Insided Out

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It’s now four years since the US journalism academic Jay Rosen decried at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival about the “cult of savvy” in political journalism and the treatment of politics as a game for insiders. What’s changed since?

Not much, going by the hysterical coverage of the leadership change in the Australian Greens.  In what may simply have been a case of a party leader deciding to quit politics because 25 years was enough, the hacks fell over each other looking for the cute angle.

For the ubiquitous Annabel Crabb on the ABC, the Greens’ change from 62-year-old Tasmanian environmental warrior to Christine Milne to little known 44-year-old Melbourne doctor Richard Di Natale had a “whiff of Moscow” about it.

Annabel’s witty knack for comparing mainstream Australian political parties with murderous 20th century totalitarian regimes had us recalling fondly her hilarious “Valkyrie” reference to the failed February putsch against Tony Abbott. Or maybe not.

By the way, it’s hard not to conclude that ABC ‘personalities’ make smart-arsed references about the Greens because the party is a soft target for public broadcasters. You impress the major party playground bullies and there’s little chance of your funding getting cut.

Of course, if the safest sport at the perpetually obsequious ABC is taking cheap shots at the Greens to curry favour with their fickle funders, the culture war cranks at News Corp have it written into their KPIs. So there was Rupert’s wind-up toy Chris Kenny spinning around in excited circles, calling Christine Milne a snarling old cane toad.

For her part, Crabb made fun of the fact that Milne announced her retirement on Twitter, lamenting that the Greens had not done the media the decency of disemboweling themselves in public first, while chucking the odd “exclusive” entrail at journos to sate their hunger for fresh content meat over another 24-hour cycle.

And why wouldn’t the Greens refuse to play the insiders game when a good chunk of the media has sworn itself to their destruction?

The tone of all the coverage, yet again, was smart alecky and “savvy” as if the journos were not writing for the general public, but for their colleagues and sources. As Jay Rosen wrote in his Melbourne address four years ago:

“Promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate…. this is a clue to what’s broken about political coverage. Things are out of alignment. Journalists are identifying with the wrong people. Therefore the kind of work they are doing is not as useful as we need it to be.”

Yet, there are plenty of legitimate news stories in an approaching major realignment of an exhausted major party system. For instance, how is what is happening in the UK (the splintering of the mainstream parties) reflected here in Australia?  To what extent are interest group politics limiting the scope of the public conversation? What is the role of the media itself in how politics is framed? We can’t seem to get beyond the cul-de-sac we’ve found ourselves in.

Well, actually, we have. It’s why you’re reading this. What hasn’t changed is the traditional politics-media ping pong, which bounces back and forth incessantly with nothing ever changing. Insofar as there is a change, the Greens represent it – as did the Palmer United Party (however cynical its namesake’s motives). The public hates politics as it’s played, they hate politics as it’s reported. They’re sick of clever spin and clever reporting on spin. They’re over the schoolyard focus on personalities and leadership change as the be all and end all of  the system.The mould is broken, but the media doesn’t want to admit it or ditch how it operates.

Why listen to Fran Kelly and Michelle Grattan droning on every morning on the radio, talking through the political noise of the day without revealing anything that we are not already aware of and speaking purely about how every issue “plays” in a game that only they and a handful of other insiders are interested in? And it is only they who are interested because it is an insiders club, a cosy little huddle of familiars who all know each other personally and resent anything that might break the mould and require them to broaden their scope.

The media is busted. Its job is to tell us what is going on. And what is going on requires them to see connections beyond the inch deep pond they live in. It requires them to think deeply and ask tougher questions than those aimed at generating a ‘Gotcha’ headline in the next five minutes. But their curiosity (the currency of their trade) is completely missing.

Plenty of us keep saying this. And nothing changes. Nothing. Which is why I vote Green.

(See also: Bernard Keane, Crikey: ‘Greens Secrecy Makes Press Gallery Grumpy’)

14 thoughts on “Insided Out

  1. My thoughts n feels are reflected well in this article, it is also worth noting that it is done so using language of a G rating !

    The best line in my opinion was the very last, because it’s why I vote green too.

