This time of the month is so painful. No, this isn’t a menstruation post. It’s about poll-driven reporting. Today’s front page screamer is this story from Phillip Coorey: Poll throws Gillard a lifeline:
JULIA GILLARD has been handed a lifeline with the latest Herald/Nielsen poll showing support for the Prime Minister and her government increasing sharply.
Despite a tumultuous start to the year for the government prompting a renewed bout of leadership speculation, the poll shows Labor’s primary support rising 4 percentage points to 33 per cent since December, its highest level in almost a year.
It’s meaningless. The next election isn’t due until the end of next year, so a story about how people say they’re going to vote if an election was held tomorrow should hardly be front page news.
It’s also meaningless because of this graphic (not in the online version):
How newsworthy is it, really, that people who don’t vote for Labor don’t like the Labor leader? Is it worthy of the front page? Because I don’t know about you, but when I see stories that treat this information like some kind of Important Revelation That Will Depose A Prime Minister, my response is derr-fucking-brain.
The time and effort used to write this story… Oh, ok, there isn’t much time involved in a cut and paste job from a Nielsen media release. But every time a journo puts together a story like this – and consider for a moment that Coorey is chief political correspondent, so presumably he’s the best political reporter they have – and it gets rewarded by being run on the front page, we all get a little bit dumberer.
The problem isn’t just about the SMH running their not-news on the front page. News Ltd journos will report on the Herald/Nielsen results, just as Fairfax journos report on the Newspoll results, creating one big boring circle jerk. And it takes quite some effort to make a circle jerk boring. So I’m told.
And for the rest of the day – hell, they’ll still be at it on Wednesday – journos will breathlessly ask MPs to comment on the results of their imaginary election. Like this story, at 9.10am from Jessica Wright: MPs accuse Rudd of inflating support as PM urges calm:
Labor MPs have expressed anger that they are being counted among supporters of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who is accused of inflating his numbers in caucus to destabilise the leadership of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
Don’t be taken in by the headline. It’s only two of 72 Labor MPs. I’m not suggesting journalists interview every single one of those MPs, but, you know, only two?
And this story by Judith Ireland at 3.47pm: PM talks up economy, not leadership:
The economy will be the political battleground in 2012, Prime Minster Julia Gillard said today, as she refused to be drawn on questions regarding leadership tensions with Kevin Rudd.
Journos keep asking about leadership, MPs keep replying, and then journos keep reporting that MPs are talking about leadership. With the press gallery impatiently waiting for MPs to finish announcing whatever it is they’re announcing that no one is paying attention to, so they can ask the same irrelevant leadership questions over and over again, they are failing at their basic role of scrutinising those in power. It means they don’t have to read anything other than the first few pars of each other’s 300-word news stories. And it means they don’t have to do any research that would lead to informed, intelligent questions that might actually result in answers that are useful for their audience.
The joke’s on them because the more they write about this meaningless stuff, the more news junkies like me stop reading, and if they can’t even get the news junkies to be interested, they’re really fucked. I keep coming back to this 2010 study by Robert M Entman, ‘Improving newspapers’ economic prospects by augmenting their contributions to democracy’:
In an unstable economic environment, newspapers confront an acute dilemma: how to give people more of what they need, more than they now hnow enough to demand in the marketplace. The solution requires that they interrupt the vicious circle binding lower quality news production to less-informed and less-interested citizens. The more news production strays from the “core” (Jones 2009) function of enhancing democracy, the more generations of potential consumers learn this lesson: There is little reason to invest their free time consuming serious journalism. So they don’t, and that
signals newspapers – and the stock market – to continue redirecting their resources (Hamilton 2004; Entman 1989). (2010, p. 105).
It’s not surprising that journos have an awkward hard-on for Rudd. He gives them events to go to and announcements to report, and so the news just writes itself. Which is the desired situation when you see your job as being a stenographer – as many journos must do, since no one is checking the claims made by politicians before they’re published (hello everything Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott say about the economy).
And, of course, Rudd as PM again gives journos constant stories about Gillard wanting the top job back. See how this works? And round and round the MSM bullshit machine goes. It’s enough to make me wish I was blogging about menstruation.
Entman, R.M., (2010), ‘Improving newspapers’ economic prospects by augmenting their contributions to democracy’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 104-125.
De Vreese C.H., Elenbaas M.M, (2008), ‘Media in the game of politics: Effects of strategic metacoverage on political cynicism,’ The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 13, no. 3, pp.285-309.