August 05, 2013
My Campaign Diary – Week 1
From the mundane to the exhilarating, I thought I’d share the pathos and bathos of the life of an election analyst during a Federal election campaign. I’ll do a post for each week of the campaign.
I’ve switched to reverse date order so the newest entry is always at the top.
Tuesday 6 August – Day 1 of the Formal Campaign.
You always know it is going to be a bad day when you wake up before 5am for no particular reason. It is made so much worse by my first response, grabbing the phone to find out how the cricket finished. Exactly where it was when I went to bed is the answer, but by this stage I’m wide awake and realising the afternoon is going to drag.
Returning to the land of nod proves a failure, so the only answer is to get up. Shock tactics are required, so after NewsRadio’s 5:30 bulletin I turn to 2GB for Squawk at Dawn. The performance and content are getting very repetitive, but the effect is blood curdling enough to make the cold dash to the bathroom welcoming.
And at least I now have a supply of clean dry black socks.
I arrive early to find new BBC Correspondent Jon Donnison busy in our shared office. London and Singapore have both asked for stories, and neither concern the election. Singapore want an interview speculating about interest rates, and London want a story about cricket and how Australian sport is becoming a laughing stock in the wake of the Ashes loss and Lions tour defeat.
So Jon wants shots of locals playing sport, and the obvious spot is the Sydney Domain at lunch time. Winter, 24 degrees and sunny, shots of people playing sport with the CBD in the background, and vox pops of Australians be-moaning their sporting teams.
The only things missing from the story that would make it a perfect BBC story from Australia is either (a) sharks, (b) poisonous snakes and spiders, (c) crocodiles or (d) lost backpackers. Preferably the lost backpackers should involve one or more of sharks, crocodiles and poisonous snakes and spiders. London can never get enough stories on backpackers lost in scrub infested with poisonous snakes and spiders.
Jon also asks me to explain the powers of the Senate, how preferential voting works, and how results are reported on election night. I do my best but his eyes just glaze over. He’s still getting over his jetlag it seems.
Only two interviews this morning, ABC Dubbo and ABC Tamworth, both about Vote Compass. My colleague Gillian Bradford is soaking up other far flung parts of the ABC rural network. We are working hard to get non-metropolitan people to use Vote Compass to make sure the exercise isn’t entirely captured by iPad users trying to occupy themselves while waiting for their trendy cafe to serve their de-caff soy lattés. (Before some humourless person quotes me on that, can I point out it was a joke.)
The word is good from the Canadians in charge of the Vote Compass software. The number of respondents giving us an electorate or postcode is high, and over half of people are filling the demographic questions. The team in Toronto have been surprised by the response rate. We have a couple of discussions on how to present the results of the first report on Friday graphically. The project has the potential to be quite interesting, but we will need to keep up the response rate.
We also had it confirmed that the WikiLeaks Party had been added to the list of offered parties on the Senate question. Some consideration to imposing an IP block on the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has been considered.
The rest of the morning is spent adding extra candidates and pictures, and continuing on with proof reading the candidate profiles. I get sent a photo of Kevin Rudd sitting in front of a Vote Compass banner which is worth sharing on Twitter.
The news desk in Brisbane likes my campaign diary and decides to start plugging it. They’ve asked if a can do a ‘selfie’ at my desk for it. ‘Social media will love it’ I’m told, but it’s an odd request given a certain sexting story running high in the Queensland rundown. I presume they are not suggesting a Peter Dowling style selfie.
Two hours post- lunch is absorbed in trying to sort how to publish the Senate background material on the ABC website. The site has been completely re-designed for the 2013 election so that it runs properly on mobile and tablet devices. There are new style sheets across the House pages, so the designer needs to work out how these can be applied to the Senate pages generated in a different manner.
At which point I discover I didn’t re-write the mutli-member publishing modules when I modified the code in my database in 2011. An hour of patch coding and retro-fitting produces something respectable for a first draft, something to work on tomorrow.
The day is rounded off with twenty minutes at Triple J talking to the ‘The Doctor’, I suppose the counterpoint to spending the morning doing interviews in tardis booths. It turns out we’d met before when he introduced himself with a real name.
I thought about telling my anecdote about having listened to 2JJ on the first day it broadcast, and 2JJJ the first day it broadcast on FM, and could still name the first songs. But it seemed a bit grandpa-ish to do it. So I pretended to understand the Harry Potter joke, swapped jokes about Peter Dowling, and joined a couple of above the waist selfies with some political junkies. I hope it all made sense to the audience.
By now fatigue is setting in so it is time for home. I suddenly realise I haven’t seen anything about the election campaign for the second day in a row. I might be an election tragic, but I’m certainly not a campaign tragic. At least there is the News and 7:30 to help catch up on the day. Apart from the interest rate cut, it all looks a bit same-old same-old. 32 days to go then.
Thankfully there will be no cricket to keep me up tonight, but I am going to have to accept that I can’t listen to both ‘What the Papers Say’ with Tony Delory and ‘Squawk at Dawn’ if I hope to survive the campaign. One or other but not both.
Footnote: The first song on 2JJ was the banned “You just like me ‘cos I’m good in bed” by Skyhooks, and the first song on 2JJJ was ‘Gay Guys’ by the Dugites. And the first announcer on 2JJ was Holger Brockman, who these days works as a producer and announcer for NewsRadio. Before 2JJ he worked at 2SM under the name ‘Bill Drake’, long foreign sounding names not being common on commercial radio in those days. Perhaps it’s best I didn’t share that with everyone at JJJ.
