The everyday shit they call journalism

There’s a story in the Sydney Morning Herald today that’s a great example of how meaningless political journalism has become. It’s not about a manufactured scandal, or a gaffe, or something that happened decades ago, but is just the everyday political journalism that is, frankly, rubbish.

I don’t think it’s because political journalists are stupid. It’s more that they write for each other and not for the public, and they don’t ever stop to think about what they are actually writing. When I was a journalist, I used to write in journalese, just like every other journalist. Every now and then, the news editor made half-arsed murmurs about not using journalese – like Person A “slammed” Person B, or “Thailand’s restive south” (go on, google that and see the 497,000 results for a phrase that no one but journalists use) – but journalese was only ever seen as particular words, and not the sentences that make up a story.

So, Rudd backers turn on PM for celebrity choice, by Mark Kenny and Jonathan Swan (interestingly, if you look at the URL, the “news story” is filed in opinion…):

The move to parachute the Olympian Nova Peris into Parliament has re-ignited discussion about Julia Gillard’s political judgment and the value of so-called “celebrity” candidates.

Now, the article contains no discussion whatsoever about the “value of so-called “celebrity” candidates”. None. Not a single sentence. The online version includes photos of Cheryl Kernot, Maxine McKew, and John Alexander, without any explanation of why these photos are there. Which is pretty suckful when you consider that the online version is almost permanent and will be the information that other journalists use when they write their stories. The paper version runs a pretty lazy story on the side of the main one, also by Mark Kenny, using these three people as evidence that celebrity candidates don’t work. Kernot shouldn’t be in that list. She was a senator for the Democrats from 1990-1997, then for Labor from 1998-2001. That hardly makes her a celebrity candidate. After all, no one says Billy Hughes was a celebrity candidate and he changed parties five times while in federal parliament, including while he was Prime Minister.

So that leaves McKew (a former ABC journo) and Alexander (a former tennis player). McKew won Bennelong from John Howard in 2007. Alexander won Bennelong from McKew in 2010. I hardly think Kenny’s case is made by one seat. Particularly when you consider Peter Garrett, Andrew Wilkie, Malcolm Turnbull, cyclist Hubert Opperman and cricketer/hockey player Ric Charlesworth all had high profiles before getting into politics and lasted quite a while. (And these are just the recent ones that I’ve found with a quick search. Remember the days when journalists did basic research?)

Anyway, moving along to the bit about how the move has “re-ignited discussion about Julia Gillard’s political judgement”.

But Labor figures loyal to the former prime minister Kevin Rudd rounded on Ms Gillard on Wednesday, calling the drafting of Ms Peris to replace a sitting Labor senator for the Northern Territory “unprecedented”.

Who are these Labor figures? Oh, look, there’s just one:

“Because we are in an election year, most MPs will bite their lips, but people are furious,” said the MP, who wished to remain anonymous.

One. Unnamed. MP.

One. Unnamed. MP. Who didn’t have the guts to put his/her name to his/her words.

One. Unnamed. MP. Who wanted to undermine the PM and asked the journalists to leave out his/her name and they agreed.

One. Unnamed. MP. Who is a bit shitty about something and is using docile, unquestioning journalists to have a bit of a whinge. Can Mark Kenny and Jonathan Swan seriously not see how they are being used? Are they that blind? But I guess “One MP has a bit of a whinge about something” isn’t as exciting as OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO KEEP WRITING ABOUT RUDD IN CASE THE PARTY DUMPS GILLARD AND RETURNS TO RUDD EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO INDICATION THAT ANYONE WANTS THAT BUT MY GOD WE AREN’T GOING TO MISS IT AGAIN.

But wait, there’s more.

In an article about Nova Peris being endorsed as a Labor candidate there is no mention of her suitability. Except this bit:

“Unfortunately Nova doesn’t realise she’s being used by Julia Gillard,” said Michael Anderson, a former leader of the Australian Black Power movement and a founder of the Aboriginal tent embassy.

“Ms Peris-Kneebone is only being used as a public relations exercise for Labor. She has not been involved in major political processes, rallies or otherwise. She has been missing in political action all the time.”

