30 May 2014

Next Friday

To all my dear friends in the press gallery, and in the traditional media more broadly:

Monday 9 June will be a public holiday in all states and territories in Australia, except Western Australia apparently. I'm sure many of you will have plans for that day and the long weekend more broadly. Insofar as it matters I hope you have a nice time.

On the Friday before the long weekend - next Friday, 6 June - it is very likely that the government will make announcements that have to be made, but which reflect badly on them in various ways. Regardless, those announcements will still cover issues that will affect us, whether this is a general matter of our tax money being spent or more specific and direct impacts.

This is admittedly something of a conundrum for you people. On one hand you want to report what goes on, but on the other hand you've got plans for the long weekend; and by the time you get back that news will, under long-established politico-media conventions, not be reported.

If the issue is important enough it will manifest itself later on, at which point it may be covered (or not). Given your urge to use hype to arrest declining ratings and sales, perhaps you will treat these later developments as unexpected. In much the same way, you did when a policy-lazy Coalition brought down a policy-lazy budget which worked for nobody (not even for them), and you pretended to be surprised to cover up your failure to have examined their policy-lazy positions before it all fell apart.

The smarter and/or more experienced ones among you will be able to foresee the coming dump next Friday. You might have seen it before, many times, from all who've held office. The trouble is that you will react only with sneers, tempered by an inside-Canberra understanding of why they do it that way - hey, they're just ordinary Joes/Jos doing their jobs, "taking out the trash".

It doesn't have to be like that. You know the government is playing you for mugs (and that given how attentive the Coalition were to you in opposition, this surprises you). You could end this practise once and for all next Friday if you wanted to, and in the process help out a few old mates.

Remember the last time your employer shed a few staff (or the time before), how you keened and rent your garments, and how some Very Fine Journalists took a walk in the snow so that you didn't have to? Remember how you vowed to help them if you could - but that when they actually rang you were scared of catching Redundancy Germs and had to go because, well, 24 hour news cycle? Now's your chance.

Traditional news organisations should do something untraditional. Rather than just cop the sneaky dump, it should have teams of analysts (including, but not only, those with journalistic skills) that go through those announcements with fine-toothed combs. They could then stuff those Bumper Long Weekend Editions with detailed stories on matters deemed too sensitive to release in the normal course of events.

This proposal would have a number of effects, all of them good.

Those who've sat on the information and hoped they would catch the mighty Australian media napping will be in for a nasty surprise. That which they had hoped to bury would not only be brought to light, but lit harshly and unflatteringly, with few other stories to distract coverage. The pre-holiday dump would vanish as a tactic.

Some of your old muckers could pick up a bit of short-term work, which isn't the same as full-time employment but it beats the hell out of nothing. It could give them opportunities to work with accountants, IT people and others whose jobs involve different kinds of investigative skills, which may open opportunities that may not otherwise be open (or, even worse, which they may not perceive). Those people are used to short-term work and will be good for tips on handling it.

You could come back to work refreshed, with a suite of follow-up stories ready for you to work on, with the part-timers already on their ways out the door until the next public holiday, posing no threat to your own positions.

Most importantly, we need to know what's going on in our government, for better and worse, and you going away on holidays en masse works against that. Merely writing the tactic off as "predictable" isn't good enough, and if you were proper journalists you'd recognise that. Didn't you feel played when the government released information while you were all in the budget lockup? Punked again, and it won't be the last time.

Nobody is calling on you to miss your long weekend, so there'll be none of your straw-man nonsense thank you very much. You overestimate how compelling, or even how useful your cynicism is; your ratings/circulation and the fading financial and political heft of your employer reflects this more accurately than hollow newsroom banter.

We need a public discourse that is neither cynical nor credulous. You can be part of it, or not, but as Margaret Simons and John Birmingham point out in their different ways, you just won't own it.

In the last parliament you were too cynical toward the previous government, and too credulous toward the opposition. Now you're attempting to shift from being credulous to cynical about this government - a hard transition made harder because the current opposition doesn't offer much to be credulous about (nor cynical, given that Gillard and Rudd and McTernan have all gone). There are alternatives, but let's be honest: all the political forces beyond the majors frighten you.

Don't be cynical, or credulous. Just tell us what's going on. If you can't, then get someone who can (without necessarily putting your own positions further at risk). Your employers could burnish their fading reputations by hiring people to do exactly this. Then again (and more likely) they could save a few bucks that will soon be frittered away elsewhere and accept that people will go around them to get their news. We decide whether or not a government will be re-elected, or if a news outlet will survive - not you.

Next Friday. It's coming. Are you packed up ready to go? Are you going to just hang around and see what happens? Either way, enjoy it while it lasts.


  1. Good on you Andrew. I'm pretty confident that your past analyses have been spot on (I'm sure you are too), so this prediction is highly likely to eventuate.

