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Thoughts arising from the press gallery drinks

Written By: - Date published: 10:14 am, December 19th, 2008 - 45 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, Media - Tags:

journalist.jpgI had some good conversations with journos at the press gallery drinks. We’re often critical of the media, and sometimes specific journos, and I don’t resile from that – criticism is criticism, it’s either well-founded or not and people are free to take it or leave it based on that. I’ll admit sometimes writers express themselves a bit strongly but these posts are usually bashed out in a few minutes, often early in the morning, so they sometimes lack subtlety. But it was good to have the opportunity to talk with journos about that and other issues. It’s nice to find that so many are regular readers. Even one who said he gets back at us for being rude about him a couple of times by not reading showed he had a remarkably detailed knowledge of what we are writing for a non-reader.

But the most interesting topic was the honeymoon. Whether they thought it was over or not (most thought it was had been squandered by Nat/ACT), journos were adamant that the honeymoon is with the public, not themselves. And you can see why they must think that if the myth of objective journalism is to be preserved – they’re merely transmitting information, informing the public of facts, they’re not political actors and, so, they can’t have the willful blindness that ‘honeymoon’ implies.

But the fact is it is in the media that the political discourse is framed and reproduced. The journos I talked to were willing to concede that but argued if they couldn’t produce work at odds with the public perception, the public would pull them into line with its thinking. OK, if we accept that, how do journos know what the public is thinking? Well, I was told, the journos talked to people at events like this (yeah, I’m not sure a couple of hundred drunk politicos and journos at an event at Parliament is really representative of the wider public, either) and they get emails and phone calls went they write something that’s a bit off. Hmm. Seems to me that the ‘feedback’ from the ‘public’ that the journos are getting is actually mostly from the political elite and a handful of cranks.

My instinct, too, would be that the political views from those sources don’t change over time, but journos’ interpretation of them might. Basically, there’s an echo chamber masked by a fiction of journalistic objectivity and public feedback. Look, we get over 200 comments a day every day from across the spectrum of political views but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are representative of the wider public’s opinion on anything – the sample is highly self-selecting and far too small. And most journos have far less ‘public’ feedback than we do.

freedom_ot_press_01.jpgThe truth is this: the political class, of which the journos are one of the more powerful sections, creates the political discourse and transmits it to the wider public, not the other way around. Most members of the public are more or less passive recipients of this information. Some reflexively reject it, most automatically accept it. The media frames the debate and few of us look beyond, or are even aware of, that framing. This is, of course, accentuated when the media tells people what everyone else thinks (how many TV articles have you seen where the anchor asks the reporter ‘what will the public make of this latest development?’ and the reporter responds authoritatively on the public’s view, even though this very article is the first time most people are learning of the issue?).

I’m not saying the media is consciously engaged in these fictions. In fact, what surprised me was how unconscious it is. I’m just saying let’s stop pretending.

The other lesson from the press gallery drinks is one I’m surprised anyone had to learn since it’s rule #1 of politics: don’t come between journos and their booze. It’s like trying to take a cub away from a mother bear.

45 comments on “Thoughts arising from the press gallery drinks ”

  1. haggis 1

    I have a thought re press gallery drinks:
    If your rule #1 is correct, your lapdog blogger & alleged thief smith is stuffed, and by association your site will not be viewed with such rose tinted glasses by your journo mates.

    [Aiden Smith has nothing to do with this site. My name is Clinton Smith. Spot the difference? SP]

  2. dave 2

    Seems to me that the ‘feedback’ from the ‘public’ that the journos are getting is actually mostly from the political elite and a handful of cranks.

    As someone who has reported on three elections as a journalist, I know you’re way off the mark and feedback is much broader than you think.

  3. I got a call from the Herald’s Patrick Gower yesterday afternoon about that. He starts off with ‘you any relation to this Aiden Smith guy?’. No, Paddy, lot of Smiths out there. But then he asked the same about Lockwood Smith and Nick Smith when their secret tapes came out, so I guess he was just winding me up again.

  4. dave. you’re welcome to supply more detail and I’m more than happy to change my opinion.

    But I find it hard to believe that any journo can accurately lay claim to a knowledge of what the public thinks, especially on something like the honeymoon, without proper polling data. And, even then, I would argue that expectations of a honeymoon are generated from the political class and transmitted to the wider public, not the other way round.

  5. George 5

    What about all those rogue polls that we witnessed end on end for two years? they surely wouldn’t give you any idea of public opinion.

