Propaganda 101 for Ex-Journalists

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 19/08/2012 - 3:59pm

Yet another open letter to the Coffs Coast Advocate:

Dear Sir,

I confess to feeling a little overwhelmed. I've never considered myself particularly influential, so when I suggested last week that you assemble an astroturf group of random cretins to inject a much-needed element of opacity into your campaign to improve the market value of ocean-view properties in the Jetty area, I had little expectation you'd take my advice; still less that you'd do so in under a week!

And what a group! Unless I'm mistaken they appear to be predominately Coffs old-money born and in-bred; scarcely a chin between the lot of them, and not unduly burdened by an excess of grey matter. Just the people to recite from a deck of prepared talking points without a stray original thought taking them off-message.

I know you've made a few false steps so far in the campaign, but nobody can say it's really your fault. Back in your day universities quixotically emphasised the teaching of journalism, to the great detriment of the mercenary propaganda skills of a generation of local newspaper editors, leaving them grossly unprepared for the media industry of the 21st century. However today's cover story is more than enough to demonstrate to your advertisers that you're a quick and willing learner.

Because you've had the grace and humility to accept my advice in the past, I feel obliged to highlight the next most prominent weakness in your campaign so far (I'm happy to give counsel for as long as you find it useful - consider it "Propaganda 101 for Ex-Journalists"). You have a serious problem with framing the issue.

At the moment, the debate is whether to go ahead with the plan devised by the Think Tank (nudge nudge, wink wink!), or to leave well enough alone. This is a debate you don't want to have. It makes your desired outcome appear like the extreme end of a possible spectrum of opinions, and invites speculation about whether it's a good idea or not, phrases like Integrated Coastal Zone Mangement, and the sort of tedious wallowing about in facts that journalists like to do, but has no place in the Advocate. What you need is a position even more outlandish than your own that will make doing nothing seem a woefully inadequate response to a dire crisis rather than sensible caution, and will make your advertisers' plan (whoops, I mean the Think Tank's plan of course!) the reasonable, indeed inevitable, compromise. You won't even need to be seen to be pushing one point of view at all, merely giving Fair and Balanced™ coverage to both sides of the argument.

Now bear with me; I have a soundbite for you: "The precise aerial delivery of chemical defoliants, which have come a long way since the Vietnam era, along the entire length of the Coffs Coast, is the most cost-effective way to open up currently under-utilised community assets to - literally in some cases - pave the way for our own tourism resources boom." Picture a grey-haired duffer in an old suit with - this may be gilding the lily, but I think we could pull it off - a bow tie. You could probably source someone suitable in a quick fishing trip on the CHEC campus. It's not a real university of course, but that just means any academic who's hit rock bottom there will desperately seize on any opportunity to get his name in print in the hope of getting out.

If all this sounds a bit extreme, please remember that you're not just engaged in the task of expunging any lingering vestiges of journalism from the Advocate, but your clients are also depending on the Advocate to take the politics and the democracy out of government. The business of the press is business. In Coffs Harbour, which produces nothing of note but suburban sprawl, this means the business of the press is real estate, and ensuring any and all other civil institutions are subordinate to the demands of property holders.

This is no small task, but I have faith in you, and look forward to next Saturday's front page.

Matthew Davidson.

Stoush

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 18/08/2012 - 8:03pm

Something about this article doesn't make sense to me. I've never heard the word "stoush" used by anybody other than news reporters. Am I wrong in thinking it has something to do with facial hair? Based on the sound of the word I think I can picture what a stoush might look like, but neither of the two gentlemen photographed appear to be wearing one.

Thumb Funds

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 18/08/2012 - 7:45pm

If on a scale of one to ten it's a fifteen, we can be sure that George is going to give 110% - if not more. Because he and Team Team are playing to win. They're going to get results, and those results will be outcomes, right down to the wire, and they are going to take ownership of those outcomes, and drive them forward to deliver results. Not just any results, but key, deliverable, achievable results with the momentum to produce outcomes, the sort of outcomes that will put thumbs up, right up everybody across the industry. Then we're going to harness those thumbs to produce funds. Yes, thumb funds! Try saying that ten times quickly! And what do you get from thumb funds? I think we all know the answer to that. A boost! A massive boost to get the job done. And that is why we need to cut down some trees and lay some concrete over sand dunes. I can't put it any more plainly and simply than that.

