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A note to a media commentator

Written By: - Date published: 2:51 am, November 17th, 2012 - 53 comments
Categories: activism, blogs, broadcasting, democratic participation, humour, kremlinology, labour, Media, news, newspapers, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:

I have been busy over the past few days and didn’t get around to it. But being at conference is a breathing space so I thought I’d leave a note for the media commentator Gavin Ellis who appears in this piece with Kathryn Ryan about The Standard at about 8:50 (I can’t link directly to the track because of copyright).

He appears to have been incapable of understanding things like:-

  1. lprent is the author of this post.
  2. lprent is a shorthand or a pseudonym for Lynn Prentice.
  3. And I have been using lprent as a online handle since 1979 – it was my first login to a networked system. It is as much a part of my online identity as my real name is to my legal life. Many like or loathe lprent but few touched by it can deny the personality and accumulated and valued traits (my partner describes as a harsher and more abrupt version of the meat personality). Most people online feel the same about their usual handles and will go to considerable lengths to keep their good name. Just as they would with their offline good name. Legally of course they are the much the same just as having alias is offline.
  4. pseudonymous writing ≠ anonymous writing.
  5. I also wrote this post which Gavin Ellis appears to have carefully ignored in his analysis which was in a similar vein as Eddie and Irish.
  6. Mike Smith wrote this post with a diametrically opposite analysis, as did r0b in the same days as Eddie and Irish’s posts Why didn’t Gavin mention those? They were in the same day of publication. Because they did not resonate as strongly with our readership?
  7. I’d have to question if Gavin Ellis was looking at the operation of a pseudonym as much as he was simply disagreeing with the message. That isn’t a media commentator – that is the action of a person writing an editorial on their morals and presuming we should follow them when they didn’t follow it themselves (did he ever write editorials?). I’m sure that there is a word for that.
  8. Responsibility: I know most of the people who author posts on The Standard and Mike Smith knows the others. Between us we know everyone writing under a pseudonym. We have to. We are the trustees of the trust that is legally responsible for what they write. If they write something that exposes the site to harm, then we fix it. There is a word for that as well. Gavin Ellis should know what it was in old media.
  9. Authors on our site are not ‘anonymous’. They write under their pseudonym. Nor is any commentator on our site if I choose to find out who they are.

It is pretty clear that Gavin Ellis could do with a refresher course in even the legal principles of publishing. They are essentially the same on a blog as they are on a newspaper. Left and mostly Labour party activists have various issues about the Labour party coming up to the first Labour party conference since the defeat in 2011. Some of these are being dealt with in this and follow up conferences at least in part because our authors and many others helped bring them to the surface.

Rather than deal with that reality Gavin Ellis seems to prefer to cherry pick his posts to fit around an daft thesis that appears to have never been thought through. I found it quite fascinating how unwilling he was to look at all of the authors from other sites and media saying much the same things as our authors did. I was surprised that he appeared to completely miss that both Eddie and r0b were in fact responding to material from Vernon Small earlier that weekend. That there was a cascade of posts is a natural consequence of many people thinking much the same thoughts and responding to a topical issue. The only reason that my post was so late was because we’d already had three posts on the topic on the sunday when I wrote it. So it got re-edited and went up on Monday.

All of us and all of the others that Gavin Ellis named had previously raised similar questions in earlier posts as they did last weekend and throughout the week. So why was only Chris Trotter apparently concerned prior to last weekend according to Gavin Ellis. Most of the 200+ comments responding to Eddie’s post were from commentators who’d already been talking about the same issues even before the leadership debates last year. It isn’t exactly hard to research this. Searching using our search engine or googles will reveal this in seconds or minutes.

I’d have to ask if Gavin Ellis has even been read the posts or comments in which these same issues were being raised throughout the year. Why else would he be surprised about them being naturally being re-raised in the week before the first conference since the last election. Arggh who gave this political drongo airtime. I mean it is good fiction, but hardly worthy of the name of analysis or even commentary.

