My short bio: This year I celebrate 40 years at the ABC. I first joined radio news as a cadet, after graduating from Oxford University. For more detail visit my biography at http://www.abc.net.au/pm/about.html but in short, after years in various journalistic roles, I took up the position of presenter for PM. I love PM because it has the space to explore a wide range of the day's issues in more details and with more depth than the soundbite sausage-machine.

PM airs weekdays, first at 17.00 (AEST), followed by a longer program at 18.10 (AEST).

To listen in you can tune to ABC Local Radio or Radio National, connect to the live stream from the PM website: www.abc.net.au/pm, or subscribe to PM's podcasts.

Highlights and extras make their way to PM's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ABCPM.au

You can also follow the program on Twitter @amworldtodaypm or myself @Colvinius

My Proof: https://www.facebook.com/#!/ABCPM.au https://twitter.com/amworldtodaypm

EDIT: That's an hour and a half of intensive typing. Thanks to all those whose questions I answered and apologies if I didn't manage to address yours.

Big thanks to Rhiannon Treasure-Brand for facilitating this AMA. Maybe we can do it again another day.

Mark

Comments: 107 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

scalesthefish23 karma

Do you know who the @ABCNewsIntern is?

MarkColvin16 karma

No, I've had my theories, but they've been eliminated one by one.

MarkColvin13 karma

That's an hour and a half of fairly intensive typing. I hope I've answered the key questions: thank you very much for them. Ands many thanks to Rhiannon Treasure-Brown for facilitating this AMA. Maybe we can do it again some time.

Mark

mopoke10 karma

What do you see as the future of the ABC and the BBC? Both are facing funding questions in their respective countries.

MarkColvin16 karma

Obviously, I'm hoping that the ABC has a healthy future. I've lived through many rounds of attacks on the organisation, and many episodes of severe cost-cutting. We "live to fight another day", as they say. But the ABC I work in is genuinely stretched thin: there's no fat whatever in the programs in Radio Current Affairs, where I work. If we have a round of cuts, have no doubt, it will hurt, and the viewer and listener is bound to notice. The BBC is not my area of expertise. It has a different funding system, of course, but its licence fee still looks cheap to me compared to what people are prepared to pay for satellite and cable services. I listen to a lot of BBC radio, mainly for documentaries and news, but also for the range of arts, drama, comedy. It's an international treasure on its own. That said, everything I know about the two organisations says that the BBC is far, far more top-heavy with unnecessary layers of management. The ABC is streamlined in comparison.

prince_kingmond9 karma

Why are a lot of right-wingers crying "left-wing ABC bias"? There's plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. My old man's a former Liberal Party member (from way back during his days as a Uni student and left in '96 after Little Johnny was elected) and is very unhappy about how the ABC is being treated by his side of the political divide. Why all the hate?

MarkColvin12 karma

I lived through an era when the leadership of News and Current Affairs contained a large number of ex-Coalition staffers and office-bearers. There's no equivalent now: we're led by professional journalists, all of them ex-reporters and producers, with no party allegiance.

nsewell5 karma

ABC News 24's competition with Sky as well as every free to air news bulletin infuriated a lot of the commercial networks. It's easy to feel infuriated at "bias" when they're the only network that has 24 hour ad-free radio, TV and online news.

MarkColvin8 karma

Sure, but these are exactly the same arguments that Keith Murdoch and the other media barons of the time mounted against the ABC having a news service at all, back in the thirties. At the beginning, the ABC was restrictedd to an evening "digest" of that morning's newspapers.

Random_Dad8 karma

Do you despair over the decline of print media?

MarkColvin11 karma

I'm interested in journalism, not the delivery method. I'm worried about the future of good journalism, but on the whole not quite as worroed as I was in 2012: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2012/11/05/3625997.htm I think new players will enter the field, and that one way or another stories will still be told. Not to say it won't be very rocky for another few years at least

adamcr1515158 karma

What was your experience with the transplant, and what could be done to improve the process?

MarkColvin13 karma

Long story, because I was on dialysis for nearly three years, a frankly miserable time despite the best efforts of brilliant staff at Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick. I'd probably still be going through that, three days a week for 6-7 hours at a time, if it weren't for luck and generosity. The generosity of Mary Ellen Field, who I'd met as an interviewee and a contact, and the luck that she was a remarkably good match - as close as if we'd been related. Otherwise, I faced the prospect of an average 5-8 year wait for a deceased organ. One of the people doing dialysis with me had waited eleven years, so I wasn't saguine. I'm in favour of a system that takes in lessons from countries like Spain and US States like Pennsylvania.

