Journalists on the wrong side of history when it comes to social media

April 26, 2019

In the last week or so some fairly senior journalists and journalism academics have launched a defence of mainstream reporters and reporting by suggesting that most, if not all, criticism of journalists is coming from a Trumpian perspective. This perspective has appeared in several tweets by senior journalists and it has been given a more ‘respectable’ form in a column by ABC talking head Michael Rowland.

In a piece published on the ABC News website Rowland lamented that he – and other reporters – have been on the receiving end of some insulting and even abusive tweets.

Now, journalism isn’t exactly the profession for shrinking violets.

If you cover the brutal game of politics you have to be particularly robust, but the level of muck being hurled around on Twitter at the moment would test the toughest of souls.

Personally speaking, I have noticed a huge increase in abuse and petty name-calling since the election campaign began.

The free character references I’ve received have often been quite inventive.

He wasn’t the only member of the journalistic elite to give voice to such views. Academic and Nine commentator (she’s published in what we used to know as the Fairfax mastheads) Jenna Price went into bat to defend Patricia Karvelas who also copped some flack over an incident on Insiders the previous weekend.

Social media has become an incubator for hatred of journalists, led by President Donald Trump after learning from the best, the troll armies of President Rodrigo Duterte, says senior research fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Julie Posetti.

Chris Uhlmann takes his complaint against the cultural Marxists a step further. He claims we are worse than the far-right. His former ABC colleague Leigh Sales has also publicly attacked what she calls “far left bias” against the ABC in general and her program in particular.

Far Left Fury

This is a misleading claim that attempts to delegitimise progressive critiques of the mainstream news media by lumping all critics of journalism into one ideological pigeon hole.

How would Leigh Sales – or Chris Uhlmann for that matter – identify someone as “far left”. They wouldn’t know from any position of nuanced reading or understanding; all they have to go on are their own prejudiced and stereotyped views from a position of privileged elitism.

However, what really annoyed me was this tweet from Miriam Cosic who has been a journo for a while and who also makes much of her postgraduate qualifications in philosophy.

Miriam got upset with me when I described this thinking as “lazy”, but it is intellectually lazy. There is a world of difference between a progressive left critique of journalism and the news media and Donald Trump’s Fascistic demonization of journalism he doesn’t like.

However, I guess these same ‘very fine’ people might dismiss my views out of hand. After all, I am a fully paid-up card-carrying life-long member of what Chris Uhlmann has derisively labelled the “post-Christian left”.

Chomsky, not Trumpski

I think there are two distinct political positions on media criticism, and it is wrong to conflate them.

One is certainly a neo-Fascist view that has been thoroughly discredited but that is espoused by Trump and his supporters and originated with the Nazi regime’s propaganda trope of the Lügenpresse or “lying media”.

The other is diametrically opposed to this and, as a form of shorthand, I’m going to call this the Chomskyian view.

The Chomskyian view is based on a long history of progressive, left-wing and anti-capitalist critiques of the news media and it is summarised rather well in Chomsky and Herman’s classic phrase about the “manufacture” of consent.

In 1988, Chomsky and Herman described the media in capitalist society as a propaganda machine. They were right then and the same holds true today.

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

The problem for the ruling class and its media allies is that the machine is breaking down and they’re fresh out of spare parts.

I’ve tried before in IA and in many of my other recent writings, including this book and this journal article, to explain the important differences between a Trumpian view of “fake news” and a more sophisticated analysis of journalism, journalists and the news media that situates the whole “fake news” discussion into an historical and theoretical context which is known as the political economy of communication.

I’ve also written about media issues extensively in IA, including here, here, here, here and here. I also wrote a long review of Katharine Murphy’s pamphlet, On Disruption in which she defends the News Establishment’s approach to the disruption caused by social media.

Here’s one takeaway from that piece:

Murphy raises the important question of the relationship between a media ecology that has begun a descent into what she accurately describes as ‘a febrile, superficial, shouty, shallow, pugnacious cacophony of content, where sensation regularly trumps insight’, and the demagoguery of Trump and his European imitators.

