Paul Henry’s resignation an anti-climax

October 10, 2010

Well, Paul Henry resigned on Sunday afternoon. The public pressure and an ominous warning yesterday from his boss Rick Ellis were apparently enough to shift Henry into proactive mode.

I was a bit surprised. I thought he’d tough it out and I wasn’t sure Rick Ellis would carry through his sack Henry option. But maybe, just maybe, Henry now exits with a modicum of his dignity intact.

[Sunday nightcap]

I’d also just like to acknowledge Paul Holmes’ column from the HoS today. It never appears online, but Paul H[olmes] did a good job of treading a fine line between the rat who took his mate’s gig and the consoling mate who thinks his first-namesake is actually a good bloke under all that hardening slime.

I was tempted to say that under no circumstances could I take a man’s programme when he was experiencing bad times and I would never forgive someone doing it to me but then I thought, well, what the hell, what could I do but accept? [HoS 10.10.10 p.41]

Well Paul, you could show some principles and act in solidarity with a mate “experiencing bad times”. That’s what a mate would do. Unlike that “certain crowd” who kick a mate when he’s down.

There is a certain crowd who will love to pull him down because he is simply too successful. This is the schadenfreude factor and it is very powerful.

Schadenfreude is taking delight in another’s misfortune. It is a fancy way of talking about the so-called tall poppy syndrome. It’s nonsense.

Henry fcuked up and exposed his inner gremlins; he wasn’t torn down, he self-immolated after pouring petrol over his head for some time and playing with matches.

What happens next?

Complaints to TVNZ as a precursor to a Beeza inquiry into Henrygate are now moot. Beeza may still feel it necessary to poke a finger in the wound, but I’d be surprised if any complaints make it that far now.

Rick Ellis has promised a review of editorial standards, which is a bit like oiling the hinges on the stable door after… Instead, there will be a hunt to find a replacement for Henry and it will have to be someone extraordinary in order to ensure that the Breakfast ratings don’t just go down the poo-hole with the show’s former star attraction.

Henry will be looking for a new job and like disgraced carefully and slowly rehabilitated sports presenter Tony Veitch, he may yet find another home in commercial radio after a spectacular fall from grace.

This whole messy mess is an opportunity for TVNZ to re-think it’s approach to breakfast television.

 

The captain, but no Tenille

 

I would opt for a return to Captain Kangaroo-style kids entertainment and leave the serious stuff to National Radio.

I loved Captain Kangaroo as a kid growing up in Milwaukee, he was just in control and always seemed about to explode – a lot like Paul Henry, so he would be popular with Henry’s audience profile and appealing to kids.

A serious morning news programme would be very interesting for the state broadcaster and I would enjoy it, but it would be expensive and a ratings stone (most likely). If TVNZ wants to go down that route I would be keen to offer some advice.

In the meantime, here’s the Captain to entertain you while you slurp down a coffee and some Froot Loops.


Oh Henry #3: What a dipstick! Does Paul play with his poos?

October 8, 2010

In the contretemps surrounding Paul Henry’s racist comments about the governor general we’ve (well I have, any way) forgotten about the also notorious and recent ‘dickshit’ remarks and juvenile giggling. But it can’t be left aside any longer.

The incident, from a  week earlier, is now front page news in India and the New Zealand High Commissioner has had to apologise to the Indian government for Henry’s actions.

Henry deliberately mispronounced and ridiculed the second name of Sheila Dikshit, who has been in the news after taking charge of the Commonwealth Games preparations.

Henry mispronounced the minister’s name as “Dik-shit” on air, despite being told it was pronounced “Dix-it”.

The Times of India is carrying the story prominently on its website.

This clip is very embarrassing. You can see how Henry’s colleagues are grimacing and trying to shut him up. But Henry is an out-of-control clown.

The man is a national liability. He certainly doesn’t showcase the clean, green image of New Zealand that the country is trying to project overseas.

There’s quite a bit of chatter now about Henry, including an interesting attempt at psychoanalysis by media commentator Brian Edwards. But does it end up excusing his juvenalia?

Update: I just need to say a belated congratulations to Ben Gracewood the technology guy who resigned his Breakfast gig to protest Henry’s racism.
What dignity and courage.TVNZ should sack Henry and ask Ben Gracewood to come back.
Check out Ben’s statement at No more breakfast.