One bit did make me laugh. The likelihood of our authors being ‘manipulated’ has about the same lifetime of plausibility as a snowballs chance in hell. These aren’t junior reporters. With most of them, I’d rate any manipulators chances of getting away with a straight spine after the attempt to be quite low. They make their own decisions on a personal basis about what they will write about. I know exactly the reaction I’d get if I asked them to write a particular way. These are frigging volunteers. There is no hold that I have on them apart from preventing them from writing. Obviously that isn’t something I’d like to do.

And Gavin Ellis has clearly not bothered to exert the effort of thinking about why people will prefer to use a pseudonym. What our authors do on the blog is part of their private life as volunteers for the left. The people writing with pseudonyms are in positions where it would not be difficult for the malicious to interfere in their professional lives. Our older authors are the ones writing under their own names. They are the people where there is no easy way for malicous malipulative people to interfere in the professional lives. And yes it has been done and it will be done again. Writing with a pseudonym ensures that they cannot easily be pressured or manipulated.

And if the authors are being pressured then there is always myself or Mike to deal to whoever is doing it. Speaking for myself I’d be happy to drag the festering manipulation into the open for a good public dissection. Conversely if we think that an author is going over the line between the professional and personal opinion then there are quite a lot of things that we can and will do. Which is why it doesn’t happen.

Gavin Ellis appears to have little understanding of either the politics of the left nor how we run our blog site or even forums on the net. I rather suspect that he has blindly picked up a neat theory without bothering to think about it too deeply. In fact he seems to have named it himself in relation to china. It is the antique art that used to be called kremlinology. It probably fits some strange sentimental streak for the arcane viewpoint. It would have certainly sounded like it for most activists from the left when he described sentimentally described Richard Long and Fran O’Sullivan without some of their other career highlights that are so apparent to the left. Perhaps he should just read what is said or even (horror) ask rather than inventing yet another conspiracy theory. This isn’t exactly rocket science.

And like most people from the traditional media he also seems to have a curious blind spot about how newspapers have their own issues with anonymous content like editorials, “staff reporters”, and newsfeeds. Not to mention the apparent ease with which most mainstream media seem to be able to be manipulated by their need for capital and revenue. Coming from a site that requires only a minute amount of revenue to operate it does seem rather apparent to me.

And apparently to others Queen of Thorns (QoT when she deigns to write here :twisted:) has fun sticking a very similar needle into the people with pseudonym phobias. I wish I’d read that first – then I could have plagiarised quoted it… There are pile more around the net, but I’m sure we have given poor Gavin enough hints that he can use google on.

53 comments on “A note to a media commentator ”

  1. Dr Terry 1

    An excellent presentation here – thanks! I guess we can see it as a good sign if the Standard is needling some of these unthinking people, obviously it is getting through even if it is touching a few raw spots. The Standard goes from strength to strength, keep it going!

    If one of the thoughtless ones has something nasty to say to me, send him (presuming it is a male) around to say it to my face. Even though I am old, I remain big and strong, and said person might find that he cops something unwanted right in his face! Nevertheless, I must remember the old school ditty “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”.

  2. IrishBill 2

    I’m glad you said something about this Lynn. I was particularly struck by Ellis’ effusive praising of Richard Long which managed to include a list of all Long’s journalism jobs but failed to mention the fact he was a senior political adviser to the Nats! It seems to me his call for transparency only goes so far.

    • Pascal's bookie 2.1

      [deleted]

      Edit, Looks like I was thinking about Basset who was asked to leave the Dompost, but this is interesting:

      Remembering Richard

      [lprent: removed the defamatory statement. ]

  3. just saying 3

    Many like to criticise the negative potential of pseudonymity: the potential for misrepresentation and other dishonesty, for new kinds of bullying and other aggression, for deliberate vested-interest astro-turfing.

    But the positive potential is at least equally enormous. With the right balance of moderation, it can create a uniquely safe forum for those whose voices are seldom heard. It can create a capacity to talk more openly, honestly and candidly than the practicalities of “real life” may allow. There have been discussions here between people from different sides of difficult, contentious, highly charged issues, which I can’t imagine even being possible outside of the safety that pseudonymity can create. It can not only foster openness to new ways of thinking, but allow us to safely interact with new ideas and their protagonists in close to real time.

