A Few More BOP Times Columns

Below are links to my four five most recent BOP Times columns. Those the newspaper doesn’t put online are here as PDFs, and labeled as such. And all my BOP Times columns are here.

Less Than Golden Memories, (online) 3 November 2012
Whatever else gold has given Waihi over the years, it’s certainly provided a rich seam of conflict.

Townies and Farmers at Odds, (online) 27 October 2012
The rural-urban divide will only get wider if the agriculture lobby continues to reject efforts at environmental regulation.

New Media Good News for Old, (PDF) 20 October 2012
Might blogger Keith Ng’s WINZ scoop be an example of how new and old media can work together for the good of journalism?

Crime and the Fear Factor, (online) 13 October 2012
The media’s over-emphasis on crime coverage makes us all feel less safe. 

Oil Spills Leave Lasting Stain, (online) 6 October 2012
A bit of a personal look at the Rena disaster from a committed BOP beach runner, (and deep-sea oil drilling opponent).



Polling and Spin – Part I

[See a 25 Oct UPDATE below with some links] There was something familiar about a pro-mining an article in the New Zealand Herald last week, Public Back Mining: Poll, and it wasn’t just that the headline was rather like one that ran on July 9, Mining Poll Result Shows Kiwis Alert to ‘Misinformation’. For one thing, there were a few quotes from the mining lobby group Straterra, whose CEO is Chris Baker:

Oct. 15
Baker said the results revealed most New Zealanders supported responsible exploration and mining for minerals, “contrary to what a vocal and persistent minority would have us believe”. “But the results also show relatively poor public understanding of the reality today of minerals activities in New Zealand,” he said. “The misinformation advanced by parts of the community, however well-intended, does not help informed debate on our economic future.”

July 9
“However, the survey shows that misinformation on minerals and mining promulgated by a vocal and persistent minority is rejected by most New Zealanders, who have confidence in our regulations and who see every reason for mineral exploration,” Baker said.

It seems “vocal and persistent minority” is the focused-group phrase for – whoever – since, according to today’s article, “Baker did not identify any group.” Though the article went on to discuss Forest & Bird.

But more importantly, last week’s article (which originally ran a few days earlier in the Otago Daily Times) gave the reader almost no information about the poll on which it was based. It surely isn’t the same poll as the one reported in July, since that surveyed 750 people, and the one quoted last week apparently surveyed 1000. But who commissioned it? Who carried it out? What were all the questions?  All we are told is that it was “a recent 1000-person national poll”.

I’ve written about the news media’s coverage of polling before. And this is another case of Not Nearly Enough Information.

Continue reading

Blogging Parasites II

Beyond any relatively trivial media tales of my own (post before this one), Gordon Campbell rebuts John Armstrong’s column so very well.  Bryce Edwards weighs in, too, though gives more ground than Campbell … well, actually, Campbell doesn’t give any. Here’s one point (among many) that struck me from Campbell’s piece:

Let me just say that, beyond the name-calling, there are two substantive issues involved here. One, it has been true for years that the only ideology in media circles that gets called as such is on the left. Right wing propagandists are taken as the sensible norm by the corporate media.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about both with respect to journalism, but also beyond. Sadly, MSM journalism will, of course, follow whichever economic orthodoxy is dominant — might makes right, so to speak. Or, to the victors go the “sensible norms”.  Maybe the Angry Journalist Column is an early sign, as Campbell suggests, that this is changing. It’s not just journalism’s agreed upon “sensible norms” that are under threat, but the economic orthodoxy upon which they are parasitic (had to get the word in somewhere). On the other hand, that’s probably a tad optimistic and definitely premature.

After all,   I recall thinking  — naively as it turned out — in mid- to late- 2008 that the economic catastrophe that was quickly bearing down on us all would surely, at the very least, raise questions about the neoliberal programme we’ve been following so slavishly for so long. Like I said, naive. It was absolutely reminiscent of the thought that the finding-of-no-WMD in Iraq would finish W’s chances of re-election in 2004. In both cases, it seemed to make not a jot of difference. Though one still has hopes some longer term lessons can be learned. (It’s definitely far too easy to pronounce failure in the short term.)

It would be interesting, I thought at the time, to go talk to the people at the Business Schools and Economics Depts to find out how they were changing their syllabi and reading lists in the wake of the 2008 meltdown. Hah!

But, back to Campbell. Yes, exactly right. The “left” is largely a joke to MSM, with the “right”, as Campbell says, is “the sensible norm”.

It’s hard not to see the kind of thrashing about that John Armstrong is doing in his column — the death throes of MSM essentially — as being in part a clinging to the days when Paid Professional Journalists truly did control pretty much all the flows of news and information. Unless you were rich enough to be able to afford a subscription to that wafer thin version of the International Guardian or committed enough to subscribe to an alternative news magazine, what MSM dished out was IT.

Tim Murphy, the editor in chief of the Herald, Tweeted after the relaunch of the paper last week (this from memory) something about how NZH had set the news agenda because TV had picked up NZH stories for its news bulletins that night. But is “setting the ‘news agenda'” (apparently measured by whether or not it’s on TV) the best way of judging whether or not your newspaper is a success? We all know how news agendas can go terribly terribly wrong: think NYT and the “aluminum tubes”. It’s also out of date.

If Paid Professional Journalists care as much as they keep saying they do about the craft of journalism — about taste, and accuracy and fairness — they should champion and embrace journalists like Campbell, who works his rear off trying to build something of quality in the vast universe of crap that is the Web-o-sphere. There sure is indeed a whole lot of junk out there, but the work Campbell and Edwards do is not part of it.

The only conclusion that makes sense at this point is that it’s because their work is good that it’s such a threat.

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.