CGM Voices by author: Rebecca Munro

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All questions are important, stupid

All questions are important, stupid

By Rebecca Munro

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more of the WA public is getting an insight into what happens during a live press conference. 

It’s unusual for most West Australians to see a press conference in its entirety. Essentially, the public is now seeing how the sausage is made, and it’s been made this way for decades.

This new insight, however, has managed to upset the many couch critics who, during WA’s second lockdown, went after journalists, vilifying them for their ‘stupid’ questions.

I tend to disagree and would suggest these ‘stupid’ questions are more an ingredient in the sausage making.

To give you perspective, when the Premier announced conditions around the end of our lockdown at 8:40pm one night, most of the political journalists asking the questions also attended the media conference early that morning.

They were into their 16th hour of work and had already put together and filed stories, been to a number of press conferences and interviews, and likely did a live cross or five.

Most of the time when they are called to a press conference, they don’t get much notice and a lot of the time they don’t know what is going to be announced, so they are required to think on their feet.

And it needs to be said, they are not there primarily to facilitate a live press conference for the public’s viewing; they have a whole plethora of tasks to undertake during this conference and immediately after.

Each journalist has different needs. They ask questions for different reasons from each other and from the public, and yes it can seem odd. But hear me out; the television reporter is working on compiling a one-minute TV package and is interviewing in a way to get specific sound bites. Sometimes they ask a question twice because the Premier didn’t give a concise enough answer.

It’s very similar to when the public berate reporters for asking someone how they feel after a traumatic event. “How do you think he feels, you idiot?”, they say.  But the journalist isn’t always looking for a factual answer, rather an emotional one for camera to illustrate to the audience the impact this situation has had. Is this uncomfortable? Possibly, but not stupid.

Then there are the journalists who need to go live immediately after the conference and are writing their live cross as the Premier is speaking. Newspaper reporters have more time and are looking for a fresh angle for tomorrow’s paper while also trying to file for their online edition before their competitor.

They are under immense pressure to relay information fast, which means as they are listening to the Premier, they are also live tweeting, answering questions and emails from their chief of staff and are being fed more questions from their producers back in the office. Sometimes they simply didn’t hear what the Premier said and have to clarify. Again, maybe irritating, but not stupid.

They don’t have a lot of time to ask questions, so not only are they trying to clarify something with an authoritative figure, they are also trying to compete with the dozen other journalists talking over the top of them.

But most importantly and particularly in a pandemic, journalists are simply trying to clarify the facts. We all know there were some grey areas when it came to where we should and shouldn’t wear our mask. Journalists were attempting to clarify every scenario they could think of in that moment.

The public became frustrated; told them to stop asking the ‘stupid’ questions and even joked about it with memes and viral videos.

I’ll admit they were funny, but we weren’t laughing a few days later when we all couldn’t figure out if we had to wear a mask in the car, doing yoga outside, or while walking the dog at a brisk pace. “Is this vigorous?” we thought. If only a journalist had more time to ask.

My point is, even after the journalists asked so many ‘stupid’ questions, there were so many still unanswered.

Following this press conference, veteran journalist Geof Parry copped the brunt of the public’s disgust as they called for him to retire. In good humour, Geof laughed off his critics, reading his ‘mean tweets’ live on radio.

I won’t deny that occasionally a stupid journalist asks a stupid question. 

This is not Geof. Geof is a political reporter with more than 30 years’ experience, who has held our pollies to account over and over again, and who has uncovered countless wrongdoings in the public sector for decades. I think it’s fair to say; he’s got this.

Sometimes he needs to speak over the Premier when he isn’t satisfied with an answer. He’s there to keep the government accountable and our democracy healthy.

So next lockdown (let’s hope there isn’t one) when the live press conferences kick off – let’s give the journalists a break.

They aren’t always experts, but they certainly aren’t stupid.

Don’t take the bait - the dangers of careless clicking

Don’t take the bait - the dangers of careless clicking

By Rebecca Munro

If you live in WA and consume news, there’s a good chance you’ve engaged in a conversation about why former West Coast Eagle Ben Cousins’ indiscretions continue to make headlines.

The discussions tend to go like this; “The media should leave the poor bloke alone.” “This is not newsworthy.” “Why is Ben Cousins on the front page again?” 

Sound familiar? I don’t disagree with the above statements, but what I do object to, is the suggestion it is the media driving this content.

It’s pretty simple, the more we engage with Ben Cousins-type content, the more the media will deliver it.

Who can honestly say they haven’t watched, clicked on or read a story about Ben Cousins, even though they didn’t agree it was newsworthy? 

If you said no, you are either kidding yourself or you are in the minority. The media is being driven by the data. The data shows, Ben Cousins stories rate high.

