Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Q and A gets regular weekly SMH blog

Launched in 2008 the ABC's chat show Q and A has its supporters and its detractors. For my part, I don't usually watch the show but it's clear that a lot of people do. More surprising however is the way that Sydney's newspaper of record - for want of any more accurate term - the Sydney Morning Herald has been running weekly wraps on Tuesday mornings on its website. It's unfailing. Even if there has been nothing of particular note on the show.

I admit to having been a big supporter of the show in the past. What happened to make me stop watching is that run-of-the-mill partisan politics tends to result in "bad TV". In the same vein, a lot of what the SMH blogger tries to do in his column is single out the bits of "good TV". Which is reassuring because it means that I'm actually in the mainstream in that what I want is something out of the ordinary, something that will make me say out-loud, "Wow, that was great." Unfortunately when you populate the show's panel with traditional pollies and other mainstream media partisan talking heads you just get a massive yawn-fest.

It's not really surprising that the SMH has taken to supporting the ABC's flagship Monday-night current affairs program in this way. The media all over the place is changing. So the move by the SMH is not just because the two media organisations have been doing more things together in recent years. You see the same kind of cross-platform bleed elsewhere, such as in the Channel Ten program The Bolt Report which showcases the idiotic blatherings of The Daily Telegraph columnist Andrew Bolt. And there are other TV programs with people who have emerged into prominence inside the ambit of the print media, such as Channel Ten's The Project, which has leftie journalist and academic Waleed Ali.

And as the media landscape adapts to the new economics of publishing in a world dominated by a new distribution platform - the internet - other hybrids will appear as well. You only have to think of the cooperation between The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media, where the local eminence grise is providing sales services for the overseas newcomer. There's also Channel Nine which is working in Australia with The Daily Mail, a UK print masthead.

Getting back to Q and A though, if you asked me what would be the step I would take to make sure people - like me, who have become disenchanted with the program over time - return to watching it, I would have to say that you would need to make every Monday night an exotic. No more routine exposure of the standard policy lines from the left and the right. The program has a particular energy due to its being live-to-air, and it allows ideas to be discussed in a collegial way at some length. So it's counterproductive to use this unique medium in order to simply re-canvass the same, boring talking points that you feature in the soundbites of the regular nightly TV broadcast.

In fact, allowing the grey-suited talking heads to take over the program - which is what normally happens, and which is what keeps people like me away week after week - is a travesty because it effectively nullifies the benefit of this particular way of doing TV. Why ruin a good recipe with poor ingredients when you could be getting a much more compelling product if you worked harder to differentiate yourself from the run-of-the-mill?

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