Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A new manifesto

Those of you who are no longer ensconced in the ivory tower will probably not be aware that Craccum, the University of Auckland student magazine, ran a media issue this week. I was graciously asked to contribute to a modest segment on the New Zealand Herald, an offer I gratefully accepted. Most of you are probably unlikely to storm the campus and queue up for a copy, so I thought I would post one or two of the items here.

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 More often, they had withdrawn from these traditional media and got their daily fix from the internet or, for an older generation, public radio. Some people had even withdrawn entirely from the news of the world and now only cared about events happening in the World of Warcraft.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.


  1. Awesome, You might have been sounding quite serious until you redeemed yourself by explaining that you're doing this because sharks jumping out of the water still make the front page. Too true.

    The site is pretty self explanatory but it's still good to see a summary like this.

  2. I hope I'm not taking myself too seriously.

    Well someone has to pretend that the reporting of the fricking news matters.

    Worry about it not a moment more.

  3. Great post and wonderful to see you back.
    Keep it up!

  4. lol. sitting in an unnamed class this morning, we discussed (whilst classmate was flicking through new copy of craccum) what rubbish craccum is. I shall have to retract that now!

  5. such arrogance from one so poorly served by talent.

    you 'invented' news rage? really. most people couldn't really be bothered to rant, or even phone or write to a newspaper, but a select few do, and they've been around since the free press took root.

    but you learned how to run a blog? great. I can point you to a thousand that do the same as yours - perhaps not so full of green ink, single-issue outrage, nor filled with such poor argument and foaming-mouth self-congratulation as yours, but they're there, doing the same thing.

    please don't think you're in any way special. you aren't. and you have about as much right as anyone to criticise something of which you know nothing as I have to come to your blog and tell you what a jumped up little arse you are.

  6. James
    You make some good points.
    I'd argue though that you can be profitable producing news for free online.
    Here's how.



  7. Anonymous @ 4:48 = Garth George, or similar Herald employee. Good FSM man (or woman) - whatever happened to journalism being a free and open democratic process? It is not above criticism, which is exactly James' point.

    To quote my favourite television show "If they're shooting at you, then you're doing something right."

  8. Hahahaha Anon is very upset! You should be proud you got such an emotional reaction James.

    Great post.

  9. Anon @4:48 - did you notice the quote marks around 'invented'? Thought not.

    You seem to be taking this blog much more seriously than it takes itself. If you're an APN employee (as I strongly suspect) then why don't you concentrate on your actual job, instead of frothing away on EtH?

    PS: Big kids know how to use capital letters. Or did you just break your Shift key?

  10. @Anon, it sounds like you haven't really read James' blog at all, and are just reacting to his editorial after reading Craccum. If you took the time to read ETH, you might see that he has written numerous posts that contain intelligent and thoughtful arguments.

    I'm not sure what criteria you consider one must have in order to possess the 'right to criticise' the Herald.. Surely free speech is enough? If you really want to read comments from those who know nothing about the issues they're commenting on, just take a trip over to Your Views on the Herald website - the majority of those comments are incredibly misinformed.

    Just because you don't agree with things that James writes doesn't mean that his blog cannot provide a useful and intelligent forum that acts as an alternative to the Herald's often misguided journalism.

  11. those who can, do. those who can't, blog.

  12. Those who REALLY can't, comment on blogs using a lame spin on a tired cliché.

  13. Unfortunately, 'Anon', in this case 'can' seems to mean 'write and report extremely poorly'.

  14. maybe he should try to sell his blog on the streets, see how that goes.

    look, this blog is an overblown, single-issue vanity project which makes many more presumptions, mistakes and biased arguments than its target.

    its deep cynicism is palpable, it is hateful of things that are perfectly reasonable, it shoots fish in a barrel with regard to reader opinions (really clever, well done) and it promotes its 'author' as somehow being a revolutionary arbiter of quality journalism.

    he is not. if he was, he'd be a journalist. this is nothing more than the musings of an opinionated big head, and has no more innovation or value than the rubbish that pollutes the rest of the blogosphere.

