Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Then listen to me discussing the bad, the bad and the ugly of the Herald on Sunday with Jose Barbosa on the BfM Sunday Breakfast.
Yeah, yeah, I should have posted this yesterday, but it turns out that I took a mental health day from work (Hi Glenda) and my apartment has no internet because it turns out that in 2009 it's still too difficult, after three weeks of waiting to get the line installed, for an ISP to consistently deliver broadband service without the line breaking again, oh sure, they blame Chorus, Telecom's line maintenance company, recently sprung from its disgusting parent like a hydra's head, and they're probably right, I wonder if the rubbish service they offer is anything to do with how they turned all their employees into independent contractors, "Hey, would you like to buy the van and tools that you use for work? No? Too bad."
Friday, September 25, 2009
A camera crew had been despatched, and was filming the star of the Look Who's Talking series at his table from across the road. That was bad enough; the worst part was the group of gawping mouth-breathers standing on the footpath watching him, like goldfish staring out of their bowl. On that day, cultural cringe took on a new meaning for me.
A decade or so later, this happened:
Twice! Say what you like about Helen Clark, but at least she carried herself in a dignified way internationally. She looked like she belonged among world leaders and, as such, New Zealand seemed like it belonged too. I have a good deal of respect for John Key - most of the time, anyway - but, as someone he represents at international events, I do wish he didn't visibly get a boner any time he met Obama - in fact, it's lucky for the photographer that the man in the funny hat was sitting just there. The giggly schoolgirl routine Key did on the TV news when, after the election, Obama rang to congratulate him was seemingly only a prelude to this meeting. (On the other hand: poor old Gordon Brown.)
Of course, Key's man-crush is no fun if the media doesn't lap it up. Here, then, are a few choice quotes from the front page article. (You may want to sit down.)
- "United States President Barack Obama spoke glowingly of New Zealand during two brief meetings with Prime Minister John Key in New York today."
- "As the 160-plus world leaders attending the United Nations this week jostled for a moment with the new president at his first General Assembly, Mr Key was singled out for two meet and greets."
- "Sources tell NZPA that the New Zealand leader got more attention than many others Mr Obama met."
- ""He's gone out of his way to make me feel welcome," Mr Key said this evening."
- '"Well it was great, he came up, I was sitting at my table and he came over and said `look it was great to see you, fantastic to have a chat on the phone, (I) look forward to seeing a lot more of you."'
- '"It was good to meet him twice, as it turned out today, and he's obviously very keen on New Zealand. He was speaking very eloquently but also effusively of New Zealand so that was great."'
- "Mr Obama had a friend living in New Zealand who had raved about the country praising its golf courses, skiing and lifestyle for families."
- '"I've love him to come down but obviously he's got a schedule that's unbelievable, now, you never say never but you got to imagine he's got a lot on his plate at the moment."'
- "Mr Obama and his wife Michelle stopped and chatted to the New Zealander and his wife Bronagh rather than a quick handshake which many other leaders received."
- "The president was warm and engaging, and brought up their phone call earlier in the year."
I think I need a cold shower.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Keywords: "large water rat"; "three-legged cat"; "air rifle"; "motor home".
And my favourite quote?
"It [the rat] was about nine inches long, very round and cuddly ... well, violent, actually," he told the newspaper.Cuddly, violent - same thing.
But don't just think this is a joke. Just when we think we have overcome swine flu and drug-driving, rampaging, cunning rats await us over the horizon.
"They [rats] can come into homes looking for food or shelter, or to escape a predator," said Kurt Loklindt, director of Target Pest Control. However, it was unusual for them to attack people.For now, people. For now.
This is the headline on a page A3 article, and it's pretty grim. Despite police crackdowns, tougher penalties and gruesome advertising campaigns, the number of drink-drivers continues to rise, and by ten per cent! Quick, let's read the article and find out the full story:
Despite the rather confused sentence at the start of that last paragraph, the article itself is pretty much on the ball: drink-driving rates are responding to increased enforcement and education. So why the headline that massively misrepresents the article? Was the person who wrote it:
Police increased the number of roadside breath tests by almost 80 per cent last year, catching 10 per cent more drink-drivers than in 2007.
Figures issued by Transport Minister Steven Joyce yesterday, based on police data, show that 2.91 million breath tests were taken last year and that 34,272 drivers faced excess alcohol charges.
