Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Mark of the Man

Sometimes it's not what was done, but how it was done that matters.

Yesterday this announcement flew around twitter as the week ended:
Mark Tobin had been a NSW political reporter for the ABC.

Suffice to say, some of the responses were not universally congratulatory:
Interestingly, Tobin's twitter account immediately disappeared and he has not been seen or heard of since.
I've not seen any news reports about the move, nor have I tracked down an announcement from O'Farrell, the Liberals or Tobin.

In fact, the only people who have let anyone know about the move have been fellow journos who, presumably, were told by Tobin personally.

Now, it should be noted that journos move from the press gallery to take up jobs in politics all the time. And it makes sense - who better to help a politician interact with and anticipate the media than a person who used to work there?

My real concern would be people moving in the other direction - can we trust a journalist who used to work for a politician he or she is reporting on?

The only issue that concerns me is the nature of Tobin's reporting while the job was "under negotiation".  The problem, of course, is this: we have no idea how this hiring was undertaken.

@stilgherrian is right about one thing - if Tobin was going through some sort of interview process, it would highly inappropriate for him to have continued reporting on NSW politics in the meantime.  I presume that the ABC would have some pretty stringent policies and rules surrounding this very area - I'm sure this isn't the first time such an issue has come up.

An (admittedly quick) search tells me that the last story he published that is available online is this story, published over a week ago.

That suggests to me that he has taken leave, or at least stopped publishing stories, while the job was under negotiation.  Which is good.

That said, I did find this page which suggests that Tobin was tweeting about NSW politics as late as yesterday:
He also sent these tweets a few days ago:
That raises the complex issue of whether a tweeting journalist is doing so in their professional or private capacity. So maybe, at least as far as these tweets are concerned, @stilgherrian does have something to be upset about.

The whole "problem" comes back to this: we have no idea how and when the job was offered, who approached who, when it was accepted, when he tendered his resignation, or what discussions may have been had previously.

The moment the move was announced, a fact sheet should have been released by one of the parties telling us what went on when, so speculating blogposts (and angry tweets) won't be sent.

The void, as always, is quickly filled by something.  And if facts are no available, speculation and innuendo will do just fine.

This is even more important when you consider who Tobin is replacing: Peter Grimshaw. This appointment would have gotten attention no matter who got the gig - O'Farrell seems pretty foolish to not make sure all basis are covered.

I'm a little amazed that NSW Labor haven't yet flooded the market with press-releases about the issue - it doesn't even appear to have been mentioned on their website, nor have I found any news reports covering the appointment.

At a time when O'Farrell's press office has been the centre of so much attention and drama, you would have thought that he would be desperate avoid even the perception or possible inference of scandal.

You would have thought.

UPDATE: This tweet from @SeanNic clarifies something I've perhaps over-simplified in this post. Tobin has been added to the media team - not directly replacing Grimshaw.

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