News 2.0 : journalism, wikileaks and beyond the fourth estate

December 16, 2010

It’s not every day that you attend a book launch. It’s a once-or-twice moment to launch a book you’ve actually written.

Today, 16 December 2010 on a pissing-down evening in Auckland is one of those moments for me.

Today is roughly – give or take a week here and there – also an anniversary of sorts. In January 2007 I started here and this is the end of my fourth year at AUT.

More of that later, but first I should probably think about answering the inevitable question I will be asked about the book: “Do you think journalism can survive the Internet?”

So far I’ve usually responded with a qualified “Yes.” Almost a “Yes, but…”

As The Beat tell us: “It’s cards on the table time.”

My considered, thoughtful answer now is: “Journalism must survive.”

The bigger issues are really What? How and Why?

What sort of journalism will survive, or thrive on the Internet?

How will it survive – what changes will finally shape the journalism of the immediate, proximate and distant futures?

And finally: Why should journalism survive when it seemingly has low levels of public trust and it is economically in trouble?

Journalism is too important for the social fabric and the public sphere to be allowed to disappear, because of the Internet, or in spite of it.

The demand for journalism is strong — all sorts of news and news-like information is consumed around the clock by audiences around the world and across many platforms.

It seems obvious that news is a human need. The circulation of news and information is crucial to so much of our daily life; from simple things like weather forecasts and news headlines to more complex decision-influencing interactions with media: taste recommendations, tribal and communal affiliations, social, cultural and political allegiances.

In short, news and journalism contribute to our global world view. Many of these insights, reports and analyses might be partial. Some will appear biased or advocacy-based rather than ‘news’ and some will make our blood boil; but they inform, educate and entertain.

Journalism and journalists have a proud history of – under the right circumstances – speaking truth to power. At the same time, it is criticised for being too close to power. There’s a contradiction in that couplet. This fault line is expressed in many ways:

  • journalists and news represent the fourth estate, based on bourgeois ideals of freedom of expression, rights and democratic representation
  • the Internet represents a new ‘fifth estate’ or sorts that is more democratic, or at least should be outside of traditional media structures and systems of control
  • the news industry is the free market of ideas where the value of an idea can be measured by commercial success
  • #wikileaks is the new journalism – or a threat to national security
  • easy access to user-generated content means that the MSM is becoming irrelevant in many peoples’ lives
  • social media and digital technologies will kill newspapers sooner rather than later and television eventually
  • journalism is a mirror reflecting society back to itself
  • journalists and news cannot be trusted to always tell the unvarnished truth
  • news is compromised by ideological values that support the status quo
  • twitter beats the MSM for speed, but has a low signal to noise ratio
  • journalists are caught in an ethical minefield because of the contradictions
  • the spin doctors are in control – journalism is just churnalism
  • commercial speech is chewing up the space free speech used to occupy in the public sphere
  • which business model is going to work best?

Funnily enough, enough of these common sense insights are true – or, put another way – there’s enough partial truth in these ideas to formulate a greater understanding.

I try to capture some of this in News 2.0 and argue that journalism can survive the Internet. More precisely journalism and the Internet will get on just fine. What’s less clear for me at the moment is the future of professional journalism versus amateur or alternative models; the stability of the industrial news model; and what Rupert Murdoch might do next if and/or when the paywalls fail or succeed.

I am encouraged by experiments in crowd-sourcing and collaborations.

I believe in and will fight for good investigative journalism

I want to encourage greater democratic input to news and journalism and to empower the people we formerly called the audience.

I also want to celebrate and invigorate the fighting, democratic and committed journalism of my heroes, past and present.

I actually got to celebrate my book moment in a different way earlier today. I had a long chat with National Radio’s Mediawatch producer Colin Peacock about #twitdef, which I covered recently. You might recall the incident when a senior News Ltd editor threatened to sue a hackademic blogger reporting on a journalism education conference in Sydney.

Twitdef and The Australian

A week in the Twitterverse

#posettigate as it became known in tweets raised interesting questions about tweeting and blogging and when someone might be considered to be a journalist and able to claim privilege for fair reporting of someone else’s potentially damaging comments.

Did it count in Julie Posetti’s favour that she has been a serious MSM journalist and can claim an understanding of the rules? Did Julie in fact stop being a journalist when she became a full-time educator and academic? She may well argue that she hasn’t given up journalism and I would be among many journalism educators that feel the same way.

Journalists are people like us – trained, schooled in newsrooms, perhaps even university-educated; but at heart a reporter, a ‘newshound’.

Most of us hackademics like to think we still think like hard-nosed journalists; we still have some good news instincts and we ‘get’ journalism.

But we also bring something else to the mix; a fresh(ish) and more distanced, nuanced perspective. We don’t just ‘do’ journalism, or ‘teach’ it; we think it and analyse is and many of us question it too. To some extent, we are now outside journalism, but looking intently inwards.

For the most part our intentions are honourable.

We love journalism and we actually like lots of actual journalists.

We love news and believe in its powers for both good and evil

But do we really know what journalism is today?

This is the question at the heart of the contradictions I’ve been talking about.

You will notice now that I haven’t defined journalism really. Except towards the end where I describe people like me.

I am acutely aware that this is only one definition today.