  15. Working in the media myself, and scrutinising the work of our radio and TV journalists every working day of my life, I don't see very many good journalists in work in popular forums. Frankly. Unnecessary passive constructions are repaired by me all day long (it has been reported).

  16. Dear Anonymous,

    Nobody is disputing your right to come to James' blog and comment. We just wish you'd put a little content into your criticisms, rather than moaning repeatedly about it being a 'single issue vanity project'.

    As you point out yourself, there are many blogs devoted to criticising the media. You have apparently chosen James' one as the one most worthy of your attention, just as he has selected The Herald as the target most worthy of his criticism. And again you're right in that he does have 'as much right as anyone' to criticise publically - a braver choice than you have made, I might add. He actually speaks to the issues that bother him, rather than making vague accusations of inaccuracy and lack of critical ability – something that's much easier to do from behind a veil of anonymity, right?

    As for shooting fish in a barrel with Your Views? Well, yes. Once upon a time newspapers used to require some kind of reasoned position before they would print 'Your Views'. Now The Herald regularly constructs 'news' stories cobbled together from the barely coherent rantings of anonymous commenters. Surely that lack of respect for journalistic standards alone should be more deserving of your ire than what James is doing?

  17. "And again you're right in that he does have 'as much right as anyone' to criticise publically - a braver choice than you have made, I might add."


    I wonder if anon gets to write for the paper anonymously too, or if s/he finds it particularly frightening to comment online where people can reply (or just point and laugh).

  18. Anon doesn't have a blog. S/he presumably has a byline in the Herald that s/he doesn't want to use here, probably because James has already dissected one of his or her articles unfavourably.

  19. jim, scout, melinda and all those others who cry foul at 'anonymity'. can I have your addresses please?

    no, I thought not.

    find something worth criticising / speculating upon.

  20. Anon just stop. Nobody wants your address. People are just pointing out that if you're going to keep coming back here over and over and over and over again to bitch and cry about James when you shouldn't do it anonymously.

    At least use a name so we can separate you from worthy anonymous posters.

    I suggest APN Bitch as your new username.

  21. Hold on, hold on, hold on. Anon doesn't have it all wrong. Some of his/her points are valid. How many of you who actually know Jimmy would disagree on him being described as a 'jumped up little arse'? This blogs cynicism is palpable! Commenting on your views is shooting fish in a barrell! Of course, these are all reasons why the majority of us enjoy the blog, and keep coming back. That, and anonymous idiots coming here to start flaming wars.

    Jimmy, it's great to have you back. Dont stop believing, and hold on to the future.

    Anon, please dont run away like all others who have preceeded you. Continue to stick around and antagonise. How will we identify the hero when there is no villian to compare him to?

  22. "At least use a name so we can separate you from worthy anonymous posters."

    Not really necessary - you can pick s/he out easily, as s/he's clearly forgotten how to use capital letters without Pagemasters assistance.

  23. Sorry, that should have been "him/her". Consider my pedant's license revoked :D

  24. I would not be surprised if Anon is Garth George, as others have suggested. His posts havbe that same seething exasperation that characterises his articles. It therefore makes sense that he'd be an apologist for poor journalism instead of championing the things that the Herald gets right.

  25. Honestly, our crabby anon friend, I'd appreciate a good debate with you about the rights and wrongs of the Herald, and NZ journalism in general, if you were capable of taking the constructive criticism in good faith.

    Attack the ideology, not the person.

  26. Hmmmm, let's see. I tried that, and all that came back was name calling and comments about 'oh you must work for the Herald', which would apparently render my comment invalid no matter.

    I'm stooping to the level to which the the blog is accustomed: opinon, backed by self-aggrandisement, and nothing more.

    And for all your speculation, yes I have previously worked at the Herald and I am sick of the constant barrage of childish critique thrown its way and my at former colleagues, sometimes by name on this website.

  27. "I tried that, and all that came back was name calling and comments about 'oh you must work for the Herald', which would apparently render my comment invalid no matter.

    I'm stooping to the level to which the blog is accustomed: opin[i]on, backed by self-aggrandisement, and nothing more."

