I’ll have a story in the Crikey email bulletin today about the ABC’s announcement this morning of a new 24 hour television news channel. Read that story for the political implications.

Content makers will be more interested in what it will mean for them, and for the news.

ABC journos frequently complain that depth suffers these days because they are called on to provide content round the clock, for online, radio and television, with no new resources. I gather there will be more journalists hired to service the new channel, but I can’t find out how many.

ABC Managing Director Mark Scott is surely right in thinking that the ABC must be able to provide continuous news if it is to stay relevant in the new media age.

Yet there are questions about the nature of the news service the ABC provides. Should it be aiming to “cover the field”, making sure that it provides comprehensive coverage of national, international and business news – at least as comprehensive as its commercial rivals?

Undoubtedly, and one could argue that it already does this pretty well.

Should it serve regional Australia with local news, given that rural areas have been so comprehensively abandoned and shoddily treated by commercial radio and (athough it is a patchy picture) organisations like Fairfax Media?

Certainly. Once again, the ABC ticks that box, although not always as well as it should. And it is a bit rich for commercial radio to complain that the ABC’s Broadband hubs in regional areas are unfair competition. Commercial radio has long provided dirt cheap networked services to regional areas because they could get away with it. If they want to take the ABC on, then bring back the local journalists and start gathering local news!

On top of all this, should the ABC aim to break news, both national and local. Should it set agendas by revealing new facts? Should it be brave and controversial? Should it be at the cutting edge of investigative journalism?

It is this area where the ABC is vulnerable to criticism. When did Auntie last consistently break major news stories?

In this interview, ABC Director of News Kate Torney answered this question by saying that the ABC broke many stories at a local level that did not necessarily register on the conciousness of media commentators. Perhaps.

Can we have a list, please? I’d be glad to publish it.

Four Corners still kicks the occasional goal. Local radio (more than the News and Current Affairs area) sometimes sets agendas through its interviews. Yet there is little doubt that the breaking news capacities have gone off the boil over the last few decades. Too often Background Briefing makes what should be quarter of an hour of content stretch over the entire program. Too often, one gets the sense that some ABC journalists regard making more than two telephone calls on a story as an undue burden.

So, when Mark Scott promises that the new news capacity will lead to more depth, one has to ask if this will be only analysis, or in actual new facts revealed, actual journalists making nuisances of themselves?

Sky News began as a dirt cheap repackager of content. At its best, it is better than that these days. What will the ABC’s new channel be?

A new news channel in these difficult times is good news for content makers and audiences. But let’s hope more news means  more facts revealed, not only a new package for familiar content.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.