Without further ado, here's the piece I wrote as an editorial for the section, which happens to serve as a reasonable introduction to and justification of what I think I am doing here.
When I 'invented' news-rage journalism at the start of this year – that is, getting righteous angry at poor journalism and editing, and fighting back –I discovered a crowded niche of people who felt similarly to me; I was merely the first to have 'done something' about it. Some of them read the newspaper or watched the television news with a grimace of pain. More often, they had withdrawn from these traditional media and got their daily fix from the internet or, for an older generation, public radio. Some people had even withdrawn entirely from the news of the world and now only cared about events happening in the World of Warcraft. These people needed a news-home; at the risk of sounding arrogant, they found it in news-rage journalism.
The financial decline of the mainstream media, especially newspapers, is well-documented and pre-dates the current 'credit crunch'. Less well-documented is the consequent fall in journalistic and editorial standards. It's not rocket science – if the market for newspapers is inexorably shrinking, then owners and publishers have two options: they can try and expand their own market by broadening their appeal, or they can cut costs. It turns out that these two options, at least in the short term, complement each other nicely. Thus the Herald can attempt to gobble up the remaining market share by appealing to the lowest common denominator, like a demented Pacman at an ultra-gravity limbo party, while at the same time haemorrhaging staff as if having an income were going out of fashion. Of course, the reason I specified 'short term' is that it doesn't take a genius to work out that this destructive sprint to the bottom can only end one way. What happens when the ravenous public gets bored of the latest graphics, coloured boxes and photographs of dogs, but there are no more staff to satisfy their lurid appetites? It's like the dance of the seven veils – you peel back the layers, one by one, until all you have is a journalism intern from AUT cut-and-pasting articles from Reuters.
Funnily enough, two of the general criticisms I get are strangely opposed. First, aren't the mainstream media important? Don't they perform a valuable role, in particular, in oiling the gears of democracy? And, anyway, could I do any better? The implication is that they should be somehow protected from ridicule because of their exalted place in society and, more importantly, the residue of their supposed role in advancing democratic values. My answer is that I am happy to support any such idealised media, in so far as they do this job; the Herald, TVNZ, TV3 et al., however, do not. Any media outlet which does such a scandalous job of reporting as the Herald did, for example, on section 59 – and say what you like about the law itself, but the original reporting was appalling – is no longer fulfilling this public service 'requirement'. As such, it no longer deserves the respect that it was once, perhaps, due.
The other criticism is more of a pained, “Why do you bother? Who cares?” The media dinosaurs are going extinct, it is said, and a brave new world of professional bloggers and journo-bots will be the small proto-rodents that replace them. Yet this faces the same problem as Springfield Elementary's emergency strike plan: what if super-intelligent cyborgs haven't been invented yet? For all the hype about the power of the world wide web, no one has come up with a profitable and widely applicable model for replacing 'old media'. Anyone who has briefly browsed any online forum – say, Your Views – will know that it is more New Sodom than New Athens. As such, I figure that some sort of rearguard action ought to be offered, even though one knows (and eventually welcomes) the fact that it is doomed to fail in the long run. My blog was recently described in the Herald as 'anti-media', but nothing could be further from the truth: it may be anti-'medium', but it is most certainly pro-quality media – something the Herald could and should be. After all, there's a reason that we care about the Herald; it's not Editing the Truth & TV.
Let this be the news-rage vow: so long as a shark can get on the front page for merely jumping from the water, so long as Garth George is invited – nay, paid! – to spew bile every week, so long as statistics are misused and abused, so long as Your Views serves as a breeding ground for racism and intolerance, we shall both rage and weep, both laugh (at) and bemoan the current state of 'New Zealand's leading daily newspaper'.
I hope I'm not taking myself too seriously.