What’s all that about?

I have read my final Preston Institute post and decided it needs to be deconstructed and critiqued, like I usually do to others.  That voice I will do in italics.

Firstly – Apologies for the overly earnest opening. Really, this is a pretty self indulgent opening.

As I read news and retweet it out there into the ether as Preston Towers, I realise I don’t have the passion for the news and politics of Australia that I once possessed. Preston remains as a conduit of news for others, but the me behind it is just meh.  The same goes for this blog.

What is a blog anyway? Just a bunch of thoughts. It still blows my mind that thousands would read one of my posts. Thousands.  But honestly, I can’t think of anything else to say on this blog, which started off as a bad joke related to the activities of Gerard “Gringotts” Henderson.

This is why I have gone back to my first ever post, which was a firestorm of responses to contemporary, mundane, mediocre politics.

Geez that was woeful.  So much energy wasted on talking about Queensland. Queensland! That place that actually cares about rugby league.

I’ve also gone back to the way I introduced the blog, which was as follows:

By the way… Why The Preston Institute?

People of the outer suburbs have had many people talking about us – even Gerard Henderson in the Herald purports to speak about “Western Sydney” (here’s a quick precis from Loon Pond ), he speaks as someone who would be much too scared to walk through Penrith Plaza or sit on the beanbags at the Mt. Druitt Halfpipe Cinema.  Gerard, of course, for those who don’t know, is the Executive Director of the Sydney Institute.

Hence, I speak to you as Preston Towers, Executive Director of the Preston Institute. The Preston Institute will sit somewhere between the Sydney Institute, which appears to be a supper club for rich and powerful people listen to a revolving list of reactionary conservatives railing against the “elites” while tucking into their Confit of Suffolk lamb loin with smoked white carrot cream, fennel infused milk curd, Pantelleria capers, nasturtiums, green almonds and fennel pollen; and the Ponds Institute, which is a secretive place dedicated to keeping us all clean and young looking.  Hence, I will rail against elites while cleaning up things – all of which is dedicated to making you all young looking.

Looking back at it now, the shapes of this blog were all there. Bad Dad jokes, references to Gerard Henderson, Western Sydney.

That dinner sounds delicious, by the way.  Imagine being up yourself that much to accept an invite to the Sydney Institute. I would just laugh the whole night. But then I’d think of my father and realise that I was just being a wanker.

After all this time, nothing much has changed in the relationship between the outer and the inner of our cities.  To this day, the young and the funky of Sydney dream of a mention by that sour old irrelevancy in his Friday Rant.

This is true. New Sydney Push members on Twitter celebrating being published in that thing. I bet they crowed long and loud down at their pubs that Friday night.  Thing is, those specific members of the Push will never be as well known as Henderson.  That irony is quite the thing.

This is because, despite his mediocrity and faux intellectual chatter and approach to politics, Henderson is still an undeserved fixture in our media. Plus, his weird, anachronistic Institute stands as a symbol of Sydney, a rotten, conservative rathole of a place filled with old white people concerned about their investment portfolios and property values.

My dislike for Sydney is a constant theme in the blog and on Twitter. But I like the pretty and grungy bits of that dysfunctional dystopian hellscape. And there’s beautiful people in it. And then there’s completely selfish bastards who are obsessed with money.

My level of interest in politics now is summed up when I read Laurie Oakes and his ilk praising Pauline Hanson as a “sophisticated political operator”. I just roll my eyes these days, they still don’t get it.

Can’t blame them, I guess. Can’t be easy to work for commercial media organisations. So many compromises and silences to be done in the face of corporate owners and lawyers. Worse still, there’s us nobodies on Twitter and blogging, sniping at them for their mistakes. Didn’t happen in the good old days. 

Hanson is no different, just perhaps more cunning and has hired cynical deal makers like James Ashby.  Hanson and her type are already well known in the outer suburbs. They are the ignorant, the fearful and the troubled, people confused by today and see election days as a chance to register their protest vote.  Included in their number are the racists, the bigots and all the rest.

Back to the earnest prognostications. Truth is, I mostly encounter Hansonites during election campaigns, on the pages of local papers, election days or briefly as FB friends. Or, bizarrely, at a super expensive wine tasting day, where uber rich white bastards were saying how wonderful Hanson was for “speaking her mind” about Muslims. I’m glad I was rotten drunk at the time, because getting into a fight was probably not advisable. 

Add to that the uncritical breakfast TV watcher, who saw all the free TV time given to her by producers who like to snigger after she’s on, especially after having read the snarky tweets and Buzzfeed posts about “You won’t believe what Pauline said today”.

And why wouldn’t you.  Australian politics is damn boring to the average TV watcher. Just watch Insiders through the eyes of the average punter. They wouldn’t last a minute – except maybe in Talking Pictures, which is the best 5 minutes of political TV any given week. Also, Mike Bowers is one bloke I have met in the journo sphere, and is one of its best people. Jack the Insider is also a good bloke for a Carlton supporter.

But the views have gone out there. In that, it is fair to compare the rise of Hanson, TV celebrity as a small scale version of Trump.  On that same account, it is also fair to equate the rise of Facebook and its creation of echo chambers with the increased exposure of Hanson’s “whinge of the week”.

Fair, but also a pretty long bow. But hey, why not do the take that throws Trump into things. It should be easy to write a decent Trump Take.  People voted Trump because loads of Americans are stupid enough to be sucked into the greatest scam of the modern age. 

The thing about Hanson’s supporters, though, is that they crave being accepted and “listened to” by the mainstream, those in power.  And they continue to be shunned and ignored in almost every single thing written and said about them.  The only pieces I have seen that in any way get Hanson’s appeal is this superb piece by Bridie Jabour, as opposed to Margo Kingston’s piece, which starts promisingly, but then lapses into poor journo generalisations about “most ordinary Australians”.  But that’s it.

One of the best things about my blogging / tweeting is meeting some lovely, warm, genuine people. Bridie is one of them.  With Bridie, I can say I’m pretty biased about her work – but she is definitely one of those who get regional Australia. Margo, however, is one of the most patronising people I’ve encountered on Twitter. 

But also, this thing about being craved and listened to is something I share. I was flattered to get noticed for a brief time there. Who wouldn’t be? I’m just some teacher in a suburban school. But I know it’s time I returned to being That Bloke again.