Murphy asks us rhetorically:

‘Did we, the disrupted media, somehow create Donald Trump? Did we enable him?’ 

However, she struggles to provide a coherent answer.

I think the collapse of the old certainties in the news media and the failure of the News Establishment to effectively reflect on its mistakes certainly gave strength to the Trumpian view that the news media is the ‘enemy of the people’.

However, let’s be clear this is a talking point of the Alt Right and its enablers. It is not a view shared by progressive critics of the News Establishment.

A direct attack on democracy and active citizenship

I have no problem with journalists defending themselves on Twitter, but the common tactic from the News Establishment has been to shy away from directly responding to serious critics and, instead, to focus on the minority of idiots who make vile threats.

I want to be clear; I do not support threats of violence, racist, sexist or homophobic abuse against reporters, but I don’t mind a bit of hard-hitting sarcasm.

The world has changed over the past 20 years and as we’re constantly told by the very same Establishment figures when they’re trying to gouge subscriptions from us: engagement is the new normal. There is no going back, social media has changed the journalistic landscape forever.

The problem is the News Establishment wants engagement on its terms. Engagement for them means we take out subscriptions and become unpaid sources for them or allow them to scour material from our social media feeds to pad out otherwise thin reporting.

What the News Establishment definitely doesn’t want is an active Fifth Estate undermining its authority or its cosy relationship with the rich and powerful.

I would go so far as to suggest that the pushback against their serious critics on Twitter reveals the truly anti-democratic nature of their thinking and their true ideological position.

At least that’s how I’ve interpreted this tweet from ABC reporter Matt Bevan.

Maybe he was joking, or at least maybe that’s what he’d say if challenged, but I think it’s telling.

Twitter provides a platform for what we might call ‘monitorial citizenship’, that is the ability for ordinary people to talk directly to the powerful.

This is upsetting for the News Establishment because, for the past 200 years or so, they have been the principal gatekeepers. Journalists were in a privileged position of mediating between the rulers and the ruled.

They were treated to a rare glimpse inside the halls of power – the first Press Gallery was established in the Palace of Westminster in 1803 – in return they were expected to massage the more brutal pronouncements of the powerful and provide for the “manufacture of consent”.

The News Establishment has played a supporting role ever since; agreeing to keep some secrets to protect the State and legitimising the consolidation of the two-party system.

It was his observation of the Westminster gallery that prompted this acerbic jab from Oscar Wilde:

“Journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by it, or disgusted by it…But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.”

Until recently, Establishment accounts of political machinations were not open to direct challenge. The public had to pretty much accept as gospel whatever the journalists wrote.

Now that has changed and now amount of whining from the News Establishment is going to put that genie back in its box.

The monitorial citizen is here to stay.

The monitorial citizen in a democracy is described by Columbia Journalism School professor Michael Schudson as a person outside of the dominant political structure who feels a responsibility to monitor what powerful institutions do, and to get involved when they feel power is being abused.

Schudson is no “post-Christian” leftist. He is a respected, bespectacled professor and himself aligned with the most News Establishment New York establishment, Columbia School of Journalism.

Yet he is able to see what many of our own – vastly anti-intellectual in outlook – news media refuse to see or are willfully blind to.

The power of the News Establishment is waning; monitorial citizens are taking to social media to clapback at the mistakes, misjudgements and misleading inferences that mainstream reporters make routinely.

The inestimable Mr Denmore summed it up nicely on his blog, The Failed Estate, in a piece called ‘All media is social’:

The public isn’t stupid. Much of the criticism they are expressing on social media about journalists reflects a sense of frustration that the issues they are their families care deeply about (like climate change or stagnant incomes or our treatment of refugees) are not advancing.

Quite.

 


A journalist is not a gadget

September 13, 2010

My second installment discussing Jaron Lanier’s You are not a gadget.

In the future, writing might not be something anymore that is entirely done by humans, and that surely needs to be debated.

