This is the main election story on smh.com.au this afternoon:
Yes, that’s right. The national affairs editor of The Age has written 375 words about a four-year-old child in the background of a photo. And the online editor at smh.com.au has decided the story is SO DAMN IMPORTANT that it’s the main image.
You can’t make this shit up.
And it IS shit.
Meaningless, trivial shit that gives their audience exactly ZERO information about the election.
Oh wait, there was one bit that could have been vaguely useful:
Mr Rudd visited the Ryde Uniting Church to talk up his government’s multicultural policies. The church runs regular English classes for the local Korean community, and Mr Rudd was keen to announce that his government would make the Korean language one of the top-five priorities for teaching in Australian schools.
Ok, so what are the other four priorities? And what other multicultural policies was the Prime Minister talking about? DID ANY JOURNALIST THINK TO ASK?
There are three election stories above the fold on smh.com.au this afternoon: the photobomber, a gaffe (discussed below) and 406 words from business reporter Matt O’Sullivan (with mainly AAP copy) about how outrageous it is that Anthony Albanese had a beer with Craig Thomson. Because now you can’t even have a beer with someone you used to work with. Come on, don’t you think there are more important stories to be covering?
Over at dailytelegraph.com.au, there are two election stories above the fold:
One is about how Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott will have a debate on Sunday, which is a very easy story to write – no need for any research or to examine any policy or indeed to ask any questions. Yet despite the story being based on a media release and containing no original reporting and no new quotes, it somehow has three goddamn bylines on it. You’d think that at least one of those journalists would have subbed the damn thing – it’s a mess.
The other story is wire copy from AAP in which Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury is asked to comment on a radio interview he gave. It mainly transcribes the interview. There’s no issue investigation – it doesn’t even go into what they were talking about. Just OMG GAFFE! Smh.com.au is running the same story but unattributed to AAP. I guess you pretend it’s the work of your own journalists when you’re trying to get people to pay for stories that are free everywhere else.
Most people have very little contact with politicians and so they get their political information from the news media. After all, providing information about the world is the central function of the news media. Yes, media organisations are businesses and they need to make money, but providing information to their audience is at the heart of it. So if you’re a journalist and you’re writing stories about the election campaign that contain fuck-all useful information about that campaign, then you seriously need to ask yourself if you’re in the right job. Sure, there’s plenty of room for the funny things that happen during an election campaign, but only if you’re also covering the election issues properly and I don’t see any evidence for that on these major news websites.
In The problem of the media: US communication politics in the 21st century, Robert McChesney writes, “democratic theory posits that society needs journalism to perform three main duties: to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies; and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues” (2004, p. 57). When’s the last time you saw Fairfax or News Ltd do any of those things? Fairfax has even admitted it doesn’t fact-check its stories and has outsourced that basic function to someone else – but just for the election campaign, mind you.
I’ve just realised that I could have saved myself all these words by asking just one question: When’s the last time someone tweeted or emailed a Fairfax/News Ltd story to you saying “wow, great story”?