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Current Affairs taste test: Project v ACA v 7:30

TV Tonight sits down for a week of three current affairs shows. Here's how they stacked up.

A decade ago when TV Tonight compared current affairs shows their stories ranged from pizza taste tests and car park fines to Christmas Island inquests and News Corp trouble in the UK.

10 years on, COVID-19 story dominate current editions of The Project, A Current Affair and 7:30.

But there are inherent differences in their approaches and presentation.

While The Project finds some levity in a COVID-thunk, 7:30 takes things very seriously indeed. On A Current Affair journos even reported pieces to camera wearing masks. All three had host interviews with talent. On ACA and 7:30 these were conducted by anchors, while on The Project it is a shared discussion. Epidemiologists were on Zoom interviews everywhere….in the background were everything from books to guitars and Yoda dolls. Random.

Both The Project & 7:30 now incorporate traditional place names on screen. ACA included re-enactments and had supplied drone content, while The Project had one sponsored segment and offered a daily counter on cases / vaccines.

7:30, hosted all week by Laura Tingle, also noted ABC had sought interviews with PM Scott Morrison on Wednesday & Thursday, “but he wasn’t available.” Josh Frydenberg also did not answer questions for a story on Thursday.

The Project hit its 12th birthday, while A Current Affair paid tribute to its founding producer, John Cornell.

Lastly, while all three have different playouts (Project: Sun – Fri / ACA: Mon – Sat / 7:30: Mon – Thu) for the purposes of this comparison, shows were tracked from Monday – Friday.

Here’s how the week panned out, with host interviews noted:

Monday

The Project
Waleed Aly, Carrie Bickmore, Pete Helliar, Vyom Sharma
News headlines.
The politics of COVID: Sarah Martin The Guardian chief political reporter.
News headlines incl latest Arts industry campaign.
International news.
News headlines.
Abandoning Our Allies: Stuart McCarthy, Afghanistan war veteran.
Delta Danger: Prof. Katherine Bennett, Deakin Uni.
News headlines.
Freedom Day (UK): Lucy McDonald UK correspondent.
A TikTok Tale.

A Current Affair
Tracy Grimshaw
NSW gym owner defies lockdown rules.
COVID interview: Prof. Peter Collignon.
Sydney apartment block adjacent to new lockdown hotel.
Good samaritans offering free food.
“Coming Up” promo: Families struggling with home schooling.

7:30
Laura Tingle
Audit of Urban Congestion Fund. St Kilda Car Park development: Paul Fletcher interview.
Melbourne lockdown extension.
Katie Hopkins deported.
NSW Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald found guilty: interview Kate McClymont.

Tuesday

The Project: 12th birthday
Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar, Steve Price, Georgie Tunny
Headlines.
Vaccinating Kids: Dr Andrew Miller, AMA WA spokesperson.
Headlines.
China’s Cyber Activities: Prof. Rana Mitter, Oxford University.
Tassie Dads (Change Makers sponsored by Dell) narrated by Waleed Aly.
Australia vs Delta: Prof. Tony Blakely epidemiologist.
Work Life Balance and mental health: Mike Cannon-Brookes Atlassian CEO.
Headlines.
COVID Passcode vaccine passports.
Urzila Carlson: parenting tips.

A Current Affair
Tracy Grimshaw
Construction industry hit by NSW ban.
Parents grappling with home schooling: 5 x video diaries.
Abandoned Qld resorts Capricorn Resort and Laguna Keys (footage Luke Barnes, We Fish CQ, CStrac02, Drone Tech Media) / China Bloom Keswick Island update on foreign ownership.
Tokyo 2020: Aussie expats say the Games have divided Japan.
“Coming Up” promo: slave held captive.

7:30
Laura Tingle
Delta lockdown: Prof. Mary-Louise Mclaws UNSW epidemiologist, Juliette O’Brien data journalist.
Aged care staff vaccination rates.
Former wallaby Quade Cooper rejected for citizenship.
China accused of hacking: Alastair MacGibbon Chief Strategy Officer, CyberCX.
Profile of Table tennis champion Melissa Tapper.

Wednesday

The Project
Waleed Aly, Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar, Rachel Corbett (Sydney)
Tokyo: Brisbane 2032 win.
Headlines.
International headlines.
Australian Survivor: Gavin Wanganeen.
Outbreak outlook: Dr. Norman Swan ABC coronacast co-host.
Brisbane Olympics economic impact.
State leaders discussion.
‘Viral Vednesday’: Peter Helliar.
The Bachelor: Jimmy Nicholson.

