Date: August 11 2012
U p until a few days ago, the term ''interngate'' probably conjured up images of Monica Lewinsky and her ill-fated stint at the White House. Today, your attention would more likely be drawn to the Melbourne University student who spent two weeks interning at The Herald Sun. And who then wrote anonymously about the experience in the Melbourne University newspaper Farrago, under the title: ''The Hun Mole: Notes from a Student Newsroom.''
The story begins thus: ''I had a pretty horrific time … The internship was supposed to reveal the inner workings of my chosen profession and to inspire me in my future career path. If this is the case, I may as well kiss my journalism career goodbye.''
The student then launches a scorched earth critique of the news values of the paper and the values of the people who worked for it.
In arguing that The Herald Sun's approach was ''both deluded and wrong'' she said ''basic fact checking would have refuted many of the heteronormative, white, elitist opinions expressed in that building … basic commonsense would have eliminated many of the other scenarios.''
The student also takes issue with the fact that people called her ''Little Bud,'' ''Champ'' and ''Kidlet''. That and the fact that doors were, quite literally, opened. ''Men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them.'' She concludes by noting that she would never be employed by ''The Hun'' but that she didn't care: ''If Australia's big mastheads all function like this then I say bring on their decline.''
The article hung around for a fortnight in the halls of Melbourne Uni before it made it from Twitter to the mainstream media, where it promptly took off like a rocket-propelled firecracker.
On Wednesday it was reported in The Australian with a link to the piece. By Thursday, Herald Sun editor-in-chief Phil Gardner had written to the university, complaining the student had not raised any of her issues either during the placement or before she went to print. Several mainstream media outlets - including The Age - then named the student in question while reporting the story. Channel Seven even ran a photo. One website deemed the writer's behaviour ''workplace bullying'', while Twitter has been alight for days with guffaws about her naivety and ungratefulness (as well as jokes about what ''heteronormative'' means). As someone who has been an intern (on several occasions), the disappointing thing about interngate for me - apart from the fact she was named - was the Hun Mole wasted the opportunity. If you're going to make a bang, make sure the bang is worth it. The concept of an idealistic university student going into the heart of the big bad mainstream media is by no means original. But it's still a ripper.
The mainstream media is particularly bad at self critiques. It likes to think critically about others, but there is itchiness when it comes to comparing how the theoretical media matches up to the real thing.
For another, in my experience, newspapers are not the most politically correct environments. When I compare how people interact, what they wear and how much they swear in newsrooms … it is a far, far cry from the well-behaved environs of say, the public service. There are rich fields to plough for anyone looking for a good yarn.
Unfortunately, the Hun Mole didn't come up with strong examples of anything much. And some of her examples (i.e. doorholding = rampant sexism) didn't really stack up. Maybe if she'd spent a bit more time in the newsroom - working on her newsgathering skills - she would have delivered more colourful observations. Then again, she's just a student. And she was only writing for a student publication.
I shudder and squirm to think that anything I wrote as a student journalist (which includes a ''hard-hitting'' review of the university toilets) was ever read by anyone. Let alone a mass audience. This is not to say that student media should be disregarded. It's just its own weird and sometimes wonderful beast.
As the late great Robert Hughes (alumni of Sydney University's Honi Soit) could tell you, university papers are a vital breeding ground for trying out the craft.
Interngate makes you wonder whether - thanks to the vagaries of our online and so often outraged world - anything can be seen in proportion any more.
Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.
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