    [there haven’t been any public polls since the election. And I’m talking about the coverage of issues, not the general trend of polling data. You rarely see journos wait until appropriate polls are out before telling us what the public thinks about an issue or what the voting ramifications are. SP]

  6. haggis 6

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious SP.
    The name of this site is the STANDARD, what standards are you teaching your young followers, if your own labour people such as Aiden Smith have such low ones
    Your labour staffer figured it was OK to flog the grog.
    Still as has been posted elsewhere on the blogosphere today, Aiden Smith is just acting as monkey see monkey do, he has been brainwashed from a young age that stealing from those with, is OK.
    9 years ago he looks like he was about 13-14, impressionable & formative years those, taking in the lessons of the left.
    I see he is still at work for his labour masters, if he worked in my company he would at the very least be suspended without pay pending police inquiries, whats up with that?

    • haggis. stop being a troll or you’ll get the troll treatment.

      This “The name of this site is the STANDARD, what standards are you teaching your young followers, if your own labour people such as Aiden Smith have such low ones”
      has got to be the longest drawn bow since the Hundred Years’ War

  7. Tane 7

    haggis, we’re not responsible for the behaviour of a bunch of parliamentary staffers working for a party half of the writers on this site didn’t even vote for. If you’ve got an issue with their behaviour take it up with Phil Goff.

  8. toad 8

    SP said: there haven’t been any public polls since the election.

    Actually, there has been one – this one.

    • right you are toad. Hmm. Still got the Greens touching 10%. Where are all those people come polling day? Combined Lab/Green and Nat/ACT is in line with the election result.

  9. don’t come between journos and their booze. It’s like trying to take a cub away from a mother bear.

    Stick to taking candy off babies.

  10. George 10

    Polls a poll though isn’t it steve, specially when it covers general issues. this may mean that dave isn’t talking from the place covered by what Dr. Cullen has his latest thesis about.

  11. Tane 11

    George, I think SP was referring specifically to instances where a journalist confidently announces the public will react a certain way to a particular policy or government initiative when they couldn’t possibly know.

  12. insider 12

    “Seems to me that the ‘feedback’ from the ‘public’ that the journos are getting is actually mostly from the political elite and a handful of cranks.”

    Ok which one do you fall into? 🙂

  13. randal 13

    SP you make it sound as if the “JOURNOS” had a frre hand to write what they want.
    unfortunately the “BOSSO”S” who own the means of production tell the JOURNOS what to write and decide what they will print in THEIR newspaper.
    all the rest is a crock of beltway shite SP and you know it and making nice by pretending familiarity i.e. “JOURNOS” will not disguise that they are the running dogs of capitalism who will do anything to further the interests of their masters and if they are lucky get them a job on tv so the rest of the country will know who they are and lick their bums forever

  14. Pascal's bookie 14

    Has that John Key sorted out those boy racers yet for ya randal?

  15. Chris G 15

    An interesting post, SP. Having little knowledge of journos except through a friend who is at the school in Chch (heard some stories) I found this an interesting read indeed.

  16. Dom 16

    Clearly I’m missing necessary inside information because half these posts make NO sense to me. I also found this an interesting read – thanks Steve.

  17. Tane 17

    Dom, some Labour staffers allegedly stole a whole bunch of wine at the end of the press gallery party. The usual right-wing trolls are accusing The Standard’s authors of having something to do with it. They’re so predictable it’s just depressing.

    I’ve deleted the most blatant accusations because frankly I don’t see why we should tolerate that kind of shit on our blog.

  18. Daveski 18

    An interesting topic indeed SP

    For starters, to attribute the actions of one person to a larger group is dangerous at best – you can’t blame Labour politicians or the party for the stupidity of one or two people.

    Beyond that, the public rarely speak with a collective voice so who knows what the public thinks? Having said that, there would appear to be metrics eg audiences, sales that indicate what target audiences think.

    There’s a tendency here to paint the honeymoon as yet another right-wing or MSM conspiracy. It happens with every change of government and this year the proximity to Xmas means that I suspect attention is else where for the moment.

    I suspect things will change in the New Year and any mistakes or unpopular actions by the Govt will be treated less charitably/

  19. Just regarding that last line of yours regarding the alcohol theft.

    Of course we’re annoyed. Had it been just a couple of bottles then it wouldn’t have been so much of a big deal. But the amount they removed, and the manner in which it was done, is not on.

    They were welcome to drink as much free grog as they liked at the event – that’s what it was there for. But to steal from your hosts is very bad form. More so in Parliament where trust is an important issue. Do you think I, or my colleagues, would ever trust these individuals again?