Mercedes Bunz

The future is crashing in on the present and we are confronted by a world in which it might be ‘OK’ for robots to replace human reporters (Allen, 2010; Bunz, 2010a). Researchers in the Systems Informatics Lab, at Tokyo University, have built a machine that can ‘autonomously explore its environment and report what it finds’. Using an on-board camera to interview people and a Google search to ‘round out its understanding’, the newsbot ‘will even write a short article and publish it to the web’ (Dawson, 2010). At Northwestern University, in the Intelligent Information Lab, scientists are developing a ‘fully automated’ system for creating broadcast news by aggregating material from online sources to ‘drive a set of animated characters who reside in a virtual “news world”’ (InfoLab, 2010).

I don’t know about you, but I am not ready for this brave ‘news world’. Neither it seems is former cyber-guru turned tocsin Jaron Lanier.

Jaron Lanier’s You are not a gadget warns against the dehumanizing effects of ubiquitous computing and of relying too heavily on algorithms. His argument is simple: in order to believe that machines are smarter than us we have to dumb-down our own cognitive and reasoning abilities. He argues that the hive mind is the wrong kind of collective thinking and has coined the term ‘digital Maoists’ to describe the evangelists for a disembodied digital ‘brain’ that haunts the Internet.

Lanier believes the digital Maoists are ‘cybernetic totalists’ whose enthusiasm for algorithms and the ‘digital cloud’ betrays an ‘antihuman rhetoric’. He argues that if we are ‘locked in’ to this way of thinking—a form of technological determinism—we will turn into digital peasants: collectivized into stupidity, enthralled and entrapped by meta-data, algorithms and the aggregation of aggregators.

You are not a gadget is a call to action before it’s too late to stop the dehumanizing effects of too much computing. Lanier rejects the fervid ‘religious belief’ in machine-intelligence evident among the cybernetic totalists. He also believes that ‘aesthetics and emotions’ must compete with ‘rational argument’ in order to extend our humanity. I am drawn to Lanier’s unorthodox approaches and to his critique of the ‘techno-political-cultural orthodoxy’ that expanding computational capacity will somehow solve the world’s problems.

I’m all in favour of improving our lives through the intelligent application of technology, but I am reluctant to put my trust entirely in machines when it comes to news and journalism. We must be alert to the dangers of relinquishing control to impenetrable algorithms. To fail is to risk ceding all decision-making power to the digital Maoists: then it might be too late.

Allen, R. (2010, 23 March). Automated Sports Content: The future of sports journalism. StatSheet Retrieved 3 September, 2010, from http://statsheet.com/blog/automated-sports-content-the-future-of-sports-journalism

Bunz, M. (2010a, 30 March). In the US, algorithms are already reporting the news. PDA: The digital content blog Retrieved 1 September, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2010/mar/30/digital-media-algorithms-reporting-journalism

Dawson, R. (2010, 15 April). The rise of robot journalists. Trends in the Living Networks Retrieved 3 September, 2010, from http://rossdawsonblog.com/weblog/archives/2010/04/the_rise_of_rob.html

InfoLab. (2010, n.d.). News at Seven.   Retrieved 3 september, 2010, from http://infolab.northwestern.edu/projects/news-at-seven/

Lanier, J. (2010). You are not a gadget: A manifesto. Melbourne: Penguin.


Can journalism survive the Internet?

June 19, 2010

It was great to be on stage at LATE a couple of weeks ago. The panel was talking about the future of journalism and I was there to give the ‘pointy-head’ view. Brent Impey, former boss at Mediaworks, represented the ‘hard-headed’ business perspective; Eric Kealy, head of TVNZ 6 & 7 was the ‘one-foot-in-both-camps’ semi-pubic broadcasting voice and Colin Peacock, MediaWatch presenter, was, as always, the voice of reason and ‘Mr Nice Guy’.

It was a load of fun and the feedback seemed to be it was one of the liveliest panels in a while and a bit of “biff” between the panelists was seen as a good thing. The audience certainly got involved; plenty of laughter and cheers in among the serious squirrel stuff.

