Politics and the media in Australia today

Dr Sally Young

11 July 2008

View the transcript as a PDF file - (PDF 131KB)

As I was wondering what to focus on for this lecture – so many interesting things happened during the 2007 election – I was also writing two academic papers and the contradictions between these two papers struck me as symptomatic of the changing nature of media/politics in Australia and led me to what I would like to talk about today.

The first paper I was writing was about Sky News1. Before the 2007 election, Sky promised 'the most comprehensive coverage Australian viewers have ever witnessed' and I think, in terms of TV, it achieved that. Aside from dedicated programmes, news bulletins and breaking news headlines, programs were interrupted to broadcast – usually live and in full - media conferences, policy announcements and other key events. There were multiple hours of election-related content every day during the election.

But, at the same time, I was writing a paper where I presented the results of a study into how free-to-air TV news covers election campaigns2. Analysing primetime TV news stories, I found that the average election-news story is only two minutes long – and during this story, the reporter and host speak for more than half the time while politicians speak only in 7 second soundbites. The average news story about the 2007 election devoted less than 30 seconds to letting politicians speak in their own words. For example, on the 12 November, the day of the Coalition's campaign launch, John Howard delivered a speech for 42 minutes but that night on the evening news, voters heard only 10.4 seconds of it. We know from American research that the soundbite has shrunk over time, keeps on shrinking and that they have less soundbites on their news compared to ours. So, if we follow American trends in news production - and we often seem to - this will happen here as well.

This led me to start thinking about the contradictions between the growing options for political junkies (as epitomised by a 24 hour news channel) versus the 7 second soundbite on commercial TV news. It also got me thinking about how this fits with the internet because so often we hear that it is going to revolutionise democracy and expand political participation. We hear these claims in Australia, as in 2007, an election that was dubbed 'the internet election'.

But before I come to look at specific media, I need to sketch a better map of who I'm talking about in terms of politics and news audiences.

Who are the media audience for politics in Australia?

An experienced political pollster estimated a few years ago that only around 10% of the population in Australia takes an active interest in politics. A lot of what we know about Australian attitudes to politics comes from work performed at the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) at the Australian National University including the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and the Australian Election Studies.

These studies show that indicators of extensive (or deep) formal political participation are low - only about 4% of Australians are members of a political party for example, compared to the 45% who belong to a sport or recreation group3. Or, another example - during an election campaign, usually less than 5% of Australians will attend a political meeting or rally4. If measured in terms of wider civic engagement (such as membership of auto associations or voluntary associations), Australians are not disengaged from civic life however, this seems to me to be quite a different measure than involvement in formal politics or the political process.

Although people have a tendency to overestimate 'good' qualities such as civic involvement in surveys, 17% were willing to admit in 2007 that they had 'not much' or 'no' interest in politics and 12% surveyed in 2007 said they wouldn't vote at all if it were voluntary5.

This builds up a broad picture of the two extremes of the spectrum – about 5-10% of people who are highly interested in politics while 12-17% are so uninterested that they freely admit it and might not vote if not for compulsory voting. Given that people may be reluctant to acknowledge a lack of interest in politics in an election or politics survey, this number may actually be larger. What we can say then, very broadly, is that for every Australian who is highly engaged with politics, there are at least two who aren't interested much at all. In the middle of these extremes are the rest: the majority.

Now that we have this very broad sense of the proportion of dedicated 'seekers' of politics news versus the indifferent we can consider where (if at all) these groups get political news and information via the media.

The news and politics junkies

Just as political interest divides us, when it comes to how we use media to get political news and information, we are also a nation divided.

If we are interested in politics and political news, there are a now host of options available. There are still traditional places including ABC and SBS news and current affairs programs, broadsheet newspapers and public radio, but two other major options have opened up – pay TV and the internet.

Let's look at pay TV first. In terms of political content pay TV has Australia's only locally-produced 24 hour news channel. But by international standards, the take-up of pay TV in Australia has been very slow. It's growing but at 2005, only about 23% of Australian households had pay TV compared to around 88% in the US and 50% in the UK6. Even taking this into account, Sky News' viewing figures are small. As an overall percentage of TV viewing, Sky News captures only around 0.5 per cent of the Australian TV viewing audience7. It's a fantastic resource for anyone interested in politics but this is what and who it is for - news junkies and political junkies.

