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Journos on the declining state of journalism

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, April 15th, 2010 - 17 comments
Categories: Media - Tags: , ,

A mate sent me this screen grab: “Gov-Gen to attend PM’s funeral”.

To me, it says a hell of a lot about the state of the media in this country that a sub-editor, or whoever they have writing headlines these days, does not know the difference between a president and a prime minister, and that no-one else at Stuff spotted the mistake before it went up.

It reminded me of the very good segment in Mediawatch last Sunday about the media’s coverage of non-stories like Andrew Williams’ drink and Charles Chauvel’s comments on the plane.

While it was a pity no-one in the segment made the connection between the side of the spectrum being attacked with these stories and their obvious source, Mediawatch took a good look at the issue of what’s going on in the media that these stories are being picked up. They interviewed several major journos, starting with Colin Espiner who wrote a blog post the other day attacking this decline in journalism.

In the interview, Espiner said there had been times that press gallery staff had chosen not to run stories that they knew their news editors would want to run if they knew about them. Espiner didn’t really offer an explanation for the growing prominence of these stories. But I think that we got the reason a little while later in the piece when Duncan Garner talked about how he is having to produce more and more material, and make more and more appearances.

They’re understaffed and they’re under intense pressure to produce more. The result is the ‘easy’ stories, often coming from some mud-throwing blog, get picked up and more and more material is being produced by generalist reporters who don’t know their arse from their elbow when it comes to politics.

Espiner talked about this last factor and the importance of getting experienced press gallery journos up to cover the Auckland mayoralty. I think his belief that the press gallery won’t get taken in by all the mud-slinging from the various candidates is a bit on the optimistic side though.

I don’t think that political news coverage is getting more sensationalist and more vacuous because the public wants it that way. One only need look at the slamming readers gave the Herald and Stuff in their online comments for covering the Chauvel ‘story’ to see that we don’t want politics reduced to gossip column pap. The problem is the media, not the audience.

And it’s not just limited to politics. Another mate sent me this story on exo-planets. He was simply astounded by the sentence “The planets are revolving around nearby stars within 1,000 light years of our galaxy.” The agency journo, who one would expect is in their science team, doesn’t know the difference between a solar system and a galaxy. I guess it’s a bit like a journo writing political pieces not knowing the difference between a prime minister and a president.

17 comments on “Journos on the declining state of journalism ”

  1. Bored 1

    “Gov-Gen to attend PM’s funeral’. heres hoping (not very charitably).

  2. Bored 2

    “Gov-Gen to attend PM’s funeral’. Heres hoping (not very charitably).

    Capcha Die

  3. tc 3

    Espiner came across as the hypocrite he is on Mediawatch and it was a bit like getting the dunce class to set their own exam questions.

    IMHO the benchmark is mediawatch with the intelligence and even handed approach required to lay bare the lack of intelligence/experience/objectivity in our msm.

    A piece they did awhile back (after the GFC imploded) on journo’s undergoing financial training so they could report such issues with a bit more depth then what the finance companies/banks etc would like was a classic…..the horse was already long gone and the recent ACC no-crises shows the ankle deep nature of the investigative pool didn’t get any deeper.

  4. prism 4

    “doesn’t know the difference between a solar system and a galaxy. I guess it’s a bit like a journo writing political pieces not knowing the difference between a prime minister and a president.”
    Don’t think these two compare. Knowing how the rest of our human world functions and who’s who, is for me far more important than titbits about the wonders and science of space. We need to be aware of looming problems there but otherwise I say, let space get on doing what its doing, and let’s attend to what’s going on under our noses on this planet which we just might be able to do something about if we all pull together. Watch the blue ball man, watch the ball!

    • Bright Red 4.1

      maybe, prism.

      But in terms of journalistic professionalism I would agree with Eddie – a journo writing a piece on astronomic discoveries should have, at the very least, a typical person’s knowledge of the topic. I would have assumed the ordinary person knows enough about astronomy to at least to not confuse a solar system and a galaxy.

      Ideally, you want journos to be expects in the field they’re writing in

      • Ideally, yes, they should be experts. But there are simply too few journos left for that to happen. The days when a reporter had a beat (crime, council, health etc.) are long gone. The few staff left are expected to be generalists. They have no time to learn specific areas, nor to generate stories by investigative work. They certainly have to be good at rewriting press releases, but sadly, newspapers no longer want or need good journalism, because there is no public demand for it..

  5. uke 5

    In some ways, though, with their rampant right-wing politics, tabloid values and sloppy reporting, the mainstream print and TV media can be more easily identified as “the enemy”. Better to have fewer illusions.

    After all, there is Scoop and all the other “alt” media to give us direct information in the form of press releases and investigative pieces.

