Friday, July 30, 2010

Election 2010: Day 14 (or waste and mismanagement – the media)

Here’s a note to all the news directors around the country: Do you want to save some money? Well then bring home your journalists following Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, because they are not doing anything of any worth except having a round-the-country twitter and booze  tour.

It is a sad thing to say but we could lose 95 percent of the journalists following both leaders and the nation would be none the poorer for it. In fact we would probably be better off because it would leave the 5 percent who have some intelligence and are not there to run their own narrative a chance to ask some decent questions of the leaders. Some questions which might actually reveal who would be the better leader of this country.

Emma Rodgers writes decent copy for the ABC, so she can have one spot on the bus, and AAP’s Sandra O’Malley ends up writing most of the copy that gets put on the main news’ sites (before it gets twisted by the slant the organisation wants) so let her have the other spot (also she is resplendent in her vivid red jacket that always seems to make an appearance on TV just before the press conference is about to start). Maybe there are one or two others (guess the nightly news needs someone, so how about let Hugh Riminton do all three networks), but for the most part you might as well not bother.

This morning John Bergin tweeted that Tony Abbott was making an announcement about disability support for students. As I noted yesterday I have a vested interest in the topic so I quickly put on the Sky News stream to watch the press conference. He announced that:r610160_4026757

[severely disabled] students would be given a $20,000 education card, with the measure costing $314 million over four years.

and:

the Coalition would also nationalise disability definitions across the country in a bid to ensure people in different states are treated the same way by authorities.

They are good policies. They don’t “trump” the ALP’s policy of yesterday because the ALP’s focuses on early intervention for pre-school aged kids. Both are good, and in fact in my dream world both would be introduced (and expanded).

But I had some issues – what is meant by “severely disabled”. Now my daughter has Down Syndrome, and it might sound surprising to people, but I don’t actually view her as severely disabled. I assume she would come in under the clause, but as someone who just views her as my little girl and often forgets about the DS, I was wondering if she would qualify.

So I waited for some questions from the journalists. They came and guess what, they were all about politics. They were about Mark Latham’s comments about his believing Kevin Rudd leaked to Laurie Oakes. They were about foreigners owning our farms and whether he disagreed with a National’s senator. They were about nothing to do with the press conference. Did they test the policy? Did they ask who will qualify and why? Nope. Not at all.

You see my wife is a school teacher. She has a student who though in Year 6 has the reading Level of a Grade 1. He does not have an “intellectual disability” – he’s probably one of those kids who is just called “slow” – but he needs special help. The school however doesn't get any extra funding for him because he doesn't have a specific intellectual disability. Would there be any money for him?  If not, why not? And why not all disabled, and not just ”severely disabled”? And don’t let Abbott just say that, oh we have to pay off the debt and deficit. When he uses that line, how about calling him on it and pointing out that Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz on the 7:30 Report said of the stimulus and supposed questions of waste:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: If you hadn't spent the money, there would have been waste. The waste would have been the fact that the economy would have been weak, there would have been a gap between what the economy could have produced and what it actually produced - that's waste. You would have had high unemployment, you would have had capital assets not fully utilised - that's waste. So your choice was one form of waste verses another form of waste. And so it's a judgment of what is the way to minimise the waste. No perfection here.

And what your government did was exactly right. So, Australia had the shortest and shallowest of the downturns of the advanced industrial countries. And, ah, your recovery actually preceded the - in some sense, China. So there was a sense in which you can't just say Australia recovered because of China. Your preventive action, you might say pre-emptive action, prevented the downturn while things got turned around in Asia, and they still have not gotten turned around in Europe and America.

But no, we had none of that. It was all politics.

Now I don’t write this to criticise the policy – because it looks good (and you know I don’t say that often about the Liberal Party!), but I really don’t know enough about the policy because the media has given me next to bugger all information on it. I can’t get anything from the Libs themselves, because it isn’t up on their website yet – their most recent policy on the site is still their anti-gang idiocy of yesterday!

So here I am, a guy with a genuine interest in the policy, a guy who lives on news websites and I couldn’t find anything. Over on The Oz (that champion of the any news but policy news style of media) had instead a story by the always consistent Matthew Franklin:

Labor's 'waste' has left little money for campaign promises, says Tony Abbott

the other story he wrote was a bullshit side issue that had seen the Libs and Nationals in a bit of a split (but seriously, who gives a damn):

Abbott to keep tabs on foreign ownership of farms but rejects need for register

And the Disability announcement? Sorry it ain’t to be found. scan0014

Over in the Julia Gillard camp, today they found themselves in Perth where she was announcing the NBN was to encompass 93% of the population and not just 90% as was previously announced. They were also going to release the maps outlining where the optical fibre would be rolled out, where there would be wireless coverage, and where there would be only satellite coverage. 

As guy who grew up in country SA, I was eagre to find out more – to see the maps, to see if my old town where my parents still live would get coverage.

I wondered how NBN Co could now get to 93% instead of just 90%. I wondered if the Government was going to consider the impact of the net filter. I wondered, and so I waited for the end of the press conference so the journalists who are apparently at the top of their profession could grill the PM over this policy.

And the first question to Julia was about Cheryl Kernot running as an independent for a spot in NSW for the Senate. The second question was about Mark Latham. And on and on it went. One journalist in a moment of utter self-importance asked Julia if she was annoyed that she kept getting asked questions about Kevin Rudd, and if it was distracting to the campaign. 

