Sunday, February 3, 2013

Confessions of a News Junkie or Bye, Bye, Outdated Media, I've got a New Dealer

Note: To put this post into context, you may want to read the About page.

How did I go from being Outdated Media's biggest fanboi to a consumer openly advocating against a media’s vile product?

News vs. Opinion
The first and biggest problem for me was the almost insidious shift from fact-based news to the relentless drivel from small minded people being passed off as faux intellectual ‘opinion pieces’.

Somewhere along the line media outlets decided what consumers were clamouring for was their opinion. The who, what, when, where, why and how much of any news event often gets brushed aside, or totally ignored, in the journalist’s rush to furnish you with their personal take on events. Worse, the arrogance with which it is delivered manages to imply the audience are mindless drones who should feel privileged to perch at their feet, catching their pearls of wisdom.

News without much in the way of facts is just opinion and opinions are like arseholes – everybody’s got one. Let me make it clear. I don’t give a rats arse about any journo's opinion. I'm quite capable reviewing and assessing facts, ascertaining their validity, conducting my own analysis and finally, determining my own view. What I want is from journalists is to deliver verified facts clearly, succinctly and in a timely manner - leave the rest to me.

It became apparent to me news was rapidly being filtered through the various lenses of political news publishers. The particular hue of the filter being applied to journalists, editors, and sub-editors varies with each outlet but is consistently cast over every article or broadcast. While I understand, and totally support, the right of any publisher to shape their news business, I will never subscribe to the belief that news businesses should be permitted to deliberately, methodically and ruthlessly shape political outcomes.

I flat-out refuse to pay media outlets to deliver to me their pre-packaged, political outcome driven opinions!

As for the ABC I believe, as a national broadcaster, their role should be to deliver the unvarnished facts. As an ideal to aspire to, the citizenry of every country should be able to access at least one news source that is devoid of opinion. In Australia we are incredibly privileged to have such a broadcaster. However the quality of political news being delivered today is questionable.

Much of the news presented is positively laden with politically affiliated opinion. Political news is distorted beyond all recognition by the many dubiously-sponsored shills and to my mind, as it stands at present, the ABC fails abysmally in its role as a trusted national news source. I can pretty much pre-empt, almost verbatim, what each political guests opinion will be!

Australia’s universities are chock-full of experts in their fields. As a country we are blessed that many of them are global leaders in their speciality. If the ABC is going to host discussions eliciting opinion, surely we should be ensuring those invited are real experts who are professional enough to discuss the matter without a cast-in-stone political bent!

News Quality
The other key change concerns news quality. In the past, consumers were presented with as much factual detail as possible - sans opinion. You could trust that any news delivered would have been fact-checked. Not any more. These days, my trust in news as a source is almost zero. The lack of factual detail and the lack of quality control, combined with the filters being applied at both the journalist and publisher levels means much of what is dished up as news is politically skewed mis-information. I won't be shelling out my hard-earned on crap!

I’ve long heard the complaint the introduction of the 24/7 newscycle and fewer resources mean journo's don’t have time to check details. Well here’s a tip. Google it. There are many trusted statistical sites including the ABS and the RBA, and most of the claims about the current state of the economy can be fact checked in minutes. Think some one has flip-flopped on their position? A  few clicks on your keyboard and you will be able to access the almost perpetual memory of the internet – the new worst enemy of the lying politician.

I can hear journalists across the country screaming that I’m full of shit and what the hell would I know? What I know is almost every day, within moments of an article being published or broadcast, the twittersphere and various blogs have not only identified the inaccuracies in a matter of moments but have dissected the news event itself simply by harnessing the power of technology.

A perfect example as to when technology can become a journo's best friend, is when it comes to claims such as ‘the cost of living higher than it’s even been’. A minute on Google would enable you to verify using trusted sources, that the statement was in fact a crock of shit. And if technology is really beyond the ken of a journo’s understanding try getting a bloody expert on speed dial!

Above all journo's are only entitled to an opinion that can be logically drawn from the facts, but they are never entitled to their own facts!  The drawing of long bows from bugger all information is a phenomenon pervading Outdated Media today. There is more honesty in saying ‘I don’t know as yet’ than there is in peddling bullshit. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know which option would garner more respect for your industry.

The Live Cross
On the plus side, technology has provided consumers with fantastic innovations. My personal favourite is the ability to watch almost any event, anywhere on the planet. With a live cross, I can witness events as they unfold.  I see what journo's see, I hear what they hear. I can take in the voice inflections, the body language and tone all adding context to the news event. Brilliant!

