November 29, 2004 | Graham

We could do the ALP’s research for free; and it would be good for democracy

Recent reports say the ALP is looking for a new research outfit after their federal election loss. Well, they could do no better than appointing our blog and our On Line Focus projects as their official pollsters. We’ve been even-handedly doling out free advice to both sides of politics for three years now, and have hardly ever been wrong (or at least that’s what our self-publicist claims).
At times we know our research has had a high-level readership, like the Sunday afternoon I exchanged pleasant emails with former Labor Leader Simon Crean over one of our qualitative surveys.
What we are doing is no more than the media in general should be doing. But they’re not, which is more of a problem for minor parties than major parties. The majors will look at our site, and sniff, because you get what you pay for, and anyone can look at the site, so they pay their respective pollsters thousands to come (hopefully) to the same conclusion. The minor parties don’t have that option, but from where I sit seem to have a problem working out what advice in the public domain is good, and what isn’t. That’s probably because most of what the media publishes as political analysis is really just the retailing of gossip.
I find it ironic that in an era where information has become valuable as never before, and where trade in it is the highest as a proportion of GDP that it has ever been, much of it is of such low grade that its sale represents redistribution of wealth to journalists and media proprietors, rather than distribution of knowledge.
There are a number of reasons for that. One is the quality of journalists – it’s not very high; and is probably being made worse by a tendency to educate journalists to be journalists, rather than just to educate them. I’m of the opinion that in a lot of cases journalism and communications degrees are wasting the time of students that would be better spent studying real deep knowledge that might allow them to accurately interpret the facts.
I also believe that media organisations should be recruiting experts at the height of their careers and paying them commensurately, rather than schooling up young wannabes through a trade system. Recently I met the new business reporter for a major daily who was taking up her round in Canberra. “Did you study commerce or economics at Uni?” I asked. “Neither,” was the response. Needless to say our conversation didn’t dally over knowledgeable discussions of the difference between EBIT and EBITDA. What is she capable of doing except recycling public relations press releases?
Another problem is that for most proprietors, news is the colloid which contains the real gold in the medium – advertising. If your real business is not news, but selling advertising, then the news is going to expand to meet the amount of advertising available, and if there isn’t enough news to do that, then there is always “news”.
This morning we have just published an article by Justice Michael Kirby based loosely on the famous Martin Luther King speech – I have a dream. Well, I have a dream too – that the new electronic medium, which has driven the price of production, distribution, marketing and sales of news down to almost zero, will allow us to create a product where people will actually pay for the news, not expect to get it as a byproduct of advertising.
Perhaps then political parties won’t have to pay so much for what they know, and the rest of us might just know more. That would be a big boost to democracy.

Posted by Graham at 6:21 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

1 Comment

  1. Graham,
    You have made some excellent observations in this piece. I too am of the opinion that the degree in journalism is not covering the issues, subjects and processes necessary for graduates to provide accurate analysis in their later jobs. Sometimes I think that the journalism degree should be renamed as a degree in short story writing. Of course I’m biassed but what the hell!

    Comment by Tom — November 29, 2004 @ 10:24 am

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