That was an increase of 78.8 per cent on the 1.63 million breath tests police took in 2007, from which 30,968 charges were laid.
But despite the modest increase in offences compared with the extra enforcement effort, the police say it was a measure of success that they charged only one in every 85 drivers tested last year, compared with one in 53 in 2007.
- a) too lazy to read the article?
- b) too overworked or generally befuddled to understand it?
- c) cynical enough to think that rising rates make for a sexier headline?
What a giveaway; you can read after all! Sneaky bugger.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
As you may suspect, I have no interest in soaps - but I'm not beyond recognising that other people do care. In much the same way as people evidently care what colour their supermarket is, I can imagine the distraught faces of despairing friends and family as they learn that Shortland Street is being canned. In a rare show of generosity, I would even be willing to allow such a story to share the front page with actual news. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) this isn't the case today.
I see. I guess that's not quite what I expected from a front page story. But do tell me more about this upcoming fan revolt:
Like sands through the hourglass, time is running out for two of New Zealand's longest-running soaps.
But plans by Television New Zealand to pull the plug on afternoon dramas Days of Our Lives and Young and the Restless are not going down well with fans.
How unreasonable of them.
Dannevirke retail manager Lorraine Scott-Wilson [...] is trying to drum up support on community forums on Trade Me, and has been seeking advice from fans who campaigned to keep Coronation Street when it was threatened.
She has also contacted Sky Television to see if it would be interested in picking up the shows.
Other fans have also started Facebook campaigns to save the serials.I did a brief search on Facebook to verify this. I found one group with 104 members, and one with 40; another, possibly a militant extremist faction, had three. Of course, I suspect that the target demographics for Days of our Lives and Facebook are separated by, oh, 40-odd years, so TVNZ chiefs ought to be wary of reading too much into my research.
After appealing in vain to a TVNZ spokesperson, the reporter returns to Mrs Scott-Wilson's valiant but doomed rear-guard action. What should people, hungry for news and reading the front page of New Zealand's premier newspaper, know about the shows?
I can't tell if the journalist has tongue firmly in cheek here, but it probably doesn't matter either way: if she's taking the piss, that probably doesn't belong on the front page either. Meanwhile, stories about perk-busting, cost-cutting ACT MP Roger Douglas publishing a book on the public purse and the Government allegedly planning to use the army as scabs if disputes with the prison officers' union aren't resolved get buried in the middle of the section.
"Some of the characters irritate me ... but they pick up on topical subjects - at the moment it's drink driving."
They also added a touch of glamour to lunchtimes and offered a little eye candy to boot, she said.
"You sit there and think 'I'd love that dress.' There's some real dishes there too. Bobby Marsino - from Young and the Restless - is very attractive.
"Bobby's a bit tangled up with the Mafia. He's trying to go straight, though, with his new wife, who's pregnant. Who wants to miss that?"
Maybe I should start a Facebook group.
As you can see, the large photo from the front page of today's Herald shows Key demonstrating New Zealand's adventurous spirit as he battles a humpback whale just off New York City, with only a paddle as a weap...
Sorry, what? It's not John Key? It is, in fact, world paddleboarding (look it up) champion Jamie Mitchell - not a New Zealander - paddling off the coast of Australia - not in New Zealand. The story is essentially "Mammal leaves water to breathe".
I can only assume that the Herald is starting a fascinating new front page series on sea creatures leaping out from below the waves.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Sometimes, in fact, it works so well that a large media outlet will give you free ads.
As you can see, this 'article' is on page A2 of the print edition.
How exciting. Now please tell me how this change will actually affect my life, and thus is worthy of being treated like a piece of news.
It's Countdown but not as you know it, promises supermarket boss Peter Smith.
Progressive Enterprises, owner of the Woolworths, Foodtown and Countdown brands, has announced it is uniting all its supermarkets under one Countdown banner.
Perhaps you could fill your readers in on this week's Countdown specials? You know, seeing you're already working in 'corporate shill' mode. You've already got a massive logo for the company in the photo, so I'm not sure what more you can do - perhaps a little device that plays their jingle when you open the newspaper?
This was not the old, rundown Countdown format that some shoppers might associate with the brand, he said.
The new stores had a diverse range of fresh food, a bigger grocery range, wide aisles and a brighter environment.
Honestly, you're not even trying anymore.
