Over on the Sydney Morning Herald, Jonathan Holmes — former host of ABC’s Media Watch — has analysed the relationship between the new media service The New Dailyand its financial backers, three Australian industry super funds.
In the past few days, critics and their own members have been asking the super funds how they can reconcile this risky investment with their duty to maximise their members’ assets. The New Daily’s co-owner, Eric Beecher, has responded that it’s no different from the funds investing in a TV advertising campaign: ”The funding is not from the investment fund itself, but out of overhead costs and marketing budgets.” And that’s been confirmed by Australian Super. ”This is not a private equity investment, but a marketing expense”, a spokesperson told The Australian. [Source]
The problem — according to Holmes — is that this blurs the line between news and advertising: ‘Either it’s an independent news website, or it’s a marketing exercise on behalf of its owners. It simply cannot be both.’
The problem with this dichotomy is that it isn’t accurate and relies questionable assumptions about the nature of journalism.
It is an oft heard complaint that there is too much overlap between news and entertainment. It is not uncommon in Australia for news programs to promote reality television programs or to report on soap opera plot developments. It is frequently opined that we treat politics like it’s a football match, that we turn politicians into celebrities by making them perform like dancing monkeys on prime time TV, and that we sacrifice intelligent, sober political analysis for clickbait.
People misdiagnose the problem. These are examples of where news is sacrificed in the name of entertainment. It’s not really an ‘overlap’; it’s one dominating the other.
On the other hand, merging news platforms with entertainment platforms — entirely possible given recent technological developments — would improve the quality of our news output and the diet of people who regularly consume the news. If done properly, it would also improve the quality and quantity of Australian made entertainment. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s more than possible.
I’ll admit that this is the idea which makes me seem most like a supervillain…
Perhaps the biggest problem in contemporary political discourse is the abuse of outrage. We don’t seek to persuade people who disagree with us. Instead, we seek to get our supporters incoherently outraged. I’ve argued elsewhere that it’s a deliberate strategy in the asylum seeker debate — both ‘sides’ of politics have more to gain from trashing the debate than participating in it.
But GetUp has taken this in a new direction. No person who sees that advert will change their opinion about Murdoch. There’s no content to it whatsoever. The point of the advert is not — crazily enough — to draw attention to Murdoch but to draw attention to GetUp.
In other words, we are now at the point in political discourse that an organisation like GetUp can cynically bank on the value of outrage. GetUp didn’t try to get the adverts played on YouTube, or on any of the other new media outlets. Instead, they targeted the part of the industry which was not relevant to their target audience in order to get free publicity elsewhere.
This is indicative of something incredibly sick at the heart of political debate.
But look instead at the consequence of this sort of activity. Surely the point of political debate is to persuade and be persuaded. Instead, we’ve seen this GetUp advert, the ‘dontbeafuckingidiot’ website, and various other campaigns which were targeted instead at convincing people who already agree with them that they should agree with them.
Abbott’s campaign team understood this problem early. Because all the polls were in their favour, they had to do very little in order to keep in the ‘lead’. Jaymes Diaz and Ray King have been able to hide from public debate and still come across as contenders for their seats. Why? Because they had more to lose from upsetting their supporters than they had to gain from convincing people who disagree with them.
Rudd’s team has not had that luxury and they needed to convince the disillusioned. As a result, we’ve had… Not much. The Left has shown that it has no idea how to convince swinging voters. Worse, websites like ‘dontbeafuckingidiot’ have shown that the Left gets belligerently upset when swinging voters don’t make the effort to agree with them.
I’ve only ever heard this reasoning once before in my life. When I was a teenager, my estranged father had a whinge that my brothers and I didn’t make more of an effort to see him. The whinge was actually a phrasing of a different truth: he didn’t know us well enough to form a relationship.
The Left is currently suffering the same problem that my father had with me. They simply do not understand swinging voters enough to engage with them. Instead of acknowledging this failure and working to correct it, they instead complain that swinging voters are ignorant and obstinate and uncooperative and unthinking sheep.
Outrage is the manifestation of prejudices confirmed. If you want to change people’s opinion, you need to change the language of people’s intuitions. Should Rudd fail to retain government this Saturday, the Left will need to look at its foot-stamping political strategy. GetUp has shown that it’s part of the problem and not part of the solution.