Every time you watch, read or comment on a story online, or buy a paper with Mr Cousins on the front page, data is being collected.

Every little engagement, be it negative or positive, will only encourage more coverage.

So, what power do you have if you don’t agree with what the media is focusing its resources on? Perhaps consider the best complaint is silence.

By silence, I mean try adopting a conscious consumption mindset.

The saying ‘vote with your wallet’ is when consumers choose brands that align with their values, to support good behaviour and ethics.

I’ve begun embracing this idea in my news consumption by intentionally choosing what I engage in, to hopefully influence what is produced. Unfortunately, just like with consumer brands there needs to be a serious shift in public behaviour for it to make a difference.

The same can be said for clickbait articles. There is no denying media is influenced by ‘click’ targets.

They’re a bit like KPIs in the workplace, where employees focus their efforts to ensure success. This is what can happen with journalists and clickbait, which could ultimately be detrimental to the quality of news produced.

If journalists are motivated by these targets, they could put more emphasis on the trivial stories over those with more depth, resulting in more resources going to ‘the cat up a tree story’ over an investigative piece about the corruption at the local council.

Unfortunately, the more we click, the more demand created, which is forcing reputable organisations such as the ABC to follow suit.  

There is in fact a science behind clickbait, the headlines play on our emotions like anger, fear, and excitement, and even though we know we are being manipulated it’s sometimes irresistible. Digital algorithms don’t help the situation either by catering the clickbait specifically to you.

Occasionally we all need a little clickbait escape, but going back to my original point, if you make this a habit, just like with the ‘Ben Cousins effect’, you’ll get the media you deserve.

My advice; start consciously clicking on what you want to see more of and stop clicking on the news you don’t.

My favourite ways to consume news:

  • The Australian digital version
  • The West Australian digital version
  • ABC 720 Perth: AM at 8am
  • The Guardian
  • World news: Aljazeera.com
  • Perth ABC TV at 7:00pm
  • Scroll through all local TV Perth news bulletins online via catchup services

Eight tips to get the most out of your media release

Eight tips to get the most out of your media release

By Rebecca Munro

Research suggests 70 per cent of reporters spend less than a minute reading each press release they receive to determine if it’s newsworthy.

When I worked on the chief of staff desk during my television news days, I was responsible for making a decision on whether or not a press release was newsworthy; I could usually tell in the first paragraph.

In today’s media climate of shrinking newsrooms and amalgamating newspapers, it is even harder to have your story told in the media. The way people consume news is changing and when it comes to writing a media release you need to adapt to that change.

Don’t get me wrong; a media release should have all the right ‘corporate’ messaging but there needs to be a balance of newsworthiness if you want it to cut through.

As a media advisor, I’ll admit there are challenges in attracting a journalist’s interest. For those who aren’t used to dealing with the media, it can be intimidating, and it gets confusing when trying to navigate who to send what to and when.

Understandably organisations want their releases to focus on strengths and to use them as a form of promotion. Unfortunately (for a journalist) sometimes a by-product of this is a heavily worded, jargon crammed advertisement.

But instead of giving up and opting to publish on your socials, there are a few easy tips to follow, to help you get the desired result from your media release.

Tip one: use clear, concise and interesting language. Journalists don’t have time to decipher convoluted copy. Corporate jargon may make sense to you but if a journalist doesn’t understand what you are trying to say in the first paragraph they will likely move on.

Tip two: find a news angle and lead with it in your headline. Think human interest, uniqueness or community impact. The press release needs to have relevance to your journalist’s audience. For instance, if you were attempting to promote your organisation’s new managing director, a community audience would be more interested in what changes they will bring to the community, rather than who they are or where they have come from.

Tip three: be available. It’s very frustrating for journalists when they receive a media release and can’t pick up the phone and ask follow-up questions soon after the release is sent out. Have a spokesperson on stand-by ready to go. This is also important if you want your message out on radio or TV.

Tip four: pay attention to each organisation’s news cycle. Sending a proactive media release to dozens of generic newsroom emails close to deadline is unlikely to be a successful strategy. Instead try targeting an individual journalist the day before you want the story to run.

Tip five: it sounds obvious, but news needs to be new. If it has already been covered, consider your unique point of difference. Have you got a perspective that reveals something new and adds to the conversation?

Tip six: include quotes. Journalists sometimes find it easier to use quotes straight from your release rather than an interview but make sure they are interesting and easy to understand.

Tip seven: have a delivery strategy. Could you offer it as an exclusive? Journalists want to be the first to break a story. Offering them a scoop could be the difference between your story being on the front page or buried in the back.

