Professor Wendy Bacon

Biography

Wendy Bacon is a Professor of Journalism based at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism. A well known Australian investigative journalist and non practising lawyer, she publishes with The Sydney Morning Herald, Crikey.com and Reportage Online (opens an external site). Before joining UTS, she worked at Channel 9 (Sunday Program and Sixty Minutes), John Fairfax and Sons (National Times and Sun Herald) and SBS (Dateline). She won a Walkley feature writing award and Follow Me award for inspiration to women for her investigations into corruption. More recently, she has investigated a miscarriage of justice in the case of Roseanne Beckett and also investigated Australia's foreign aid program.

Her current research interests include the reporting of humanitarian and environment issues, finding innovative ways to combine investigative journalism with scholarly research and developing e learning projects around simulation games and blogs. She produces large group investigations with UTS undergraduate and postgraduate students including Spinning the Media (opens an external site), a study of the extent to which Australian news is driven by public relations.

Professor Bacon has taught investigative reporting for John Fairfax and Sons and in PNG, Fiji, Vietnam and Indonesia. She is a contributing editor to the Pacific Journalism Review and the Sage journal Journalism, Theory, Practice and Criticism.

wendybacon.com/home/

Professional

Investigative Journalism; social research; free speech
President Sydney Girls' High School Council;
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance

Visiting Fellow, School of Communication
BA (Melb), LLB (UNSW)
 

Research Interests

Before coming to UTS in 1991, Wendy Bacon worked as an investigative journalist for the The National Times, the Sun Herald, Channel Nine’s Sunday program, Sixty Minutes, and the Special Broadcasting Service’s overseas program Dateline. She won a Walkley Award for her reporting on corruption in NSW.

She joined the staff of UTS in 1991 where she has filled a variety of role for the journalism area including Head of Department, coordinator of Postgraduate Journalism Director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) and founding editor of Reportage (opens an external site).

Since joining UTS, she has continued to practice as a journalist and is currently a contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald and a non practising lawyer.
Recent stories have included a series on expert reporting, features on Legionnaires disease (with Tracy Pillemer) and reporting on the case of Roseanne Catt who spent ten years in prison before her case was reopened following reports in 2000 in the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC's Four Corners.
Stories about Roseanne Catt:

UTS Reportage
Sydney Morning Herald (opens an external site)

Wendy is an Associate Professor whose teaching areas include media law, investigative journalism, media theory and legal reporting. She has also run investigative reporting courses for John Fairfax and Sons and in Fiji and Papua and New Guinea. She has produced a number of group investigative journalism projects at UTS including Gridlock ( on transport issues), Jobs Crisis ( on the privatisation of the Commonwealth Employment Service) and Housing Crisis in Olympic City (on housing issues in 2000).

She is currently on the Boards of the ACIJ, the Pacific Journalism Review and Journalism Theory, Practice and Criticism.
In the mid 1990s, she developed (with Chris Conlon and Chris Nash Signposts an internet media database which was designed for Australian reporters covering Asia and the Pacific.

In 2002, AusAID published her report (with Chris Nash) Newsworthy, a major study on how the Australian media report on aid and humanitarian issues. She is currently undertaking further research in the reporting of development and humanitarian issues.

She is interested in linked her practical experience of journalism with the insights of critical sociology of the media.

Book Chapters

Chubb, P. & Bacon, W. 2010, 'Australia: Fiery politics and extreme events' in Elisabeth Eide, Rosto Kunelius, Ville Kumpu (eds), Global Climate -- Local Journalisms, Global Journalism Research Series, Projekt Verlag, Frieburg, pp. 51-66.
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On June 24, 2010, six months after the end the Copenhagen Summit in a day of high drama, the Australian Labor Party dumped its leader, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in favour of his deputy, Julia Gillard. The politics of climate change in Australia, one of the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide, had claimed another victim (Clarke, 2009). Climate change had also sealed the fate of Rudd's predecessor as PM, John Howard, and destroyed two prior Opposition leaders_ In fact, climate change has been responsible for a political instability unseen in Australia for 100 years_1 Public interest in the issue has been exceptionally high, with climate change a "hot topic" for all Australian media: it received more mentions than any other issue in 2009, producing just under half a million media items, with the global financial crisis sitting at number two (Media Monitors, 2009). In 2008, Newspoll measured a belief in climate change at 84 per cent and, while this had dropped to 73 per cent by February 2010, the numberwas still high (The Australian, February 16, 2010).