The reality of Hanson is that she does what she has always done – scream about inequality and then beam when she is welcomed into the rooms of power.  That isn’t sophistication, what gets her into that room is the fear engendered in the Coalition by having so many One Nation Senators.  In addition, she will get played by the Government, who will give ground on minor things in order to get through legislation that will hurt Hanson’s voters and long term, Hanson’s popularity with those voters.   And because most press gallery journalists have next to no idea or genuine interest about people in regional areas and their concerns, they will continue to misread Hanson and her inability to think strategically daily.

Meh. Let’s see. This is more earnest bullshit I’m not sure even I fully believe. 

But none of that matters all that much, in the collection of molehills that is our political landscape.  In the landscape, the press gallery are the stenographers of our daily miasma.  They seem to me to resemble Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern endlessly discussing the flipping of a coin.

Bloody English teacher, putting in a Stoppard reference. And I’m possibly being a bit rough on the journalists. I’m not Andrew Elder, who does get genuinely white hot in his loathing of them. I just see people trying to do their best and being in a profession where now punters get to throw rotten fruit at them in the public square. Some deserve it, others don’t.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of thing as a profession – we don’t need the looming treacherous mountain ranges that have now appeared in the US.

Bloody English teacher, damn metaphors.

There’s also nothing overly wrong with the coverage from a number of the journalists working on politics. They are in the bubble, gatekeepers looking in, not out. It’s hard to get in and most don’t show any interest in leaving that – and why would they. Speaking as someone who works in one of the most insular and bubblicious professions – teaching -I deal with such attitudes daily. It’s the compromise people undertake who want to make a decent living.

And blogging / tweeting provided a bit of escape from those binds. But that’s wearing thin after this many years.  A bit like this self critique, which is boring me now.

But in all honesty, I have given up caring about the advocacy of outer suburban voices in the media space.  The illusion of access to the media by Twitter and blogging was seductive, pointless and has distracted me – and honestly, inflated my ego – for far too long.   That’s why this possible probable final post is needed, no matter how much of a conflict I will feel as I walk away from blogging.

This has been, despite a fair few disappointments, an excellent experience for the most part – I was flattered by the lovely things said about my posts – when people read them – as well as my experience with Ausvotes / Ausopinion. Its founder, Paula Matthewson still daunts me with her volume of work in the opinion stakes.

And I’ve still not met Paula – she still owes me a beer or three. And, oh wait, here’s some more self indulgent quoting from Stoppard.  It’s been fun talking in this meta way. Laters.

But… I have found after all this time that I really should be doing other things. Perhaps write more about sport – more Footy Almanac things, rekindling my interest in writing about education, maybe a classical music blog.  Or maybe just… silence.

GUIL (retiring): I’m relieved. At least we can still count on self-interest as a predictable factor… I suppose it’s the last to go. Your capacity for trust made me wonder if perhaps… you, alone…(He turns on ROS suddenly, reaches out a hand.) Touch.

(ROS claps his hand. GUIL pulls him up to him.)

GUIL: (More intensely): We have been spinning coins together since – (He releases him almost as violently.) This is not the first time we spun coins!

ROS: Oh no – we’ve been spinning coins for as long as I remember.

GUIL: How long is that?

ROS: I forget. Mind you – eighty-five times!

GUIL: Yes?

ROS: It’ll take some time beating, I imagine.

GUIL: Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?

ROS: Fear?

GUIL (in fury – flings a coin on the ground): Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!

ROS: Heads… (He puts it in his bag.)

Why is it so hard to understand Trump?

There’s been a lot of stuff said about the victory of Donald Trump.

A Lot. Of Stuff.  Here’s more. I promise it’s gunna be short.

But – this wasn’t a win for “Anti-Politics” or whatever shitpuffin expression used by people pretending to be outside the “political class”. We have seen this before.  Trump was just a front man with a new way of selling old manure.

I was surprised like most people that Trump won. I trusted the polls, the media coverage, the “surely no-one sensible would vote for that loon”, but didn’t realise that the media in the US have as little to no idea of how people think and act outside inner city zones as most Australian media.

The whole “surely people won’t vote Trump” sounded a bit familiar. Like it was 2013 and an onion eating fool with little to offer but negativity and “I’m not those guys who have done little for you” in a campaign.

Also familiar was this piece of advertising that was not commented on all that much in the lead up to the election. Maybe because it wasn’t weird enough, not filled with the anti-bank conspiracy guff that also emerged.

cwjdrokukaauyw

Pretty simple messaging. There’s no “heat of the moment” Trump here, no racist Twitter frog megaphones abusing journalists, just a simple message to those people hurting in the states clinging to an industrial and mining past that the Democrats and Republicans largely ignored in previous campaigns.  There’s little difference between such an ad and this one from 2013. cwjgq4wvyaeq3z4

And this simple, negative campaign stuff works if there’s some kind of dissatisfaction. If the political system is perceived to have not helped those outside the inner suburban areas of their nations, people get pissed off and they tip out the incumbents.  Also, American voters have this strange instinct to not help a President change things by voting for their opposition two years later.   There’s also the tradition of voters rarely granting the Democrats another president after they have had two terms to fix things. This is a political cycle in action.

Sure, Trump dogwhistled (and frankly, just whistled) to racists throughout the campaign, gained the support of a bunch of deplorable cockroaches from under the floorboards of the rickety American house of civil debate. And we saw his other disgusting personal qualities also came to the surface. All of that happened with Abbott too, all the way through from the time he took over as opposition leader.

But putting aside personal weirdness and disgraceful behaviour towards women – as voters have managed to do with both men, to the lasting disgust of many of us – both managed one big “success” – to undermine the way politics used to be done in their countries – Abbott with his relentless lies, negativity and lack of respect for the way politics was done in Canberra.  Trump did pretty much that same job – and it was easy to do against such an establishment candidate like Clinton.  It wasn’t hard to characterise her as “part of the problem”.

However, all these points seem to evade people who seem to think that West Wing isn’t as fanciful as a Doctor Who episode.