But here are a few tips for the Outdated Media - evolve. Can the ‘gotcha’ interview technique. It achieves two things – it makes the interviewer look like a toss-pot and - nothing.  If you want to value add to my experience try asking questions relevant to the news event. The current practice of hammering the interviewee with questions on every issue known to mankind means we have no focus on particular issues and instead relive groundhog day – every. fucking. day.

How about putting some NEW in news. Man up and tell the PR Regurgitators that repeating the same set piece is NOT news. Refuse to run their set propaganda pieces. As it stands, all media have succeeded in doing is putting viewers in a peperpetual political news coma.

What about setting up your recording equipment to hear both the question and the answer clearly and succinctly? I mean it wasn't it the journo's who were screeching about context being king?

And here's the big tip – recognise a redundant process when you see one. Talking heads giving me their opinion on what I just saw and heard for myself is a gross insult. Find another way for them to add value.

Policy vs Politics
If I wanted the glossy bullshit celebrimedia take on the world I run out and buy No Idea or Women’s Dodgy Weekly for my political sustenance.  When I consume my political news I have only a passing interest in the politics per se, but the news that rocks my world most profoundly is the dissemination of policy detail.  I want to know what the government of the day is doing in regards to governing my country.

Until news media industry shift their focus from the day-to-day political machinations to policy - the one thing that matters most to their readers - we will remain forever anchored in the trivial, petty dramas of govt whilst the real news, policy analysis, goes the way of the dinosaurs.

Know Your Job – AND DO IT!
If you are a political reporter, wouldn’t it make sense to become an expert in the field you are in? How about creating a network of specialists you can readily access?  Why not both?

It astounds me that we have a situation currently where news articles make claims about discounting Thomson’s vote or cries of ‘JG must stand down Craig Thomson’.  Both claims are pure nonsense. No Prime Minister has the power to discount a vote or to stand down an MP.  In fact, it could be illegal under the Crimes Act to interfere with the vote of an elected representative. Yet these absurd claims are not only published but passed off as fact and published repeatedly!

A quality journalist would point out the fallacy of such claims!

A political reporter must have more than a passing acquaintance with constitutional law in order to do their job. This could be said for other relevant bodies of knowledge including the National Budget, Economics, current economic statistics, prevailing economic conditions and drivers would be a bare minimum. Instead the current press gallery are nothing more than TV commentators able to recite the history of the latest story arc in their favourite soapie.

Without taking anything away from the professionalism of Leigh Sales, we had the bizarre situation in 2012, of her being awarded a Walkely for essentially doing what every other political journo failed to do.  The interview itself was a solid interview. Sales held Tony Abbott to account. She kept hauling him back to the facts despite his ridiculous claims. Exactly what every viewer wants to see – a politician mired in the truth.

But essentially the award was bit like the classic comedy skit where you ask for volunteers and everybody takes a step backwards leaving one person standing. Sales did her job. She did a good, solid job. She was very professional. But such is the appalling state of political news reporting in Australia at the moment, her interview was deemed exceptional, when really it was the standard that we should not so much aspire to but should be standard fare.

Again I can hear journo's calling 'bullshit'. I stand my ground and  refer journalists to the twitter storm unleashed during the interview as it unfolded. Study it, take in the comments, and learn a little about what your viewers really think about your interviewing ‘standards’.

Perspective – Get Some
As you read through news articles today it becomes apparent that every utterance has become big, hysterical news. This is perfectly illustrated with the nonsense over the announcement of the election date some 8 months out and the resignation of two senior ministers.

Yes. The announcement was a surprise, and yes it should have been news. But  it shouldn’t have warranted much more than the announcement and maybe a few lines of musing as to what her strategy might be, nothing more beyond that. Instead we get endless overly-hysterical hand-wringing over what was a simple announcement, including full page treatises to the new glasses she wore at the time of the announcement!

My tip to journo’s – put the date in your diary and grow the fuck up.

As every election rolls around we have a changing of the guard, old hands are replaced with new faces. It is part of the normal ebb and flow of life. Yes both Roxon and Evans are a big loss, yes it should have been reported. But what we were treated to was a flurry of reporting about how the political sky was caving in. The Outdated Media continued pushing this line even after the press conference with all those involved clearly demonstrated that nothing was further from the truth!