Journal Articles

Bacon, W. & Nash, C.J. 2012, 'Playing The Media Game: The Relative (In)Visibility Of Coal Industry Interests In Media Reporting Of Coal As A Climate Change Issue In Australia', Journalism Studies, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 243-258.
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The coal industry is a high-profile and significant sector of the Australian economy that is coming under increasing criticism as a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. This paper offers a Bourdieusian field analysis of major Australian newspa
Bacon, W. 2011, 'Investigative journalism in the academy: possibilities for storytelling across time and space', Pacific Journalism Review, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 45-66.
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More than thirty universities within the Pacific region are now teaching journalism. Across the sector, there are now hundreds of journalism academics and thousands of students. While students are undergraduates, others are postgraduates who may already have practised as journalists. Considered collectively, this is a large editorial resource which can be partly be deployed in producing journalism in the public interest, including investigative journalism. But while students can play a part, academic journalist involvement is crucial. This article discusses the role that universities can play in building and maintaining investigative journalism in our region. It suggests that global approaches can provide part of the intellectual underpinnings of investigative journalism in universities and explores possibilities for collaborative investigation across time and space and how these might connect to broader innovations in the field of journalism.
Bonfiglioli, C., Robie, D. & Bacon, W. 2011, 'Media, cultural diversity and community', Pacific Journalism Review, vol. 17, no. 2.
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Guest co-edited journal issue
Sorensen, R., Fowler, C.M., Nash, C.J. & Bacon, W. 2010, 'Addressing the gap in Indigenous health: government Intervention or community governance? A literature review', Health Sociology Review, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 20-33.
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The high incidence of sexual abuse of Indigenous children in remote Australia prompted the Australian Government to implement an emergency response of health and welfare measures (the Intervention) in 2007 to protect children and communities from harm. In this article we seek to assess the measures employed in the Intervention against the body of evidence of strategies likely to be effective in reducing Indigenous health disadvantage. Our view is that the emergency response may not have long-term benefit because of the dearth of basic primary health services in remote Aboriginal communities to continue the effort that the Intervention has begun. We conclude that Intervention measures are not sufficiently well aligned with evidence-based health improvement strategies to bring about long-term health gain in Indigenous communities. Governments must reassess the benefit of externally-imposed approaches to reducing health disparity and move to actively build capacity in Aboriginal communities to deliver culturally-relevant health and social services that meet community need.
Das, J., Bacon, W. & Zaman, M. 2009, 'Covering the environmental issues and global warming in Delta land: A study of three newspapers', Pacific Journalism Review, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 10-33.
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This article explores the coverage of environmental issues in the daily newspapers of Bangladesh, a South-Asian country facing the onslaught of global warming because of its low-lying deltaic plains and overpopulation. The results are based on an examination of the content of environmental coverage in three national daily newspapers (two Bangla and one English-language) during June 2007. Drawing on field theory and analytical frames from journalism studies, this study examines the principles of journalistic practices as revealed by the content of these publications. The findings indicate that environmental journalism is a strong subfield in Bangladesh+s media, which constructs its own veracity in ways that reflect the social, economic and political contexts of each publication. Based on this small study, the authors conclude that environmental journalists in Bangladesh adopt approaches to sourcing and causation which enable them, in alliance with non-government organisations, to pursue their aim of actively intervening in the field of government policy of Bangladesh, both in international and local spheres.