Yes, this will be a dreadful time for so many people. But right now it doesn’t seem massively different to my childhood, which was filled with the image of a completely clueless buffoon in Ronald Reagan lumbering around the White House, seemingly hanging out for his next nap while it seemed George H.W. Bush and various other murky characters ran things. It was that time where my general disinterest in daily US Politics took hold.  Studying the history of US and the world at uni just made me see even more clearly how the US prized their isolationism at a primal level.   And now that instinct has a vocal champion.

Trump is going to be awful and is bringing in awful people in a variety of positions. But this isn’t “anti-politics”. As we can see with the early cabinet appointments, it’s politics as usual, with the frontman bringing in new voters for the Republican machine. Trump sold the message that he’s different, but that was pure image bullshit, like Malcolm Turnbull’s Q and A leather jacket.  Sure, he’s also brought in a few loose wingnuts like Bannon inside, but if Bannon wants to bring in his weird Lenin style beliefs, he will quickly find the hard heads shutting that down. They will be saying “hmmmmm” to Bannon whilst they bring back all their machinery dedicated to repression and bringing their reactionary hammers to all sorts of progressive reforms. Cause that’s what the Republicans do.

Say Hello to the Fratercula Australis Stercus (the Australian Shitpuffin)

Origins

Welcome to puffins.  They are cute.  They don’t move much.

In Australia, we have a mutation of the puffin. The Shitpuffin. But just what is a shitpuffin?

In order to define just what the The Australian Shitpuffin (Fratercula Stercus Australis) is and does, we need to understand the behaviour of its originator.  Puffins (Fratercula) tend to gather around and not move all that much. They are known to squawk a bit. They seem to like to potter around and that’s pretty much it. They are generally inoffensive – and there’s many admirers, because they are generally cute and inoffensive.  The question we need to ask is, most of us like shitpuffins, but what purpose do they really serve, evolutionarily speaking?

Habitat

  • Seen most behind a computer or phone screen
  • Often witnessed pursuing high paying careers
  • During weekends, pottering around the house, online or perhaps a rally
  • Rarely seen venturing beyond their community into poorer areas

Behaviour

We experience the Stercus Australis mostly as an online based entity. They are generally professionals, or casuals who want to be professionals with some time on their hands to scour things online. Or sit down on a Monday night and watch the ABC. They like to think of themselves as being progressive and making a difference, to the extent of undertaking the following behaviour:

  • Building a Social Media Brand focused on being Progressive, Edgy, Passionate or being gripped by the daily commentary by those who are
  • Going online and expressing outrage about the latest progressive issue
  • Watching Q and A and grumbling about its guests online, thinking that the discussion does actually sum up “the national conversation”
  • Using phrases like “the national conversation”
  • Watching Insiders, hoping it may become relevant and sensitive to everyday lives -despite it never happening
  • Tweeting about Question Time as if Question Time shenanigans actually mean anything
  • Going to rallies
  • Going on Facebook and ranting about the media ignoring rallies
  • Go to the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” hosted in the plush surrounds of the Sydney Opera House, to be aroused about Dangerous Ideas like Andrew Bolt speaking
  • Say they care about the environment, about social issues. But the extent of their support is generally “awareness”, tweets and Facebook posts.
  • Read particular columns in Fairfax papers and the Guardian if an older variety; Junkee, BuzzFeed and Pedestrian if younger.
  • Watch The Project and is happy when Waleed Aly “Nails It” – retweeting the video of it
  • Hand out how-to-vote sheets at elections, in order to show support, “wave the flag”
  • Can be passive aggressive if challenged on their views
  • Make / share bad memes (like this one)

puffins

The Stercus Australis are generally friendly, inoffensive and harmless.  They are much preferable, for example to creatures such as the Aegypius Monachus Stercus Hildebrandia, whose entire existence is spent writing bad columns about the Fratercula Stercus Australis. Their intentions are good.  Many of us exhibit their tendencies from time to time.  It is also possible to see other examples of Fratercula Stercus in other wealthy first world nations.   For things to happen in society to bring progressive change, however, the Fratercula Stercus needs to evolve from being an ineffective, slow moving puffin to being able to affect change in the environment around them.  Otherwise, they may suffer the same fate as their cousins in Iceland.

6a00d8341c643353ef015393ce97ee970b-600wi.jpg

 

Knott Getting It Right – Why the Media Got the Election Wrong

I am annoyed at myself. Long ago, long before this election was even called, I was convinced that two of my local seats – Macquarie and Macarthur – were going to be Labor once again. That was my instinct based local knowledge. For Macquarie, it was because of the long term campaigning in the Blue Mountains of Labor’s Susan Templeman whilst her opponent, Louise Markus, was a poor campaigner and local member. In Macarthur, because local candidate Dr. Michael Freelander was a very well known local paediatrician against the slightly clownish former mayor Russell Matheson. That and a general dislike for a government that had been tinkering with welfare payments and Medicare.  Lindsay, I wasn’t so sure about. That area keeps increasing in gentrification and wealth, which usually leads to a higher Liberal vote. But it did have state election candidate, Emma Husar, who simply needed to continue her doorknocking.

I am annoyed about myself because as the election campaign started, I lost that local instinct and bought the national media’s line about the western suburbs hook, line and myopic sinker.  The western suburbs weren’t shifting, they said. Liberal Party strategists said Lindsay was in the bag, even with both party leaders visiting the place very often.  And NO-ONE was talking about Macarthur and Macquarie.  We had lots of articles and thinkpieces about Batman and Grayndler, though.

Why? Because the media circus who report on elections don’t seem to care about such areas unless they are told to be by media and political insiders.  It was the same in 2010, when I started this blog. It was the same in 2013. And now we are here, in 2016.

What we did see what rubbish like bookies’ odds, bus selfies, Fake Tradie hunts and journalists on Twitter tweeting back and forward lols at each other.

No wonder they were surprised at the result. There was a lot of evidence available showing that they were out of touch and unwilling to accept feedback to that effect.

Maybe, however, they may be willing to listen. Today, Matthew Knott of the Herald has come out with this piece, positing the idea that maybe they did get it wrong.  It’s a good piece, despite still mostly relying on insider analysis.  His words in the boxes.

It’s not just politicians searching their souls after Saturday night’s surprisingly close election result.

Those political reporters not too hubristic to engage in self doubt are asking: did we get it wrong? Did we, as a collective, miss the story?

