Blogging Parasites

I was interested to read John Armstrong’s piece in Saturday’s Herald on Blogging Parasites — as the original headline put it (“Blogging Parasites Don’t Let the Facts Get in the Way”). That headline isn’t around anymore – now they/we are just called “Bloggers”. Better!

Two things sprang to mind as I read the article, one somewhat personal, the other a very small part of a wider critique of the mainstream media that’s been festering around in my head for quite some time. The personal point relates to this sentence in John’s article: “Does it occur to them [bloggers] to actually pick up the phone and try to talk to those journalists about what is happening and why things are being reported in a certain way?”

Actually, I tried to do just that earlier in the year for an article I was researching for Werewolf (the very Werewolf edited by the same Gordon Campbell excoriated in John’s article) on how the media deals with opinion polling, in particular, a few polls carried out by Family First.

I wanted to talk to a reporter at The Sunday Star Times about  an article headlined “Conservative Young Cautious on Sex Education”. I won’t reprise the whole thing here, but suffice to say, I couldn’t find much evidence in the survey results to back up what the story was saying. I wanted to ask the reporter about how he came to draw the conclusions he did.

Well, it turned out that there’s apparently an unwritten rule (and one it seems John doesn’t know about either) that journalists don’t ask other journalists about their stories. Or so one of the higher-ups at the SST told me. They declined to comment, then accidentally copied me in on an email between two SST staffers in which they discussed me and my request in less-than flattering terms. (I was, one wrote, “a ‘journalist’ who I’ve never heard of”, who “lacks the brains to understand” she shouldn’t have tried to call the reporter directly, and who was writing for “an obscure left leaning website” etc. etc.)

That experience leads me to believe that even if ‘journalists’ from outside the mainstream media did try to do as John suggests, we’d be told in no uncertain terms to naff off.

I worked in the mainstream media for a lot of years (in fact, many moons ago, I worked with John Armstrong in the Press Gallery for the New Zealand Herald)  and actually still do contribute to a couple of outlets – book reviews for The New York Times and a Saturday column in the Bay of Plenty Times. But I’m also committed to trying to help build a vibrant alternative media, through outlets like Werewolf.

Why? Because the mainstream media is failing. I’m afraid that so much of what John criticises bloggers for applies to those working in the mainstream. Accuracy and taste and facts? Reporting on the so-called ‘terror’ raids of 2007 and on the Ahmed Zaoui case are two examples that spring to mind where all of these were lacking. Some of the sensationalised reporting, with dubious anonymous sourcing, in both these instances did real damage to real people’s lives. Nicky Hager chronicles the appalling treatment of Zaoui in his book Other People’s Wars, as well as the media’s often uncritical reporting of things military. Perhaps that’s why his book was greeted by that same media with hostility. As Hager put it in Walkley magazine:

After years faced with frustrating military PR and secrecy, I expected the New Zealand media to welcome this information: chapter after chapter on special forces, intelligence, navy and air force operations and more, all referenced to internal documents. But the reaction was strikingly negative from several news organisations, ignoring revelations that would normally make the front page and instead attacking me. It raises some interesting issues about journalism.

So does John Armstrong’s column.

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One Response

  1. Well actually getting through to journalists isn’t that easy anyway. And leaving a comment is no guarantee that it will be passed on. Good on you Alison for daring to critique what passes for reporting all too often in this country.

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