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Editorial casts doubt on value of Herald’s anonymous editorials

Written By: - Date published: 2:47 pm, January 6th, 2011 - 30 comments
Categories: local government, making shit up, newspapers - Tags:

The editorial on Granny Herald by an anonymous writer on the 29th1 entitled “Rail shutdown casts doubt on service’s value” really casts more doubt on the value of the use of editorials than anything else. It displays more of the writers divergence from practical realities than anything else because of its adherence to dog-whistling rather than facts.

If Aucklanders returning to work today have taken to commuting by train they are in for a surprise. No trains have been running in Auckland since Christmas Day. None. The entire service has been taken off the rails until at least January 10 so work can be done on the long-running electrification and upgrading of the network. This must be KiwiRail’s idea of a joke.

Not far from the railway, the Newmarket motorway viaduct is being replaced. The project has been engineered in a way that has enabled the bridge to be demolished and rebuilt in sections with minimal disruption to traffic on the busiest stretch of state highway in New Zealand.

Of course this could have rather more to do with the inherent nature of rail lines compared to roading networks than anything else. Auckland’s roads have multiple lanes and multiple routes, but Auckland’s rail lines either have only double tracks or in places single tracks. So while traffic on a road can be done lane by lane or by diverting traffic into alternate routes, it simply isn’t that easy to do on rail routes. Even a simple moment of thought would reveal the issues.

On our remaining single track you have to shutdown the track to work on extensive areas of the track.

In the case of a double track:-

  • It is hard to shutdown a single track because the tracks are very close together and protecting the workers is quite difficult. On multi-lane roads this done by erecting barriers. But this isn’t a viable option on a rail track with minimal separation.
  • Scheduling traffic on  long single track is tricky to say the least. It relies on switching engines to move in and out of diversions. It is a potential recipe for disaster on double track where the diversions and signalling procedures are not normally used.

In effect the idiot that wrote this editorial is arguing for unsafe practices because it is more convienient. KiwiRail took the sensible course of diverting the low number of rail travellers over the summer break on to buses. Anyone who stays around Auckland over summer knows that the road traffic volumes are typically less than half that of the rest of the year. So adding buses to carry the few people who’d usually use the train doesn’t impact on road congestion the way that it would any other time of the year as IDT commenting on the editorial 2 points out:-

Of course buses can do the job over the Christmas/New Year period. They are half-empty, as are the roads and motorways. But there’s no way they could handle the extra volume outside the holidays. I’m no apologist for KiwiRail’s pathetic management but we don’t need “rail is bad” propaganda from our daily paper.

Andrew on the same page 2 concurs with this

This argument is weak and incredibly flawed. Firstly, the argument that the Newmarket Viaduct remained open throughout is invalid as it did close on September 4 with much publicity encouraging Aucklanders to not only change their travel plans, but not to travel at all. You may remember the extra trains put on that weekend were packed. Additionally, if we apply the same argument to the lack of gridlock resulting from that same Viaduct closure, we would arrive at the conclusion that we do not need the Newmarket Viaduct either. Nor the two currently closed lanes of the Harbour Bridge, which is also uncongested during the same holiday period that the trains aren’t running. In fact, all the motorways are free-flowing, for the same reason that rail can shut down for heavy works at this time of year. A lot of Auckland is on holiday.
Therefore the Christmas rail shutdown is not in any way a valid reason for arguing that Auckland does not need rail.

Isaac on the same page 2 points to the work that is actually being done and its extent

If more investigation had gone into this poorly informed editorial, it would be quite clear why the rail network has been shut down. Not only are bridges being rebuilt and overhead masts being installed, but the tracks themselves which the trains run on, are being realigned and rebuilt in a number of locations throughout the network. To do this work properly and to a high standard, having trains trying to run through the work areas every 15 minutes is going to make things very difficult and much slower and longer to complete.

So the people who commented on this editorial are clearly far more aware of the issues involved in doing the rail upgrades and why they’re done using a complete shutdown over summer than the anonymous writer writing about an Auckland that they clearly don’t understand in Auckland’s only daily paper. So what was the point of this rather daft and ill-informed editorial?

In that case, it may be wondered why the city is getting an upgraded rail service to run at untold operating losses, if buses can do the same job.

It isn’t ‘untold’. Even a Herald editor is probably capable of reading a set of accounts and the subsidies and costs are pretty clearly stated in the accounts of the Auckland public transport system.

The case for upgrading rail rests on assumptions that it will attract many more people to live near a station or become employers in the CBD. It is a gamble the Auckland Council is willing to take with the Government’s money. “Build it”, say our civic visionaries, “and commuters will come”.

