Shock news: Some New Zealand media is quite good

The good news is that not all of Generation Y are narrow-minded, egotistical trivialists and TV3 has created a great new comedy show

I've just spent part of last night and much of this morning reading the entries in the best feature section of the 2009 Aotearoa Students' Press Association awards. I must say, I was surprised.

I helped found ASPA back in the early 90s in the hope that student media would co-operate more closely together, share stories and improve the coverage of the tertiary sector. Those of us gathered at conferences at, from memory, Canterbury and then Waikato, hoped a national association would lift the standard of student journalism, even allowing for the mainstream press to publish ASPA tagged stories just as they would an NZPA article. The latter has seldom happened, and the links between the university and polytech publications wax and wane.

The dream was always going to be hampered by the transient nature of student media, where editors and volunteers appear for a year or two and then, just when they've started to gain some skills, drift off again. But ASPA has survived some leans years to create some sense of continuity and the good news from the judging I've been doing over the past 24 hours is that standard of journalism ain't bad.

I've read stories, amongst others, about battery chicken farms, night shelters, the war in northern Uganda, legal action over the nuclear tests at Christmas Island, dance parties, the smacking referendum, the Fiji coup, and the nazi thesis at Waikato that David Young wrote about on Pundit.

I can't reveal a winner – the awards aren't until Saturday night – but I was impressed that student hacks were getting stuck into such a varied and important range of issues.

Problems? Oh yes. Most of the writers offer a list of facts and quotes rather than knitting together a narrative. There's a lack of structure. The writers haven't got their heads around the importance of the intro.

But all of that is hardly new in the student media. That's technical ability that is learnt as you go. No, the most worrying feature of these features is the lack of some journalistic basics: Credulity, a respect for language, and a care for facts.

Most of the pieces take a side. I've got nothing against advocacy journalism if there's evidence to back up the conclusions. But in this blogging-dominated world there seems to be a diminishing emphasis on writers challenging their own beliefs, or even the views of those they are interviewing. Student media has always tended to the polemic, but the lack of interest in balance worries me.

Accuracy is the foundation of journalism, but some of these journos didn't want facts to blunt the message they wanted to preach. One piece, on citizen journalism, simply dismissed the importance of grammar and sentence structure without any reasoning. How 20th century to care about the quality of writing!

Hang on though, this was meant to be a positive piece. Despite those concerns, the writing was mostly well researched, it was literate, and it told me things I didn't know. Some even took me on a journey. What I really loved was that the writers chose to write about nationally and internationally significant issues and cared about the subjects they wrote about. There seemed to be a welcome trend against 'student lifestyle' stories. It went some way to challenging those stereotypes about Generation Y or the Millenials or whatever you want to call them and how they're self-obsessed trivialists.

Having slogged through all those features, I rewarded myself by watching the new TV3 comedy news quiz 7 Days. It's been sitting there on my DVR and I finally took a look. Hilarious.

You all know the endless, circular claims about New Zealand comedy. Whenever it's written about, it's usually pitched as a three-act tragedy with Melody Rules as the climax.

But 7 Days takes a simple format and nails it. It looks back over the news of the week and takes the piss, irreverently and sure-footedly. Hosted by Jeremy Corbett and with team captains Paul Ego and Dai Henwood, it's not original, it just gets on with doing what comedy news quizes all over the world do, and doing it very, very well.

It is quick and clever. It's laugh-out-loud funny throughout. It is essentially New Zealand, but not Kiwiana-cute. The comedians are just as adriot with international stories. There's not a cringe in sight – neither a cultural cringe nor the need to wince at a lame joke.

From David Bain to Kashin, everything's up for grabs. Good luck to the lawyers for this show. One simple example of how it gets it right. The game asks the panel members to provide the (joke) answer to an answer from the week's news. The answer: 54 (I can't remember the real news story it involved because I was too busy laughing). The questions: When does a cougar become a nana? How long does it take to download a song on Telecom? How long is the director's cut of Lord of the Rings?

Actually, that doesn't do it justice. Suffice to say I haven't laughed as hard at a New Zealand TV programme for ages. It's sadly hidden at 10pm on a Friday, but that's the lot for most new local programming. Hopefully it can earns its stripes and get a better slot for the inevitable next series.