  2. And of course the other aspect of this approach to political reporting and the “insiders” is that they can not see one of the fundamental differences between the Greens and the Lib-Lab flip-flop.
    Whether Christine M or Robert de N is the so called “leader”, the policies and the values that underpin them are the same. You won’t see the equivalent of Abbott beating Turnbull by one vote only to discover that climate change is no longer an issue and all the other changes that happen with the change of a leader.
    Policies do not decide with the leader. The policies are developed by the membership and the elected members implement them. Not that simple I know but its the basis of the process.
    I remember the debate that raged within the greens as to whether we actually had to have a “leader” in the parliament. We don’t have “leaders” anywhere else in the party. Powerful voices maybe, very clever minds maybe, convenors and facilitators maybe but no “leaders” (if you will pardon the term) of the likes of Abbott, Shorten etc who can really determine the nature of policy without reference even to the party room it seems.
    The NSW Greens with their party status in the NSW Parliament still do not have a “leader”. They have a number of spokespeople on different matters and the media doesn’t seem to mind going to the appropriate person for comment. I guess they have given up trying to find leadership battles when there is no leader.
    The Greens in the Federal parliament actually determined their “leader” in response to the bureaucratic needs of the parliament once they achieved “party status”. The rules of the parliament were such that bureaucracy had to have someone to talk to and to communicate with.
    The media also read the role of the Greens “leader” the same way as they read the role of the Lib-Lab leaders. They are so unimaginative that they can’t or don’t want to work that out as it may lead to less opportunities for media wedging or the like. Fewer stories based around the people and more around the policies is what is needed.
    Don’t just blame Abbott for 3 years of slogans. The media didn’t have to print them. They could have said “come on Tony give us a whole paragraph policy please or we won’t print”. Lets face it even that wouldn’t be enough to hide any fine print but it would have raised the bar on what was acceptable political discourse to start engaging the Australian population in a genuine debate.
    I agree with the article above and more.

  3. A very engaging article which well expresses for me my drift away from listening or watching much for what passes for media political commentary especially on many high profile programs. One has to spend more time foraging around on the internet to find any real in-depth analysis and which also maturely looks at the long term effects of policy etc.

  4. Terrific article. I now get most of my news via Twitter and the Letters in the Fairfax dailies. A problem for me is finding a ‘conservative’ to follow on Twitter, who is intelligent and not totally partisan (as for instance is this blogger on the ‘progressive’ side. My last attempt was Miranda Devine. Alas, I couldn’t even last a week of that stuff. Anybody have any suggestions?
    The column sums up all of the MSM for me, particularly the dross that the ABC now dishes up – Annabel Crabb indeed. To say nothing of Barrie Cassidy and the ubiquitous Chris Berg.
    We only get the politicians we deserve because we don’t have a media we deserve.

  5. Exactly what I noticed yesterday. So many journo’s so indignant that the Greens had not played by their stupid ‘leaking’ rules and given any a heads up. That seemed to be a bigger story than actually ‘informing’ the public as they are supposed to be doing.

    Watching journo’s have their dummy spit on Twitter yesterday really makes it hard to support the profession as a whole when it comes to likes of data retention & new security laws, as quite frankly, if they can’t live up to their own professional standards, than they really don’t deserve support from the punters they are supposed to be informing.

  6. Politics, for me, has become a black hole. I try to avoid it these days lest I be sucked into the abyss. You are so right about so much. I fervently hope there’s a growing pool of people out of there who also want to see things change.

  7. One hesitates to criticise a person for the manner of her dress. I’m prepared to be flamed for this: the cutesy girly image that Crabb’s cultivates is a dead giveaway.

  8. The incredulity of the media was due to their expectation that a political leadership change ought to provide them with at least a couple of days’ news, but instead they barely got half a day. In addition, many in the media not only report the news, but attempt to influence it or, as has been shown on occasions, to manipulate it, but were unable to do so in this case.

    The News Corp. media recently have had columns in local rags suggesting readers “join the conversation”, but there there is no indication that they listen to the public at all. The media do not really engage with the public, except on a superficial level.

    As regards the ABC, they are attacked ferociously by conservatives whenever they give any critical analysis of the government, with the spectre of further funding cuts looming in the background. Where once the taxpayer-funded ABC was the government-of-the-day’s official broadcaster of announcements, Tony Abbott has completely side-lined it, using the commercial media outlets to make major announcements and forcing the ABC to depend on inane interviews by vacuous posers. I happened to hear such an excerpt of such an interview with Neil Mitchell on ABCNews Radio. It was up there with the most uninformative, empty interviews of a Prime Minister one could imagine. We rarely have an in-depth interview with the PM of the country via our public broadcaster.

  9. So good to see you back. I’ve missed your insights. It hadn’t occurred to me the use of the term ‘insider’. It suggests that they are in with ‘them’, not reporting on or analyzing what ‘they’ are doing. It is lamentable what the msm journalists have become. Why have they forsaken their profession? Are the current political educators using them as poor examples of what journalism should be? I hope so.

  10. Great article and insight. While we probably disagree on political alignment, I take off my hat to you for having the honesty of disclosing your leaning.

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