The video is now online at the LATE site and on YouTube, so you can watch it without leaving the comfy frontroom of Ethical lMartini

There was a twitterwall too, mostly good comments and one or two snarks.

The possibility that TVNZ might be put up for sale by a second-term National government highlights some of the contradictions in the ‘hard head’ and ‘semi-public viewpoints about broadcasting policy and political economy.

A couple of weeks ago in the Weekend Herald John Drinnan’s column raises the idea of a TVNZ float and current CEO Rick Ellis is quoted giving a personal view that it shouldn’t be sold to foreigners.

Ellis says that the Kiwi-ness of the network might be lost and also its independent voice in news and current affairs; but in fact that is not the real issue.

Foreign or domestic commercial ownership of TVNZ will have an effect. It will no longer be even ‘semi-public’ broadcasting and perhaps the TVNZ 6 & 7 channels will become shell templates into which anything discarded as commercially to hard or not profitable will be dumped.

Eric Keally talked about this model @LATE, suggesting that such a split could work with 6 & 7 becoming the home of public service broadcasting. It seems that the plan being talked about at the highest levels is creating this kind of hybrid public service broadcaster that would include Radio New Zealand, TVNZ 6 & 7 and Heartland channels and (if the real hard-heads get their way) Maori TV.

The only thing stopping the MBS being shoved in kicking and screaming is that it would be a political hard sell to the Maori constituency. But, there’s generally derision and contempt for Maori TV in some circles. Plenty of the good and powerful think it’s a disgrace that the MBS got the Rugby World Cup and there’s a feeling that MTV is totally unwatched.

Patronisingly some folk say it’s good at doing “language” stuff, but that it should leave real broadcasting to the big boys. The same people are also scornful of the MBS ever being commercially viable and they take delight in pointing out that it only survives because of cosy deals with government departments.

You see, even while paying lip service to the ideals of public broadcasting the hard heads and the semi-publics actually want the same thing. To get their hands on more of the broadcasting pie.

As I mentioned @LATE and what got me most passionate on the evening was the whole “dumbing down” debate. The hard heads and sem-publics don’t really get this. They believe in market-choice and “let the audience decide”. They also fetishise the idea of “choice”, but it is the producers who are in charge.

The people in control of production determine the content; not the audience. And while there is a great deal of choice, particularly in the digital age of endless streaming of content via the Web what does it really do for us?

It’s a downside of the “Daily Me” that fragmentation of audiences destroys our collective conversation and shatters the public sphere into millions of sphericules that don’t intersect and hardly ever interact with each other.

A speech that wasn’t given

LATE is not the sort of function where one gives a speech, but I wrote one anyway; mainly to get my thoughts clear. It’s a summary of the arguments in News 2.0, so I thought I’s share it here.

News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet?

LATE @ the museum – 3 June 2010

A/Prof Martin Hirst, Journalism Curriculum Leader,
School of Communication Studies, AUT University

I’d like to thank the Auckland War Memorial Museum for the opportunity to speak at LATE on the topic of journalism’s future.

I have been to several of these sessions and I think they are an important and fun addition to the intellectual and cultural life of this great city and of New Zealand more generally.

To be invited here as a contributor, rather than an audience member, is indeed an honour.

Can I start by explaining the title of my forthcoming book, which is in two parts.

Consuming News 2.0

The first part of the title “News 2.0” refers to the emerging paradigm for news consumption and production.

In terms of consumption the key factor in the new paradigm is mobility. We are no longer locked into to only consuming news at certain times of the day.

Typically, people of my generation (I guess I’m a late baby boomer) would consume news in fairly static and sedentary ways.

It might start with reading a morning newspaper – at home or in transit to our place of work – or with listening to a radio broadcast over breakfast, or in the car.

And then we would go into a kind of news-free zone for most of our working day. We might hear some breaking news from colleagues or friends who had heard it on the radio, but by and large, our next dose of news would be the afternoon newspaper (now most certainly the dinosaurs of the analogue age) or we would sit and watch a broadcast TV bulletin sometime in the early evening – typically the lead in to what we still call, but with less conviction perhaps, “prime time”.

