Gone are the days of in-depth reporting and now the ABC must cut back writes Max Moola.

It may surprise you readers that I am a welltrodden journalist … I know I look young, but I was working the beat in the eighties.

Thus let me share an anecdote with you from my past. John Barton — host of Today Tonight — sat waiting for his “on air” cue from the Channel Nine floor manager. Directly opposite him sat Doug Jennings, the aspiring National Party member for Southport and former Victorian Liberal MP. The floor manager’s hand came down.

“Good evening Mr Jennings. Thanks for joining us.”
“What’s the main street of Southport?” John Barton asked.
Doug Jennings, who was running for the seat of Southport, didn’t know. This was current affairs television in the eighties, when local programs followed the story of the day and more often than not, broke the stories of tomorrow.

Today Tonight, which first aired on Nine in 1979, was an offshoot of This Day Tonight, the ABC flagship. Channel 7 started State Affair and Channel 0, as it was then, launched Hayden Sargeant’s Brisbane. It was a battle for ratings and the programs were good; incisive current affairs, satire and entertainment that left many a politician scrambling for a sword to fall on and con men searching for a hole to crawl into, including
bagman Sir Edward Lyons and Milan Brych with his heralded but ultimately derided cancer ‘cure’.

Most ministers were on the current affairs programs twice a week giving interviewers an opportunity to grill them about emerging issues and allowing politicians a chance to explain their views in more than a 10-second grab. Sadly these days, most Queenslanders would not have a clue which minister handled what portfolio and as for the opposition … they’re almost non-existent!

Now, seasoned journalists struggle to paint the full picture in 90 seconds, talk-back radio does its best, as does The Courier-Mail. But the fact remains that many of us have forgotten the excitement, immediacy and sense of theatre a sharp interview can bring to the screen.

So what went wrong? It came down to money. Networking the current affairs programs saved on staff – they dissolved into the fats, freaks and finance formats they are today. Groundbreaking stories were replaced by no stories over two minutes. I can’t help but agree with Malcolm Turnbull when he says that if the ABC can’t trim their budget by five per cent they aren’t trying. However the ABC’s rumoured decision to trim regional current affairs again is a travesty. We have been a lot poorer since the ABC made these State programs national and now it wants to take away what little local current affairs coverage we have left.

Farewell Aunty (Jack). I hope you’ll be back.