Strange Visions

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 11/08/2012 - 11:26am

Another open letter to the Coffs Coast Advocate:

Dear Sir,

As visions go, the notion that Coffs Harbour residents and visitors would not only choose to spend time sitting on a narrow strip of sand bordering a car park but also - curiously - enjoy the experience, is quite a doozie. One can only speculate at the provenance of this vision. It's too bizarre even to blame on a bedtime slice of cold pizza, and the apparent assertion that it is the result of a log of claims presented by Advocate "journos, clickies, subs, sales staff and admin folk" to management is, to put it mildly, somewhat implausible.

The only actual human being I can find that you've yet cited as supporting the "opening up" of the Jetty foreshores to transform it from mere beach into "a major economic driver" is "trustee of The Observatory holiday units, Neil Manson" who, as you point out, "has a unique vantage point"; also, it must be said, a comparatively rare if not actually unique economic interest not shared by the majority of Coffs Harbour residents. I confess to being mildly curious as to who else constitutes the enormous grassroots demand for your proposed Bogan Boulevarde.

Well to be honest, like anybody who's lived here for more than a few years, I am under no illusions as to how such harrowingly concrete-centric visions have been planned and executed in the past, who has benefited, and the Advocate's role in this process as cheerleader for the development of vital and cherished civic assets like multi-story carparks. Pun intended; I mean, what carpark isn't important enough for it's mere existence to warrant multiple stories in a newspaper?

What rankles is that the absence of even a token effort to pull together a mildly credible astroturf lobby group that we can all pretend is the source of your latest vision feels like an insult to the intelligence of all concerned. Our community certainly does not lack coachable but otherwise inarticulate and intellectually inert drongos, and the claim that vegetation causes drug abuse and illicit sexual behaviour shows that you have the necessary wellspring of idiocy to fuel such a campaign. I've heard a lot of excuses from people caught in the act of socially transgressive behaviour, but "the trees made me do it!" is breathtakingly inventive. Bravo!

Anyway, to prove I'm not merely a negative Nelly, I have a positive alternative vision for you to take up and run with should you wish. It seems to me that if there's anything in the Jetty precinct that would benefit from "opening up" through the judicious application of a wrecking ball, it's the hideous mini-mall on the corner of Harbour Drive and Orlando Street. Rehousing the tenants of this complex in a new row of street level shops to match the existing and very attractive ones on the opposite side of the road could hardly be a less contentious plan; after all, you would just be replacing some shops with some shops. Nobody loses, and Coffs has one eyesore less!

I confess that I am not a wealthy landlord or property developer, nor do I represent any in my day to day business, or on Thursday evenings in Council, but I am at least willing to go on the record as the genuine author of this vision. How about it?

Matthew Davidson.

Thursday, 2 August 2012 - 7:08pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 02/08/2012 - 7:08pm in

I have little in the way of social skills. I couldn't pander or ingratiate if my life depended on it. This has a great deal of disadvantages, but it does at least mean that in dealing with me you can comfortably err on the side of optimism.

That is to say that if I have ever given the slightest indication that I don't strongly dislike you, you can be quite confident that I think you're pretty bloody fantastic. As Rudy van DiSarzio would say, you have passed the test. Feel free to say what you like to me. Provided that it's not about the global Jewish conspiracy, or how women should know their place, or something in that league of offensiveness (Ooh! Great idea for a comic book!), I'll take it in the spirit it's given, with due concession made to the fact that we're all dunderheads from time to time. I wish I could be more demonstrably affectionate towards my dear friends, but I'm pushing an envelope that's self-sealing.

So if you are in that arguably happy position, please, please, please do not hesitate to tell me when I have done something to offend you or anybody else. If I didn't mean to offend I'll be appropriately mortified and grateful for the opportunity to make amends. If I did, I'll be proud of the recognition. Just don't harbour a grudge in secret, or share it with somebody else, or swap it for something even more outrageous I did to them. I don't have the social skills to know what to do about that.

Let's keep it simple, sweetheart.