Yep a member of the media who keeps asking Julia about Kevin Rudd asked if it was distracting that the media keeps asking her about Kevin Rudd. Kieran Gilbert back at the Sky News desk prior to Julia’s press conference said in response to his co-host suggesting the policy will be a good positive message for the ALP that it would be “if it got coverage”. Yep a member of the media was suggesting it would only be a good story for the ALP if the media decided to cover it. I looked on news sites for links to the maps. I couldn’t find any – but go have a look, they are quite fascinating – especially when you look at just how much work is going to be involved. This my friends is infrastructure at its finest.  Once the NBN is finished you will all wonder how the hell we ever did without it.

r610364_4029163 But the journalists? Nup. Not one question of policy. The closest they came was to ask given the BER and Insulation scheme “bungles” how could the public trust that the ALP could do this on budget.  But that’s not a policy question – it’s a political one. There were none about the actual nitty gritty of the policy.

As I say 95 percent of you can go home. You are, as they say in the army, a waste of rations.

And when it was announced that Kevin Rudd was in hospital to have his gall-bladder removed,well that was definitely it for the day for policy. The news was gone for the day. Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard might as well have spent the day playing tennis and golf.

And to top it all off, the journos decided to then have fun at Rudd’s expense on twitter trying to make up joke song titles about his having surgery. Because yeah surgery is such a laughing matter. Classy.

This blog to be honest was spurred by my reading of one of the best articles you’ll read this year. It will come as no surprise to many that it is by Laura Tingle. She writes of the media during the RSPT period, and of how the role of lobbyists has changed since the Hawke and Keating days:

Keating’s argument encapsulates much of what has changed since 1993 in the way public debates about policy and politics are conducted. In the age of major reform in the 1980s and 1990s, it was policy that ruled. These days it is politics.

Then, the community assumed governments would act in the interests of the community as a whole while business would act in its own interest. A reforming government made policy the base from which its political performance was assessed.

The ramifications for the way the media worked, for the way lobby groups worked and, as a result, for the way politics worked, cannot be underestimated.

A policy issue would be put up and debated not primarily on the basis of whether it was good or bad for the government’s fortunes, or whether industry groups would like it, but whether it was good or bad policy.

Lobby groups were seen as rent seekers or, pragmatically, as groups seeking greater advantage from a policy outcome, not ‘potent political opponents’ or representatives of the national interest whose claims about the impact of policy could go unquestioned.

In such an environment, Keating was able to assert Canberra’s better grip on the country’s needs and get away with it despite the devastation of a savage policy-induced recession.

This started to change under the Howard government.

It is fascinating reading from a journalist who, unlike 95 percent of her colleagues, has a memory that goes back more than 6 months. Read it!

Tingle is the pick of the very few journalists in this country who has the intelligence and wit to be able to understand policy. You see it is easy to suggest the media doesn’t cover policy because it is boring. I don't think that is the reason. I think they for the most part ignore it because analysing policy is hard – you actually need to have some understanding of the issues and how they will affect the economy, the people, the Government. It is even harder to then crystallise it in to an informative and interesting 1000 words.

Many in the media when they try analyse Government documents get it completely wrong.

Take for example The Oz’s recent coverage of the Auditor General’s report on the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. They screamed “rorts!!!!” Though their argument lacked any logic or intelligence. You see it is not enough when analysing such things just to read the executive summary and re-write what you see there – or even what you will find on page 35. You actually need to pause and think it all through. To see how it is done – go over to Possum at Crikey – it is brilliant work. 

Of the journalists who are any good at policy I only rate Laura Tingle, George Megalogenis, Peter Martin, Bernard Keane and Ross Gittins for domestic/economic issues (and Possum of course!). Greg Sheridan sadly is about the only decent one who can write about foreign policy – though Philip Dorling for The Canberra Times is also very good (but The Can Times doesn’t get much of a reach, and he reports more than he analyses – which is a pity).

The rest such as Michael Stutchbury or Terry McCrann bring with them such prejudice that 99 percent of what they write is easily dismissed. I find it very hard to dismiss any of the five mentioned earlier. They all will criticise either side, and when they bag the ALP more often than not I find myself thinking, bugger, they’re right.

That’s not to say all other journos are useless. Not at all. I’ll read anything Lenore Taylor, Laurie Oakes, Phil Coorey and a few others write. I’ll sit up to watch Leigh Sales and the Lateline crew, and Lyndal Curtis each morning on AM gives sharp interviews. (By the way Oakes’ opinion piece today is spot on.). 

But policy? There’s a dearth of ability to write and comment about such things in Australia's media. It is why blogs such as Possum’s and others flourish. And it’s why 95 percent of the media following Julia and Tony around are pointless – they don’t know what questions to ask, and lack the ability to explain the complexities in a way that non-specialists would be able to understand or find interesting. And so we get “The NBN: How much it will cost you” or some such.

If I had one wish for all the journalists following the leaders around it would be this: Before you ask a question say to yourself, “What would Laura ask?” And do likewise.

66 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is heartbreakingly infuriating & you have nailed it perfectly. No wonder the ALP hesitates to run with a meaningful climate change policy as it would disappear up the great new big tax nonethingness.

Anonymous said...

I also decided today that I did not mind the journos asking these questions however what I fail to understand is why it precludes the policy realted questions from being asked. Surely both are deemed newsworthy and therefore politics gets extended coverage not this nonsense about being drowned out.

Jaeger said...

Grog,

I think you've hit the nail on the head. No doubt the "cabinet sources" for the leaks were Mssrs. J. Walker and J. Daniels.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece.
So many journo's appear to be far more concerned by their twitter count than reporting the story yet, as you point out, its tough for them to do otherwise for as long as they lack any ability to analyse a policy.

