20 September 2010

Not that songsheet again

The conventions of political journalism have become so ossified, and press secretaries so keen to snuggle down within those limitations, that you can't tell how the country is governed by reading political journalism. This means that political journalism is consumed less, which is a crisis both for companies that produce political journalism, and for old-school journalists who can't get over themselves.

Phillip Coorey believes that because politicians were inadequate in facing up to one of the great policy challenges of our time, there must be something wrong with the policy. Poor Brendan Nelson, a man ahead of his time in calling decisively for inaction on carbon! You'd need the sense of humour of a sulky teen goth combined with the been-in-Canberra-too-long lack of perspective not to read this and laugh:
Unbowed by the complaints, Turnbull again used Twitter on Saturday, while ostensibly having a quick holiday in Queensland, to promote an article warning how the acidification of our oceans, a consequence of more carbon dioxide, posed "a serious threat to biodiversity and marine life".

"This is going to end in tears," mused one Liberal monitoring the Twitter traffic.
Of course it's going to end in tears, that's the whole idea. Here we have one guy measuring actual real-world impacts, and another guy measuring Twitter feeds, yet Phillip Coorey regards Twitter man as the savant while the one giving serious investigation and thought to real issues is some sort of political renegade.

As part of ABC employees' obligation to The Drum, Madonna King trotted out this. King was a News Ltd journalist and now she works for the ABC, and like Coorey she won the obligatory journosphere laurels that she can rest on for a lifetime of lazy journalism.

The musical analogies don't work and show that this person isn't thinking about what they're writing about. Orchestras aren't the same as choirs. Both perform works written by people who are often long dead, whereas a Parliament has to address pressing issues of the day (like climate change). The business of working out what people will sing and the role each plays in the overall harmony is the really fascinating issue that you'd hope would survive the metaphor, but alas Madonna seems to think that the metaphor is the main game.
Gillard knows she must keep her own team happy, stick to the promises she's made ...

She's also promised to care and share more with Tony Abbott, and to listen more closely to voters - both those who voted for and against her.
Every Prime Minister does that at the start of each term - asserts the power of office but not to rub the loser's nose in it. It's not news and it isn't insightful. King leaves out this particular loser's own vote-repelling qualities, particularly among conservative regional MPs who should be his natural allies.

Basically, all King is saying is:
  • It will be a challenge holding together a minority government and keeping the independents on side;
  • Kevin Rudd might still be a little cheesed off at some people (but, Madonna, he's shown every sign of swallowing his wounded pride for the sake of the team, an issue few commentators have really examined); and
  • If you're into this sort of thing, it will sure be interesting.
In other words, Madonna King's piece is exactly the same as everything else that's been written for the past month, or said in every episode of Insiders or PM or the Sky News program If You Can Fake Gravitas, You've Got It Made (with David Speers and Peter van Onselen). Yes, we had a federal election where neither side won, but Labor cut some deals and stays in office: it was in all the papers, Madonna, thanks anyway. It wasn't worth Madonna King's time to write it, nor was it worth reading let alone commissioning.

Old-school journalists like Mr Denmore simply believe that you can fix journalism by recalibrating it to the way it was, say, in about 1960. Coorey and King show that political journalism would be more valuable if it were more scarce than it is, if weighty issues such as climate change and, well, arts policy were better understood from a policy perspective. As it stands, there is no point for Fairfax to employ Phillip Coorey, Michelle Grattan, Katharine Murphy and a bunch of others to basically write the same story. Get them out of Canberra, have them report on traffic snarls in Brisbane like Madonna King does (if you can't all sing from the same songsheet on the Clem7 ...), but spare us all this glassy-eyed focus on parliamentary theatre as a substitute for real news about what's going on and how we are governed.

This is what unstable coalitions with wreckers and faceless men looks like, people.


  1. "...parliamentary theatre as a substitute for real news..."

    Yep. I think the ABC hiring Annabel Crabb as "Chief Political Writer" might be one of the signs of the apocalypse.

    More and more it seems the only media which have useful political discussion and debate are blogs like this, Crikey and sometimes Twitter. Our "political journalists" come in two flavours: jesters and race-callers.

  2. So Malcolm tweets about a scientific study and suddenly he is interpreted to be undermining his leader. Well we can only hope so. :)

    I can't recall Rudd or Wong ever visiting the reef to highlight this to the Astralian public.

    I actually can't ever recall Rudd meeting a scientist.

    Perhaps if they made an effort explain why climate action was important they might not have ....

  3. AC, this blog has long been appalled by Crabb's fey and faux-ironic approach to Australia's best subsidised and lamest theatre. I'm a big defender of the ABC but anyone who wants to have at The Drum has no objection from me.

    Tim, I kept waiting for "Kevvie from Brissie" to do exactly that, and Garrett for that matter to also use scenic backdrops to explain basic facts about climate change, but it never happened. Maybe some journalists should have done it for them.

  4. With regard to crabb, who decided that this pretender has the ability to be a journalist let alone chief political writer for the national broadcaster .As a journo she was a joke with SMH but at least you didn't have to put up with the giggling, look at me performance we are subjected to on ABC. Is there no one better?

  5. Old school? Andrew, you do me a disservice. I'm not THAT old to remember what journalism was like in 1960.

    However, I DO believe it wouldn't hurt for journalists to return to a few fine (if boring) traditions -like getting the facts straight, challenging false assumptions and spin and to interview someone other than themselves.

    I completely agree with you about the press gallery's knack for writing 700 words about the bleeding obvious and then rejigging it to oblivion.

    Old school. Harumph.

  6. Mr Denmore, I stand by the statement as you're turning this into all about you!

    Seriously though, admirable as your principles are I think that they're misdirected. Like the Guns of Singapore in 1941, they're pointed in the wrong direction. Michelle Grattan has all the virtues you could want, and her journalism is as ethereal as anything on Brangelina.

  7. tredlgt, couldn't agree more. I thought she belonged on commercial telly m'self.