14 February 2011
The Twitter hashtag for the coverage of Tony Abbott's latest media gaffe was the eponymous "#sh!thappens", which is a fair description of the messy mark it made on Australian journalism.
On the other hand, those of us in business journalism kept our shirts an immaculate white.
Yes, we're feeling smug. As soon as the Opposition Leader's comments emerged, frantic online conversations made clear that many journalists, regardless of what they thought of Abbott's positions and policies, vainly tried to head off what was to become an amazing multi-outlet beat up. Business journalists, at least in our professional capacity, never let it see the light of day.
Of course, many have argued that scrutinising Abbott's gaffe is important because he's done it before, and it shows personality problems that could affect his job. To anyone ready to declare glaring at Mark Riley "proof" of anger management issues, or who think Abbott making his third or fourth "clumsy" remark in four years is "proof" of a such a massive lack of sensitivity that it obviously pervades his work in parliament - you're reading an awful lot into it without the benefit of a psychology degree. Realistically, such arguments are more of a rationalisation to enjoy gossip, that most enjoyable yet reprehensible human tendency.
As business journalists, at least while we're on the job, we've figured this out. If we left the cameras rolling after a huge company's annual general meeting, and afterwards their CEO quietly dropped the S or F word about a curly question he'd copped, any journalist or camera man would know exactly what to do with it.
Well, we might show it to our team for a laugh before deleting it. But put it on air, as newsworthy? Channel 602 viewers would say we had poor judgment about what information they used to make their important decisions. They'd say they care much more about how the company performs than whether a CEO occasionally slips up in social etiquette. They'd be right. They'd also go somewhere else, and we'd all be out of a job. That's how an audience can make journalism better.
There are no good reasons why Australians should be less objective and discerning when it comes to the people who lead our nation, not least because it distracts us from what actually matters - the policies that affect our lives. How much better would this country be if we'd spent the time wasted analysing Abbott's gaffe analysing the Coalition's alternative to the Flood Levy that day instead?
There are plenty of wrong reasons, though. We want to be entertained, it's easier to digest personality stories rather than policy, we like to form quick, rather than carefully considered judgments of people. All of these reasons serve only to justify how we are, not how we should be.
Yet we all have a vote, a voice and a wallet, which means we have a responsiblity as well as a nature. You don't have to be a business journalist to know what is important, and what is none of our business.
Let me know what you think: Tweet to @KyBusiness / comment below
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