The only reason I bring this up is that a friend of mine is back in New Zealand covering Fashion Week. A considerably more distinguished writer than I, she was offered a choice both fantastic and dreadful: to write for APN (the Herald and Herald on Sunday) or Fairfax (the equally awful Sunday Star-Times and stuff.co.nz). She chose the latter, and as we speak she is blogging about models and dresses and what have you, all while stuffing herself with complimentary profiteroles. Probably.
If you're interested in/tolerant of the fashion world, have a look at her fashion week blog here, although I'm sure she doesn't need the poor trickle of hits from here. In fact, she should be bloody linking to me!
But I digress.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Please don't refer to Ferdinand Ambach, the man who beat a 69-year-old to death, as the 'banjo killer'. This isn't a western or Dick Tracy. Clayton Weatherston wasn't referred to as the 'scissors killer'. Perhaps Weatherston's case wasn't as 'hilarious' as Ambach's, seeing the former didn't use a musical instrument (or kill a gay person), but there's no reason to belittle this case.
PS When you say that Ambach killed his victim "after he received unwanted sexual advances", you seem to have forgotten the word 'allegedly'. The court didn't find that was true, because that wasn't its job. I can't help but note that the opening paragraph on Weatherston's sentencing didn't talk about him killing Sophie Elliott after she attacked him with the scissors. It seems that you think these two objectionable defenses are different. They're not.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
...a Z-list New Zealand quasi-celebrity!
Fortunately, the Herald has provided a step-by-step guide to getting there, via the "social pages" - also known as "the pages that cheaply take up space where, ten years ago, we would have had to pay journalists to write actual articles."
Be on time. If it's a 6.30pm kick-off, get there at 6.25pm. The photographers often have to cover several events in one night so if you turn up once they've left your do, you're plum out of luck. Also, the earlier you arrive the fewer people there will be, therefore you've straight away increased your chances on a purely statistical basis.Odd. This must be some obscure sense of the word 'credibility with which I'm not familiar.
[...] Simply smile winningly and say "hi" when the photographer comes your way. Finding out the photographer's name and using it is one way of staying ahead of the crowd as it makes you seem like a society page regular which gives instant credibility.
The article is all written in that tongue-almost-in-cheek style that is so popular these days - is the author being ironic or not? It's a similar phenomenon to that of people claiming that they read Women's Day or FHM, but only because they find it hilarious on the level of irony. Rubbish - you're not fooling anyone, and we know that you actually do care about Tom Cruise's marriage.
I seem to have digressed. Regarding the Herald piece, I suspect the test is whether the author actually starts taking the advice herself. If anyone actually goes to "fundraisers, gala balls, charity auctions and product launches [classy]", let me know.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The traditional model is changing, of course; I know that. As newspapers shed staff, they necessarily come to rely more and more on agency stories and they simply won't have the resources to report on major stories overseas, and perhaps even across the country.
I had, however, hoped that things hadn't got this bad. I had hoped that, if agency stories needed to be placed at the front of the main section they would be stories of great importance that the Herald simply couldn't cover. Instead, on today's page A3, we get the stories of Prince Harry's belated inheritance and crucial news from Papua New Guinea:
Curiously, they were too ashamed to put the article on the website - just the third page of the actual newspaper then. The Prince Harry article isn't much better:
I would agree that it won't make much of a difference to his life; I would dispute whether that's because "he manages quite well with his army salary". It's not like he was a chimneysweep before he joined.
Royal commentator and former press secretary to the Queen Dickie Arbiter said he did not believe the inheritance [about $21m from the estate of 'the People's Princess'] would make a big difference to Harry's life.
"I doubt whether he'll touch the money because he manages quite well with his army salary," he told Sky News.
"What does he need to spend it on? Very little."
What are these doing on A3? They both seem to fit with the modus operandi of the World section: one lead article about Barack Obama, followed by the ten quirkiest stories to be found from AP, or in the Telegraph or the Independent. The World section is still there - I checked - so what are they doing in the front pages?
Let's hope it's an oversight rather than a harbinger of news-doom.
But today there has been a development, and the story is all over the front page like so much UV-sensitive spray. It seems like, for once, the New Zealand Herald may have encouraged the commission of a crime!
Clearly, the robber read the Herald and, wanting to avoid the daubing that was to come his way, raised his umbrella at the point of impact. Did the Herald inadvertently tip him off?