    I'll be watching next Friday.

    1. The analyses have been spot on but the predictions do tend to suck, particularly those reliant on the good sense of the Australian media. Still, you gotta do what you can with what you have.

    2. As you keep saying. :-0

    3. Their brains will be de-gearing mid-Thursday (late Wednesday for some), that's my prediction - well, daily observation.

  2. A bit of lack of precision follows, mainly cos I'm going from an ageing memory. Still those with the research skills I lack should be able to verify what follows and even add some flesh to the skeleton.

    Remember Judge Rares and his dismissal of Asby's case against 'the rat"?
    And how the judge called it as a political conspiracy [without using that specific word] and named a couple of relevant names including from memory one Mal Brough?
    And how, despite that being probably the single largest media story for months prior, the story received minimal attention and died withered by the roadside.
    Well I stumbled on an ALP pollie [might have been Emerson] on a daytime brekky show who threw the ignoring of the story at the TV interviewer who responded along the lines of "Well yes but ...it happened during the Xmas break, the silly season, when all the hard working dedicated competent journos [I made that last little bit up] were on holiday so its not our fault".
    The pollie was not impressed.
    Neither was I.


  3. Spot on Andrew - I congratulate you on being proactive in putting our guardians of the free press on notice. However, I'm fairly certain that any such release of bad news by this adult, deliberate, consultative government will be met with eye rolling (a la Murphy), recognised as astute political judgement (a la Kenny and Hartcher) or ignored/praised by the Murdochians.


    1. Adult...?


      Watching Brandis disparage the other Human Rights Commissioners on S.B.S recently was laughable

      University of Bumcrack alumni are not quite snotty and sleazy when seen on t.v

      Creepy individual.

      Doesn't do them any favours.

  4. Kevin Andrews in particular has shown a tendency to drop bombshells on welfare recipients on public holidays.

    1. Weeell, technically "leaners" don't really get holidays, their life is one long lean.

  5. Interesting post, Andrew.
    I wonder what would come of running a parallel 'social media' analysis of the upcoming dump. As much as the media disdain Twitter et al, we all know their employees are rather smitten with it. Perhaps the pressure of bloggers and/or tweeters analysing their pet issues will provide some 'motivation' for the journalists to take up the cudgel themselves?
    There'd need to be a catchy hashtag, of course.

  6. "On the Friday before the long weekend - next Friday, 6 June - it is very likely that the government will make announcements that have to be made, but which reflect badly on them in various ways."

    Yes, the very use of such cynical timing ought to be scent to the hounds, and cause for greater not lesser attention to detail. But the 'traditional' media is almost beyond redemption, even when it isn't suffering from the biased group think of a News Corp newsroom.

  7. I just watched Mia Freedman on the a.b.c and her insightful (ahem) analysis of new and old media

    I'm not a big fan of her blog but she made a great point about old media not being able to acknowledge that new media has a role to play and is now a competitor

    McDonald's version of news is easy, ,accessible and not good food for the brain

    You have it in moderation otherwise you become obese and lazy.

  8. Andrew, you ask too much. You expect something worth reading to make it into the weekend papers. That is so 20th Century.

  9. Andrew the sky will be thick with flying pigs and monkeys on Friday. It will be a late clearance for take-off too.

    I reckon the parental (ho ho maternal) leave scheme will disappear on Friday.

  10. Yes Andrew, cucumber time (not seasonally aligned in Oz) fast approaches and we’ll get a short respite from Canberra’s famous Theatre of the Absurd. Perhaps an announcement regarding the drug testing of MSM journalists will go hand-in-hand with drug testing of welfare recipients. Maybe the town crier will announce two new titles: Sir Adam Goodes and Lady Kylie Minogue. Who else finds it hard to suppress their excitement?


  11. At first I wondered why you had to explain the phrase "a walk in the snow" then I realised you were talking to the current Press Gallery.

  12. Let's face it, the average Journo is fiddling while Rome burns. As you point out, the expected drop of bad news should be seen as an opportunity for a sleuthing journalist. Instead they just can't be bothered. Why ruin a long weekend when the news comes to you in the form of press releases.

  13. I remember a moment in popular culture when going through Bob Dylan's rubbish became academically respectable rather than the work of a stalker. I'd have though some journalist - though clearly not the press gallery - might take this as a metaphor for dealing with the timing of these press releases.

  14. Even better if another mention of Peppa Pig pops up in Senate estimates or on the floor of the house. They flock to these kind of stories like fly's to sh.t. I lost count of the number of times Peppa got coverage, including full articles from...you guessed it Jacquelin Magnay and Annabel Crab. At a time when Australian public policy is being turned inside out and decisions are being made that have massive implications for people's lives, its reassuring to know that they vacant infantile gaze of the canberra press gallery never wanes.