    We’ve always been very open about who can attend the party. Basically if you work in the precinct you’re welcome to come along and share a beer with us. It’d be deeply disappointing if we now had to change the rules and have to restrict invites because of the actions of these people.

  20. Odd that with all those security guards around it was down to Vernon Small to spot the criminals . . .

  21. higherstandard 21

    The security guards were with me searching through the Green’s offices.

  22. Bill 22

    If journalists weren’t lap dogs, they’d have no corporate lap to sit on; no promontory to yap from.

    Reality. Journalism is fluffy pampered annoyances yapping:- ” Listen to me! Listen to me! My masters voice! My masters voice!”

    The never ending honeymoon is for loyal and grateful journalists who do nothing other than roll over for a good tummy rub and a pat. They know damned fine well which side the bread is buttered on. Happy journo poochies.

  23. ghostwhowalks 23

    It seemed that Paula Oliver had nationals honeymoon starting back when she started in the gallery.

    The ‘marriage’ was well and truly consummated after the election and now her full time job is to stop critical articles being written by her mates

  24. Kerry 24

    For gods sake…..yes ya booze was stolen…terrible, but who cares!

  25. Quoth the Raven 25

    Free gnats water (wine) gets taken. That’s theft how? You didn’t tell them how much they could have.
    SP – Was Colin Espiner drinking paper at this event?

  26. Good comment felix – ripping off your host is always poor form, but in a society suffering from Entitleitis, it seems to be on the spread. However this seems to have been more than the opportunistic flogging of a HANZ glass in a handbag; maybe it was a “game” that went wrong; maybe it was a systematic attempt to ensure that the Gallery didn’t have leftovers. Whatever, there will be consequences – a word that Entitleitis sufferers hate with a vengeance!

  27. lprent 27

    You’re not kidding about having to not get between journo’s and the booze. I’ve been periphially aware of this because of the organisation of the election night do for Mt Albert for the last 5 elections. It always comes up during planning and always takes too long in a meeting.

    Actually the problem usually isn’t the journo’s. They have to stay reasonably sober. The spear carriers are pretty hard to stop. 
  28. sweetd 28

    What is a spear carrier?

  29. sweetd. I would think he’s referring to the foot-soldiers, you know, the ones who don’t do the organisational side but the ground work – leaflets, protests etc etc

  30. sweetd 30

    SP, thanks, makes perfect sense now.

  31. giggles 31

    Have I got this right? All journo’s are wankers unless they agree with your lines? Theft is OK because it was the journo’s plonk that was knicked? [no, you haven’t got any of that right. Journos are not wankers, in the main. I’m discussing a phenomeon that occurs towards any new government, regardless of hue. And you should re-read what we’ve written on the wine thing. SP]

    You’re still scratching your heads about why you lost the election and trying to pin it on the “time for a change” line.

    Arrogance you muppets, that’s what cost you but you continue to ignore the lesson.

  32. Ianmac 32

    Its all in the phrasing. Fact: “car crashes into pole.”
    1. Driver looses control on slippery road and crashes into pole.
    2. Driver looses control when speeding on slippery road.
    3. Driver carelessness looses control of car and hits pole.
    4. Pursued driver desperate to escape crashes car into pole.
    5. Badly placed pole snares honest National MP as he drives carefully to avoid little boy playing with kitten on the road.
    6. Alcohol and speed may be factor when Labour MP attacks innocent pole.
    Factually correct in car crash, but the way Guyon or Duncan phrases directs my response. (Should’ve walked silly old fart!)

  33. LAX 33

    One question I do have about this site, is a “troll” anybody who dares to criticise Labour or go against the opinion of the authors?

    If this is the case (and it looks like it is) would you not be better advised to make that clear to those who wish to debate an issue?

    Banning those who do not share your somewhat biased views just makes a potentially good site look silly, while you may not like what others have to say you would be foolish not to let them put across their views.

    [lprent: Read the Policy. Generally we don’t care what your opinions are. What we care about is that you’re able to express them. This is private property, so we can exclude who we feel like, but we’d really prefer not to.

    Now my perspective. Effectively we are running a Darwinian selection process for commentators on this site, with the rejects left to find their own place in other blogosphere comment areas (KiwiBlog, NoMinister, etc) while they train themselves up to an acceptable level.

    Remember that the majority of the commentators on this site have been around a long time on the net. In my case from before the net was the net as I started in 1979. We don’t expect that everyone will be up to the standard, but we do expect that people will make the effort.