    One of the things I appreciate is the opportunity to take risks and stuff-up. To have unexamined assumptions blown to pieces. To get it wrong. To write, and to come back it, and have the undeniable ‘stupid’ burn in the privacy of my own home. Learning comes easier with that kind of freedom.

    • karol 3.1

      Well said, js.  I like that this is a pretty safe forum and that the extreme kind of bigoted abuse seen on some right wing forums is not tolerated here.

    • rosy 3.2

      You’re speaking for me there js.

      Also, I would never have commented on any blog if I had to give my real name. I have such low confidence in writing out my thoughts and questioning others that my pseudonym actually comes from blushing with embarrassment when thinking about whether I could press submit on my first-ever comment. Clearly I’ve moved on from there 😉

    • LynW 3.3

      Me too JS!

    • RedLogix 3.4

      Learning comes easier with that kind of freedom.

      I suspect that by nature most of us who participate regularly in these kinds of forums work best when were are on our own. We prefer the chance to think things through deeply without the additional drama of dealing with other people’s noise in our faces.

      • Rogue Trooper 3.5.1

        Are we not Men? We are Devo!
        (it’s a Beautiful World we live in…Working in a Coalmine…it’s just the girl…The Girl U Want)

        -picaresqueing some weeds that the chook has discriminated against in the vege garden shortly, although they are very helpful with the oxalis bulbs; love them they do, and not just the pretty, tiny flowers that I tolerate as a rationalistion for not attempting to throw them all to the wind)
        🙂

  4. Great post! I think this attention proves The Standard has come of age, a force to be reckoned with, it’s just they are finding it hard to do that!

  5. Shorts 5

    How can someone claim to be a media commentator when they simply don’t get media – I won’t call the web new media, as it simply is not new.

    It’s not hard to understand.

  6. karol 6

    The social scientist and (new) media scholar in me is interested in the shift in the MSM that is being seen with this issue.

    I recall a time when it was mainly certain right wing blogs and bloggers that got most of the MSM attention when  blogging issues were raised.  And they often failed to mention the bloggers’ right wing position.  They also seemed to not be bothered by some of the rac1st, myisogynist, and homophobic abuse that commenters indulged in.

    I can remember a time when homophobic abuse was pretty common in public and ordinary conversation.  In those days I feared I would lose my job if I came out at work.  I still feel some vulnerability around that, and will not visit some sleazy space where that kind of abuse is accepted.

    But, back to my main point: there is a shift going on here with bloggers and commenters on TS expressing a desire for a shift from the neoliberal consensus of the last couple of decades.  The MSM is not able to ignore it.  They, right wingers, and some Labour/left people are doing their best to neutralise this by smearing bloggers as “anonymous”, and worse (all those inaccurate comparisons with violent, dictatorial organisations).

    I’ll be interested to see how this plays out.  But I can’t help feeling that it represents a bubbling to the surface of a desire for a new political direction – a desire held by a lot of ordinary Kiwis.  

    And it seems to me that the “left” political parties, like many organisational structures, tend to be quite entrenched in the status quo.  And I don’t think they will shift in a new direction without the impetus coming from “below”, from a ground swell of ordinary people.  

    And I do agree with Lynn that the increase in TS posts on the Labour Leadership/caucus etc, was the result of many people thinking similar things.   Or, if it was orchestrated, I want to know why I was left out of the loop? No-one contacted me about it in advance, and I was left to go blissfully on as usual, writing and posting on whatever I decided, without any editorial interference.

    • prism 6.1

      karol And I do agree with Lynn that the increase in TS posts on the Labour Leadership/caucus etc, was the result of many people thinking similar things.

      What could NACTs find wrong with this. It’s the very basis of the neo liberal ‘heart’. That individuals forming masses with similar desires constitute the decisive force that the market reacts to and Obeys. Strains of Money money from Pink Floyd.

