I understand now

Written By: - Date published: 5:49 am, February 3rd, 2009 - 29 comments
Categories: Media - Tags:

Over the past few weeks, I and many others have been shocked by the sudden, appalling change in John Armstrong’s writing. Having long been, in my estimation, our best print political commentator, Armstrong has suddenly become confused, nonsensical, and reactionary. The man reads like a National press release. It has been sad and frustrating to see. And it has been inexplicable, until now.

See, alongside Armstrong the Herald used to have Colin James as a regular commentator. Frankly, I find James’ writing style turgid and a right-wing worldview underpins his writing but there’s no denying he is one of the best informed and insightful political commentators in New Zealand. James’ analysis is always sober, policy-based, and packed with facts. A must read. And the Herald fired him.

Why? Because he was too boring. Seems rational, intelligent analysis is not the way the Herald wants to go. Now, the editors, in a desperate, futile, self-defeating attempt to stop the slide in circulation, have started to rate their opinion writers on the basis of the letters to the editor, emails, and online comments they generate. And what generates that kind of public reaction? Not smart writing. No, provocative, extreme, tabloid-style writing is what gets the angry letters and the dittoheads out. So, this is the brave new world; our premier newspaper is trying to become the Sun of the South Seas. Angry old bigot Gareth George is in and Colin James is out.

So here’s my theory. I reckon that Armstrong has seen the writing on the wall. Get controversial or lose your job in the next, looming, round of job cuts. So, it’s out with skillful and informative writing; Armstrong has released the Tory-boy within. You can understand: the man’s trying to protect his livelihood. But at what a cost.

And so, the tragedy that is the decline of New Zealand’s print media continues.

PS. Colin James has been snapped up by Fairfax

[Update: all that notwithstanding, Armstrong’s piece today critiquing the Treasury briefing to English is good

29 comments on “I understand now”

  1. monkey boy 1

    “You can understand: the man’s trying to protect his livelihood. But at what a cost.”
    Or, John Hamstrung is a journalistic windsock which simply points in the same direction as whatever prevailing political wind blows.

  2. mike 2

    Your paranoia knows no bounds SP. Just because he doesn’t toe the normal lefty line of other NZ rags you go after him. Pathetic.

  3. Can I bring up the fact that the MSM is owned by rich pricks and they decide what we read bit again?

  4. Peter Burns 4

    Indeed trev ,I understand now. It is shameful that socialism has been very kind to the “rich pricks” . It’s just a great pity the majority of people have missed out on the spoils of the socialist gravy train.At least some possess a conscience.

  5. Relic 5

    I believe this post may be correct in its assertion. One experienced regular Herald blogger I trust (no names, no pack drill just yet) told me in a private email that the Herald hierachy was most pleased with the heat his column was generating in terms of page views and clicks. They are less pleased apparently when he plays it safe instead of pushing readers buttons.

  6. Steve:

    How do you know what is in his mind?

  7. Indeed Peter,

    So true. $ 2.7 trillion of taxpayers money in the US alone to the bankers.

    Even hardcore capitalists commentators have called it socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us poor slobs.

    Well, at least you’ve left the sureal commentary style you where engaged in as D4J behind. I suppose that’s something.

    What does you comment have to do with the thread?

    That was about Armstrong’s inexplicable change in writing style and the firing of a solid if somewhat boring and right wing commentary in favour of mediocre punditry and hateful commentaries and the subsequent corruption of a man who before at least tried to make sense.

    captcha: charge wife. Lol, you wish.

  8. Janet 8

    Publicaddress.net (Southerly) has a clever take on Granny Herald’s opinion columns with strong reaction to Einstein’s theorem.

  9. Peter Burns 9

    Thank you Janet I will head over to the Paris Hilton blog. Yeah right.
    Hi Wussell and other girls.

  10. Felix 10

    SP: So here’s my theory. I reckon…

    Brett: How do you know what is in his mind?

    Brett, it’s magic. Btw have you met Tanya yet? I think you two could hit it off.

