02 August, 2015

I, for one, welcome our new clickbait servants

Last week, a reporter asked a question of Peter Dutton that should have been put to him and his predecessor as minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, every week for the last 23 months:
“How can the government with a straight face say that you’ve stopped the boats when there are actually boats arriving, you just won’t talk about them?”
That shouldn’t be particularly notable. You’d think any journalist worth their press pass would be asking similar questions – perhaps a little more politely at first and then going for the straight-face comment if that didn’t get anywhere. We live in strange times though, where the gallery dutifully reports that the prime minister has placed the speaker of the house “on probation” without bothering to mention that it has no constitutional or parliamentary meaning whatsoever.

The other notable thing was that the question did not come from some hard-nosed press gallery veteran, but from Buzzfeed. That’s right, the inescapable waste of bandwidth better known for helping you find which character from Selina is your kindred spirit, ZOMG! they actually have coffee and bakeries outside of Sydney, and (I am not making this up) the 21 most important celebrity bulges of all time, asked a question that no-one in the “proper” press has managed to.

For sure, the article still looks like it was written by a precocious 16-year-old about a school excursion, and it made the entire story about the question not being answered, but the fact that the government refuses to answer such questions is a bloody big story that no-one in the serious media is making enough fuss about.

With this, Buzzfeed has become to the Canberra press gallery what Bono is to geopolitics and diplomacy. Much to everyone’s embarrassment, the entertainers are doing a better job than the grown-ups – not that that’s a particularly high bar.

It’s the same reason that Jon Stewart became the most trusted man in American news after the death of Walter Cronkite. Stewart will be the first to tell you what a sorry state of affairs that it, but the serious journalists only have themselves and their proprietors to blame. While mainstream news has adopted the myth of “balance,” – So, Professor deGrasse Tyson, you say the world is round. To provide obligatory balance to that reasoned and studied assertion, let’s ask a crazy person – it takes a comedian to look at bullshit and say, “That’s bullshit!”

The existence of Buzzfeed and the way they present stories still shits me up the wall, but if they are going to ask the questions that the professionals, for whatever reason, choose not to, then I applaud them. Traditional media needs to stop complaining about the young upstarts and do their job the way they used to.


  1. Sad how much truth there is to this. Buzzfeed also did a MUCH better job of covering the Senate Hearings into the detention centres on Nauru and Manus (in that they actually covered the hearings at all)

    1. I think a lot of the traditional gallery are worried about losing access to sources if they come across as too "hostlile."
      Buzzfeed has nothing to lose on that score and to their credit, they're obviously not trying to curry favour either.