They point to the growth in rail passengers since the Britomart terminal was built. But it was apparent to early assessors of the business plan for rail project that it would probably draw passengers from certain bus routes rather than increase public transport patronage overall. That impression is reinforced by the ease with which buses have been substituted for trains during this rail shutdown.

The council-controlled agency Auckland Transport should be aggrieved at KiwiRail’s clumsy project management. A total shutdown is surely not necessary for bridges to be raised to make room for electricity lines, or for other work on the tracks. This is not the first summer shutdown of the project and there is no assurance it will be the last. It is merely the most extensive.

Clearly the idiot who wrote this article clearly hasn’t read the numerous economic costings of rail vs bus public services. The rail public transport upgrades were not put in place to increase property values close to rail stations. They were put in place to reduce the congestion on the roads by reducing the need to increase the number of buses or the cars as Aucklands population increases and housing becomes more dense. This means that we don’t have to massive resources to increase roads capacities in the built-up areas of Auckland.

Anyone who has used the trains and buses is aware of the difference in speed of travel. In the same time as it takes me to travel on the few kilometres of part of the Link bus route to work each day, the train to Onehunga travels from Britomart to the end of its line. There is none of the lurching from lights to lights that massively slows the buses around every road apart from the motorways. But everyone who uses the motorway buses is also aware that even when the motorway isn’t congested, most of the travel time is involved in going on an off the motorway through lights to bus stops.

Of course as the Northern busway shows, the same type of thing can be done for buses as trains, with dedicated lanes and dedicated bus stations. This makes it suitable for moving passengers long distances without delays. However it comes at a cost that is higher than putting train lines in. In the case of the northern bus way it was required to be a motorized route rather than a train track because the cost of putting a train bridge with a lower gradient over the harbor would have been excessive. It bottlenecks at the congested bridge which usually accounts for most of the routes time, but all of lanes are at capacity during rush-hour so creating a dedicated bus lane will have wait for a new crossing – which will probably have train track and the busway converted to track.

Obviously the idiot editorial writer just hasn’t bothered to use their brain or do even the most basic research before penning this editorial. This editorial is merely what bloggers would call a dog-whistle post full of inaccurate coded messages to the small self-selected audience that read the NZ Herald. In this case I suspect that it is written by someone who prefers to spend money on roads rather than public transport and is more interested generally in privatization than public participation, and that is the coded message they are wanting to publish. It makes no real attempt to make clear the arguments for and against the stance taken by the writer as would be the case of a editorial in a better respected publication such as The Economist – where it is policy to do so.

Furthermore it is not even pseudonymous as would be the case on a blog like this one3. However it has been published as being the view of the whole NZ Herald editorial team. The editorials in the Herald have become far more variable over the last few years. You get pieces like this that have been written without any understanding of the topic, and others that do understand what they are writing about and take care to present the issues. In other words it appears that the slow run-down of the traditional print media is letting at least one idiot (and probably more) pushing their own political and personal agendas ineptly thereby tainting the whole concept of an anonymous editorial amongst the others who also write more rational and interesting viewpoints – even when I disagree with their ideas.

Quite simply I’d like to have some idea of what idiot actually wrote this editorial and what their other editorials were so I don’t tar the whole editorial team at the NZ Herald as being idiots. What is probably required is a pseudonym or other type of byline to allow readers to separate the useless chaff from the useful wheat in the editorials. Alternatively a much stronger editorial policy on each editorial with more input from other viewpoints (as is done at The Economist and used to be done at the Herald) would achieve the same thing. However that is probably impossible bearing in mind the diminishing numbers of staff and their skills under the financial pressure of newspapers

But in the meantime, ‘editorials’ like this dog-whistle diminish the credibility of the whole anonymous editorial system as practiced at the NZ Herald.

  1. I noted this editorial down for writing a post on after Xmas, but was slightly too full to do anything about it.
  2. One of the real issues with the online version of the NZ Herald is that it doesn’t appear to have any way to link to individual comments as almost every other site does. You’d think that even a newspaper would have figured out how essential that is in a online publication with comment feedback.
  3. The Standard byline is used on this site for a quite specific purpose that is not an editorial viewpoint. Its internal name is “notices and features” which was somewhat too long and got cut down to “The Standard”. It is used for site features like the OpenMike or some posts where several authors have collaborated. It is also used where we are directly republishing other peoples material that is not first published on this site. It’s internal name

30 comments on “Editorial casts doubt on value of Herald’s anonymous editorials ”

  1. alfa 1

    Read the Herald’s About page.

