Q&A producer answers our questions

Q&A Assistant Producer Amanda Collinge speaks to Macleay College journalism students_29March2017_Yahn Monaghan_Fiona West

If you’re one of the thousands who spend every Monday night dual-screening in a futile attempt to get your tweet featured on the Q&A Twitter stream, don’t hold your breath.

Series Producer Amanda Collinge says you’ve got more luck swapping the couch for a seat in ABC’s Ultimo studio and asking your question direct to the panel on live TV – just as Macleay journalism student Yahn Monaghan did on last week’s program.

From about 100 questions offered up from the studio audience each week, only eight or nine are selected. But that’s much better odds than being plucked from the 20,000 random tweets flying in to frantic moderators, including Collinge, in the space of a very hectic hour.

It’s no wonder the odd mistake slips through (remember @AbbottLovesAnal?), just as the live questioners don’t always get it right (the Zaky Mallah incident led to a boycott of the show by Abbott Government).

Collinge visited Macleay College this week for her very own Q&A, hosted by Monaghan, on a day when the program was being accused of reporting “fake news” for allowing an audience question that wasn’t factually correct.

The Guardian reported that viewers made the accusation on social media over an incorrect claim that London Mayor Sadiq Khan said terrorism was “part and parcel” of living in a big city, following the recent Westminster attack.

Collinge said the producers were aware Khan’s comments weren’t new but the question was still valid.

“We knew what [the questioner] meant,” she said.

“We do need to check factually our questions and, technically, yes, he made that remark six months ago. But I think to equate it with fake news is a bit of a stretch.”

Collinge said while facts – and particularly figures – were checked, Q&A tried to leave questions in the voice of the person asking it, without editing or censoring their words.

“If Tony [Jones] and I rewrote every question it would sound really boring; it would just sound like journalese. So we don’t want to tinker a lot.”

So what’s the secret to getting your tweet to appear on the bottom of the screen?

A lot of luck, according to Collinge.

All tweets initially pass through a computer algorithm to filter out profanities and inappropriate language, she explained. But beyond that first step the process is largely manual.

“We have a moderation team, we have that filter system, then we have two people who are literally just like gold digging – they’re digging in and bringing out big bunches of tweets from the thousands that are coming in, trying to get ones that they think will be reasonably suitable or appropriate,” Collinge said.

“Then we have another person who’s sending us (the two senior producers) the final shortlist, and we are also madly listening to the discussion on the television, looking at the tweets, checking the bloody handles, checking for profanities that might have somehow got through, looking for political balance, trying to get some gender balance, trying to get some ethnicity.”

Collinge calls it a “very big, exciting, challenging, exhausting” job but she loves it so much she simply can’t leave.

Now in her eighth year, the award-winning journalist came to Q&A after working as a reporter for Dateline and Insight at SBS, and at ABC’s Lateline. She also worked overseas as a foreign correspondent, most notably for a number of years in Madrid for various media outlets, including the BBC. And she cut her teeth in radio, where she has fond memories of working at Triple J before moving to ABC youth programs Beatbox and Blah Blah Blah.

“In eight years (at Q&A) we have made mistakes but actually not a lot,” Collinge said.

And while the show consistently covered contentious, polarising and divisive issues, Collinge said she was proud there had never been an incident where panel members or the audience had been in real danger. The closest the show came was in 2010 when a shoe was thrown at John Howard. Luckily for the the former prime minister, it missed.

“You always think, ‘Is someone going to bring a gun in?’,” Collinge confessed.

“We’ve had a political protest …  we’ve had someone faint. It is a very live program. We try to incorporate any drama like that and make it part of the show and they become Q&A moments.

“In eight years we have never had an assassination attempt, we have never had someone get up and say really horrible things about a panellist or someone else in the audience and, you know credit to us, we’re actually quite civilised.

“We say we are democracy in action, and Q&A is a pretty democratic place – despite what the Murdoch papers say.” – Fiona West

About Fiona West 5 Articles
Head of Journalism at Macleay College and editor at Hatch@Macleay