The Worst Australian.

OK, forgive me for the bad puns on print media titles this side of the Nullarbor (see my last one about their crosstown rivals). I’ve got bad news. There’s more to come yet. Stay tuned. But today, we’re going to look at the West Australian, our worthy, venerable source of anti-Labor bile and extrapolated-beyond-belief surveys.

I’ll leave the complaints about the 11 anti-Government articles as that would take all day to write about and I don’t much like them, anyway. I’m sure they’re more than capable of complaining themselves. I’m sure they can also handle the letters to the editor page, and the xenophobic editorial. Hell, they managed to get a page 2 apology for last week’s mess of an article about the Corruption and Crime Commission maligning a commissioner in their desperation to get “Godfather” D’Orazio (ed: I am calling him “Godfather” to mock the West, who obsessively use the term, rather than to impugn D’Orazio.)

The “iGeneration” survey
However, what really grabbed my attention was on the front page, as well as all of page 8 and page 9 – reportage of a survey commissioned by The West Australian and health insurer HBF of young people between 18 and 30, entitled “iGeneration” by Patterson Market Research, which involved “nearly 470 people” / “467 iGeners” (a figure I really had to look for) – compare this to 854 for the last Newspoll for state politics in Western Australia). The survey’s certainly big on hyperbole about itself:

  • “The survey, commissioned by The West Australian and health insurer HBF, has prompted calls (from whom?) for mandatory political education…” (p.1)
  • “Political analysts (theirs) say the findings are woeful.” (p.1)
  • “A staggering 41 per cent…”
  • “A shocking 17 per cent”
  • “The findings should concern all political parties”
  • “A wide-sweeping new youth survey… has uncovered…” (p.8)
  • “The comprehensive insight into the so-called “internet” generation…” (p.8)
  • “Damning evidence” (p.9)
  • “The findings of a survey by The West Australian and health insurer HBF reflect the selfishness of today’s young adults and a lack of education” (p.9)
  • “Survey findings provided clear support for…”
  • “The first survey of the iGeneration” (p.8)
  • “iSnapshot” sidebar promoting the survey’s findings as fact (p.8)

Anyway, this staggering, shocking, wide-sweeping new youth survey (I’m not entirely sure that 29yo quite fit the “youth” demographic) is only matched in hyperbole by the speculation and slanderousness of the newspaper’s column inches about this demographic (would it get away with such coverage of the baby boomer generation?). The generation of which I happen to be part has more labels stuck to it than a Queensland orange in reporting which really shows beyond doubt an anti-young people bias evident throughout other sections of the paper in all its gory detail – let’s see:

  • The “I couldn’t give a stuff” generation (p.9)
  • “Deeply, deeply self-obsessed” (p.9)
  • “Selfishness of today’s young adults and a lack of education” (p.9)
  • “Affluent, optimistic, a little self-obsessed and surprisingly conservative” (p.8)
  • “Give us health and wealth, say self-obsessed 18-to-30 year olds” (headline, p.8-9)
  • “Politics is, like, so boring, but patriotism is the new cool” (p.8) (note: not a quote – attributed to reporter Melissa Kent)
  • “iGeneration – with an emphasis on the “I”” (p.8)
  • “Perhaps they should be called the “me” generation” (p.8)
  • “This is, after all, a generation that is very much concerned with itself” (p.8)
  • “For these young people, change is worrying.” (p.8)
  • “69 per cent would like to hear the pitter-patter of little feet one day” (p.9)
  • “A generation focused on the self.” (p.9)
  • “An appalling lack of political awareness” (p.1)
  • “Woeful ignorance” (p.1)

OK, OK, enough, enough, I hear you say. It’s disgraceful. As a 28-year-old myself with many friends ranging in age from 15 to 56, these “findings” just don’t wash with me. Some other findings suggest a woeful bias – only 1% of their sample (4 people?) are unemployed, for instance.

But what is the real iGeneration? Does anyone but the West use this somewhat pejorative term?
Quick check of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, suggests that “iGeneration” actually refers to a generation who at their oldest are presently 15 or 16 years of age and not being surveyed at all by Patterson in this study – contrast this to “nearly 470 people aged 18 to 30, who comprise the iGeneration”. It would seem nearly half of their survey subjects fall into the category labelled “Gen X’ers” who grew up well before the Internet became a phenomenon, leaving about 270 people, give or take. The other term used, “iGeners”, only generated 15 hits on Google. Not that that will increase much, given the West is yet to catch onto the internet revolution – their site has greatly improved this year but still isn’t anything close to an online presence.

