Benny on journalism

I thought long and hard about what my next article was going to be. I have been working somewhat on a series of articles related to children, including should children be subsidised and are current custody laws in the Family Law Act adequate. However, these article take a fair amount of time to do.

However, for me, there were two events last week that really stood out. The first was the release of the latest Sensis Business Index.

On Wednesday the Sensis business index came out, and included one of the findings that, after 21 consecutive quarters of this prestige title, New South Wales was overtaken by Queensland as the least popular Government amongst Small and Medium Enterprises (in terms of their opinions of government policies impacting small business).

Anna Bligh is already struggling in the poles, and you think that this would be a fine source to use to ridicule her. Instead, the Queensland opposition seemed unblissfully unaware of this. Instead, from my limited media exposure, the main topic for journalistic reporting for the day was the Treasurer beating up the opposition over teddy-bears. Further, few media outlets even realised the Sensis report. Queensland Business Review picked it up rather early, but otherwise it mostly went missing.

This compares to earlier in the week, when the most recent Tourism data was released. The big story was Victoria overtook Queensland in Domestic Tourist Visitors. It led to quotes like this:

“The offer of big events, cultural events, retail, food and wine is considered more attractive than stuff like theme parks, Big Pineapples and gee-whizzy type of stuff,” Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief Anthony McIntosh said.

Apparently culture includes the absence of severe storms, floods, an oil spill and all the bad PR stemming from these. But this is beside the point.

Last week highlighted two things, the severe disadvantage the opposition is at due to its lack of human resources, and the absolutely woeful state of Queensland journalism.

I have always hated Today/Tonight. I think it more miseducates the public rather than provides a good consumer watchdog type service. While I think the media has become to an extent the method of exposing and crushing certain elements of society that seemingly fall through other safety nets (e.g. exposing dodgy dealings, etc), I am not sure Today/Tonight deserves much kudos in this regard. I tend to think Today/Tonight more highlights rather unimportant issues, directing attention away from issues that deserve focus and onto things that benefit less from continual oversight. It gives many issues that really don’t deserve much more than a passing comment a place in the limelight, determining the content of talkback radio switchboards the following day. And the ABC isn’t much better. I watched some Tony Jones interviews a while back that were absolutely terrible. He got various politicians on to discuss policy, and Tony Jones’ interviewing technique was all about aggressiveness and trying to get the interviewee to trip up. If a certain issue wasn’t working, he moved on to the next one. Providing an interview that provided information to the public and discussing the actual policy was non-existent. It was all about the spectable.

In a perfect world, the media would be on-top of issues, and be able to disseminate and present it to the public in understandable chunks. While it seems many journalists aspire to report the facts and avoid opinion, it seems that disection, inference and explanation also have disappeared. Instead, they go for the candy issues, the stuff that BTN would present to schoolchildren if all BTN’s employees were dead.

Analysis should be an integral part of journalism. Journalism has become a spoon-fed role. Journalists get given a prepared statement, and they put it through the journalism machine and out pops an article. I think the machine applies quotation marks and a snappy headline. Still, the commercial goals of the media are not in alignment with Australia’s democratic processed. With the media more concerned with the easy stories and the politician cheap-shots or trips-ups, politicians will be more focused on media and perception management rather than governance and providing policy related information.

Without the resources and personnel the government has available, opposition attacks seem to be limited to what they can derive from mainstream media. These days, Australian opposition parties are very limited in the extent of their government oversight roles, and winning an election is more a case of the government losing the support of the populace rather than the opposition winning it.

We have to begin to wonder, given the importance of the media in our political structure, does something need to be done?


Mark says:


Next question – What?

I think the attitude to news is “Google Reader skim, radio headlines in car on the way to work (if you don’t have a media player), vaguely listen to TV while cooking dinner” mentality when it comes to our news “consumption”.

And sadly, it’s more often the bizarre that will cause people to actually pay attention. Media outlets know this, and play to it.

Also, as I think Nathan has mentioned before, or at least linked to: Good journalism takes time, costs $$$, and has a limited life. Most outlets are struggling to be profitable in the digital age.