    RNZ is still okay too, but does anybody find it strange that economists from Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch are still being consulted on air for the business reports?

    • Lew 5.1

      You find it strange that experts on the markets are being consulted on the state of markets?


      • uke 5.1.1

        Strange, yes, in that they represent the sector and received “expertise” that has signally contributed to the global financial collapsing. I would have thought some balancing might be in order in who defines our economic “realities”, though admittedly I’m not sure who these alternative experts might be…

  6. Herodotus 6

    Why should political journos be any different to say sports journos. They feeb the plebs what we are conditioned to need/want/desire !!!
    If you cannot get the story to fit a 30 sec gap then it is too complictaed, look at the 7:00 fillins on TV 1 & 3. They are all fulffys, so too are the mags.
    As a very sad item (And I am one who must own up in searching Tigger) Tigers actions. That grabbed headlines all over the world for how long? The Masters was all about him until someone else won, then Phil had a “nice” (I reluctantly use this word as I can fin d no other so I hope this will not cause offense) story.
    The media is ALL entertainment a replacement for the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum, all we have replaced is the death element.
    Why would the media outlets change? Look at TV 1 there are 3 segments for the weather and 1/4 for sport does that not tell you!!
    Just Smile and wave to success.

    • uke 6.1

      “a replacement for the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum, all we have replaced is the death element.”

      Are you kidding? The death element is still there in spades, just fuzzed out slightly (for the advertisers sake): Iraq, Afghanistan, natural disasters, people starving to death, car crashes, plane crashes, luge crashes, dog attacks… All televised spectacles that are broadcast to cater to the morbid curiosity of the viewer.

      We are still thoroughly sick in the mem-brain, perhaps more than the Romans ever were. After all, they didn’t frame their cruel spectacles with the likes of Simon Dallow getting all furrowed-browed and emotionally wounded-looking.

  7. Rex Widerstrom 7

    Aside from lack of depth of knowledge, a number of journos (even some of the senior ones whose lack we’re lamenting) fall prey to something approaching fandom.

    Paul Holmes and his excreable “I had dinner with Helen and Peter” pieces, for instance. Barry Soper and his endless “…this one time, with Winston…” stories, told to anyone not fleet footed enough to make a mistake. And I still remember bemusement turning to shock and then to disgust as I was talking to a former very senior journalist who took a mobile call from Helen Clark and gave every appearance of needing the smelling salts (and certainly of being desperate to let me know that, wow, the PM had personally called her and they were like, BFFs).

    I’m sure the same is true of some journos and Key (and other prominent political figures) now… I’m just not close enough to observe it any more.

    My point isn’t that there’s some leftist media conspiracy going on, it’s that too many journalists are too easily taken in by being favoured and confided in (but really not to any significant degree) by the famous and powerful.

    We need more (and more editors) who realise that politicians – especially in NZ – are nothing but glorified school teachers, farmers, suburban lawyers, money traders and the like… the kind of people who, if we met them in a bar, we’d excuse ourselves and sneak out the back rather than be bored by them.

    • Galeandra 7.1

      Why are you like so many others, a schoolteacherist? Robert Jones made much of our third sexdom, but I can attest that we no longer wear grey shoes and I shaved the mo in ’92.

  8. bobo 8


    More poorly written dribble about “Keys North American Successes” all he did was have dinner with some congressmen, as if he would have any influence over them as the article tries to overplay.

  9. Puddleglum 9

    Nick Davies’ book “Flat Earth News’ is a pretty good analysis of what’s wrong and why with the modern media – fewer journalists, more stories, fewer sources, reliance on the ‘wires’ (who themselves have fewer journalists), ‘grocers’ in charge, PR packaged news and pseudo-events to make it easy for journalists to come up with the number of stories they’re required to file, no checking, commercial logic, CIA run newspapers, etc., etc. – all prime compost for the status quo/elite versions of events. A mess, but not a random mess.

    In similar vein, Sharon Beder’s scholarly book on the US power industry (Power Play: The fight for control of the world’s electricity) is a revealing history of how utilities companies actively set about a scare-mongering propaganda programme before the Second World War to avert the possible nationalisation/public ownership of the energy industry. The secret campaign included planting thousands of unacknowledged editorials in US papers and the more direct planting of paid operatives in public meetings decrying the dread socialist/communist threat behind such proposals (this, a long time prior to McCarthy), It was that campaign that was seminal in creating the modern American mythical aversion to so-called ‘un-American’ socialism. Prior to that, it was seen as American as apple pie – or at least as a viable option. (see http://www.uow.edu.au/~sharonb/power.html) – sorry, I’ll find out how to do a link.

    All told, an incredibly depressing picture.

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