Read the rest of this entry »


Henry Laws: Dynamic duo of dysfunctional rhetoric, or just ‘excitable boys’?

October 10, 2010

I made a bold prediction a few days ago. I suggested that Michael Laws would write a column in today’s Sunday Star Times defending Paul Henry.

Mea culpa. Laws defied my predictive powers and wrote instead about Len Brown and the Auckland mayoralty. However, Laws didn’t disappoint entirely, he has made some comments defending Henry and, along the way, he’s also now made some nasty personal and racist comments about G-G Sir Anand Satyanand.

Ah Michael, you are a paragon of certainty in this uncertain world. How will you manage without the benefit of the mayoral chains yourself. Perhaps you will be less prominent in our lives — at least for those of us who don’t listen to you talk-back drivel.

The tide of commentary about Henry is still rising and despite the absence of Laws’ in today’s papers, there’s plenty of others, including a surprising defence of sorts from Finlay McDonald.

Had Henry ventured that we might like to see, for example, a white person back in Government House, it would seem a little more clear-cut. But as every commentator was obliged to observe from the outset, by seeming to invoke some archetype of New Zealand-ness, it was logically possible he meant to include Maori as well. Straight away, then, it was a little more complicated than a bigoted buffoon running amok on state television inciting race hate. In other words, he might benefit from at least a little bit of doubt.

[Let’s draw the line between idiocy and true racism]

Sorry Finlay, I totally disagree. What ever excuses are cooked up, there was intent in Henry’s comments, just as there was in Michael Laws’ attack on Satyanand last week too.

They are birds of a feather and both deserve to be criticised for their loose lips, not given any benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps, though, if we want to excuse their ugliness, we could suggest, that they are nothing more than “excitable boys”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Oh Henry #4: He’s not a ‘legend’ and it’s not about freedom of speech

October 9, 2010

There are two or three types of ‘defence’ that supporters of Paul Henry are using to deflect criticism, or to argue that he’s not racist, just misunderstood.

None of them are really robust, but I’m sure that we’ll see more of it over the next few days as his future hangs in the balance.

At least today TVNZ boss Rick Ellis has signalled that Henry’s future – and indeed, his return to the Breakfast gig – is still far from certain.

“I think that as the week has progressed and the complaints have continued to roll into the company, you’ve really got to reassess things each day and I’ll be reflecting over the weekend and again on Monday as to where we go from here.”

[Paul Henry’s job future looking shaky]

Whatever Ellis might decide in the next few days, Henry’s defenders will try to make the following arguments:

  1. he was ‘only joking’ and shouldn’t be thought of as racist
  2. he went too far this time, but he’s generally a nice guy and very popular so allow him one or two mistakes
  3. you’re only picking on Henry because he’s conservative and he was only exercising his freedom of speech.

I don’t think the first two really stand up and they’ve both been analysed and discredited over the past week by many commentators. The ‘joke’ defence doesn’t stand up when you realise that Henry is a serial offender as I pointed out in ‘Oh Henry’ parts #1, #2 and #3. Henry may be a ‘nice guy’, but his image has taken a battering and his nasty streak is on display in concentrated form this week as everyone’s joined the dots.

[Note to new readers, or those stumbling on this at some distant future date – the background to all of this is contained in my earlier posts (linked above)]

And there’s no freedom of speech issue here either. Hate speech and blatant racism are not protected by any reasonable notion of free speech. That’s why these comments from Murray McCully are totally fatuous (I think that means ‘fart-like’):

Mr McCully this morning issued a statement saying he would also indicate to the Indian Government that Henry’s comments were the actions of one person.

He said freedom of speech was important in New Zealand.

“However it is always regrettable when a prominent individual abuses the freedom of expression, which is one of our basic rights, to cause offence to others.

“That is especially the case when the person offended against is a prominent public figure in another country.

[Henry’s remarks the actions of one person – McCully]

Were they really the actions of one person? Herald columnist Paul Thomas doesn’t find Henry amusing either and his comments about Ellis appearing to defend Henry on free speech grounds are spot on:

Henry’s stuff doesn’t crack me up.

Nor do I get what TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis is on about when he says Henry “pushes the boundaries and that’s important in a country that values freedom of speech”.

Does Henry engage in cutting satire at the expense of the rich and powerful? Does he champion unpopular causes? Does he challenge middle-class New Zealand’s complacent assumptions? Is he a subversive figure like the American comedian Lenny Bruce who suffered police harassment and blacklisting?