Disagree re Possum - biased beyond belief. Oakes is seen as the oracle yet he has his favourites as much as any other. Truly sad that Latika Bourke is already winning Walkley Awards. While no doubt just carrying out the gig as instructed by her Fairfax bosses, her reporting is trivial beyond belief. She's hopeless. Tingle & Taylor pretty good. George Meg ok. Raffle the rest.

mollymalone said...

Spot on, Grog. I think the Oz media is generally appalling. People with little interest in politics would probably get most of their news from evening TV news programs. These have focused almost completely on conflict, rarely on policy information. Some of Labor's failure to get their message across has to be due to a media that is only interested in conflict, beat-ups and trivia. Heaven help democracy when the fourth estate has such low standards.
Political discourse in this country is banal and embarrassing.

Agnes Mack said...

And voters who think they're following the election by catching grabs on nightly news are horribly deceived and left totally ignorant of the policies of the parties. They have no way of judging how their lives will be affected by whichever government they elect.

The rare individuals who care about the nation's future are even more ill-served. Unless they are devotees of those journalists in your honour roll they have no access to any big picture analysis at all.

Political ads are probably tea-break time for most people , although the constant repetition should mean the messages get through to a good number.

However the ads are full of conflicting information from the major parties and the public has no basis for judging the truthfulness/accuracy of claims because journalists have been too lazy or incompetent to ask the questions which will get accurate information to viewers of the nightly news. e.g. the Coalition's debt nonsense remains unchallenged for most voters, although there have been a number of excellent opinion pieces published which could inform the questions of journalists on the campaign trail. You point to Laurie Oakes' piece outlining Labor's good story on the economy. But have you ever heard any of that from him in his spot on News?

The end result, people can unknowingly vote contrary to their own best interests.

That's a travesty of democracy which surely must require informed consent to the rule of a particular party.

Thanks for yet another thoughtful and insightful post.

Mike Fitzsimon said...

Excellent post, Grog.

Looks like our next PM will be chosen by leaks and gaffes - and NOT policies. :(

Anonymous said...

I've only recently discovered this blog and I'm now reading it regularly. Many thanks. It is such a relief to discover someone who is interested in the way this election is being reported. I protested on the Herald election blog yesterday about the appalling media behaviour at the conference about the broadband roll out, and the Herald journalists agreed that the questions had been trivial, but then wrote a piece - not about the broadband policy - but about the fact that Julia had been 'rattled'!
I could find no reporting at all anywhere of what Stiglitz said to Kerry- and yet that is surely hugely important given the Libs' constant mantra about debt and deficit.

Anonymous said...

Good one Grog, best write-up about the 2010 election I've seen.

Lyrian said...

Please excuse me while I have a Meatloaf moment... "You took the words right out of my mouth...."

Meg said...

Good post, and thanks for the Laura Tingle link yesterday, it was a marvel of clear thinking and information.

We love the cut and thrust of political combat, but when I struggle to understand the extended effects of policy announcements, I know that the media could be doing a better job.

I also listened with interest to the disability announcement. It would be for 6000 children, so inevitably, some will miss out.

Anonymous said...

Is it too late to send you on the hustings as a replacement for the majority of the abysmal journos?? Spot on re inane questioning and the seeming inability to provide policy analysis in any form.

firstdog said...

This should be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in political reporting and anyone who thinks they might pinch big chunks of this post to put into a cartoon.

Anonymous said...

I can sympathise with this but only to an extent.

There's a few forces driving the reportage here. The first and most obvious is the chaotic news cycle brought on by technology; getting above the noise is harder, so headlines have to be a bit snappier and more in line with the main narrative. Analysis tends to slip to the specialist pages. You have to read those too - if you mainly read online you're going to come away with a bias. This has been argued many times over so I won't delve too deep on it.

The second factor to think about is that the integrity is unusually prominent in this election. It's an unusual election in that you have an incumbent PM that the wider populous don't have long experience with to understand her character. The political sleuth work becomes important - especially with respect
to Gillard's private behaviour and her conduct with respect to Rudd.

Last point. The Tingle article is guilding the lily a bit... quite a bit. Keating 93, if anything, invented poll-based politics. He was sitting through the recession ('...we had to have', and thus seen to hold some responsibility for it) taking beating after beating every time the employment figures rose. He finessed his speeches within an inch of his life based on endless opinion polls. Opinion polls could dictate his speeches at the world level...not just theme and content.

He also became a master at playing Hewson rather than policy. As far as Keating was concerned, when he arrived in office 'the main game' (economic policy) as he called it had already been played. He just had to keep the government in power with distractions like the flag and unemployment summits. Wonder what inspired Rudd's 20-20 summit?

This sort of political analysis becomes important in a world of spin...a spin game for which Keating should take some credit.

Roger said...

I've seen better policy analysis done in Alabama. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

tell all your friends!
this is excellent work Grog. I have already turned off the political reporting especially on TV and as for the print media there is only ONE person to blame.
p.s I use the OZ to wipe up anything the dog leaves me.

Grog said...

Anon - yes a good point about PJK - his attack on Hewson was pure politics, and given his previous desire for a consumption tax rather hypocritical.

The chaotic news cycle is an issue, But we now have two 24 hours news stations. And all we get is more inane chatter. Now I love politcs - hell I enjoy Question Time, but talking policy is not getting 2 opposing talking heads to just blast each other.

