Political reportage is undoubtedly one of the most important forms of journalism in which balance and objectivity are crucial, as political pieces have the potential to both influence voters directly and to shape their viewpoints. Journalists must write these pieces well – not just to maintain their own journalistic integrity – but also to ensure that they are completely fair and impartial, no matter their own political leanings.
Thus, each side must be heard. It may seem rudimentary, but balance is especially important within political reportage, no matter the issue. If there are two (or more) sides, each must be given the opportunity to have an equal say. This is to ensure that readers are as informed as possible, on all fronts.
This was especially true within my piece, both due to its contentious nature and due to the fact that the partnership has not yet been confirmed. Yet originally, I was struggling for story ideas. I don’t live anywhere near Mordialloc (prior to this assignment I only knew it as the suburb at the end of my local SmartBus line), and I don’t necessarily keep up with the news of the area, so I had no idea at all about what was going on there. Nevertheless, I trawled through quite a few articles, but nothing really stood out to me.
Luckily, I came across this story, and my interest was piqued instantly. After finding it within the minutes of a Kingston council meeting, I had to explore it further. I found the whole premise of it both quite interesting and quite unusual… why would a local council want to form a partnership with a Chinese city? And how would this benefit residents?
My first port of call was the Kingston councillors, as they are the ones directly involved in this proposal – so I contacted all ten of them. I was most looking forward to speaking to Cr Paul Peulich, as the Kingston-Quanzhou partnership was largely his idea. Eventually, after a few emails, I managed to get into contact with him for an over-the-phone interview. He gave me some good general advice too, letting me know that I should provide course & lecturer details to potential contacts when introducing myself to them, as he’s wary of people who pretend to be student journalists to talk to councillors. These people he spoke of are usually motivated by political gain and their own agendas, in his words. It got me thinking about how often something like that may happen to a councillor.
Nevertheless, he provided me with quite an interesting insight into the reasons why he feels as though a Kingston-Quanzhou partnership would be beneficial for his local area – not just in terms of the economic benefits, but the cultural and educational benefits too.
I also managed to get into contact Cr Steve Staikos. Luckily for me – in terms of achieving balance – he doesn’t support the partnership. Had he supported it, I would’ve had to lift already-published quotes from Cr Rosemary West, as she is the only councillor who has voiced her concerns about the potential union. She was unavailable for comment. It would have been good to get some insight from her, as she opposes the union partly due to China’s involvement in the South China Sea dispute, but alas.
Cr Staikos’ opposition to the proposal intrigued me, as it showed that the whole council is clearly not on board with this idea. It got me thinking about our week 6 lecture, in the sense that there is a lot more going on ‘underneath’ a city council, so to speak. This was further reinforced through a section in my interview with Cr Peulich, in which he speaks of – yet doesn’t name – a councillor who has voiced her concerns about the proposed union. I considered reporting this, yet I quickly decided against it, as I felt like the defamatory risks and privacy considerations outweighed the potential public interest. Plus, I figured that he was speaking of Cr West, so I didn’t really want to report those comments without having some direct input from her.
In this sense, I feel as though I’ve carried out the ‘fourth estate’ role of journalism quite well, in that I’ve been able to provide readers with an impartial story in which both sides are heard equally and directly. On a more personal level, I feel as though this story is much better than the one that I wrote in first semester, largely based on the fact that I was able to land two interviews – it happened to work out perfectly that one was for and one was against the issue. I’m quite happy with the fact that I didn’t use quotes from published pieces – except for the small excerpt from a Kingston council press release.
In terms of the story’s political reach, it largely affects local government only, as it’s a partnership being sought by Kingston council alone. However, based on the comments made by the councillors I interviewed – especially Cr Peulich – I can see how this could have further-reaching effects upon the Victorian state and even the federal economies, if the supposed influxes in both tourism and business come to fruition.
Overall, I’m reasonably happy with how this story turned out. I would’ve liked some more responses from councillors, yet I understand that this may have resulted in a few too many words – I value equal representation and diversity of opinion, yet I also value clarity and sharpness of reporting, especially when it comes to hard political news such as this.