      Not so good when the mass want something different, say real democracy that responds to those not sitting on top of the hill with the good view, which is likely to cut down the flow of money into this here bag.

    • lprent 6.2

      Or, if it was orchestrated, I want to know why I was left out of the loop? No-one contacted me about it in advance…

      You weren’t. I knew the previous week that Irish was unhappy because he told me when I’d phoned him about something else.

      In fact he told everyone as I seem to remember as he’d commented something to that effect, or am I remembering someone else. But I’d read Small’s article and then r0b’s and Eddie’s posts.

      While I got around to writing mine, I read several other bloggers and journos. Then bloody Irish, Mike and even QoT beat me to it.

      You were welcome to say whatever, but by that time I was determined that the next post on the topic was going to be mine……..

      • QoT 6.2.1

        even QoT beat me to it

        When it’s a Sunday and the laundry’s all done I am simply unbeatable. 😀

      • karol 6.2.2

        BTW, this was my attempt at a joke:

        I want to know why I was left out of the loop? No-one contacted me about it in advance…

        A bit feeble, I know.

        But I was happy to sit back and read what other people were posting on the topic.

        But I am impressed by how much all you posters had your finger on the pulse. 

  7. Lanthanide 7

    While we’re talking about site-stuff, it looks to me like we’ve had rather an influx of new commenters in the last 2-3 months. Anyone else get that impression?

    • lprent 7.1

      Probably. I will check later

      • AsleepWhileWalking 7.1.1

        It’s becoming easier to find this site : ) Great job in putting this together.

        IMHO a large part of WhaleOil’s popularity is that the site was updated regularly, issues of significance were vented, and (possibly most importantly) there was little in the way of competition. Needless to say I’m glad I found you.

    • prism 7.2

      Could be that there are hundreds – might even then not match the value of Bored.

  8. RedLogix 8

    I’ve been a small part of TS from within a week or two of when it was started. That’s quite a few years ago. I can state categorically that I have never seen any evidence that this blog is anything other than exactly than what Lynn says it is.

    Sure there may well be some private conversations going on around the margins that I’m not aware of or privvy to. But at no time has there been any sense of manipulation, conspiracy or limitation on what any author could say … within a very broad left-wing agenda.

    The extraordinary thing is the independence authors are given and trust Lynn and Mike put in us, and the degree to which a diversity of opinion and ideas is not only tolerated but encouraged.

    As for the psuedonym thing … the msm routinely fail to understand because virtually all their material these days is about attacking the messenger. Without a ‘name’ or a personality to hang their narrative off they’re helpless. Helpless because they really don’t know how to do ideas anymore.

    • “Without a ‘name’ or a personality to hang their narrative off they’re helpless. Helpless because they really don’t know how to do ideas anymore”

      Bloody well said M8!

    • Draco T Bastard 8.2

      <blockquoteAs for the psuedonym thing … the msm routinely fail to understand because virtually all their material these days is about attacking the messenger. Without a ‘name’ or a personality to hang their narrative off they’re helpless. Helpless because they really don’t know how to do ideas anymore.
      QFT

      The Standard (I always think of TeamSpeak whenever some puts in TS) is independent with no editorial oversight and the MSM just don’t seem to be able to grasp that.

      [lprent: We do have some. We don’t want to waste time in court or to outrage everyone so much that we have to spend all our time defending it. But it is a quite broad limit. ]

  9. marsman 9

    Who tells Gavin Ellis what to say? His praising of Richard Long sounds very suspicious to me.

  10. What is the difference between radio talkback where a person can use a false name,to a blogger
    who can use a tag of identity ?
    I have no curtain to hide behind,no darkend room,just a will to get MY opinion out there and the
    standard is a vehicle for that.
    In fact i have written to opinon columns in my local paper in all things political,so i could be
    called an activist.
    My roots are entrenched, my family history is labour,therefore i feel i have an absolute right
    to have an opinion whether it be from policy,organization,party,leader,ministers,whatever,
    i will not stop because of the insults thrown at bloggers on this site.
    Thank you to the standard for allowing me the opportunity to have my say, i am a REAL
    person with an opinion, that’s all.
    ps, I also enjoy reading other opinions.

