I was just reading a post by Bryan Gould, ex-politician and ex-university vice-chancellor on his current perspective on news media in “The Government v. the people“. It resonated because frankly the news and opinion media are getting increasingly tedious.
We can all agree that a free press (and free media more generally) are important factors in a well-functioning democracy. But I am beginning to wonder if they provide us with an unalloyed benefit.
I am an avid consumer of daily news – whether delivered by the press or by the broadcast media. And I have begun to notice what seems to be an increasing trend. What is regarded as “news” seems increasingly to fall within a particular category.
Most news bulletins these days seem to comprise items of one particular kind. It seems that any individual or organisation can guarantee coverage as an item of “news” if they make a complaint – any complaint – to the effect that “the government” has somehow failed – has somehow done something that it should’t have, or has not done what it should have, or has acted, but “too little, too late”, or has listened to the wrong people, or has spent too little or too much, or has displeased them in some way.
Complaints about the government seem to be manna from heaven to the news reporters. They require very little work – that can be left to, and has presumably already been done by, the complainant. All that is necessary is to offer the complainant a platform and – hey presto! – you have a news story.
And there is always the even more welcome opportunity to put a government spokesperson on the spot, and to require them – whether or not the complaint has any substance – to account for themselves.
I should make it clear that, although I am a supporter of the present government, the trend seems to have established itself over recent years, whatever colour the government of the day might be.
This is exactly the case for what passes as for most of our written local political news and even in large chunks of our ‘business’ news.
I can’t say much about other NZ media apart from text online sites. I don’t watch broadcast news any more. It is simply too shallow, too slow, and a waste of my time. Radio isn’t much better except on the odd occasions when you get a skilled interviewer asking intelligent well-informed questions of someone interesting. Since you never know when this is on, I usually listen after the fact by picking up a link in a comment or post by someone who I know has good instincts. Usually on headphones when I’m on the bike on even in the car and I can find the stream.
The kind of critical bitching the Bryan is describing is just tedious. Especially when the critics do what critics do. They can criticise, but seldom, if ever, offer a alternate viable solution. Usually they’re notable for saying what is wrong with whatever, bringing nothing to the table of debate, and being about as thin skinned as it is possible to be when criticised themselves. They frequently bring some appalling self-entitled personality traits and slaver over their heros with similar traits.
You only have to look at the perennial critic Mike Hosking for the epitome of that. In my opinion, as well as having an simpleton’s view of what politics and business is about, he appears to alternate between being a metaphorical brown-nosing arselicker with someone that he likes (eg John Key or Stuart Nash), and obviously misogynist neanderthal trying to dominate with self-obsessed nonsense with every women that he disagrees with. All in all a pointless waste of time as a journalist or even as an opinion-writer. Like a number of others, he is a unproductive and pretty useless parasite in the dialogue that is our society.
When you compare him and his ilk with journalists like Rod Stock, Jenny Ruth, Jamie Morton, Andrea Vance and even the sometimes slightly odious but interestingly slanted Henry Cooke (and many more), personally I wonder at why in the hell they’re in media. I can only guess that it is for their entertainment value?
Back to Bryan Gould…
But, you might say, isn’t that the role of the news media, to hold those who govern us to account?
Yes, of course, but if it becomes the mainstay and staple diet of the news media, it can deliver an unwelcome injury to our democracy and convey a mischievous, damaging and inaccurate picture of its operation .
It can offer, all too easily, a view of public affairs as, essentially, “the people” against, and the victims of, “the government” – and that would do no one any good. The proper functioning of democratic government is subject to quite enough challenges, not least from the social media, without concocting a false dichotomy between the popular will and the functions of government.
The USA offers us an uncomfortable picture and warning of what happens when large numbers lose confidence, not just in a particular government, but in the whole concept of government in general.
Indeed. I’d like to think that over the 13 years and 8 months this site has been running while we don’t mind kicking the shit out of whoever is in the current government and opposition, most of the authors posts have also spent time saying how they think whatever they’re criticising could and should be changed to.
With the news media, it is a little different. They tend to be more thin-skinned and don’t seem to take criticism very well. There were some notable exceptions especially after some realised just how much they were being used, manipulated and scammed by Cameron Slater and his offsiders.
But realistically the most effective signal to media seems to be to just walk away from crap media. I decided years ago that I didn’t like time wasting advertisements and restrictive licensing. Because I had the resources to do it, I walked away to having a thick data pipe and large storage. These days the storage is quiescent and I pay for a wide range of streamed media.
Increasingly, I’m doing the same with news media. I don’t use facebook or twitter much. But I pay for decent quality streams of news. The price of the donations and even the paywalls is still steadily falling, and increasingly the costs of production of providing a media stream are falling as well. I still have no idea where the balance point is. But selection of news media by the technically savvy is now becoming more normal, as their usage or lousy curated tools like facebook and twitter diminishes. I’d expect that trend will feed out into the rest of the world over time.
For peoples interest and to explain from where I’m talking, the image below is my phones news folder. I read most of these each morning in bed after waking and before coffee. Then each evening before dozing off. Sometimes I even read it during the day – especially during long tedious compiles of linux disk images and the like.
I have subscriptions to the pay walled items in here. It is a moving feast because when I don’t like something, I stop the subscription and throw the link away. This gets shuffled periodically according to the value I find from the link and is slanted towards the early morning read . It is roughly in the order of essential to not-completely-useless.
For NZ news I’m pretty much orientated towards long-term politics (who really gives a stuff about the daily beltway gossip?), business, actual legislation (mostly I read the parliamentary notification emails), and the other more serious structural issues. I read world news first in the morning and then skip world news in the local media.
When you look at NZ sites these days for me with my politics and business focus, it is BusinessDesk for detailed in-depth on the things I like to know about, Stuff for straight news across the country, RNZ for more in-depth on specific topics.
The NZ Herald is rapidly trending towards useless – primarily because of a preponderance of the kind of clip-the-ticket criticism for column lines articles that Gould described. Promotional waffle from the property market, and stupid puff pieces about sport and TV shows that I never watch really don’t do much for me and wading through it on a phone is tedious.
I’d have dumped the Herald already if it wasn’t NZ news. Most of the ‘political’ news, opinions and commentary is just the kind of repetitive whining that Bryan Gould is referring to. Much of which when you walk back a couple of months was complete trash in the light of subsequent events. Their campaigns for open up the borders rapidly switching into close the borders to complaints about the borders is about as useful as a ditherer trying to decide on a business plan.
As it is, I have to drop straight into the business news to get realistic political information. You really notice the difference when the best main articles in the NZ Herald are from other offshore news papers – and where I have already read those usually in the original site. The difference between Stuff and the Herald – at least Stuff has the regional news that gives a broader picture than just the conservative middle class in Auckland.
Poilitik is more of an occasional publisher as is The Standard. I apologise to my fellow authors here, but I have to say that I often read The Standard in the morning simply to get the updated RSS feed on other sites and blogs. Like me, I suspect that most of the authors have a lack of time coupled with a writers fatigue. I get paid for writing verifiable code, not for blathering on in something as imprecise as English. All our authors have other priorities.
Newshub fell off my list a long time ago as a useless mainly trivia site. It is almost an exemplar of the simple critic of government site and seems to display the same moral and legal standards as talk back radio. The Spinoff specialises in a shallow inconsistency and appears to mainly about a something or another cultural element that I have never seen nor done – with just a few excellent pieces that someone will .
Someday I must have another look around. A possible guide is the News Publishers’ Association awards just published in the last couple of days.