On Gillard, yes we want to know more about her, but my concern is for the 3 minute news bite on 7,9 and 10 just focusses on that and the "politcs" and "distractions" rather than much else.

Admittedly I only watched one news last night - but I heard no mention of the NBN or Abbott's disability policy. I heard lots about Rudd having gallbladdder surgery...

Matthew said...

I can see a response to this being that it's hard for journos to be on top of all the detail, and that the parties make it harder for them by not telling them anything before the press conference; all that would be fair and true enough.

But that's no excuse to serve up "process story" pap time after time, let alone to confuse questions that journalists are asking with how ordinary voters are perceiving the campaign.

One thing that would help is if there was a willingness to ask proper questions of policy a day later so that a) the journo knows what they're talking about and b) we can see if the pollies themselves are reasonably across their policies.

But yeah, great stuff Grogs. As others are already doing, i'll be trying to get journos on twitter to have a look at this. You just never know your luck.

ajdavid59 said...

A passionate and measured post, articulating the frustration of many of us with the rubbish that passes for commentary and the tragedy of our leaders following the media's agenda. The current fear-driven leadership is in sharp contrast to the reforms of past governments. Important policy details are being left in the lurch.

There is an emotional aspect to politics which needs to expressed from time to time. But it should not drown out the rational discourse on policy.

Anonymous said...

This article is right on the money...the media are running things for their own ends....it is a disgrace to Australia that journalists behave like this.
You know....I never thought I would see this in Australia...it is a sad, sad day.

Bleeter said...

I note how the old media peeps online are referring to this article, without seemingly commenting on what they intend to do to change the current status quo.
#msmfail

Wilson said...

Great post.

But voters shouldn't be making their decisions based on sound grabs. When leaders make announcements, the parties media advisors already release information to the internet.

Research the issues before the election comes. That's what I do so I could make an informed decision.

Matt C said...

Great post. I have a new favourite blog.

@jennaprice said...

What kills me is how I wake up and both Peter Hartcher and Dennis Shanahan are saying exactly the same thing. And others are busy tweeting press releases - or worse, revealing they've briefed one party about another party's announcement. I want some real reporting.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the journalists following Gillard and Abbott know that if they ask about the policies, they will just get a repeat of what they've already heard, because so many policies have been created 'on the run' and to give details would expose just how shallow they really are!
Pity, as the disability 'education card' is a brilliant idea, and would have been invaluable for this family (but alas is too late).
It does seem to indicate that both parties have finally been listening to those calling out for much needed help in the areas of disability and mental health.
We now need to keep up the pressure on whatever party is successful - and ensure they keep their election promises on these two issues.
Your query as to 'severe disability' is so valid - we never considered our child, who is on the Autistic Spectrum, in the 'severe' category, however, there was no doubt he needed additional help. We actually chose to have him attend a private school, as in the public system (under both Liberal and Labor) he did not 'qualify' for assistance. Thankfully, the private school he attended simply recognised he did need assistance, and he received that help from K to Yr 12.
All the very best with your little girl, and as you will know, a label does not define who these beautiful children are. However, when it comes to education, a 'label' can give them the chance to be on a level playing field with other children.

marion said...

Fantastic piece, Grog.

But please don't make excuses for the likes of Latika Bourke.

Depressing, sad and horrifying that journalism in this country has devolved to this level. This morning Ms. Bourke's breaking news was what Chicken Carbonara was being served to the press pack on flight from Alice Springs to Darwin.

Are taxpayers paying for the existence of the ever-larger press pack that trails the leaders?

The Bourke woman couldn't understand or analyse policy even if a box of $5 sauvignon blanc was on the line.

I blame it on the glamorisation of political campaigns in the US thanks to Alan Sorkin and HBO.

Sir William and Arthur are turning over in their graves.

Look forward to reading more of your blog. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

You’re right Grogs. Its a show bag media that thinks gutting fish, pendulous ear lobes and where Tim’s going to live are far more important than policy detail. Even Kev doing zilch on the hustings was reported as a purposeful distraction to Gillard’s press conference from which SKY diverted to hear Rudd say nothing. Laurie’s given up political analysis to sleuth leaks in the corridors of power and the radio kids tweet or post on Facebook now that live-crosses don’t work in a medium mangled by networking. Perhaps the odd few journos with “memories that go back more than six months” could question the media policies now dumbing down their profession.

crazyjane13 said...

Fantastic article. I've been stewing on this tendency to ignore the policy in favour of trivia and scandal - and then claim there's no policy at all.

You really nailed that one.

Bleeter said...

Upon more recent reflection since this morning, I'd like to add I feel there's likely just one excuse for crap reporting on the trail. Cub reporters who have not been there previously. Must be a daunting gig and can't be easy, particularly in new media environment. I'm trying to not pass judgement on any specific cub content, more observing there's a likely reason if I were to scan it and find it wanting.

Matthew said...

@Marion I think that's pretty unfair on Latika. She's hardly perfect but i think people pick on her without considering what her first job is - i.e. filing for the radio. Yes she's known for her tweets, but twitter isn't about all gravitas, all the time.

Grog said...

Cheers Marion I don't think I'm letting anyone off the hook - but I'm not really trying to attack anyone specifically (apart from Stutchbury and McCrann, but they're big enough to not give a damn).

I wouldn't want this discussion to become a s/he's crap kind of thing. I was a frustrated at all of them generally!