Henry’s such an anti-establishment gadfly that he has a weekly audience with the Prime Minister which is apparently a laugh a minute.

[Penny drops for Henry and his employer]

Yeah, Henry’s apologetics for John Key are awful and now, thankfully, they may be over and Key won’t get a free spot to talk up his lame-arse government at our expense.

There’s a number of issues here that have been highlighted by two comments on my post #3. In particular, how complicit is TVNZ management in Henry’s juvenile posturing and insulting banter?

One of my postgrad journalism students, Josh Gale, points out that Henry’s co-hosts don’t call him out, particularly on the infantile “dick shit” episode:

While I agree with you that in the Dixit video one of his colleagues is trying to correct him, the woman sitting next to him has a big fat grin on her face the whole time. This seems to be quite common. All of his co-hosts sit there and giggle at Paul’s ignorant comments, maybe, but only maybe, saying “oh Paul, you’re being silly” in the usual vacuous manner, but not showing any spine whatsoever. The money must be really really good to sit there like a coward and not say anything.

And media commentator John Drinnan also picked up on this point in his comments:

Josh makes a good point. I’ve also been surprised by TVNZ’s willingness to associate key journalists with untarnished reputation – like Peter Williams, Pippa Wetzell and Alison Mau [with Henry]. Why would you ask key editorial presenters -with reputations to protect- to laugh along at those sort of comments.

So really there are some good questions brewing that I think TVNZ news management now has to answer:

  1. What is the editorial policy regarding Paul Henry? Does he have carte blanche?
  2. What are the instructions given to producers to hold a line, or to rein in some of Henry’s more outrageous moments?
  3. Does Henry have instructions to be outrageous?
  4. Does TVNZ management approve of Henry’s clowning and insulting behaviour because it drives up ratings points?

I’m sure I’ll think of more over the next couple of days and feel free to add yours in the comments, but this last question is particularly interesting given the sort of positive response Henry’s actions have got from his loyal fans:

 

A reader poll from the Herald website

 

Government squirms …and so it should

It is great that John Key is still being criticised for his lame response to Henry – he laughed along with the joke – and the government is wriggling on a nasty hook at the moment.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully is also flapping and yapping in a vain attempt to hose down the growing international disquiet that Henry’s comments have set in motion.

Key has also said that the High Commissioner’s response is enough, but he has not apologised himself, nor has he adequately explained his complicit silence.

However, the Nationals may take some solace in the Dominion Post’s editorial from Wednesday last week. The paper’s leader writer opined that Henrygate should lead to the selling off “to the highest bidder” of the emotionally and financially crippled national broadcaster:

//

TVNZ’s belated recognition of the untenability of its position is yet another reason for the Government to consider the broadcaster’s future. With its puerile news service and near-constant diet of reality shows and foreign programmes, TVNZ is indistinguishable from its private-sector rivals. It should be sold to the highest bidder.

[Henry slur a sign of TVNZ’s weakness]

This is a disingenuous argument. One could [and I will] make the entirely opposite argument and suggest that the failure of TVNZ to control Henry’s child-like humour and nasty streak  [two sides of the playground bully] is a result of the unsatisfactory fence straddling that TVNZ has to do as a malformed public broadcaster with commercial imperatives.

It is the chase for ratings that brought Henry to TVNZ in the first place and it is the addiction to advertising revenue that has kept him there. If TVNZ was a real public broadcaster that was adequately funded then they could afford to ditch Henry and the peurile audience he generates.

Audrey Young hints at this in her column from the Herald today:

Paul Henry was respected by a cross-section of politicians in the past because he often subjugated his own right-wing opinions and played devil’s advocate.

He was more careful when Labour was in office, whether consciously or not. Helen Clark welcomed him to New York to do her first big media number of the United Nations.

But under National, he has taken and TVNZ has allowed him a freer rein.

That has morphed into a situation where he will say outrageous things – things he hopefully doesn’t believe – to get the attention he and the channel’s advertising executives crave.

[Careless words now diplomatic incident]

 


Oh Henry #2: Don’t shoot the messenger, but what will Beeza do?

October 7, 2010

It would be a travesty if TVNZ publicist Andi Brotherston is obliged to fall on her sword in the Paul Henry broohaha.

Brotherston made the now infamous comment that Henry was expressing what we all think, but are too scared to voice when he made racist comments about the New Zealand governor general.

