Media Opinion

A Federal Election is imminent and media matters

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Sharing good journalism will do more to ensure it is viable and continues (Image by Kevin Harber | Flickr)

Sharing "good" journalism and good information – particularly on Twitter and Facebook – will shift more hearts and minds at election time than yelling at people, writes Noely Neate.

AUSTRALIANS WILL vote soon and contrary to popular opinion on Twitter, a swing against the sitting Government as being shown by recent polls won't decide who runs the country.

As we have found in the past, those swings only affect very marginal seats — they are not Australia wide. A big chunk of "punters" will make decisions based on the vibe and another big chunk of voters will make decisions based on their own electorate.

The only thing those chunks have in common is that they will get information to influence their democratic choice from the media — mostly traditional media.

Many of you know this – particularly, what I am going to say about journalism and media – but, maybe it's time for a reminder, for some? 

Even when people complain about "fake news" on social media, the core of that fake news, when challenged, will normally come back to something that has been published by a celebrity, politician or the media. Combatting this will be imperative.

We know certain segments of media are biased – beat up culture wars – and those who follow news and politics closely dismiss this as just, “Oh well, what do you expect from the likes of [insert the usual suspects]?". The problem is that just saying "ignore it", or having a laugh does not stop this news from being disseminated to those who don’t pay much attention.

Regional Australia in particular rarely has a local paper anymore. In a state like Queensland, the regional news is just a tab on Courier Mail. Not much variety there.

Worse, if you are in the gym or at the pub and there is no sport on the telly, it will most likely be showing Sky News. Sky "News"! (News being the operative word.) We all know that most of this "news" is opinion-based. Sadly, the average Joe or Jill in a regional area who is too busy trying to survive and only vaguely glances at the news sees this as genuine “news”.

Journalists and those interested in Twitter will often scoff, “Well, who is paying attention to [insert the usual suspects]?”. Well, I can tell you, a hell of a lot of people. It is as if they don’t realise Andrew Bolt etcetera are speaking "opinions" — no, it's "news".

These people are not stupid, they are just not privileged enough (for a variety of reasons: work, life, education and so on) to have the leisure of keeping an eagle eye on politics and educating themselves.

It is the same with mainstream media front pages. So many – particularly in the recent stoush between tweeps (Twitter people) and certain journalists about the prominence of former Senator Kitching-front-pages as opposed to any featuring Senator Fierravanti-Wells – were saying such speech was late at night or too late for a front page. This might be a fair call. However, given most online statements, more agree that it is not.

Front pages have a lot of power in this nation, as they are reported on breakfast infotainment shows and most radio stations – ensuring a greater reach – which also means they set the agenda for news in this nation. This is the sort of stuff that needs to be combatted.

People on Twitter can rail against News Corp, "NineFax", Sky, you name it, as much as they like. The fact is, average Joe and Jill have no idea who owns what media and could not care less.

Worse, if people are really time poor they are getting their news via Facebook and that can be a real bin fire.

I’m sure you are all aware of various community groups on Facebook — there would hardly be a region in the nation, city or country, that doesn’t have one. These groups are really influential and in times of adversity, bushfires or floods, they can be awesome. They can also be a terrible source of misinformation.

If people want to affect the upcoming Federal Election, they need to accept the truths about how people absorb "news" and what they consider "news" to be.

You also need to be discerning as to what "news" you disseminate and how you do it.

Political philosopher and author Tim Dunlop wrote a good piece titled 'Time to think carefully about what media you support'. It is very persuasive as to why we should vote with our wallet — supporting good journalism by paying for subscriptions and obviously withdrawing support for biased or lazy journalism that is not worth the cost. Let's face it, we do this in every other aspect of our lives as consumers.

Said Dunlop:

When, in the estimation of citizens, a government needs to be replaced, we get to vote them out and in Australia at least, voters have shown themselves to be quite conservative in how they exercise their franchise.


When journalism fails, we have no such recourse. The media endures no matter what their failures and thus we embed in the midst our democracy — not so much a Fourth Estate, but a permanent shadow government, that despite declining revenues, maintains its power by its social location.

Not everyone can afford subscriptions, but if you can, please subscribe to good publications with good standards of journalism. Many have cheap subscriptions, or you can support them for as little as a few dollars a month. If you can’t afford it – and let’s face it, many of us can’t nowadays, as times are tough – you can still support good journalism and good news publishers, and combat misinformation without it costing you a cent.

Never tweet or share a crappy piece of work 

You might be cranky – and I know I have been caught in the past where I've seen something and thought, “OMG! This is some sort of bullshit” – and you want to then "quote tweet" the publisher's tweet. Don’t do this!