Which is wrong. The journalists should have indicated that Anderson was wrong, not only for using her old name (she hasn’t been Peris-Kneebone in over a decade), but for having no fucking idea what he is talking about. Nova Peris was awarded the Order of Australia, she was a treaty ambassador for ATSIC, she created the Peris Enterprises charity to promote health and education for Indigenous children, then there’s the Nova Peris Girls Academy. And she was an international ambassador for the World Health Organisation (for youth suicide prevention), and a national ambassador for Reconciliation Australia, and a delegate to the National Constitution Convention, and a national patron for Beyond Blue. And here’s a list of 17 things she’s been involved in that make her one of the best candidates for political office that I’ve seen in a long time.

I found this information in less than one minute. Yet Kenny and Swan didn’t even make a basic effort to point out that Anderson is completely wrong. They published his ignorance/lie, playing in to the narrative of Nova Peris being an unskilled celebrity candidate who will no doubt crash and burn and it will be ALL JULIA GILLARD’S FAULT.

I started this post by saying Kenny and Swan’s story is a pretty bad example of political journalism. But now that I’ve dissected it, and seen how lazy and how wrong the story is, I’ve changed my mind. It’s fucking appalling journalism and they should be ashamed of themselves.

50 responses to “The everyday shit they call journalism

  1. “They published his ignorance/lie, playing in to the narrative of Nova Peris being an unskilled celebrity candidate who will no doubt crash and burn and it will be ALL JULIA GILLARD’S FAULT. ”

    THIS. They flippantly publish this sort of thing knowing that, even if it is proven to be totally wrong, it doesn’t really matter anyway because it just feeds into the torrent of mistrust and negativity aimed at Julia Gillard. Good on you for calling this out.

    • I just get so mad when journalists let themselves be used and are too clueless to realise it, because they think they’re part of the game, they’re insiders, when politicians must be laughing at them for how easily manipulated they are.

      Rosi5, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  2. Gina's new vajazzle

    Wow, you write that as though you have seen some decent Australian journalism of late. For crying out loud – Fairfax was running stories about how hating feral cats underlines our inherent fears of foreigners just a week ago. The AFR is is paraphrasing press releases from property developers to say housing affordability is all honky dory today. And that is without going near the ritualistic forms of psychic masturbation that pass for comment and reporting anywhere near uncle Rupert. Then theres the Sydney backslappers club that we shell out a few cents a day for – at least they seem to be generally able to get basic facts rights, but nowhere outside Ultimo is reflected in comment thats for sure. You are right about the political hacks in Canberra they write for each other and when they get it wrong (The Gilard sexism comments in parliament) every last man jack of them was running the same line! Russia has better quality media (particularly news coverage) than we do – and that’s saying something

    • And why has Fairfax stopped declaring their interest in Australian Property Monitors in stories where they quote APN? And why do so many LNP politicians get opinion pieces published on The Drum and appear on The Drum? And what the hell ever happened to basic fact-checking?

      Gina’s new vajazzle, welcome to the News with Nipples.

      • Gina’s new vajazzle

        There is a whole generation of Australian kids who are basically growing up assuming that journalism is just about running a spellcheck over a press release. As for the ABC, they basically know that there is another Australia out there beyond Ultimo, and they know it is generally a mildly affable codger of stodgy grandparent style conservativism, or a souped up whizz kid, big on theory, with TBC stamped on those parts reflecting experience.

  3. Lazy journalism indeed!! like that stupid ANZ thing last week, not one journo took it upon themselves to call ANZ or the mining company or the regulator, that just grabbed any old bit of paper off the fax machine and printed it.

    and like you said the media just moves on.

    • Oh, the coverage of that ANZ thing was appalling. I don’t know whether the journalists involved were trying to hide the fact that they had published something without checking, or if they honestly thought they were not partly responsible. Neither of those options are acceptable.

  4. Great article – I just had a similar whinge about the lack of critical thinking on an article in the SMH about Tony Abbott’s mini campaigns.

  5. I think these journos were given a brief, told to write a piece that says this. The headline may have even been written before the article. That’s why it’s so bad. They were given the angle then told to write it.

    • I’m not convinced. In my 10 years as a journalist, I was never asked/told to do something like that. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, just that I’ve never experienced it. I was once told not to pursue an article I’d suggested because the man it was about was one of the boss’s mates. Influence from above tends to work in a more subtle way, with journalists pitching stories and writing stories in a way that their editor will like, because they want the front page story and the good assignments.