She subsequently apologised in an email to TVNZ staff and now, inevitably, the email is in the public domain and Brotherston is taking the heat. This is a shame, Paul Henry has been allowed to slink off to wait it out under whichever muddy rock he currently calls home, but Brotherston is blowing in the wind and the story today is all about her.

The real issue here has to be what will Beeza do? So far Henry’s been suspended for two weeks by TVNZ, but he’ll be back on air soon enough and that will be don’t miss car crash TV. How long will the ill-tempered tosser be able to bite his tongue before bursting into glorious flaming wreckage? Let’s hope that this latest gaffe is enough to sink forever his chances of taking over from the talking moustache on Close Up.

But you know, I’ve just reviewed some Beeza cases against Henry over the past few years and most of the time he gets away with it and TVNZ is in there fighting for his right to be offensive. As they say: “That’s entertainment”. Actually, it’s not, as you will see…if you get to the end of this long post.

Read the rest of this entry »


Oh Henry! #$%*(^)#@@#$ to you too.

October 6, 2010

Ah, that delightful little sprite the Fuck-Up Fairy (FUF) has been dancing on the broad shoulders of disgraced TV sock puppet Paul Henry for sometime. The shit was bound to hit the fan one day and that day was Monday.

Until then the gormless and goonish Henry has been protected by some lucky charm and the dismissive comment that ‘he’s just like that’.

Well, yes. He is like that. He’s like a rotten, racist, foul-mouthed, trumped-up, bigoted, insensitive, right-wing dribblejaws with a modicum of intelligence, but not enough to help him keep his maw shut.

His comments about the Governor General not looking or sounding like a Kiwi are racist, particularly given that Anand Satyanand was born in Grey fckuing Lynn.

Sir Anand, in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, said he had not received a personal apology.

“I haven’t seen his apology. I’ve seen news reports that he has [apologised]. If he has, that’s fine.”

He said when he heard of the comments he only had one reaction.

“I am a New Zealand-born New Zealander. I am reliably informed I was born in 37 Dryden Street, Grey Lynn at the Bethany.

“That’s all I need to add to the chemistry.”

But let’s be clear, the comments would be racist in any context and it’s good to see the strong reaction against Henry this week. Even TVNZ has reacted and thrown Henry’s sorry ass into the can for a couple of weeks. But only, it seems after first attempting to smooth the row over with another ‘that’s Paul!’  comment:

TVNZ is also facing criticism over an initial statement in which spokeswoman Andi Brotherston defended Henry, saying he often said what “we quietly think but are scared to say out loud”.

[Angry Henry]

Oh, so it’s OK to be quietly racist at TVNZ, just don’t get caught. So if you talk in code, rather than overtly bigoted tones, you can get away with it and send dog whistle messages to ACT party supporters in the vain hope that the government won’t cut the budgets even more.

Herald media commentator John Drinnan goes down this track, suggesting that TVNZ won’t be financially harmed by the outrage. He even argues that Henry’s stupid remarks were “orchestrated”:

Don’t attack Paul Henry for his latest orchestrated outrage – questioning whether Anand Satyanand has been “New Zealand enough” to be Governor-General.

Don’t blame the monkey, blame the organ grinder.

The real question is about Television New Zealand and its cynical use of racial comments to boost publicity and profits.

[Drinnan: Don’t blame the monkey]

Dirnnan may be right about this, but it does seem that TVNZ had to be pushed in order for them to agrees to (reluctantly) shove Henry off the Breakfast set for a couple of weeks. This statement from CEO Rick Ellis shows just how reluctant TVNZ was to give Henry the boot:

“Paul is one of New Zealand’s best broadcasters. He is a provocative host who speaks his mind and that is what many New Zealanders like about him. He often pushes the boundaries and that’s important in a country that values freedom of speech. But I consider his latest remarks to have well and truly crossed that line.

[TVNZ Statement @nzherald.co.nz]

I would characterise Henry as a provocative host who shits all over people without a care in the world and that’s what many New Zealanders don’t like about him. At the moment the nation is evenly divided three ways in relation to Henry, but two-thirds don’t like his most recent outburst according to this Herald poll.

OH Henry - you're buggered!

I’d like to see a similar poll about how PM John Key’s handled this mess too. It’s not always easy to publicly stand up to racists, but Key should have said something to Henry instead of trying to laugh it off. That just legitimises the racism. The real shame here is with John Key, but hey, that’s John for you!