    • lprent 1.1

      a. I wasn’t aware that it had one.
      b. You’re on the net not obsolete letters to the editor. A link to it like I’d link to ours is easier than bullshitting.

    • QoT 1.2

      Poor alfa, an unwitting own goal there as the Herald’s About Us “page” merely reads:

      APN News & Media is one of the region’s most broadly-based and successful media companies. In addition to publishing New Zealand’s leading metropolitan newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, APN is the largest operator of regional newspapers, radio broadcasting and outdoor advertising in Australasia.

      Mm, accountability.

      • Colonial Viper 1.2.1

        You don’t think Alfa actually expected anyone to follow up on his reference, did you?

      • lprent 1.2.2

        I knew there was a reason I’d never seen it. It was hidden right at the bottom of “Help and Technical Support”. An interesting place to conceal it.

        • QoT 1.2.2.1

          I feel certain it’s only there because some poor web developer told them it was a fairly standard thing to have on websites these days but they didn’t quite get the point … still, “we are a faceless un-accountable cog in a vast Australian machine” while more accurate might have involved too much self-reflection.

          • Pascal's bookie 1.2.2.1.1

            And “We’re selling your eyeballs to advertisers” might ruin the act.

  2. BLiP 2

    Its the silly season – sure, some ill-informed guest gets to write a plonker editorial pushing lies and political agendas but then, the next day, you get something sensible like this:

    Editorial: Rein in banks and end the financial crisis

    . . . It is a crisis in the role of finance and banking in a modern economy. The financial sector used to be a service industry for the real economy, a repository of cash, a conduit for payments, a provider of working capital. These functions are essential to the daily operation of the economy. They are the reason governments cannot let their banking systems fail.

    The problem is that banks have become much more than a service industry. Slowly over the past five decades, finance has become an industry in its own right with a range of products that can generate far more wealth than most other goods and services . . .

    That the New Zealand Fox News Herald is a voice for the mercantile cannot be denied, but there are swings and roundabouts.

    • lprent 2.1

      I know. That is really what my point is. Some of the editorials, even the ones that I agree or disagree with, are well written and cover the main points of the argument. Others are stuff that I’d criticize if they were written here because they don’t argue a case. The continuous feedback from the comments section means that every author becomes acutely aware of the need to argue a case. It is clear that author of the editorial that I referred to didn’t bother to try – making it a dog-whistle.

      Quite an easy way to look at it is to simply look at the comments that they attract. When they argue around the issue (like your example) rather than simply pouring factual scorn on the contents of the editorial, you’ve hit different people writing.

      I’d like the Herald to separate the idiot opinionatedness from those that are actually worth reading. Putting a psuedo byline on would help with that immensely. Then at least we could see what the individual identities are that write the good stuff rather than the crap.

      Of course they could simply police their editorial page more closely…

      • BLiP 2.1.1

        I’d like the Herald to separate the idiot opinionatedness from those that are actually worth reading. Putting a psuedo byline on would help with that immensely. Then at least we could see what the individual identities are that write the good stuff rather than the crap.

        Sure, from a “customer service” point of view, I suppose, knowing who the writer is could save you five minutes of wading through the usual slop served up by the Herald editorial as you choose not to read some authors’ material. But, surely, its about the ideas and the message rather than the identity of the scribe?

        • lprent 2.1.1.1

          Actually I’d usually do it in reverse. If I find a well-argued editorial, opinion, blog, etc somewhere then I’ll typically go back through that persons previous writing to see whatever else they’ve been writing. If they are consistently good then I’ll add their ‘link’ (sometimes just a google search for poorly designed sites) to my reading pad. But I don’t do it for people that aren’t consistently worth reading.

          So on our site I’d add me as http://thestandard.org.nz/author/lprent because we have a good lookup by author/category/tag. On other sites I’d use their search features like http://thestandard.org.nz/?s=%40author+lprent&isopen=block&search_posts=true&search_sortby=date Or I could use google like http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=%22By+LPRENT%22+site:thestandard.org.nz&hl=en&num=10&lr=&ft=i&cr=&safe=images&tbs=,qdr:w taking advantage of the pattern of the By: author that we use and the date restrictions on posts to get around the lack of date/time ordering.

          At present the ‘NZ Herald editorials’ fall into that inconsistent pattern that makes them worthless as a link to read each day because there is nothing to seperate the idiot from the interesting authors.