The consensus, speaking to colleagues in the Canberra press gallery, is a reluctant yes. Some insist they got it spot on. But many admit they expected a more decisive Coalition victory than occurred. And they concede this influenced the way the media covered the campaign.

Those who insist they got it spot on are fooling themselves.  There was a consensus that this was a long, boring campaign where there was some improvement from Labor, but that was it.

One gallery veteran put it simply: “We didn’t believe the polls.”

This election campaign rained polls. Week after week, media outlets published national polls showing a 50-50 tie or at best a 51-49 Coalition lead.

The results barely shifted from week one to eight. Yet, as the campaign progressed, a view solidified that the Coalition was on track for a relatively comfortable victory.

Yet the Coalition suffered a sizeable swing against it on election night and is struggling to hit the 76 seats needed to govern in its own right.

So what happened?

One thing – there should be much more to media coverage of elections than polls. Detailed knowledge of the regional areas that are more likely to swing is much more valuable than just looking at various poll results and making lofty pronouncements.  It turns out that the one poll that was discounted more than the others – a ReachTel seat poll commissioned by the NSW Teachers’ Federation, was actually the most accurate poll of the lot – and was wildly different from national polls.  But because the consensus was to listen to Liberal strategists and to each other, reportage of that poll disappeared.   Again, I was convinced that those ReachTel numbers were out of whack, because media coverage was spun that way.
Stupid, really.

“No one believed us!” a senior Labor Party strategist says, insisting he warned journalists they were writing off Bill Shorten too soon.

“We were projecting a confidence that many people thought was bravado.

“The commentariat fell into a bubble and were reflecting what each other thought.

“A narrative caught hold and everyone started reporting it.”

With hindsight, there’s much to support this .

As Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Don Cobb says in the film Inception: “What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?”

No. It’s an idea.

“Once an idea has taken hold of the brain,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to eradicate”.

Yes it is. And no matter how much people outside the bubble talk about the contrary, it’s common amongst those inside the bubble to ignore and / or dismiss contrary evidence, views and opinions expressed on mediums like Twitter and the various commentary blogs. This was partially because most of the journalists were on the same bus, literally in a bubble. That was also because many were committed to gotcha moments in inner city seats, such as trivial stuff like David Feeney’s property portfolio and Richard Di Natale’s au pair arrangements. But it was, as ever, a complete waste of time to offer this critique on Twitter, unless you are one of them. This deliberate cutting off from the world outside the bubble definitely led to various ideas.

 

Several ideas took hold quickly in the gallery’s collective brain. That Australians don’t kick out a first term governments (despite this happening recently at a state level). And that Malcolm Turnbull’s personal popularity was a decisive advantage against the less prime ministerial Shorten.

During the campaign, several events became seen as “turning points” for the Coalition despite the polls never really budging. Labor’s admission it would increase the budget deficit over the next four years was one. So was the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The Australian Financial Review‘s Laura Tingle spoke for many in the gallery in mid-June when she wrote that “the sense that Labor is a serious challenger has faded”.

And The Australian‘s Dennis Shanahan on the day before election day: “Malcolm Turnbull is coming home with the wind in his sails, Bill Shorten is running out of puff.

The Daily Telegraph, already foreshadowing a challenge to Shorten’s leadership, reported on Friday that Malcolm Turnbull was on the “brink of victory”. Fairfax Media highlighted a 50-50 poll result but with an unusually strong emphasis on voter expectations that Turnbull would win.

Leading commentators on Sky News predicted between 80 to 85 seats for the Coalition, with Peter van Onselen saying he would quit in the event of a hung parliament.

Many had picked up a “vibe” in the community that voters were disappointed in Turnbull, but not sufficiently angry to remove him. There was also the confidence exuded by Turnbull and his advisers.

Many of us even convinced ourselves that the low-energy, small-target campaign was a clever way of “boring” voters into backing the Coalition.

There’s an inherent issue here. The Australian and the Daily Telegraph have been anti Labor for as long as anyone can remember, so looking for any direction from them raises considerable questions.  In addition, all of these are vague feels, rather than concrete knowledge or understanding of public perception or belief.

One such issue that exposed this gap between the media coverage and voters was that of Medicare (which is now, quite vapidly, being referred to by the Coalition’s word for it, “Mediscare”). Two elements made that particular campaign work for Labor. One was that the Coalition did fiddle with Medicare. It flirted with a co-payment. It put bulk billing at risk – most doctors in the outer suburbs bulk bill, so that was important.  Journalists may have been distracted by inner city people on Twitter saying “who bulk bills anymore?”.  That, like much of Twitter’s daily chatter, was irrelevant to the experience of those in swing seats.  The Government did look at the privatising of elements of Medicare’s operation, so that wasn’t made up. The other element was Abbott’s last minute “there will be no cuts…” speech, which was perceived by many in the same way as Gillard’s “No carbon tax” promise – proof that the Government couldn’t be trusted. It may have been a new man in the chair, but it was the same government. So the Medicare attack line worked because it was based on a grain of truth and a whole lot of perception.  But we didn’t hear that type of analysis during the campaign. It was mostly verbatim repeats of what politicians said and trivia.  Back to Knott, quoting from Jonathan Holmes.

“You got the impression they were confident and confident for a reason,” former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes says of the coverage. “There was very little scepticism of what was behind that”.

But if the media were wrong they were hardly alone. Two days before election day the bookmakers – often hailed as more accurate than pollsters – had Labor at $8 and the Coalition narrowing to a near guarantee of $1.08.

Many political insiders, too, were surprised by the scale of the swing.

Strategists from both sides agreed early on that Labor would pick up 12 seats at best. A week before polling day Labor strategists were telling reporters they expected to pick up eight to 10 seats. They picked up 14 seats, and may win up to 16.

Bookies. Journalists love repeating bookie odds, even though bookies would be basing their info on media reports, rather than detailed knowledge of areas and seats.  It’s a silly echo loop, perpetuated by people like Stephen Koukoulas, who on Twitter is part Tom Waterhouse, part Angry Boomer complaining about The Young People.  These kinds of people should be seen as the Twitter carnival acts they have become, rather than serious analysts, until such time as bookie odds and fights with other Twitter carnival acts become a thing of the past.