But feel free to say who you think do it well.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who knows Latika, David Speers and the other "new breed" of Canberra journos (and I do) can tell you that they have fallen into the same trap as the Mcrann's, the Shanahans and, yes, even the Oaks's, which is to begin to believe their own publicity. The dumbing down of political reporting can largely be attributed to the celebrity factor: journalists who got into the industry not to inform but because they want to be famous, and now believe it's more about them than the stories they are covering.

marion said...

to Anon @ 3:10pm.

Agree wholeheartedly with your comments.

And when the Aussie versions of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity emerge - and they will, it is only a matter of time - God help us all.

Gavin said...

I think the media are responsible for this disappointing campaign.

Media is the conduit that the pollies are forced to use to reach the voters. Media just want to run news stories that will attract an audience - which forces the pollies to campaign in such a way that the media get something they can sell.

Stunts, gossip, tiffs, hair colour and all that rubbish.

We need to expect more from our news coverage, the media and the pollies need to focus on the policies.

Anonymous said...

Amen

SM said...

Another great post Grog. Increasingly I can't believe the media is unquestioning of the re-warmed Howard policies that Abbott tritely knocks out.

The theory that you get the government you deserve is starting to unnerve me.

We can only hope that some light is turned on the sort of government that a Abbott coalition will deliver.

With an innumerate treasurer and a vendetta against Treasury that will be a whole bunch of fune

Anonymous said...

Fantastic piece. Journalism has become the profession you enter because you want to be famous and are just smart enough to work out that making it as a pop star or actor is going to be too hard.

Twaklin, Madame Adelaidezone said...

Oh my goodness. It is a delight to find that there really are some enlightened people discussing important issues in Australia - and here they are!

I received notification of this blog post through a twitter retweet. I heard about Laura Tingle's article through a retweet too.

Twitter therefore has some benefits, though I think it might be wise to ignore most journalists this election campaign and read history books instead. They may be a better guide to our future policy options.

kim at allconsuming said...

You know what, I've been trying to pinpoint what it has been about this whole election malarky that has me so cranky and you've nailed it. Policy announcements but no serious analysis, no holding to account, no QUESTIONS. Just more about where's Kevin, more about the size of people's earlobes FOR FUCK'S SAKE.

Neither of the parties' policies on disability are satisfactory but yet, it gets ticked off the list and everyone gets back on the bus.

It shits me. Pure and simple.

Nicholas Gruen said...

Great Post (though you're wrong if you think the media were much different in the Hawke/Keating era. They were as vacuous as they are now.

But by God it's infuriating.

Anonymous said...

Great piece Grog.
One only has to look at the sexed-up, bared shoulders, hither-me image Latika Bourke uses of herself on Twitter, Facebook and other outlets to ascertain what the problem is. As many of said here, we need journos who are willing to put in the hard yards and who are courageous and willing to ask the hard questions: not a bunch of celebrity seekers who appeal to the lowest common denominator and who seem to be solely focused on developing a fan base. Indeed, how is Latika Bourke any different than Paris Hilton: famous for being...well infamous?

Bill said...

Brilliant article.

I firmly believe that a major factor in the removal of Kevin Rudd as prime minister was a press gallery that was bored with reporting on policy and found it easier to write about soap opera. They kept dropping hints about a challenge until it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

From the beginning, they had openly derided Rudd for being detailed about policy - because it's such a drag having a PM who's interested in policy.

If they want to write about personal gossip, they should try getting a gig on the entertainment pages.

Anonymous said...

Grog, thanks much. Here's an idea: just as financial advisors are legally bound to declare stock- holding interests in companies they may comment on, perhaps journalists should be obligated to reveal their voting record. We could go back say two federal and state elections with the caveat that previous voting did not necessarily suggest future voting intentions. At least readers would be potentially better informed about the various agendas, biases, and respective media stables' general tendencies toward governments of both persuations.

Grog said...

I have to say Tony Abbott yesterday geting asked some excellent policy questions - including one about his disability policy and whether or not it applied to students with Down Syndrome (asked I think by Alison Rehm of the Daily T). Abbott fudged it, and about all we know is 6,000 students are eligible which sounds like he's a bit vague n the details.

Latika Bourke also asked Abbott when he announced his dental plan for ADF families was there any plan to have a universal dental plan - a good question.

Mr Denmore said...

Through its feverish obsession with the mechanics of politics, the media unwittingly reveals to the public its own internal mechanics.

The scrutiny made available by the internet – including the availability of primary source material and the ability for experts outside the media to provide informed insights on policy issues – means journalists are struggling for revelance.

Ironically, the more irrelevant they are rendered, the more they seek to extrapolate from the stories they are reporting on, by indulging in half-baked speculation and spin and by inserting themselves and their own egos.

Having cast themselves into this role, they find it hard to go back to “straight” journalism. And their desperation for fresh ways of driving a manufactured narrative forward leaves them susceptible to easy manipulation by the paid spinners in the party machines.

So you end up with this perpetual theatre that is divorced from the lived reality and concerns of most voters.

The political parties, meanwhile, play the media’s game by using policy positions purely as branding exercises. The substance is irrelevant. What matters is how each announcement shifts the media narrative forward.

WHY this is all happening was the subject of the series of posts I wrote under the title of The Failed Estate on Lavratus Prodeo, but can be summarised as relating to the death of the mainstream media’s business model, the loss of the craft of journalism as older hands desert the industry, the disintermediating influence of new technology and the growing power and sophstication of the PR industry.

In simple terms, people can now see how the media makes the sausages. And it is not a pretty sight.

Greg said...