  11. Te Reo Putake 11

    Does anyone know if Ellis is equally scathing about the pseudoanonymous nature of the editorials he used to publish when he was editor of the NZ Herald?

    • QoT 11.1

      Fuckin’ A, TRP. This is the biggest thing for me whenever the MSM start hating on blogs – at least there’s etiquette around using consistent handles, compared to our biggest daily newspapers letting any old hack put forth their opinion under an established, authoritative banner with no verifiability whatsoever.

  12. Pete 12

    I would imagine that some of the people who comment here are public servants – I was, until last year (I don’t know about the post authors, though) and are cowed from taking an open political position. Of course, it’s unwise for anyone to talk smack about their employer, but sometimes the perspective these people bring contributes much to a discussion.

  13. gobsmacked 13

    It was a very poor commentary by Gavin Ellis (he’s usually better than that).

    There are many ways that public opinion is expressed in the media. These include …

    – Opinion polls (anonymous, and scientific)
    – Online polls (anonymous, and not scientific)
    – Talkback (effectively anonymous, and now less representative than ever. In the age of the internet, talkback is confined to a small minority on the fringe)
    – Online comments (on blogs, Stuff, TradeMe, a hundred different forums)
    – Text polls (anonymous and totally meaningless)
    – E-mails being read out on TV/radio (sometimes anonymous, and not verifiable)
    – The TV/radio vox pop (i.e three or four people being interviewed on the street, and saying “The Budget is rubbish, ciggies are going up”)
    – Trawling Facebook and Twitter for “juicy” quotes

    and so on, and so on …

    All of the above are a daily staple in news reporting – whether they are valid or not. Which ones should be used? Or ignored? Now that would be a good subject for a “media commentator”.

    Instead we just got a session of uninformed, highly selective axe-grinding.

    Do better, Gavin. Much better, please.

    • just saying 13.1

      Hell, names and adresses are not taken at old-fashioned public meetings. The blogosphere is being held up to a different standard to most forms of political participation. Also, there is the little matter of everything you have previously said being available in that little search engine up on the right.

    • Morrissey 13.2

      It was a very poor commentary by Gavin Ellis (he’s usually better than that).

      No he is not usually better than that. His contributions are not only lacklustre, they usually lack insight.

  14. Morrissey 14

    Anyone who listens to his dire weekly contributions to Kathryn Ryan’s show will know that Gavin Ellis is a dullard. After an utterly undistinguished career at the Herald, Ellis unaccountably schmoozed his way into the editorship.

    However, he will go down in infamy not so much as a dullard, but as a coward: he was the editor that was bullied and badgered by a small but fierce band of extremists (Lesley Max, David Zwarz and David Nathan) into firing cartoonist Malcolm Evans in 2002.

  15. Great article Lynn , very well said Indeed 🙂

  16. Bill 16

    When the unwashed mob can speak directly to one another in fairly large audiences without their words being mediated through some authority or being otherwise censored…then that’s kind of democratic. And democracy is dangerous shit that ought not to be encouraged. Y’know, a levelm playing field of communication might lead to ideas being formed and ideas taking hold. And ideas that don’t come from an authoritative ‘centre point’ – be that center point a megaphone or a niche within a hierarchy – is an idea that is out of control. And that is a bad thing 😉

  17. ianmac 17

    One time when a blog site could be manipulated is when a team of suspect commentators do comment with a view to swamp a post with a themed opposition to that post. A conspiracy thinker might suspect this especially around election time.
    Teams of Right Wing Comment Manipulators? Dunno.
    Great airing of your response to Ellis, Lyn.

  18. DS1 18

    Even if pseudonym = anonymous, anonymous =! invalid or inferior opinion.

    Besides, Mark Twain, Lewis Caroll, and George Orwell (for example) are all pseudonyms. Using their real names would not have increased the validity or quality of their writing (and it’s unlikely Orwell would have written if he’d been unable to use a pseudonym).