Now let's turn to the internet. It's true that the amount and variety of political information on the internet has dramatically increased over the past few years. Let me illustrate by imagining an extreme caricature of a political junkie, someone who has a dedicated interest in politics, and his average day (we'll make him male as research shows the online political junkie is more likely to be male) and we'll call him Johnny.

Johnny begins early in the morning by reading all of the major newspapers online, then he listens to the AM program (through his PC of course). Because he likes to get an alternative view as well though he also goes on indymedia to check how others are reporting the day's top story or to see what news stories aren't being covered in the mainstream media. At 10am, there is a parliamentary inquiry on political donations that he's interested in so he goes to the aph.gov.au website and watches live as a witness gives evidence. While he's there he also reads a few of the written submissions to the inquiry. He's on the email list of three political parties so he then reads the emails they sent him that morning including their press releases. Then, to catch up, because he missed yesterday's Question Time, he goes on to the ABC newsradio website and downloads the podcast which he listens to on his ipod while he goes for a walk. When he gets back he reads Crikey which has just arrived in his email inbox. After that he goes onto the ABC website or Sky News Active and watches Question Time live. An MP answers a question about education policy which makes him curious so he visits four different political party websites so he can compare their policies. He makes up a list of how they differ and posts this on his blog and emails it to his friends (yes, he has some!). Then he emails his local MP and asks her a question about a new road that's proposed in his electorate. Throughout the day, he checks back with his favourite online newspaper to see the latest breaking news. In between, he reads OnlineOpinion, New Matilda and Australian Policy Online. When these get a bit too serious, he logs on to Youtube and watches a funny satirical clip about the prime minister. When he opens his FaceBook profile he has two new messages from other politically interested friends who are part of a lobby group and tell him about a meeting they're holding. This makes him nostalgic for the times when political meetings and rallies were more standard fare so he looks up some political history resources including the National Library's PANDORA archive and the University of Melbourne's Soapbox of election materials. By 8pm, he's watched the primetime TV news and current affairs programs (which disappoint him), so, because he likes psephology, he reads the latest posts at his favourite political blogs including mumble.com.au and the poll bludger. Then he goes to bed.

This, of course, is not the average Australian. My point in imagining him is to show just how many options there are to the modern media/politics citizen. But it's also to illustrate how, on the one hand, there are more and more options for engaging with politics and political news – particularly on the internet - but on the other hand, these options are predominantly for the deliberate, dedicated seeker of political information. You have to seek them out – they are unlikely to be options that you just happen across while on the internet.

While there are now these many different resources, are Australians using any/many of them?

Things move fast in new media use but back in 2003 when asked what medium they used to get news and information – and this is general news so including sport, weather and entertainment – only 11% in Australia said they used the internet daily to get news8. Since then, more people are likely to have turned to online news and online newspapers specifically. The figures can be hard to capture accurately but the Australian Press Council reports that online newspaper use is growing fast9. Still, the 2008 ACMA report indicated that when Australians are on the internet, accessing news is fifth on the list of things they're doing online; behind e-mail, banking and paying bills10.

When we're talking more specifically about politics or election news, the figures are even lower. Data from the 2007 election suggests about 5% used the internet to get election news11. And this statistic included people who said they used the internet only 'once or twice' to seek information on the election so it's a fairly generous estimation.

There is still a digital divide in Australia in terms of income, age, gender, education and geographical location. Not surprisingly, Australian research has found that the younger a person is, the more likely they'll use the internet for news and information. Being male and having a university degree also more than doubles the likelihood of relying on the internet for news12.

So despite all the focus on the internet, at this point in time, TV is still by far the most popular medium in Australia and it's the place where the accidental audience is most likely to come across political news. TV is in a transition phase. Its audience has declined (or fragmented depending upon how you look at) and there are other worrying signs for the future. Yet, for the moment, it still remains immensely popular with nine out of ten Australians watching TV every week13. On average, Australians watch over three hours of television a day14. As David Denemark notes, it 'dominates Australians' lives at home'15. By comparison, although it's growing, when it comes to getting information and news about politics or a federal election, the internet is still a niche medium in Australia. Far more people rely on the traditional media16.

Traditional media use and the loss of the accidental audience?

