Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Becoming a Newsketeer

Where to start on a week with a crowded calendar and dashed expectations?

No better place than an enrolment with a door-opening new experience, “The Australian Plus”, a News Corp members-only initiative designed to get you closer to the newspaper’s “award winning” journalists and “marquee events”.

If ever you’ve wanted “to go behind the news”, now is the moment and what better place to start than to be locked in a room with editor-at-large Paul Kelly, media affairs man Darren “Exclusive” Davidson and columnist-lite Nikki Gemmell? But where’s Sharri Markson when you need her?

If that doesn’t satiate your appetite, there are other “experiences” on offer, including a grab bag of tat from Lord Moloch’s stable of lifestyle products, including food magazines and six months’ access to Foxtel’s TV streaming service, Presto.

The Sydney Morning Herald was also into customers having experiences with its celebrity journalists. Terry Durack shared with us the triumph of his first smoked oyster and how he wants to write about restaurants as though you were at the table with him.

Rule No. 1: never have a meal with a journalist. Their manners are appalling and you’ll end up paying.

1 . The Salmon of Knowledge

While in this territory, I was tickled pink to read in The New Yorker’s “Tables for Two” column a restaurant review by the executive editor of, former North Sydney Girls High student Amelia Lester.

Amelia must have picked up some style tips from full-blast foodie critic Leo “Lobster” Schofield. Here’s Amelia on a NYC restaurant called Happy Ending: “Could this be the most uninspired menu in New York? The mussels come in a garlic-white-wine sauce. The waiter says there aren’t any this evening. A bowl of mixed olives is eight dollars ... Mains include salmon à la vapeur and a mustard chicken, like at a wedding or in seat 60D on a long-distance flight ... The problem with Happy Ending is that you can’t eat a double entendre.”

There was duck breast cooked “so emphatically that it tastes like filet mignon, and four chunks of salmon that never stood a chance against a garrulous green-curry sauce”.

Happy Ending, indeed.

It’s the sort of take-no-prisoners reviewing that would land an Australian critic in the courts. In fact, I see that fine body of critics, the NSW Court of Appeal, has decided to sprinkle some more of Fairfax’s money on proprietors of the former Coco Roco restaurant, which was reviewed in The Sydney Morning Herald 12 years ago, no less.

The subject of this review has seen two jury verdicts on “meanings”, trips to the court of appeal and the High Court, another hearing on damages before a single judge and now back to the court of appeal.

In the latest appeal judgement there was an interesting discussion about facts and opinion, where the reviewer embedded matters of fact in statements of opinion, such as: “pork that was dry, apricots that were rubbery, some salad leaves that were wilting and some that were yellow, scallop shells that were jagged...”, et cetera.

It’s a challenging business. The reviewer judging the food, and the judges critiquing what’s been said about the material that has disappeared down the reviewer’s gullet.

2 . Make a new plan, Stan

Back to TV streaming. Could it be that the wheels might fall off the Fairfax-Nine cheap video shop, Stan? That’s cheap in the terms of what the viewer has to pay, not the $100 million gambled by the two partners.

CEO “Maserati” Hywood is busily dismantling the network of Fairfax country papers, where we find one sole office reporter is down to two-and-a-half days but must drive several hours to get to work. Another in Ballarat who has taken a payout eloquently said, “I refuse to go down with the fuckwits.”

So the CEO may not have noticed that Netflix is amassing a large audience, especially for its in-house productions such as House of Cards and Bloodline.

The Stan house of cards may not withstand competitive winds of this force. Obviously, there is much work to be done in securing the future of the TV streaming project, just as there is with the next phase of the slow-starting Spectrum Now festival, quite apart from how to progress the damage inflicted on what were the nation’s finest papers, thus ultimately leaving the field to Lord Moloch’s shrills.

Speaking of whom, in a far-off corner of his empire, Port Moresby, the Post-Courier is earning scorn for its dutiful recycling of Australian high commission handouts on the economic benefits of having migrants imprisoned on Manus Island.

Cargo cult-style photos of grateful local women receiving aid-funded Singer sewing machines from beaming whities at the high commission have left fair-minded citizens choking with disbelief.

3 . PM in cement shoes

There is a lovely pathway around Cremorne Point on the harbourside that currently is being rebuilt.

It’s a big job involving several hundred metres of concrete and quite a few steps. A colourful Bentley-driving Irishman called Mick and his gang, mostly Irish, are the contractors doing the job for North Sydney Council. And very efficiently, too.

However, they are cursed by people who want to use the path, no matter the barricades and council signs indicating it is closed temporarily for construction.

Mick was spitting tacks last weekend when someone had trodden in newly poured concrete.

This week some saintly friends of Gadfly were walking their pooch when a posse of joggers came along. The pooch-walker called out that the path up ahead is closed. A sweaty voice from the posse dismissively replied, “We’ll see about that”, and jogged on.

A close inspection showed that the voice came from a citizen with strange simian movements and a generously proportioned backside. It was none other than the beloved PM, Tony Abbott, surrounded by a security detail.

Mick is a man not to be trifled with and if there’s any wet cement on the PM’s shoes, there’ll be hell to pay. He told my field agents that if he gets the new walkway done efficiently and ahead of time, “There could be a Roller in this one.”

4 . Green office makes A-G red

Invitations are going out for the 30th anniversary fundraising dinner of the NSW Environmental Defender’s Office. This is the outfit that challenges all sorts of crazed development schemes and especially sends the mining sector, and their stretcher-bearers in the print media, into a frenzy.

Bookshelves Brandis, “QC”, has been overseeing massive cuts to the Commonwealth’s contributions to this organisation and banning it from using the money for “advocacy”.

So it’s exceedingly nice to see that High Court Chief Justice Robert French is the keynote speaker at the fundraiser to be MCed by Jonathan Biggins at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

To have the work of the EDO supported by the No. 1, first-among-equals judge in the land will probably render Bookshelves incandescent.  


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 25, 2015 as "Gadfly: Becoming a Newsketeer".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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