Tip eight: have you thought about accompanying visuals? We live in a digital era. Journalists want their story to go viral. This is especially important for television journalists, who can’t tell their story without pictures.

At the end of the day, mainstream media is unpredictable but a well written media release with a strong strategy behind it is far more likely to get you the coverage you desire.

Dodging paywalls could cost you more than you think

Dodging paywalls could cost you more than you think

By Rebecca Munro

If you consume news via the internet, chances are you’ve encountered those ‘pesky’ paywalls.

We’ve all been there, enticed by an online headline only to be prompted to subscribe and hand over our money for the full story.

It’s frustrating, and many refuse to do it. It makes sense, budgets are tight and why now do we have to pay for something we’ve always received for free?

Here in WA it can cost anywhere between $1.75 a week for a WAtoday online subscription, to $1 a day for a full newspaper and online subscription for The West Australian.

There is a clear resistance to paying for news online, but the truth is, the pain to your pocket will be far less than the cost to Australia’s democracy if we stop paying for journalism.

Most of us are happy to fork out $9 a month for our Netflix subscription but why are we so hesitant to pay for journalism? Perhaps it comes from entitlement, a misconception that journalists perform a free public service. Many social media users who engage and comment on these locked stories seem to think so, often threatening publications with the dreaded ‘unfollow’.

There’s been arguments that paywalls create a socioeconomic breakdown of those who can afford to read quality journalism and those who can’t.

That’s a real concern but what is even more detrimental to a democracy, is unsustainable journalism.

Newsflash (pun intended) journalists need to get paid too, and you might be surprised to learn they don’t get paid much, for what they contribute.

Take for example recent Walkley Award winner Annabel Hennessy from The West Australian, who this year brought public attention to the incarceration of Aboriginal woman Jody Gore – convicted of killing her abusive ex-partner.

Ms Hennessy’s relentless chasing and investigative journalism resulted in Ms Gore being freed from prison and WA’s laws being re-written. She had the power to tell a story that wasn’t told in the courtroom.

Being a former journalist myself, I dare say Ms Hennessy likely spent long days and late nights having very difficult conversations and probably copping a fair bit of abuse for trying to find the truth – and that is worth our money.

When I see these outraged social media users complaining their news is trapped behind a paywall, I can’t help but think if they get paid for their job.

During the height of the pandemic in WA, we praised our health care workers, our shop assistants and all those risking their health and safety. Journalists were on the frontline too, providing the public with reliable up-to-date information when they needed it the most, and just like our other essential workers, they need to make a living.

If you think about it, this would have been the perfect time for newspapers to act like big business and jump on this in-demand opportunity by locking all content to gain more subscribers.

The majority didn’t exploit this and provided the daily COVID-19 online updates for free.

Yes, the media landscape has changed, and newspapers are forced to get sexier to sell more, but they haven’t lost the ability to create change, and keep our leaders accountable.

Unlike social media platforms, journalists and news publications are held to account for what they publish, and in return force our leaders, big business and members of the public to be accountable – that’s their job.

Journalists have university degrees and are trained to deliver balanced and factual information. In the past, newspapers have done well on advertising revenue but the more appetite for online content means a decline in sales, resulting in cutbacks.

The less journalists there are, the less time they have to dig deep into a story to find the truth on behalf of the Australian public. In other words, how else will we, as former Australian Democrat leader Don Chipp said, “Keep the bastards honest”?

Look at recent wage theft allegations against big companies including Woolworths. When journalists investigate these issues, they shine a public light on them and often force companies into doing the right thing in a bid to save their reputation.  If it wasn’t for journalists, we’d likely see goliath winning many more battles.

Right now, we can’t rely on social media platforms to provide news organisations with enough advertising revenue for them to disable paywalls, despite the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission establishing a mandatory code of conduct.

The code is supposed to encourage social media channels to pass on advertising revenue to the ones who actually create the content. The journalists, who spend hours making the phone calls or waiting outside on long crime scene stakeouts, inside courthouses or at Parliament House. But Facebook still refuses to pay news publications for what they produce.

Google has announced it will come to the table with some compensation, but we’d need all of them to get on board with a lot of money if we ever wanted to see the end of paywalls and a return to newsrooms full of senior reporters who actually have time to investigate.

Supporting real accountable journalism dilutes the overwhelming misinformation and disinformation we face on a daily basis and contributes to a healthy democracy.

As Thomas Jefferson, the man who led the US democracy movement once said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The fact is that people were paying for physical newspapers long before the internet rose to prominence, but now seem put off by the fact a digital subscription isn’t something you can physically hold in your hand. I’d argue having your news available digitally, on any device at any time is even more bang for your buck – and that’s worth paying for.