A Current Affair
Deborah Knight
Should border hoppers be named and shamed?
Farmer Sam facing domestic violence charges.
Brisbane wins 2032 Olympics.
Maid kept as slave in Melbourne (re-enactment).
“Coming up” promo: Ugg boot maker fight with foreign company.

7:30
Laura Tingle
Has Scott Morrison taken responsibility?
Can the virus be brought under control in NSW? Interview: Jane Halton, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness.
Medical Nightmare: patients detail surgery complications in Canberra.
Brisbane wins 2032 Olympics. interview: Tracey Holmes.

Thursday:

The Project
Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar, Jo Stanley, Lisa Wilkinson (Sydney)
Lockdown update.
Headlines.
Global headlines.
Headlines.
Customer’s Generous Tip: Kritika Sami, Brew & Bite.
Headlines.
Sydney’s Covid Crisis: Bill Bowtell, UNSW Strategic Health Consultant.
Headlines.
Panel discussion an Anastasia Palazsac subjected to mansplaining by John Coates.
Headlines.
The Bachelor recap.
Power of Play, kids put tech aside in Woodridge Qld (Logan Together).

A Current Affair
Tracy Grimshaw
Parents of 4 year old with leukemia seeking exemption to attend hospital together
Older patients want Pfizer not AZ: Dr. Kean-Seng Lim, general practitioner
7 year old girl gives TED Talk (Minderoo Foundation)
Ugg Boot manufacturer’s battle with US corporate giant
“Coming Up”: Freebie incentives with vaccines

7:30
Laura Tingle
Scott Morrison says Sorry. Dr. Chris Moy AMA Vice President.
Turnover increased for some companies on Jobkeeper.
Performing arts industry left in limbo again.
Frontline workers need better PPE against infections.
Racism in sport: interview with former West Indies cricketer Michael Holding.

Friday:

The Project
Sydney: Lisa Wilkinson, Peter van Onselen, Susie Youssef, Rove McManus
Covid crisis / National Cabinet talks: Amy Remeikis, Guardian Australia.
Headlines.
International Headlines.
Jeff Bezos not an “astronaut”.
Comedian Daniel Connell has a new tour: Daniel Connell.
Headlines.
NSW Vaccine Pleas: Prof. Nancy Baxter, Uni. of Melbourne.
Headlines.
Teacher Burnout: Carrie Bickmore report.
Brisbane 2032 mascot… the bin chicken?
Horse healers, animals helping mental health, The Healing documentary.

A Current Affair
Tracy Grimshaw
Not enough Pfizer vaccines.
Will parents have kids vaccinated? Zoom panel.
Vale John Cornell.
Questions over small business owner who received GoFundMe monies.
“Coming Up” promo: Truckie demands pit stop toilets.

Chris Bendall, Executive Producer, The Project:

What was your best story this week and why?
CB: The only story that matters this week is the same the country has faced every week for the past 18 months: Australia’s handling of COVID-19. The Project’s commitment to viewers is to cover the pandemic from as broad a suite of angles as possible and this week was no exception. From topics of national significance like hotel quarantine and vaccination passports, to the struggles of small business owners and worker’s mental health – we ensured viewers had a comprehensive awareness of how the virus is impacting individuals, communities, and the country.

What is your point of difference from others in the genre?
CB: The Project’s strength is its diversity. Diversity of opinion, diversity of voice and diversity of style. Every night we tackle a broader range of topics than any other current affairs show, and we do so with some of the country’s best journalists, commentators, and comedians. Viewers know when we cover a topic it will sit outside the box of conventional news programs, but it will be covered with integrity and humanity. They also know they can rely on us to bring humour and levity whenever possible. The Project also offers a truly national outlook. Broadcasting the show from both Sydney and Melbourne every week, ensures we aren’t pigeonholed to a single city’s perspective.

Fiona Dear, Executive Producer, A Current Affair:

What was your best story this week and why?
FD: “Best” – what does that mean, highest rating, most colourful, most informative? For A Current Affair, a terrific story is when we can help someone. People come to us when they have lost hope or don’t know where to go for help. This week we were approached by a family desperate for help; their daughter was diagnosed with cancer and due to COVID restrictions the family was separated, two children left in Orange in lockdown, one child airlifted to a Sydney hospital and the parents separated by COVID rules and unable to comfort their daughter and each other in hospital. COVID restrictions are no doubt tough, but sometimes one rule doesn’t suit everyone. ACA approached NSW Health and the Health Minister, and by the end of the day both parents could be with their daughter as she came out of surgery. Perhaps this story made the rule makers think twice about the one-rule-fits-all scenario. That’s ACA in a nutshell – helping people, and that’s the “best” story we can do.

