In which I get things some off my chest about relations between bloggers and journalists and the coverage of the Labour Party conference

There's a hokey old show tune from Oklahoma called The Farmer and the Cowman. It makes fun of the warring between the different groups settling the new territory and it came to mind when I was reading and thinking about the recent sniping between journalists and bloggers.

The media world this past decade feels like a new territory, with diminishing resources, more pressure to win audiences, the rise of 'free' content on the internet, and more voices competing for attention. Yet those exploring this new landscape, supposedly in the public interest, seem determined to tear each other down with an unthinking lack of respect, self-awareness and manners.

I've not been immune from the odd keyboard-blast. And some of the criticisms I'm about to make I'm sure will not go down well. But as per the rules here at Pundit, I try to play the ball not the man.

As one of the few folk in this country who are paid full-time as a journalist but have also invested my own time and money into blogging, I'm tired of those on both sides of the debate seem to shoot first and ask questions later. I'm tired of how little bloggers know about journalism and vice versa. And I'm tired of the silly commentary that's produced as a result.

The demands of work have left little time for blogging or reading blogs recently. But I read Bryce Edward's latest Politics Daily with some dismay.

It seems the criticism of John Armstrong's work at APEC in Vladivostock and his retort in September, followed by the coverage of the Labour Party conference and the Cunliffe affair is still prompting otherwise sensible people to say preposterous things.

The first point I'd make is that good and intelligent people can hold preposterous views. That's human nature and we could all be a little forgiving of it, given that there's certain to be someone, somewhere who holds our own views to be preposterous.

The second is that this is a debate being had by a small group of people (mostly online) in a small country and so should be kept in perspective.

Where do I come from on this? I sympathise with some of Armstrong's frustration. The New Zealand blogosphere is often distinguised by its bitchiness and disrespect. Armstrong has been a loyal and distinguished servant of journalism for decades and deserves to be viewed in that context.

He described bloggers as parasitical -- hardly a controversial statement. Much blogging is a direct reaction to media stories. Even more posts are contributions to broader debates that stem back to news coverage. Yes, there's always been an parasitical element in the way some media outlets take stories from others and there are bloggers who occasionally break news. But to pretend that blogging is not a broadly parasitical activity is just silly.

On the other hand, it was unfortunate he kicked off at two people I respect - Gordon Campbell, one of the best journalists of his generation, and political scientist Bryce Edwards. They too deserve to be seen in a wider context. His language veered into exactly the "cheap shot" territory he was criticising the blogs for entering. And there are plenty of others blogging in this country more worthy of his barbs.

Armstrong wasn't alone. I've been in debates with Larry Williams on ZB about Keith Ng's story on the privacy breaches at Work & Income. Williams argued that Ng and his sources must have been looking for trouble, when in fact Ng is one of the few bloggers who breaks news and avoids rants. He too deserves to be taken seriously.

So to Labour, Cunliffe and all that. It seems, from Edwards' links, that the "MSM", or mainstream media, has been damned for its woeful coverage, according some on The Standard and Chris Trotter.

And this is where we see otherwise intelligent people getting preposterous

In Edwards' aggregation and the linked-to posts, there's the implication of a battle between the MSM and blogs, or more particularly between the press gallery and political blogs. As someone who contributes to both, there's no contest. Blogs remain the preserve of the few; journalism, despite its shrinking audience, is consumed by many, many more. Whilst blogs have an influence beyond their size and bloggers and their posts are sometimes picked up by other media, bloggers need to accept we work in the margins.

So what about the arguments in these posts?

Trotter, an experienced political analyst who writes from an ideological position, rails against coverage of the Labour conference, as many have in the past few weeks. But the complaints still sound disingenuous to me. As best as I can see, Cunliffe got played, out-manouvered. He had ambitions to challenge for the leadership come February. Rather than waiting like a turkey for Christmas, those opposed to him pre-empted the challenge. When Cunliffe was unwilling to say he'd back his leader in a vote in three months' time, it became a story.

Those backing Cunliffe -- rather than accepting that Shearer's backers did what any political activists would do and that the media followed a perfectly legitimate story (ie Cunliffe's unwillingness to back his leader without question) -- have argued that it's outrageous to expect Cunliffe to say how he'd vote in a secret ballot three months away. It's not. If any politician with open leadership ambitions fails to back his or her leader, it's news. End of. None of the people making that case are so naive as to actually believe it. Presumably they're just stung.

Has the backstory been adequately reported - by journalists or bloggers? No. Many have theories as to who played Cunliffe and what machinations played out, but little has been clearly reported and substantiated.

And yes, I was surprised by much of the coverage of the conference. As I blogged here, I thought Shearer's speech very ordinary and was surprised so many were so positive.

But I don't see conspiracies behind every tree, either. Different journalists have different views from mine, choose different angles and hear from different sources. That doesn't mean they intend to "mislead" the public, as Trotter suggests. No journalist willfully ignores the story. Trotter clearly believes they failed to get to the heart of the matter -- and is unhappy that his man lost. That's fair comment, but to turn that into some larger media failing is to add one and one together and get four.

Trotter rightly says that blogs are typically "a second opinion" for those who seek them. But he then equates blogging with news-gathering, which is comparing, well, farmers with cowboys. It's a rare day that bloggers partake in "the gathering and distribution of news"; they are voices of opinion, analysis and, too often, rant.

Few bloggers attempt to find facts, remove their personal opinions from the story, seek balance and make contact with numerous sources before writing. Most blogs are happily biased. Most journalists do their best to remove as much bias as possible. They're different; farmers and cowboys.