For most of the past 20 years we might also – if we were serious news junkies –watch a late evening bulletin before retiring for the night.

We no longer do most of our news consuming in that way anymore. Even us baby boomers have adapted – we’ve become digital immigrants – and we consume our news through wireless connections to our laptops and tablets, on our PCs at all hours during the working day and through our mobile phones.

In fact, it hardly seems fair or adequate anymore to call these indispensible hand-held communicators “phones”.

They are so much more. A phone is also camera for still and video images; they are personal jukeboxes and they are our permanent connection to the world of news and information.

News seems to follow us around like a bad smell. It invades our pores and the membranes of our brains and it seems we can hardly ever turn it off – even if we want to.

But there’s another problem too. The very definition of news – its taken-for-grantedness and the venerated values that turn information into news – is changing too.

With mobility comes mountains of extra choice and an endless supply of news-like information that can be infinitely tailored, redesigned and reconfigured to suit our personal, individual tastes and prejudices.

We have moved from the age of broadcasting to the age of narrowcasting.

This has been described as “The Daily Me”, our ability to customise the news we see through various online readers and aggregators, RSS feeds and by “following” our favourite news sources through social media applications like Twitter or an social networking sites such as Facebook.

Social media has changed the look and feel of news forever.

From consumption to production

I will return to that theme in a moment, but first let’s look at News 2.0 from a production point of view.

And here we can introduce another important thesis from my book. There is a two-fold crisis in the news industry today. It is a situation that many senior news figures, including Arthur Sulzberger Jr of the famous newspaper family, who calls the crisis a “perfect storm”.

The first element of the crisis is about the profitability of media capital. All the major players – from Rupert Murdoch to Mediaworks’ owners Ironbridge – are very worried about declining circulations, ratings, advertising revenues and therefore a shrinking bottom line.

The almost universal response – typical of crisis management in the capitalist economy – has been downsizing. Newsrooms have shrunk, story budgets have collapsed and there are no resources for expensive overseas bureaux and highly-paid senior and investigative reporters.

As a consequence – and a likely cause of the second element of the crisis – audiences are losing trust. We no longer believe in the factual and “objective” values of the traditional news media. Journalists are among the least respected of the professions – beaten into last place in most surveys only by hookers and hucksters.

In addition we are also suffering from an overload of public relations and marketing that is repackaged into a news-like text, but clearly has a commercial, rather than an informational purpose. Most recent studies from around the globe suggest that more than half of what we see in the form of news has its origins in PR and spin.

Journalists are out-numbered by 2 or 3 to 1 in most major news markets and this imbalance is likely to get a lot worse before – if at all – it begins to improve again.

So, a very clear result of this has been the emergence of alternative forms, sources and types of news.

While we have ever greater choice and – until the great paywall comes down – unprecedented access to news sources, we are in fact consuming less of what we might call “hardcore” public interest news and more of the softer, celebrity-focused, opinion-laden and frankly at times highly unreliable forms of news-like information that is generated from the blogosphere, the twittersphere and from the broadcast yourself social media such as YouTube.

Collectively this avalanche of social media is known as Web 2.0 and the first part of my title is a play on that; which brings me to the second part of my book title:

Can journalism survive the Internet?

Why is this an issue?

There’s one very clear and simple explanation for this – the Internet and the World Wide Web (and pedants tell me they are different things) have fundamentally altered the process of news consumption and news production.

There’s obviously a lot more behind this unsurprising observation and I’ve hinted at some of it.

In more pointy-headed terms I would argue that the whole political economy of the news media has changed.

In my book, which I hope is for a general and well-informed readership, I talk about this using the metaphor of the “singularity”.

The singularity is scientifically-defined as that point in time where machine intelligence outstrips the thinking capacity of the human brain.