Just because journo’s aren’t being backgrounded on political manouverings and the announcement comes as a surprise doesn’t necessarily mean the story warrants 8 months of analysis based on precisely nothing. At the other end of the spectrum just because journo’s have been told something by an elected rep, doesn’t mean it is a story worth repeating.

Perspective. Learn to discern guys.

Oh, and while I am at it, not thinking the same way as your Press Gallery pals is not a crime. Please feel free not to follow the flock. It would be a refreshing change! It might also help to differentiate your business, which I have heard is in a world of financial hurt.

Failure to Report
Which brings me to what should have been the political story of the century, but which barely rated a mention. The Ashby/Brough conspiracy. Now I am not saying this story is Watergate, but I am saying that it is as close to Watergate this country has had in my lifetime.

A respected judge announces, in court findings, that there had been an intent to bring down the Speaker of the House of Federal Parliament. Now let that sink in for a moment. Now you would expect that any journalist worth their pen, would be hunting down the certain Walkley in that story right?

Instead of forests being cut down to support the investigative journalism in the biggest political scandal ever to cross journo’s desks, we got nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. All voters got was conspiratorial silence from media outlets with political agendas of their own.

And for the record, Brough not answering his phone, or Tony Abbott or Chris Pyne being allowed to brush the matter off not only speaks volumes about the state of journalism in this country it re-affirms media complicity in this matter. 

My New Dealer
For me it has been a long time between dime-extracting drinks at the Outdated Media well, largely because it is no longer a source I trust. At best it is political fodder for the masses. Mindless propaganda.

I absorb news in ever increasing quantities but my most reliable news sources are to be found in my carefully cultivated social media networks. A resource often held in disdain by professional journalists. Over time I have developed a network full of specialist experts and respected sources.  It includes professional analysts, economists, scientist's and tech guru's - even a Nobel Laureate. It is quick to respond and self-correcting. The consistently high quality engenders a higher degree of trust and as any news junkie will tell you it is vital to use a dealer you trust.


  1. Go Space Kidette! You can do more than 140 characters or less. :)
    Keep it up because this year is very important for the future of our nation and we need all hands to the pump.
    Come and have a drink at 'The PUB' some time. :)

  2. Oh, yes to everything in this post. I quit journalism a few years ago and now yell at the paper and tv and radio every day because of the lazy reporting.

    There are two things I just can't understand. One, why do journalists refuse to listen to what their audience says about their product? Can you imagine if a software company or a soft-drink company did that? And two, why can't political journalists see that every time they publish the comments of an unnamed MP, they are being used? Are they really that stupid?

    I love the news and journalists have ruined it for me.

  3. Well said SK.

    I call much of the opinion in the OM "adjectival". It's standard journalistic practice to use dramatic adjectives to attract the reader's attention but when the use of adjectives is skewed in such a way that negative adjectives are more frequently attached to one side of politics, then opinion is sneaking in. And sneaking in in such a way as not to be obvious to the "casual" consumer, although of course the more engaged consumer can see it quite clearly.

    Also, many journalists are just not very good at their craft, which is to extract the essential "facts" from a situation and present them in "context". I personally have experienced a number of events where I was present and where a report of the event later appeared in the media. In a number of them I had difficult recognising the event! One wonders what universities are teaching in journalism courses.

    This is now being shown up starkly, as you point out, by the increasing availability of direct streaming. The PM's press conference announcing the Evans and Roxon resignations is a perfect example. If all the tripe being served up by the OM about that conference were true, they should at least acknowledge the inevitable corollary - the PM, Evans and Roxon must surely be at the forefront of the next Oscar nominations!

    1. I agree that most journalists are not very good at what they do. But it's not a university problem, it's a newsroom problem. There's some research from the UK that shows that journalism graduates quickly dismiss what they've learned at uni (and the value of that education) in order to fit in with newsroom culture. From my own experience as a journalist, this happens in Australia too. As well, journalists don't write for their audience, they write for each other, and part of that is writing the same way as everyone else to show that you're part of the group. So, we all get the same story, just with different bylines. Group think.

      (Also, there's a good argument that universities shouldn't be tailoring j courses for the mainstream media as only about a third of journalism graduates are employed by the mainstream media.)

    2. Perhaps journalism courses need to address this group think behaviour of journalists because clearly it's a serious issue when they all sing from the same song sheet and for each other. Psychology classes, maybe.

      Fabulous piece, Space Kidette.
      Please keep them coming.

  4. Good on you SK you will do well