      I agree that the headline and even first few sentences were written before the journalists spoke to anyone, but that’s standard practice. Journalism is form work and you generally know what you’re going to write before you even interview people. Which gets back to my point about journalists not thinking about what they write.

      Sue Peterson, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  6. Thanks for the welcome. I’ve been reading your blogs for a while. The ‘Celebrity Candidate’ angle was covered first on TV news yesterday. I don’t watch the commercial news so it might have been Sky or ABC. This seems like they rushed a piece out to jump on the bandwagon as they all seem to do these days. And they didn’t bother to do their own research.

    • The thinking would go: Famous Olympian who we (journalists) don’t know much about because we only know about people in the news, therefore she’s a celebrity candidate, that’s the most important part of this story so we’ll lead with that.

      It’s so predictable. And amazes me – from conversations I had while still a journalist, and conversations I’ve had with journalists since I quit – that they just can’t see how their product looks to the audience. Because they do what every other journalist does, they honestly think that means they’re doing a good job. And that’s so frustrating for me, because I love the news!

  7. Roger colclough

    The problem with printed journalism today is that we aren’t allowed to wrap fish and chips in it anymore

    • Ha! (Although that makes me sad. I love news. I just found journalism as it’s done today to be deeply unsatisfying – so I left – and incredibly frustrating.)

      Roger colclough, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  8. Pingback: A measure of trust – TruthInNewsMedia

  9. Fantastic article. I’ve been so keen to hear more about Ms Peris’s background and her suitability for candidacy, you’re right, she’s eminently qualified. I am flabbergasted, appalled, sickened by journalists who publish other people’s opinions as facts WITHOUT DOING BASIC RESEARCH to establish whether it’s possible that they are, in fact, completely utterly unsupportably wrong. We wonder why people don’t value mainstream media news any more – this is why. Journalists are supposed to have ethics, they are supposed to make an effort to provide the facts, they are supposed to be at least a little reliable as a source of information. This is just crazy angry-making. So glad you called it, so glad I’ve subscribed to your blog!

    • You are spot on with your comment about how journalists are supposed to be a reliable source of information. Yes, we expect them to behave ethically – given the power they have in our society because it’s the primary way people get information – but it’s the reliability of that information that I think is most important.

      Ezzy OD, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  10. Another great post about the deficiency in aussie journalism.
    A pity that what is discussed and condemned in blogs isn’t published in the papers then i could once again buy print with the expectation of a good read.
    It’s a pity how the smh has deteriorated in the last two years. The good writers exist. Unfortunately the idiot bosses in news gathering will not allow or encourage their publication.
    The next few months will probably see a further deterioration in the press but eventually the present group of pretenders will drop of the twig and younger, keener and dedicated journos may make a difference.
    Anyway thanks for a good read and more power to you.

    • Thanks tredlgt. I think the problem is that Australian journalism is about conflict – two sides have to disagree about something and you get a quote from each and you’re done – and news editors believe that scandal gets eyeballs. Well, perhaps it did once, but after more than a year of the MSM yelling OMG ANOTHER SCANDAL, everyone’s pretty over it.

      • If scandal is the criteria why no follow up of ashby brough etc. That scandal exisists and could fill pages for days. Also with a politician spending 900000 dollars on office expences and no examination or adverse comment scandal seems to be a one way exercise.

  11. Pingback: Old media caught with pants down, again! – TruthInNewsMedia

  12. Thank you ,I am appalled at what passes for journalism lately. So many times I have read further in a piece that has nothing whatsoever to do with the what the lead in promised.

    • And headlines. There are some interesting studies that compare headlines to the story. I’ll have to dig them out, but – from memory – the researchers found that headlines usually have little to do with the story, and that if people only read headlines, they get incorrect information.

      Ree Paton, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  13. While i agree with the sentiment of your article, you at the same time write with bias towards justifying her selection as a candidate. You can’t have it both ways.

    • Hmm, are you saying that someone who has been actively involved in health and education issues, in reconciliation, in mental health, is not a good candidate for parliament?

      This post isn’t about whether or not Nova Peris is a suitable candidate for the seat itself. It’s is about the way the story has been reported.

