Doing a Number

Journalists, as a rule, don’t do numbers. They’re words people – topped the class in creative writing; struggled in maths. And in most areas of reporting, that’s not a huge disadvantage. But when it comes to economics, it can leave them open to being conned.

Take the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. That News Corp would run this set-piece through its lazy and deliberately misleading partisan filter (‘Labor’s Debt Bomb!’) was not surprising. But when the ABC recycles the official spin you have to wonder at journalists’ competence: Continue reading

Analysts Say

‘Analysts say’: It’s the no-more-gaps of journalese. The dignifying of rent-a-quotes with the title of ‘analyst’ is all-purpose cover-up for the passing off of idle conjecture and sheer guesswork as the carefully though out prognostications of the prescient.

Financial media is full of it. Up against deadline and desperate to find facts to fit the premise snatched from the ether by an editor in search of an easy splash, journalists will find “analysts” who will say anything to fit the purposes of the story. Continue reading

Moving Forward


This is either the most well timed book on politics of recent times or the worst. In her meticulously detailed volume of the caustic three years of Julia Gillard’s prime ministership,  Kerry-Anne Walsh ends the narrative tantalisingly short of the final scene – the long-canvassed ‘Ruddstoration’.

It seems churlish to fail the book on events overtaking it, but this is always the danger with seeking to tell history on the run. Indeed, one wonders, after reading it, whether Walsh’s punchy news diary-style treatment might have worked better as a live blog than as a paperback. Continue reading

Of Human Bondage


An increasingly unhinged Australian mainstream media, with a few honourable exceptions, has been revving up the scary-o-meter in recent days about this country facing a future of debt, deficits and public penury for as far as the eye can see.
 
“A decade of deficits spells a bleak future for Australians,” was the headline on the increasingly tabloid ABC television news, warning of a crisis bigger than the one where Bates went to jail in Downton Abbey.  I spluttered over my warmed up risotto (my lovely wife was out at the movies) and quickly checked my Bloomberg terminal.

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Media Stockholm Syndrome

‘Twenty Ways to Bulk Up Your Cash’. That was the breathless headline in The Australian Financial Review on September, 27, 2005

“It’s shop till you drop for ordinary people with money to park,” the article gushed. “And the range of investment options is so vast, it’s very nearly an embarrassment of riches.” Continue reading

Future Shockers

“Prediction is very difficult, particularly about the future.” Journalists would do well to keep in mind that aphorism from influential Danish physicist Nils Bohr when quoting “experts” about the outlook for financial markets, the economy and politics.

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Noise Vs Signal

First it was the nightly weather, then the finance report and now it’s politics. There is a creeping conspiracy in television news of people standing in front of charts, taking the daily temperature – of meteorology, of markets and of members of parliament – and trying to persuade us that it all means something. Continue reading