Sunday, 29 July 2012 - 11:57am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 29/07/2012 - 11:57am

I was reading about the increasing scope of Jewish dietary restrictions in post-biblical antiquity (I think it was in Rugby League Week, or maybe 4x4 Magazine), as succeeding generations of Rabbinical scholarship interpreted Leviticus more and more expansively, and it occured to me that this is a classic example of an inherent problem with blacklists. Once you've committed to maintaining one, you've also implicitly conceeded that it's only going to grow larger over time.

Whatever problem you're trying to solve with a blacklist, be it the easy availability of pornography via the Internet (Back in my day, pornography was rare and expensive, and kids valued it accordingly, damn it!), the imagined presence of reds under the bed, the question of who should be allowed on a plane, or divining the will of Yahweh at mealtimes, at some point somebody sensible is going to observe that this is all getting a bit silly and unhelpful, and we really should have thought things through a bit more thoroughly before opting to go down this road.

The Kerry Hines Advocate

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 28/07/2012 - 11:37am

An open letter to the Coffs Coast Advocate:

Dear Sir,

I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms over the lack of photos of Cr. Kerry Hines in your publication.

On most days the photos are scarce and shamefully small, and although I regret that I cannot now locate this issue in my collection, I am certain that once there were no photos of her at all!

It is hardly surprising, with journalistic standards slipping in this way, that people are deserting print media for the Internet, where photographs of Cr. Hines may be enjoyed on demand at any time of the day or night.

I have no idea what might be the motivation behind it, but I demand that you immediately cease your ugly vendetta against this fine councillor-realtor and give her the prominence to which she is due.

Matthew Davidson.

Saturday, 28 July 2012 - 10:07am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 28/07/2012 - 10:07am

When I submitted this comment:

Is it beyond the Advocate's capabilities to find a photograph of the subject of this article? Or is it Advocate policy to only run photos of their advertising clients?

The article in question was hastily amended to replace the photo of Cr. Hines with a photo of Rodney. The comment of course was not published.

Also worth noting is that the article nominally about Rodney included a roundup of other councillors' plans for the election, and a totally out of context quote recycled from an earlier article about Cr. Hines. However the earlier Hines article included no such elements of journalistic "balance". Also no byline; perhaps because it was a verbatim publishing of a press release?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 6:24pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 24/07/2012 - 6:24pm

I seem to be making some more progress in adumbrating (word of the day) the contours of acceptable discourse in the Coffs Coast Advocate's reader comments.

In response to a story about LifeHouse Church successfully running some charity event for the needy, I made some comment along the lines of:

This achievement is all the more impressive when one considers the sheer logistics involved in ensuring none of the needy recipients are homosexual.

Get it? 'Cos the LifeHouse congregation are homophobes! Laugh? I nearly did.

The odd thing was that this comment was published, but a day or two later had disappeared. So we must conclude that this was a line ball, sent to the video referee for adjudication. Or if you prefer, the bowler cried "Howzatt!" and for a moment rejoiced in triumph, but though the bails had flown the umpire sternly shook his head, from underneath a pile of hats. There, I've exhausted my stock of sporting analogies.

I feel we are closer, but not yet close enough to understanding what the Advocate does and does not consider offensive, so my vigorous probing continues...

Saturday, 21 July 2012 - 8:49am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 21/07/2012 - 8:49am

I'm not sure whether I should be taking this personally. I've lost another final sentence of plodding curmudgeonly wit at some point in the Advocate's comment approval process:

Yes, the majority want to get all the nature out of the way of their view of nature. If you would care to run a poll on this you'll also find the majority want to be able to drive their cars right up to the water line so that they're never out of earshot of their Cold Chisel CDs, never out of reach of the next can of rum and cola, and never out of sight of the australian flags hanging from their car windows, painted on their children's faces, tattooed on their spouse's buttocks, etc.

This utopian vision of beach-as-bogan-car-park is likely not the objective of the Advocate's campaign here. When next you're on a beach, turn westward and peer through the trees at the expensive houses whose owners, estate agents, accountants, and assorted courtiers are the principle beneficiaries of "opening up" the view from the beach to your social betters and vice versa.

Excised this time:

A cynic might say that this "majority", in the sense of being the majority of the Advocate's advertisers, are the majority on whose behalf the Advocate is advocating.

At least this time a plausible motivation for the cut comes to mind without difficulty.

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