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