The news that one of journalism’s most despised characters – Andrew “Jocky” Jaspan, (aka “the poisoned dwarf”) – had been “honoured for his services to journalism” in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list did not sit well with all we denizens of London’s Street of Shame, let alone the rapidly diminishing ranks of Australian journalists.
But like the Queen’s Birthday itself (Betty Windsor was born April 21, 1926, not the second Monday in June as celebrated by most Australians), we were grateful it turned out to be genuine fake news.
Bunyip aristocracy symbolism: Corona–on–corona solid gold AC Companion gong (left) and the lesser-speckled, gilt plastic AM Member gong (right).
Those of you unfamiliar with the ersatz Order of Australia award or, its equally-ersatz recipient; a brief history:
At the force majeure insistence of Dame Edna Everage, Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam created the OA Bunyip aristocracy street-theatre farce in 1975 to replace the terribly old-fashioned and pukka Pommie Imperial system, which – along with the archers and the longsword – had arrived on the beaches at Hastings with the Normans in 1066.
Mad King Edward III is credited with kicking off the chivalry gong capper with the very English, somewhat bizarre Most Noble Order of the Garter, Parlour and Bedchamber game in 1348; and the English folly subsequently was transported here with the First Fleet in 1788.
But it failed to elicit much excitement among the insolent colonials until the Beatles begrudgingly accepted their MBEs for services to the British Treasury in 1965.
Like the convicts on the First Fleet, malevolent Mancunian, Jocky Jaspan, came to Australia in 2004 because he too was also made an offer he could not refuse.
Thankfully, I had left London’s Fleet St to return to Australia in the decade before Jaspan’s arrival there in1983.
But contemporary Gentlemen Ranters of the old Fleet Street parish tell me Jaspan spent those 20-years before arriving in Australia on a roller derby crashing and crashing–through the great titles of Britain.
He acted, they say, like the turd that sticks to the side of the bowl and defies all attempts to flush it.
After university, he was a stringer who managed punk bands in Manchester before moving to London to begin work on The Times.
Jocky, the pinball wizard, crashed through title after title until finally, the “game over” sign came up and he was shown the door. Like the remittance man of yore, he was ready to be shipped off to the colonies with the expectation he should never return.
That is when in 2004 Mark Scott made Britain’s Artful Dodger an offer he could not refuse.
It was to be Editor-in-Chief of The Age and The Sunday Age in Melbourne, replacing the esteemed Michael Gawenda in the vacant seat as head of the once-great “Australian Thunderer”.
Alas, as with most things that Jocky touches, it all ended in tears.
As nothing ever became him quite like the manner of his leaving, Jaspan infamously departed as editor of The Age newspaper in 2008 when 235 Age journalists unanimously passed a motion accused him of “degrading their ability to produce independent journalism.”
Undaunted, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, remittance man next ex nihilo–created The Conversation (“TalkTalk”) website where he got to play Zeus, the King of God Editors, residing on Mount Olympus, dispensing wisdom and ruling the world of lesser gods and mortals who populate the lower rungs of the journalism ladder.
His departure from his eerie on TalkTalk’s Mount Olympus was described in April 2017 by Crikey thus:
While Jaspan’s single-mindedness and obsession with the site had contributed to its success, these personality traits, which included an unwillingness to cede control to senior management, did not scale well as the project became larger, with more partners and a 24-hour website.
One industry insider told Crikey: “Andrew Jaspan invented one of the best global publishing ideas of a generation, raised millions of dollars in funding from universities and governments and then rolled it out in several other countries — then the staff said they couldn’t work with him anymore. It’s tragic that the only way the idea could keep going was by pushing out the founder.”
Jaspan started The Conversation with the University of Melbourne’s Glyn Davis in 2011 and was primarily responsible for getting university partners to sign up, and for recruiting board members. The site, comprising explanatory pieces by qualified experts and funded by university and philanthropic partnerships, expanded rapidly, with outfits now in the UK, US, France and Africa.
The UK and US boards both declined to renew Jaspan’s board terms once they expired. External partners, including a university peak body in the UK, refused to deal with Jaspan. The increasingly tense situation reached boiling point in September last year, when senior management wrote a letter to the board demanding that he no longer have an active role. An inquiry was held, but no impropriety was found, and Jaspan’s position as editor-in-chief and chief executive was reinstated…
As well as personal relationship issues, Jaspan’s view of The Conversation had been increasingly at odds with that of the international partners. Jaspan wanted the Australian branch to act as the head office, with subsidiaries in other countries. But the partners wanted a federation-style organisation, where each country’s site had autonomy.
As the site got bigger, Jaspan still felt that he could take charge of all the sites, as editor-in-chief, because it was his idea…
And so, once again, Jocky’s dream job of running the Fourth Estate’s Elysium, ended with gnashing of teeth said to be the fate of the unrighteous ones at the End of Days.
Perhaps Jocky’s telos is to be as a proverbial editorial Sisyphus – forever punished for his hubris and treachery by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down every time it neared the top.
As such, his heuristic fate should serve as a warning to all future overambitious Narcissist yet to enter the Guild of God Editor’s field of play.
Not that all naked ambition is wrong. Nor should we fail to be intellectually charitable to the lad’s many journalistic achievements (given his perceived personality disorder issues). None of us are guardians of the galaxy in this regard.
We are pleased he has finally found a safe–haven bolthole as a full professor at the Monash University Library. His other title there is as Director and Editor of The Global Academy hosted at Monash University.
No, we don’t know what it is either, but we are pretty sure it has nothing to do with the Academy that Plato set up in Athens in 387BC.
Also today, Misha Ketchell, editor and executive director of TalkTalk, finally acknowledged Jaspan’s AM gong in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List: “The Conversation exists due to Andrew’s singular vision and passion, and it is terrific to see his outstanding contribution to Australian media recognised.”
And so say all of us.
NB: Please bear in mind that for the entire 232-years – since the English arrived in Botany Bay in 1788 – Aussies have form in taking the piss out of the Poms on such auspicious occasions.
Who can forget the Goonish lark when former prime minister Tony Abbott decided to bust the Duke of Edinburgh down the ranks by downgrading his title to Sir ‘Phil the Greek’ AO (or Sir Philip, the Prince Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg–Glücksburg AO to give him his proper moniker at birth) in 2015?
In 1969, Australia’s playful larrikins renamed the Malvern swimming pool in suburban Melbourne, the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre, in honour of another former PM who drowned while swimming at sea in December 1967.
Bob Hawke was another former PM damned with faith praise by Max Newton, my old editor at The Australian, for only getting a “dingo’s degree” (Bachelor of Letters) as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1955.
The final irony? All Jaspan gets is a piece of paper (investiture will not happen till the post–COVID-19 dreamtime); not the gilt-plastic bauble that he can wear around his neck with a Gordian knot of his own making.
We are still thinking about you…
Illustrations: ABC Television/YouTube; itsanhour.gov.au.
Terence Maher is a former editor of The Melbourne Times and London Daily Mail staffer.
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