Tag Archives: 2013 election

Fairfax’s fact-checking failure

The editors and journalists at Fairfax just don’t get how to use their fact-checking info.

Ok, so it’s mind-boggling that Fairfax has said, yep, we don’t fact-check the news we publish, so for the election, for a gimmick, we’re going get PolitiFact to do it for us. Apparently that doesn’t bother people like it bothers me. But at least they’re checking things, unlike News Ltd. So there’s that, I suppose.

But they really don’t understand what to do with the information PolitiFact gives them.

Take this story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme to begin July 2015. In the paper it’s on page 8, with the headline “Liberals smooth out the bumps with $6b paid parental leave scheme”. It’s buried deep in the bowels of smh.com.au – I had to google the first sentence of the story to find it. Below the story (in the paper), running across pages 8 and 9, is the fact-check statement from PolitiFact – Working mothers won’t be $21,000 better off under Coalition plan – which labels Tony Abbott’s claims as “mostly false”.

So, you’d expect that information to be mentioned in the story, right?


BAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Of course not.

Instead, we have 476 words from Jacqueline Maley about the scheme, including the claim that women will be $21,000 better off under the Coalition’s parental leave scheme, with no mention that the claim is nonsense. Honestly, what is the point of partnering with Politifact if you don’t put that information in your stories? I don’t understand how any journalist and any editor would think it’s ok to put the news in one section, and the facts over there in a different section. It’s just bizarre.

And, in keeping with the Australian journalism approach to online news, the two damn pieces aren’t even linked on the website. Nope. If you’re reading the fact-check statement, you can’t click to the story that it’s about. If you’re reading the story – if you managed to find it – you can’t click through to the fact-check statement. How can they be so clueless?

It’s a crazy idea, I know, but isn’t the point of fact-checking to put that info inside the story?

Information? Oh, we don’t put that in the news anymore, silly

I didn’t watch the debate last night. I was at the pub with my derby gang after training, which was a much better way to spend an evening.

So, this morning I thought I’d check the MSM for information about the debate. You know, what Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott said, whether they announced any policies, and how their claims stacked up when they were fact checked.

I wanted some news.

Shush, I can hear your laughter from here.

This is the debate coverage across the top of smh.com.au this morning:

Coverage of last night's debate between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott on smh.com.au.

Coverage of last night’s debate between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott on smh.com.au.

There’s an opinion piece by Peter Hartcher about who won – based on style, rather than substance – and 861 words by Judith Ireland (with AAP) about Kevin Rudd using notes during the debate and whether that makes him a cheater, and a video of the same news story. To put the 861 words about a simple “yes he had notes, no they weren’t allowed” into perspective, this whole post about the coverage on two websites is 476 words.

Hartcher’s piece mentioned that both Rudd and Abbott “ducked the question on building Sydney’s second airport”, so after reading the smh.com.au coverage I know about one question from an hour-long debate between the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

Righty-o then.

At dailytelegraph.com.au, there was one story at the top of the website this morning:

How dailytelegraph.com.au started their coverage of the debate.

How dailytelegraph.com.au started their coverage of the debate.

But it was replaced a short time later by this:

MAKE IT BIGGER - the same dailytelegraph.com.au story a short time later.

MAKE IT BIGGER – the same dailytelegraph.com.au story a short time later.

I guess they didn’t want smh.com.au to be the only ones shouting CHEATING CHEATERER.

The story is by Patrick Lion and it’s from the News Limited Network so it’ll be the same story on every website: Election debate: Kevin Rudd accused of cheating after using notes during debate. It’s 496 words about the notes, and not a single mention of any of the topics that were discussed. So, after reading the dailytelegraph.com.au coverage I don’t know anything about the questions in an hour-long debate between the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

Don’t get me wrong – the notes story is a story. But it’s not the story because it’s not really important. Having notes at a debate has fuck-all to do with helping people to decide which party’s plan for the future is the one they want to support. Because that’s the whole damn point of the debate.

But the notes story is an easy one to write. It’s a lot easier than reporting what Rudd and Abbott said and doing some research into their policy ideas and fact-checking their claims and finding a clever way to include all of this info in the same story so it’s actually useful to your audience.

PS – If you want to know about the content of the debate, abc.com.au has broken it down question by question, and junkee.com’s Jess O’Callaghan explains the debate with gifs in a piece that contains more info than Fairfax and News Ltd combined.

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”?

All the better to see pointless journalism

Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to be blogging a lot about stooopid journalism between now and September 14? I kinda feel bad for the Sydney Morning Herald because I always focus on them, but I don’t read News Ltd rubbish so I don’t blog about their nonsense.


Today’s example of pointless journalism is All the better to see the opposition with, by Judith Ireland and Shelly Horton.

Here’s the story in the paper, on page three:

Story about Julia Gillard's glasses in the Sydney Morning Herald

The large blue photo holds the story

Page three is important real estate. Yet almost half of page three is taken up by this story about the Prime Minister’s glasses. Specifically – ooh, it’s a glasses pun – what people on twitter said about the Prime Minister’s glasses.

It took two journalists.

To write 306 words.

About what three people said on twitter.

As the Adelaide writer and “vampire hunter” Michael Scott Hand posted: “I don’t remember seeing Julia Gillard wearing glasses before. Is it because THIS TIME SHE MEANS BUSINESS?”

Some punters hypothesised that the member for Lalor was courting the youth market with the trendy new accessory. “It seems @JuliaGillard is already campaigning to the hipster voters with those new glasses. Well played,” wrote Kath McLellan of Sydney.

Then again, the glasses were suspiciously similar to the pair sported by the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. How hipster could that be?

Justin Colee (who describes himself as pro-carbon tax) had other ideas: “did @JuliaGillard borrow her glasses from Greg Combet?”

But they must be three influential people, right? People with thousands of followers, like @GrogsGamut or @HelenRazer? Nope. Michael Scott Hand has 215 followers. Kath McLellan has 29. And Justin Colee has 19 followers on twitter. Only the tweet by Kath McLellan was retweeted, and that was once. Now, I’m not trying to poo on their sandwiches. I’m just questioning the editorial judgement of using two journalists to write a piss-arse story about what three people said on twitter, and then filling almost half of page three with that piss-arse story.

I’d also like to know if Julia Gillard said anything else during her address to the National Press Club on Wednesday. Because the coverage would indicate that she rocked up, said “Election’s on September 14, bitches” and left.

Here’s how the story is promoted on the smh.com.au homepage:

Smh.com.au makes a big deal out of the PM's glasses

It’s a pair of glasses. Get over it.

The caption under the photo of Julia Gillard reads: “What’s with the glasses? Election announcement plays second fiddle to PM’s specs.”

If a pair of regular, everyday glasses has played second fiddle to the Prime Minister’s address to the National Press Club, then it’s your fault, journalists. So what if a few people tweeted about her glasses? THOSE PEOPLE ARE NOT THE NATIONAL PRESS GALLERY. If you thought the coverage of the last election was bad – and pretty much everyone did – then just wait to see the rubbish the mainstream media will call “news” this time.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think news has to be stuffy and serious all the time. If it’s stuffy and serious then you’re not thinking enough about how you can tell stories. But honestly, this?