    Or, y'know, you could give it another shot with informed criticism that doesn't constantly deride the blog author at the same time.

    If you think James is being overly harsh based on a lack of knowledge, you might try just sharing it in a more mannered way - rather than pouring out scorn and condescension which drowns out your actual points (the Page A3 thread being a case in point).

    You weren't being written off because people thought you were a Herald employee. You were being written off because people (including me) thought you were a Herald employee writing anonymous snark on a blog without bothering to share much of the journalism knowledge you have.

    It's obviously up to you to handle yourself online, but if you really wanted more light rather than heat on this blog, I'd humbly suggest that you cut back on the name-calling yourself. Adopting some kind of moniker so we can tell you apart from other anons would help too.

    Just my 2c.

  28. Come on Anon, give us just one post free of mud slinging. We're not here to talk about 'editing the herald', were here to talk about 'the herald'. As a former employee of the Herald, how do you feel the financial cutbacks, in particular with respect to staffing numbers, have affected the quality of the journalism that is occurring at the Herald, and at pretty much every newspaper worldwide? How does todays product compare to the product that you were involved in producing? And do you think that the new wave reality tv and b grade celebrity worship is one of the results of newspaper cutbacks, or one of the causes?

  29. Yes, Anon, I'd also like answers to JP Rocks' questions.

    I'd also like to know what The Herald could/should do about about the rampant bigotry in their Your Views section. It's an unmoderated mess, which is used to create lazy articles. Is it Ok to let racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious nut jobs run rampant and unmoderated through a forum?

  30. Anon, what's it like going through life being so angry all the time?

  31. I don't work there any more. I'm not the company's spokesman. Ask them.

    JP Rocks, there are a million other people out there that say that journalism has suffered. I've said that on here before and, in the course of trying to explain why newspapers (Herald included) were suffering, was derided as an apologist and called (IIRC) a twat.

    I can agree with bits of what is said on here but personal attacks, cynicism, pointless, incorrect and smart-arse nitpicking and an obvious lack of knowledge of how newspapers work really does get my goat.

    With reference to the bananas/A3 post in particular: this is the problem. James writes a smart-arsed post he thinks is clever but is totally wide of the mark.

    If he had asked a question of why rather than make a statement that the Herald is shit and the editors don't know what they're doing, he might learn something and not look a prat to the profession he so clearly wants to work in.

    So I've made my position clear. And ccs, I've always been outspoken and the internet is a prism. Thanks for reading and best of luck.

  32. I feel unfulfilled by that response. Yes, yes, we get it, someone called you some names, and you dont like Jimmy or his blog. Lets move on. As a former employee of the Herald, and as someone who either still works in the business, or is at least still emotionally attached to it, you are their de facto spokesperson. And you are posting anonymously. Why not answer my questions? What have you got to lose?

  33. As I said JP, I already have - on this blog - and was met with insult and dismissal.

  34. It's a bit hard to go back and work out which of the anons were you, y'know.

    But yeah - I'm a bit disappointed that you're going to pack up your toys and go home at this stage. Several people have indicated that it'd be nice if you'd stay and contribute expertise. But your response is just more scorn for James and bugger-all actual information for the rest of us. Yawn.

  35. I daren't write a comment in case someone thinks I'm THAT anon....

  36. From my point-of-view, that ex-Herald staffer has too thin a skin to be a reporter unless s/he sucked at the job. A sub-editor or proofreader perhaps? Actually, maybe he once delivered the Herald or something? Accounts? Advertising? The loyalty is almost touching to read. Poor Duffer!

  37. Another question to our Anonymous friend: what's wrong with being angry about something? If we didn't expose the stupidity, recklessness and laziness of things in society - including journalism - then we'd be nothing but a bunch of self-congratulatory ostriches. Or bending to our dear leader.

  38. Ex-Herald anon: I assume that was you offering criticism in James' post regarding the Herald Countdown story. Liking your calmer approach and argument, which has prevented the comments thread from becoming a pure flamefest. Proceed.