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A brief comment on commentary

  • 10 November 2022
All writers of a regular media column know the occasional panic when they can’t think of a topic for the coming week. They may also occasionally enter the dark night of the pen, wondering what good, if any their column serves, asking how many people, if any, read it, understand it, stop to think about the issue it raises, or question their own attitudes and behaviour as a result of it. Such introspection is usually rare — the beast always needs regularly to be fed and self-doubt does not help deal with the immediate questions of how many words and what is the due date. Happily, too, the everyday blessings of exploring an idea, shaping an argument and finding good words and images through which to express it, keep self-incrimination at bay.

These reflections were prompted by two disparate experiences. Most immediately, I struggled to find a topic for this column. More generally I have been ruminating on the chaos generated by the decision by the major newspapers in Melbourne to distribute their papers through a mysterious single company instead of through a range of news agencies.

In our suburb the previous newsagent was reliable and accessible, with papers generally arriving on the doorstop shortly after 6.00am. After the change our newspapers, one from the Murdoch and the other from the Fairfax stable, arrived by a system apparently generated by chaos theory. On many days no paper at all arrived; on other days one out of the two; sometimes we received two copies of the same paper; sometimes one copy of a paper we subscribe to and one copy of a third, alien newspaper. Occasionally they arrived by 8.00am, but more often later in the day, landing somewhere on the adjacent footpath, sometimes on the grass verge, sometimes in the gutter, and very occasionally on a car bonnet. 

Well, that change was the result of a business decision, no doubt hard-headed. But its consequence has been that I seek news and views from other sources, with only a cursory reading of the daily newspapers if and when they arrive. That more detached and perhaps disenchanted view of newspapers led to reflection on their content during a time of change In governments.

Much of the coverage of public life seems to be generated by voices at a distance from it: by comments on social media, by the opinions of people outside politics, by contributions from people with