SuicideMarkz7 karma

What was the worst blooper you encountered?

MarkColvin16 karma

I once read a news bulletin on what was then 2JJ with a fit of the hiccups. Luckily no-one recorded it. And one night on PM I started laughing uncontrollably while back announcing a story about an artwork made of rotting fish and seaweed. Luckily it was the last story of the program so I was just able to gasp out "Good night" and shut the mic.

art_breaker6 karma

Hi Mark! I have so many questions for you, but I'll try to keep it to a minimum. You are one of my favourite journalists on Twitter, by the way.

You were on a panel at an investigative journalism conference once, and the Gaza massacre of 08/09 was discussed. You showed us an example of Israel's propagandist Mark Regev spin doctoring. He, unsurprisingly, lied through his teeth to preserve Israel's image during numerous interviews.

As an aspiring political reporter, it had me thinking about this idea of 'two sides' to every story. I want to ask whether you agree or disagree about this: do you think journalists get carried away with wanting to appear balanced, as opposed to getting to the guts of the story/issue? Do you believe the expectation to create 'balanced' stories in situations where there is an imbalance of power can go against journalistic principles at times? It almost feels like we are obliged to give PR airtime to people who seek to conceal the truth in the name of 'balance'.

MarkColvin10 karma

Running out of time. I think it's a good question. The anti vax movement is a good example, which I dealt with in my Andrew Olle Media lecture http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2012/11/05/3625997.htm There comes a point, as with the Flat Earth Society, where seeking "balance" is silly or irresponsible. Where that point arises is the question for judgment.

fairground5 karma

How does broadcasting PM work? Do you read everything twice a night, or is the first one recorded and then you add bits if needed?

MarkColvin6 karma

Sometimes I read everything twice, sometimes we broadcast a recorded "slab" as we call it, for the first 15-20 minutes of the 6pm. When there's big breaking news, we stay back and do it all again for WA.

vonlichtenstein5 karma

Thanks for your time Mr Colvin, my question comes in two parts.

Last year the ABC overhauled its cadetship program for 2014 with applicants required to either have a past work history at the ABC or to have previously applied for a job at the public broadcaster. As a former ABC cadet yourself, what do you say to suggestions the ABC has shut the door on many aspiring young journalists? And in addition, do you believe that by narrowing the application criteria the ABC are essentially discriminating against young journalists who have gained their experience at other media outlets?

MarkColvin9 karma

I'm not familiar with the small print of the current cadet intake program, but I can say that the numbers applying every year are simply enormous. Ifm I were in that position, I should simply ensure that I applied for a few jobs before applying for a cadetship. I might add that I have enormous sympathy for those who apply, because when I joined there were far fewer applicants, and because there were no journalism courses, also far fewer with any journalistic training. I doubt if I'd get in now.

vonlichtenstein-8 karma

I understand ABC receives more than 1,000 applications a year. While I appreciate your response it doesn't really answer my question.

What I asked was whether those who don't have an ABC background are being discriminated against? And should the ABC have the right to disqualify applicants based on their employment history?

MarkColvin13 karma

I answered your q to the best of my ability. The details are not at my fingertips, so you'll have to take that up with someone else.

so0ty4 karma

After you hit the big time, whatever became of Hobbes?

MarkColvin3 karma

Ha ha. Bill Watterson is a real hero, though. I wish he hadn't retired into Salinger-like seclusion.

Mystery_3 karma

Hi Mark, many thanks for doing this AMA. I'm a young Australian journalist and I'd like my work to be seen as "good journalism".

I'm wondering: have you ever had to compromise your ideals or morals in order to publish a story? Or has there ever been a time when an editor or somebody else has told you that you need to change a story and if so how have you reacted?

In addition to this, in order to get work as a journalist there might be times when you have to cover stories you don't want to. What is your advice around this and is it necessary in order to do the stories you want?

MarkColvin9 karma

That's a really good question. I was thinking as I was preparing for this that I've been extraordinarily lucky, working at the ABC, never to have been asked to make up a quote, "borrow" a photo while someone wasn't looking, hack a phone, etc. So I never take a 'holier-than-thou' approach, because I've never been tested in that regard. I've spoken to people who worked at News of the World in London: it's clear to me that in that atmosphere, if you didn't get the splash by any means possible, you were in trouble, and if it happened more than a couple of times you were out on your arse. Some people were ruthless,, some desperate.