Trotter goes on to make numerous assertions about journalism, and for all his political expertise, I'm left wondering how long it's been since he was in a newsroom.

Trotter says the MSM are showing "alarm" at the rise of blogs. As evidence he offers a discussion on The Nation and "repeated attacks" on bloggers by senior press gallery journalists. He doesn't give any examples of those repeated attacks.

I'd agree that journalists need not fear bloggers, but then I don't know any who do. Beyond that single TV3 panel, Trotter fails to say who these alarmed and "patch-protecting" journalists are (except that there are "so many"). Perhaps he could give some examples.

He notes that the press gallery often hunt as a pack. He's critical of this and I'd agree it creates some problems. But it pre-dates the internet age and sometimes it's the relentless pressure from that pack which breaks a story wide open.

He reckons editors demand the same-old, same-old. Not in my experience. Editors don't like the competition to get a story that isn't in their line-up and may demand a matcher, but they're much more excited by something fresh and breaking.

Such as? Well, a Grant Robertson-led coup plot, for example. Trotter says:

"... it was supporters of Grant Robertson, not Mr Cunliffe, who had been gauging the level of support for a leadership spill in the weeks leading up to the Conference."

He says such reports have been appearing on blogs but not in the MSM. If Robertson has been doing numbers, then it's undoubtedly a failure by the MSM. That's a big story. So where's the evidence? Because have no doubt, if anyone can back up Trotter's claims, the MSM would be all over it. And of course if Trotter can back up that claim, he should.

As it stands, that's exactly this sort of un-sourced commentary that angers REDLOGIX over at The Standard. By his/her standards Trotter should have to reveal all his sources, put any interviews online and give Robertson a right of reply.

While the concern I'm sure is genuine, the suggestions make no sense. Contrary to the goal, REDLOGIX's list of requirements would shut down open debate, take resources from news-gathering and achieve nothing.

While anonymity should only be granted by journalists in exceptional circumstances, to forbid it would be to shut down debate and limit transparency. Politicians just wouldn't leak.

REDLOGIX says:

  • All interviews must be on-the-record. Almost all are. But should a journalist be banned from following a lead gained in more casual conversation?
  • All interviews, it's suggested, should be online. Which would mean newsrooms having to hire transcribers rather than more journalists.
  • All reportage must be fact-checked. If only. The last fact-checkers were being laid off from the Heald when I began there 12 years ago. The few US media who still employ them are the exception. But does that mean they never err? No. Is it reasonable to expect journalists to check their own facts? usually, although a lack of resources and time creates limitations. Are stories still checked? Yes, subs, editors and producers all have such a role.
  • All professional and personal relationships must be declared. In which we move from ignorance to plain silliness. Conflicts of interest should be declared. But every relationship? How far does that go? Is it just for the gallery or for bloggers and those of us outside Wellington who cover politics? Is it family relationships, whether they've played rugby together or does the odd drink count? Should I declare that I once helped Grant Robertson pull a drunk guy out of an NZUSA conference? That Metiria Turei and Gerry Brownlee have both yelled at me? Should Trotter declare every politician he's ever met? And would REDLOGIX him/herself adhere to that?
  • No journalist should be able to spend more than six years or 33% of their career in the gallery. Apart from the obvious nonsense of not being able to know how long a young reporter's career will be, why show such little respect for experience and wisdom? It's silliness piled on silliness.

Of course Trotter and REDLOGIX have every right to critique the media. Just as Armstrong and Williams have the right to be suspicious of bloggers. But it's frustrating when cowboys damn farmers and vice versa with little expertise and less understanding of what those farmers are trying to do. It seems that too often everyone's just looking for a fight.

Both have failings, but neither should be condemned. Journalists shouldn't expect a free ride of course, but it's a tough business and it's getting tougher. Blogging too is finding its feet and exploring its potential. So misguided criticism from either side seems unhelpful. But let's be honest, it's most often bloggers complaining about the 'MSM', usually with little insight or understanding. So given what following we do have online, why don't we do a little less demonising and a little more thinking.

In the show the cowboys and farmers stick to their entrenched positions and break into a fight, little appreciating all they have in common. But in the end there's a recognition that they're "brothers" in their endeavour and a great line from Aunt Eller:

"I don't say I'm no better than anybody else, but I'll be danged if I ain't just as good."

Wisdom for us all.

Comments (27)

by Andrew Geddis on December 06, 2012
Andrew Geddis

Wait! Wait! 

I'm going to need my popcorn and beer for this one ...

by MJ on December 06, 2012
MJ

Most blogs are happily biased. Most journalists do their best to remove as much bias as possible.

There is a discussion about this needed but I don't think it is this blog post yet.

One major inconsistency is there has been a constant complaint about the anonymous nature of some blogging while the MSM uses anonymous editorials like the apalling one on Dr Joy and 100% pure, and anonymous sources to make claims.

An interesting study would be the reportage of Whaleoil/Slater and Kiwiblog v the Standard. There has been a repeated use of the words "anonymous Labour-affiliated bloggers" as an attempt to reduce the validity of some blogging. How are DPF/Slater quotes reported? National-aligned pollster/blogger DPF?

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=1084...

(I think from memory that Jane Clifton has used it too- but as hers is an authorative use it is now behind a paywall and less easily subject to scrutiny.)

The use of this quote smacks of bias of journalists: many named Labour-aligned bloggers commented such as Brian Edwards, Mike Smith and Scott Yorke. As did named and not Labour aligned Danyl McGlaughlin.