  11. Janet 11

    If they want reaction they should get some staunch left wingers in to write columns , as they are about 95% righties – how about offering, SP?

  12. Felix:

    Steve normally writes his theory as fact.

  13. mike 13

    Its interesting isnt it.

    Lefty PC type columns – no one is interested.

    Righty non PC columns – everyone reads them.

    Sort of indicative I would have thought. I mean who is really interested in the hand wringing bleeding heart crap one sees from societies apologists. Take the boy racers – no one (but a few misguided ones) really believes that these poor unliked individuals need hand holding and special courses and counselling etc, etc. And when we see stories along those lines most just roll their eyes to the heavens and go to the next article.

    However almost everyone believes that what they need is at least a swift kick in the backside, a smack in the ear and then dragged off to do a good physicals days work somewhere – work so hard that come 5 oclock all they want to do is go to sleep. A place like the army with double time quick marches.
    People think this is a good udea and they like to read articles with which they agree.

    [lprent: Or it could just be that more conservatives read old media because they are well – conservative and averse to change.
    Talking about averse to change, I suspect that I have managed to leave you in the auto-moderation. I suppose that I should get progressive and check?]

  14. “Seems rational, intelligent analysis is not the way the Herald wants to go.” – no offense, but we havent seen much rational intelligent analysis about the Herald from the Standard..

  15. randal 15

    what about crabapple newman and her nationally syndicated column
    the place is lousy with all these tory vermin coming out of the woodwork

  16. vto 16

    mike’s onto it. that is quite simply what many people think, for better or worse.

    many people have had enough of the last decade or more of pc poop and now see the likes of boy racer antics last weekend as the result of that pc poop. good luck in trying to counter it…

  17. Carol 17

    No-one interested in “lefty pc” columns? And yet a load of right-wingers keep coming back to the Standard?

    The boy racers are but a mirror image of the neoliberal consumer-society establishment: construction of (largely male in this case) status, through consumption and individualisation of products (cars etc), that is rife throughout the mainstream of our contemporary society. And the Nats show of toughness will only intensify the conflicts between these 2 competing teams in their struggle for macho-identity-status and control.

    And the media and authorities show their contradictory attitudes to the street racers in the sensationalist use of the term “boy-racers”: a euphemism and romanticisation of youthful “outlaws”.

  18. vto 18

    Carol, I think your assessment misses a few basic facets of human nature. One example – the ‘boy racer’ is merely exhibiting completely natural young male behaviour. Imo the problem has arisen because the controls and norms of earlier society, and other societies thru time, which have controlled or directed these natural impulses have been seriously weakened in recent history. As such this natural behaviour has flourished somewhat.

    I don’t think it is anything to do with “neoliberal consumer society establ.ishment” “products (cars)” etc.

    Though I agree it concerns male traits (and those female traits of adoration btw).

  19. Felix 19

    Oh Carol, we’ve no time for this “big picture” stuff. Give us something our tiny minds can handle by lunchtime.

    Brett, not today though eh. I’m serious about you and Tanya btw – you should totally hook up.

    vto, good point about adoration.

  20. BLiP 20

    Multiple Choice Question Number One:

    Have the following quotes been taken from:

    A) a pennry dreadful crime story

    B) The Sunday News

    C) a serious broadsheet’s political commentary.

    ” . . . rising tide of crime . . . crazed rampage by a gunman . . . hostage drama at a Burger King . . . shocking crimes becoming the norm . . . mayhem in Auckland . . . taxi driver being left to die in the locked boot of his car after a savage beating . . . those still capable of being shocked . . . catalogue of horrors . . . the tough and tenacious National frontbencher . . . will be a hard taskmistress . . legislation fulfilling National’s promise to tackle youth crime, clamp down on gangs and ensure the worst repeat violent offenders are ineligible for parole . . . Collins is already coming under the hammer . . . combat-hardened law and order spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove . . . police had a shoot-to-kill policy . . . “

  21. mike 21

    Ooooooohhhhhh Carol. I am surpised at you. Really you should be more aware than that.