    Running a standard lines without an argument (that we’ve heard a couple of hundred times before) will usually get you banned eventually. These drone trolls are perfectly capable of being emulated with a program running random access on a phrase book.

    Running a comments campaign designed to do nothing but provoke or maintain a flame war will get you a pre-emptive ban. This usually takes the form of making statements that are blatantly untrue, usually about events or urban myths or other commentators, and are just designed to get people here angry. If they are accompanied with an argument, they will often get passed through. If not then you’re clean out of luck.

    Running a standard bigotry maintained by nothing but faith, and being unable to discuss it rationally with people of different views will usually get an immediate ban. These include the faiths of sexism, racial bigotry, homophobia, etc

    Insulting the moderators or posters without a point is likely to get you a ban. Insulting the sysop is of course just a self-inflicted martyrdom, as is attacking the posters or moderators if I see you before a moderator does.

    What gets you kudos on the site to do any of the above is a prior willingness to interact, engage, and generally contribute to the discussion. Then you’ll get warnings until we get annoyed.

    Of course sometime you could have the bad luck to make a comment that irritates a moderator after a pile of trolls have been through. The moderators tend to act preemptively and without remorse. Then you’re just clean out of luck, so it usually pays to assess what the ‘mood’ on the site is (which is good practice for any site anyway).

    The effect of these practices, plus our posters good work has been sufficient to keep this site continuously growing – so the winnowing is obviously working. So when we see people saying that the moderation is driving people off the site – we and most of the commentators heave a sigh of relief – less idiots and more discussion.

    Does that answer your question? ]

  34. the sprout 34

    “I’m not saying the media is consciously engaged in these fictions. In fact, what surprised me was how unconscious it is. I’m just saying let’s stop pretending.”

    amen to that SP. nice article, well put.
    keep up the great work.

  35. the bean 35

    that is your best one so far Lynn!

  36. Rex Widerstrom 36

    randal suggests:

    pretending familiarity i.e. “JOURNOS’ will not disguise that they are the running dogs of capitalism

    Try as I might I can’t imagine Barry Soper, Sean Plunkett, the Espiner lads et al actually running after something.

    Sleeping most of the day and getting up to widdle incontinently on the rug before you can get to the door and let them out, perhaps…


    [captcha: enhance perform. Have the Viagra marketers infiltrated it?!]

  37. dave 37

    And most journos have far less ‘public’ feedback than we do.

    I assume you are talking about comments on this site, much of which are idiocy – randal is a good example. Also a lot of it is not feedback, but comments and notes from the Standard bloggers – a bit like journalists writing letters to the editor on their colleagues stories, and publicly banning contributions of letter writers they don’t agree with.

    I think SP was referring specifically to instances where a journalist confidently announces the public will react a certain way to a particular policy or government initiative when they couldn’t possibly know.

    Journos don’t do that, Tane, they write stories. Journos don’t confidently announce anything – just like they don’t confidently quote interview subjects without talking to them.

    [Tane: Dave, you should watch and read more political journalists. Also, your pettiness and bitterness are becoming more apparent with each comment. I feel sorry for you bro.]

  38. Westminster 38

    Yawn! The world economy is in crisis; all the local key indicators are turning south real quick; people’s livelihoods, homes and happiness look seriously under threat and people are talking about a bunch of stupid larrikins nicking booze of a sozzled press corps. WHO THE FUCK CARES! I don’t. Focus on the issues folks. The government needs a plan to manage this country through the unfolding crisis and it needs it now. Trying to score points off Labour’s defeated hide is just trivial nonsense. The only people who take this crap seriously are a few journos who feel jacked by a bunch of kids and the Kiwiblog Right. Move on. Don’t indulge this crap any further.

  39. J 39

    “Trying to score points off Labour’s defeated hide is just trivial nonsense.”

    But it does prove that their dishonesty does run deep.

    From concealing ACC funding holes (as unimportant) to stealing the common theme is dishonest behaviour.

    No wonder you want the focus shifted.

  40. Dean 40


    Yes, yes. We all get that you’ve been on the internet for a very long time. That’s marvellous. However I think you ought to rethink the self-proclaimed title of “sysop” – this was what people who ran BBSes called themselves, and I think you would probably remember what happened to them.

    “Now my perspective. Effectively we are running a Darwinian selection process for commentators on this site, with the rejects left to find their own place in other blogosphere comment areas (KiwiBlog, NoMinister, etc) while they train themselves up to an acceptable level.”