Nash, C.J. & Bacon, W. 2006, 'Reporting Sustainability in the English-language press of Southeast Asia', Pacific Journalism Review, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 106-137.
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This article reports on a preliminary scan of six English-language newspapers in Southeast Asia, with a side comparison to a leading Australian newspaper, regarding their coverage of environmental sustainability issues over a two month period in 2005. It identifies the ownership and key politico-economic issues for each masthead, and does a detailed quantitative analysis of their subject matter and use of sources, followed by two case studies of complex, multisourced stories critical of corporate or government activities. The analysis draws on field theory, and canvasses debates about the power relations among journalists and sources. It concludes that there is a common set of journalistic practices across the sample regardless of national and political differences, but considerable diversity of approaches within that commonality. Patterns of ownership, particularly state vs non-state offer little general explanatory power for this diversity. Protection of the environment had motherhood status in the reporting, but precisely because of this status no assumptions can be made about the quality of the coverage.
Bacon, W. 2006, 'Journalism as Research?', Australian Journalism Review, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 147-157.
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Bacon, W. 2006, 'Black Mark for White Man's Justice', Sydney Morning Herald, vol. Dec. 18.
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The article is based on an interview with Lani Brennan the victim of repeated vicious rapes by her partner who was sentenced to many years imprisonment. She voices her concerns that her complaints had not been treated seriously because she was black.
Bacon, W. 2005, 'A case Study in ethical failure: Twenty years of media coverage of Aboriginal deaths in custody', Pacific Journalism Review, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 17-41.
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Australia s media accountability systems (M*A*S) include the Australian Press Council, broadcasting self-regulatory schemes, public broadcasting charters, the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) Code of Ethics, journalism education and training programmes and organisations devoted to critiquing and enhancing the media. The explicit or implicit purpose of these systems is to enable the media to play its role in representative democracy, ensuring citizens can obtain information and communicate. So it is against these broader democratic goals that M*A*S and journalism itself must finally be evaluated. One way of doing this is to look at the end product the media content produced by journalists and examine how it reflects and responds to sources and events beyond the media itself. To explore further the implications of such an approach, in this article I have chosen a single case study the Australian media s coverage of Aboriginal deaths in custody over a 20-year period.
Bacon, W. & Nash, C.J. 2004, 'Stories in distress: Three case studies in Australian media coverage of humanitarian crises', Australian Journalism Review, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 19-39.
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This article reviews three case studies in the Australian media reporting of international humanitarian crises. The case studies cover a six-month period in 1999 and draw on all media over that period. Thethree case studies are: the violence in East TImor at the time of the 1999 independence ballot, the imprisonment in Yugoslavia of Prall and Wallace, two employees of CARE Australia, and the floods in Mozambique. While the three case studies collectively exhibit many of the standard characteristics ofmedia coverage ofhumanitarian issues, individually they differ significantly in the scale and orientation ofcoverage. Wesuggest that a significantfactor in these differences was the relationship between the sources for the stories and the journalists, which in turn depended on other factors. We review the adequacy of the Hall and Ericson positions on the source-journalist relationship in explaining these differences, and suggest that a field analysis derivedfrom Bourdieu is helpful in explaining the involvement ofsources from the political, economic and military fields, which in turn impacted on the relationship ofthe media to the stories.
Bacon, W. & Nash, C.J. 2003, 'How the Australian media cover humanitarian issues', Australian Journalism Review, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 5-30.
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Nash, C.J. & Bacon, W. 1999, 'Confidential Sources and the Right to Know', Australian Journalism Review, vol. 21, no. 2; August.

