Most media companies and political parties seem to love campaign buses. They are an easy way for political parties to manage the message they want to put out to voters. For media outlets, it’s a ready made source of images for news stories to put on the evening news.  Win win for both.

Do they serve any useful purpose for the wider population in terms of policies?

Probably not.

What these bus trips provide are:

  1. Pictures of politicians doing awkward and inauthentic things.

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2. Journalists attempting to make themselves seem “investigative” and “hard” by continuing to ask the same question several times and not getting an answer.

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3. Visits to some frightened school, who have to change their schedules for the whole day simply because a politician wants to be seen next to a student holding a computer, a robot or whatever educational trend is big right now. Drawing is big right now, apparently.

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4. A new variation – the religious coverage. This is Morrison raising his hands in order to receive the Holy Spirit in his Pentecostal Church. It is quite something new to have a political leader approving of such coverage of their religious adherence. It doesn’t bring any more policy depth.

Mostly, though, they provide little more than a visits to the same old locales, prepared to the maximum degree. This is why it’s fascinating whenever an embedded journalist complains when they are left out of Something Actually Happening.

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This tweet raises a question. Why get on these campaign buses at all? Why not just let the politicians go to these locations, take their own video, instagram photos, snapchat stories, and the like, and then decide later which bit to show on the evening news. Maybe decide not to show anything at all. It’s not as if anyone is getting much value added by having these journalists and photographers sitting on the bus, falling into some kind of haze, as beautifully captured by Alex Ellinghausen.

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The journalists who grizzle about being left out of the loop maybe need to get out of the bus and into their cars. Go to the places where these politicians are going and do a bit of digging, ask locals the issues, find out precisely why these politicians are going to that specific area. They might discover something behind the facades.

They may even catch genuine stories that are currently being missed by most outlets, such as the developing storm around Angus Taylor, Barnaby Joyce and water buybacks. This is a genuinely intriguing story that has only been getting a run on Channel 10. It is a far bigger story than what is seen from the daily buscapades. It also misses larger trends, as this Katharine Murphy thread suggests.

What “bus coverage” does is that it shows us a distorted image of these leaders. Scott Morrison has been campaigning like there is nothing hingeing on his campaign – he is an underdog and he has been portrayed as such. He can tell whatever lie he likes about the ALP and it will get reported with next to no filter. Bus coverage is just after soundbites, not depth. Therefore, we can get vacuous scorecards that rate the days, as if this is an endless football match, where both sides have a chance. In that way, despite there being little that is meaningful in what Morrison has said this week, or meaningful in what Shorten was asked, Morrison “won” Week 1.

The end of this bus coverage is, of course, dream land. There’s no Billy Ocean moment going to happen. The Vengabuses of Bill and Scott continue along unabated – and here’s some amended lyrics for the staffers to sing while Scott / Bill are wandering around, producing their own content.

Hey now, hey now, hear what I say now
Happiness is just around the corner
Hey now, hey now, hear what I say now
We’ll be there for you

The Bill / ScoMo bus is comin’ and everybody’s jumpin’
Penrith through Logan City 
An interstate free disco,
The wheels of steel are turnin’ and traffic lights are burnin’