The banks boost their defences against robberies ... and the criminals hit back.
On Friday, the Herald reported the BNZ's introduction of a device which marks robbers with a traceable spray as they flee.
On the same day, a robber walked into a BNZ branch in Glenfield carrying an umbrella.
It was raining, but the robber opened the umbrella fully only as he entered the bank.
Thus, once again, the Herald finds itself at the centre of events and, as they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity. At the very least, the robber has bought himself a copy of the Herald (unless he stole that too).
The Herald reported BNZ's introduction of SelectaDNA spray units, which shoot a synthetic solution over robbers that can be traced to specific banks.
Detective Sergeant Craig McCormack said the man had "obviously gone all out to forensically avoid any contamination and disguise himself", and it was extremely coincidental the "brolly technique" was used the same day as the report.
That is, unless you actually keep reading the article:
BNZ spokeswoman Dee Crooks doubted the man had read the report, saying it was not uncommon for bank robbers to hide under umbrellas.Ah. In fact, if the robber did see last week's front page exclusive, then he would best use his prison time on basic reading comprehension.
BNZ is installing spray units at its doors to douse fleeing robbers in a "synthetic DNA solution" that glows blue under ultraviolet light.The thinking here seems to be along these lines - either:
- the bank activates the spray module when staff see a robber about to enter the premises, or
- the sprayer runs constantly, coating everyone who enters the bank in a UV-sensitive ink that remains on their skin for over a week, so the robber will be covered in ink and all the police have to do is... oh.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
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.
You know what software is, right? He could have turned up with it all on a memory stick. Good story.
Microsoft chief financial officer, New Zealander Chris Liddell, has announced a $1.4 million donation of software to Barnardos New Zealand.
[...] Microsoft NZ has donated more than $5.5 million in software and funding to 288 non-profit organisations in the country in the past 12 months.
Mr Liddell said the donation was emblematic of Microsoft's wider philanthropic focus.
"Bill Gates himself impressed upon our company the value of giving back to the communities we serve," he said.
Sorry to be so cynical, but I'm pretty sure the ad space on page two of the Herald was worth more than the 'actual' value of the software.
Speaking of millions of dodgy dollars, this article appeared on the Herald website yesterday. While it's not in the print edition today, it's shoddy enough to warrant a mention. In fact, although I called it an 'article', it's less a piece of reporting than a police press release; it's actually largely lifted from 'the Police magazine Ten One'.
Wow, that's some statistic - $379m in community harm! That's almost $100 each; could you tell me more about how that figure is reached, NZPA? No? Well maybe this article from a year ago will shed some light on the calculations involved.
The number of cannabis plants destroyed by police has hit a 10-year high.
In the 2008/2009 year police seized 141,000 plants with the potential to cause community harm worth $379 million.
Plenty of (sensible) words have been spilled on the internet and elsewhere about how silly the Drug Harm Index ("developed by economists"!) is; this article is quite informative if you're interested. It turns out that what might have been a useful tool for the police - they are mandated by politicians to crack down on drugs, so they may as well do it 'efficiently' - has become a hilarious propaganda tool for the war on drugs.
The Drug Harm Index, released yesterday, will help police determine the socio-economic costs from drug seizures and track the value of the drug trade in New Zealand.
It measures social harms related to drug use such as lost work output, health service use, diverted resources and reduced quality or loss of life.
It turns out that, despite the Herald's claim last year that the figure reflects "harms related to drug use such as lost work output, health service use, diverted resources and reduced quality or loss of life", the large majority of the $379m number is made up of:
- the production cost of the drug, and
- the cost of enforcing drug law.
“I don’t like that activity. Therefore everything to do with it is a harm, Look how harmful that activity is. I was right to not like it”.To then include the cost of enforcement seems rather like adding insult to injury. It's great that we saved that $379m, it's just a shame that we had to spend so much to do so.
But that's all as may be. My point is that someone at NZPA thought that uncritically lifting an article from a backslapping trade journal counted as journalism, and then someone at the Herald (implicitly or explicitly) thought it would be a good idea to pop it on the front page of the website.
EDIT: Scooped! I knew I shouldn't have waited.
Monday, September 14, 2009
If you look at the YV home page at the moment, however, it seems less like an meeting of New Zealand First, and more like a forum of the old and crotchety... oh, wait. The focus has moved to a more general complaining:
- "Are taxis too expensive in Auckland? What should be done?"