A big chunk of media advertising is based on social media analytics. Like toddlers, all attention is good attention, even when it is a heap of people trashing that piece. Analytics don’t really take into account sentiment, just how many click-throughs and impressions a piece got – including the social media on that piece – and how much it was liked or retweeted or reposted, and how popular that particular news outlet's/journalist's handle is. So your hot take is actually helping these statistics.

If you want to have your say about something that you find offensive, terrible, incorrect etcetera, then "screenshot" the tweet or post. Ensure you include the time, date and publisher/journalist in that screenshot so it is legitimate. Use that screenshot for your hot take. That way, you get to refer to it and others can see exactly what you are referring to. If they choose, people can go directly to the source themselves. In the meantime, you are not inadvertently assisting the statistics of an organisation/individual you didn’t wish to promote.

To assist in an election, as I said, those Facebook community groups are big when it comes to understanding the hearts and minds of individual electorates. If you see something that is totally incorrect, report it as such. If you want to comment on it, use the screenshot as just described.

Reward and share good journalism

This is really important. Just like your average punter is not as savvy as those who follow politics like a hawk, the average journalist is not Leigh Sales, David Speers, Phillip Coorey, Bevan Shields or Laura Jayes; they could be people you only vaguely recognise. They are not paid at the same levels as the aforementioned and don’t have the same power as them, either. They often are in insecure work themselves, busting their gut and at the whim of editors and producers.

Individuals on the desk at ABC are reading out what their producers have put in front of them, not necessarily their opinions. Don’t jump down their throats on social media.

Print journalists are in a similar situation — they don’t always have a say as to that clickbait headline, nor do they even have a say over what the final product ends up being on the page, be it in print or online. So think about that before you scream.

It seems weird, that so many high profile journalists and publications like to trash social media. I mean, what other business trashes its customer base so openly and aggressively as the usual media suspects do?

It really blows my mind. Sure, never cop abuse, but engaged customers/clients questioning your work or querying choices? They make it hard to be supportive. How often have you heard a journalist condescend about Twitter and just lump all on the platform into one "sewer", yet, strangely, don't like themselves being lumped together as "media" when people are upset at the usual suspects trolling with their culture wars? Something to ponder...

It's important to talk about good journalists. The ones who, particularly when it comes to politics, treat journalism as more than a game. Those that understand political decisions have real-life ramifications for Australians and take their role in informing those Australians seriously, not as a sport or horse race. These are the journalists we need to follow and support.

And there are some really good journalists at some of the most odious media publications. You can’t blame an employee who is just lucky to have a job in a shrinking industry and has rent/mortgage, kids to feed, just like you. Many don’t have the luxury to choose where they will work. Please consider that.

Just as you don't like being dumped under the same all-of-Twitter-are-trolls label (because you yourself are not a troll), consider it is the same for these journalists — they are trying to do good work no matter their employers. You may not support an employer by subscribing to a certain publication but you can still support that individual journalist.

If you see good work, share it! Share it widely.  Retweet it.  Repost it.

If you know who authors/journalists are, make sure you include their handles on your tweets and encourage others to follow them. Journalists cop a lot of flack and people are less quick to praise, as happens in most professions, but remember the statistics I referred to earlier — make sure you apply their handles and always credit, if possible.

As much as private citizens can watch Question Time or Senate on television, read press releases and even research, if they have the will (there is certain access that only journalists have and some put a heap of effort into it, be it tracking Freedom of Information requests, to sitting through days of boring Senate hearings), we really do need this. We need to support good journalists and the publications that pay them, if possible.

Sharing good information, particularly on Twitter and Facebook will do more to shift hearts and minds than yelling at people. Sharing good journalism will do more to ensure it is viable and continues — most of us want balanced and informative views.

The odious types only indulge in culture wars as they know it upsets people and that clickbait works a treat. Don't reward it! You can still comment and condemn, just don’t reward by adding to their social media statistics.

So in summary, be proactive. Support good journalism. Don’t see misinformation somewhere and abuse whoever shared it — it says more about you than the person sharing that crap.

Also, be aware that sometimes that person (sharing the crap) honestly does think it is "legitimate news", so don’t denigrate them: perhaps, inform them otherwise. People watch interactions on both Twitter and Facebook and you never know who else is reading and might be persuaded.

It's the same with sharing good pieces on social media and crediting by including the journalists' handles — not only is it showing appreciation, but it could also help those journalists keep their jobs when belts are tightened. It could even help those journalists get more hours or a better job due to their profile and statistics.

So, take the time to invest in good journalism by both subscribing when you can and sharing when you can. The more you invest like this, the better news we get, the more informed the public is and then we can make better choices.

Dog knows, Australians need to make better choices!

Good luck, shifting hearts and minds in your individual electorates this election. Australia's future depends on your efforts (facts, please!), regardless of who you support politically.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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