Two issues from this:

1) A seemingly partisan or at least biased dismissal of the arguments made by many bloggers and columnists on the basis of them also having been made by a few anonymous bloggers.

2) That the use of anonymity should automatically lead to such a dismissal of authority. It is obviously easier to believe someone if they source their work and are credible. Often the work doesn't perhaps require full engagement with as with your deconstruction of REDLOGIX work. The solutions proposed will not be enacted and simply are not workable. Surely though like pamphleteers there is a place for some anonymous commentary? I mean would those employees in the US who were told by employers to support Mitt really want to publicly declare any opposing political views?

3)The trend of TV to more entertainment journalism and the stripping back of public service tv. The desire of some to see Paul Henry fronting a current affairs show on our public broadcaster after his 'shock jock' style of just saying appalling racist and offensive crap saw him lose his job on the Breakfast slot is indiciative of this. The move towards a more Fox News style in which public service is placed behind ratings and serving a demographic surely must reduce the MSM validity, as does the loss of the NZPA and TVNZ7.

The question is how the blogosphere should fit in and how much attention and authority should they be given. It seems the answer for some recently is too much.

 

 

 

 

by MJ on December 06, 2012
MJ

also if tenured academics should be allowed to disagree with Fran O'Sullivan at a publicly funded university...

by Pete George on December 06, 2012
Pete George

"The question is how the blogosphere should fit in..."

There's many tentacles overlapping, jostling for position and trying to attract attention. Each has to try and fine it's own niche.

"...and how much attention and authority should they be given".

It's not given, it has to be earned. That takes time, even for the best of them. It's easier for blog authors, but they still take a lot of time and effort. The Standard has been blogging the years and have just have their first burst of wider fame, and in the whole scheme of media that was still a very small slice. The vast majority of people have not heard of any blogs.

As much as some might like it blog commenters have a much harder job to be noticed and taken seriously, especially if using a pseudonym. There's some gems amongst all the noise but a) it can take a lot to pick them and b) most media don't look much, they have many more ready and reliable sources.

There's a lot of cowboys whooping and hollering but much 5 of the six shooters are fighting amongst themselves or amongst then blogosphere, with far more effort put into trying to demolish and discredit than earning authority and attention.

It's difficult to be heard above the melee. Ranting in a blog bubble interests very few in real life.

I've established a very minor profile beyond blogs and that has little to do with blogging and everything to do with networking and slowly establishing relationships with media, who still have the vast majority of the audience - and will only take serious notice if you can give them an original story.

The reality is that 1% of bloggers get 99% of the outside attention. Unless someone finds a way to combine blog power - and there's far too much fragmentation, jealousy and squabbling for that to be likely - that won't change.

As Tim says, there is little fresh news that comes from blogs (and most potential news is shrouded in anonymity), and there is not a lot of interest in opinions of opinions apart from those in the immediate playgrounds. Most blogging is more of a pastime and a game than a serious competitor to MSM.

Some have expressed a hope that the power of the people will rise from the blogs and transform democracy - but most participants have their own narrow barrows to push while they try and put a stick in the spokes of any perceived opposition.

Apart from a few notable exceptions I don't see much chance of blogging becoming a significant competitor to MSM, and those that do compete do so by partly merging. Slater and Farrar have a blogging profile within the bubble but almost all of their public profile is via MSM. Geddis is not widely known as a blogger, he's someone people may have heard on the radio occasionally. And their political credentials predate their blogging significantly.

Except for the select few the best way of getting on the telly is going to the footy, crossing your fingers and waving like a mad thing if a camera points your way. And you will be taken as seriously in sport as most bloggers are in politics.

MSM versus bloggers is like All Blacks versus Marist under 10s, except the under 10s play together more.

by Pete George on December 06, 2012
Pete George

Anyway, bloggers versus journalists was so last month. A more fundamental conflict has been brewing, and it's just taken another lurch. Try caucus versus bloggers.

"Just how wrong can you get it?"

"Word is that a senior Labour MP (who will go unnamed) has been lobbying National Council to put rules in place for party members who participate in the blogosphere. It appears they don’t like the idea that members might voice their concerns about the way their party is run. I can only assume that there would have to be some kind of a process whereby members who broke these rules would face a loss of membership or some other form of censure."

The embers have already been glowering. This could be petrol.

http://thestandard.org.nz/just-how-wrong-can-you-get-it/

by RedLogix on December 06, 2012
RedLogix

Frankly I’m stunned at the shallowness of your ‘deconstruction’.

All interviews must be on-the-record. Almost all are. But should a journalist be banned from following a lead gained in more casual conversation?
All interviews, it’s suggested, should be online. Which would mean newsrooms having to hire transcribers rather than more journalists.

Well actually what I had in mind was a simple audio/video recorder and then attached to the online version of the story as a file. No need for transcribers.

All reportage must be fact-checked. If only. The last fact-checkers were being laid off from the Heald when I began there 12 years ago. The few US media who still employ them are the exception. But does that mean they never err? No. Is it reasonable to expect journalists to check their own facts? usually, although a lack of resources and time creates limitations. Are stories still checked? Yes, subs, editors and producers all have such a role.

Well that’s a bad slip up; selectively quoting me where I went on: “and/or open to a right of reply from any participant, person or party mentioned.” … again in an online environment a highly achievable goal without too much extra in the way of staff. And then you go on to ignore my additional suggestion that journalists could easily lift their game by linking to their references …like bloggers routinely do. None of this is commercially unrealistic or onerous.  (And is why I'm happy that my original post is still transparently and openly available.)