I've covered plenty of stories I didn't want to. My advice on that is, if you really dislike a story, try thinking of a better one. You'll often find it gets you out of doing the one you don't want.

robdotcom713 karma

What would you say has been your career highlight?

MarkColvin7 karma

Too many to list. Covering the Reagan-Gorbachev diplomacy (summits in Rejkjavik and Geneva, etc) that led to the end of the Cold War. Standing in a desert in northern Namibia watching the reunion of an exiled mother and the grown son she hadn't seen since he was a baby. Making a Four Corners story which I was later authoritatively told had kyboshed a plan to move the RAN base at Garden Island to beautiful, unspoilt Jervis Bay. A series of film stories for Foreign Correspondent in the 90s chronicling the end of the postwar corrupt consensus in Italy, culmiating with an interview with the spider at its centre, Giulio Andreotti. And on and on ...

idratherbeoverthere3 karma

Hi Mark, long time listener, first time asker... hmm... are you frustrated by the dumbing down of the main stream media (ACA, Daily Tele etc.)?

MarkColvin6 karma

I think tabloid journalism is roughly where it was when I started in the 70s. Ask anyone my age about the old 'Sun' and 'Mirro' in Sydney, for example. TV Current Affairs, though has dumbed down vastly and I regret that very much. remember that Mike Willacy was a fine ABC interviewer before he jumped ship. Ray Martin and Jeff McMullen were two of the ABC's best ever foreign correspondents before they joined 60 Minutes. That's how good those programs were then. I think they've been driven downmarket by the ratings chase.

mkarstunen3 karma

As a second year journalism student studying at UTS (#utsjournalism represent!) - What is your best advice to someone wanting to get a foot in the door within the industry?

MarkColvin2 karma

Apply for anything: local papers, national papers, interstate. Do as much community radio/ student newspapers/whatever, as you can. Don't be discouraged, just keep bashing on doors. It's a hard time to get into journalism, but the industry still respects persistence, and above all ideas. Think of new stories and new angles on stories, and keep pushing.

redartifice3 karma

Hi Colvinius, How does it feel to have the most interesting twitter feed in Australia?

MarkColvin6 karma

It's very kind of you to say so. I've always read widely, some would say obsessively Some time in 2009-10, I realised that Twitter was a good way to share that reading. I've been trying to do that since, with varying degrees of success.

Sdison3 karma

What comments do you have regarding accusations of a 'groupthink' culture of political bias at the ABC? Does it exist, does it exist only in patches, or does it not exist at all?

MarkColvin5 karma

As my "Awkward Squad" description suggests, I try to think independently, and have always encouraged those around me to think the same. I think there are few unconscious biases among journbalists, but not necessarily the ones that usually come up. For instance, I think the desire for drama tends to result in overplaying the likelihood of leadership spills, and that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I also think that the old line about journalism being to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" builds in a rather good sort of bias. We should be oppositional, and we should always be asking questions like "Who runs this town?", "Where does the money go?" and "Cui bono? (Who benefits?)

redartifice2 karma

You did stories on the Cambodian peace process- as someone who was an observer on the ground at the time, what do you think of how that country has progressed as a nation?

MarkColvin5 karma

It worries me that the same Government is still there more than two decades later. A country can look like a democracy without really being one. I like the US system of term limits, so the President has to change at least every eight years. Governments get sclerotic around the decade mark. It's one of the striongest arguments against authoritarian rule.

Iron-Charioteer2 karma

What was Christopher Hitchens like in private?

MarkColvin6 karma

Much as you'd expect, though sadly when I knew him he was already ill (we had dinner about a week before he was diagnosed. he could quote half a page of Wodehouse more or less at will, which I always appreciate, and his conversation was as flowing and articulate in private as in public.

zacharosen2 karma

How much fun is it working on a show like PM? And how much leisure time does it leave you with?

MarkColvin2 karma

It's huge fun because the people are great. ed the EP and I get on very well, and it is by general agreement one of the better jobs in journhalism. What is this "leisure time" you speak of?

(Seriously, I get most weekends off, but and it's a big but, I tweet 7 days a week).

many_username_wow2 karma

Hi Mark! I understand from your Andrew Olle lecture that you applied for a cadetship at the SMH but you were rejected. After all these years, have you ever gone back and rubbed your success in their face?

MarkColvin2 karma

No, of course not. They were probably right, certainly at the time. I was probably better suited to broadcast journalism, and it's certainly worked out well.

redartifice2 karma

Where do you primarily tweet from? Is it the same place you consume news from?