But I prefer to talk about it in the language of Charles Stross, one of my favourite sci-fi authors whose book, The Singularity Sky tells the story of a hyper-evolved species of machine-dwelling sentient beings who cause a full-scale revolution on an earth-like planet that they decide to visit for a spot of fun.

At one point in the book one of the sentients’ camp-followers makes a telling remark to one of the human leaders of the planetary revolt:

“Talk you of tradition in the middle of a singularity?”

The planet’s ruling elite collapses under the sheer weight of the gift economy established by the singularity’s arrival and, I would argue, we can use this metaphor to examine the news industry’s responses to Web 2.0 – the explosion of social media and social networking across the Internet.

Can journalism survive the perfect storm of declining profits, the suspicion of audiences and the threat “from below” – the millions and billions of bytes of user-generated news-like content that is being published, broadcast, narrowcast, blogged, tweeted, uploaded and downloaded across the planet.

My answer is a qualified “Yes”.

It’s “yes” because I believe that the desire for information, for us to be informed and to want “news” of our neighbours, friends and enemies is fundamental to the human condition.

We have needed and found ways to circulate news-like information from the very beginnings of human social life. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

But I qualify my belief in the future of journalism because, frankly, we just don’t know what journalism will really look like in the future.

There are currently a number of proposals, talking points and even experiments in new forms of journalistic endeavour, but nobody is certain that one or another of these models will actually work, or will be a salvation for the news industry.

I think the news industry is resilient and the signs are that the whole cultural expectation that news on the Web will be free is being worried away and slowly wound back by paywalls – Murdoch is about to close off free access to his news properties and the New York Times will do so from next year.

In New Zealand there is a paywall around the Business Review’s premiere content and we may well see Fairfax and APN follow suit.

Paywalls come with their own particular sets of problems – not the least of which is our resistance to paying and the smaller returns that accrue in online media from both subscriptions and advertising.

Most experts agree that there is a cost to the company when a paywall is imposed and that any gain in subscription revenue could be eaten up by a loss in advertising as the viewing audience is restricted.

But news companies are also finding ways to monetize the clickstream around user-generated news-like content too.

CNN’s iReport is one example of a major legacy media giant adopting some of the principles of “D-I-Y” media culture. User-generated content becomes the property of CNN and any revenue stays with the company.

In political economy terms this is free labour that can be monetized and add to the bottom line for CNN and others who adopt this model – and most large media companies operate this way.

Finally, journalism will survive the Internet but with substantial changes. There is likely to be more UGNC, not less and more audience interaction, not less and more amateur journalism, more blogging, more tweeting and more use of social media to circulate news-like content.

Whether or not this is a good thing in terms of the public interest and the public sphere is yet to be seen.


Inquirer sale – save a paper to kill an industry?

April 29, 2010

The troubled Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister tabloid the Daily News have new owners this week after a fierce bidding war between a consortium of creditors and a billionaire business figure.

The consortium of lenders won with a bid of $139 million, but this price is a fraction of the value in the company the last time it changed hands.

In 2006 the Inquirer and the News were sold for $515 million. That could have been an inflated price at the time, but the fall is indicative of the way that newspaper companies have been hemorrhaging value over the last five years.

The sale removes the threat of bankruptcy from the papers, but as one local Inquirer staffer and union rep said, it may be out of the frying pan and into the fire. The question remains: What will the new owners do with two newspapers in an urban market that clearly cannot sustain them?

“There is certainly a tremendous sense of relief in that this long and complex and rather torturous bankruptcy process may finally be at an end,” said Diane Mastrull, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and a chair of The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. “But we are also somewhat worried because now we enter possibly another new and terrifying phase, and that is new ownership without much of an idea of what their expectations are for their business and what their commitment to the businesses will be.” [Papers sold to creditors group]

The Inquirer group has been in trouble for some time and has been facing closure for months. Even so, the Daily News won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2010.

The new owners are already calling for “concessions” from the newspaper unions representing staff on the mastheads.

You can reasonably interpret this as more job cuts, less staffing and budget for news operations, more advertorial, etc. etc.