Grog, this is a sensational piece and it deserves all the attention it has received. I hope that it causes some in the fourth estate to review their methods, although that likely represents a victory of hope over reason.

Agnes Mack said...

Really must protest at the comments of Anonymous,August 1, 1.31 am. on Latika Bourke.

They are not only unfair but commit the very sin of trivialisation for which Grog rightly reprimands journalists. What bearing does the image Latika Bourke uses in her avatar have on her discharge of her professional duties?

Grog's comment at 8.40 am draws attention to a good policy question from Latika at Tony Abbot's press conference yesterday and another good one from Alison Rehn.

Also felt Marion's earlier criticism of Latika's tweet about press pack's breakfast was churlish in the extreme. Latika Bourke's faithful tweeting of press conferences is a boon for those of us less technologically endowed.

I don't think there's anything in Grog's post suggesting that journalists have to be po-faced machines who tweet only on serious matters. As I read it, his point is that journalists need to use their opportunities to question the leaders seriously & professionally, asking informed and intelligent questions and avoiding the silly ear lobes, leaks, plots etc which so often lead the evening news bulletins.

We should certainly do everything we can to support Grog's clarion call for responsible reporting, but that doesn't include excoriating individual journalists for simply being human. Far better to use legitimate criticism , as Grog does, and to applaud and encourage good policy questions when we see them.

LozVox said...

Until now, I couldn't figure out why I was so unimpressed with this election, why I felt there was no meat on its bones. Now I realise that we're simply being fed pathetic point-scoring political pap that, as Todd Sampson so eloquently put it the other night, is easy to follow, so it's easy to swallow. If what's being reported is about point scoring between the parties, then it's easy to tell 'who's winning'. If it's about policy, then you actually have to stop to decide whether or not you agree with it and why, which takes time/brain power and longer than a 2 minute news item.

It's little wonder that the population remains at a loss as to what the difference is between the two political parties; without digging into the detail of their policies you wouldn't have a clue.

I love this article because it's made me want more from this election and its reporting. Unfortunately it's also probably going to make me incredibly frustrated every time I identify another oxygen wasting question asked by the 4th Estate. Nevertheless, thank you!

Bob said...

This is a great article and I hope it gets read by journalists who go a deep shade of shameful red. It's not that they lack the intelligence or ability to write a decent article it's that they seem to think they are here to entertain their readers with bon mots at politicians expense.

Anonymous said...

last night i went looking on the ALP website for clarification on their East Timor processing facility/Immigration/"Sustainable population" policy...Couldn't find any of it.

Anonymous said...

As a former Press Gallery Journalist who covered every election between 1977 and 1990,and who is still active on the political fringe, I'd like to make a few comments. Election campaigns used to be ordered, organised and reliable processes. Each party would release detailed policies covering almost every issue imaginable. In the case of the ALP these were often based on party policies, endorsed by the ALP conference. Sometimes, they would vary from these, and that would be a story in itself. The parties would make available documentation, costs, spokespeople - shock horror - experts from the private sector, the union movement and academia. Often two or three journalists and commentators, and perhaps an editorial writer would spend time on each of these announcements. I can remember poor old Peter Shack being pilloried for not producing a coalition health policy in 1990. I'm waiting for Peter Dutton (who?) to get the same treatment.
What we have seen since the mid nineties is a massive concentration, not on policy content, but on spin, presentation and getting the "headline" right. Who to blame for this? The fact that getting anywhere in politics nowadays depends not on capability, understanding or (shock horror) passion and commitment, but on towing the line, knowing the right people, following and established, inflexible and narrow pathway, and NOT being an independent thinker, and NOT being articulate. There are, of course, notable exceptions; but when you look at the first Hawke Cabinet, or even the first Fraser cabinet, there are few of the capacity of John Button or Michael Duffy or Gareth Evans or Peter Walsh or Peter Baume, Margaret Guilfoyle, or Peter Nixon or (even) Jim Killen; and there are even fewer on the backbench like Alan Missen, or Ian MacPhee, or Barry Jones, or Gerry Hand; passionate, committed people, whether you agreed with them or not. Politics has become corporatised and institutionalised and the people who want power for the sake of power, the Mark Arbibs and Karl Bitars of the world have taken over; and behind them are people I can only describe as sinister, or even malevolent. And while I'm, I would have to say that the decline of independent journalism and principled media leadership bears a lot of the blame. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our editors are ethical and intellectual pygmies compared with many of their predecessors, and journalistic training has turned into teaching young journos who to write a pithy tweet. We get the politicians we deserve; sadly.

Anonymous said...

You're so right, but also so wrong.

You're right to question the amount of money spent by news organisations sending journalists on this farcical tour. It's churnalism, regurgitated press releases most of the time.

But you're completely wrong to blame the journos, and all the comments here can only have been made by people who have no idea how the process works.

The journos are working 12 to 16 hours a day, every day. They are busting their arses to meet the immediate demands of the web, as well as their traditional mediums.

There is no time to eat, to find a bottle of water, to go to the toilet. Just a relentless demand for more and more copy, faster and faster. That copy gets picked up and used by people who have better things to do than deal with the restrictions of the campaign bus.

As for asking questions, anyone who has seen a live, unedited version of one of these press conferences should have seen that Abbott, particularly, will answer just the smallest fraction of questions journalists want to ask.

It's a battle to get noticed, get a question in, and the leader will pick certain people and ignore others, and only seven or eight questions are allowed before the conference is abruptly terminated.

