I just took a call from an Australian political journalist whose work I’ve admired since the 1980s. The topic of this journalist’s story for tomorrow’s paper: the politics of the 2020 summit. I did something I’ve never done before, and basically said “why on earth are you writing about this?”.
I’m generally an admirer of the Australian media. On a typical day, I’d take 1-2 media calls, and in my own experience, Australian journalists are a bunch of bright, careful, and diligent people. But for reasons I can’t quite fathom, much of the coverage of the 2020 summit has been abysmal. Day after day has seen stories on whether the invitation list is biased, whether the powerpoint backgrounders are sufficiently comprehensive, and when the submissions are going to be released. With a few exceptions, I’ve seen barely any discussion of actual policy issues. Of course the 2020 summit has flaws, but to only focus on the personalities and organisational stuff seems to me a terrible missed opportunity.
As US academic Gary Orren once wrote:
This type of coverage focuses alternately on strategy and tactics (‘inside baseball’), the leaders’ missteps (‘gotcha journalism’), or what the news ‘really means’. Invariably, though, the interpretation and commentary presumes to lift the curtain on the wizard and reveal the charlatan behind it.
Perhaps the coverage I’m complaining about is a feature of leadup coverage, and we’re about to move from sportsplay journalism into substantive analysis. I don’t mind a bit of discussion of the politics of the summit, but if it entirely crowds out a debate about the country’s future, it would be an opportunity lost.