It was a comment on The Poll Bludger by Bushfire Bill that prompted me to write this satirical piece, a mock memo from the proprietors of News Limited to their political columnists.
As you are well aware, newspapers are losing circulation and advertising revenue. Our content, so hard-won, is being stolen by Internet aggregators and purloined by blog-sites, who because they do no investigative journalism, feed off your efforts, with no thought of paying for what they take. This has to stop. As you know we are taking steps to correct this commercial theft.
But until that has been achieved, management has been forced to make some hard cost-saving decisions.
It has divided its political journalists into two categories: on the one hand the flag-bearers of News Limited, such as doyens like Paul Kelly and columnists like George Megalogenis, Mike Steketee and Greg Sheridan who write well-researched and soundly argued articles that appeal to thoughtful people who appreciate the balance they bring to political discourse; and on the other, ‘the rest’, who write indifferent pieces, occasionally factual and well-reasoned, but usually light on facts and reason, heavy on personal opinion, and often laced with rancour and scuttlebutt.
Management has decided to retain the flag-bearers in full employment, but reduce ‘the rest’ to half time as a cost-saving measure. Conscious of the consequences for ‘the rest’ of this move, and not wanting to leave them in the lurch, experts in journalism and commercial spin have been engaged to advise on how to write their pieces in half the usual time, thereby enabling them to maintain their usual output, but freeing up time for them to find alternative half-time employment. Thus the same number of column inches will be maintained at half the cost.
The spinmeisters have devised a natty seven point routine that we’re sure will appeal to all of you who fall into the category of ‘the rest’. Here it is:
First, select your political orientation
Most News Limited journalists have a penchant for taking a political position. Recently it has been anti-Rudd, anti-Government, and pro-Coalition most of the time.
Newspapers sell better if conflict is highlighted and political biases are exhibited by their journalists; people love anything that makes them indignant. Leave the balanced pieces to ‘the flag-bearers’.
Second, select your target
Stick to the big fish; people don’t know or care about the little ones. Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and of course Peter Garratt are always good targets for your bile, while Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Joe Hockey are great targets for ribald humour, provided you throw in a few compliments.
Third, select your subject
This is easy. There are so many that make for good copy: the insulation scheme, the boat people, the health and hospitals reform debate, primary care, mental health, aged care, dental care, COAG, Federal State relations, the BER, the schools stimulus program, the ETS, climate change – the greatest moral challenge of our time, the MySchool website, national literacy and numeracy tests, league tables, the Australian Education Union, the Henry Tax Review, the May Budget, debt and deficit, housing affordability, public housing, homelessness, the Murray-Darling problem, the water plan, the private health insurance rebate, IR, PPL, the population debate, oil spills on the reef from vagrant coal carriers, the election, the double dissolution; and in slack time you can always resurrect the old chestnuts: Rudd’s overseas travel, his staff turnover, his ‘rudeness’ to staff, and his archived misdemeanours: Scores, the Burke affair, the hostie affair and so on. You ought never to be short of a vehicle for attack.
Fourth, background your subject
This too is easy. As you’re aware, more than half your material comes from press releases, so you have a ready source of quotes. News items from radio or TV are another easy source. You can supplement this with rumours, scuttlebutt and other nebulous material derived from your colleagues in the same building or the National Press Club, your drinking mates at the pub, from whispers in parliamentary corridors from pollies and staffers, leaks, and of course the oft-quoted anonymous ‘informed sources’, ‘usually reliable sources’, or just plain old ‘sources’. Bootstrap as much as is necessary to make your story plausible. And should some decent material ever come to hand, by all means use it, but realize it is not essential.
Fifth, select pejorative words or phrases, or laudatory ones if you occasionally feel inclined, to embellish you piece
There is now a comprehensive collection of pejorative words or phrases:
Flawed, bungled, botched, failed, dumped, failure, fiasco, debacle, disaster, catastrophe, incompetent, fatal, electrocuted youths, electrified ceilings, ceiling fires, rip-offs, billion-dollar rip-offs, rorts, shonky tradesmen, flaws, waste and mismanagement, charade, ‘illegals’, queue jumpers, cashed-up refugees, out-of-control boat arrivals, running scared, panic, panic reaction, poll driven, populist, opportunistic, pre-election fix, political fix, policy on the run, unsustainable, admission of failure, forced to admit, gone on the defensive, under fire, debt and deficit, all spin no substance, all talk no action, all promise no delivery, rude, slave-driver and Jekyll and Hyde.
The laudatory list is smaller:
Courage, conviction politician, straight forward politician, consultative, collegial, you know his position, you know where you stand with him, greatest ‘retail politician’, the nation’s best communicator with the people, what you see is what you get; most of which are applied to Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce.
Sixth, write your piece
Here’s where you connect your target, the subject and the background quotes, and lace your politically-oriented opinion with as many pejorative words or phrases you can fit into the word limit. Avoid holding back – the more the merrier. The idea is to imprint these ideas into your readers’ minds, so they can repeat them without thinking, like a mantra.
Don’t make your article too long – leave that to the flag-bearers. The audience that wants to devour your writing won’t be bothered to read too many words – all they need is a dash of intrigue, a dose of conflict, an aliquot of condemnation or occasionally praise, and above all else reinforcement of their strongly held beliefs and their entrenched biases and prejudices, sufficient for them to support you strongly if you’re running a blog.
Use quotes to enclose bits you’ve taken from press releases or news items if you’ve got an ‘author’ you can reveal, and subtly insert your personal opinion in between, using as many pejorative words or phrases you can so it reads as if you are quoting someone else. Don’t spare your target.
Remember the article doesn’t need to be factual, or factually correct, or accurate, or even true, so long as it’s a stirring, superficially plausible story that demeans Rudd, his ministers or his Government, or boosts or praises Abbott and his frontbench.
Be wary about writing about the GFC and unemployment; they are good-news stories for the Government.
Seventh, create a juicy headline
This is essential. It doesn’t have to be related to the substance of your piece, so long as it attracts attention and draws in the audience you seek.
There you have it – the seven point routine to easy, rapid writing. Can you do it?
If you wonder if you can follow this routine, take a look at what Dennis Shanahan did on 10 April in The Australian in Fix an admission of failure on asylum, and what Steve Lewis (of Grech fake email fame) writing with Alison Rehn, did today in Kevin Rudd likens year as a political staffer to a dog year as he remains unapologetic about working people hard in the Herald Sun.
You see, it’s easy. So go to it.
Management hopes you’ll be able to find some productive paid half-time work to do in your spare time.