      As for bias in the post, I am not a journalist and this is not a news site. I used to be a journalist but left the industry a few years ago. This is a blog for my opinion.

      George, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing an autopsy on the rotting carcass of main stream journalism. Keep up the good work.

  15. If I was an ALP member, I would be ‘furious’ about the denial of a pre-selection process. However, the ordinary branch member never have say in who represents them. However, ‘one unnamed Labor member’ reminds me what the Chaser once said that they will always act to protect their made up sources. If the journalist cannot referrence it, the did it occur?

  16. Thanks, great example of how the ‘news’ is manipulated by so many people between the source and the story. This seems even more evident if you assume that when the ALP announced it wanted to endorse Peris, presumably it provided journalists with an outline of her credentials…

    • Absolutely. And they ignored it all to shout abut conflict and scandal. Even today, Mark Kenny is on the front page, writing about a smear campaign. Uh, if you know it’s a smear campaign, don’t put it on the front page of the supposedly intelligent broadsheet.

      Welcome to the News with Nipples.

  17. As a non-journalist who started properly reading the news because I cared about a particular issue and how it was being reported (climate change), and thinking ‘god what are these people doing, this is very wrong and at best superficial,’ and then as you read deeper you realise its not just your little pet topic that is being misreported, its the news full stop. Your analysis makes this point clearer than I ever could. Thankyou.

    • If you take out all of the useless words from “anonymous sources in the ALP/LNP”, there’d be plenty of room to cover stories in a half-decent way.

      James, welcome to the News with Nipples.

    • I don’t think all the news is reported poorly. Stories of crime, accidents, sport, international events are generally straight down the line.

      Where the Australian media – from News Limited, the ABC to Fairfax – lets us down is the reporting of politics. It’s shallow, sensational, unenlightening, trite and usually slanted to favour the Liberals or harm Labor in some way. Not all outlets are equally bad. News Limited is worst, a close second for the ABC, then Fairfax. Frankly I’ve given up on political coverage from the lot of them (Fairfax being an occasional exception). If they were to quit covering politics tomorrow, the population’s average IQ would jump 5 points, and our democracy would be the healthier for the cleaner air.

      • Sure, lots of stories are reported straight down the line. The SMH is getting better at reporting violence against women (they used to report it as though violence was just something that happened to women, rather than someone committing a crime), but not always. But political news is how people make up their minds about who to vote for, so it’s incredibly important for a democracy.

        Sport is a different issue. In today’s SMH sport section, there are 28 stories/opinion pieces and only three on on women’s sport: two on the tennis and one on the NSW Women’s Open (golf). That’s just 9.3 per cent.

        I haven’t read them (I’m not interested in sport) but a quick glance revealed that golfer Stacey Keating was described as a “bubbly 26-year-old”.

  18. Was the story published in SMH and National Times? Last time he tweeted, Mark Kenny was National Political Editor, The Advertiser, a Murdoch paper. Maybe Nat Times draws on various resources.

  19. Stuart Connolly

    SMH poached Mark Kenny in December 2012, for the role of Senior Political Correspondent.

  20. I’m afraid Murdoch is 70% of the print media and they are more interested in regrime change than protecting their brand.

    Take a Victorian Sun/Herald. Federal funding to hospitals increasing yet top right hand corner of the sun “Gillards Hospital Cuts”. My thought was, wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy that paper and find out what was going on in a 1000 words or less. Clearly that was not on offer, another sale lost. Just not interested in reading 1000 words of bullshit let alone paying for it.

  21. I’ve since discovered Kenny was recruited to replace Phillip Coorey, who moved to the Fin Review.

  22. Loving your research skills, something this article could clearly have done with a good dose of. How did you put it? Suckful. Brilliant.

  23. Thank you for the informed rant. It is a disgrace that it is now left to on-line sources to correct the most basic errors appearing in the old media.

  24. Two celebrity members of the Victorian parliament who were ‘successful’: Cricketer Sam Loxton and Seeker Athol Guy. Footballer Brian Dixon is another. But they were all Libs so don’t fit the meme. For Labor: Neil Nipper Trezise. Just for starters.

  25. Pingback: Welcome to Monday (or Tuesday) ~ 29 January 2013 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

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