And Paul, put a sock in that filthy mouth of yours. You hand out the bruisings, but don’t like it when you’re the subject of the hounding. Get over it. Your comments that you’ll “sue the paper” for taking shots of your house and your neighbours’ houses shows just how little you really know about media law.

“Get off my f*****g land,” he shouted. “Have you got your pictures now? Have you taken photos of my property or any of my neighbours’ properties? If any photos are published I’ll sue the f*****g paper.”

When he was not given a response, he yelled: “Can you not speak, you there in the car? I will f*****g sue your paper.”

Here’s my tip: Paul, spend your gardening leave with a shrink and a law book. You will need the next couple of weeks to prepare a defence for the inevitable Broadcasting Standards Authority complaint hearing.

The big elephant in the parlour here is just how bigoted is New Zealand. A recent example that caught my eye was the interview last week on Campbell Live with the guy who’s running the keep New Zealand farms in New Zealand campaign. I was too busy at the time to write it up, but some of the same sentiments about White=Kiwi were in evidence there too, with just a smudge of mum’s homemade jam to sweeten the bitter bun.

We should come back to this question of racism in the national identity of New Zealand at a future date.


Honesty again – whodathunkit! What do we do about the news?

February 21, 2010

There must be something in the water, or maybe there’s an optometrist involved. I’m not sure what the reason is but another nationally syndicated columnist has let fly at her reporter colleagues  this weekend.

The fun started when Tracey Barnett claimed most columnists were short-sighted egoists in the NZ Herald yesterday. Tracey’s lament was that columnists can’t see past the daily rush of ‘new’ and, when it comes to analysis, they tend to be pack-like in approach.

We get so sucked into the vortex of the endlessly hungry daily news machine, we begin to think every story is about the fight, not the resolution. Suddenly our job becomes declaring momentary winners and losers.

[All commentary, no analysis, all of the time, NZH 20 Feb 2010]

Now Rosemary McLeod in the Sunday Star Times is having a go at the shallow pool of news-celebrity culture and the fact that precious column inches are wasted on fatuous stories about the sex lives of newsreaders and their ilk.

[4pm Sunday update]: Sometimes it does take me most of the the day to get through the papers and so I’ve only recently come across Deborah Coddington’s column ‘Live in the public eye? Get used to being gawked atRead the rest of this entry »


Sean Plunket’s opinions not worth much

October 21, 2009

The employment row between Sean Plunket and Radio NZ over Metro magazine’s offer of a monthly column for the Morning Report presenter is a storm in a coffee mug moment really. [Stuff.co.nz: Plunket furore surprises editor]

After all, Paul Henry writes about cars in Metro.

The argument from RNZ seems to be that Plunket is essential to the credibility of the network’s news and current affairs brand and that to have him writing an opinion column in Metro would somehow blur the line and make people think that either:

a) Plunket’s opinions, on whatever topic his columns range over, might be read as being those of RNZ news and current affairs; or

b) Plunket’s opinions are likely to be so outrageous and damaging to his credibility as a news and current affairs presenter/interviewer that his second job offerings could  also damage the RNZ news brand.

I’m flabberghasted by this. Really I am. I think RNZ is being very precious in holding to such a hardline. In the modern world of news and current affairs there is no hard and fast line between news and opinion. In fact, Plunket is very opinionated on Morning Report anyway.

That’s why he generates so much emotion, heat and attention. Sometimes I find myself shouting at him because of the skewed line of questioning, or the ludicrous and conservative assumptions that underlie his interviewing technique. Sometimes I get annoyed at his pompous and inquisitorial style – particularly when he’s beating up on easy targets with that “holier-than-thou” tone and almost shouting loudness.

I can’t see how a column from him in Metro would be any different. I wouldn’t read it necessarily every month – though I have started buying the Auckland-centric monthly now that the deliciously wicked Felicity Ferret has been re-instated.

I also don’t see why Metro editor Bevan Rapson is so keen to have Plunket write a column. To be honest I don’t think it’s a very inspired or inspiring choice. And he doesn’t even live in Auckland!

In what way is Plunket going to add value?

Would his column be along the lines of Bill Ralston in The Listener: predictable, not-so-funny middle-of-the-road stereotype-bashing and not very enlightening. I can only hope that Plunket might use the column centimetres to reveal himself a secret National Party supporter, that would satisfy my own secret curiosity about him at least.