All professional and personal relationships must be declared. In which we move from ignorance to plain silliness. Conflicts of interest should be declared. But every relationship? How far does that go? Is it just for the gallery or for bloggers and those of us outside Wellington who cover politics? Is it family relationships, whether they’ve played rugby together or does the odd drink count? Should I declare that I once helped Grant Robertson pull a drunk guy out of an NZUSA conference? That Metiria Turei and Gerry Brownlee have both yelled at me? Should Trotter declare every politician he’s ever met? And would REDLOGIX him/herself adhere to that?

Everyone in public life knows exactly what ‘declaring your interests’ means. Relationships in which you have either a family, personal relationships (ie who you are sleeping with), business relationships or other plainly beneficial interests. In practise it’s not all that hard to get it right if you want to. 

No journalist should be able to spend more than six years or 33% of their career in the gallery. Apart from the obvious nonsense of not being able to know how long a young reporter’s career will be, why show such little respect for experience and wisdom? 

 Again you misquote me. My original suggestion was "No political journalist should be allowed to serve more than six years sequentially AND 33% of their total career in the Parliamentary Press Gallery.". This does not in any way restrict working in the Press Gallery to young journos at all. What it is intended to limit is the obvious tendency for some individuals to become players in the system they are supposed to be observing. 

Besides it's obvious that more than a few of them need to spend more time outside the Beltway and get in touch again with the live of ordinary people.

by Ben Clark on December 06, 2012
Ben Clark

Maybe it's just that I'm reading Flat Earth News, but it seems all too often there's not that much fact-checking and check-calls put in on stories by journalists these days.  Far too much churnalism as staff numbers are ever reduced, and demand for ever more stories faster lowers quality.  So some bloggers are no doubt doing more fact-checking than some journos.

And there's far too little news covered.  Where bloggers are filling another niche.  I went to a public meeting on Monday night (with about 150 others by my count); I didn't see the press there covering it, but as a blogger I did.   Sure my piece was opinion-based rather than bias-free, but hey, I'm not paid, I get some privileges for my effort...  But in another era, that meeting (about the TPP btw) would have been covered by the media (and got a whole lot wider audience).

So it's not entirely fact-free, parasitical stuff, this blogging (the anti-thesis of this being Keith Ng).  And sure, most of it may be 'parasitical' by definition - in that it feeds off the host - but there's also no denying that that term is deliberately pejorative and provocative.  There are other words you could use.

And I guess the whole latest round of "blogger vs journo" talk comes from the Labour conference.  Which it was very frustrating to have an incredibly upbeat and friendly conference and come home and hear it described as divisive.  And there were a couple of other very big substantive stories at that weekend that were ill-covered because the reef-fish of the press gallery are obsessed with personality politics.  In particular the reform of one of our 2 major parties to be much more democratic and allow much more say on policy and power to ordinary members will far out-live any of the current front-bench.  It seemed a "bigger" story with solid substance in relation to the interpretation of Cunliffe's poor answers to Gower's haranguing.  Yes there may well have been something going on there, but it was on the sidelines, it was down to interpretation and much else was missed.  It gave the impression of the media being pleased to have created and been part of a story, more than reporting a story.  I guess the other stories lacked contention and controversy.

The previous round of "blogger vs journo" was when Armstrong and O'Sullivan had a pop at the blogosphere - I think those 2 are Trotter's "so many" journos / opinion-writers.

by Ben Clark on December 06, 2012
Ben Clark

Few bloggers attempt to find facts, remove their personal opinions from the story, seek balance and make contact with numerous sources before writing.

I quite like your farmers and cowboys analogy, but this sentence unintentionally almost entirely captures what's wrong with modern journalism.  Yes journalists try to remove their personal opinions from the story, but in overstretched newsrooms there's all too little finding facts rather than re-writing unchecked press releases or other media/PA copy; balance usually means getting a controversial voice on each side rather than balancing the consensus of opinion and putting some researched or expert analysis into the topic; and just how many sources are actually contacted before the average story in the paper is written?

(Once again, I'll put the Flat Earth News down now...)

by Lynn Prentice on December 07, 2012
Lynn Prentice

I'm always aghast at the suggestion that bloggers would want to be journalists or get compared to them. Mind you I am always aghast that people would want to be involved in politics as either a politician or in positions in political parties. There are so many much more interesting things to do. Both tasks are critical for modern societies, just as providing water, sewerage, power, roads and other services are.

Blogging comes from a differing need, citizens who are actively communicating in their society about things that they find of interest - just using the networks instead on pen and paper. I saw it in the earliest networked computers I worked on back in the early 80's where late night games of multiuser star trek would often drop into discussions between people who barely knew each other across the darkened Waikato campus on damn near any topic. BBS'es, usenet, blogs, Facebook, twitter, etc are all extensions of that wish to communicate. 

Sure there are some people who wish it use it wholely or partially for other purposes like Pete George above (still obsessively ascribing your needs to others I see) who see it as a way to acquire personal fame and adulation, or political effect or whatever. But they are a extremely small fraction of the people using blogs or other social medias. 

Most people use the nets to reach out to like minded people to have a discussion or even better an argument on common or similar interests. They typically do this in a psuedononymous fashion because most literate people are acutely aware that material on the net has a nasty habit of persisting. Who really wants a half baked statement you made as a 30 something on usenet coming up in a job interview 15 years later - as has happened to me on comments made as a very new c++ programmer.