The papers seem safe-ish for now, but their long-term future is far from certain. There are likely to be similar fire sales in other American news markets too.

Circulation figures released this week show an overall decline of around 9 percent across most major markets in the US.

The San Francisco Chronicle – already under the threat of closure from owners the Hearst Corporation, showed a decline of over 20 percent.

While the decline has not yet proved terminal for some titles, year on year for the past three years it has been steady and shows no sign of turning around.

That’s why the sale of the Inquirer to creditors could still be dangerous. If they want to cut their losses and get back whatever they can on their investment, closure could still be on the cards.


The Open Newsroom – a study of New Zealand newsrooms and citizen journalism

February 11, 2010

Congratulations to Masters student Vincent Murwira. He has completed his dissertation research project and it is now available for public viewing.

There is a trend with postgraduate students to present their work in non-traditional ways and we encourage that here at AUT.

Vincent is an experienced reporter and camera operator with many years in the field in South Africa before he arrived in New Zealand.

For this project he conducted lots of interviews; many of them with faces that New Zealand news insiders (and members of the public) will know well.

The project is, IMHO (declaration, I was a supervisor), well executed and certainly just about as up-to-date as it is possible to be in the rapidly changing world of print, broadcast and online journalism today.

I’d also like to express my appreciation to all our colleagues who were willing to give their time to Vincent. Without their participation, of course, a project like this is not possible.

Vincent’s site The Open Newsroom is now open and he’s hoping to keep it fresh through blogging regularly.

Please take a look. Vincent and I would value some feedback.

Click the image for the link


Whale-watching: Frenemies like these

January 14, 2010

Prime Minister John Key has warned blogger Cameron Slater he cannot break name suppression laws just because he disagrees with them.

The warning came as Whanganui Mayor and former MP Michael Laws started a fighting fund yesterday on his talkback radio show for Slater’s legal defence.

Stuff.co.nz: Blogger warned

Indeed, the horse has bolted.

Perhaps this is the start of the shitstorm  Whaleoil promised us last week.

  1. I bet Russell is puce-faced
  2. A victim writes
  3. Finally a judge we can believe in
  4. A suppression joke
  5. A mad woman’s poo

The last, in particular invokes the storm image.

The victim’s message is heart-felt, no doubt, but what does it add to rhe debate, The perceptions – that there is no “justce”, that “bastards” deserve “it”, are populist myths that feed the whole vengance riff and notion that the “system” has failed victims of crime, that I mentioned last week.

Here’s a few more links to push some thinking on this issue.

Is there moral equivalence between naming someone who owes you money, a dickhead, local petty crimssex-addict celebrity love rats, sadistic child-killers and state-sanctioned torturers?


Revenge, name suppression and celebrity justice

January 7, 2010

The Whaleoil saga [background here and here] has led me to consider why the issue of name suppression for so-called celebrities (or more generally people with an already existing public profile/reputation) gets people so worked up.

There was a shared feeling of outrage when a semi-famous Kiwi “entertainer” was allowed permanent name suppression after pleading guilty to the sexual assault of a young woman and there were some demented folk exhibiting very vigilante-like tendencies when Whaleoil outed*** a former Kiwi Olympian previously convicted of a serious crime who was before the courts on further serious charges.

Now Whaleoil himself is before the courts charged with several counts of breaching suppression orders and identifying people subject to a name suppression order. But why is he taking on this crusade?

I came across some answers in a journal article from Crime, Media, Culture, which is published by Sage. The piece, “Naming, shaming and criminal justice: Mass-mediated humiliation as entertainment and punishment”, was written by Steven Kohm from the University of Winnipeg. I can’t link to the article from here as that would breach copyright and the fair access policy of AUT library. However, you can get links from Google Scholar and elsewhere.

The key arguments are as follows:

Shame is a dubious method of applying “justice” to criminals and since the advent of reality TV and forensic porn as entertainment, humiliation as a tool of social control has been amplified through the mass media – and more recently via social media – as a method of both punishment and as a form of voyeuristic and participatory entertainment.

Read the rest of this entry »