May 30, 2011

Innovation in Journalism: the death roll that is politics

At the moment politicians and reporters seem to be locked into a death roll. Both sides know they need to change, but neither side is able to break free.

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

Last week I was driving home when I heard a report on ABC radio about the Climate Change Commission report. The report began by telling me that the government and the opposition claimed it endorsed their policies.


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9 thoughts on “Innovation in Journalism: the death roll that is politics

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    One of the most appalling announcements made in years was Gillards’ claim that she was going to trade human beings with Malaysia because they dared to pay to get to safety and ask us for help.

    Not one journalist or media outfit in this country questioned her right to treat innocent human beings like trade objects.


  2. Colin Jacobs

    Hi Margaret. Interesting stuff and a well-deserved spruik for OurSay. I hear lots of doom and gloom about the journalistic death spiral but this, and the piece you wrote about The Journal Register Company, have given me cause to be optimistic. Looking forward to reading more from you in the innovation series.

  3. Stickey

    Reasoning over potential legislation left the Gallery years ago. The daily political “speak” is a series of drivelled one liners. We The Public are desperate to really find out what our electorate reps have as hopes and aspirations as legislation “oozes” across The Chambers. Now that The Third Party is having a big Senate presence, are we going to see a repeat of the Democrats bashing by reporting Irrelevance ? I suppose an appeal for unintended consequences of legislation is too much to “hope for”. Australia desperately needs economic and political leadership toward conserving our living standards through food security, Job support, and improved education standards after two decades of Dumbing Down.

  4. [email protected]

    It will be a shame indeed if journalism cannot review itself and break out of the tired old ways of covering politics and other issues, which you so clearly describe. It will make a job that once offered an irresistible mix of irreverence, courage, cynicism and idealism – irrelevant. And people such as those who are running OurSay on their own energy and ideas, will try to replace what was once a vital function in democratic societies. I say ‘try’ only because I still believe we need a fourth estate – but one that both informs and listens.

  5. Peter Fuller

    Have you seen any indication that Fairfax might be interested in this approach? Your final 2-3 paras seem to suggest that it might be a good fit for the campaign, assuming that the ABC doesn’t do anything more constructive than keep the idea under review.

  6. tinman_au

    Seems to me that OurSay should consider partnering with other “new” media groups….oh, I don’t know, Crikey perhaps?

    I really love the idea of a citizens agenda, and Crikey sort of goes that way (I like to think you guys read the comments section and get some inspiration for future articles from them), but a “Journo for Hire” type column, filtered through something like OurSay, would be super cool, and maybe the public could finally get some of the answers they are looking for (rather than the opinion/bias of the editor of *insert almost any paper today here*

  7. freecountry

    Historian John Hirst has observed that 19th century Australians saw their contemporary politicians in a very poor light, much as we do now (“Australia’s Democracy: A Short History”).

    Perhaps worse. Compared to the merciless tone of political cant during Australia’s formative years, much of what’s written today in the political columns is an eerie kind of glowing sycophancy in support of one political party or the another, more suited to pamphleteering than independent journalism. This in a country that once prided itself on its irreverence and distrust of authority. Politicians are happy to shed criticism like water off a duck’s back as long as the praise is just as loud.

    I know readers here will reflexively say “News Ltd” but it’s not actually confined to them. And for those with short memories, the Australian did frequently savage the Howard government while it was in office; it was after 2007 that they started giving any self-professed “conservative” politician a free pass. There are also, truth to tell, plenty of commentators talking about ideas rather than treating politics as sports betting. They just don’t make it onto the main pages, or get to host big shows like Q&A.

    The temptation to treat politics and journalism as an inseparable chicken-and-egg problem is obvious, but I think it just lets both estates off the hook. Lindsay Tanner, for all his professorial air, has only one notable talent and that’s buck-passing. In his time he’s blamed all the state governments, the federal opposition, and now the media, for what he basically admits to be a political failure. Paul Keating didn’t make excuses, he figured out how do extraordinary reforms in a very ordinary environment. And let’s put one of Tanner’s myths to rest: the press gallery was no better in the 1980s and 90s than it is today.

    I think these issues have to be dealt with separately. The media is a disgrace, more interested in corralling the public than informing us. Margaret Simons is doing great work getting to the heart of that problem and demonstrating serious alternatives.

    The failure of politics and politicians is a separate issue, and whenever I hear MPs blaming the media I know I’m listening to a dud. By the same token, a politician who just goes with the flow, takes the easy path, is also a failure. If journalists fail to explain what’s going on, I expect someone in Parliament House to step into the breach. Some, like Malcolm Turnbull and Nick Xenophon, are a lot more interesting and informative than most journalists. Perhaps that’s why we hardly ever get to read them: newspapers are still acting as information gatekeepers and journalists don’t like to be made obsolete.

    Treat them separately, that’s my suggestion. Blame politicians for the failure of politics; blame journalists for the failure of journalism. Only then will we see the difference between those who make excuses and those who have something of substance to offer.

  8. westral

    Anyone else think a lot of the problem is due to the concentration of ownership of media outlets and pressure on reporters to follow the comany line? If they can’t report the news they report people’s reaction to the news which is less controversial.

  9. e519989892b90f8199a1310198f5e801

    Great comments. If anyone has ways to support us in achieving our citizen’s agenda campaign, shoot us an email at [email protected]. We need people posting, voting and sharing questions on the site to prove the concept. We need more and more media partners who believe in the need for a change to the political-media landscape. We need people who believe in what we are doing and can donate money. Let us know if you can help by emailing us at [email protected].

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