The very first social nets on computer networks started amongst the computer geeks to help find solutions to problems and to simply blat the breeze. The early RFC's that formed the net are a fossilized remnant of the email net that formed that.

 

Politics and  the news media are a common topic across a wide range of people in different professions and walks of life. So is motherhood. And computer games. So traditionally the biggest social medias in rough order of current size are the gamers, the mommy nets, geek nets, and political blogs. More recently relationship networks like Facebook and linkedin have formed and are still shaking down their societies. More will emerge in the future.

Basically the media and the politicians are acting like this is something newish. The only thing that has changed is that it is simply more public with the costs and effort required diminishing. But political "blogging" and blagging the media by some highly intelligent non-'players' has been systematically been around in NZ since at least the late 80's when I started doing it on various BBS's like kcbbs.

Politicians and media are just going to have to stop being so damn previous about it because it will continue and they can't either change or stop it happening. They won't be able to set the rules of engagement because as many oppressive regimes are finding, it isn't that hard for people wanting to talk peer-to-peer to just walk around silly restrictions. There are enough geeks around now (like myself) who will view it as an amusing technical challenge to do so if they find the restrictions irksome. 

Plus frankly, they'd often be better off developing a thicker skin (especially prima donna journos) and having a read of some free unsolicited and often pertinent advice. Treat it as a less costly focus group of critics.

by Tim Watkin on December 07, 2012
Tim Watkin

Ben, agree with much of what you say. Some at the Labour conference were frustrated at the coverage because it downplayed the reform, some because it missed the 'positive' mood, some because it hurt Cunliffe. But it can't be all things to all people. And whatever positivity you felt, it is fact that there were battles going on between the front bench, so isn't it them you should blame for any harm caused?

In these conversations we often forget the audience. Labour Party folk care about the reforms. Do people at home? The story with the most direct impact on the greatest number of New Zealanders -- and the arguably more important question constitutionally -- was who would be Leader of the Opposition and perhaps PM, not how one party makes it internal decisions.

Bloggers do fill a niche and many play a useful role in public debate. But as Pete has reinforced, it's still a tiny part of the national conversation. It is largely a past-time, not a profession. Of course we shold read everything with a sceptical eye, but if you come from a partisan or biased position, of course the scepticism goes up a notch.

But here's a question. Ben talks about the role of bloggers. But what is their role?

Bryce and Chris were drawing comparisons between bloggers and journalists, whereas I think they're in very different places still.

MJ, you mention pamphleteers. Yep, that's a legitimate role. I've seen bloggers described as hecklers as well. All good. But there's much suggestion that bloggers are 'citizen journalists', when in fact you that's hen's teeth rare.

I've seen several bloggers criticising journalists for blurring the lines between opinion and news. It's an old debate and the lines are not as strong as I'd like them to be. But it goes both ways -- what about bloggers? Is a blog a pamphlet, heckle, news report, column or editorial? These are all different things, yet from post to post bloggers move from one to another. Perhaps that's unavoidable, but it's then hardly fair to criticise journalists for doing the same thing.

And MJ, you talk about anonymity. I specifically avoided that debate in this post and focused my criticism on the ideas and commentary raised. Right, off to read the comments from our guests from The Std.

by Ben Clark on December 07, 2012
Ben Clark

Tim I'd say that it's not unfair to apply a different standard between paid journalists and hobby-bloggers.  A blog is whatever the writer wants it to be (generally posts about cats), but the media are meant to be the fourth estate, holding government, legislature and judiciary to account.  When they blur between news and opinion it has much more dire consequences.

And where I say bloggers are filling journalistic roles, it's more because journalists aren't, than bloggers stepping on toes.  I'd happily only have opinion to report (and pure parasitic behaviour :) if journos were able to cover everything.

And I'm not forgetting the audience on Labour Party internal reforms.  Yes, added democracy may not be as sexy.  But who fronts the ship is less important than where it is going, and the party reversing the Roger Douglas power-grab of the 80s and restoring power to members on policy and similar will (hopefully) change the direction, or at least control of that direction (for the party, and - when in power - the country).  It's a far more fundamental and consequential shift than front bench stirrings.  But if the media only ever present shallow personality stories and he said she saids, rather than substance, it's no wonder that the public loses faith in our politicians and political system.  And that's corrosive.

by Tim Watkin on December 07, 2012
Tim Watkin

Red, I don't know who you are or what you do for a living, but my point remains that you don't nuderstand the business you're critiquing.

  • A simple audio/video recorder?

Journalists may make dozens of calls a day. You said "all interviews". You want every chat online? Calls made by reporters and producers? Fact checks by a sub? I don't record my calls. But you'd want me to get recording equipment, record every call, process it to get it online (that's a major time suck)? Would you want every background piece of your work to be public? The banter on calls? The 'how' were your holidays' bits? And anyway, most newsroom wouldn't have the software to put audio online.

Video, well, that's ok for one-on-one TV interviews (although I can imagine what the tech people would say when told that EVERY minute of EVERY interview had to be ingested, top and tailed and loaded online! And anyway, most journalism is done by phone these days, so video's of no use.

Still, say we did all the extra processing you require. How many people would want to watch all this raw content? If it gets hugely controversial, courts etc can require it. But day-to-day, you'd merely add all this work to over-worked journos, and to what end?

You also don't mention my broad point, which is that the free flow of communication between journalists and sources would be stilted if every source knew their voice or face would end up in the public arena. Whatever transparency you think you're adding would be diminished to the power of 10.

