Media monitoring, like many enterprises, is a straightforward service that meets a relatively simple need.

The mass media is obviously our major source of information on current events and few would dispute that it is vital channel of essential information which, if inaccurate, can cost livelihoods and greatly affect individual lives. As such, there is obviously a widespread need for it to be monitored by government, and indeed this need has been met by independent enterprises for more than a hundred years.

The first press clipping service in this country, Australian Press Cuttings, was established in Melbourne in 1904 and is now a part of the country's largest media intelligence company, Isentia Pty Ltd. In practical terms, media monitoring services sift through the mountains of content produced each day by websites, newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasters, and social media. They alert clients to relevant items and provide fast delivery of links to relevant web items, radio and TV item summaries with audio and video links, copies of press articles and a summaries of social media posts.

Their clients are mostly communications executives in private industry and government whose job is to disseminate information via the mass media to "stakeholders" such as customers, suppliers, patients, motorists, passengers, crime witnesses, bushfire victims, critics, audiences, and often just the public in general.

Each has a different monitoring requirement and a different definition of what is relevant to them. The content is delivered by email, phone, SMS, and, most commonly to customised client content management platforms hosted on the monitoring companies' own servers. This continuous alerting and delivery of relevant media items is enhanced by intensive, in-depth analysis of the media issues, messages, and sentiment.

Monitoring services also offer a variety of other services including media contact databases, the targeted distribution of news releases to media personnel. Isentia sends media monitoring reporters to doorstops and other media conferences to record and transcribe the entire event for clients who need more than the journalists' versions.

Governments are major users of media monitoring precisely because government ministers, agencies and departments have a clear duty to take note of public discussion of issues affecting their areas of responsibility. They must be aware of all news media reports that reflect the current concerns of the people on a wide of range of issues in cities, towns and villages around Australia.

Monitoring also gives government fast access commentaries and reports by many specialist journalists who provide highly-informed and up-to-date research and recommendations on various important issues.

Today, thanks to advances in technology and in techniques of media monitoring, democracy has never been healthier. For example, an average citizen with an idea or a criticism posting on social media or calling through to a talkback program can have their words passed on to a minister within minutes. (It should also be noted that businesses also listen more intently to their customers than ever before thanks to such constant media analysis services.)

Media monitoring is not only good policy, it is wise fiscal management. Government departments have enormous communications responsibilities. Units such as police, health and bush fire brigades must distribute a vast array of operational information, some of it literally life-saving. Governments choose to buy most of their monitoring services (always through a proper tender process), ironically for reasons of cost. Apart from the expense involved in developing and updating the sophisticated technology to do the job properly, the plain fact is there’s just too much media. Using an agent who specialises in the job is the most efficient solution.

The largest and most comprehensive Australian media intelligence company, Isentia, employs cutting-edge technology supported by thousands of skilled people. Imagine the cost of each government department and agency, state and federal, attempting to do all that for themselves. It would be about as sensible as government departments trying to make their own computers.

The supreme irony is that if government followed these critics and ignored the media it would be criticised for arrogance. When hypocritical opposition politicians, year-after-year, from both sides of politics, criticise government spending on media monitoring they are simply indulging in another form of shooting the messenger. And ironically the media companies who run the ill-informed criticism receive many millions of dollars in copyright fees for the copying and use of their content.

Declaration of interest. As my profile makes clear, I am a writer and former broadcaster. I was a pioneer of the modern media monitoring industry and I am a paid consultant to Isentia Pty Limited.

Ian Parry-Okeden - original article here.