    No matter what personal leanings one might have it is IMPERATIVE that one always takes a holistic approach to “knowing whats going on”. Its simply not good enough to take an interest only in what you yourself are interested in – you must make yourself aware of everyones views. True – some of those views are pitiful and some truely call for a deep feeling of sorry for people holding and expressing those views. At other times one can only but feel contempt for various attitudes; but thats no excuse for not maiing yourself aware of things.

    If some governments in the world had opened thier minds a bit they would be in the trouble they are in now:
    eg: The UK with its dumb and stupid views on immigration and gender equality.
    The US with GWB’s action re Iraq. NZ with the previous governments pandering to any faction that would keep it in power. etc, etc

  22. mike 22

    Ill get the typing correct one day – in the meantime I know what I meant…………….

  23. Felix 23

    mike I hope you know, because I seriously seriously doubt that anyone else will have the faintest clue.

    Still, good to know I’m not the only one drinking on a Tuesday avo.

    edit: apart from the Chuck Berry bit. That, I got. 🙂

  24. Quoth the Raven 24

    So, it’s out with skillful and informative writing; Armstrong has released the Tory-boy within.

    That gave me a horrible mental image of Colin Espiner extricating (to put it nicely) himself from Armstrong. Though that is fitting considering the kind of shit Espiner writes.

  25. vto 25

    it seems the standard is slowly sinking into a quagmire of bitter cynicism if the last couple of weeks commentary is anything to go by. maybe it’s just a summer holiday fing…

  26. Rex Widerstrom 26

    Felix: You think Chuck Berry, I think Neil Sedaka. There’s a thesis in there somewhere.

    Meanwhile, somewhere prior to boy racers we were discussing the declining quality of the Herald.

    While SP’s advanced this as only a theory, I tend to think he may be right. “Rark up the troglodytes or GTFO” has long been the modus operandi of radio talkback station owners. When Gordon Dryden started Radio Pacific all those years ago his idea was that it’d be a more exciting, harder-nosed, more democratic version of NatRad… a place where philosophical musings were still possible, but where a listener’s opinion was as valid – if not moreso – than the host’s.

    Then Derek Lowe got his hands on it, and every Rush Limbaugh wannabe in the country was let loose, from Paul Henry (unutterably boring) to John Banks (highly entertaining, in a flaming petrol tanker wreck kind of way).

    Similarly Radio Dead, set up under the auspices of none other than Steven Joyce and responsible for inflicting Michael Laws and Marcus Lush on a populace who’d done nothing to deserve such torture.

    In fairness, though, I should point out that Lowe also entertained the squawkings of Pam Corkery – hardly a righty by anyone’s standards but certainly capable of vexing vast numbers of people.

    The proprietors seem to equate controversy with listenership with ratings with revenue, overlooking many reaons why that formula is flawed. But they don’t seem to have an overtly political agenda… at least not in radio. If you’re a total knob jockey and only too proud to demonstrate the fact, you’re hired. Of course it helps if you have a “controversial” background (i.e. having been an MP and behaved like a complete ass in that role too).

    I’m tempted to suggest that the reason the lunacy spouted is overwhelmingly of a right wing persuasion is, therefore, simply a function of the relative number of ranting, foaming nutcases on one side of the spectrum vs the other. But then I’d just be stereotyping 😀

  27. Lew 27

    Berry > Sedaka, for reference.

    BLiP: Nice.

    Good to see Colin James isn’t short of people prepared to buy ink on his behalf.


  28. Tim Ellis 28

    It just isn’t true as Janet claims that 95% of the Herald’s columnists are right-wing.

    I don’t think any of the political reporters, including Armstrong and Audrey Young, at the Herald have a strong political bias, one way or another. I think Fran O’Sullivan is business-friendly. Of the regular columnists, Garth George is conservative, but Brian Rudman and Tapu Misa are both strongly left-wing. Kerre Woodham used to be liberal and left-wing, but she pulls out some conservative columns nowadays. Wendyl Nissen is left-wing and liberal, but she doesn’t really write about serious stuff.

  29. Lew 29

    Tim: MSM bad. Don’t you get it?


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