Breaking the news

Journalism In Australia hit new depths this month as the federal press gallery became increasingly frothy-mouthed about the politics of non-existent nuclear subs and has-been pop stars and something called religious freedoms and well, largely fuck-all else, madam, really. Holly Somebody in the UK said something and then Nigel in the UK said something, before “royal experts” (read: unemployed pet psychics) opined about Kate’s fake hair in the UK and then Donald from the US followed it all up with some mumbled wordarrhea about some ex-PM he didn’t know.

Gossip about nothing that would usually only be heard at the local bus stop between the types of people who report anal probing and alien abductions is now setting Australia’s news agenda. News that isn’t news, stories that ain’t, and issues that only became issues because a few 30-somethings with communication degrees deep inside the conservative shark tank decreed it so; the more fabricated and irrelevant the issue, the more hot-air is wafted under its fart-filled sails.

Predictably, the mouth-frothing has been reserved for issues deliberately designed by conservatives to agitate saliva glands and summon up the froth. Bear-baiting Australia’s media and the politically informed (yes they’re two completely separate groups) is now the way conservatives suck the energy out of more important discussions in Australia, and increasingly, how they can set the news’ agenda for the day or the week or even the month if they feel like manipulating the levers hard enough. 

Take Advance Australia, or just Advance as they now like to call themselves, or as I prefer to call them, the Racist Hate Group Staffed By RSL Club Rejects With Bad Combovers. Which sadly doesn’t fit on an Australian Electoral Commission millionaire donor’s form.

Prior to the Dunkley by-election earlier this month, Advance released a venal little meme typical of their venal little style. Some might think its primary purpose was stirring up fear in the hearts of Dunkley’s voters, forcing them to number that white immigrant Liberal candidate first, in case the dark immigrant-people lurking in the corners of Woolies took them off to parts of Frankston unknown. But its larger purpose, the one you didn’t clock onto, was for it to become part of the news.

The tactic of pushing out grossly offensive material that other people will share in their raging indignation is known in spin-meister circles as mirroring. And with Advance’s racist election meme chock full of shock and scandal, verily the mirroring came to pass. Every second social media account was awash with the uncensored Advance image, passed around and seen by millions of eyeballs.

Now, the Sydney Morning Herald in their print edition charge anywhere between $70,000 to $90,000 for a full page ad, less for their online edition if you have the spare change. Why would Advance bother wasting their billionaire donor’s money contributing to NineFax’s coffers when they can get their venal little ads distributed for free? Across the pages of Xwitter and Instagram and that other data harvesting site, tiktok, virtue signallers in their thousands shared Advance’s filthy racist ad for them – all uncensored, all free of charge and all just the way they intended.

And once that’s done, once the buzz of social media reaches a crescendo, traditional media sniff the breeze and elevate the issue into that most nebulous of objects – a news story. So what started as a Canva project shared on Facebook by a group of professional racists lifted up into the pages of the Murdochracy and became, well, your daily news.

Most of Australian politics and political media now is about chasing nothing. Ghosts. Phantoms. Nothing stories. It’s all theatre. There is nothing behind it. Political journalists in Australia now work for the headline, not the audience.

Our political journalism has become one of those open-call stage auditions where they all dance simultaneously to the set music. Desperate try-hards all trying to hog the spotlight, prancing and arm-flinging as they hijack the front of the stage at the same time, wrestling each other out of the way, screaming “Me! Me! Look at me!” None of it is about delivering what the audience needs. All of it is about being the one up front, grabbing your attention. Watch them murmur “Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up now”, then head for the Insider’s couch.

A former ABC journalist of over 40 year’s experience recently told me, “Hardly any journalism is about interrogating democracy, looking into what the government is doing and questioning what they don’t want us to know. Now it’s just a feeding chain where they all rely on each other’s stories, and most of those stories are really just pure shit.”

The worst actions of your government happen in secrecy because Australia’s media are too busy in a human centipede chain of feeding and repeating each other’s non-stories. Why should Peter Dutton bother explaining the reality behind his flying saucer fantasy small nuclear reactors when he can just manipulate the news and the way people think?

I suppose there’s a weak argument that journalists and editors throughout history have always rushed for the headline at the expense of examining the facts, but the thing is, we no longer have a distinction between hard news and soft news. Where once you could turn to the ABC or more serious current affairs programs for news that had some reality or substance to it, and leave the Holly Whatshernames to the Daily Mail hate dames, now our “news” is all just an indiscernible blancmange.

On the latest ABC’s alleged premier news program, Insiders, the host David Speers spent close to a quarter of the program excitedly pursuing gossip between two old white blokes on Youtube discussing a subject that had been planted there by a conservative operative. Was Kevin Rudd (Kevin Who, Donald thought) was Kevin in Donald’s good books and would Donald play with him ever again? Did Speers contextualise the fabrication of this phantom story? Did he add the fact the entire alleged controversy was all the result of a set-up question planted in Nigel’s cue card? Not only that, but why bother wasting Australian’s time with it at all? What about “interrogating democracy, looking into what the government is doing and questioning what they don’t want us to know,” as our retired ABC journalist so succinctly put it.

Why bother indeed when these journalists can point the finger at social media for the distribution of shit and dribble. Yes that’s where the non-stories are, on social media because we’re all busy shovelling out important media drops from Peter Dutton’s office about some nuclear bizness that sounds impressive in a grab phrase even though we haven’t really analysed it but Newscorp is talking about it so it must be news because it’s right there on their website next to diet secrets for your dog.

When the standards of our news media degenerate to the point of discussing brain farts from ex-popstars, why would anyone expect the standards of social media to be far behind? This is what Australia’s news looks like. It’s artless, it’s agenda driven, it increasingly prefers a planted piece of derivative puffery to an intelligent discussion or an original thought – and it will probably finish up exactly where it’s headed. 

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