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.