In the year 2024, we - the consumer/viewer/listener/single-digit-in-a-spreadsheet - have an opportunity to cultivate and curate our media diet, and I personally take that responsibility to be aware of the world I live in and contribute to really seriously.

I understand that I am the net average of those I spend time with, and that which I consume, so who I follow, mute, block, and subscribe to is of great importance to me. My impact and output on or to my family, community, and the planet can be ascribed to my intake.

Despite being featured in publications like the Daily Mail online or News Corporation newspapers, I generally choose to read or consume them on-demand, instead of having them flung into the different algorithmic newsfeeds I experience daily.

The news sources I do follow, like, subscribe to, get emails from, and even have notifications on for, are few and far between but they’re really deliberate.

This brings me to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, one of the greatest protective bastions of Australian culture and identity. I get ABC News app notifications and follow them on Instagram.

The functions of the Corporation are:

(a) To provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard as part of the Australian broadcasting system consisting of national, commercial, and community sectors and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, to provide:

(i) Broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and (ii) Broadcasting programs of an educational nature;

Item (b) is about outside of Australia and although I’m writing this in Rome, it doesn’t apply to the article, and:

(c) To encourage and promote the musical, dramatic, and other performing arts in Australia.

I now reference one of the great books written in recent times, The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton, on how news organisations tend towards engagement over boring important content:

But the answer isn’t just to intimidate people into consuming more ‘serious’ news; it is to push so-called serious outlets into learning to present important information in ways that can properly engage audiences. It is too easy to claim that serious things must be, and can almost afford to be, a bit boring.

Alain holds “the news” to a very high standard, and rightly so:

For all the talk of education, modern societies neglect to examine by far the most influential means by which their populations are educated. Whatever happens in our classrooms, the more potent and ongoing kind of education takes place on the airwaves and on our screens. Cocooned in classrooms for only our first eighteen years or so, we effectively spend the rest of our lives under the tutelage of news entities which wield infinitely greater influence over us than any academic institution can. Once our formal education has finished, the news is the teacher.

It is the single most significant force setting the tone of public life and shaping our impressions of the community beyond our own walls. It is the prime creator of political and social reality. As revolutionaries well know, if you want to change the mentality of a country, you don’t head to the art gallery, the department of education, or the homes of famous novelists; you drive the tanks straight to the nerve centre of the body politic, the news HQ.

This brings me to the @abcnews_au Instagram account.

Am I the only one who feels like the ABC News social media department - deliberately separating them from the local radio stations and their social media teams, TV stations and iView and the TV social media, the website, the apps, and the actual news being broadcast wherever ABC News broadcasts end up - is off charter?

Here are a few posts from the last week I do not feel are adding to our sense of national (Australian) identity or reflecting the cultural diversity of the Australian culture.

Screenshots from the ABC News Instagram Account from July 2024

Screenshots from the ABC News Instagram Account from July 2024

Screenshots from the ABC News Instagram Account from July 2024

Screenshots from the ABC News Instagram Account from July 2024

It’s all innocent content, getting some great views and metrics for the team, but I raise the following issues:

  1. Attention is one of the greatest assets online today, only second to original content. The ABC is wasting content creation resources and our attention. Tell the great Aussie stories that add to or reflect the Australian story, and let the content farms share the viral junk food stories, and let the local news outlets tell the international stories - they do it better, and we can choose to view them there already.
  2. The interest-graph driven social media industry of 2024 is built on signals. Much like driving a car and we flick on the indicator to let other traffic know we’re turning left, each time that light blinks it’s a signal to the traffic as to your intentions. We, the consumer, have the opportunity to choose what signals we deliver, which content we like, share, comment on, and mute, but the ABC also holds a great responsibility to deliver signals to the interest graph.
  3. The ABC has many different outlets for great content like this, can the News be sanitised to just be the plain-old-boring, need-to-know, news, all the news fit-to-print someone once said.
  4. I could be wrong on this and await your well-written feedback as to how I am. Seriously, every time I bring this up with broadcast friends they look at me weird as if engagement and growth at all costs is the only thing that matters.

And a few questions I’m pondering:

  • How do the ABC staff know if they are being successful? Is content like this the only way for some social media person to keep their job because it gets numbers?
  • How do they know if they are meeting the charter?
  • Is feedback like this welcome?
  • I know that ABC funding is contentious, how can the good burghers of Australia shape our government, and instruct it, so we have an ABC that our great grandchildren will be proud of in 100 years?
  • What is the ABC News social media accounts for? Are they for content like this?

I’ll end on this word from Alain:

News organisations are coy about admitting that what they present us with each day are minuscule extracts of narratives whose true shape and logic can generally only emerge from a perspective of months or even years – and that it would hence often be wiser to hear the story in chapters rather than snatched sentences. They are institutionally committed to implying that it is inevitably better to have a shaky and partial grasp of a subject this minute than to wait for a more secure and comprehensive understanding somewhere down the line.