Friday, October 12, 2012

Ordinary People?

“Grandma, tell me about the Great Cyber War. What was it like?"
“Well, dear, on top of hill were the well-armed, but rapidly depleting mainstream media corps defending their turf to the death, or at least until deadline.

"Assaulting the outskirts of parliament were we brave bloggers, dressed only in our pyjamas, fuelled on skim lattes and clicking on petitions until our index fingers blistered. It was ugly, dear.”

After a week of pitched battles in “cyberspace”, it was interesting to see the esteemed host of Media Watch, Jonathon Holmes, bifurcate the debate over coverage of the Prime Minister’s speech into the old journalist-versus-blogger meme.

Essentially, Jonathon’s point was that social media is dominated by left-leaning, cultural intelligentsia who are just as out of touch with the “ordinary people” and just as unrepresentative of the general voting population as the press gallery they rush to condemn.

Well, yes, but who is arguing that? My reading of fellow blogger Tim Dunlop’s original piece in The Drum was that now anyone can watch news break in real time from raw sources, the role of journalist as gatekeeper is becoming redundant. (Note, this does NOT mean journalists are becoming redundant, but that their roles are changing).

Social media tools like Twitter, Blogger, WordPress and Facebook allow anyone – from boiler-suited vegan student to  snarly libertarian to  spotty Young Liberal fogy – to publish their own analysis of political events in real time.

Yes, much of this – probably 99 per cent of it – is shallow, self-serving and poorly written. But the idea that there is some uniformity of view in the blogosphere is as misguided and clich├ęd as the commonly heard complaint that the ABC, say, is a nest of lefties.

As an aside, the assumption in Holmes’ analysis – common in defences of legacy media - is that this is about the mainstream professional versus the social amateur or that bloggers live under the illusion that they can replace full-time journalists, a point dealt with by US journalism professor Jay Rosen.
“Ask bloggers why they blog and they might say ‘because big media sucks!’, Rosen wrote last year. “But they will almost never say: ‘I am your replacement’. This fantasy of replacement comes almost exclusively from the journalist’s side, typically connected to fears for a lost business model.”
Back to this week’s events, Jonathon’s other point was that while journalists in Canberra don’t get out much, they do get to speak regularly to backbench politicians, who get a much less rarefied view of the world from electorates concerned more about electricity bills than misogyny.

“The idea that the acclaim of the Twittersphere represents 'ordinary people', and the cynicism of the gallery does not, may well prove no more than an exercise in wishful thinking,” Holmes wrote.

Again, no-one is arguing this. What we are saying is that there is more than one way of analysing the events out of Canberra. The press gallery prides itself on its ability to keep its distance and think independently. Yet the almost completely uniform gallery interpretation of Gillard’s speech betrayed a groupthink that suggested that they are either too close to the story or need to read more widely.

That does not mean that the likes of Dunlop and myself or anyone has any better idea of what went on. But news judgment is a funny thing. While context and detail and proximity are important, sometimes the details can obscure the news.

That so many people – not just on Twitter – but in the wider community feel disquiet over the level of gender-inspired invective leveled at the prime minister IS a real political issue. And if it is not resonating beyond Balmain or Brunswick, as Holmes suggests, perhaps that is because of the way media treats the issue.

Bernard Keane in Crikey, like Holmes another respected and astute commentator, inadvertently captured the point in his argument that social media fury at the press gallery might be misplaced.       
“The press gallery doesn’t see its job as analysing the social significance of politics,” he wrote. “Its focus is on political tacticswhat works politically, what doesn’t, what impact political performances will have on the functionality of the government in the short term and, over the longer term, its prospects for re-election.”
Well, actually, that may be the problem. The disenchantment with institutionalised politics and the growth of social movements like Occupy, GetUp and Destroy the Joint suggest existing political parties and the media rituals that attend to them are close to exhausted. Politicians and media need conflict, but they increasingly choose their turf based on what suits them, not on what people are talking about.

