Newscorp and Caleb Bond's half-baked opinions: Australians deserve better

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Caleb Bond is not allowed to do any political punditry until he has finished all this homework and done his chores (Meme via @HenryLawson55)

Shouldn’t pre-voting age youngsters be asked to provide at least a scintilla of evidence before smearing their ill-formed opinions all over the national stage, asks 24 year-old Paul Maland.

Australians need to demand more stringent editorial policies from political columnists and their editors. In a country scattered daily with dozens of contradicting opinions in tabloids and broadsheets, somewhere along the line reader reaction took over as a way to benchmark circulation, and novelty and reactionary controversy has started to redefine the benchmark for newsworthiness. Pay-to-play is fading out reasoned argument and discourse is suffering. A high-school aged columnist steering national conversation is the final cry for help from a system desperately in need of change.

A global landscape of unconventional political rhetoric, in cases like Donald Trump, has disenfranchised audiences across the globe captivated, but this emotion driven system of argument when applied to political columns can easily leave readers wanting a little more direction. Political commentary is alight with readers pining for substance, arguing day and night in cordoned off echo-chambers in comment sections split across social media channels. 

Caleb Bond is a 17 year-old political columnist with News Corp. His pieces are regularly published in Adelaide’s Advertiser and Sydney's Daily Telegraph’s political opinion section. In addition to sporadic radio and TV appearances, Caleb has amassed two national political mouthpieces and, at 17, it’s clear why that alone has news audience curiosity piqued.

Caleb’s pieces in conservative broadsheets are fittingly conservative in nature — a stark contradiction to most journalists and current affairs writers sharing his age, but hardly an outlier in the collective ecosystem of News Corp political columns.

The toxicity in Caleb’s writing isn’t from his age or political conviction alone — diverse and unique projections of different aspects of political minutia are key in keeping a genuine discourse afloat. The issue, however, is from political columnists like Caleb having their age replacing or defining their merit — a reality particularly agitating in a country flooded with emerging journalists aching for a byline.

One of Caleb Bond’s recent pieces with the Daily Telegraph, Welfare is like heroin — time to cut the supply, riffs on the issue of government financial assistance and its weight in the Federal budget.

The headline alone is sure to get a reaction — such a cuttingly decisive remark from someone so young leaves any reader demanding some hard reasoning to justify such a bold statement. Caleb’s article makes receiving government assistance metaphorically analogous to intravenous drug addiction and relies on examples of from years passed (such as the baby bonus, and Kevin Rudd’s stimulus deposit) to make his point.

Caleb has publicly stated he’s never used drugs like heroin and, while living at home with his parents, it’s likely he’s never personally relied on government assistance to make it through the fortnight. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that policy advisors or political commentators must live through any struggle they wish to comment on, but the natural assumption is that they at least have evidence or solid research and policy supporting their argument.

The issue with this specific example, however, is that there’s no substance beyond quoted Newspoll statistics on how people generally want cuts to the Federal budget, with the bulk of the argument’s remainder marked up to “well, it’s just opinion”.

Political columnists who wear their bias on their sleeve, shouting statistics void of justified reasoning, are no stranger in broadsheets or opinion columns at all — nor are they void of purpose. Readers do have to ask themselves, though, shouldn’t someone not yet at voting age be expected to provide some semblance of evidence-based justification before being given a national mouthpiece? In the age of digital journalism, apparently not.

Australian news audiences deserve better editorial standards. Prior to the incentivised “audience reaction” model brought upon by online advertising, political commentary being steered by the opinions of a high-school aged columnist quoting a Newspoll would have a seasoned print editor spinning in their grave violently enough to dig up some of that clean coal I keep hearing about. Age-dictated publishing exemplifies the downfall of contemporary political opinion... in my opinion.

To help steer a genuine discussion on public policy and politics, Australians and their columnists need direction. Slamming families slacking off on welfare as a solution to the Federal budget is all well and good, but some evidence proving the point goes a long way in having your point taken seriously and helping shape change.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center, a self-described non-partisan think-tank that conducts public opinion polling in the U.S., found that trust in the media is down to 32 per cent from 53 in 1997 and down to 14 percent among conservatives. Their response to popping political bubbles voters fall into is through increased integrity.

As prominent U.S. political speechwriter and columnist Michael Gerson wisely states:

'A journalism that enforces the highest standards of accuracy and professional conduct.… Without this, there is no common basis of fact to inform public decisions, and no invitation to empathy.'

The beauty of opinion is that anyone has one, but the stark reality of politics is that it is based on lengthy inquiry and investigation — it’s time to try and combine the two when writing on politics, to lessen the quantity over quality issue in today’s political opinion.

The irony of refuting an endless supply of opinion pieces in my own opinion piece is not lost on me; it is, however, the last resort for a 24 year-old columnist without a national byline to call home. I hope this piece gets the clicks it needs to stir up a conversation — lord knows my age isn’t enough to justify an audience anymore. 

You can follow Paul Maland on Twitter @PaulMaland.

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Newscorp and Caleb Bond's half-baked opinions: Australians deserve better

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