Other research activity

Bacon, W. 2010, 'Who Profits from Foreign Aid?', Crikey, Australia.
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Bacon, W. 2010, 'Spinning the Media', Crikey, Australia.
Bacon, W. 2006, 'Aussie aid AWB's best friend in Iraq', ACIJ, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, Sydney.
Bacon, W. and Calacouras, N., A Profit Powerhouse, Sydney Morning Herald, March 1,2005 Wheen, Anna Hustler and Wendy Bacon, Aussie Aid AWB;s Best Friend in Iraq, Feb.16, 2006 Background The journalist co-authored the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism++s major scholarly research report NewsWorthy, which analysed Australian media coverage of aid and humanitarian issues. The study found that most stories were linked to conflict or disasters, with little focus on policy issues. The ACIJ linked these findings with practice-based journalism research, which focussed on hidden dimensions of Australian aid policy. Contribution In 2005, there had been no previous mainstream investigation and little research of any kind exploring the role and growth of major contractor and energy multinational, Halliburton in Australia. A profit Powerhouse was published as a feature in the Sydney Morning Herald. The journalist, assisted by an advanced UTS journalism student, used an analysis of government databases, annual reports, company searches and interviews to map the activities of the company, revealing extensive links with Australian aid and defence activities. The second article, Aussie Aid AWB++s best friend in Iraq, published almost simultaneously in NZ Scoop and ACIJ++s Reportage used interviews, database analysis and chronologies to highlight previously uncovered material about how the aid budget had been used to assist Australian Wheat Board. Significance These articles are examples of where investigative methodologies are used to produce fresh insights and information, which can inform policy analysis. By focusing on the increased role of public and private contractors in the implementation of public policy, these articles gave readers a rare insight into major shifts in Australian policy. They are also significant in their early use of analysis of government tender databases to produce policy insights.
Bacon, W. 2006, 'Black mark for white man's justice', SMH, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney.
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Background Over eight months in 2000, Lani Brennan's then husband repeatedly raped, bashed and stabbed her. Finally, Brennan had the courage to provide sufficient evidence for NSW police to charge him. Nevertheless, it took three years for police to act. In 2007, after he was convicted, Lani Brennan took the unusual step of asking the judge to lift the suppression order on her name and contacted the author to tell her story. The Sydney Morning Herald article, Black Mark for White man's justice was the result. Contribution and Significance My approach to practice-based journalism research is to build a relationship between my professional journalism work and scholarly investigation. My case study of twenty years of coverage of indigenous deaths in custody published by the Pacific Journalism Review in 2005 the coverage of indigenous issues following the 1991 Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody was spasmodic and superficial. I argued that interventions by alternative voices and independent journalism can have impact. Although instigated by Ms Brennan, the information upon which this story is based needed to be verified by in-depth research including interviews with Brennan, witnesses and lawyers, independent searches and analysis of court records. The result gave Brennan a public voice, allowing her to step out of the role of victim to speak of the failings of the criminal justice system and encourage other indigenous women to come forward. This is an example of how journalism research can be used to provide fresh perspectives and insight into systemic failure.
Bacon, W. 2005, 'Reading is believing', SMH, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney.
Bacon, W. & Calacouras, N. 2005, 'A profit powerhouse', SMH, The Sydney Morning Herald, ACIJ, Sydney, Australia.
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Background The journalist co-authored the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism's major scholarly research report NewsWorthy, which analysed Australian media coverage of aid and humanitarian issues. The study found that most stories were linked to conflict or disasters, with little focus on policy issues. The ACIJ linked these findings with practice-based journalism research, which focussed on hidden dimensions of Australian aid policy. Contribution In 2005, there had been no previous mainstream investigation and little research of any kind exploring the role and growth of major contractor and energy multinational, Halliburton in Australia. A profit Powerhouse was published as a feature in the Sydney Morning Herald. The journalist, assisted by an advanced UTS journalism student, used an analysis of government databases, annual reports, company searches and interviews to map the activities of the company, revealing extensive links with Australian aid and defence activities. The second article, Aussie Aid AWB's best friend in Iraq, published almost simultaneously in NZ Scoop and ACIJ's Reportage used interviews, database analysis and chronologies to highlight previously uncovered material about how the aid budget had been used to assist Australian Wheat Board. Significance These articles are examples of where investigative methodologies are used to produce fresh insights and information, which can inform policy analysis. By focusing on the increased role of public and private contractors in the implementation of public policy, these articles gave readers a rare insight into major shifts in Australian policy. They are also significant in their early use of analysis of government tender databases to produce policy insights.
Bacon, W. 2004, 'Poisoned Evidence Trail', Sydney Morning Herald,, Reportage, UTS, Sydney, Australia, pp. 1-2.
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Background The stories in this portfolio are a significant part of a major investigation into a NSW miscarriage of justice, which the journalist began before 2003 and continues now. The journalist uncovered fresh evidence which helped lead to the release of Roseanne Catt, and which now forms part of a legal case against the State. Wendy Bacon is the only journalist who has followed the case in a sustained in-depth way. The articles were published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism's online magazine Reportage. Contribution. Criminal convictions fix the' truth' in way that penetrate bureaucratic and media systems. Significant fresh evidence must be unearthed to destablise that truth. This research analysed thousands of documents using computer-based transcript analysis software and interviews with confidential and other witnesses to reveal the methodologies by which prosecution witnesses had fabricated evidence and drawn on gender stereotypes to achieve a guilty verdict. The researcher tracks the case to produce a continuing narrative of the injustice, including terror tactics used against defence witnesses. The journalist has used the development of new knowledge in this investigation to explore the unique contribution which the methodologies of investigative journalism can make in the broader context of knowledge production. Significance This practice based research was the only continuing media investigation and narrative of a grave injustice. It demonstrated the importance of independent and critical research to an understanding of the criminal justice system.
Bacon, W. 2004, 'Journalism educators walk a fine line between scholarship and reality', The Australian, The Australian, Sydney.

Reports

Nash, C.J. & Bacon, W. 2002, 'News/worthy: How the Australian Media cover humanitarian, aid and development issues', AusAID.
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This is an electronic copy of a 200 page report on the Coverage of Humanitarian Issues by the Australian media. It includes a literature review, recommendations, content analysis and case studies. It is the largest project of its kind to be carried out in Australia.