There’s always a dearth of good opinion-writing in the media and usually a very shallow and narrow pool of views that is constantly fished. I think Bevan could do a lot worse than quietly let the Plunket idea die down and seek some new talent from a wider gene pool.

So that would mean that Paul Holmes and his ilk should immediately be ruled out, but if Bevan’s interested, he can talk to my peeps, they’ll sort a deal and I can guarantee to be controversial – you can write that into my contract.

You can go here and here for more on this issue.


Truth goes down the NewsCorpse memory hole

November 10, 2016

In a rambling and almost pointless column in The Australian on 2 November: THE MIND CODDLES, ultra-conservative Murdoch calumnist Janet Albrechtsen lamented the rise of so-called ‘political correctness’ on American university campuses and she cited an increase in administrative attempts to impose ‘trigger warnings’ on the content of some course materials to prove her point.

albrechtsen1

Janet Albrechtsen writes opinion to order for Rupert and Boris

Albrechtsen tapped into the NewsCorpse hive mind in preparing this article. In the first instance, she borrowed the idea from an October 10th column by the Herald Sun’s Rita Panahi, whose intemperate language and abusive tone goes unchecked by her editors. Albrechtsen also returned to the ‘yoga pants man’ imbroglio that we discussed in last week’s Media Sauce.

Then, a few days after the Albrechtsen column, ‘emeritus’ (simply means unpaid) Professor John Carroll returned to the theme in an opinion piece about the evils of Section 18C of the Human Rights Act: ‘Anguish is exquisite for wielders of 18C’.

carroll1

I’ve already been down the 18C rabbit hole and will go there again later this week, but for now I want to introduce you to the News Corp methods of groupthink and pushing inconvenient facts down the memory hole.

Groupthink is easy; it is represented clearly in the way that News Corp editorial and political lines are set at a high level and then all news and opinion reproduces the lines day after day. The current and increasingly vicious campaign against the Human Rights Commission and Section 18C of the anti-discrimination legislation is a paradigm example. I have written extensively on this phenomenon over on my blog, Ethical Martini. The simple point about the memory hole is that it permits the perpetrators of groupthink to deny that they do it, through the simple act of forgetting.

So firstly, permit me a short diversion into George Orwell’s magnificent novel of dystopian state capitalism, Nineteen Eighty-four.

Read the rest of this entry »


Not all bloggers still live with mum…blogging is not (citizen) journalism

October 12, 2010

So much has been happening with Henrygate over the past week or so that I missed this outrageous speech by the BBC’s senior reporter Andrew Marr:

“A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people,” he told the Cheltenham Literary Festival. “OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk”.

Who’dathunk Whaleoil (not that he’s a drunk) would have such a following in ‘Ol Blighty?

Is that a cauliflower you're wearing Mr Marr?

Sure the slightly seedy, bald[ing], cauliflower-nosed older gentleman that is Andrew Marr is entitled to his jaundiced view of bloggers, but in terms of over-generalising and stereotyping, his comment is A-grade nonsense.

A number of others have pointed this out, suggesting that criticising bloggers is soooo 2005, for example.

And Roy Greenslade writes that that Marr’s rant against ranting is nothing more than the ranting of an angry ranter and very one-dimensional. It’s also important to emphasise, as Krishnan Guru Murthy does, the two-way nature of media now – the news conversation – that blogging allows. It is also fairly common today that  many MSM journalists also blog

However, what Marr’s critics seem to have missed is his more casual association of blogging with so-called ‘citizen journalism: “Most citizen journalism strikes me as nothing to do with journalism at all.”

Well that might be the case, but to conflate blogging with an ill-defined notion of citizen journalism is lazy and inadequate.

In News 2.0 I have intiated a discussion of citizen journalism that argues that it is often used without any real definitional rigour – despite the now famous aphorism from NYU’s Jay Rosen that citizen journalism is the people formerly known as the audience armed with digital cameras and wifi.

It’s a cool idea and snappy, but Rosen’s casual definition is not enough. I think citizen journalism is a sub-category of what I call user-generated news-like content (UGNC). Citizen journalism has to be motivated by and driven by the word ‘citizen’ – that is there is some underlying purpose of citizenship attached to the news-like content. It also has to have a journalistic form.

I don’tjust mean an inverted pyramid, but it has to look like and smell like news.