- "What annoys you most about supermarket shopping?" [Probably all the Gays.]
- "Where is the most boring place in New Zealand?"
By the way, if you were worried that this change would affect the 'quality' of the responses then you can breathe easy; just have a look at a couple of responses to the story of South African athlete/perverted cheat Caster Semenya. It's amazing - I never realised so many people in this country were passionate enough about women's athletics to be outraged at the injustice being done to... the other female athletes.
Paul Yorheddan (Kerikeri): Wow, if ever a point has been so universally missed this is surely it. Caster Semenya is not the issue. The issue is the tens of thousands of genuinely female athletes all across the planet having the right to compete knowing that the playing field is level enough that a combination of hard work mental and intestinal fortitude could carry the day.Look at the big brain on Paul! Yes, everyone else has missed the point, and the real problem is the "tens of thousands" of "genuinely female" athletes "all across the planet" being dispossessed by a rampaging army of insidious intergender sportspeople. What's the point of training at all when the losers are just taken out the back of the stadium and shot? (Also, Paul, for future reference: I don't think you needed the scare quotes around "women" there. It kinda ruins your point.)
Take away that and even lacing up your track shoes is a wasted effort. Lastly, for those people using sentimentality to sway their opinions on this matter, have a little think about all the "women" that have been pushing themselves to the limit for years to get on that track.
Hey, remember that single occasion 14 years ago when one person from a country of tens of millions allegedly, and with no real physical evidence, cheated?
Bill Wilson (Greenlane): Shes a cheat and she knows it. And surprise surprise, she is South African.
The South Africans are as bad as the East Germans in the 70's with their cheating.
Remember the 1995 world cup and the South Africans blatant food poisoning.
If I were to ask you what the term "top  housing markets in the world" meant, would you reply:
- a) the countries with the highest volume of house sales?
- b) the countries with the highest aggregate value of house sales?
- c) the countries who sent a team of real estate agents to a big international contest where they had to sell houses and lie to buyers and carry an egg on a spoon and came out top?
- d) the countries that have recorded the lowest drop in house prices over the last year?
- e) a meaningless load of bollocks meant to encourage the housing market and stimulate real estate advertisers?
- f) 'd' & 'e'?
Ninth! The bad news is we're out of the medals, but the good news is that we get automatic entry to next year's index. Anyway, cue the standard procession of economists predicting things either getting worse or getting better in such a way that at least one (eventually) gets it right, and we don't all catch on that economists are no better at predicting economic trends than coin collectors are at predicting coin tosses.
New Zealand has ranked in the top 10 housing markets in the world, but prices have still dropped.
It had one of the smallest price falls lately and is ranked alongside Europe for toughing out the slump.
Real estate consultancy Knight Frank has released its international house price index which compared house price changes in the second quarter of last year with the same period this year.
That showed New Zealand was ninth least affected out of 32 countries.
And a final word from Michael Boulgaris:
"It now appears that house prices are starting to stabilise across the world," said Liam Bailey, head of residential research at Knight Frank.
[...] BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander said the list of pessimists expecting house prices to fall was shrinking.
[...] BNZ managing director Andrew Thorburn this week said the country's $130 billion overdraft was unsustainable.
[...] Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard also fretted about the housing recovery last week.
"We are always very alert to not wanting to spark off an unnecessary or unbalanced housing revival," he said.
He had a TV show, don't you know. Don't worry mate, keep repeating the mantra and you'll convince yourself it's true.
Real estate agent Michael Boulgaris said cheap money was helping housing recover.
"With the ASB cutting its floating mortgage rate by 65 base points to a new low of 5.75 per cent, the spring property boom is yielding increased confidence among buyers, vendors and agents," he said.
Meanwhile, for those hoping to lord it over friends, co-workers and loved ones from lower-performing housing markets, here's the helpful table from the print edition:
Take that, Bulgaria!
Lacking the connections in the publishing industry to bring you such an exclusive, my incentive for people to read the blog this week will be: actually writing things.
Sidenote: The symbol from the cover of the Lost Symbol looks a lot like a masonic symbol to me. Have the masons somehow lost it? (Hint: There it is, in that skull.) Or is that just the replacement for the one they lost? No wonder he's sold so many books.