I defy anyone who is attacking journalists on these campaigns to do a better job. Try doing better when you are exhausted, starving, and asked to write up to 10 stories a day, as soon as they happen.

Good luck.

And if we find half an hour after such a day, before we fall into a strange bed exhausted, for a drink, trust me, it's well deserved.

NB: Sorry, have to be anonymous, although it grates.

Anonymous said...

I can't let that last comment get away without a response. Yep, print media is on the decline, but major papers still have ten or twenty journos capable of commenting on policy issues, or putting questions in writing. Not everything has to be reported, or analysed on the same day; that's what weekend and Sunday papers are for. Most media operations nowadays put their senior writers and commentators in head office for the duration. Get them to ask the questions of the campaign offices; put them in writing. Hassle the sh-t out of them to get answers. Tiredness and media management are not an excuse.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry these days for the too many media and communication degree graduates who rock up to newsrooms minus practical experience. They arrive with not a wit about how and who to interview or how to use the equipment of the various mediums. Sure they’re eventually trained on the job - by experienced journos during and after shifts. They’re paid equivalent wages despite trainee status and within weeks are on the road making idiots of themselves because network executives are oblivious (?) to their amateur status. And yes some of you do “work 12 to 16 hours a day, every day…busting arses to meet the immediate demands of the web as well as traditional mediums. No time to eat, to find a bottle of water, to go to the toilet. Just a relentless demand for more and more copy, faster and faster”. In other words media outlets work on the premise you should be grateful to have a job with their elite outfit. More profit for inferior output. Until the consumers complain as did this blogger nothing will change.

Bill said...

In reply to reluctantly Anonymous at August 2, 2010 3:27 PM,

Thank you for your insight and speaking for myself, I feel your frustration. With respect though, I think to tell people they don't get how things work kind of misses the point.

We are the audience. We are the news consumers. If the consumers aren't satisfied with the service, that means there's something wrong. Telling the people who feel dissatisfied that it's their fault for not understanding the system is a bit like complaining about bad service at a restaurant, and being told by the waiter that you just don't understand how a kitchen works.
We know that ridiculous amounts of work go into it, but the final product just leaves us wanting something better.

I appreciate that you answer to your editors and not your readers, so maybe it's time to tell the editors that the customers aren't happy. I applaud Grog's efforts to do that.

Mikey_Capital said...

Interesting post man. However I have a debate on this one "eg Sheridan sadly is about the only decent one who can write about foreign policy"

Sheridan, alas in my opinion, is not a balanced journalist. He's an opinionated opionionist with preconceived notions and a world view. And it comes across in everything he writes.

Grog said...

Cheers Anon thanks for the comment.

I haven't doubt you guys work long days. Really no time to go to the toilet? What not even on the plane?

And yeah maybe my line about it being a booze and twitter cruise was a frustrated vent.

But this post is not about you guys not working long hours it is about the questions being asked and the coverage being given.

You write:
"As for asking questions, anyone who has seen a live, unedited version of one of these press conferences should have seen that Abbott, particularly, will answer just the smallest fraction of questions journalists want to ask. "

Well I do watch the unedited press conferences (I'm a politics nerd) - in fact this post was spurred by wactcing two last Friday. I waited for the policy questions. I waited in vain. And so I wrote my post

It is very intersting you say Abbott particularly will answer just the smallest fraction of questions.

I have two responses - firstly why doesn't the media hold him to account on this? We have had a plethora of articles (esp in The Oz) on Julia's in a buble campaign Why not any about how Abbott seems determined to ensure the least possible accountability? Is he worried as Annabel Crabb would say of his truth parrot? If he seems to be doing everything to avoid answering questions that would be an interesting thing to know.

Secondly, if you only have a few questions why waste them on trivia? Why was the first Q to Gillard that day about Cheryl Kernot? Why was the second about Mark Latham? and on and on.

My point wasn't that you guys have lots of opportunity to ask questions, if anything it was that you have too few - so don't waste them!

And yes I know your editors are demanding and they want you to cover certain things - which I may think trivial but which sell papers. But if that is the case then say it is, don't say it's because you only got to ask one question.

Yes you work hard, surely you don't want to look back on it and think, geez half the things I asked them about were pointless.

But again thanks for your comments (whoever you are). You may think I despise journalists or hold you all in contempt. I don't. This post came about purely because I wanted to know about some policy that affected my family. No one - not the Liberal Party nor the media seemed to care.

That this post has gotten such a reaction perhaps suggests (if not on this particular policy) that I was not alone in feeling frustrated.

Grog said...

Mikey - you are absolutely right. When I was drafting this post in my head on the way home from work I was meaning to put in that you had to read Sheridan through the prism of his bias.

Andrew Elder said...

If journalists are getting no useful information from press conferences, the answer is simple: stop going. Stay away from press conferences and do some reading, then write a story based on that. If the story is wrong, get some more facts and write a better story. Public policy is about what happens, not what is said: so look at what happens.

Dec said...

Great post mate, sorry I'm a little late on the reply, I only just got around to reading it properly. There is a profound disappointment hanging over this election. At least the latham had the potential of going postal at some stage. I think the traditional media is realising how archaic they are, while doing very little to be proactive about it.

Out of all the journos you've listed , I notice Grattan doesn't rate a mention. I really like her stuff, but what's your feeling on her contribution to this election?

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous (August 2, 2010 3:57 PM):

I was just talking about the journos stuck on the buses - their job basically is to act as wire services, cover everything as quickly as possible and leave it up to senior political journos to analyse. So you're right - although I don't know too many newsrooms with 10 or 20 people who can analyse policy, unless there are some sh*thot cadets around...

