Oh, they don't drink or smoke? Read: white middle-class. Welcome back the Victorian concept of the 'worthy poor'. Anyway, the article, by David Eames, gives the impression of a bit of good old investigative journalism, something that, as I'm sure EtH readers will know, is sadly missing from a lot of the Herald's output. Even if it is presented as a 'women's' magazine sob story.
Bruce Burgess, 60 years old and a qualified engineer, has been busy his entire adult life. Aside from a couple of years overseas in the early 1970s, he has worked, paid his taxes and saved his money.
His wife Jo has held down regular work as an office administrator and accounts person. Neither of them smoke, they don't take extravagant holidays, and drink only occasionally.
So far, so good. So imagine my surprise when I see the unemployed face of Mr Burgess staring out at me again, this time from a front page article. What now, I thought? Woman done left him? Nope. Hound dog gone and died? Try again. Implicated in a leftist plot to fool the media and influence government policy? Bingo!
An unemployed man put forward by the Labour Party as one who would benefit from its policy to pay the dole to people whose partners are still earning owns two properties worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to his lifestyle block.Wait, what? "Put forward by the Labour Party"? The article is entitled "Goff's jobless man owns other property", as though Burgess had pulled off a rubber mask to reveal the unmistakable visage of the Monopoly Guy. How is he Goff's jobless man? I thought this story was the Herald's scoop? In fact, I couldn't remember reading anything in the original story about the Labour party at all, so I decided to check it on the website:
[...] Labour had told the Herald about his plight, but did not mention that he and his wife own a house in Papakura and an apartment in Auckland City.
That's really odd, I thought - I'm sure I don't remember reading that before. Fortunately for me and, usually, the Herald, I buy the print edition, and it's still sitting on the musty pile of newsprint on my desk. 10 points if you can guess what that paragraph says:
But about four months ago, Mr Burgess - whose case was brought to the Herald's attention by the Labour Party - lost his Avondale-based engineers job - and with it a $750-a-week paycheck.
Skullduggery! It seems that at 2.31pm yesterday, just as the Herald "learned" about Mr Burgess's burgeoning capitalist empire, David Eames or whoever the malevolent force behind APN is (in my mind's eye he looks like Dick Dastardly) edited the article to make it very clear that this was not the Herald's story after all. Hmm. What was the name of that other journalist who quietly changed the past to avoid embarrassment? That's right: Stalin.
'Dishonest' is one word that would describe this kind of journalism. Another is 'rubbish'. But it's not the only thing wrong with this story, an early frontrunner for 'worst article' in the 1st Annual EtH Awards. With my keen news-sense, I've become more and more aware of the phenomenon I have termed 'frowny-face journalism' in the Herald. A subset of the more general human interest story, frowny-face journalism takes some boring, abstract, impersonal policy change or social problem, takes a big photo of some sad children whose playcentre is closing, an old couple who are being forced out of their subsidised housing or, in this case, a recently unemployed man losing his home(s). This way, readers automatically know what to think about the story - generally 'awwwww'. This is bad enough in itself, but there is an added danger: that of taking the analogy between the sad individual and the social issue too far.
This is exactly what has happened in Eames's second article today. Goodness me, Bruce Burgess, aka Rich Uncle Pennybags, owns (with a mortgage) a second property! He doesn't need the dole after all! Therefore, no one who has been made redundant and whose partner is still earning needs any money. The Herald seems to be suggesting that everyone who is jobless with a working partner owns another property. One thing is for certain: this will be the last article in a while advocating a change to the dole structure.
One final point. Far from the quasi-investigative journalism that was implied in the original article, today's piece gives the impression that the Herald simply picked up the story at the behest of Phil Goff and ran it without doing any background checking. Is this really better? Personally, I would have thought that just running a story handed to you by a political party was sloppy, unethical journalism, but what would I know? I haven't been to journalism school.