To the point that the gallery better understands the context of Tuesday’s events, the fact is the public knows how the game works. We understood that Slipper’s appointment as Speaker was a cynical and desperate move to retain power. We can see that for all its huffing and puffing over Craig Thomson, the Opposition will court him for his vote.
It is the “game” of politics that obsesses the press gallery – the constant polling, the insider debates about how issues are “playing out”, the constant speculation over leadership. We can see all this as clearly as the gallery. But we don’t care. It has no meaning to us because it has no connection to anything we consider to be real or important.
Gillard, in her passionate speech, did touch on something that felt real and meaningful to many, many people – women and men. It brought real politics – the politics that people talk about around the dining table or in the work lunchroom or at the sports club – back into parliament.
It is the politics of who we are, where we stand and who we could be. That is real.

See also: Tim Dunlop: 'Public Engangement Stifled by an Overbearing Elite', The Drum


  1. Videos of PM Julia Gillard's speech in Parliament now have over a million hits. Her words have had international impact. It is not just Australian's who are glad to see this issue confronted head on.

  2. Damnit. An apostrophe error. :/

    It is not just Australians who are glad to see this issue confronted head on.

  3. "It is the politics of who we are, where we stand and who we could be. That is real."

    Beautifully put.
    I nearly included the previous paragraph in that judgement, but as a one liner that conclusion is so accurate it deserves high praise.


  4. Mr Denmore, you are on fire this week! Thanks for your pungent, thoughtful contributions.

    The footy-team-like behaviour of the politicians bores and disgusts most of us but the press gallery seems to find it endlessly fascinating, which would be fine if only they could mediate for us without adding to the vacuity of it all. The journos obsess about tactics and personalities but most seem almost entirely unable or unwilling to discuss or explain anything substantive, like, er... policy.

    That's why I'm fed up with all but a few MSM commentators, and there just aren't enough of them to warrant buying a newspaper these days. Feeling sorry about that, because only two years ago I was buying either one or the other most days. I stopped buying one because I prefer my propaganda to be served up free of charge, and the other because I prefer opinions to contain stuff.

  5. What I saw in Gillard's attack on Mr Rabbott was a leader standing up and showing some spirited ticker for something she believes in. A refreshing contrast to the typical crafted and pre-approved soundbites and slogans often trotted out by most pollies, including the PM.

    If only more of them would dispense with the inauthentic spin they dish up and speak with some passion and without fear.

    Gillard is primed to present herself as a genuine leader if she can continue to slap down the media (eg, the Slater and Gordon presser) and to take the long handle to Mr Rabbott whose habitual ineptitude provides her with full tosses on leg stump to slog over cow corner.

  6. Precisely so, Mr Denmore.

  7. Just wait until Jonathon Holmes takes apart a blogger on MediaWatch for a misleading headline which doesn't match the body text, or an ambush gotcha article. Then the bloggers will know they have broken through and we can sip our lattes safe in the knowledge that the world has changed.

    David Perth

  8. I do not see it as a war between journalists and bloggers at all. These days many bloggers also get paid to express their opinion. They too, could be serving several masters.

    It is hard to know who is sitting on what side of the fence anymore. And maybe it does not really matter.

    And while it must stick in the craw of some highly skilled journalists that suddenly Betty or Billy Blogger from the suburbs has more of an international following than they do, maybe they could learn a thing or too if they were open to the idea.

    It is views such as “probably 99 per cent of it – is shallow, self-serving and poorly written” that has resulted in many media types being in the position they are now in.
    If it was just a contest there would not be a problem.

    No-one is able to control the public air waves as they once did. Social media has changed the landscape forever. The public has a lot to say and it now has the tools to say it without it being controlled in any way (well until the law inevitably catches up). Once we wrote to newspapers or rang television stations to express our views. Most of it never seeing the light of day. Suddenly Betty and Billy Blogger can say what they like and no-one can stop them. Oh, why does that thrill me so?

    What we should be applauding is that so many Australians want to express their views in whatever way they can. We all should have a voice, a way to express ourselves and a right to feel that what we have to say is as important as the next person. Even if someone else thinks what we have to say is crap. People are writing. 140 characters even. How amazing is that?

    Hopefully, once all those views are dissected, analysed and pulled apart we may get a better idea about what the burning issues are and what the public really feels about them. Oh, now wouldn’t that be a perfect job for a journalist? Maybe hanging around certain establishments in Kingston after dark with politicians is where they are all going wrong. They are drinking with the wrong crowd. And completely out of touch.

