The Labor spindoctors would be very happy with how they stage-managed the Victorian election and kept a reasonably compliant media at bay as you can see from this assessment of how the key outlets performed.

Doubtless, many individual editors, journalists and media consumers will disagree with some of the observations so send in those emails to [email protected]

The Age:

Solid but unspectacular overall coverage. No major glitches.

BEST: Excellent in-depth coverage of some issues: Tom Noble on patients on trolleys; James Button and Karen Kissane on the leaders wives and the spin doctors. Gay Alcorn’s coverage of the greens.

BREAKING NEWS: Paul Robinson breaking the news employers were upset about being named in the Liberal IR ads, although Robbo should have done more with IR during the campaign as a whole. Ewin Hannan reporting a former public servant Michael Laker accusing Bracks of running an illicit advertising slush fund.

BOO-BOOS: The Age failed to dig deep enough into Laker’s past – he turned out to be a Liberal party member who had sought endorsement as an election candidate. This blunted the effect of an otherwise strong story. Took a while to fire up on IR but at least published some criticism of the Brumby budget update from Ewin.

RATING: 7.5

(Disclosure: The Age employed Crikey to write a weekly column on the media’s performance during the campaign which clearly resonated with the one million readers who did not send a single email in response.)

The Herald Sun

Entertaining, unpredictable, occasionally wacky.

BEST: The key social issues survey, conducted in week II, which flushed out the effective gag placed on Labor MPs on issues such as abortion and heroin injecting issues.

BREAKING NEWS: Sunday Herald Sun splash on the former FOI manager who blew the whistle on the Bracks Government’s appalling FOI record. John Ferguson’s front page “scoop” publicising Robert Dean’s excuse for falling off the electoral roll – that he and his wife had unsuccessfully sought children under the IVF program.

BOO-BOOS: Turning the Dean disaster into a fluffy human interest angle was just a little too cute – particularly since it buried the real news in the story; that Dean admitted only living at his Gembrook address for a mere two or three days.

RATING: 6

The Australian

Competent coverage on the ground- but poor news judgement by the news desk emphasised the paper as Sydney-centric. Not a good look in the Melbourne market to fail to even get the Robert Dean story on the front page.

BEST: Hard-hitting state political reporter Alison Crossweller didn’t miss a beat. Mike Steketee weighted in with a thoughtful feature on election eve and Stuart Rintoul provided an insightful Saturday profile on Robert Doyle.

BOO-BOOS: Leaving aside the calling of the poll and the election day Newspoll, they only had one front page story for the entire campaign. And that for a nationally-focused IR angle.

RATING: 6.5

The Australian Financial Review

Tradesmanlike coverage.

BEST: The best election-eve editorial, putting Bracks on notice that he cannot afford to coast through a second term on increasinlgy soft budget numbers.

BREAKING NEWS: Nil.

BOO-BOOS: State reporter Mark Skulley filed a feature last Friday containing a couple of factual errors. And they were gullible in buying the Brumby line that the budget was in great shape.

RATING: 5.5

Channel Nine

Best of the TV coverage in a news sense but ruined by the cricket on election night.

BEST: Effective two-pronged coverage, with bureau chief David Broadbent covering the main news and offsider James Talia providing wider coverage of issues and minor parties. They were even-handed and insightful.

BREAKING NEWS: No significant scoops.

ELECTION NIGHT: Ruined by the cricket which even ABC radio decided should not get in the way of the election results. Richo and Kroger were their usual insightful self and we loved it when former National Party leader wrongly attributed the “you can’t shoot Bambi” line to Laurie Oakes and Sunday. State political reporter David Broadbent should have been used better on the night.

BOO-BOOS: Blunder-free campaign in a news sense but going with the cricket was a major mistake.

RATING: 7

Channel Seven

The longest serving state political reporter and Seven bureau chief Brendan O’Donohoe put in a solid but unspectacular campaign.

BEST: Brendan’s demolition job on Robert Dean, who was “a dill” and “a silly sausage” for losing his enrolment eligibility.

BREAKING NEWS: None, although Brendan’s profiles on the wives of the leaders was an interesting point of difference and something worth doing.

ELECTION NIGHT: Packaged up a one hour offering from 7.30pm to 8.30pm and then broke into programming for the leaders’ speeches. Panellists Lynne Kosky and Louise Asher were the B-team and refusing to go ad-free was another failing.

BOO-BOOS: Brendan knows the round backwards – but chose not to use his contacts to dig deep and break any important news. He also made a goose of himself at the beginning of the 6pm news bulletin on election night when he said Labor had only controlled the upper house for “a few minutes” previously and that they stood “no chance” of gaining control of the upper house. It was actually “a few weeks” and Labor looks likely to control the upper house.

RATING: 5

Channel Ten

BEST: Good double-barrelled attack; Gareth Boreham led the coverage, delegating broader coverage to a memorable reporters whose name just escapes us (Ed. Martine Griffiths, whose campaign was highlighted by an interview with candidate-stripper Maxine in which the former Playboy model illustrated her bush policy in memorable fashion).

BREAKING NEWS: Nothing as usual but the 5pm bulletin and minimal resources does make it difficult.