Plus, which strategists were they talking to? I talked to many who were confident of a shift to Templeman in Macquarie, for example – yet we never heard that from any source.

For me, the dumbest moment of the campaign was this –

Meanwhile, the Coalition was talking up gains in seats such as Werriwa (easily held by Labor).

As. If.  Not in Green Valley, which has some of the poorest people – including a number of former refugees – in Sydney.  I doubt most journalists would even know how to get to Werriwa.  Back to Knott, quoting from Barrie Cassidy, who is perhaps not the best at knowing what happens outside the journalistic bubble.

So, as Insiders host Barrie Cassidy asked, were journalists shown to be “gullible”? Or were they being lied to?

Neither, a Coalition strategist says.

“Everything I heard indicated the swings for Labor were not happening where they needed to be,” the insider says.

Serious questions are now being asked in the Liberal Party about the accuracy of its polling and who had access to it.

But Holmes says the media shouldn’t let themselves off too easily.

“There is certainly a lesson for the gallery about whether they should be less credulous when it comes to internal polling,” he says. Particularly when it is being briefed anonymously.

“Everything I heard”. That’s what comes of listening to strategists and not having detailed knowledge and understanding of the areas in which the votes may well change.  And that doesn’t mean endless articles and stories talking about Western Sydney or Regional Queensland. That means talking about specific areas and specific issues, which didn’t happen.

Blaming Liberal strategists for getting things wrong is an absurd excuse for journalists who needed to do their job properly – which means being less credulous and resisting the urge to just report what they are told by insiders. They should have been doing stories and investigations of possible swing seats during the last three years, so such stories and research could have been used during the campaign. The shallowness of the stories that came thick and fast during the campaign was mind boggling.

That shallowness, however, was not present in the many pieces we saw about Batman, which was a largely irrelevant seat when seen in the national picture.  Whether Batman is Green or Labor won’t have an impact on the direction of the nation when compared to the possible swing of seats in WA, Qld and NSW from the Coalition to Labor. Yet that seat received a disproportionate amount of coverage.  I say this as someone who likes Alex Bhathal and thinks would make a good MP. But Batman should not have been covered as much as it was.

One of the good features of Knott’s piece was quoting Margaret Simons, who had the best insights to share.

 

Margaret Simons, Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at University of Melbourne, says: “I was struck by how everyone was so wise after the event and so all-knowing.

“It’s easy to write in retrospect where everything went wrong but I didn’t see many people pointing it out as the campaign was happening.”

Simons offers the example of the eight-week long election double dissolution election campaign itself. Originally hailed as a political masterstroke, it was only after Saturday that many commentators started questioning how wise the decision was.

“Journalists,” Simons concludes, “were too quick to become part of Malcolm’s fan club.”

Leather Jacket Syndrome is a very real phenomenon amongst the press pack, with Peter Hartcher suffering with one of the worst cases of it.  “How could anyone still like Tony?” was the consensus amongst the press pack. Yet stand with Fiona Scott more than a minute at pre poll, like I did in the last week and they would have seen angry people saying to her “I didn’t like what you did to Tony”.   There was even an Onion Man loving (and Mosque hating) candidate in the seat, Marcus Cornish, who stood as an ex Liberal purely so he could exact revenge on Scott by taking volunteers away from Scott’s campaign, as well as direct preferences to Labor. His 2.4% was enough to put Labor’s Emma Husar over the line.  This kind of detail was missing from any analysis of seats in those marginal swing areas.

Finally, in an interesting and refreshing new twist, Knott listened to people on Twitter, which does have its pluses and minuses.

In preparing this piece, I asked readers on Twitter and on Facebook for their views of the coverage.

Some dominant criticisms emerged:

  • An insistence the Coalition was on track to win (despite the polls predicting a tight result) and a consistent under-estimation of Shorten’s performance;
  • Overly “insular” coverage dominated by conversations with political insiders and other journalists rather than voters
  • Coverage that was too “presidential”, with an intense focus on daily movements of both leaders;
  • Too much focus on the colour and movement of campaigning rather than the policy offerings of the two main parties;
  • A lack of co-ordination by journalists, especially in the travelling media pack, to demand answers from the leaders;
  • More focus on campaigning techniques by third-party groups such as GetUp!

Journalists may quibble with some points. If the campaign is light on policy, blame the politicians’ and not us. Others might argue that, despite what readers say they want to read, many more will click on a story about a “fake” tradie than a plan to save the Murray Darling Basin.

Still, that doesn’t mean those in the media shouldn’t listen – and reflect.

Yes, all of these critiques hold true.  The political media need to have that list pasted somewhere to remind them in future elections.  Yet there’s also the idea posited at the same time that the reason why policy is trumped by fake tradie garbage shows a problem for that media – the idea of clicks driving the media.

Their readers may be inner city political tragics who enjoy clicking on trivia, but where the media get this stuff wrong was in being focused on entertaining those clickers, rather than on the issues and the people who actually swing elections.   People in such seats make a judgement call based on service delivery and hence swing hard.  In the inner city seats lived in by most consumers of the news, those swings are small in regards to conservative / progressive changes.  Yet such minor swings get blanket coverage.

Even now in the wash up, there’s a proliferation of articles that ask “what does this means for the Greens”,  which should be of minor interest in terms of the ramifications of the election.  The Greens as a party did well in this election at holding on – and in same cases growing – their vote in an election that was again about shifting from one major to another. However, they remain largely irrelevant to marginal swing seats, except as a help to Labor in terms of preferences.  Richard Di Natale’s pragmatic approach to building the credibility of the Greens may have long term benefits in those seats, certainly more so than in the recent past. The party needs to stick to that long term plan of gaining economic and social credibility, rather than be distracted by critiques from activists who continue to validate and push the affluent Sydney baby boomer belief that the party isn’t socialist enough.  But right now, the relevant and vital story that needs to be told is that of Liberal and Labor and their appealing to the working class and middle class of the swing seats.

It’s encouraging to have journalists such as Matthew Knott to want to genuinely seek feedback from people in regards journalists and reportage. They can’t say it hasn’t been available – Andrew Elder has been talking about this issue for years, and has been largely rebuffed, partially due to his (understandably) furiously frustrated tone, but the substance of his critique generally holds true.  I used to do that as well, before I gave up.  Being responded to in a snarky and dismissive style tends to make people discouraged from offering critiques.  There’s a fair few on Twitter who have experienced the same.  I don’t mean the Whacky Ibises in that, who often drown out rational voices.

