Journalists Writing Australian Political History

By Dickenson, Jackie | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Journalists Writing Australian Political History


Dickenson, Jackie, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


There is a long tradition of Australian journalists writing political history: in his 1985 survey of political history and biography, political scientist Peter Loveday listed ten such works. (1) In recent years there appears to have been a considerable increase in the volume of these publications. A survey of the National Library of Australia catalogue using the search term "Australian political history" revealed 446 books examining professional politicians, political parties, governments, election campaigns, or the political involvement of institutions and individuals published between 1933 and 2009. (2) Most of these books were published from the 1980s onwards. (3) I have identified eleven political histories written by Australian journalists between 1933 and 1970, and ninety-seven written between 1970 and 2009--an increase of more than 800 per cent. (4) This article examines the phenomenon and suggests its beginnings can be traced back to the 1960s.

I undertake four tasks. Firstly, I pinpoint the significant moments in the development of the genre and trace its steady rise; secondly, I discuss the genre's characteristics, looking for continuities in topics, range and approach; thirdly, I discuss how these books differ from political histories written by academics, and fourthly, I seek to explain the increase in numbers. Incorporated into my discussion is the testimony of a small sample of Australian journalists, publishers and academics. Eight interviews were conducted for this study between 5 and 27 May 2009: two with journalists who have written political histories, three with publishers of political histories, and three with academics who have written political histories. (5) All interviewees were asked to discuss the differences between academic and journalistic political histories; which journalistic political histories they admired; whether they had noticed an increasing trend towards journalists writing political history; what might be causing that trend, and its implications for public understanding of political processes. In addition, the journalists were asked to describe their motivations for writing their books, their models, methodologies and approaches.

Tracing the Rise

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries journalism and history writing were closely linked. A number of academic historians--Ernest Scott is just one example--trained as journalists before embracing university life, and such training in investigative research, reporting and writing to deadlines informed their academic research and writing. (6) Journalists have written a variety of histories over two centuries: W.C. Wentworth, John West, Samuel Bennett, Roy Bridges, and Cyril Pearl are examples of journalists who have produced works of historical investigation based on substantial research. (7) This study is concerned, however, with those political histories, including biographies, written by journalists who used insider knowledge gained from their employment covering politics.

The earliest of such books appears to be Ambrose Pratt's uncritical biography of his employer, David Syme, written in 1908. (8) In 1933 A.N. Smith, the first president of the Australian Journalists Association (AJA), published Thirty Years: the Commonwealth of Australia, 1901-1931. (9) About the same time, the Bulletin's Malcolm Ellis published The Red Road, an expose of the alleged influence of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) on the Lang Labor faction in New South Wales. (10) Warren Denning's Caucus Crisis: the Rise and Fall of the Scullin Government appeared four years later. (11) In a biographical note to the 1982 edition of Caucus Crisis, the journalist Alan Reid--himself the author of several important works of political history--claimed Denning's work to be "the first piece of permanent writing to come out of the Canberra Press Gallery". As far as I can ascertain, this is accurate. As we will see, it was certainly the most influential. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Journalists Writing Australian Political History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.