    • Absolutely true bud, all voices a worthy of hearing, and unfettered they have a chance to express themselves honestly.

      Anonymous != Soulless , which is what some are trying to say about us “Bloggers”

  19. Mary 19

    “I’d have to question if Gavin Ellis was looking at the operation of a pseudonym as much as he was simply disagreeing with the message.”

    That’s precisely what was happening. Interestingly, by trying to describe O’Sullivan’s and Long’s comments as showing integrity and political maturity he had the opposite effect by pointing out how they were both showing so-called “support” for Shearer not because they thought Shearer continuing as leader would assist Labour but because it would assist National. There’s no problem saying this – I’d love to see Judith Collins become leader of the National Party not because I think she’d be a good leader but because I think she’d be aggressive and divisive therefore a total liability to the party – but all three, O’Sullivan, Long and Ellis were not being honest in this way. Ellis let his own colours get in the way of genuine analysis and for this reason he’s no commentator. It’ll be interesting to see if Ellis responds on this post. I don’t think he will. People like him are gutless cheap-shot gits.

  20. weka 20

    Kathyrn Ryan’s ignorance was also breathtaking.
     
    In the interests of balance, RNZ should now be interviewing or having a commentator who understands the dynamics of political blogging. Has Mediawatch been covering this?
     

    • Mary 20.1

      “Kathyrn Ryan’s ignorance was also breathtaking.”

      Yes it was, but when thinking back over it it’s not surprising. Ryan’s just your average non-listening set Q&A journalist so to expect more from her is wishful thinking. If I had a dollar for every opportunity she’s had for a killer follow-up question she’s blown by simply moving on to the next question on the list I’d be a wealthy woman.

    • lprent 20.2

      She didn’t understand the blogging side – psuedonyms and all that. However she did poke a few holes in Gavin Ellis’s arguments. It was mostly what I’d expect.

  21. tracey 21

    Perhaps he thinks mediA commentators here are manipulated because he is embarrassed that he has often succumbed to manipulation.

  22. tracey 22

    Shes formerly from the press gallery… often manipulated consciously or otherwise. i miss lina clark

  23. tracey 23

    Shes formerly from the press gallery… often manipulated consciously or otherwise. i miss linda clark

  24. tracey 24

    When an editor of the herald impugns others integrity it must be as part of a comedy routine. there can be no other explanation.

  25. peterlepaysan 25

    Ellis, like Armstrong, Watkin et al seem to think that the messenger is more important than than the message.

    They cannot “mediate” the message and then us unwashed dumb klutzs will be ill informed because they could not mediate.

    Yeah right!

  26. xtasy 26

    Who is Gavin Ellis, I first thought.

    Then I found this:
    http://artsfaculty.auckland.ac.nz/staff/?UPI=gell002

    He is clearly a former journalist of the old school, apparently struggling with the new phenomenon of blogs and the bloggers, who on this and other sites use pseudonyms as their chosen names or identity.

    That in itself does not at all disqualify the integrity and authenticity of opinion pieces written and commented on.

    Ellis seems to be fitting the mould of John Armstrong and such types of journalists.

    Kathryn Ryan on RNZ is also a typically mediocre “mainstream” radio journalist, who seems to do only superficial bits of researching, before she has persons on her program, whom she asks questions.

    I remember some time ago, when she had the head of Housing NZ on her program, who of course fed her all the dishonest, glossed over and propagandistic policies they were implementing in their management of housing. There were no hard questions asked, and she let that woman get away with telling half- and untruths, justifying the National led government’s policies they have to implement now.

    It was all dressed up in politically correct terms and all done so “fairly”, reasonably and justifiably, while in fact they force people out of their houses and stick them into shoe-box size alternative homes, so they can sell existing homes and land to private land and property developers.

    But amongst all of radio media, RNZ is still better and more informative, so that tells you what the situation about broadcast media in NZ is in general: Largely total CRAP!

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