As the last quote in Knott’s piece says,

As Simons says: “A little humility goes a long way.”

Yes. I hope there is a touch more of that shown and felt by people wanting to provide a full and comprehensive view of Australia in their coverage.   This may surprise some, but I believe one of the best journalists through this campaign was Buzzfeed’s Alice Workman, who listened to feedback as well as did some very good live interviews with politicians during the campaign – while using an engaging and non self important tone. More of Workman’s style of coverage, focused in certain regions, would have worked well. Because out there, beyond the bubble, there’s still people after detailed and well researched journalism, no matter the outlet.

Brexit’s Silent Victim – The Hope of the Derry Peace Bridge

In the wake of the Brexit business, I have been thinking all week of a wonderful couple who live on the east side of the River Foyle in Derry.  They run an outstanding B and B  – and supplied the best full Irish breakfast we had. They were “Irish” living in a 50/50 area. The husband had run various pubs on the west side of the Foyle for some years and had also worked for British Olivetti (he told a story of how the fact his British sounding name and the fact he worked for a British company had saved his life in a Unionist Belfast pub). The couple were proud of what Derry was becoming – a peaceful place with a bright future. So were the Irish speaking couple, one of whom lived and worked in Derry, the other in Donegal, whom we met in an “Irish” pub (as in, for those of Irish background) in Derry.  This in a town still where the police still used armoured trucks, carried machine guns and there was barbed wire around the Gaelic football grounds.  But there was still a huge feeling of hope.

The symbol of that future was the Peace Bridge, connecting the west and east sides of the Foyle.  It was half funded by the EU, as part of its commitment to the ongoing peace process.  There were many who speculated that not many would use it – as many generations of the “English” hadn’t wanted to go to the west side. But by the time we went there in 2012, plenty were using it every day to walk or cycle. Or just be there.

Here’s my original post from 4 years ago.

Across the River Foyle, £15 million was spent on a bridge that was built between two quite different communities.  On the west side of the Foyle has the city centre, but also an almost entirely Catholic community – including the well known Bogside area, which, amongst other events, experienced Bloody Sunday.  On the east side, the community is roughly 50 / 50 Catholic / Protestant.  There were objections raised, communities questioning whether people from both sides would cross to the other, the cost, the name.  Fortunately for the city, all barriers were overcome and the bridge has been built.

In a city as contested and troubled as Derry / Londonderry has been, such a project has become a symbol of the optimism and the movement of the city to a new era.  It has, for a start, witnessed a large increase of people wishing to cross from the east over to the west, either by walking, running or on cycle.  When I was there near sunset, there was a lot of foot traffic. Our wonderful B and B hosts (from the East Side) also told us about the pride people had for the bridge. We could see why.  The design has helped with the success of the bridge for the community.  Its curve and seats have been crucial for its stunning look and encouragement to sit and enjoy the river and surrounds.

The Curved Peace Bridge

How Derry looks behind the bridge

Also important are the seats – the Peace Bridge has two long seats, ideal for sitting and enjoying the view.  During the day, the view is beautiful too.

One of the seats on the Peace Bridge

The view from one of the seats

And just in case you haven’t realised just how stunning the Peace Bridge really is from the bridge itself …

The Peace Bridge is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction by itself – and so it should. Like the city of Derry / Londonderry, it represents how people can rise above adversity and have a new, interesting future.  Bridges can inspire and act as a magnet to an area.  The Peace Bridge in Derry is one such project.

But now, due to some insular nonsense sparked from all the way in London, all of this hope may just evaporate.

Battling the VFL Mentality – The Success of the Giants and Victorian Media Opposition

It’s been a fascinating experience, being a part of something new, the project around the Greater Western Sydney Giants. A club being built from pretty much nothing and copping buffeting from media outlets that mostly still show little interest in the second Sydney team, radio networks that are openly hostile to the Giants where it suits them and so on. That is settling down now, helped by fairly even handed pieces such as this by Herald league writer Andrew Webster.

This year, however, with the success of the Giants on the field, we supporters have discovered a new field of hostility, heat and largely irrational criticism, Victorian writers and fans who think that it’s unfair that the Giants may win a premiership. Silly things like this from a Herald Sun writer.

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The most heated of these was a recent piece in The New Daily by Tom Heenan of Monash University.  It’s a handy go-to guide for any student of football coverage for every lazy Victorian anti – Giants cliche.  Let’s go a-Fisking.

Why GWS will never win the intercode battle

ANALYSIS: The AFL have bankrolled and manipulated their success but the locals still don’t care, Tom Heenan writes.

The idea that there is an intercode “battle” is the first cliche off the rank – the idea that the Giants must destroy every other code in order to “win”.  This is fairly superficial analysis of the ability in Sydney for a number of sporting codes to have their own niche.  Rugby Union (which most Victorians seem to confuse with rugby league) survives healthily without destroying rugby league, for example.  Also standing out there in the subheading is the idea that “the locals still don’t care”. That’s a fairly blanket statement based on no evidence – it reads more like a Twitter comment about the Giants during games, or a grumpy SEN talkback caller complaining about draft picks going to a “team in a rugby state”.

(N.B. That is not the last time this analysis sounds like one of those callers)

As the sporting universe grows more manipulative and corrupt, a new term has surfaced: the fairytale.

A few weeks ago it was the English Premier League’s Leicester City. Next month it might be the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. And in September, it could be the AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Sitting 7-2 after nine games, the Giants are the talk of the footy world.

A curious parallel being drawn here, with the other two teams being entirely different in their cultural contexts.  The Cavaliers, in particular, are a successful one team in a city franchise that is 45 years old and have been a successful team for a while with a superstar player – not sure how their victories are a “fairytale”.  And as for the “talk of the footy world”, he means the Victorian footy world, which seem to infer a belief that everyone should be talking about the Giants in NSW in the same way that are being talked about in Victoria and the other AFL states, and if they aren’t, why aren’t they, dammit?   But let’s go on with the next group of assertions.