  • Right of reply. Who do you think doesn't get a right of reply under the current system? Online there are comments sections, newspapers have long had letters to the editor, and most of all there are other media. If X accuses Y of something, the first thing journos do is contact Y to get their response. Where are people not getting their right of reply?
  • I didn't mention your links to references comment because I have no great problem with it. It's not appropriate in every case, but it's a fair point.
  • Everyone in public life knows exactly what ‘declaring your interests’ means. Relationships in which you have either a family, personal relationships (ie who you are sleeping with), business relationships or other plainly beneficial interests. That's not what you said in your post. You said "All personal and professional relationships must be openly declared". I don't think it's as simple as you imagine it, but I agree that journos should be willing to declare their interests.
  • 6 years/33% of their careers: Not sure how I misquote you. But my point remains your 33% argument is silly and impossible. How do you know what 33% of someone's career is going to be? Do you mean 33% of their journalism career? What if they go into management or PR? If Duncan Garner switched to landscape gardening next week, he would have spent more than 33% of his journalism career in the gallery. What are you going to do? Force him to work more years as a rural reporter?

I get that you're concerned about the state of New Zealand's media, but you're talking about something you know nothing about. But people read you and think that the solutions you offer may be realistic, creating an antipathy that needn't exist. Which is one of the things you don't like about the MSM, right?

by Tim Watkin on December 07, 2012
Tim Watkin

Lynn, criticism of journalism and politicians -- intelligent or otherwise -- has existed as long as those two professions. No, it's nothing new and it much older than the '80s.

Some media treat this as new, but just as many bloggers do the same. As if citizen journalism will save the world, or bloggers are this brave new force or, as this post referred to, bloggers are set to compete directly with newsrooms etc. All of that seems to me an over-reaction.

I think the attempts to set the rules come from both sides, don't you? Why only criticise media? There are plenty of precious and prime donna bloggers deaf to good advice. Why compare media to oppressive regimes? Where does the antipathy come from? No-one dies in an online spat. You're just attacking the farmers when in fact we're in it together.

You say this has been going on for a long time and is nothing new, but then go on to say there's all this change and journos can't stop all this new stuff happening. It seems contradictory, but both are true. I think it's not so much bloggers per se, but the free interest culture that's the big change. It's driven audiences online (and of course the internet is everywhere), so bloggers get more attention than many pamphleteers or hecklers. And in the midst of this journalists are getting laid off and our news industry diminished. That's where the tenions lies, I think.

But we're all figuring this out as we go.

by Andrew Geddis on December 07, 2012
Andrew Geddis

"There are plenty of precious and prime (sic) donna bloggers deaf to good advice."

Oi! I do listen to advice ... it's just never very good, that's all.

by Graeme Edgeler on December 07, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

Lynn, criticism of journalism and politicians -- intelligent or otherwise -- has existed as long as those two professions.

Didn't journalism used to be a trade?

by Tim Watkin on December 07, 2012
Tim Watkin

Graeme, you don't know the swamp you're entering with that one... It's a trade, a craft, a profession, a vocation for some. Has always been all those things, really.

Andrew, it's not always about you... (heh). But anyway, you're never wrong, so you're exempt from having to listen to advice.

 

by Andrew Geddis on December 07, 2012
Andrew Geddis

Andrew, it's not always about you... (heh).

That sounds suspiciously like advice to me ... .

 

by Lynn Prentice on December 07, 2012
Lynn Prentice

Tim:

Some media treat this as new, but just as many bloggers do the same. .... All of that seems to me an over-reaction.

Yeah, there are newbies everywhere. The problem is that most of the media are newbies to social nets, and most of the time they're listening to newbies on the other side who are waffling about  paradigm changes.  Usually those are people who are on the intersection between the two. Basically mainline jounos should have a quiet talk to the journo's in the geek sphere to look at how the two systems are likely to feed of each other. The transition there happened a decade ago.

Incidentially in my opinion it usually seems to take about a decade of using social nets before the implications in real world situations sinks in. You have to see the rise and fall of at least one of two technlogies before the lifecycle and true limitations becomes apparent.

I think the attempts to set the rules come from both sides, don't you?

No. Why in the hell should game nets (for instance) follow some arbitary rules that only apply in political settings? The social nets are seperated into discrete lumps. People move across and link across them all of the time. Blogging and social nets aren't generally professions, they are mostly just people talking and writing content that they want to talk about. 

Why only criticise media? There are plenty of precious and prime donna bloggers deaf to good advice.

And guess what we all do. A lot. Hell Pete George up above has a site that should be called "I hate The Standard" because when I look at the place that is what most of his content is about.

About the only thing that TS onsite won't allow criticism of is the perceived personal deficiencies of authors on our site (because that really pisses authors off and we lose them), moronic crap about our own site policies (because we've heard it all before, in fact when we raised most of them when we made the policies 5 years ago), the non-public family of politicians except very indirectly, and anyone who isn't in the 'news' or 'blogs'. This is all enforced by active and often severe moderation. 

Why compare media to oppressive regimes?

It is actually the politicians and their minions who are the biggest pain. The political media just have this habit of feeding out the briefings without bothering to think it through. The subject of "cyber-bullying" is a good example. This is all stuff that has been dealt with at various levels throughout the nets existence. What we get is some unworkable crud that has awful downstream implications and that we will simply avoid (while doing what we have always done - dealing with the cretins when they arise).

It'd be nice if some of the journo's actually did some research on the topic of where blogs arose from. But I suspect we'll have to wait for the generational changes to happen. 

