Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Education for political journalists: spend time sitting behind the one way mirror

Reading, watching and listening to journalists today as they reacted to Peter Dutton's comments on the literacy and numeracy of prospective asylum seekers reminded me of one of the most dispiriting periods of my time in politics. I was allowed to sit behind the one way mirror as a skilled researcher chatted with several groups of swinging voters about what they thought of the issues of the day and what influenced their views.
For 30 years I had practised my journalistic craft and imagined that my words of wisdom influenced what my readers thought. How ego pricking it was to hear ordinary and often intelligent Australians explain how they turned the page when they saw a headline about electoral politics. Words of wisdom they might have been but influence they had not.
And it was not just newspapers that the voters generally ignored. Talking heads on television fared no better. The words of last night's news were not remembered with just an occasional memory of the subject matter suggested by the background pictures. And as for radio? When it comes to influence, politicians should forget it. The minority that were not normally listening to music chose the talking host who best suited an existing prejudice.
My verdict, based on this experience, is that Immigration and Border Force Minister Dutton's comments will have absolutely no influence on what happens on 2 July. Voting intentions are not influenced by the daily reactions of journalists desperate for something different to write or say. They are the result of an osmosis - a subtle, gradual absorption of views that, unfortunately for political pundits, are difficult to determine.
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