut hasn't been about getting revenge on a critic whatsoever. If you believe that line, then I've got a Pelican for sale that knows how to tap-dance as well.

By it's very nature, the Canberra Press Gallery is a conservative institution. Unlike many other parts of the media industry, change isn't welcome to many of those who have clawed their way from obscurity into the nation's limelight. Nor is criticism, especially when it's constructive.

Ontop of that, Massola would have had to of known that Grogs Gamut was invited to the Media 140 conference by its Australian convenor, Julie Posetti. Possessing one of the finest journalistic and academic minds around, Julie is nobody's fool when it comes to anything of a political or media nature.

If anyone were able to verify whether somebody has a political agenda or not, it would be a prominent journalist, who just also happens to teach journalism students for a living.

While Massola was well within his rights to out Grogs Gamut, was it the morally right thing to do so?

Grog hasn't lost his job (yet), so no harm done, right? It's cavalier attitudes like this that either get people hurt, or end careers. In more than a few situations, it's resulted in both.

What would have happened if Grog had of lost his job over this? If you look through his entire blog, Grog has been meticulous in making sure that he only blogs on issues that are already in the public arena, and never on anything that could possibly come across his desk at work.

Around midday on Friday, Massola did a live audio interview via a web-stream on The Australian's website, with fellow Canberra Reporter Latika Bourke, and his editor, Geoff Elliot.

In an attempt to justify the actions of The Australian, Massola explained why he published details about Grogs Gamut, while Latika Bourke was coached into saying why she disagreed with some of the characteristics of online bloggers.

What followed this ‘journalistic threesome’ was a diatribe as to why the “established” media were right on this issue, while everyone else, including journalism academics, are wrong.

What's surprising is that no one with a blogging background was included as a part of this broadcast, even though the topic was “blogging” itself.

While some might argue that Massola's background with the pro-Catholic “Eureka Street”during his early career might qualify him as a blogger, there's a difference between “writing for work” like journalists do, and “writing for fun”.

That in itself raises a question: why did Massola and Elliot choose Bourke to be a part of that interview?

As many of you (from Australia that is) are aware Bourke is employed by 2UE, which is owned by Fairfax. Fairfax owns both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which are in direct competition with The Australian.

Given that News Corporation have their own journalists who have just as much experience in Canberra as Latika (some of whom are also more experienced in social media), it's surprising that she was called in for this “interview”.

Now if you listen closely to the recording, nearly every time Massola said something, Bourke was in complete agreement. Now nothing against Bourke, as I think that she's one of the smartest young journalists to have covered Canberra in a long, long time, though something stinks about this.

Bourke is normally rather blunt with both her questions and her answers, so seeing her act pretty much as a “yes-man” to everything that Elliot and Massola were saying is just plain weird.

During the conversation, I tweeted the following to Massola which he then proceeded to read out on-air:

Again, would this be a story if u'd taken his criticism in a constructive manner? His critique was of media "pros".

Massola then proceeded to state that I'd missed the point and that he'd praised Grogs Gamut during the early part of the campaign.

While that much certainly is true (the praise), it doesn't explain why he suddenly thought that Grogs Gamut was instantly newsworthy now.

Media 140 is predominantly an education-orientated organization, rather than a professional one in the sense of the National Press Club. The conference run by Posetti was designed to benefit both professional journalists and bloggers alike, regardless of politics.

In that regard, Grogs Gamut had as much of a right to attend Media 140 as anyone else, particularly given the apolitical insight that he gave on the coverage of the 2010 election. If ‘outing’ Grogs Gamut's identity wasn't newsworthy at the time of the election, then it can only come across as an act of spite by The Australian now.

As someone who has also been on the receiving end of being outed, I sympathise with Grogs Gamut.

Kate Doak is a postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on modern history, the media and international politics. She blogs on Daily Dose.

 

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