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Wednesday, June 1, 2011


melissafyfe The Sunday Age’s state politics reporter Melissa Fyfe is “on assignment” reporting on a fund-raising drive for a climate change lobby group Safe Climate Australia. Fairfax shareholders have paid her way, with Fairfax properties talking up the group.

She’s also participating in the event. And reporting on it with the zeal of a campaigner. We’re not even inclined to say it’s not a good cause. We’re sure they mean well, despite occasionally succumbing to the temptation to use fear to raise funds. But good cause or not, it’s a cause. And it seems Fyfe and the newspaper employing her is fully embracing this lobby group, without fear and with plenty of favour.

Her Twitter feed, advertised every week in the newspaper, contains many dozens of links promoting “Run4SafeClimate”. They’ve been several articles and blog posts too. She feels a real sense of ownership over the lobby group fundraiser too.

She modestly explains:

The route the runners are taking is loosely based on an award-winning climate change series I did in 2005 with photographer Simon O’Dwyer for The Age.

Not many writers describe themselves as award-winning, an omission that VEXNEWS contributors will be asked to carefully consider on a case-by-case basis.

Media industry critics have told VEXNEWS Fyfe’s approach to reporting on this and many other issues related to the environment and state politics crosses the line from reporting to campaigning “in the most shameless way.”

They cite regular puff pieces on Greens political party politicians and a sustained attack on the coal industry as examples of an extremist and excessive approach on these issues. In one piece recently she wrote about what she called “state’s dirty brown coal.” An undergraduate approach, to be sure.

It’s that ideological fervour that has led her to promote the environmental lobby group fundraiser.

It’s a cute idea, drawing on a couple of dozen emergency services personnel to assert that the planet needs to saved from imminent disaster. They work on saving the world from emergencies so their views on climate change are therefore determinative. Or something like that.

It’s clever PR meets Apocalypse Now.

It’s clever PR meets Apocalypse Now.

There’s nothing wrong with honestly promoting your beliefs but it is unusual for a journalist at a major metropolitan newspaper to so actively push a cause in this way.

The last time The Age newspaper editorial management got caught up in such a campaign EarthWatch, even the left-leaning newsroom was concerned they’d crossed a line from reporting to barracking and promotion. It became quite the scandal.

Born to run Melissa Fyfe – whose use of hairspray and grooming products is said to itself represent a clear and present danger to the ozone layer – is very, very proud of her environmental campaigning credentials:

These days, Fyfe is much more comfortable in her role as the newspaper’s environment reporter. And it shows. The 29-year-old has had a stellar year, with her five-part series Story of a Tree earning her a United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day award. She picked up two high commendations in the Melbourne Press Club’s Quill awards for her reports on fox tail bounties and Point Nepean. 2004 Melissa won a UN Association of Australia World Environment Day award for her series ‘Story of a Tree’.

She explained in a profile piece for the internal staff newsletter that:

Reporting environmental issues is something that Fyfe relishes… But it is also a difficult balancing act. “I have always been interested in the environment,” she says. “But actually having to report on the environment is a tricky thing for an Age journalist. Some readers expect us to be advocates for the environment but we’re also expected to be balanced. Trying to get that balance is something dear to my heart because I am a journalist first.”

So she concedes that she was expected to be and was willing to be an “advocate for the environment” or really an advocate for environmental left policies. While being balanced. There really hasn’t been much sign of being balanced at all.

She has since moved on from being the “environment reporter” to the Sunday Age where she is their state political reporter. She didn’t leave her environmental baggage behind either. One of her colleagues in the state press gallery told VEXNEWS:

She’s not seen as a heavy-hitter around Spring Street partly because there is an environmental activist element to what she writes. It does get a bit monotonous doesn’t it?

Fyfe makes no apologies for her views and presumably her superiors think her passion adds something to the occasionally dreary Sunday Age. Her views on climate change don’t allow for giving those who question the claims of the scientific left much credit:

She nominates climate change and sustainability as two of the big issues. She worries that the global warming issue has been distorted in some sections of the media. In the pursuit of balance, climate change sceptics are so often approached for comment it seems like there is a 50-50 split of scientific opinion. In fact, there are a handful of sceptics and thousands of scientists around the world who are not, she says.

The terrible business of having to include the other side of an argument clearly troubles Fyfe. She clearly has a personal struggle with the requirements of her job. She is a passionate crusader, some believe to be keen on a career in the Greens political party in the fast approaching time when The Age stops slaying trees and joins the ranks of The Argus on the list of defunct Melbourne newspapers.

And certainly that’s been a hallmark of Fyfe’s micro-blogging reporting this week from the fun-run for doom-boosting. She’s particularly obsessed with shutting down Australia’s coal industry which is Australia’s largest export and provides much of the country with electricity. Tens of thousands of workers would be put to the sword if she had her way.

She’s clearly quite disapproving of coal in all its forms:

And the coal train just went past. Huge. Some of the 187 million tonnes of Queensland black coal on its way to port this year.

That dirty coal that powers the nation is such an inconvenience:

On side of road waiting for a coal train

The inner-city Melbourne lass doesn’t think much of the vulgar locals either:

Blogging in a Rockhampton park. Looks like the local alcohol appreciation society is having a meeting at the next picnic table.

We can at least be grateful she wasn’t racially specific.

The very serious, usually well-coiffed newshound/poodle hasn’t been entirely scowly and humourless though during her week on the run:

One runner said the other day that sharing a van with 5 men on a high protein diet is certainly not a safe climate. Probably quite true.

Beyond the most recent fundraising for lobby groups, Fyfe’s Twitter feed gives an intriguing insight into her opinions. They’re stereotypical inner-city lefty views, as you’d expect.

She wrote in critical terms of tenderers for state government work who’d engaged lobbyists to assist them understand what government priorities were. She thought it all very sleazy, offering sarcastically:

The Sunday Age this week looks at lobbyists who helped get the recent big tender bids over the line. They don’t lobby, of course, just help.

Her article attacked professional government relations people as being inherently dastardly in an article headlined:

In the murky world of lobbying, mateship is king

The article argued the state government ought to regulate lobbyists – a position long supported by us – so the public knows who they are and who they’re working for and can – in the event of some form of misconduct – shut them down. That’s exactly what the government is doing despite seeming to drag its feet on the issue for a while.

For all the faux piety, Fyfe forgets or didn’t know that The Age also notoriously uses well-connected Labor aligned lobbyists to try to influence government decision-making about advertising spend.

And that’s the problem with Fyfe’s journalism ultimately. One of her frenemies in journalism told us this week “A lot of front but not much behind. She either blocks out facts that don’t suit her narrative or didn’t know them in the first place and couldn’t be bothered going further. Her advocacy journalism isn’t thorough, isn’t careful and isn’t internally consistent. She’s going nowhere fast.”

At least she’ll have those ‘dirty’ coal trains to blame.

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