When a major news event sets media keyboards clattering, it can look like a commentary free-for-all. But in fact, the punditariat follows a careful pattern. Australian cricket’s ball-tampering scandal has allowed us to identify the media’s taxonomy of takes.
That tweet you read on waking up last Sunday, the early article with a few facts, a sense of crisis and the tag “More to come”; the “hot take” is the equivalent of the dispatch from the front line, although plenty of armchair generals offer them too. The issue is still new, the outrage freshly kindled. The danger is advancing a position or speculating on what happened in ways that prove unsustainable, but you need to get in early.
The kind of thing you would have read first in the analogue media days — a properly filed report and informed comment piece written with at least a little time for reflection and out of the white heat of ongoing events. Not necessarily any less outraged than the Hot take but with a more solid epistemological and analytical grounding.
Beyond that, though, it gets more complicated, as the take classifications proliferate.
Exemplified best this week by arguments that what the Australians had done wasn’t that serious. The Australian‘s Jack the Insider has played the contrarian as almost a Lone Hand™, noting how lightly ball-tampering has been treated by other countries. Today, noted drug cheat Shane Warne joined him.
The take for the sake of a take take
Normally the province of Fairfax’s Peter Fitzsimons, the TFTSOATT adds virtually nothing to anyone’s understanding of the event, but fills a column and might even draw praise on social media. It is there primarily because the author, and their editor, know that a take is expected, regardless of whether they can add value.
The political take
Permanently on the lookout for outrage bandwagons to jump onto, politicians stand ever ready to offer a take. Malcolm Turnbull moved rapidly to express outrage about the scandal despite the fact that the political class is several orders of magnitude lower on the public trust scale than sportsmen and women. Characteristically, Bill Shorten waited to get a sense of which way the issue was going before weighing in, but even then held off going too far. Just in case …
You’re angry now? The Aussies have been doing it for years! The hipsters are the ones who insist they’ve known about this for ages. Almost entirely made up of former and current foreign players, they all insist this is old news. But bonus points if you’re an Aussie of foreign heritage who has always disliked the local cricket team.
There is no scandal that is not ripe for a corporate governance-style “key leadership lessons from ball-tampering” take. Normally they’re found in the “Nuclear holocaust unleashed, ASX200 set to tumble” pages of the Financial Review, and lo and behold there it was. Kudos also to the SMH and our sister-publication The Mandarin.
Outrage at the outrage takes
From people angry that everyone else isn’t as angry as they are about something entirely unrelated, and feel the need to tell us, either as virtue-signalling or to display a kind of snobbish elevation from the hoi polloi. Refugee advocates appeared particularly incensed that the nation would get up in arms about sport but not about asylum seekers, thereby demonstrating one of the core reasons why they’ve so utterly lost the debate on asylum seekers. But while most were content to merely tweet to that effect, professional Problematic Detector Van Badham devoted hundreds of words to it in — where else? — The Guardian.
Every event cycle, there’s always at least one journalist who, in an attempt to find something fresh to say, gets it badly wrong. This time around it was Fairfax’s Malcolm Knox, who wrote “This is cricket’s #MeToo moment”. Yes, a grown man actually compared some sports cheating to rape, serious sexual harassment and virtually industrial scale cover-up of it.
This is when you use one issue to make a point about an entirely unrelated issue. Step forward Victorian Liberal leader Matthew “Lobster With a Mobster” Guy, who wrote on Twitter (if you’re one of the minority of Twitter users Guy hasn’t blocked) “Why would Steve Smith go when the example set by Victoria’s Premier is that it’s ok to break the rules and cheat. No leadership.” Or there was Alan Jones, who used it to attack Malcolm Turnbull. Both to be read to the sound of the world’s longest bow being drawn.
Struggle to find alternative takes takes
The only remaining take is for someone to get meta on it all.