MarkColvin3 karma

Everywhere. When I started being able to tweet from my phone, my feed went crazy.

Sneakymousey2 karma

Hi Mark Do you have something you revert to if anything goes wrong live on the air? Some presenters are known for re-reading the headlines or something like that, but when something isn't working for you what is your first go to?

MarkColvin6 karma

First go to is the next story lead. Then the next one. Then if the whole system's broken, it's going to be my life story. "I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine".... Thankfully it's never come to that. I hope it won't.

QuizB2 karma

Hi Mark,

In an overall perspective, what do you feel is the future for radio journalism? What path do you think needs to be explored further?

How do you (and/or your producers) make the decision on what stories get run and what ones don't?

MarkColvin3 karma

This year has been so busy that it's more been a question of which ones don't get run. Some stories force their way into the program, some need more selling by the reporter. With my interviews, it's frankly mostly about who I want to talk to and what I'm interested in: with stories, PM's Executrive Producer Edmond Roy makes the decisions, though we talk a lot, not just about what gets run but the order we run them in.

davidonformosa2 karma

Last night a group of students occupied the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament, to protest against the legislature's failure to review a trade agreement with China. So far the protest has had no coverage by international media. Will there be something about it on ABC Radio's PM tonight?

MarkColvin3 karma

I should mention at the outset that I'm not doing PM tonight, so I can't really answer any questions about this evening's program.

wideEyedPupil-o_O1 karma

The IPA is essentially a PR firm with extensive political connections (birthing the Liberal Party no less), a hidden list of clients and seemingly the out-sourced policy arm for the current LNC government. How do they manage to get so much gold plated access to the ABC news and CA shows compared to any other PR firm?

Supplementary: If they are there for balance, isn't the logical balance to what Vidal rightly called crypto-fascism a bunch of anarchists, militant socialists, deep-green environmental NGO leaders and activists, yet they rarely get a seat at the table, let alone a free feed.

MarkColvin3 karma

I don't agree they have gold-plated access. They certainly don't on AM, The World Today or PM. I too, like any serious journalist, think that those in positions of influence and power should be transparent about their funding.

emergency_and_i1 karma

Mr. Colvin, what do you find to be the main differences between Australian media and American media?

MarkColvin7 karma

American media are much freer because of far less restrictive defamation laws, and above all, because of the First Amendment which protects freedom of speech. That means that public officials have traditionall had a built-in tendency to speak to the press fairly openly. On the other hand, they don't have a national publicly funded broadcaster, and I do believe the BBC and ABC respectively have made major cultural contributions to their respective countries.

Gawdor1 karma

Hi Mark, you might not like these assumptive questions ...

Do you believe there is a decline in journalistic integrity? If so, where do you believe this comes from, the public's insatiable desire for instant news (at the expense of fact checking)?

Also, how do you think the quality of journalism can be improved to reinvigorate the public's perception of reporting facts over manufactured drama.

MarkColvin6 karma

I don't think there's a decline in integrity as such, I just think the 24 hour news cycle means that people have less and less time to check. In other words I think it's pressure rather than corruption or malice that lowers standards. yes, it worries me.

TRQuantumNinja1 karma

In the online age do you think radio has a future going forward or will everything move online?

MarkColvin1 karma

Does it matter what the delivery system is? We still call it "filming", even though it's all on digital now. I think people will still have one sort of box or another that music and speech comes out of, whether at home, in the car, or on the earphones.

nkmccallum0 karma

Can you ever rule out conspiracy theories like the JFK assassination or 9/11 - or even this missing MH370 which is nothing but theory?

MarkColvin3 karma

No, and I think these things deserve investigation, but long experience tends me towards the belief that cockup is usually more likely than conspiracy.

aussiehank-11 karma

It's just too bad ABC News and Current Affairs fails to provide fair, balanced, and equal coverage to spokespeople representing :

  • global warming denial.
  • the men's human rights movement.
  • pro-gun ownership and rights.
  • anti-gay marriage.
  • anti-feminism.

PM was the best when Paul Murphy was the host, and the worst when under Ellen Fanning.

And you know the political-left Radio National hates PM ; remember they cut your programme time in half.

MarkColvin8 karma

As I understand it, this a place for questions, as the name Ask Me Anything implies.

As I always say when teaching people how to interview, it helps to actually ask a question.

But thank you for your series of tendentious statements.