Given the lack of political junkies, we know that most people don't seek out political content. In fact, many try to avoid it and chose other options. When surveyed about what sort of media content they prefer, 'political analysis' was ranked last after other categories such as news, sports, entertainment and music17. In my study of soundbites, I found that the more popular a TV channel is, the less election news stories it has on its primetime news program – which suggests something important about why the soundbite is so short and particularly on the commercial channels. In terms of media use, people vote with their feet (or eyeballs in this case). The top rating programs each year are sporting events and reality TV shows. The best selling newspapers are not those with the weightier, longer politics sections but tabloids. The same is true of online news. While mainstream newspapers have attracted audiences it is ninemsn – with its lighter approach to news – that is the most visited website18.

But the traditional media had places where people came across politics even if they didn't deliberately seek it out.

People who thought they weren't particularly interested in formal politics might be reading a newspaper and, in flicking through to get to the weather, cartoons, movies or sport, see a politics story that catches their eye and read it. They might be watching TV news on a commercial channel after work and, while (again) waiting for the weather or sport, see a few news stories on politics. Then, when they leave the TV on that channel, they might see a current affairs program that had stories on politics or even a political interview with a prime minister of opposition leader.

Now, those 'accidental' options are declining. TV news still has stories on politics but less people watch it (especially at the evening news time slot) and there are shorter stories with politicians speaking less often.

Current affairs program on commercial TV once had some 'incidental' political content in between other stories – for example, a politician being interviewed or political issues being reported and analysed. But now there's barely even a pretence that the programs operate that way. Celebrity interviews and the staple fare of neighbourhood disputes, small time con-artists, diet and cosmetic surgery stories have replaced national politics with politicians now increasingly seen as a 'ratings killer'. When he was host of the program A Current Affair, Ray Martin declared that: 'Anyone who suggests that you get ratings by having the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition on is a dope… Australians don't want that… they don't watch…'19.

On TV, three key factors indicate a changing conception of the audience for political news and a move away from letting politicians talk in their own words: 1) the absence of politics stories and declining emphasis on formal politics; 2) shorter soundbites and 3) greater editorialism with more space given to reporters and experts than politicians. This last feature is epitomised by the practice Ken Inglis' dubbed 'goldfishing' – where politicians are more likely to be seen than heard as 'the voice heard most is the reporter's, paraphrasing or analysing or even deriding what the member is saying. … [so that] we just see his or her mouth moving…')20.

And it's not just TV, of course. In printed newspapers, where once there were lengthy transcripts of politicians' speeches or reports on parliamentary debates, there are is now more space for lifestyle topics such as travel, cooking and fashion – topics that 'attract advertising revenue' and allow for articles to be pre-written so that there can be 'more advance printing and the use of the same material in many newspapers within the same company21.'In online newspapers, the presentation of material is quite different from the hardcopy with more emphasis on celebrity and entertainment and with the 'most read' story indicators suggesting that the more 'tabloidesque' stories attract more hits.

To me, the way newspapers are presented online, the changing format of TV news and the decline of commercial current affairs programs, are symptoms of how traditional media are ditching politics or, at least, consider it a niche rather than a general interest for their audiences.

As a result, the options for 'accidental' engagement with politics seem to be declining and this raises the spectre of an increased division in the future between the politically- informed information seekers and the rest – especially online. Given sufficient neglect, some of these unaddressed may become politically marginalised and alienated, viewing politics as something quite separate from themselves. But is this a likely scenario?

The decline of 'accidentalism'?

When a new medium comes along there can be a temptation from some quarters to hype it up and overestimate its positive potential or, from others, to demonise it and fear its consequences. Both of these things happened with TV and are now happening with the internet. I've used Johnny as an example of the positive potential for engaged citizens so now, at the risk of adding to the demonisation, let's examine some theories about the potentially negative impact of the internet.

According to one strand of thought, online newspapers represent the problem of a declining 'accidentalism'. When you go to an online newspaper, you choose which links you click on to read a full story. It's true that, when reading the hardcopy print version, you might also have flicked straight past the politics section and read only the classifieds or some other section. But, where once an article might have caught your eye while turning the page or while you were reading the article above or below, you now have only a list of headlines in the online version and you choose which ones you read and which you don't. Your eye doesn't tend to accidentally stray over other content – text and photos - just over other headlines which can be easily ignored.

