“In a cluttered digital environment, fresh approaches are needed to ensure stories are created, published and shared in ways that are most useful to audiences.” This is the sort of lifeless PowerPoint language that always makes me long for death. It is also the means by which the ABC chose to herald its latest project, or, more properly, shareable multi-format content-harnessing project for hip-to-the-street-beat millennials, AKA ABC Life.
Let’s have a look, then, and see how that age range of persons is served. With a jazzy upbeat hip-to-the-doof-club leading article: advancing in your career without having to manage people. Marvel as the ABC addresses a fictional group of stakeholders who get to choose not only to have a career, but to excel creatively and financially in its many non-managerial and entirely productive trajectories totes available to all prepared to work hard enough to Be Excellent.
FFS. This is not “balanced”. This is not even real. Millennials are far more likely than the 40% of us who cannot claim to be truly employed to be truly underemployed and/or exploited in increasingly insecure work conditions. Does no one but me consider that the volume of complaints about sexual abuse and harassment at work may owe a little something to the deregulation of work itself? Moreover, the future even of those younger Australians who can ascend from irregular contract work into a reliable gig and the protections of Fair Work is likely to end up in management. As anthropologist David Graeber makes clear in his recent work Bullshit Jobs, the only roles within companies of the Western present that persist are administrative and managerial. Production is outsourced.
Next on the Life page is a story of first-time parenthood. It’s a very affecting and beautiful story about the sort of thing millennials are far less likely to experience than previous generations. Still. Don’t let facts like a crud job market and sub-replacement fertility get in the way of sunny copy that illuminates only falsehood.
Yesterday, Life was given breath. It was issued with its birth certificate from the ABC’s editorial director. In response to critiques from everyday Australians who feared that the site would be thick as shit and to concern from commercial media that it would duplicate existing enterprise, Alan Sunderland reassured us all. The project, he wrote, is not only “relevant, interesting, provocative, informal, funny and insightful” but also “new in the way it’s being gathered and presented to audiences”.
To be fair, Sunderland also tells us that Life is “not new at all”. And, if yesterday’s launch is any guide, he is entirely correct. Although ostensibly geared to its millennial stakeholders, Life does reheat the editorial principles that transformed ABC Local Radio from a tolerable and useful source of regional news and comment for midlife persons into an unstintingly pleasant budgie who chirps little more than “What do YOU think about organic cuttlefish? Worth the money? YOU can call me now.”
Last decade, ABC radio, and Local in particular, was transformed by the work of one Valerie Geller. This US consultant’s belief that personality and personal stories were the most dependable route to successful mass communication was taught directly to broadcast staff. If you detected a shift from neutral language to passionately narrativised accounts of the broadcaster’s own life, Geller was, in part, responsible.
This approach is not just Geller’s alone. It’s the spirit of the age, innit. Or, at least, it is the very ardent view of so many in the media class: the Personal Story is the only means by which we thickos who don’t work in media can understand any thing. And it is very widespread. In what was arguably his very worst work, Alain de Botton said that it was the job of news media to really personalise stories and, ugh, “save our souls from dying”.
You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, that post-truth statement of faith in consensus. That assertion that “many voices” will together form the sort of wisdom for which we all hunger and if only there were more Personal Stories on TV, all wrong things would fall to rights.
What is missing from such analyses is two things. First, the possibility that some audience members may care to acquire facts and perspectives rather than stories and voices. Second, the reality that legacy media are actually and necessarily hostile to “voices” that do not either parrot or, by means of false debate, reinforce the things that they are obliged to say.
On ABC Local, they enjoin “you you YOU” to get on that SMS line with your own instant take on a still-emerging news story; one that will never emerge on the ABC station to which you are listening as the broadcaster is required to eclipse this new story with their own personal reflections. On ABC Life, a crisp and sassy tone, distinguishable from cheerful government policy copy by the occasional use of slang, eclipses reality just as well.
I am aware, of course, that to be “negative” in the present is considered a great sin. The positive smarm, however, of this absolutely-not-new abhorrence is, in my view, just as dangerous. Just how another article yesterday promoted with the question “forget the house, who should get the dog after a breakup?” is millennial-geared is beyond me. Millennials simply cannot purchase houses to fight over. Still. They use the word “bae” in the copy. And Claire Hooper’s podcast about what to do with your “wealth” is also wont to use this fresh and sassy language. And, hey, get a “side hustle” you millennial go-getter. Which I believe is ABC Millennial PowerPoint speak for “actually existing available work to prevent one from starving or even greater housing insecurity”.
It’s not so much that this stuff on housing and wealth replicates commercial enterprise as it does state propaganda about a great millennial future. The ABC hasn’t dumbed down. It’s already dumb and enslaved to the narratives of the state and its partner economy. Life, like so many other peppy and fatally pleasant parts of its upbeat project, cannot reflect the experience of millennials. At least, not those who do not work at Life.