But let’s get a few things straight. Most sporting fairytales are bankrolled by billionaires, or written on the back of institutional and financial support from administering sports bodies. They massage their competitions to ensure their fairytales come true.

Take the case of the Giants.

The club has 12,780 members and draws, on average, around 10,300 to its home games. The numbers aren’t flash, but there are reasons. For most of their short history, the Giants have played terribly.

Across the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Giants lost 21 consecutive games. Four years later, the Giants are premiership contenders, having beaten premiership favourites Geelong, three-time defending premiers Hawthorn and the rising Western Bulldogs.

Even though they’re playing good footy, the locals don’t seem to care. Just 9,612 showed up on Sunday for their win over the Bulldogs.

“They massage their competitions” doesn’t quite ring true for Leicester, where whilst the club was funded by a billionaire, it’s not a team of millionaire players.  But I digress. Let’s look at the “don’t seem to care” assertion.

The most disappointing part of this piece is contained within the dismissive “the locals don’t seem to care” – an assertion based on nothing but crowd numbers, and without any of the context about the historical relationship between Sydney and sport attendance.

There is some truth behind the assertion that poor performances in the first four years of the club have been matched by poor crowd numbers.  But there is more to the development of the Giants crowd numbers than poor performances.  The Giants are still developing a cultural sporting footprint in Western Sydney, which has been centred around making the region aware of the code, comfortable with the code and then encouraging the people to get along to a game or two – with the hope being that this expands to membership. It’s a slow process involving schools programs, developing the Sunday suburban competition and the like.

As a look through the Sydney sport history context would reveal – even a look at the history of the Sydney Swans – development of crowd attendance at sport aren’t just about teams winning the previous week.  It’s not as if crowds will magically appear overnight when a team like the Giants wins against teams that are still not all that well known in Sydney.   The Bulldogs game is a perfect example of this.  There were a number of factors mitigating against a larger crowd.

  • The Bulldogs don’t have a large number of supporters who live in Sydney, unlike bigger clubs like Hawthorn, Collingwood and Richmond. Nor do they have a large number of supporters able to travel to Sydney to support their club, unlike those larger clubs
  • There’s not the brand recognition with the Western Bulldogs football team as being a big champion team in Sydney – their success has been relatively recent
  • There was, at the same time, an NRL game playing next door at ANZ between the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters, which had a crowd of 18,000. Two Sydney clubs on a Sunday, attracting a crowd only double that of a club that is young, playing a code that is just beginning to build.

That NRL crowd should be telling a sport historian a great deal about the context of sporting support in Sydney and the historically low numbers of fans willing to go to live sport, especially in the Olympic precinct.  There are other clubs in the NRL, such as Penrith and Cronulla, to whom 9,000 would have been a decent sized crowd – and that’s with their home grounds being easily accessible in their regions.  That kind of analysis and understanding of the Sydney sport context would have been welcome in Heenan’s piece.  Heenan, like a number of Victorian commentators, seem to believe that the Giants should be filling its stadium with 25,000 + in the same way Victorian clubs when they are successful. Context, though, is everything.

Let’s continue with the nub of Heenan’s Victorian – centred complaint. The academies fallacy.

Of course, the Giants’ rise is no surprise. The club has had a dream run with its academy system.

In the early days, the Giants got first option on 12 elite 17-year olds. Included in that list is midfield star Dylan Shiel, a Brownlow Medal favourite, and star forward Jeremy Cameron.

The Giants’ biggest coup, though, was taking the code’s top talent through the AFL draft.

They had the top five picks, and 11 of the first 14 in the 2011 draft. They had the top three picks in the 2012 edition and the first two in 2013. In 2014, they had three of the first seven selections.

Backed by the AFL and with a million dollar salary cap allowance, the Giants have had enough financial muscle to retain most of its talent – and top-up its list with players already on the system.

Callan Ward, Tom Scully, Shane Mumford, Heath Shaw, Phil Davis and Steve Johnson have all proved their worth.

There has been a lot of talk about the perceived unfairness of the Riverina Giants academy zone, with chief critic of northern states club success, Eddie McGuire, again leading the Victorian grizzling choir.  That main theme in attitudes towards players coming from the Riverina being picked for the Giants is that the Riverina is really just like a Victorian area, strong in AFL. This is despite the evidence to the contrary that suggests that successful AFL players from the Riverina has been a piecemeal phenomenon for some time – yes, Wayne Carey came from Wagga Wagga, but that was some time ago.   The Riverina area is still a contested code area that needed development money and an academy to help bolster a NSW club. That is what the Giants academy is about.

This paragraph by Heenan, however, about “the academy system” is not really about the academy system. He seems to be confusing recruitment, draft picks and the academy system. Dylan Shiel and Jeremy Cameron did not come from the Riverina Academy, for example.  There were a lot of favourable draft picks, and many of those players are now being successful for the Giants – as have the recruits mentioned.  To mention all of this as a part of a critical piece about the development of the Giants does not take into account the problems faced by northern states football clubs in their early days – the Brisbane Bears and Sydney Swans faced many near death experiences in their early years, due to a lack of consideration of what would make a successful club.  The Giants project, along with the Suns, were both built with consideration of that history. As has been pointed out by Luke Beveridge, coach of the Bulldogs:

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge felt discussion about the issue was disrespectful of the Giants’ recent development.

“It’s disappointing we don’t recognise the great job that they’re doing at the moment. They’ve lost some players (to other clubs and to injury),” Beveridge said.

The development of the Giants has been more than just draft picks and superstars, as the relative disappointment of the Suns have shown. That does not seem to be a part of this Heenan discussion, because he wants to smack the Giants down, not present a balance analysis of the issues around the development of the club. This is shown later on.

The real story will be not when the Giants win a premiership, but if they don’t.

The Giants have been bankrolled by the AFL to the tune of $20 million per year. Despite this, the club still recorded a $341,000 loss in 2015.

The AFL recognises that a Giants premiership offers the best chance of cracking the western Sydney market and recouping some return on its hefty investment.

Having a foothold in Australia’s most competitive football region was a vital bargaining chip in the AFL’s latest $2.5 billion broadcast rights’ deal with Seven, Foxtel and Telstra.