You say this has been going on for a long time and is nothing new, but then go on to say there's all this change and journos can't stop all this new stuff happening.

Nope. It is simply surfacing more and more as the tech changes. It has always been there but it used to take considerable resources and effort to make it happen especially for a multi-user system. The basics were there in 1990 with BBS'es, but you had to have a phone line per concurrent online user. The minimal costs for running a site like ours is the main shift. We will frequently peak at a hundred odd concurrent connections (not people, just people pulling pages in a single second). We do it on less than my ISDN phone charges from 1990 and it pays for itself because the content has 1->n has shifted from 1->10's to 1->10000's for the same type of content as used to be in BBS'es.

But what you are seeing is politicians and journo's trying to deal with a net culture that is decades old (the first RFC was 1969) moving into the same public space as they occupy. There are both the people who grew up with that interactive culture and the people  joining it all of the time and they are all used to n<->n interactions.

The problem is that journalists and politicians are used to a 1->n world. They'll have to figure out how to get used to n<->n. The long-term way to do that is with better content and a moderation policy that looks less like the n->1. But that will have to wait until the media deal with the other implications of the cost reductions on the net.

The journalism layoffs have bugger all to do with the content. It is mostly due to the loss of classified advertising (which were always the big money maker) to the lower cost providers like trademe and the online 'portal' stores.

The broadcast media will probably get much the same issue as people start getting more an more of their content from direct internet access of broadcast. I didn't bother plugging my TV aerial in after the move a few months ago. I started watching old content on quickflix, new content from blurays, and news from ondemand. If I could find a subscription news internet channel for NZ I'd buy it. But I have no ads chewing up my precious time.

But I've lived my entire adult life on the bleeding edge of the net. Where I go, you usually find others following a decade (or less these days) later. Politicians and political journo's are hitting one of them. I'm uninclined to shift a net culture full things that already work because soem others find it uncomfortable....

by Pete George on December 07, 2012
Pete George

Lynn, you've mentioned me in consecutive comments and then accuse me of having an obsession with The Standard!

I don't hate The Standard, it's got some very good comment at times, even from you. It's been especially interesting over the last month. I don't just post about TS, but I do quite a bit, yes, and you know why, you've banned me from commenting directly so I comment elsewhere.

It's a little ironic don't you think that you banned me for suggesting how you might run your blog, yet you give  plenty of advice to journalists on how they could do better.

You keep dissing 'newbies' on the 'net. It's pretty arrogant to claim supreme knowledge of an environment that, as Tim says, is seeing huge change. Not only are there new things being done, with new ways of doing others - fresh input and insights are an integral part of it.

Coincidentally David Shearer failed to get the support of knarly old party activists in part because he was considered a newbie (that's one of the useful observations I've made at TS) who hadn't earned his way up the party ladder. Phil Goff had probably stuffed a few letterboxes in his time but he didn't do so well either.

"I'm uninclined to shift a net culture full things that already work because soem others find it uncomfortable...."

Do what you like, and the rapidly evolving and very diverse cultures will leave you behind.

There is not 'a net culture'. There may have been last century, but that's a wee while ago.

What we have now are a myriad of social cultures. The TS culture is vastly different to Kiwiblog, or Whale Oil, or the Trade Me boards, or Twitter, or the vast array of Facebook groups, or the NZ Herald or TV1 or TV3 delivery and comments.

Tim said "But we're all figuring this out as we go." Well, most of us are, some of you  seem to think you already know it all.

In the political sphere we may all do better if we appreciated different strengths and found a better more positive social mix rather than incessant bickering and infighting. Some parties would benefit from doing likewise.

by Lynn Prentice on December 07, 2012
Lynn Prentice

PG: My observations of the net is that the more that it changes, the more that it actually seems to stay the same. But it was a whole lot easier to see it as a whole when it was a lot smaller and you could see driving factors before the different parts diverged. Pushing an analogy a bit, what you are seeing in current time is like trying to read the early universe from current background microwave radiation. 

The cultures in small parts of it may look different, but they share major amounts of common ancestry. The further you look into gamenets, geeknets, mommynets, the sciencenets, and into things like the ITEF - the more that what you're looking at looks the same.

Or in another analogy. When you've looked at the vast range of pre-devonian animal body patterns (like the BBS's threw up), then current sparse numbers of body patterns looks very similar....

You'll find that same kind of attitude from anyone who has seen it from early on. 

But bickering is part of the strength of our social patterns (have you ever looked at any of our primate cousins?) and consequently of the net. It is quite literally the way that net grew - just have a look at old mail archives of the ITEF for some good examples. I'm sure someone has them online...

by Tim Watkin on December 07, 2012
Tim Watkin

Lynn, you lost me with all that talk about nets and n-numbers. I was simply saying that both bloggers and journalists are trying to imose their values and rules on the other with little understanding. Plenty of blame and misunderstanding to go round without bagging journos all the time.

For example, you again criticise the political media, this time for merely reporting the politicians. But in part, isn't that what we want journos to do, just report what is being said so we can make up our own minds? Other times they (we) are criticised for adding too much spin/opinion/analysis/blurring lines. Can't have it both ways.

This is at the heart of the problem -- it's not that media is so terrible, it's just that critics want them (us) to be all things to all people. If they're offered depth, they want breadth; they're offered 'just the facts' they want analysis; if they're offered serious content they ask why the media's so po-faced etc.

The journalism layoffs have bugger all to do with the content. It is mostly due to the loss of classified advertising...