To Bill (August 2, 2010 6:22PM):

You're right, too. There's clearly a disconnect between what a lot of people want and what the media industry think they want: the buzz words are all about social media, immediacy, be fast, be first, etc. And your restaurant analogy is a good one - I'd just add that only an arsehole would abuse a waiter who is worked to the bone in a shortstaffed establishment and therefore denied the satisfaction of doing a good job by a boss whose only concern is slashing the budget.

To Grog (August 2, 2010 9:31 PM: Yeah, seriously re. toilet - the plane then becomes a haven where you can get something to eat and pee when you like!!! The bus has a toilet too, but bus time is filing time.

Re. questions - you wouldn't hear them because most of us never get our questions out - what I was saying is if you could see how it happens unedited, and could see all the journos as well, you'd see some frustrated faces trying to shout over all the rest, and failing. Say 20 journos have three questions each, but Abbott or Gillard only answer six, that's a whole lot of unanswered questions that yes, someone should chase up, but again you're then filing then rushing for a plane.
I understand Gillard is better than Abbott about methodically answering more questions.

And people have written about their frustrations, but (and I'm only speaking from a print perspective) in a campaign, only about a quarter of what you write ever sees the light of day.

As for ridiculous and superficial questions, who knows. Probably someone's either been told by a bureau that they have to ask it, or they have a particular slant in mind.

Anyway, onya Grog. It's really invigorating to see such passionate and informed debate, and I'm glad that now I'm off the bus I've had to time to join in.

Reluctantly anonymous.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous (August 2, 2010 3:57 PM):

I was just talking about the journos stuck on the buses - their job basically is to act as wire services, cover everything as quickly as possible and leave it up to senior political journos to analyse. So you're right - although I don't know too many newsrooms with 10 or 20 people who can analyse policy, unless there are some sh*thot cadets around...

To Bill (August 2, 2010 6:22PM):

You're right, too. There's clearly a disconnect between what a lot of people want and what the media industry think they want: the buzz words are all about social media, immediacy, be fast, be first, etc. And your restaurant analogy is a good one - I'd just add that only an arsehole would abuse a waiter who is worked to the bone in a shortstaffed establishment and therefore denied the satisfaction of doing a good job by a boss whose only concern is slashing the budget.

To Grog (August 2, 2010 9:31 PM: Yeah, seriously re. toilet - the plane then becomes a haven where you can get something to eat and pee when you like!!! The bus has a toilet too, but bus time is filing time.

Re. questions - you wouldn't hear them because most of us never get our questions out - what I was saying is if you could see how it happens unedited, and could see all the journos as well, you'd see some frustrated faces trying to shout over all the rest, and failing. Say 20 journos have three questions each, but Abbott or Gillard only answer six, that's a whole lot of unanswered questions that yes, someone should chase up, but again you're then filing then rushing for a plane.
I understand Gillard is better than Abbott about methodically answering more questions.

And people have written about their frustrations, but (and I'm only speaking from a print perspective) in a campaign, only about a quarter of what you write ever sees the light of day.

As for ridiculous and superficial questions, who knows. Probably someone's either been told by a bureau that they have to ask it, or they have a particular slant in mind.

Anyway, onya Grog. It's really invigorating to see such passionate and informed debate, and I'm glad that now I'm off the bus I've had to time to join in.

Reluctantly anonymous.

Grog said...

Thanks Reluctantly Anon - I do realise I am rather naive about the processes (I have never claimed to have been a journalist).

I should say again this - and my sort of "update" in my latest post (which I wrote before reading your comment) should not be seen as a "you journalists are all crap" post.

No doubt there are a few journos who believe "he thinks it so easy why doesn't he come out and try". And fine if that's how they want to react, they can. But personally Tony Wright's inital tweet on the post was what I was hoping for - something that might just spur a bit of discussion, perhaps a bit of thought.

I am sure many of your are as frustrated by the constraints of press conferences and filing and pressures of what your editors want as we readers are.

I am really glad you have engaged here with some comments because I do think it is interesting to find out about life in the pack.

And yep, sure I'm pretty harsh on you guys. But I have tried not to be too personal (and yeah I took a bit of a shot at Matt Franklin - but he's another big boy who has about 10,000 times more clout than me so I think he can handle it) and if doing so means we get to find out more about the reasons about why the news comes out as it does - which happened a bit with the twitter discussion and your comments, then I think that's pretty good.

And if some in the pack also think "what the hell I'll ask about policy" than that's pretty good too :-)

@billcode said...

an excellent post and excruciatingly accurate - for the most, it is too hard, and too time-consuming to analyse policy. this is down to individual journos as much as it is the environment in which they operate. and it irks many of us no-end. the next problem, which you didn't touch upon, is that the public, for the most, like tat. what to do in an age of shrinking revenues?

yours, a mewsroom inhabitant.

newswithnipples said...

Bloody brilliant!

The same stupid meaningless questions keep getting asked over and over again. Julia Gillard was asked several times if she and her partner would get married before moving into the Lodge. Today, the independents are still being asked if they'll experience a backlash in their electorates for supporting Labor. They've been asked these questions for the last two and a half weeks - I think we've all heard the answer by now. As a news consumer (and journo), this is unacceptable. I want news that is useful.

Anonymous said...

no left wing bias at all in the journalists you choose to praise and criticise. none... you may be completely right, but I find your ability to choose journalists just as shallow and ideologically driven as you claim their reporting is.