Check out the US election coverage website 10questions.com and imagine what a similar site for Australia could do.
10Questions.com takes some of the ideas of Jay Rosen and other news-media reform advocates to recast election campaign news coverage away from the horse-race and inside-baseball paradigms that currently masquerade as informing the public: here are some of the tactics needed to form a Citizens Agenda for Campaign Coverage that can cut through the soundbite culture to allow time for serious reflection and consideration of the questions voters want to hear answered, and provide a mechanism for unfavourably highlighting the politicians who won’t answer those questions in contrast to the space made available to those politicians who will.
The soundbite culture of the neverending news cycle arose from the need for commercial news media to deliver eyeballs for their advertisers – the more colour and movement there is, the better – that’s the rationale. Our latest election shows how very dissatisfied voters are when politicians are too obviously tailoring their message to fit the demands of the news cycle rather than answering the questions voters want to hear. How many of those dissatisfied voters might be much more interested in a site that invites politicians to take their time to make an in-depth answer? How many eyeballs shifting to an in-depth coverage site would it take to make a dent in the soundbite circus?
It seems like something worth giving a go.
Categories: media, Politics, technology
I hate to be the wet blanket here, but another site like that one, votesmart.org, has been around since the 1996 election, and its impact on elections has been nil. The large majority of candidates simply don’t answer the questionnaire, and aside from the people sending out the questionnaire, no one really cares.
In Georgia, the governor, 13 seats in the House of Representatives, and over 200 seats in the state legislature are up for a vote this year. Not one candidate in any of those races has answered the votesmart.org questionnaire or a single question at 10questions.com.
It’s possible that Australia would have different results with this sort of experiment, but here the problem isn’t a dearth of people who want to provide objective information; it’s a lack of audience for it. Well-meaning Web sites can’t stop voters from getting the government they want and deserve.
Just a website on its own won’t do it, definitely. It needs to be tied into a larger Citizen Agenda culture that effectively puts pressure on the candidates to answer the questions. Jay Rosen mentions this:
He adds an anecdote where simply having a major newspaper decide to go along with the civic journalism experiment made the difference back in 1992. With the greater concentration in the media industry now though, would any major newspaper any longer be willing to go out on such a limb?
I think this would be a great idea for Australia. One of the things a lot of people failed to mention (although I’ll give major kudos to Grog for pointing this out repeatedly) is that the Australian media by and large is not impartial. It never has been. The major commercial media sources in Australia are owned by an almost incestuously limited group of extremely conservative people, and the media coverage reflects this: it’s biased toward the Liberal party to the point of being open for ridicule. Heck, there’s been jokes in the past pointing out a Labor leader could walk on the water across Sydney harbour, and the most we’d hear from the mainstream metro dailies about it the next day would be a bunch of articles complaining about them evading the bridge toll!
As Australians, we’re getting opinions fed to us from a very limited pool of sources, and (from what I’ve seen) most of these will report the news in this order: what they heard of in a press release from the Liberal Party; what they heard of in a press release from the ALP; what they heard of in a press release from any of the more right-wing parties (the Nationals, One Nation, Family First); stories about cute animals or children; stories about celebrities; what they heard of in a press release from a big corporation (particularly an advertiser of theirs); what they heard of in a press release from anyone more left-wing than the NSW ALP right; stories which can be summarised into a single-line black-and-white dichotomy; what they heard of in a press release from a non-profit organisation which can be used to make the left wing look bad; stories which can be turned into a faux-debate involving at least one party who is so detached from consensus reality as to be nonsensical; stories which require lengthy investigation, and deal with complex matters in a complex manner; what they heard of in a press release from a non-profit organisation which can’t be used to make the left wing look bad; stories which imply a company which advertises products with the news organ might possibly be less than 110% right, or less than a perfect corporate knight in shining armour. If any of these have a nice shiny soundbite, or a catchy subhead associated with them, all the better. The ideal story for television would be a pre-filmed, highly sympathetic, interview from one of their more “famous” “journalists” featuring the leader of the Liberal party talking about something which makes the ALP look bad while holding child on their knee, in front of a billboard from one of the station’s major advertisers; the newspapers would accept a transcript of this interview if it came with a catchy sub-heading and some good pictures.
It’s past time that the fundamental biased and partisan nature of the Australian mainstream press was recognised for what it is, and labelled as such.
Given that cadetships where newbies learn reporting are now a thing of the past (so we get graduates who do commentary instead), perhaps some schools of journalism getting on to the Citizens Agenda Campaign Coverage as part of a philosophy of journalism curriculum module could be a goer?