That newspapers have very little influence on how ordinary people view the political process was brought home to me years ago when I was writing two columns a week for my then local newspaper The Canberra Times. One was my learned, intelligent and amazingly insightful coverage of the political events of the week and the other a crass, hastily written and relatively uninformed review of the previous day’s Canberra Raiders rugby league game.
The first time I was stopped in the supermarket and congratulated on the wisdom contained in my latest column I assumed with pride that it was my views of Paul Keating that had struck a chord. It was with some surprise that I realised my comments about Mal Meninga were what had actually moved a stranger to speak to me.
After repeated examples of the same phenomenon, it slowly dawned on me that no ordinary readers took any notice of what I wrote on the op-ed page. Normal people read the sports pages but flick past the political comment in the main part of the paper.
I should have realised that was the case from the times I spent behind the one way glass listening to Labor Party researchers probe swinging voters on how they formed their views about political events. Newspapers rarely featured as a source of information. So I guess the Labor Party would not be all the concerned by the front page lead in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week claiming that Labor Party members are jockeying for the positions that may be available if their party actually wins the forthcoming election.
The Tele story was, as we say in the trade, a real egg-beater job; the kind of story only written by a journalist desperate to come up with something different about an election campaign which is becoming a bit boring when one side appears to be so far in front. Steve Lewis, the author, could just have easily chosen to write about the naked ambition Malcolm Turnbull showed in declining to automatically endorse Peter Costello as the next leader of the Liberal Party.
But that, of course, would not have been nearly as good a yarn.