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May 5, 2014

Who you gonna call? Meet Australia's biggest media tart

Who's Australia's biggest media tart? From a shallow pool of talent relied on by media to comment on the issues of the day, a few names dominate the airwaves ...

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When the true players won’t say much on the record and you’re sick of interviewing other journalists, you need people who’ll tell you what you probably already know in a way you can convey to your audience.

It helps if these people have big names, are happy to court controversy, and have a certain turn of phrase. These media tarts, often former players themselves, can offer insight on the way things are done, and the reasons behind the press conferences. Most importantly, they’ll take your call and hurry down to your studio when something breaks. For reasons of their own, they’re happy to have their face on a breaking story as an expert and guide. For some of them, that willingness has translated into lucrative paid gigs. For others, it just helps keep them relevant.

So who are Australia’s biggest media tarts? We sent a list of 20 likely suspects —  see the full list here — to media monitoring firm iSentia, which trawled its data for the number of interviews given by these well-known political commentators over the past six months.

Our figure show total quoted interviews, which means they take into account both exclusive interviews, things uttered and repeated in press conferences as well as interviews syndicated across a number of outlets. As such, they show who journalists think is newsworthy as well as those commentators who are happy to speak to the media. It takes two sides of the equation to make a media tart.

So who’s the biggest, the best, and the most quotable? None other than former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett.

He’s got plenty of feathers in his hat. Kennett’s the chairman of Beyondblue, and until 2011 was president of Hawthorn Football Club. Last year he joined Seven as its national political commentator, adding regular TV roles to his radio work. His pronouncements continue to make headlines. In the past fortnight alone, he was in The Daily Telegraph advising New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, speaking to the ABC about courage in political life, and penning opinion pieces in the Herald Sun about the retirement age. A former ad man premier with a love of AFL — you’d be hard pressed to find a more versatile person to throw on air, or to commission in print.

The second player on our list rose to prominence as the young, charismatic face of the Australian Workers’ Union, Paul Howes. A rare powerbroker who wasn’t afraid to call himself one, he was, however, reluctant to comment to Crikey when we gave him a ring this morning. And indeed, while our data goes from November 1, 2013 to May 1, Howes has kept a decidedly lower profile since resigning from his position in late March.

Crikey understands Howes has only done four interviews this year. His last was with The Australian Financial Review after his retirement announcement, where he admitted to being a media tart, but said he only did it to give the union movement a loud, national voice. Even if, now no longer working for that movement, he keeps a lower profile, he’s given enough press conferences, interviews and speeches to ensure he’ll keep getting quoted even if he’s not saying much.

Number of interviews: November 2013 – May 2014

Paul Keating, the former prime minister, is the third most quoted figure. Like Howes, it’s less likely that he’s given hundreds of interviews than that when he does give one, everyone reports on it. But like Kennett, he’s also happy to weigh in on all and sundry when he feels like it. In the past month, he’s decried a new plan for the Sydney Botanic Gardens, and paid tribute to former NSW premier Neville Wran. Like Kennett, he’s a politician known for his charisma and turn of phrase, so it’s no surprise the media is happy to have him whenever he deigns.

Sky News presenter and former Labor insider Graham Richardson is fourth on our list. He’s followed by the only woman to make the top five, former NSW opposition leader Kerry Chikarovski — another favourite at Sky and ABC’s The Drum who also hosts her own radio show.

The heavy hitters are largely male, white and middle-aged. After Chikarovski, Amanda Vanstone was interviewed 472 times, despite her recent role in the Commission of Audit. That puts her behind people like John Hewson, Gerard Henderson or even Victorian Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger. Former NSW premier Kristina Kenneally was only quoted 20 times over the period, coming dead last out of the names Crikey gave to iSentia. It’s an astonishingly low figure given her place in recent history. But we could see more of Kenneally soon — she’s filling in for Ita Buttrose on Studio 10 later this month.

iSentia’s figures show both media mentions and people actually quoted in the media. On mentions, John Howard dominates with more than twice the coverage of the next most-mentioned commentator, Keating. But Howard is quiet — he’s been quoted only 2466 times across all media in the past six months.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

Myriam has been Crikey’s media reporter since 2014. Before that, she was a business journalist with sister site SmartCompany, covering economics and corporate strategy.

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