There is also the technological capacity with online news sites and search engines to 'personalise' your news content. This can be done voluntarily. You can ask for your news to be customised – for example, just to have sport news - or it can be done surreptitiously by the website proprietor who keeps track of your reading and selectively funnels content to you. (This is similar to what Amazon does in keeping track of what books you buy and then, when you logon, it suggests new ones in the same topic area for you). Yahoo news and Google News –now some of the most popular online news sources - work like this already (see http://cm.my.yahoo.com/?rd=nux and http://news.google.com/nwshp?hl=en&tab=wn) so that you select what sort of news you want and they filter out content that you haven't indicated a preference for.

Fragmentation compounds this. Let me give a Victorian example - where once someone who was interested in sport might have bought the Herald-Sun or the Age and gone to the back sports section (with the option of perhaps stopping to read the general or politics news on the way), they can now just go straight to sports.yahoo.com, the AFL website, ESPN.com or other sports-news-only sites.

Should we just let them go?

There are some uncomfortable choices in here. Part of the 'problem' I've just described is due to greater media choices. Whereas once there were just five free-to-air TV channels all of which broadcast the news at roughly the same time, now there will be more choices available at different times, in different formats and with different content. And, given the option of having news without politics, many people may well take it. Therefore, if people are given a choice and they don't want politics news, then who am I to suggest that they should? In response, I'd suggest that people haven't really been given an adequate choice in the past. Lack of diversity in media ownership, the commercialisation of news and its imperatives, the standardised format of TV and newspaper news and the lack of imagination and change in recent years in relation to these formats have meant, arguably, that few good choices have been available.

I could also point to the one area where there has been growth in TV audience share as a sign of hope - a sign that if there is well-presented political news, people may choose it – the rise in audience share for the ABC and SBS (which I discuss more below).

Finally, I could suggest a proverb: 'What interests people is not always good for them. What's good for people does not always interest them'. This is very paternalistic but I fear the opposite stance may be worse. You do the politically disengaged no favours by supporting their exclusion (whether self-chosen or not) and, on balance, a democracy without politically aware citizens is more dangerous.

If I was at a media or cultural studies conference, among academics who argue that Australian Idol and Big Brother are representations of real democracy and just as valid as formal politics, I'd have to justify and explain this argument about audience choice in far more detail but I think it's safe to assume that I'm among people who believe participating in, and knowing about, formal politics is important.

I'd like to now think about the future and consider how realistic or unlikely scenarios of a dwindling accidental audience are. For the sake of analysis, I've divided the following discussion into two parts: signs of concern and signs of hope for the future. But the dichotomy isn't as clear cut as this, of course. As we're in the midst of all of these changes (and still in an 'apprenticeship' phase of using the internet), some of these trends are very difficult to interpret and I've indicated where I think the difficulties lie.

Signs of concern

If we take as our premise that printed newspapers have been a bedrock of political news, whereas the shape of online news is far more ambiguous, there are signs of concern. A 2006 Australian Press Council report noted that '[n]early half of those who read Australian metropolitan newspapers are over fifty' which doesn't bode well for the future22. Nearly 70 per cent of metropolitan newspapers' readers are now aged over 35 years23. In the four years between 2000 and 2004, the biggest decline in audience share for newspapers was in the 18-24 year old group24. The Economist argued in August 2006 that newspapers are 'on the way out [and that] half the world's newspapers [are] likely to close in the foreseeable future'25. Eric Beecher, co-owner of Crikey and former newspaper editor has argued that the money that has underpinned quality journalism in Australia is no longer available and new models will have to be found26.

The majority of Australians still rely on free-to-air TV and especially commercial TV news to get political information27. But, as I've said, use of free-to-air TV is declining, news and current affairs audiences are declining (or fragmenting) and these programs devote very little time to politics. Young people are turning away from TV in general but also TV news and current affairs. Despite moral panics about young people watching too much TV, adults over 55 years are the heaviest viewers, averaging 4 hours and 17 minutes of viewing per day, while young adults, teens and children now the lightest users, averaging under 2.5 hours per day. In sum, people under 40 are watching less TV now than they were in 199128.

Young people are moving to other media including music, cinema, magazines, the internet, TV, radio, video games that don't necessarily emphasise formal politics29. They're turning away, in particular, from free-to-air TV news and current affairs30. These are genres that have been derided, by young people, as 'boring', 'complex', 'distant' and unrelated to their own lives but also as lacking context or background that they can use when stories, events or individuals are unfamiliar to them31.