Yes, the news form is shifting and the lines of the reportorial community are blurring, but there is still some point to putting boundaries around the production of information for public consumption that has the form of news and/or journalism.

User-generated news-like content is broader than poiltically-informed citizen journalism and encompasses eye-witness video or still images that are tweeted (Janis Krums’ Hudson river twitpics for example, or even video from the 2009 Iranian elections). But it is not journalism in this eyewitness form, it is unprocessed news-like information, but it has not undergone any of the formal labour that turn into a journalistic product and therefore ‘news’.

The famous Janis Krums tweet about the Hudson river plane crash

What Janis Krums did is not journalism, not even citizen journalism; it is a tweet from a digitally-enabled eye-witness.

It is, at best what we might call ‘accidental journalism’.

This information is not ‘news’ when Janis Krums tweets it; it is only news when it begins to circulate through news channels.

And it’s true that the number and type of news channels is expanding. News is now available via all forms of social media and casual UGNC can be circulated outside of established news channels, but we should not mix up these forms.

It seems to me that we too often do conflate eye-witness, accidental journalism and UGNC with citizen journalism. I also disagree with Marr’s dismissive view of these alternative forms of UGNC:

“…the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.

“It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism.” [Andrew Marr’s speech]

WhatMarr does here is mix up UGNC and blogging with this loosely-defined category of citizen journalism, and while it might serve his argument, it does not add to or clarify any real debate about what’s going on.

We have to separate these forms of UGNC  into analytically sound and clear definitional categories in order to fully explain and understand what’s happening to journalism today. It’s true that these forms won’t replace journalism, as Marr suggests, but they may well be incorporated, monetized, commercialised and de-radicalised.

Citizen journalism is important, in its political form it represents a challenge to the status quo and to the dominance of the MSM. As Chris Atton and James Hamilton point out in their book Alternative Journalism, much of citizen journalism is motivated by a distrust of the MSM and is in opposition to the values of the mainstream.

I have already critically reviewed Alternative Journalism, so won’t go over all the arguments again here, but one quote from my previous post on this topic is worth mentioning:

It seems that alternative modes of address in journalism – radical, questioning journalism – have had little, if any, real impact on capitalist hegemony. Of course they have, at least around the margins. Today we see further attempts at incorporation, as Atton and Hamilton point out – blogs are now mainstream and embedded in most commercial news websites.

[EM What is alternative journalism? July 13, 2009]

The key point is that blogs are now fairly mainstream. So too is user-generated news-like content. As I point out in News 2.0, the true inheritors of the Indymedia model of D-I-Y reportage are now outlets such as CNN’s iReport, or the bloggy-news aggregator/comment sites like Huffington Post or The Daily Beast. These sites are not established as a form of citizen journalism, they are commercial, reliant on aggregation from the MSM and on well-known middle-of-the-road celebrities from the established commentariat. What’s alternative about that?

The industrial-media-complex is not going to lie down and let citizen journalism, UGNC or ‘alternative’ journalism  amortize the eyeballs without a fight. As Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and other bloggy-news sites show, there is still an income stream to be had from monetizing the clickstream.

Perhaps this is best exemplified by rumours of a possible merger between the Daily Beast and the almost dead MSM brand Newsweek.

Media capital knows that to survive it must adapt, beg, borrow and steal and why not start by trading on the business models of successful online brands. As David Carr blogged earlier this week, the divide between mainstream news outlets, bloggy-news and broadcasting is breaking down:

More and more, the dichotomy between mainstream media and digital media is a false one. Formerly clear bright lines are being erased all over the place. Open up Gawker, CNN, NPR and The Wall Street Journal on an iPad and tell me without looking at the name which is a blog, a television brand, a radio network, a newspaper. They all have text, links, video and pictures. The new frame around content is changing how people see and interact with the picture in the middle.

[A vanishing journalistic divide, NYT October 10. 2010]

But it would be a mistake to confuse this with ‘citizen journalism’, or even ‘alternative journalism’. In fact it is the process of combined and uneven development in capitalism at work. The digital dialectic which sees the powerful media capitalists colonizing what used to be an alternative and liminal space in pursuit of surplus value and profits.

For the MSM moving into blogging, bloggy-news and online branding is just good business.

BTW: News 2.0 is at the printers and will be available in about 4-6 weeks. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it; I’ll be hawing it like mad.