09 March 2016

The worst kind of political journalism

No political journalism can ever be good if it patronises the people to whom it reports.

Politicians regularly call press conferences for journalists to ask questions. Mostly, their questions are inane - rather than ask better questions, press gallery journalists simply petition the ABC (the network that most often carries live press conferences) to muffle the often silly and ill-considered questions they ask. They usually seek to reinforce a narrative which does not relate to the subject-matter at hand, which is why politicians get a perverse pride in not answering questions or reading slabs from the very press release which initiated the press conferences in the first place.

Politicians almost never convene people for the purposes of asking questions. Some state governments, and the Gillard government, held community Cabinet meetings where they often fielded better and more pertinent questions than the press gallery ever could.

This is patronising garbage. The journalist seriously believes that interrupting a press conference to talk to a politician is some sort of breach of etiquette, and that people should just sit back and consume whatever drivel the media pumps at them.

Here's what happened: the Prime Minister was in Whyalla and someone came up to talk to him. End of.

Any time I have to do my own editing and presentation of a story, the journalist has failed. It's not that the journalist has presented the story in a different-but-equally-valid way, or using some superior journalism imperceptible to those of us who've never lolled about in a newsroom: the wanker who wrote this seriously believes that only journalists may question politicians in public.
Despite the best of preparations and the fullest of precautions, every time a politician appears in public they take an enormous risk: encountering a real voter.
Oh, piss off. A "real risk" involves getting killed. Politicians deal with voters much better than journalists do, which is why the traditional media has no future as a conduit between politicians and voters.
So it was for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday, who was beset by the dog-walking Raylene Mullins following an announcement in South Australia.
What a dickhead: "beset" and "dog-walking" tell us nothing about this person or what they wanted. They belittle and de-legitimise this person ("where's your press pass?"). What a hopeless lead-in to a story. What a bad attitude this turkey has. Earlier headlines actually referred to Ms Mullins as "errant".

Wait until I find a press gallery journalist who walks their dog. Wait 'til Koziol does: it will rock his empty little world.
Proving that the township of Whyalla was never wiped off the map, Raylene confronted the PM about the government's free trade agenda and its impact on the local steelworks, her husband's employer.
Another silly lead-in: surely the presence of the Prime Minister proved Whyalla's ongoing existence? Why do we have to fight our way past Koziol's silly lead-ins to get at the story? A person spoke to the Prime Minister about his policies and their impact on the local community. You could write a good story about that, having sent a journalist all that way.
"The produce is being ruined and nothing will help Australia if there's another world war because we wouldn't be able to exist," she said.

"Now, why don't all the parliamentarians in the past and in the future think about that, because where are our grandchildren, their children and their children going to work? You can't just have office jobs and health jobs."

The steelworks, which employs about 10 per cent of the town's working population, has been slated for possible closure following financial difficulties. Owner Arrium, previously OneSteel, said the plant posted an operating loss of $43 million in the first half of this financial year due to cheaper Asian steel prices. A decision on its future is due in April.
See? You can so do proper journalism when you have no other choice.
Mr Turnbull was keen to avoid discussing the date of the upcoming budget, but Raylene's ambush proved harder to avoid.
Back to wanky sub-clauses, as though Canberra narrative was more important than actual economic policy. You have an announcement about $600m right here, what makes you think you can address an entire budget?

A non-journalist questioning a politician is not an "ambush", it is democracy in action. When they venture out in public, every Prime Minister gets asked questions by members of the public. It's part of the job. It's always been part of the job. It is not an ambush, and it's not extraordinary.
In response, the PM reiterated his earlier announcement that a major upgrade to 600 kilometres of South Australian rail infrastructure would be brought forward, enabling the steelworks to be more productive.
Not if April's announcement sees the steelworks closed down. We've scrapped the carbon tax, but the steelworks is still losing money: clearly the carbon tax wasn't the problem. Had this journalist dropped the wanky lead-ins they'd have more space to write about what was in front of them, and bring to bear all that knowledge and experience that makes professional journalism so very valuable.
Later, the 64-year-old Raylene told the cameras why she had decided to give the PM a piece of her mind.
Could this guy get any more condescending to "the 64-year-old Raylene"? Did he pat her on the head? She may as well have talked to the cameras - no point talking to the journalists.
"I was walking my dog at the Ada Ryan gardens, didn't know he was going to be here," she said.
Clear failure on the part of Whyalla media. If you don't know the Prime Minister's coming to town, what do you know? How does your market trust you? Is that why Ms Mullins had to ask the Prime Minister about an operational matter, because the local branches of national media are obviously such crap? He actually mentioned the dog-walking thing again, as though it was something people he knows simply don't do.
But the PM defended his government's pursuit of free trade agreements, telling Raylene that future prosperity was dependent upon Australia's access to the large markets of Asia. "We share a passion for Australia ... we have a slightly different view of free trade," he told reporters.
If you're going to splash around $600m to boost one company over others, you sure do have a different view of free trade, and its place in economic and trade policy. Again, instead of proving himself to be a dickhead across state borders, the reporter could have thought about whether that money could not have been better spent elsewhere: $600m on rail in suburban Melbourne would have yielded greater improvements to the economy and broader appeal to voters.

At the risk of appearing cynical, how much tax did Arrium pay last year? How much, if any, did it donate to the Coalition parties? Do you think our hot-shot reporter gave the press release any scrutiny whatsoever?

Whyalla is in the federal electorate of Grey, one of the largest electorates of any parliament in the world, which voted Liberal with a 13.5% margin at the last election. Rowan Ramsey, the local MP, has been there 20 years and (at this stage) is seeking re-election. $600m to shore him up? What does Ms Mullins think of Ramsey - any idea?

As a close and avid reader of political journalism over many years, that piece was utterly worthless.

Fairfax should be culling dickheads like Paul Sheehan and this fool Koziol. Instead, they are getting rid of reporters in regional areas. You can't patronise locals like Raylene Mullins when they're your neighbours and regular readers, but you can if you just jetted in from Sydney/Canberra.

Rowan Ramsey might be safe in two-party terms, but if there's a third party waiting to send Grey the way of New England or Indi our man on the spot wouldn't be able to tell you: he simply can't get past the idea that people walk their dogs in the park.


  1. Joyce said this morning the Coalition had been the ones to install the NBN in Armidale, not the ALP who initiated it (and therefore it was nothing to do with Windsor, who supported that woman).

    Nobody thought to ask him if he believes the version of the NBN his coalition party is currently rolling out is the same one Tony Windsor signed up to when he supported Gillard to form government.

  2. "Rowan Ramsey, the local MP, has been there 20 years and (at this stage) is seeking re-election"

    First elected 2007.
    He was going to be dumped as candidate by Howard mid way during the actual campaign but they didn't have an alternative body at such short notice, Barry Wakelin the retiring member refusing to change his retirement plans. So the Libs poured money into the campaign with a massive TV ads onslaught and Ramsey went on to win with a margin reduced by a tad under 10%.

  3. Observing the body language of Ramsay he could detect that Turnbull was getting into trouble by engaging Raylene in conversation and he ushered Turnbull by saying he must keep moving to his next appointment.