We Are What We Read

Having largely cut corporate media from my information diet (more on the food analogy below), I’ve had time to read more books. Recently: for review, at Scoop Review of Books, Barbara Brookes’ epic A History of Women in New Zealand, Paul Moon’s Ka Ngaro Te Reo: Māori language under siege in the 19th Century (plus Why English? Confronting the Hydra, a rather depressing collection about the global dominance of English); in The Listener, Susan Faludi’s memoir about her parent, In the Darkroom; and, a few months ago, some first novels for The New York Times. I’m working on reading, and hopefully writing about, The Struggle for Māori Fishing Rights, by Brian Bargh (Huia), and I just got my hands on Vincent O’Malley’s The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 (Bridget Williams Books).

bwb8126_the-great-war-for-new-zealand_lrVincent foreshadowed this book in his 2014 collection Beyond the Imperial Frontier: The contest for colonial New Zealand, in which he had a chapter on the Waikato wars that included some of his new research. (My review is here. Yeah, sorry for all the self-linking, but if I don’t do it, no one will.) I don’t remember hearing a whole lot about that book back then (I might have missed it), but this new one seems to be attracting a lot more attention. Thankfully.

There’s definitely a growing momentum for more (any? some?) recognition of the wars fought on this land, particularly since 2014, which was when we really got to see clearly how much media and government attention was lavished on foreign wars (well, mostly the Gallipoli battle) compared with those fought here. It was 100 years since the former, and 150 years since several major battles of the latter. (I researched and wrote about that pretty extensively back then.)

Not for review (by me!), I’m up to volume two of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six (yes six) volume memoir, My Struggle. I can’t really explain why (so far) I love this book (does it count as “a book”?) But I’m thinking about it. Meanwhile, am a bit stuck at around the one-third mark in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Actually, there are quite a few books I’m stuck in the middle of… And, no, I have never been able to finish Infinite Jest.

But still moving along is another epic on the state of the bloody media, in the form of a collection titled Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand, put out by Freerange Press (who do some very cool stuff). Which brings me to the media and food.

We Are What We Eat, uh Read

We need to start treating the “news” more like we (try to) treat food: Eat healthy, stay away from junk. It’s up to us to get these people to stop pumping out sugary crap (aka clickbait etc. etc.) by not “consuming” it. I haven’t taken this so far as to come up with particular news diet fads (what would be the news equivalent of Atkins, or mediterranean, or high-protein, or low fat diets?). But we all know crap when we see/taste it, and I suspect we all know we should be avoiding it.

I’m actually not a food dieter, so it took a bit of trial end error to work out how to change my news eating habits. My findings: Start out with a fast of at least a day and up to a week. That means no mainstream corporate news/junk food at all. Not even headlines. I predict not only will you feel less depressed and annoyed, you will actually be better informed. (I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but don’t forget, you won’t be under the misapprehension that the most important issue facing humanity/Aotearoa NZ society is All Black sex.) After the fasting period, slowly introduce the healthy stuff – longform, serious, non-clickbait content that has some substance to it, and books. And, yes, if you relapse and find yourself clicking on that sugary shit, you must atone by consuming something serious. And, yes, you should feel guilty, as guilty as if you’d scarfed down a giant bottle of fizzy drink. (If you fall off the wagon, another quick fast should get you back on track.)

I think you’ll find that almost nothing of what our for-profit media are pumping out is stuff you need to know. Which brings me to a premature conclusion from having not quite finished Don’t Dream It’s Over: People, it already is over. Time to put them out of their misery, because as with sugar, they’re doing us way more harm than good.


‘Breaking News’, NZH Style

No comment necessary, really.

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Our History: Pukehinahina, War, 150 Years

Today was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gate Pa/Pukehinahina. It was an unexpected and unprecedented rout by the Māori, whose intricate pa withstood a daylong bombardment and whose warriors then repelled a British assault party.

The commemorations today were remarkable — indescribable really. The extent to which we prefer to remember foreign wars than those fought here bugs the hell out of me. I did some research for a Werewolf article on that very issue, titled Lest We Remember, and found that while about $25 million in government money is being spent commemorating and memorialising foreign wars, particularly WW I and its centennary, about $250,000 has gone toward the 150th anniversaries of the wars that led to the land confiscations that led to … you know … And here we are in Tauranga Moana, where I live, 150 years later — to the very year — seeing legislation about to be introduced to give effect to Treaty of Waitangi settlements aimed at righting the wrongs that have their origins in these very battles. Kinda relevant to our lives, society, future, identity, wouldn’t you think? Oh well. ANZAC stuff got wall-to-wall coverage — “NZ Wars”, not so much, though local media has made a pretty decent effort. (I was on RNZ on this issue, btw…Kim Hill’s show to be precise.)