          • BLiP 2.1.1.1.1

            Oh, stop showing off. Who in their right mind is going to know what function the expression %22 means in a Google search, let alone “&num=10&ft=i&” ? But yeah, point taken; as a searchable database, the Herald Editorial is seriously deficient. I suspect that’s deliberate.

            Most likely I’m just odd but, for me, reading the editorial is important in that it provides a glimpse into the thinking of the board room and/or an inkling of the PR being applied to particular issues. Also, its generally the authors I agree with which I skim and those with whom I disagree that I pore over. So, sure, it would be good to have some sort of identifier, even if it were just a number.

            • lprent 2.1.1.1.1.1

              😈

              The google link is just

              site:thestandard.org.nz “By: LPRENT”

              Then in advanced set the date to in the last week.

              On our search it would be

              @author lprent

              In Advanced set to Post and Freshness

              Easy… Of course afterwards you get the gobbledygook that is a URL…

    • Bright Red 2.2

      The Dom’s editoral today basically boils down to: ‘we’re campaigning against Labour this year, sorry’

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/opinion/4514818/Editorial-Labour-far-from-Treasury-benches

      It wheels out the Goff apartment story while mindlessly praising Key. No mention that Key has mismanaged us back into recession.

      • Deadly_NZ 2.2.1

        Well i just wrote a letter to the editor but i dont think they will publish it, i was a little criticle of the Nats. I used some of the stuff i wrote this morning after due editing of the bad language.

  3. M 3

    When the person/s who wrote this are paying $3 litre for fuel a retraction full of contrition will be the only way to salvage some respect.

  4. Sanctuary 4

    This Herald editorial writer = John Roughton. The guy is anti-public transport dunderhead.

    • lprent 4.1

      It’d be a good bet.

      Whoever it is clearly doesn’t use public transport and that is a characteristic of Roughton’s writing. He frequently talks about things that he clearly doesn’t understand the issues in any depth. He also lacks the external discipline that some of the authors who participate in comments sections receive.

      Of course that isn’t uncommon, however most of the others who write that way clearly frame their writing as either humor or satire. Roughton appears to regard his writing as serious, which it is – seriously factually deficient.

  5. RascallyRabbit 5

    I actually wrote a comment to this editorial where I pointed out a lot of the same issues that others have with the factuality of the piece and I also compared and contrasted this road-biased attitude to various cities that I have had first experience with. I then suggested that the writer should get in their car and drive back to the provinces in order to let people who had a clue comment on and sort out Auckland’s transport woes.

    This comment wasn’t added so I subsequently wrote a more formal letter to the editor regarding the editorial but it wasn’t published either.

    Frankly its no loss if the New Zealand Herald heads down the toilet if they can’t even be bothered writing informed and balanced editorials any more….they should’ve checked out Josh Arbury’s fantastic blog over at Auckland Transport to get some decent analysis!

  6. The Baron 6

    Wow Prent – whatever the hell your point is, you lost me at about line 15.
    Yeah yeah your blog and all, but perhaps you need a new years resolution in trying to make a point in under 12 paragraphs? You may find more people get to the end of it.

    • Zorr 6.1

      Baron,

      tl;dr

      Make point in five words.

      Might find people read it.

    • lprent 6.2

      Actually at line 15 you’d just finished reading the quote and had read 6 lines of my text, and 9 lines of the quote. I can quite understand you finding that editorial rather pointless (I sure did)

  7. Rationale 7

    Good reading thanks all(commentary & comments) – yeah about the most out-of-line editorial I’ve read

  8. randal 8

    a cursory glance at any of our major metropolitan dailies reveals more and more items of poor scholarship, slipshod analysis and just poor thinking.
    a generation of writers are coming through now who have an answer for everything but dont know anything unless its about cars or hip-hop.
    the thing is all infrastucture needs maintenance and repair and it is not the end of the world just because something stops for a while.
    in any event the alternative is private enterprise.
    hohohohohoho.

    • jcuknz 8.1

      I don’t waste my money on the local rag and when I pick up a copy at an eating house I never read the editorial simply because the idiots at the paper, to make it look different from the rest of the text on the page, have excessive line lengths … completely ignoring the ‘Golden Mean’ of printing which makes for easier reading which I learnt about when I worked for a publication decades ago. This site suffers from the same problem. It is a balance between type size and line length. But sorry I have forgotten the answer and these days can only appreciate the problem. I’d guess that these lines should be reduced by a third to get close to the GM.
      I’m glad I don’t live in Auckland an get riled over dam fool editorials 🙂

  9. jcuknz 9

    It is after all the ‘silly season’ for journalism when all sorts of slack rubbish gets put in for want of proper news.

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