ELECTION NIGHT: The 5pm national bulletin made it difficult to really crank up the coverage and then they could only offer up a few minutes on a late news bulletin after 10.30pm.

BOO-BOOS: Error-free campaign although Gareth was a little jittery in his live crosses to Mal Walden during the late news on Saturday night.

RATING: 6.5

ABC TV

A solid effort by Michael Magazanik and after a slow start, the 7:30 Report’s Heather Ewart. Three strong contributions from Stateline although the election eve panel was a little flat with the Herald Sun’s John Trevorrow and The Age’s Michael Gawenda not offering up too many great insights.

BEST: Ewart filed a couple of in-depth pieces. Her story on Labor’s likely sweep of Geelong was good – but not agenda-setting, particularly from an experienced political journalist with stints in Washington, Canberra et al. Ian Henderson’s moderation of the Bracks-Doyle debate was the standout individual performance of the campaign.

A true pro, Henderson should have been used more throughout the campaign.

Stateline’s contributions were in depth and well-researched, with each show coming from a key region of the state.

BREAKING NEWS: Tracey Kirkland scored the first big scoop of the campaign with her story in the second week revealing the State Government has sat on a report for 18 months recommending changes to ambulance services that would have saved lives.

ELECTION NIGHT: Antony Green makes all the difference and his seat analysis put Aunty well ahead of the game. Channel Nine’s Graham Richardson and Michael Kroger made for a more entertaining panel than Aunty’s Ted Baillieu who really took some punishment from John Brumby. Antony Green called the election result first at 6.52pm but Aunty stuffed up by missing the beginning of Robert Doyle’s concession speech so some viewers thought he hadn’t congratulated Steve Bracks. Kerry O’Brien performed well as usual and Ian Henderson managed to butt in more often than Fran Kelly managed at the last Federal election.

BOO-BOOS: Having scented blood with the Kirkland scoop, the ABC let the story rot on the vine after the Bracks media headkickers silenced the doctors. A strong scoop demands a strong follow-up – no matter what the political sensibilities.

RATING: 7

A Current Affair and Today Tonight

Both appalling efforts. TT is made in Melbourne and didn’t even make a token effort. ACA’s Friday night round table with Phil Cleary, Neil Mitchell and Collette Mann was lightweight pap with Mitchell saying how great it was that Jenny Doyle’s stays at home and Cleary making a clown of himself with lines such as “Doyley needs a girly”. This format should be discarded once and for all.

RATING: ACA: 1, TT: 1

ABC RADIO

Kate Arnott supplied adequate news coverage, Jon Faine and Virginia Trioli did well despite being pushed aside by the Test cricket.

BEST: Jon Faine’s debates with key Ministers and their Shadows. Gave a real insight on the policies and personalities involved. Trioli’s acid tongue – she didn’t let either side take any free kicks and also scored well with the Daniel Grollo and Martin Kingham interviews.

BREAKING NEWS: Also ran Tracey Kirkland’s scoop in tandem with ABC TV.

BOO-BOOS: Poor programming. What’s with broadcasting a one-sided cricket series when there’s political jousting in the air?

RATING: 6.5

(Disclosure: Crikey is paid $50 a week to appear on Trioli’s program each Tuesday at 5.40pm so tune in on Dec 3 for the last spot of the year.)

3AW

Good coverage by state reporter Craig Wilson, although he tended to follow Bracks a little too much, which is not a great look when your mum is a former Labor MP in the Victorian Parliament.

Neil Mitchell was often behind the pace and failed to turn up on the day Bracks called the election although he was first to air with the Robert Dean scoop. Mitchell’s election night team with help from Nick McCallum and Steve Murphy put in a solid performance.

Stan Zemanek was hopelessly out of his depth and lost part of his audience to Jeff Kennett before he resigned from 3AK five days before polling day.

BEST: Craig Wilson was first onto the only big story of the campaign, the Dean Fiasco.
BREAKING NEWS: Mitchell handled the Dean story competently, seizing on its significance engaging in a crisp interview with former Kennett media attack dog Steve Murphy which took the story forward before rivals Faine or Hinch got near it.

BOO-BOOS: Zemanek totally out of his depth and Mitchell not showing up on the Monday when Bracks called the election.

RATING: 7

3AK

Jeff Kennett looked finally to have come of age as a shock jock – until he imploded in the last week. Hinch was OK, but simply too laid back and off the pace.

BEST: Kennett was in his element. The cut and thrust of the campaign suited him and his daily discussion with Channel Nine’s David Broadbent was a must for observers and participants.

BREAKING NEWS: The only breaking news was Jeff – the good, the bad and the bizarre.

BOO-BOOS: just as he was cranking up, Kennett pulled the pin. Amazing stuff.

RATING: how do you rate this weird outfit? Pick a number. Six for effort, 10 out of 10 for sound and fury signifying – nothing.

Crikey Media

Serviceable effort and was first to predict the implications of the landslide with Charles Richardson’s excellent pieces.

Editor Stephen Mayne went back to his pro-Liberal biases when the landslide appeared to be on but at least took a critical swing at the Brumby budget update which no-one else in the mainstream attempted.

Naturally, this is completely ridiculous assessing our own work so please send in your thoughts to [email protected] and we’ll happily publish them.

Peter Fray

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