What happened in Canberra this week
If the only thing you knew about Federal politics this week was gained by reading the output of the press gallery, you'd have no idea what went on. Feel free to skip most of this post down to the last four paragraphs in this post.
First there was Marieke Hardy's lame effort on Chris Pyne. Pyne is not particularly rightwing and there is no evidence that he was ever a moderate. He's not anything but annoying: won't go away, can't say anything interesting, a bit like Michelle Grattan or even Hardy herself. The standard anti-Pyne meme is that he's effeminate, which is where you get expressions like "poodle" and "mincing" and "flouncing" etc. in describing him.
Hardy, of course, can't go there; her whole world lies within five kilometres of Lygon Street and even Collingwood supporters would be leery of her if she started the sort of poofter-bashing her grandfather would not have hesitated to use. Hardy doesn't have any political analysis skills to speak of, so she's deployed the kind of overblown, devoid-of-wit ranting prose that is often deployed in football commentary. It really does not matter what she thinks of a politician who is almost unknown and has certainly had no impact beyond Capital Circle ACT and a few chi-chi suburbs in Adelaide (i.e. so far from Lygon Street that it just doesn't matter).
Frank Hardy campaigned his whole life for a regime where a denunciation from someone like his granddaughter would have propelled the victim into oblivion. The fact that Pyne receives an apology while Hardy gets punted, doubtless to pop up somewhere else at the ABC - and Green has his "old-fashioned news sense" vindicated - shows that the failure of the sorts of ideals Frank Hardy held was no bad thing for anyone, really.
The editor who commissioned Marieke Hardy to write that piece, Jonathan Green, moaned on twitter that his news values were "old fashioned". More like non-existent: Crikey was better before he became editor and it's become better since he left. All that focus on being an old-fashioned "scoop-hound" was laughable in the context where there was more to be gained by going through the mullock-heap of news and picking out the nuggets that had been missed by the clowns in big traditional media. His latest effort, The Dump, is a less earnest New Matilda and the fact that he has hired both Annabel Crabb and Glenn Milne shows that he is simply not, wait fort it, a sensible person. But more on that later. It is significant that Green advertises his site with a picture of a writer he has declined to publish (and not because she appears to have foliage growing out of her very head).
If Green was an old-fashioned journalist he would have realised that Pyne was not a minister, and hence did not warrant the attention lavished on him by the journosphere this week. He would not have encouraged the idea that the best way for attention-starved politicians in Opposition to get coverage was to misbehave. The only possible case for commissioning a story on Chris Pyne was a standard profile of the guy: Who is this person that so fascinates the journosphere, and why does he fascinate them?
For the most part, however, the commentary consisted of excrescence like this. Some part of Maley's reptilian brain knew she was out of her depth in reporting on a political situation that she simply does not understand, and her editors should have the sense to remove her. In however long she's been in the press gallery, a few phrases from flat-track bullies are all she has to show for what should have been a job telling we readers and voters how we are governed.
Here's what should have happened. This and that contain the issues that politicians are actually in the process of addressing. Each of those bills has a cluster of interest groups that has been pushing those issues for years, so there is no excuse for not having followed those debates to the point where here they are before Parliament. The idea that they are too lofty or complex for the journosphere is a nonsense, a failure in understanding both the political process and what it means to be a journalist.
One of the few tangible reforms of the Rudd Government was the lobbyists' register. I have not seen one journalist make use of it, in identifying Lobbyist X in representing corporate interest Y in pursuit of public policy issue Z.
With reporting on what actually happens - whether this is old-fashioned or impossibly new-media, you decide and get back to me - you'd get more of an insight into the processes of how government actually works. This market does not yet exist, but it is far more substantial than the market for, say, camp euphemisms about Christopher Pyne.
Reorienting the entire way that public policy journalism in this country is practised would be far-reaching and a crucial reform, but not without cost for old-fashioned luggards like Maley and Green. If you regard journalism as the last craft practised for the delight of those employed in it rather than the utility of those consuming it, this is a terrifying prospect and see you at the Holy Grail!