All questions are important, stupid

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more of the WA public is getting an insight into what happens during a live press conference. 

It’s unusual for most West Australians to see a press conference in its entirety. Essentially, the public is now seeing how the sausage is made, and it’s been made this way for decades.

This new insight, however, has managed to upset the many couch critics who, during WA’s second lockdown, went after journalists, vilifying them for their ‘stupid’ questions.

I tend to disagree and would suggest these ‘stupid’ questions are more an ingredient in the sausage making.

To give you perspective, when the Premier announced conditions around the end of our lockdown at 8:40pm one night, most of the political journalists asking the questions also attended the media conference early that morning.

They were into their 16th hour of work and had already put together and filed stories, been to a number of press conferences and interviews, and likely did a live cross or five.

Most of the time when they are called to a press conference, they don’t get much notice and a lot of the time they don’t know what is going to be announced, so they are required to think on their feet.

And it needs to be said, they are not there primarily to facilitate a live press conference for the public’s viewing; they have a whole plethora of tasks to undertake during this conference and immediately after.

Each journalist has different needs. They ask questions for different reasons from each other and from the public, and yes it can seem odd. But hear me out; the television reporter is working on compiling a one-minute TV package and is interviewing in a way to get specific sound bites. Sometimes they ask a question twice because the Premier didn’t give a concise enough answer.

It’s very similar to when the public berate reporters for asking someone how they feel after a traumatic event. “How do you think he feels, you idiot?”, they say.  But the journalist isn’t always looking for a factual answer, rather an emotional one for camera to illustrate to the audience the impact this situation has had. Is this uncomfortable? Possibly, but not stupid.

Then there are the journalists who need to go live immediately after the conference and are writing their live cross as the Premier is speaking. Newspaper reporters have more time and are looking for a fresh angle for tomorrow’s paper while also trying to file for their online edition before their competitor.

They are under immense pressure to relay information fast, which means as they are listening to the Premier, they are also live tweeting, answering questions and emails from their chief of staff and are being fed more questions from their producers back in the office. Sometimes they simply didn’t hear what the Premier said and have to clarify. Again, maybe irritating, but not stupid.

They don’t have a lot of time to ask questions, so not only are they trying to clarify something with an authoritative figure, they are also trying to compete with the dozen other journalists talking over the top of them.

But most importantly and particularly in a pandemic, journalists are simply trying to clarify the facts. We all know there were some grey areas when it came to where we should and shouldn’t wear our mask. Journalists were attempting to clarify every scenario they could think of in that moment.

The public became frustrated; told them to stop asking the ‘stupid’ questions and even joked about it with memes and viral videos.

I’ll admit they were funny, but we weren’t laughing a few days later when we all couldn’t figure out if we had to wear a mask in the car, doing yoga outside, or while walking the dog at a brisk pace. “Is this vigorous?” we thought. If only a journalist had more time to ask.

My point is, even after the journalists asked so many ‘stupid’ questions, there were so many still unanswered.

Following this press conference, veteran journalist Geof Parry copped the brunt of the public’s disgust as they called for him to retire. In good humour, Geof laughed off his critics, reading his ‘mean tweets’ live on radio.

I won’t deny that occasionally a stupid journalist asks a stupid question. 

This is not Geof. Geof is a political reporter with more than 30 years’ experience, who has held our pollies to account over and over again, and who has uncovered countless wrongdoings in the public sector for decades. I think it’s fair to say; he’s got this.

Sometimes he needs to speak over the Premier when he isn’t satisfied with an answer. He’s there to keep the government accountable and our democracy healthy.

So next lockdown (let’s hope there isn’t one) when the live press conferences kick off – let’s give the journalists a break.

They aren’t always experts, but they certainly aren’t stupid.


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