What is your point of difference from others in the genre?
FD: Simple, Tracy Grimshaw, she is the best in the business. Tracy asks the questions the viewers want answered. She doesn’t yell, she doesn’t scream, she’s respectful, she thoroughly researches her topics and her aim is to get the answers the viewers want. We never take our audience for granted and always strive to make the next story even better.

Justin Stevens, Executive Producer 7.30:

What was your best story this week and why?
JS: I won’t nominate a ‘best story’ because the philosophy driving our team is that every item is as important as the other – no matter the story or where it’s placed in the rundown, they all play an important role.We’re proud of the work the whole team does, in front of and behind the camera, because every team member has an important role in doing the best for our audience.At the moment the COVID pandemic is obviously a critically important story for us to tell and to help make sense of for the public, including scrutinising and interrogating the decisions being taken by our leaders on our behalf. The team does a remarkable job day after day to perform that crucial role in an original, authoritative and informative way.

What is your point of difference from others in the genre?
JS: We have a great deal of respect for the other current affairs teams inside and outside the ABC. We all have a similar ambition to land strong original stories that set the agenda, tell them in a compelling way and take them beyond what people have already heard in their daily news. The stronger current affairs programs are across the board, the better off the public is. As all ABC programs do, we set the editorial bar extremely high for being fair and accurate in the way we do our journalism. Our ongoing objectives are in line with the rich history of the program: to do accurate, hard-hitting public interest journalism, including breaking original investigations; to keep our focus on political interviews and analysis; to secure the newsmakers for their major interviews — for example, Christine Holgate and Julia Banks; to keep agile to the day’s news events and seek to move the story along; and to maintain our high production values.

And finally, outside of COVID related stories, in my opinion the best story of the week was an 18 min. 7:30 report by Anne Connolly. “Medical Nightmare” heard from three women whose operations were performed by the same doctor at some of Canberra’s public & private hospitals. This was confronting stuff and drew upon investigative skills. It’s not easy digging this deep into journalism in daily current affairs.

You can watch that here.

21 Responses

  1. I’ve virtually stopped watching The Project since Waleed took the helm. I find him sanctimonious and arrogant. I can’t stand Current Affair and 7.30 is too boring, so I give them all a miss.

  2. The Project used to be funnier with Charlie Pickering. I remember reading where Charlie would work out a joke for every topic that would be on the show. Now it’s too political.

    1. Do you have any examples? I watched the show all week and it had a mix of news, humour and opinion, but those were mostly around COVID / social. Almost every story found some levity, even if it was only a Peter Helliar observation.

  3. Come on Nine – find something better for Deborah Knight. She’s the best anchor they have (from what I’ve seen in Sydney) and she’s wasted on whatever ACA thinks it is.

  4. i feel like the Project is a happy medium between the very serious tone of 7.30, and some of the ridiculousness on ACA pretending to be serious journalism. (having said that ACA are surprisingly sensible nowdays compared to 5 or 10 yrs ago, possibly all those law suits straightened them out lol)

    I was going off the Project a fair bit in the last 6 mths due to the lack of entertainment type guests but they’ve come good with some big names in recent weeks. I do think they have a good diversity in hosts with Ten seeming to be in the unique position of sharing talent with ABC & SBS. whereas 7 & 9 people tend to just stick to their own network sometimes for many years.

  5. It’s good that ACA are being taste tested themselves. I’ve thought similar about Media Watch recently. Who’s going to be the media watchdog for the media watchdog? Currently it seems to be that the media watch for the ABC are Sky News and The Australian.

  6. Such a missed opportunity for a ‘Home and Away’ joke. 😉

    I think I would have gone with Home and Away’s take on climate change, since it never rains in Summer Bay… Unless we’re approaching a cliffhanger and rain is required to bring about a disaster.

  7. Very comprehensive and thoughtful article. And an entertaining read. Thank you very much, David.
    Big similarities among the three shows. Project obviously pitched at Channel 10 demographic.
    Interesting that ABC people turn up as guests on commercial TV shows.

    1. Having personally known or met most of the hosts of the Project, I wouldn’t describe any of them as arrogant or elitist. Perhaps some may come across that way on air, but not in real life

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