Political Journalist Failure and Stockholm Syndrome

Trapped on a bus or plane with friends and colleagues for hours on end, deprived of sleep, not told where they’re going until the very last minute, given minimal information which is carefully managed and controlled.

What does this sound like? Hostages of a terrorist organisation? Its actually the experience of many political journalists during an election campaign.

flying in formation

The downside … for journalists, is that once you jump aboard the campaign plane, you forfeit your right to self-determination to some extent.

Each team’s advancers block-book hotels – concealing the details from the travelling media – and arrange buses to take the media pack from airport to hotel, hotel to primary school, primary school to retirement village, retirement village to hotel, hotel to airport, and so on.

They call it “the bubble” because when you are inside Campaign Bus-World, you have no control over where you are going or when. It is rare that you know where you will be tomorrow. Each day dawns without a clear idea of what it holds.
- Annabel Crabb (ABC The Drum)

It’s like a journalist version of Stockholm Syndrome (where kidnapped people spend so much time with captors that they identify with them rather than friends or family).

propaganda

When a herd of journalists follow a political campaign trail literally in convoy with politicians they are captive to the daily propaganda message and agenda set by political PR operatives employed by the big political parties.

Yes, the reporters are partly to blame, but what is really lacking is editorial judgement. For goodness sake, get the reporters off the bus! Refuse to let your staff be treated with such contempt. Tell them they should not let it happen. Or at least exercise some independent judgement about what is worth reading and when the stories you are publishing and broadcasting descend in to solipsistic nonsense.
- Margaret Simons (Crikey)

No wonder this results in a rash of stories focusing on this agenda eg: prime minister wearing a hard hat equals supporting the building industry or the opposition leader playing football with school kids means he supports education.

tradition - we've always done it that way

It would take real guts to say “stuff you” and become a rogue political journalist, travelling around the country by yourself and creating stories about local/state/federal issues that are unaddressed.

I bet the very thought of this occurring would send the political PR operatives into a state of complete panic because they wouldn’t know what stories will appear on the radio, tv and internet news sites each day.

When you’re being attacked on all sides for showing bias it’s easy to write in a he said, she said style, treat the election like a horse race, analyse pointless minutiae of the political game and point scoring between other journalists.

is all hope lost?

We want political journalists to add value, not just be stenographers noting down what each side said. Figure out areas of press failure and address them.

Use the wire service version of the videos and photos of political leaders at a construction site or the opposition leader gutting a fish at a deli. The public doesn’t benefit by having 2 dozen versions of these photos and videos.

One possible solution is to do the hard yards and figure out a citizens agenda of topics which actually matter to them and add those to a list of topics to research along with a few subjects that you as a journalist feel are being under-researched and deserve to have light shone upon them.

This applies not just to elections but at all times. A variety of projects like the ABC Campaign Pulse as well as canvassing people offline should be used to keep track of what people wish the media and politicians would address.

despair


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