Every robot can tell a story. But a good one?

As the WA Media Awards approach on Saturday night, Peter Klinger takes a moment to contemplate the essential qualities that define a proficient journalist.

Cannings Purple, Media Relations, Western Australia

Peter Klinger 4 Oct 2023
3 mins

There is a hilarious sketch in series two of Yes, Prime Minister where PM Jim Hacker puts his sidekicks Sir Humphrey and Bernard in their place about media strategy.

Hacker shows off his knowledge of the audiences of the big newspapers in England and says he therefore understands best what readers want to hear.

The conversation, modified for today’s audience, goes something like this:

“The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

As funny as the sketch is, it was a reminder then – and still relevant today – that audiences come in all shapes and sizes and with different expectations of what they want to hear, read or listen to.

When I moved to London 20 years ago to have a shot at the so-called Fleet Street experience (ignore the fact almost every news outlet had moved off Fleet Street), I got a job as a business reporter for The Times, based in Wapping. I learnt much, including about audience diversity and the way different newspaper titles tried to stay relevant in a hotly contested market.

It was never more evident than when I had to cover, for example, the financial results for oil giants BP or Shell. My news desk instructions usually were to come back with a “global story”.

At the same time, it was almost guaranteed that my peer at the Tele had to write up BP’s dividend splurge, the reporter from the Grauniad would focus on an environmental disaster real or imagined or maybe just fat cat pay, the FT would harp on about an oil industry leadership angle, the Sun would highlight petrol prices and the Independent would report on a footnote to the financial results to ensure its point of difference from the mainstream papers.

In fact, the competition was so intense that my business editor, at our daily morning whip-arounds, would regularly berate us over a lack of good yarns by comparing the poor state of our newslist with the content produced by some overseas wire services that spat out press releases word-for-word because their role was to deliver news headlines as fast as possible. Those agencies were delivering to their audience, unlike us, the business editor would rant.

Her message: writing up a bland news yarn takes no skill but turning it into a point of difference does – just ask the audience.

So as the great debate heats up about whether ChatGPT and its AI siblings will destroy journalism as we know it, it is worth remembering what journalism should be all about – points of difference, personality, emotion, relevance, voice, context, tone, insights, colour, revelations, learnings, eye-witness accounts, forward looking, storytelling.

This is not about carving the story cake into equal slices of homogenous content, no matter how intelligent and “cultured” the robot in the background is – cookie cutters do not deliver the diversity, intensity and intelligence of voice that media audiences want.

Sure, AI will likely replace some of the down-page, background or end-of-bulletin content – and has its advocates who are convinced ChatGPT & Co will take over the world of storytelling – but not the “real” news that audiences will pay for.

It is, of course, up to the next generations of journalists to maintain the rage against the AI machine and prove that nothing beats media produced by people.

Good journalism has played an incredible, irreplaceable, positive role in our society and – fortunately – continues to be seen as a professional career worth embarking on.

This is why Cannings Purple is again proud to be sponsoring the Eaves-Prior-Day Prize, awarded annually to the best new reporter or cadet in WA, because we want to play our small part in supporting the next generation of news breakers.

Good luck to the two finalists – Cason Ho and Cameron Carr, both reporters at the ABC – when the Eaves-Prior-Day winner is announced at the WA Media Awards on Saturday night.

In the meantime, for those who want a quick giggle, check out the newspapers sketch from Yes, Prime Minister.

Peter Klinger is Director of Investor Relations at Cannings Purple. He joined the Kalgoorlie Miner as a cadet reporter in 1994, won the (then) Eaves-Prior Award in 1995 and went on to work at The West Australian, Financial Review, The Times in London and then back at The West, ultimately as business editor, before joining Cannings Purple.


Peter Klinger More from author

Peter has extensive media experience across all industry sectors and well-developed media relationships across Australia. A highly-skilled communicator and communications strategist, Peter has a proven track record of devising communication strategies and writing high-quality reports, thought leadership pieces and mission/values statements. In the past year, Peter has devised communication strategies for $1 billion worth of corporate transactions involving ASX-listed companies.

Peter boasts more than 20 years’ experience in daily financial journalism, accrued across titles including The West Australian, The Times (London) and Australian Financial Review.

Peter’s exceptional writing skills allow him to accurately and appropriately capture clients’ needs, whether it be crafting opinion pieces, drafting ASX announcements or preparing and executing a strategic communications plan. As Peter best understands, it takes a finely crafted message to cut through all the noise in the marketplace.

Peter has always had a passion for writing — from keeping holiday diaries to editing his high school journal — so it was a no-brainer for him to pursue a career in journalism that, post-university, began at the century-old daily newspaper, Kalgoorlie Miner. Outside of work and apart from his family, Peter is a member of a multi-premiership winning team of life-long hockey players whose skills seem to improve with every post-match beer.

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