Sunday, 15 August 2010

Great. Now Tony Abbott is asking for another town-hall style debate against Julia Gillard. You sort of wonder why, since it happened that in the wake of the last such effort - which Abbott ostensibly won hands-down - Gillard's personal ranking soared and Labor's overall ranking lifted significantly too, I believe, against the Opposition.

It was big news at the time (like, two days ago).

Now Abbott's "moved on" and he intrepidly desires to come face-to-face once more with a barrage of probing questions unleashed by the disgruntled punters of one of our big cities' outer (read, "marginal") seats.

No use looking at The Australian's addictive Newspoll graph (just scroll down the page a bit below the fold - there it is). The last poll was a week ago and the raw numbers for the most recent poll are not showing up when you mouse over the vertical - as they're supposed to do.

They say a week is a long time in politics. For the political junkie, an hour can seem like a week during the run-up to a federal election, which is a time when we scan the headlines for signs of good tidings and of poor outcomes. It's a time when the websites scream most angelically, especially if your party's got a wire-thin lead and the overall trend for your crowd is up.

At these times, watching the usual suspects on the nightly TV newscast can be especially pleasurable and compelling. They're all there, in the Pack, and while they're honing their two-minute spots to perfection like a bunch of crazed footpath spruikers on a rainy Wednesday night in Kings Cross you're staring glaze-eyed at the LCD display on the entertainment cabinet like an owl with a firm bead on a soon-to-be-dead mouse.

They're the Insiders. Does that make you an Outsider?

A curious choice of words, mused Jay Rosen, a New York University academic and a trusted resource of information and commentary on the health of the media in modern society, during Thursday night's Lateline on the ABC. Today, he tweeted about the program, which screens on Sundays: "Just watched Insiders on ABC: The boys-on-the bus, the insular cult of the savvy, the admiration for operatives."

So, is firing "hard" questions from the centre of the Pack really a good way to keep your readers informed of the issues they need to know about in order to make a sensible choice on 21 August? Rosen thinks it's not. Unfortunately, our addiction to the quick serve of - what we believe is - relevant and cogent information will ensure that this type of "news" will surely prevail over the more substantive, long-form journalism we probably, actually, need.

Where are the editorials about the Commonwealth Bank's massive, $5.66 billion profit announcement made just this week? It takes a blogger such as John Passant to inquire into the import of this unusual and unexpected result. And he's a bit of a Bolshie.

What about the immigration debate? Well, it just happens that David Ritter pretty much nailed it on ABC's The Drum two days ago. Unfortunately, the tabloid headlines echo the broadsheets, and vice versa. So no resonance there, sadly.

But as John Birmingham tells us in one of his trademark op-ed pieces:

When we read the election news online, the software tracking our every click tells us that we're much more interested in faff and celebrity than analysis or reportage. As I type these words, for example, a few clicks of the mouse confirm that 199 people are reading ''Mark Latham Strikes Again'', while nobody is bothering the scorers at the story about Health Minister Nicola Roxon defending shrinking Medicare rebates.
Why, then, should it come as any surprise that hardened pros in the mainstream parties give us what we really want? After all, that's the very essence of democracy.

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