What is a political correspondent?

I'm going to study politics when I start at university, either late this year or at the start of 2013. When I mention that politics is a part of the course I want to do, people tend to screw up their face and ask why I'd be interested in the dirty game. The answer, in truth, is that I'm not that much.

Leaving aside international relations (which is really a different thing), I'm interested in two areas which have (or should have...) significant overlap with 'politics' but aren't quite it exactly, and certainly aren't it in common perception. I have some interest firstly in political structures, and secondly in policy.

I've written a little bit about political structures (on conscience votes, and judicial review) and I'm intending to write a bit more, particularly about democratic mandates and what exactly they might mean. This is a fairly academic interest, but it does interact with policymaking in ways that make it worth considering in a fair bit of detail.

Secondly, policy. It's fairly self-explanatory what policy is, but you could broadly describe all politics as being related to policy and its effects. The difference between what I see as 'politics' and what I think of as 'pure' policy is that the former includes - often, sadly, as the primary consideration - electoral effects, and the latter does not. It is about things like changes in incentives, delivery of outcomes and even value judgements about what outcomes are worth pursuing - but not what voters are likely to think of those outcomes and the methods used to achieve them. We can look at it as a technocratic field: independent of what must be done to stay in government, what are our goals and how are we to achieve them, most effectively and with a minimum of unintended consequences? (This is the kind of thing we do in competitive debating which I am obsessed with.)

The point of this post is not to ramble about things I am and am not interested in, but to complain about newspapers. Check out The Age's website for today and the op-eds / analysis pieces about politics are all (with, I think, one exception) about what voters will think, whether anyone is listening to the government, how Labor will fare and so on.

I accept that these are scandal-ridden times which make those things more important than they might usually be. And I accept that analysis about what voters think and how a government is faring in electoral terms can be important, and even useful in terms of how best to pursue a policy goal. But in the days following the budget, I would like a few more pages of the newspaper to talk about policies, explain how they are intended to work, whether they will or won't, and analyse the effects of those policies on the country and not on the opinion polls.

Which brings me to the question in my post: what is a political correspondent? What is that person's job? It seems far too much to be a person who hangs around Canberra a lot, follows the ins-and-outs of partisan fighting and maybe gets a feel for the way certain policies play with an electorate. And it's great that Michelle Grattan and Katharine Murphy and Annabel Crabb can tell me whether we're likely to have a new Prime Minister in a few months time, but I have seen no signs that those people could write accurate or reasoned analysis on the way a policy works to achieve its goal. That kind of information is maybe a little more dry, but it's just as - probably much more - important. If it happens at all it's being relegated to economics writers which is a shame, because economics doesn't actually have a monopoly over public policy

Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias do it for the US, with politics and philosophy degrees respectively. Policy can be broadly understood by just about anyone. It's not that hard, media. Please cover policy properly.

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