Why Budget Coverage Is Bad News

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The past few years have seen the budget loom up out of the news calendar, casting its shadow over the news weeks before it actually arrives.

It occurred to me that these acres of newsprint can be explained by two regrettable journalistic impulses.

Firstly, there is the misery porn. This “isn’t it awful” school of reporting basically panders to the sucky-faced old lady in its readers, urgently relaying all the worst rumours and mutters to its readers.

This is regrettable, as I say, but demonstrates only a wallowing in human weakness.

More serious is the impulse that prompts the sheer volume of coverage. The Budget is beloved by institutional journalism because it conforms precisely to institutional journalists’ expected form of a news story.

It is issued by the Government and is all about money. This appeals to their need to have Serious stories given to them by Serious people.

Budget details are all revealed in one day. Before it, things were not officially known. After it they are. Thus it meets the formal definition of News.

The Budget is filled with facts and figures. These can all be reported, recombined and repeated without fear of contradiction. This means they are True.

The Budget is, basically, the nation’s largest Press Release. It is beloved of institutional journalists because it arrives, pre-digested and pre-written, as A Story.

The reason this is more serious than the misery porn aspect is that the Budget is exactly what news is not. And the reporting on it in endless sterile permutations just reveals that our institutions of journalism are much happier doing something else. They much prefer to be institutions of stenography.

And that, more than any one budget, no matter how harsh, is bad news for citizens.

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