Survey methods suspect
This survey would be forgivable if it was a first offence. In those leading up to the last election, however, they did a special survey which picked strong-Liberal-voting suburbs (but they didn’t disclose this bit, only the names of the suburbs) in marginal seats and suggesting on that basis a landslide Liberal victory (it went the other way). Three months after the election, they were still claiming Labor was trailing Liberal but was “improving”. Who was being surveyed, and how, and where? What questions were they being asked? Was it random or was it the same people each time?

Unfortunately The West tells us nothing about their sampling and survey methods, and what questions were asked and how. Newspoll (which, although often reliable, swings more wildly than I suspect the population does) provide an endnote on their surveys which means we can decide ourselves how to interpret them:

These surveys were conducted on the telephone by trained interviewers among voters throughout Western Australia. Telephone numbers and the person within the household were selected at random. The data has been weighted to reflect the population distribution of Western Australia. The latest survey is based on 854 interviews. The maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

EDIT: An amusing comment from someone I was chatting with this evening: “what generation isn’t obsessed with themselves? I’m sure the hippies didn’t smoke marijuana to reduce CO2 emissions…”

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6 Responses to The Worst Australian.

  1. Martin Cable says:

    Although many of the statistics they unearthed in the article actually do apply to me, I know equally many that don’t – and the hyperbole in this article is disturbing and I must say surprising. I have read Melissa’s articles in other editions and she normally writes very well about technological issues in society – maybe a bit of editor contribution entered the article at some point, don’t know.

    I’m not entirely sure why both our major media outlets have launched into a “culture war” against young people – but then, how many young people do you know who actually buy and read “The West Australian” for anything other than the employment pages or classifieds? Most go online or watch the news on TV at 6:00. God help The West’s sales when the baby boomers die off and these self-obsessed, “me” generation young people are the main demographic in town.

  2. troy says:

    wow… someone at the west needs to take a chill pill… i havent seen the article yet but i bet you if it was about muslims or aboriginals it would never have been published, but young people hey it’s okay you know … I am 19 and I get it all the time. like any opinion we have that’s “different” to older people it’s “oh you’ll grow out of it” as if their opinion is more right. and that newspoll thingo is ridiculous, i wouldnt vote for liberal but i dont much like the other guys, who i’ll probably vote for anyway.

  3. troy says:

    sorry to post twice but that comment by your mate at the end was a classic! cheers mate thanks for a good read

  4. I think this about the fourth time I’ve seen this article recycled and it just goes to show who The West regard as their bread and butter. Unfortunatley they are so far behind tapping into their future market, they will only become less and less relevant. I say unfortunately because WA deserves better.
    It was one of the key reasons we launched the first norg here in Perth – http://www.perthnorg.com.au – hopefully we can make up for The Worst!

  5. interlogue says:

    Absolutely! I’m really pleased that we have perthnorg now – it’s definitely got some great vision behind it and I like the way it’s flexible and caters to a wide range of people and interests. Keep up the good work (and I promise to hassle admin less when I stuff up :))

  6. interlogue says:

    Thanks, Martin and Troy, for your comments – I agree with most of what both of you have said. I always remember when I was very young and our school visited an old people’s home every week for a term, and were assigned to a particular old person individually and we’d talk to them and read and stuff. Anyway, my one was an 85-year-old lady.

    She told me on my last week, and clearly wanted me to remember it, that in her opinion anyone who talks about the “good old days” was talking out of their hat. In particular she seemed to think alcoholism was more common in her day among school-age kids than it was today, and the pressure to stay with a peer group was stronger as it was harder to get away from them with the lack of motorised transport.

    I think there’s a case to be made that young people are more self-focused than maybe 10 years ago – but that’s the price of an economic boom. I grew up during the recession period, with my dad out of work for an entire year and I was always taught to budget. Even today I feel horrible wasting anything and I’m conservative in my spending habits. I didn’t get my first job until 21 as I was a full-time student, but I always seemed to get by. I’d take a bet that when hard times roll around again as they will (it’s a cycle), we’ll end up with another generation like mine.

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