    What would I know I am just one of those bloggers who focuses on the lighter side of life. I am so glad you don't -it is always a great read. Thank you.

  9. I work in a yellow-shirted world, one that would be formerly known as 'blue-collar' (and probably still is by the legacy media). The reach and use of facebook amongst this working class is almost one hundred percent. It is an especially important tool for those that have family overseas. I have commented on the political significance of this over at Andrew Elder's excellent blog.

    The idea that the internets are full of nerds with crumbs down the front of their shirts banging away at keyboards like so many electronic Madame DeFarges is a quaint notion that may have held true even as little as five years ago. But as I pointed out over at Politically Homeless, the reach of entities such as facebook is very deep and very real and cuts across all social and demographic groups as anyone with eyes in their head can testify.

    In this world people are constantly finding links to new media and finding new ways to get information even beyond the ubiquitous goggle. My sister, who would make an excellent stand in for Kim Day-Knight, proudly announced on facebook that Gillard's speech had changed the way she planned to vote, and she lives in Lyne!

    The legacy media is being too cute by half if they don't wake up and smell the roses. It's telling that they spend more time introspecting and blaming the rest of the world and constructing straw man arguments as you illustrate above than actually getting of their arses and getting out into the community and finding out wtf is going on!

    1. EMC (&MrD): Brilliant comment on brilliant comment. Chimes with Matthew Knot's Crikey 'Clusterfuck'... & Andrew Elder's Media regulation pieces. Probably just wishful thinking on my part, but is this 1968 revisited for the digital generations? "Something is happening here/ But you don't know what it is/ Do you, Mr Jones?"...

  10. It seems Holmes, Keane and even Laura Tingle have only seen this in the context of a straight numbers game. If Slipper moving to the cross bench meant that the Government was likely to lose a vote of no confidence, then their claim to be seeing the big picture that we are too ordinary to appreciate might have some merit. But I can't see any of the cross benchers wanting an early election.

    Clarke and Dawe covered it beautifully with their observation that, as far as the actual numbers go, nothing's changed.

    As far as actually covering the real politics that involves policy, philosophy, vision and social attitudes the Canberra Press Gallery is hopeless. They miss what is possibly a turning point in public appreciation of our first female PM because it hasn't been polled and parsed yet.

    Most of the Gallery are really only capable of basic sports reporting and can only deal with races and winners and losers. This translates to an obsession with elections, leadership changes and scandal-induced resignations.

    Yearning for the drama of the Whitlam dismissal and embarrassed at missing the deposition of Rudd, they're damn sure they'll be there for the next big overturning even if it means they have to help it happen.

    Also the pack's eternal gratitude to Abbott and Credlin for providing daily doses of uncomplicated black and white conflict content for their deadlines blinds them to the realisation that his time has come and gone.

  11. Forget about the press gallery "analysing ordinary events" I have watched many live broadcasts of parliament and then listened to this bunch of clowns get the facts wrong. How much credibility can then be given to their conclusions?

  12. Very well said, ernsmalleyscat

    1. Ta Mr D and take it as read that your blog is very well said.

  13. Thanks Mr D
    I am one of those in the pj's scanning the blog sites, writing comments and even signing petitions, and i love it. In this age of the internet, even little me can express my opinion. People may not read it but that doesn't matter because before the blogs us ordinary folk were just talked over, passed over and dismissed.

  14. Yes, of course we are denied analysis- that would be letting the cat out of the bag. We forget context and the battle is won for them.
    Far more significant we know about the colour of Gillard's jacket than the role of Tony Abbott, as obstructionism. And we don't get to know about the role adopted by executives, let alone the meddling by uninformed and self serving brownshirt shareholders like Rinehart.
    That, too, would be letting the cat out of the bag.
    P. Walter

  15. A striking conformation of how the Gallery functions was confirmed for this spectator, when Jacqueline Maley let the cat out of the bag:

    After Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s scorching oration against Opposition leader Tony Abbott on Tuesday, the gallery, those of us writing and broadcasting in the so called 'mainstream-media', came to a general consensus ....