Young people seem to be especially abandoning conventional journalism in the form of printed newspapers and TV news and current affairs32. Jason Sternberg found that commercial prime time news and current affairs seem to have never attracted more than 18 or 19 per cent of the under 24 year olds33. Much has also been made of how media- savvy young people are now and, in light of their knowledge about media formats (including from programs such as Frontline), they are aware of how patronising, sensational, unethical and nonsensical some current affairs program content is.

So, while such programs have increasingly taken politicians off in an attempt to retain or attract audiences, it hasn't necessarily worked. In 2007, A Current Affair averaged its lowest audience for this decade and both Today Tonight and A Current Affair are stagnating or declining in terms of ratings.

This is one of the trends that I'm not sure how to read. On one hand, I'm tempted to say that the commercial news and current affairs programs are so bad that it's a good thing that they're dying. Optimistically, I could wonder whether this might even herald a new dawn of a different type of programming that could include engagement with politics in a way younger viewers find appealing, But, on the other hand, I still worry that nothing (or worse) may fill the void of 'incidental' or 'accidental' political news such programs used to provide. On balance, at least for the moment, I'll choose to interpret it as a sign of hope that they'll need to reinvent their tired and unpopular format.

As evidence of my more optimistic interpretation I'll offer again as a sign of hope the fact that the ABC – with its focus on substantive political news and current affairs - is doing well in the current media climate. Its audience share has increased over the past three decades (and so has SBS) as other channels have declined (Table 1). Perhaps this indicates that there is an audience for 'quality' political news and current affairs? But I'll also note a different interpretation of this trend that's less favourable: the ABC is doing well because TV is now an 'old people's medium' and older people like the ABC. (This is an interpretation that I'll have to investigate in more depth by examining ratings by program type and demographic over time.)

Table 1 – Audience share by TV station, 1983, 2003 and 2007
  7 9 10 ABC SBS
1983 30.8 30.9 24.9 11.9 1.5
2003 25.6 31.2 23.2 15.6 4.5
2007 29.1 26.9 21.9 16.7 5.5

Source: AFC, Get The Picture, 2004 and 2007.

I've focused on news and journalism so far which means that one of the main ways that people 'accidentally' come across political content is one that I haven't yet mentioned - through political parties' advertising. Presuming that a viewer watches only one TV news program in the evening, s/he will see about two minutes of political news. But if, during an election, they keep watching TV until bedtime, they will likely see several minutes (in total) of political advertising over the course of the night. Depending upon where they live and how sought-after they are in terms of marginal seats/swinging voters, they may also get direct mail letters, telephone voice-recorded messages, emails and SMS messages. If political content in journalism forms reduces, these methods will become even more central ways in which voters access political material. I've put this as a sign of concern because I think this raises issues about the content of such advertisements as well as their costs (social, political and economic).

The changing media landscape

What of the online audience? Is the Internet the solution? As we've noted, internet use for political purposes is an area where we in Australia lag behind the US considerably. This is due to a range of factors but perhaps we can narrow the gap. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that, during the 2008 US primary campaign for the presidential election, 40% of Americans had used the internet to get political news34. This had grown rapidly in 8 years, from 16% of all adults in 2000 to 40% during 2008.

The extent of detailed research in the US is useful to pointing where trends in Australia are likely to head although we're moving at a much slower pace in terms of political news use. The American research suggests that the number of people using TV and newspapers to learn about politics will continue to decline while the proportion of people using the internet to learn about election campaigns will increase (in the US it more than doubled between 2000 and 2008)35. In particular, young people will continue to abandon TV and instead turn to the internet. This phenomenon is happening very fast. In the US, the internet now takes up 30% of the media consumption hours of young people aged 12- 24 years 36. Table 2 shows the trend in young people's media use for election news in the US from 2004 to 2007.

Table 2 – Young people (18-29 years) media use for election news in the US, 2004 and 2007
Get most election news from… 2004
Television 75 60 -15
Newspapers 30 24 -6
Internet 21 46 +25
Radio 10 10 0
Magazines 1 4 +3
Other 4 6 +2

Source: The Pew Research Centre, 'Social Networking and Online Videos take Off: Internet's Broader Role in Campaign 2008', 11 January 2008, p.4.