    You’re so much better than the kiwiblog right, lprent? You’re on some sort of moral crusade, to be sure, but I think you’ve got the blinkers on just a little. While kiwiblog is a cesspit in the comments, you do have your own fair share that are let through. For you to embark on some Darwinian culling of commenters would mean you’d have to be fair and equitable – and let’s face it, there’s a fair few of the rabid left that do absolutely nothing apart from resemble an echo chamber here.

    “Running a standard bigotry maintained by nothing but faith, and being unable to discuss it rationally with people of different views will usually get an immediate ban. These include the faiths of sexism, racial bigotry, homophobia, etc”

    Does that include the time IB called craig ranapia an uncle tom?

    Honestly. If you think this site is better then you’re wrong. It’s not. It’s just different.

  41. Carol 41

    The journo’s point about not being able to print stuff at odds with public perception/opinion is the main debatable point IMO.

    This sounds like they have surrundered their role as 4th estate. They maybe shouldn’t print stuff that is framed in ways in that is beyond public comprehension. But that’s not the same as pandering to public opinion (or at least the journos’ perception of public opinion). But they should be publishing content that enables the public to consider the news and current events in a fairly open, multi-sided and critical way.

    But the journos point seems to indicate they’ve surrenderd to commercial imperatives.

    If public opinion is not based on relatively full awareness of a range of relevant facts and arguments, or glosses over competing versions of the truth, then the dominant public opinions could be just based on a web of distortions and misinformation. If the news media pander to these views and don’t aim to enlighten the public a little more on the differing versions of the issues and weakness of lines of argument, by proviing some in-depth critique and genuine diversity of argiments, then they are in danger of just re-cycling mis-information.

    If the news organisations weren’t so concerned about ratings, sales and advertising revenue, maybe they could get back to the idea of the importance of their role of fostering public debate and critique, which is necessary for democracy to thrive.

  42. lprent 42

    Dean: This is a labour movement blog. That means it is a target for just about every right wing troll. Let me give you my perspective on them and some perspective on why I view them a particular way.

    I’ve been been working for or running businesses my entire working life, in fact the months I’ve worked directly or indirectly for the government can be counted on one hand. I grew up in Auckland and largely worked there apart from a few years sticking my nose into businesses in Otago. I’ve also lived in Hamilton, Marton, and Dunedin. I’ve spent a year working on farms, sheep and dairy. I’ve spent time in the territorials. I’ve worked on factory floors with largely polynesian workforces, worked in programming teams with largely asian or south africian immigrants, worked in management with high proportions of english immigrants, worked on farms with multi-generational farmers, etc. Then of course there is the political stuff which has its own fauna.

    Suffice it to say that I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with people inside a wide range of companies, organizations and groups. While I generally prefer to deal with systems and operations, I also deal with a lot of people while I’m moving the system around with management or code skills. It doesn’t matter how good an individual is at what they do, they have to work with other people to get anything significiant done.

    My general opinion of wingnuts is that most are the whingers who think that everything is someone elses fault. I’ve met them my entire life and they’re generally pretty useless for doing anything productive in groups. However good they are in their own skills, they are unable to work easily with others, because they will drag the chain. Often they don’t realize that they are because they will usually only criticize others and never look at their own flaws..

    For instance I’ve seen many entrepreneurs who repeatably can’t grow their business because it would involve trusting other people, or spending time developing the systems or training to allow people of lesser skills to take over parts of their operations. This of course is not their fault, most other people are slackers. Yeah right! Their own management or people skills are the issue, and their inability to recognize their onw weaknesses is the problem.

    I recognize them in the workplace and I recognize them here – mostly because they are unable to contribute in any meaningful way. Their purposes for coming into the site is to try to tear it down or whinge about other ‘groups’, because that is generally what they do everywhere. Neither is particularly productive for the people here who do work with others. So we exclude them because they don’t contribute and they get in the way.

    Sure we have moonbats here as well. They are less of a problem. Firstly they generally are not trying to attack the site, indeed they often defend it. Secondly they will usually engage with other people, they are not so arrogant as to think that they have the complete solution to everything. Thirdly, they are often quite interesting in their own right for their opinions – it doesn’t sound like it has been culled from listening to talkback radio.

    I’m perfectly happy to judge people against the purposes of this site, and I do so purely on what they say and how they interact with others on the site. I don’t expect people to be saints, I do expect them to be people – not just writing machines held together with sinews of assumptions and presumptions and a phrasebook.

  43. Tane 43

    Dean, your obsession with that completely unremarkable comment from IB is well past boring. What exactly is your problem?

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