These are some good links with great photos:

The official Battle of Gate Pa site
Tauranga Libraries’ great kete
Looking Down the Barrel of History (about Te Ranga) from VUW History Dept
The Battle of Gate Pa FB page



Adventures in Stockphotoland

For a while now, I’ve been noticing and collecting stock photos that are used to “illustrate” the news, and thinking about what the invasion by Stockphotoland means for journalism. It turns out to be a bit of a rabbit hole kind of issue … The more you think about it, the weirder it gets, the harder it is to find clarity. So while waiting for a few govt departments to get back to me with info for a completely different story I’ve been trying to write, I put together a blog post cum think piece on the question, that went up at The Hand Mirror, where it was titled “Pregnant and Headless”, then (slightly rewritten and added to) at Werewolf as “Airbrushing the News”.

I thought I remembered discussions from Back In The Day about the importance of trying to represent the community in which a newspaper lives via the people, stories, voices it covers. Images are so powerful in this regard, and file or stock images that act as a kind of key word for a story even more so, since they represent that story. Which is why the use of stock images is so insidious. It’s not just that they don’t come close to representing the community in which our news media lives, but that they far too often actively reinforce stereotypes: understandable since most of the stock is from the U.S. And as Angela Phillips wrote in the Guardian (there’s a link to her piece in the Werewolf article), the choice of image primarily reflects how the person choosing the picture sees the world.

I’m still thinking about this issue; I know it’s hard being a photo editor, but I’m coming to the conclusion that only news photos should accompany news stories (or relevant file pix, of course, that directly relate).

(Uh, I’ll leave this short post stock-image free.)

Spot the Difference

The BOP Times has an article today on its site about the Port of Tauranga opening an expanded container terminal.

The Port of Tauranga has a media release today on its site about the Port of Tauranga opening an expanded container terminal.

Even the headlines match. Someone should give someone some credit, at least. Business “journalism” at work. (Would a political advocacy group, or iwi who have been fighting the port expansion, or a group of greenies, or feminists, or etc. etc. get their PR material published verbatim?)

Oh, there it is over at Scoop, which clearly marks PR material as PR material, so you know what you’re getting.

Help a Struggling Business, Work for Free!

I was saddened but not surprised to see this headline in today’s Bay of Plenty Times: “Living Wage Would ‘Devastate’ Business” (not online yet). After all, any time there’s a proposal for anything that would remotely help workers, this paper (along with most others) can be depended upon to find someone to tell us that we can’t possibly [extend paid parental leave, enforce pay equity, ensure union rights, spend more/anything on worker safety, pay overtime, etc. etc. ad nauseam] otherwise the sky will fall. Late last year, when Sue Moroney’s paid parental leave bill was in the news, the paper found a few people to essentially say that employers would discriminate against female job seekers if paid parental leave were implemented because they might get pregnant. Wow.

179937_333566890047656_1949415847_nBut take a look at that first headline again – “Living Wage Would ‘Devastate’ Business”. Precisely the same facts could be presented under a headline that reads something like this: “Business Model Depends on Poverty Wages”. In fact, you could come up with an alt headline for pretty much every one of these articles, which are nearly always long on rhetoric and short on actual evidence: “Sex Discrimination a Necessity, Says Lobby Group”; “Area Employers Need Low Safety Bar”; “Unfair Pay Rates Keep Local Businesses Afloat” “Parents Must Make Work ‘Top Priority'”.

To be fair, the BoP Times did speak with an organiser from First Union, whose brief comments were swiftly countered by a few employers explaining just how come they can’t pay their workers a living wage. Wouldn’t it be nice if we – including the Chamber of Commerce – could move past that, acknowledge a living wage as a community goal and talk about ways of getting there, not just recite the endless list of  “why we can’t”.

The primary source for today’s article was Max Mason, the CEO of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce. And yes, that’s the same Max Mason who is praising the Bay of Plenty Times in one of the paper’s promotional videos for its March 4 revamp. Mr. Mason says in the video that the new BoP Times business section will “benefit local businesses by being really close to the ground…” Great! At least they’re getting some benefits in this cruel world of workers demanding enough money to live on. Tauranga businesses might not be able to pay a living wage, but at least they’re going to get a boost from the Bay of Plenty Times’s new Business Section.

Also promoting the paper in one of the videos is the city’s mayor, Stuart Crosby, and the Commercial Manager of Bay of Plenty Rugby, Matt Cairns. “Business sections” of daily newspapers have long since become the home to pro-business PR, so I suppose it makes sense to have the local Chamber boss promoting yours. And once you’ve gone that far, why not have your top elected local government official shilling for the paper, too. The only comment I’ve found on any of the paper’s online coverage of its upcoming relaunch was from “fact_not_fiction” from Gate Pa (a Tauranga neighbourhood), who wrote (and I agree): “Mindful that our region has more than one media provider, mindful that the integrity of the media is very dependent on the perception of its neutrality, mindful that the Mayor is moving up a notch his re-election campaign – surely it is inappropriate for Mayor Crosby to be the lead advocate in this presentation.”

Along with union power, the days of serious and fair coverage of working people are long gone. Regional papers are boosters for local businesses, no doubt largely because business (and local government!) are the ones paying for what’s left of the papers’ advertising.

Today’s headline, and the line-up of promotional videos for the new-look BoP Times says it all, really. (Disclosure: I had a weekly column-writing gig for the BoP Times last year. Briefly.)