Clearly, the internet will play a central role in the future. But will it be able to capture the 'accidental' political audience or will it push them further away from formal politics?

Signs of hope: will there be a new accidental audience?

If we believe that political news can be interesting and can find a wide audience then there are some hopeful indicators. In particular, there are some signs of hope for an 'accidental' audience to be found online. In the US, a majority of internet users said they didn't go online for the sole purpose of learning about the 2008 election campaign but instead 'came across' campaign news and information 'when they [were] going online to do something else'37. This is promising.

In 2008, this seemed to occur largely because political information was being spread via online social networks – emails from friends, funny videos posted on YouTube and messages through social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

Social networking sites are one of those phenomena that media experts are still unsure about (just as they are still unsure what to make of blogs). They could go either way – a flash in the pan or a long-term trend. At the moment, these sites seem to be playing an important role for Americans aged 18-29 years – in 2008, 27% of this age group said they used these sites to get primary campaign information38. How does this work? For example, to drum up a crowd for a Hillary Clinton campus visit with only 2 days notice, the president of a Hillary support group at a university sent an online invitation to the meeting to her Facebook friends who then forwarded it on to their friends and, within 24 hours, she estimates 800 students on campus had received the invite with 400 people showing up for the meeting39.

We've seen some experimentation with the format in Australia. In 2007, the ALP claimed to have had 117,000 unique visitors to the Kevin Rudd MySpace profile40. Unfortunately, we don't have public meetings of the same kind as in the US though so this holds it back from some potentially very good uses.

One of the other major sources for politics and election news in the US for young people is comedy shows such as The Daily Show with, perhaps surprisingly, surveys finding people who watch such shows are as well informed as the audiences of 'elite news sources' such as newspapers. This seems to be largely because these audiences seem to be heavy news consumers who use a range of other sources as well but there's also some academic research on how important these shows are in reaching people who find conventional presentations of politics boring41. Similarly, breakfast and light entertainment shows reach audiences who don't necessarily choose to watch politics. This means that programs that mention formal politics or have politicians on such as Good News Week, Sunrise, Rove, The Chaser etc. seem to play an important role in reaching an accidental audience. Although I've focused on TV and newspapers, the same can be said of radio including when politicians go on programs that don't normally have political content such as on FM radio.

Finally, in terms of pay TV, there is also some hope that more people will watch a 24 hour news channel as pay TV gains more penetration in the Australian market with American research suggesting that young people do turn to 24 hour news channels – particularly when events or crises occur. However, the fact that pay TV is very expensive in Australia probably negates the possibility of it becoming widely available to a broad and 'accidental' audience in the near future.


I don't want to romanticise the past. Just because newspapers used to print long transcripts of parliamentary speeches doesn't mean that everyone read them. Just because there were public meetings and lunchtime rallies, doesn't mean everyone went. Then, as now, there were always people were highly engaged – attended meetings, read widely or protested – as well as the less-interested who shied away from formal politics.

What I am suggesting though is that if these non-interested people did interact with media (read a newspaper or listened to radio or, later on, watched TV), it seems they were more likely then, as opposed to now, to happen across political content even if they weren't looking for it.

There were a range of factors for this but one of the key ones seems to have been an underlying belief that politics was of general interest to citizens and, if it wasn't of interest to them, that it should be. That attitude may now be viewed as either paternalistic
– telling people what's good for them - or as being extremely important and socially beneficial with its aim of forging an inclusive public sphere.

While the internet has given us a range of new materials - political websites, YouTube videos, RSS feeds, podcasts and blogs – not all Australians are using them. As we saw with the introduction of television, having more and/or better tools to engage in politics doesn't automatically equal use of those tools. Existing actors, structures, systems and preferences still play a key role.

Beyond the hype and demonisation, it's likely that the internet will be both helpful in transmitting political news as well as a place where there will still be great divisions between us in terms of our levels of political interest and our accessing of political content. In this context, while there has been a lot of focus on the 'quality' of news media outlets and their products, opportunity now seems just as important.

Providing outlets for the interested is now comparatively easy. There are a host of options online and these are growing. But reaching and engaging the uninterested is far more challenging. Somehow we also need to have a degree of 'happenstance' about political news and information so that people come across it in their day to day lives and see it as relevant and interesting. Given what we know about media audiences and political interest, this may demand a different approach than conventional journalism has traditionally provided.