Yes, all of this is true. Again, though, it appears as though these facts are just there to infer that this is an expensive experiment for people “who don’t care”.  To suggest that AFL doesn’t have a wider commercial goal with the Giants and the Suns is to display a overly naive view of sport and business.   But back to Heenan and more of his curious assertions.

But it’s going to take a big effort to crack a market which is geographically and ethnically diverse, and rugby league and soccer heartlands.

Given their ethnic diversity, league and soccer are more reflective of Sydney’s greater west than the AFL.

The NRL’s Penrith Panthers and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are two of the richest football brands in the country, while the A-League’s Western Sydney Wanderers has a membership of over 18,000 – 5000 more than the struggling Giants – and the most tribal fan-base in the country.

The problem is that few people in Sydney’s greater west are interested in the Giants. For starters, the team is not located in the greater west.

Spotless Stadium is closer to Circular Quay than Penrith or Campbelltown.

On a good day, you can see the Bridge from Spotless. You can’t see it from most of the west.

The first two sentences here are correct – and go back to the fallacy that there some kind of “code wars”, where there can be only one victor.  He mentions the Panthers and Canterbury as being two successful clubs – yes, they are – but doesn’t mention their crowd numbers, which aren’t anything like Victorian AFL attendance numbers.  As can be seen here, 2015 average attendance numbers for Canterbury was 19,684 and Penrith was 11,544. This is not to say that both clubs are not successful clubs with deep roots in their community.  They both are, but their supporters don’t necessarily make the trip to go to their games.  This is why Heenan’s use of crowd numbers to denigrate the Giants is fallacious. As is the comparison of the Giants to the Wanderers. The two competitions are run at different times of the year, so the comparison is largely irrelevant. In any case, the Wanderer membership stated is 5,000 more than the Giants’ membership number for this year, good considering that it is true that soccer has deep roots in Sydney’s west.

And then again, we see a repeat of the assertion “few people… are interested”, a feelpinion based on no other fact other than a context-free reading of crowd numbers and now placement of the ground.  Homebush is considered the greater west by people in Sydney, but that seems to evade some Melbourne commentators (including many of those who still seem to think the club is based in Blacktown).  It’s also debatable that Spotless is closer to the Quay than Penrith – maybe as birds fly, but birds don’t catch trains or drive cars through Sydney’s traffic.  It’s quite a strange argument when one considers where people travel from in Melbourne to get to the two home grounds of all AFL games.

The absurd “you can see the Bridge from Spotless” is pure Sarah Palin.  You can spot Spotless from the M4 too…

But onwards, more crowd numbers and mistakes.

In 2014 the Giants played the Swans in an AFL derby. Marketed as the Battle of the Bridge, the game drew a crowd of 17,102.

At the Sydney Football stadium on the same day, the Wanderers-Sydney FC derby drew 40,208.

The Battle of the Bridge is symptomatic of the AFL’s problem in Sydney. The Bridge runs in a north-south direction, and not to the west.

It suggests that the AFL doesn’t know the terrain or the market.

In Sydney, it’s still true that the Swans have by far the largest member base and so selling out a venue depends on their attendance at derbies.  It is also true that some Swans crowds are reluctant to make the trip to Homebush – and a member vote opposed including a Giants Spotless Stadium derby option in their membership packages.  That goes some way to contextualise Spotless derby numbers. We can only hope to see more into the future.

Again comparing crowd numbers to A league derbies is a touch unfair, considering the deeper roots of soccer throughout Sydney.  Comparison to rugby league derbies, such as the Canterbury Roosters game that attracted 18,000 would be more apt – but would act against the central thesis of this piece.

And finally, the “bridge” of the Battle of the Bridge was the ANZAC Bridge, which does run east to west and separates to an extent the Swans and Giants areas of Sydney. I didn’t think it was the best name for the derby, though.

These points all seem to suggest that Heenan may need to do more work researching the context, terrain and the market.

Despite this, the Giants will inevitably win a flag.

It has been preordained by the draft and seemingly signed off by the AFL.

But they won’t win the battle of the codes in Sydney’s west. League and soccer are too well-entrenched, socially and culturally.

In the long run, it’ll be a fairytale if the Giants survive at all.

And at the end of the piece comes the wish from Heenan – the failure of the Giants and the repudiation of the AFL’s project.   Like the rest of the piece, the tone is more grumpy feelpinion from someone who is against developing the code outside “traditional areas” than argued with detailed evidence.

What is also ignored by Heenan is the possibilities provided by the possibility of a Giants’ women’s team and its development of a netball team with Giants branding – both show a lot of potential for the club and its development of deeper roots in the region, with whole family involvement in the club.

Ultimately, the story of the Giants in Western Sydney is not a “battle” – there’s co-existence possible. Crowd numbers are up, memberships are up and the word is getting out about the Giants in Sydney.  The development of Womens’ AFL has a lot of scope. The increase in media interest is in evidence with pieces like the Webster piece.  It seems to be difficult, however, is to have “analysis” pieces from Victorian sources that present knowledge and understanding of the Sydney sporting context.

It’s All About the Metrics, Baby – TL;DR

I’ve just added my thoughts to the Federal Election to Ausvotes, in regards the election and how it’s ruled by metrics, not feelings, nuance and discourse.  But if you don’t read to read all of it, here’s a summary.

  1. Elections are ruled by blokes and attitudes like this.  They don’t give two fucks about your feelpinions, blogs, tweets, attitudes, discourse. They want to know the numbers, the maths, the outcomes.

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2.  Dutton’s bigoted nonsense isn’t a dead cat, it’s like every other bit of trivial gossip being offered by the likes of James Massola and his ilk – a ball of wool thrown at the cats of the internet – reporters and Twitter commenters. It’s all bullshit to keep people busy with gossip while actual politics happens.

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3.  Bill Shorten’s entire metrics based election strategy can be summarised in one picture – trying to appeal to blue as well as red. It always is. This a conservative country focused on money and houses.

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4.  The Greens’ metrics depend on them supporting what national metrics decide against – compassion to asylum seekers. A positive metric for them is fruitless, but passionate opposition to infrastructure projects that have a personal impact on potential voters in key seats.  So, NIMBY boomers are important to their metrics.

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5.  Liberal metrics decide that Turnbull needs to be this guy.  Always this guy.

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