Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Australian's Critical Issues series of videos mainly misses the mark

How the mainstream print media uses other types of content such as video to inform their readers is something we've heard about from time to time, with purported calls from MSM recruiters for "multimedia" skills in new hires. Looking at who is actually innovating in this area you'd have to say that News Ltd holds currently the baton. I think next weekend will be the sixth episode of Meet the Press, which screens on Sunday mornings at 10.30am on the Ten Network. Here you can see News Ltd's print journalists go head to head with politicians, businesspeople, and others on the small screen, and the experience is illuminating as it tells us something about those production values that are the true province of broadcasters, and the people they employ. You'd have to say that broadcast journalists are better suited to the medium. While this brings up questions about how "production values" function on TV, and their real meaning, that is a topic I'll leave for another time.

You can also see print journalists head-to-head with businesspeople on the Australian's website within the newspaper's Critical Issues series of videos. The series is sponsored by the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia, and the web page features blogs from staff who work for it, as well as a bunch of unrelated business news cluttering up the bottom of the page. My suggestion to the webmaster is to get rid of this aggregated stuff as it does not add to the viewing experience. If anything it takes away from it because the viewer has to ask him- or herself what the relationship is between those stories sitting down there, and the feature videos at the top. There is no link whatsoever. It's just noise.

The first video I watched is with Luke Sayers, the CEO of accounting form PwC. The interviewer is Andrew White, associate editor of the Australian. Andrew White starts off the interview by asking Sayers how Australia is viewed as an investment target. The video is about 13 minutes long, and this issue comes up several times. Sayers admits that Australia's fundamentals are good but goes on the explain that, in his experience, there is too much regulatory uncertainty, which he says overseas investors have concerns about. Changes to regulations impacting business, Sayers says, date from the past one or two years, which serves to credit them to the Gillard government.

This line is similar to the one put forward on Meet the Press last Sunday, where a journalist from the Daily Terror asked two businessmen about the state of the economy. Those two men said that business was currently "on hold". Negative messages from people in the big end of town such as Sayers are therefore not a surprise, and the Critical Issues viewer wonders how much of their opprobrium is actually warranted and how much is just part of the campaigning bent of semi-public figures eager to see a change of government.

In any case the questions being asked by Andrew White of Sayers in the Critical Issues video seem to be fairly ordinary, but yet further depths of ordinariness were plumbed by Andrew Main, wealth editor of the Australian, in his interview with Lee White, CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. The interview starts out promisingly, with Lee White talking about the strong fundamentals of the economy (as Sayers did) and lamenting the high dollar. But then Main merely tracks close to his comfort zone and asks about the share market. Nothing about how Australian manufacturing can be competitive given the high dollar. At least Sayers talked a bit about productivity, but with both men - and with their interviewers - the subject range stuck close to the status quo without exploring how further improvements in economic performance could be uncovered through new business development.

I guess it's all about what you mean by "critical", at least in terms of the issues; and who you choose to interview. The Australian seems to have gone the fallback route to rely on predictable narratives spun by unimaginative journalists who ask the wrong questions of the wrong people, although Andrew Main's interview with Australia Post's Paul Urquhart lets me down here by dealing with new product offerings from that organisation (the digital mailbox). While some in business might merely say "good for you for trying" and sit back comfortably to see their own views mirrored by the stories coming out of these videos, others will wonder what's the point. If you want to see more of what you already get from business journalism in the MSM, then the Critical Issues series will suit you, but if you are looking for ideas to inspire and stimulate the imagination, then this vehicle so far mainly fails to satisfy.

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