Talk is Cheap

Our public broadcaster is our most trusted source of news. So why does it spend so much time and money chasing cheap and predictable opinions from a small group of people who have plenty of other places to bang their tin drums?

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Safety in Numbers

The self-mythology of journalism is that its practitioners are dissidents, contrarians, professional sceptics and iconoclasts. But the behaviour of our media through the so-called AWU affair reveals an easily manipulated, compliant and cowardly press pack. Continue reading

The Man Behind the Curtain

Being a successful media pundit depends on a couple of core skills – one is a capacity for sounding absolutely confident about your predictions; the other is your ability to seamlessly and plausibly change gear after the fact without denting your public credibility at all.

Traditionally, pundits have gotten away with these 180-degree reversals because of the mainstream media’s monopoly on analysis. Being the sole mediator allowed established outlets to play footsie under the table with the poohbahs who told us what to think about economics, politics and everything else. Each needed the other. Continue reading

Groundhog News

News is what’s new. At least that’s the traditional definition. But in the case of a heavily concentrated Australian mainstream media, news is defined by the same half-dozen issues constantly rehashed as vehicles for faked-up conflict and partisan opinion mongering.

So at the start of every week, it is a fair bet that The Australian Financial Review (formerly a pro-market paper, now a pro-business lobby rag) will spin as “exclusives” a handful of front page beat-ups on productivity and the Fair Work Act, along with a couple of hatchet jobs on the NBN.

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Spinning Wheel

A health warning to mainstream media consumers: When a news story starts with the words “is expected to”, activate the BS detector. When that story involves forecasts about economic statistics, shift detector to warp speed. Continue reading

Going Analog

It is less than 20 years ago that the US financial news organisation I then worked for started asking journalists to put an email address at the bottom of every story. I remember snorting at the presumption that our readers were as nerdish as our tech-head editor in Washington.

Move on two decades and we find journalists doing the bulk of their work over the internet – through research, finding contacts, sourcing background, remote editing and doing interviews. Technology has transformed the craft from one-to-many publishing to many-to-many. But for all the ease that digital newsgathering has provided, there is still something to be said for getting out from behind the screen and into the analog world. Continue reading

Mounting Precious

Just in: Pressure is increasing on Julia Gillard to call a leadership spill amid unrelenting pressure from backbenchers pressuring for a release of the pressure valve holding back potentially explosive leadership pressures.

Sources close to the ABC say talk is growing about an imminent shift of three non-aligned backbenchers to the camp considering a vote for Kevin Rudd in order to silence ongoing media speculation about the release of the imminent pressures. Continue reading

Market Farces

As with everything in Australian politics these days, debate over the federal government’s media inquiry has become just another coat-hanger on which ideologues of every stripe can drape their off-the-rack worldviews. It’s why we’re hearing market forces are the fix for dodgy journalism.

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Mr Jones Goes to Canberra

Photo: SMH

The media is a sucker for stories about plain-talkin’, grass-roots folk confronting cynical politicians with homespun morality.  Think ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’.

Brought up on these sentimental tabloid templates and jaded with the daily theatre of covering politics, capital city journalists tend to revel in ‘people’s protests’ as a welcome injection of ‘authenticity’ in a working environment where no-one ever says what they mean.

Aware of this tendency, Australia’s savviest spinners and lobbyists have taken their cues from the world’s best practice US media manipulators and their now widely employed strategy of ‘astro-turfing’ – a form of advocacy to advance a corporate or political agenda masquerading as a ‘grass-roots’ movement.

And don’t some of our media friends in Canberra fall for it every time? Despite priding themselves on their cynicism, political reporters like the ABC’s resident Tory Chris Uhlmann earnestly interpret the parade of shockjock-manufactured people’s protests against the carbon tax, pokie reforms, gay marriage (and whatever else fires up an 18-wheeler driver in a lumberjack shirt) as some sort of expression of the real folk:

 UHLMANN: “It’s not as large a gathering as some of the organisers had hoped, but the crowd has certainly found a way to make itself heard. although there was an anti-carbon tax theme, the convoy had picked up many hitchhikers along the way.”

PROTESTOR: ” That’s the international Christian flag. You see the cross up there. And I just brought this down today because God told me to bring it down.”

UHLMANN: “But to dismiss them all as cranks of no consequence meant you didn’t bother to talk to any of them or ask why they would travel so far.”

Just when did our journalistic elite stop taking their bullshit detection medication? The mere presence of that self-promoting blow-hard carnival barker Alan Jones – a man whose opinions have been found to be correlated to how much he is being paid by corporate interests – should have alerted anyone with any news sense that this was an astro-turfed event. Sure there were a few truly aggrieved souls in the crowd, but the idea that this was some kind of natural expression of widespread community anger was just fanciful.

Yet there was Uhlmann running News Ltd’s line that “the forgotten people” are not being heard in Canberra, despite 90 per cent of the media – including himself – doing little else in their reporting but manufacturing the circumstances of discontent with the government so that they can then run the line that the country is in uproar.

There are exceptions, of course. Getting full marks for real journalistic chutzpah, The Sydney Morning Herald’s Jacqueline Maley sparked a characteristic spittle-projecting hissy fit by the vile Jones when she dared to ask him whether he had been paid a fee for venturing out of his $3 million Sydney harbourside mansion to mix it with the bush ‘battlers’ in chilly Canberra.  For her troubles, she nearly found herself on the wrong end of a pitchfork.

But for the most part, it suits a lazy media – hooked on fake conflict and the eternal election campaign – to patronise their readership and viewership by presuming that a few dozen truckies in bush shirts and akubras standing outside parliament and calling for fresh elections somehow is the true ‘voice of the people’.

We deserve more from journalists. We deserve a better media.

I’ve Seen That Movie Too

As the ABC mulls the falling ratings for its flagship 730 current affairs show, it might want to consider whether the problem isn’t so much the presenter or the physical set or the stories – but the conventional television narratives that have become so hackneyed that no-one can be bothered paying attention anymore.
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