Monday 5 August – Writs are Issued, legally Day Zero of the Campaign.
An early start and more time for proof reading on the bus. Then it is on to a morning of non-stop interviews about the campaign and about Vote Compass. The Compass has already been filled in 90,000 times despite its technical problems overnight. Thankfully the wonderful Jane Wilson is arranging my interview schedule so I’m not being pestered with phone requests for interviews at the same time as I’m trying to get to where I need to be to do the interviews.
The day starts with AM on Radio National, followed by a quick sprint up two floors for ABC local radio in Sydney and Brisbane. Then it’s back down two floors to a television studio for a cross with Virginia Trioli at ABC News Breakfast, then a dash to the other end of the building for ABC NewsRadio. At least in Newsradio I’m talking to a face, not someone at the other end of an earpiece for a change.
Back up two floors to the ABC Tardis booths, the remote operated booths in Master Control used for interstate interviews. By now the Master Control staff are getting used to me. This time I’m talking to Alice Springs, Newcastle and Adelaide, then time for a coffee before talking to Jon Faine in Melbourne.
Now upstairs to the office I share with the BBC for a television interview with BBC World in Singapore, and like all television crosses there’s endless thumb twiddling while waiting for the presenter to come to you. Once that’s dealt with, back to the Tardis to talk to Perth local radio.
By this stage I’m all talked out. There are only so many times you can say the same thing over and over again without going ga-ga. Time for a couple of conversations about TV News graphics for later in the week, discussions on radio interviews I’m booked for this afternoon and tomorrow, and I also take the opportunity to publish candidate photos on the ABC election site. Once the proof reading is done I can turn on the profiles as well. Also time for a quick discussion on the thrashing that Vote Compass took overnight. The initial load of people trying to fill it in was much greater than the Canadian team running the project had expected.
Suddenly I am blissfully free of media demands, so time to deal with domestics. My trip to Brisbane last week prevented me from picking up a dozen bottles of red I had waiting for collection, so that’s the first task. Then its the coloureds wash so I can have some clean socks, very important for analysing elections, and while the water and suds do their work, time for some grocery shopping so I eat properly this week. Living on your own can be a real hassle in the midst of an election campaign.
With wine collected, food stacked and socks hung, the bus trip back to work offers an opportunity for more proof reading. Back at work there’s two calls to return to journalists from the Australian, plus sundry e-mails arriving about candidate who are standing, and in some cases no longer standing. And more proof reading. And the first complaint, the first of no doubt many in the election campaign. I’m also missing a ‘u’ in every instance of Democratic Labour Party on the site. Apparently they’ve changed their name since the last election.
5pm and its back to the tardis for interviews with ABC regional drive programs in Queensland and South Australia, with more proof reading squeezed in between, and more proof reading afterwards. Finally it’s suit and tie time again for an interview with Leigh Sales on 7:30. More proof reading on the bus heading home, then it’s time to try the new wine. Very nice.
So, the writs are issued, the first full day of campaigning is over. My sum total of election campaigning observed – 15 minutes on ABC-TV news. Just as well I don’t do commentary on the campaign itself. Perhaps when the distraction-free requirements of proof reading are over, I’ll be free to turn the television on.
Twitter has also been banned today. Nothing gets done if you respond to twitter, so it’s best left off. If something happens I need to know about, e-mail or phone is always the best way to tell me.
Sunday 4 August – The Date is Announced
No campaign announced this morning, so I make the mistake of thinking it’s safe to go the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown (Newtown’s AFL pub) to watch the Swans versus Bulldogs with my footy mates. Lunch downed and one beer part drunk when the message comes through, Rudd is on the way to Canberra. Ruddy hell!
Time to be responsible, so the schooner has to last until half-time, by which time the growing rumbles of Rudd’s intentions force me to head home. Time to ditch the torn jeans and red and white shirt in favour of something more suitable for live television. But first I need to iron some shirts and find some clean socks. Bad news on the latter front, I knew I should have done a dark clothes wash this morning.
Suddenly the neighbour wants to talk to me over the fence again about having our common roof replaced, just as the messages start arriving that Rudd is on the way to Yarralumla. Even worse, the Bulldogs pull within eight points amidst the messages and the discussion about roof colour and technical standards for insulation. Just what you want mid-campaign, your roof removed.
Three goals in the two minutes before three-quarter time solve the footy crisis so it is safe to go to work. Shirts ironed, suits packed, taxi grabbed and it’s into the office. Two interviews with Radio Current Affairs, two with News 24, plus lots of pfaffing around as political leaders step from nowhere to be interviewed just as I’m expecting to be asked my opinion. The joys of live television!
Finally it’s time to print 60 pages of website proof reading that has to be done, and I get a bit of time to start it on the bus. At last I get to see the final quarter of the Swans win when I get home. Rohan Connolly’s prediction two weeks ago that Essendon would finish second and the Swans out of the five isn’t looking good at the moment. And people wonder why I don’t make election predictions.
An important theorem that remains unproven but appears to be correct is that sagacity is inversely proportional to the number of incorrect predictions you make. The relationship becomes statistically less significant if anything that could be construed as a definitive prediction is smothered with enough caveats.