    Why on earth would they do that? Isn't there a single member of this illustrious group with sufficient confidence in their capacity for observation based on their "years of experience" to reach a conclusion without reference to a Gallery consensus?


  16. " ...Jonathon’s other point was that while journalists in Canberra don’t get out much, they do get to speak regularly to backbench politicians, who get a much less rarefied view of the world from electorates concerned more about electricity bills than misogyny."

    I missed this the first time through.
    It sounds nice, sounds plausible , even probable.
    But its not true.
    Because of the filter of sexism.
    I know of many many examples of occasions where women have attempted to speak to politicians about 'women's issues', issues that directly relate to misogyny eg child sexual abuse, domestic violence, family law and have seen the shutters come down and have been fobbed off with platitudes.
    Or worse [I'll leave that to your imagination].
    Many women know that trying to communicate with some, many, politicians about 'women's" concerns [I don't like that descriptor but itll have to do] is a waste of time.
    Politicians from both parties [one more so] and of both genders, not just some of the males.


  17. Read the speech again, it was a pathetic whinge to cover up the abuse of poor women and refugees that was being passed through the senate.

    It was pre-written as all these speeches are because notices of motion must be placed on the red paper before parliament even sits.

    It was nothing more than a selective scream about Gillard being a poor widdle victim.

    1. AnonymousOctober 13, 2012 6:01 PM

      Read the speech again, it was a pathetic whinge to cover up the abuse of poor women and refugees that was being passed through the senate.

      Well that is a new one, I think you have the wrong set of notes. If you want to catch up here is the link:

      The contect will not make it a classic, the theatre will, a classic speach studied by people that are interested in such things.


  18. you're late marilyn.

  19. Mr D
    I just caught the tail end of your visit to the ABC.
    The bit I heard sounded good.
    Well done.
    Do more.


  20. The legacy media reckon we aren't seeing Gillard's magnificent speech in context. They're wrong. I just don't happen to agree with them about what the context is.

    It's also rather precious of them to wail about context when that generally what they ignore in the hunt for a "Gotcha!"

  21. I tend to follow the activities in our parliament fairly closely and I saw the Opposition's motion as a gimmick using the text messages between Ashby and Slipper as the basis to remove the Speaker; these same text messages had featured as evidence in the civil case mounted by Ashby against Slipper and the judgement on that civil case was imminent. Whilst I tend to agree that Slipper has demonstrated by his past behaviour that he is a flawed character he had proven himself to be an effective Speaker. In this context I saw the motion as inappropriate and ill-timed and I considered that the outcome of the civil case, whilst not relevant to the implications of section 44 of the Constitution because of its civil nature,was relevant to the status and future of the Speaker. Accordingly, in my view, it would have been unjust to support the motion prior to a judgement on the civil case and , in the circumstances, the Prime Minister acted entirely appropriately as did the Independants in effecting a circuit breaker.


  22. Another story that needs to go viral:

    1. That is explosive.
      Or should be.


  23. Great response to Mr Holmes.
    Lumping SM into a single entity and attempting to discredit it with vaguely anti intellectual, anti leftish characterisations is a cheap tactic.

    Are there any real statistics on the political breakdown of SM demographics? Considering just the right wing Tea Party use of SM, the characterisation of it as left seems highly debatable to me. Do Mr Holmes and other members of the Press mistake the cut through of intelligent discussion as sign of leftism perhaps?

    In my opinion, Mr Holmes' hammy cynicism is frequently mistaken for objectivity, mostly by himself.

  24. Thanks again Mr D for a well-considered piece. For all the huffing & bluffing about the ills of social media, for me the cream of the blogs are like an unofficial 'Main St Gallery', to cover what the Press Gallery can't or won't see, due to their Holy Grail mindset.

    The crux of this whole issue is Bernard Keane's statement about the Press Gallery's perception of its role as sports reporters, apparently unaware that this is precisely the problem! I'd love to see some analysis done of Press Gallery articles, with ratios of words devoted to chess-game stuff compared to substantive policy. You could call it the Insiders Index, or if you want to flip it around the other way - the Concrete Footing Index (the higher the ratio the more text devoted to 'real' stuff).