How do you rate our political journalists?

The last piece How should we rate the quality of our political journalists? outlined the criteria that might apply when judging their quality.  This piece reflects on individual journalists.  Your views are invited.

First let’s deal with editorials which are a particular problem in appraising quality in journalism. When there is a named author it is possible to compare any particular piece with others by the same person; with editorials, the author is usually unknown and often changes. Editorial writers hide behind the paper’s banner, yet their words are meant to reflect the paper’s stance and potentially have an important influence on readers’ opinions.  Maybe because they are generally anonymous they seem to be bolder in their assertions and opinions.  They often speak with the authority of Moses descending from the mountain with wisdom engraved on tablets of stone.  It’s pretty hard to hold them to account; the only recourse for readers is ‘Letters to the Editor’ published in the newspaper; there seems to be no online opportunity for this. More...

How should we rate the quality of our political journalists?

Bell-shaped (Gaussian) curves abound in nature and human endeavour, no less among political journalists.  They are scattered along a normal distribution curve in more ways than one.  Their political orientation varies from the extremes of conservatism on the one hand, to extremes of socialism on the other.  The vast majority lie between these extremes.   In terms of quality, they vary from the excellent, several standard deviations above the mean, to the bulk that could be described as ordinary or maybe even mediocre, to the shabby, several standard deviations below the mean. 

In his 1974 book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – An Inquiry into Values, in which he explores the metaphysics of quality, Robert Pirsig asserts that quality is indefinable, but goes on to say   "But even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what Quality is!".  Put another way, you recognize quality as soon as you see it.  In the area of rhetoric Pirsig singled out aspects of quality such as unity, vividness, authority, economy, sensitivity, clarity, emphasis, flow, suspense, brilliance, precision, proportion, depth and so on, but found them too difficult to define.  Pirsig also reminds us that the Greeks equated quality with truth, a notion that might help us to discern quality among journalists.

This piece confines itself to journalists who focus mainly on politics. More...

The Coalition’s Budget Rap – deficit and debt, deficit and debt

Although it might be hard to conjure up an image of Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Helen Coonan doing the Coalition’s Budget Rap, it would not be difficult to imagine the words that would flow from their throats:
Deficit and debt,
Deficit and debt,
Deficit and debt as far as you can see
Labor deficit and debt that will leave us all at sea.

Do not expect to hear anything positive from Coalition members unless it is prized painfully from them by persistent journalists.  Chris Uhlmann on ABC radio this morning did well to have Turnbull reluctantly concede that the loss to revenue of over $200 billion over four years resulting from the GFC would necessarily result in a deficit.  Only the most determined interviewers will achieve any such concession.  Gloom, disaster, devastation, irresponsibility, incompetence, profligate, reckless, panic, spin, ‘spendathon’, spending spree, cash splashes, casino economics, Pollyanna, nation-wrecking and other pejorative words and phrases will be Coalition members’ stock in trade.. More...

Liberals and Power – The Road Ahead

This book, edited by Peter van Onselen, is a mixture of good articles and several of indifferent quality.  The introduction by the editor does not indicate how the authors were selected, nor whether those selected were given an open assignment to write what they pleased or whether the titles were assigned to them.  The book reads as if the former applied, leading to a somewhat disjointed assembly of pieces that do not hang well together or form a coherent whole.

The book would have been worth reading if only to read the piece by George Brandis, which is head and shoulders above the others.  Several articles are the poorer for the partisan comments they contain.  Some authors seem unable to mount their arguments about how the Coalition might regain power without making disparaging remarks about Labor, often using weary slogans and stereotypical mantras.  Yet others are able to make their case free of these unnecessary encumbrances. More...