1Sally Young (forthcoming 2008) 'Equivalence and difference in the reporting of election campaigns: Sky News and the 2007 election', Communication, Politics and Media, vol 31 (2).
2Sally Young (2008) 'Political discourse in the age of the soundbite', Australasian Political Science Association Annual Conference, 7-9 July 2008. Brisbane: University of Queensland.
3Andrew Passey and Mark Lyons, 'Voluntary associations and political participation' in Wilson, Shaun and Gabrielle Meagher, Rachel Gibson, David Denemark and Mark Western (eds) Australian Social Attitudes: The First Report, UNSW Press, p.68.
4McAllister, Ian and Juliet Clark (2007) Trends in Australian Political Opinion: Results from the Australian Election Study 1987-2007, p. 4.
5McAllister and Clark (2007) p. 21.
6AFC (2007) 'What Australians are watching: Pay TV: Analysis', Updated November 2005, http://www.afc.gov.au/gtp/wptvanalysis.html, viewed 28 November 2007.
7OzTam (2007) 'National subscription TV report: Week 29, July 22',
http://www.oztam.com.au/documents%5C2007%5CB1_20070715.pdf, viewed 3 January 2008.
8Denemark, David (2005) 'Mass Media and Media Power in Australia' in Wilson, Shaun and Gabrielle Meagher, Rachel Gibson, David Denemark and Mark Western (eds) Australian Social Attitudes: The First Report, UNSW Press, p. 222-3.
9APC (2007) '2007 Supplement', p.17.
10ACMA (2008) Communications Report 2006-07, ACMA: Canberra http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_310950
11McAllister and Clarke (2007) p.3.
12Denemark (2005) p. 223.
13ACMA (2008) ACMA Communications Report 2006-07, ACMA: Canberra http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_310950
14AFC (2008) Get the Picture, http://www.afc.gov.au/gtp/wftvviewage.html
15Denemark (2005) p. 228.
16McAllister and Clark (2007) p.3.
17Productivity Commission (2000) Inquiry into Broadcasting, Report No,11, p. 21.
18APC (2007) 2007 Supplement, p.17.
19ABC Four Corners program, 'The Uncertain Eye', 2 February 1998.
20K. Inglis (1996) 'Parliamentary speech', Australian Journal of Law and Society, 12, p. 149.
21Australian Press Council (2006) State of the News Print Media in Australia, APC: Sydney, p.5.
22APC (2006) p. 1.
23APC (2006) p. 21.
24Jason Sternberg (2006) 'Youth Media' in Stuart Cunningham and Graeme Turner (eds), The Media and Communications in Australia (2nd ed), Allen and Unwin: Crows Nest NSW.
25Quoted in APC (2006) p.1.
26Eric Beecher (2007) 'Crumbling pillars?', Media International Australia, Vol.122.
27Denemark (2005) p. 222-3.
28AFC (2008) http://www.afc.gov.au/gtp/wftvviewage.html
29Sternberg 1998 and Denemark 2005.
30Evans, Vanessa and Sternberg, Jason (1999) 'Young people, politics and television current affairs in Australia', JAS, Australia's Public Intellectual Forum 63, p.103. See also Ward 1992.
31Eg. see Ward 1992.
32Jason Sternberg (1998) 'Rating youth: A statistical review of young Australians' news media use',
Australian Studies in Journalism, vol.7, p.101
33Sternberg (1998) p.105-6.
34Smith, Aaron and Lee Raine (2008) The Internet and the 2008 Election, Pew Internet and American Life Project, Washington D.C., 15 June, p. i.
35The Pew Research Centre (2008) Social Networking and Online Videos Take Off: Internet's Broader Role in Campaign 2008, Pew Research Centre, Washington D.C, p.1.
36Margaret Simons (2007) The Content Makers, p.26.
37Pew Research Centre (2008), 'Social networking…', p.2.
38Pew Research Centre (2008) 'Social networking…', p.9.
39Carrie Dann and Ronald Brownstein (2008) 'Fast-forwarding networked politics', National Journal, 19 April, www.nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/cs_20080416_1054.php.
40'Internet not a force for Aussie pollies', the Age, breaking news, theage.com.au, 1 February 2008.
41Pew Research Centre (2008) 'Social networking…', p.5.