That's just wrong. I've no doubt you're way ahead of me on web trends and tech, but the loss of classifieds was an issue an eon ago. The continuing shrinkage of newsrooms is all about content - the model of how people get it, their consumption habits, where advertisers have gone and so on.

And your predictions make too many assumptions about infrastructure, cost, consumer behaviour etc for my taste. You may be right, but as one example people mostly consume new content and I don't think buying blurays is going to be how most people will want to access it. And as another, I understand Quickflix isn't doing terribly well.

by Pete George on December 07, 2012
Pete George

Lynn, you can look into gamenets, geeknets, mommynets, the sciencenets, and into things like the ITEF as much as you like. But 99.9% of people online now couldn't give a toss about any of that. The enormously diverse range of behaviours and communities in the real world are adapting in all sorts of ways to utilise the 'nets on a far more superficial level than you.

The best advances come from thinking outside the old square, coming up with new ways to use a vastly changed environment. We can't imagine how traditional media and new social media will be operating by the time the next election comes round in two years.

We can learn from what has happened but we have to keep looking at how we can do things better in the future.

And I don't buy this "we've always acted like spoilt kids in a sandpit so we must always act like that". We don't hang people any more, we don't eat people any more, we don't crucify people any more. I'm sure we can learn to behave a bit better online.

From what I hear outside the political bubble many people want and expect better behaviour from politicians and parties, and not the same old. They should be setting an example. Why can't some of us show the way online? The MSM might do likewise.

by MJ on December 08, 2012
MJ

And where I say bloggers are filling journalistic roles, it's more because journalists aren't, than bloggers stepping on toes.

Is Gordon Campbell a blogger or a journalist?

I think both are terms that are now essentially defunct or useful only to describe a starting point that we have gone well past.

Especially with the number of well qualified people, journalists and others, who have a strong online presence. It isn't a quality of work issue. 

I think it is better to analyse things in terms of power and audience.

Who finds Pundit/Scoop/Kiwiblog/Norightturn etc essential for being informed and who never misses the 6 o'clock news? Who does both? How much trust do they place in the work of each? Certainly I watch the news sometimes and then go to the blogs to see what is really happening.

If something is said on a blog how does it spread to other media and how is that blog reported? How much of that reporting leads to increased viewing of the originial blog? How much of it is using the fear of the net crazy radical activist psycho to create a strawman that allows for the dismissal of discussion and diminishing the medium?

Though for all its occasional malarky I'd usually read the Herald everyday both online and frequently in print!

The other interesting question is what is going to happen when the pay walls start coming up again. Will we see well followed bloggers tempted to exclusive pay wall only contracts? Or do the newspapers and periodicals think they are doing enough that we'll cough up money for them?

by Ross on December 08, 2012
Ross

This is at the heart of the problem -- it's not that media is so terrible, it's just that critics want them (us) to be all things to all people. If they're offered depth, they want breadth; they're offered 'just the facts' they want analysis; if they're offered serious content they ask why the media's so po-faced etc

I would have thought that the media is quite capable of providing depth and breadth, facts and analysis. But too often we are delivered tripe.

by Tim Watkin on December 08, 2012
Tim Watkin

MJ, Gordon is one of the exceptions. He's certainly both. His blogs are journalistic in quality and he makes his living that way. I'm not sure there's anyone else in that field in NZ, so he's not representative of anyone or any trend other than himself. So for me the lines remains.

It's not necessarily quality – although that's sometimes the case – it's a question of professionalism, experience, research and the willingness to be open to different sides of an argument and be led by evidence to a view different from your preconceptions.

Blogging doesn't require any of those and they're rare in NZ bloggers. Bloggers can have expertise, great writing skills, revealing insight... but those aren't the same things.

I think you're walking right into the trap I've been warning against in comparing blogs to the 6pm news. Well over half a million New Zealanders watch that nightly – sometimes closer to a million. Whatever the quality of their information, blogs are tiny in comparison. Little from blogs makes it into the MSM. Yes, journalists sometimes use crazy extreme examples to dismiss blogs, but sometimes that's exactly what blogs are.

Ross, you make my case for me. The media as a whole can achieve what you ask, but not individual programmes/stories/issues/bulletins. You're kidding yourself to expect that. If I'm preparing questions for a 10 minute interview, I can't do both breadth AND depth. As I've written before, the first rule of non-online media is that it's finite. That's a blessing in many ways, but it's limiting and iperfect. You can't have it all, but because you expect that, you'll always be disappointed and willing to dismiss sound journalism as tripe. (I'm not saying there's plenty of tripe – mostly because more people want to watch it – but unrealistic expectations means lots of good stuff gets lumped into the tripe pile as well).

 

by MJ on December 11, 2012
MJ

Well, there's yourself, Andrew Geddis, Mike Williams, Steven Price, Scott Yorke, Brian Edwards, Graeme Edgler, Russell Brown and others who are definitely qualified to offer opinions on many of the topics they comment on and they are often the ones who the MSM ask for comment- so I'd feel that there is a strong presence besides Gordon Campbell of boundary blur in the New Zealand. I'm sure there are plenty of others I have left out.

by Tim Watkin on December 14, 2012
Tim Watkin

MJ, this thread has probably run its course, but I've got to say that those are all exerpts in their own rights, but Russell and I are the only ones who are working journalists. And Russell has been at the commentary rather than news end of journalism for some time.

So you're still making my case - these experts fit as bloggers, but are NOT journalists, don't write news and none of them work to journalistic standards.

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