Grog’s Rise of the Fifth Estate

It’s probably not cool to blog about a book that mentions you, but I’m going to do it anyway because the release of Greg Jericho’s book this week has been excitedly anticipated by sections of the political blogosphere and Twittersphere for what seems like forever.

Yesterday, the book officially hit the bookshops, although dead-tree copies were hard to find. Diehards like me paid for the iTunes copy and surreptitiously read it at work that day.

Firstly, I’d like to say that the book is mostly free of the graphs and tables that distinguish much of Greg’s* political writings. That was a relief to me, because while Greg’s prose might be the poor cousin to his economic analysis, I actually enjoy the former much more. That’s probably because I don’t speak economist and as a literature wonk too, Greg does have a lovely turn of phrase.

The book was always going to be built around the story of Greg’s shameful and baseless outing by James Massola of The Australian; and it certainly tells that tale in confronting and gory detail. We can only be grateful that the story turned out to have a happy ending – the many other possible endings were not quite so sun-shiny.

But in an act of publishing brilliance, Greg has also been able to capture a snapshot of Australian political discourse at a time when many of the moving parts are spinning wildly. I’d venture that it’s a first for the Australian political scene.

Greg simultaneously gives us a history lesson on the genesis of political blogging in Australia (from which I learned a great deal), stark and perceptive insights into the way people treat each other online (in discussions on female bloggers and “not reading the comments”), frontline stories from the war between bloggers and journalists, and an examination of how Australian politicians and the media have attempted to either suppress or embrace the dialogue that foments on new media platforms.

I was particularly taken by the book’s narrative thread; the nod to Yeats’ “widening gyre”, where things fall apart and the centre cannot hold. Greg writes:

The MSM and those in power – politicians and governments – seek to hold the centre, but the internet and the social media world is a cyclone. It is a centrifugal force spinning control away from the centripetal forces of the establishment that is seeking to manage and formalise it.

This is a book that journalists may find difficult to read, challenging as it does their willingness to seek the truth over an easier news angle or headline. Equally, it challenges bloggers and the proprietors of online news sites to take responsibility for, and devote resources to guiding, their rabid and bile-filled commenters. Fans of the transformative nature of Twitter will feel mostly justified. Those that demand continuing delineation between conventional and new media will not.

Regardless, this is a book that anyone interested in contemporary Australian politics should read.

Dead tree and ebook versions of The Fifth Estate by Greg Jericho can be obtained here.

*By all means read Greg as Grog, depending upon your preference.