It’s time to get new journalists because these ones are borked

This is the main election story on smh.com.au this afternoon:

Incredibly useful reporting from Tony Wright, the national affairs editor of The Age.

Incredibly useful reporting from Tony Wright, the national affairs editor of The Age.

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:

Two election stories on dailytelegraph.com.au

Two election stories on dailytelegraph.com.au

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”?

10 responses to “It’s time to get new journalists because these ones are borked

  1. Groundhog Day.
    The voter/public is doomed to relive the terrible 2010 election non-reporting.

  2. No, l don`t think they have paid attention, going on the last 3-years. l have been saying for about a year now, Grogsgamut will be able to tweak and relaunch his post that unhinged Limited-News. 🙂

    • You’re right. As soon as I posted that reply I thought, the reporting over the last three years is evidence that they haven’t paid attention at all. Which is a shame because why would you ignore your biggest customers, the ones who are most passionate about your product?

  3. I don’t really have anything to say because you said it all, but as usual I shared on facebook for my charming and intelligent friends to nod along to.

    PS apropos of nothing here, I just finished my Masters and got offered a really good job starting next year. YAY ME. I am so very happy.

  4. I’m starting to believe that we really ARE the ones with the issue. I rave about this stuff all the time, and I’m pretty sure I’m just boring the pants off whoever stopped to listen.

    Very little is covered with any… intelligence these days? Is it because journalists don’t/can’t specialise in a topic they’re experts in so they don’t care? Or is it that the Editors no longer care, because we’re buying the product anyway?

    I can’t be this old and grumpy this soon; what will I have to look forward to?

    • Oh, that’s easy – you can look forward to bashing your head against a brick wall in the newsroom, and then maybe, just maybe, a few colleagues will listen and start to think about the stories they write.

      I don’t think it’s any one reason that’s the problem. It’s all of those things you suggested, plus it’s news organisations gutting newsrooms (never management) to save money. Plus, it’s journos writing for each other instead of their audience, so they assume the reader has seen the same info/media conference that they have and so don’t explain it. Plus, it’s the belief that all a story needs is a quote from both sides. Plus, journalists think the horse race is interesting and haven’t realised that very few people give a shit about that.

Go on, you know you have something to say...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s