Talking to Gladys
As a summary of the election result itself, it's hard to go past this. What follows here is just another spitball lobbed in the general direction of Journalism Most High, and of one pit of particularly poor journalism: the NSW state parliamentary press gallery.
For almost all of the last four years, polls in NSW have shown that there was at least a chance that the Coalition might win State government. For most of that time it was a dead certainty. It was incumbent upon the journosphere to get to know the State Libs and ask them penetrating questions over time rather than just accepting Labor's portrayals of them as punchlines in Labor jokes. We are all poorer for this failure.
Silly articles have appeared over this period claiming that the Coalition frontbench are "anonymous" (they're public figures and they adore attention from the media, so why don't you give them some and see how they go?), or that they have no policies (they released over a hundred - and no, you don't just have to accept lazy journalism as "the way media works"). Just because Labor want to frame them that way doesn't oblige the journosphere to present them that way. The articles that need to be written now - firstly, analyses of what the new government must/can do, and secondly NSW Labor picking through the rubble - should have written themselves. Instead, the journosphere is grappling for words to describe a situation that was crystal-clear to anyone who'd been paying attention.
Last night the only live TV coverage of the State election was on the ABC. Kerry O'Brien chaired the panel with stale State politics reporter Quentin Dempster.
O'Brien was doddery and dithery, unsure of state politics and ill at ease with the off-screen technology. There were a lot of Freudian slips where "Labor" had won seats actually won by the Coalition. This is why O'Farrell cut him and spoke directly to Gladys Berejiklian, getting his message through to her (including confirming her as Transport Minister) in a classy manner unfiltered by O'Brien. If O'Brien was so tired of Keneally's bullshit, why didn't he have her on what was then "The 7.30 Report" and just shred her?
If he had, it would probably have brought on a demarcation dispute with Quentin Dempster, a Queenslander who had crusaded against Bjelke-Petersen in his final days and was brought to NSW in the late '80s to do the job in Greiner. Dempster is a caricature of an-old school journo, but his heart is with Labor and he has been poor at disguising it. He would occasionally display irritation at Labor's media management and backtracking on commitments, but I can still remember him interviewing John Brogden and dimming the studio lights so that Dempster looked like he was talking to someone in a witness protection program.
Dempster interviewed the Liberal candidate for Balmain, who referred to inner-west Liberals. Liberals had won the seats of Drummoyne and Strathfield in Sydney's inner west earlier that night, and Dempster look stupid for asking "what's an inner west Liberal?". For the past twenty years Liberals had worked assiduously to break Labor's lock on inner western Sydney, but Quentin wouldn't know this as the non-members bar in State Parliament faces away from the inner west. Like most journalists he disdained the Liberals, and they are right to return the favour. Matt Wordsworth does the heavy lifting in State Parliament for that network, so as of yesterday Uncle Quentin's value-add on state political issues has plummeted.
Antony Green is a pre-eminent psephologist but he's not much chop as a software programmer. Every election broadcast for the last five years has seen a software glitch that makes a nonsense of his contributions, a disconnect between what one sees on the screen and a hasty verbal explanation of why a candidate who is supposedly getting thrashed is slightly ahead, or vice versa, or something. If he's wrestling with his own software it detracts from his attempts to clarify and electorally tricky situation, and only adds to the discombobulation of old-school presenters like O'Brien.
O'Brien looked rattled by the end of the program, a quill-and-ink man in the age of Twitter. The contrast with his aplomb on previous Federal campaigns, and with that of Virginia Trioli in last year's Victorian election, could not be greater. It's time for Kerry O'Brien and Quentin Dempster to give it away.
The only trouble is that the coming generation of journalists ready to take senior roles reporting state politics cut their teeth dutifully reporting bullshit from the Walt
It would be wonderful if NSW state political reporting was so debased that journos were forced to get into policy and treat politics as a sub-set of that: but why would they bother? When your idea of investigative journalism is refreshing your email inbox, or having the new Opposition point out the political versions of IEDs that the new government will stumble upon, once can hope for better journalism out of Macquarie Street - but not too much.