There comes a difficult stage in every relationship break up when one person knows it’s over but the other person is Barnaby Joyce.

Right now Australia’s media is going through that stage of deciding if they go cold turkey and block Barnaby’s texts or flick him the odd one word answer that keeps him hanging on in case he has something juicy. 

I am not meant to reveal this, but in newsrooms there is a very particular sound that is made when a text or email from a chronic attention seeker is opened. The journalist reading this press release or message will emit a short groan occasionally accompanied by an eye roll. Other journalists in the immediate vicinity will call out the names of likely candidates.  

Barnaby Joyce is now one of the people whose messages will provoke an eye roll and chorus of “Barnaby?”

When Joyce doubled down on his policy of Too Much Information this weekend there was a collective shudder through news organisations because we knew we were not reporting news anymore, no matter which way we looked at it. We are watching our favorite joke spin out of control and take down innocent bystanders.

There was significant empathy for Joyce’s ex-wife and children over the last few weeks. There was also a kind of face-palming sympathy for his new partner being caught in the middle of Barnaby and Malcolm’s morality arm-wrestle while she is pregnant. 

But after Barnaby decided to recite an awful spoken word poem about his baby daddy status in an interview at the weekend, attention shifted very firmly to the unborn child.

Remember Barnaby opposed marriage equality in part because of the right of every child “to know her or his mother and father.” There is actually not enough irony left in the world to report on Joyce. He has depleted global supplies.

So how do we stop now? How do we quit Barnaby because he sure as hell doesn’t want to quit us. Do we not attend his press conferences because it’s not actually news? Or are we ignoring the appetites of the public?

Political reporting has a horrible Hunger Games quality where journalists who don’t go to a press conference know they may miss something massive and earn only the wrath of their bureau chief. So quitting Barnaby will have to be a decision that comes from news management.

Barnaby’s misfortunes started with his accidental New Zealandness.

Just pause there for a moment and savor the irony. Barnaby was briefly, for one shining moment, a citizen of a country that is currently governed by an unwed pregnant woman. 

He was duly stood down and then re-elected and then announced his separation from his wife. 

In newsrooms, we loved it. It was great content. Gina Rhinehart had to open two new schadenfreude mining sites due to demand. 

When the Daily Telegraph dropped the baby news we all entered uncomfortable new territory and media split into two squirrelly camps of “why we did’t report on it” and “why we had to report on it”.

News organisations don’t usually have to make a decision to stop reporting a story but Joyce continuing to chum the waters of his own life presents us with a unique opportunity.

Not unlike when a boat goes down: save the women and children.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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