Seismic shifts in technology and in the social relations of news production have rattled the foundations of the fourth estate and wikileaks is just another example of ongoing after-shocks.

I end my book by arguing we have to move beyond the fourth estate conception of journalism and news in order to save both as areas of professional and intellectual practice.

I’ve begun to look to Gramsci and the history of public intellectuals for some possible clues.

But that’s a project for next time.


Of pineapple lumps, Gobbits and market economics

October 28, 2010

Every man woman and child in New Zealand has just paid about $22.20 towards the production costs of Lord Porkpie’s The Gobbit. It’s not quite enough to give us Gold Class, but seriously: Shouldn’t we all now get a ticket to see this Warner Bros blockbuster?

After all, thanks to the Teflon Gollum we effectively sold Middle Earth for a song and a dance.

And what is the opportunity cost of handing over nearly $100 million to Hollywood moguls?

Well, one lost opportunity would be to hire 166 more teachers for ten years, or approximately the same number of nurses and radiographers.

Seriously, what’s more valuable to New Zealand: better health and education outcomes, or a handful of tourist shekels and a promotional DVD?

How can the Teflon Gollum justify the social cost of helping out Warner Bros against the future of Kiwi children?

At a time when the National government is crying poor and refusing to give pay rises to health workers and teachers where does the $100 million come from?

Effectively everyone who works on The Gobbit in New Zealand is on welfare!

We’re told the movie will create thousands of jobs and enhanced tourism opportunities, but where are the numbers? So far it’s just a hollow promise. I’ve seen one economist’s estimate that about $1.5 billion will be generated in New Zealand, but no source is given for the data [ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie]. And if you see the numbers below, that $1.5 seems wildly inflated to me.

Significantly, other benefits are harder to pin down:

Work by NZIER in 2002 suggested the Lord of the Rings trilogy created 800 jobs for three to four years, and brought in $300 million-plus in foreign exchange earnings annually, although polling for Tourism New Zealand found a very small percentage of tourists were motivated to visit because of the films. [Stuff.co.nz]

What we do know is that Lord Porkpie made about $10 million for the first three LOTR movies, so he’s likely to score another $5 million or so.

And the LOTR trilogy grossed well over $1 billion for the studios

Rottentomatoes.com provides the following statistics:

The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:
Box Office: $313,837,577
VHS Rentals: $17,160,000

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:
Box Office: $340,478,898
VHS Rentals: $9,460,000

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:
Box Office: $376,958,965
VHS Rentals: $3,030,000

Taking those statistics for the film we can add them up and find a total:
$1,060,925,440

Other estimates place the total at well over $2 billion.

So why does Warner Bros need tax breaks anyway? The simple answer is to put more precious in the pockets of shareholders?

A further question if I may: Why are we led to believe that the budget for The Gobbit is $670 million when the total cost of the LOTR trilogy was under $300 million?

Another aspect of this is the irony of a free-market government and its libertarian partners in the ACT party helping to minimise the market risk for a multinational corporate giant.

The Teflon Gollum loves to talk up his free market and money market credentials, but he’s the first to dish out a tonne of cash in the form of corporate handouts.

Congratulations Middle Earth, you have won another bag of Piiiiie Napplumps.


Tens of journalists rally to save the Gobbit and Lord Porkpie snarls at Aussie filth

October 25, 2010

It is true.

New Zealand is Middle Earth, complete with archaic employment laws, ignorant tribes of Gobbits and a semi-rural, semi-feudal social system that honours caste by birth or by wealth.

Tens of journalists turned up today to absorb and repeat Lord Porkpie’s message of anti-Australian hatred and ultra-moral national heartiness.

Journalists swell the crowd at Lord Porkpie's Auckland witch hunt

Read the rest of this entry »


King of the Gobbits, Paul Holmes and Hollywood don’t give a shit: actors are people too

October 24, 2010

You know there’s one very good reason why New Zealand standards of living will never match Australia. His name is Paul Holmes.

He is the new poison dwarf in the Gobbit story. If this is an example of what the PD actually cares about then he is, indeed, a shallow little wanker.

“Man, I’m angry. Angry that a group of gullible actors have allowed themselves to be used by some bolshy left-wing filth from Australia who may or may not simply want to get The Hobbit filmed over there.”

So Australian unionists like Simon Whipp are “bolshy left-wing filth” are they Paul? Well the strength and success of the Australian union movement is actually one reason why Australian wages are higher, there’s better superannuation for “Aussie filth” and working conditions are not like some of the third-world standards that Kiwi workers have to put up with.

But, wait a minute: what the fuck would you know about the working conditions for ordinary Kiwis – in the film industry or anywhere else? Oh, that’s right, fuck all!

You have a very privileged life, well-paid, well-watered, well-fed and able to do pretty much whatever you fucking please. You got that way because you are a willing mouthspeak for vested interests and a political water-boy for the National Party.

I also think I’ve found the “smoking gun” — there is a conspiracy to break Actors’ Equity in New Zealand and destroy the film industry unions who keep demanding a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work…as partial proof I offer this:

Hollywood writers and actors are notorious for decrying money, wealth, profit, as corrupters of art, integrity, and morality. But let them see a wealthy producer, and suddenly they too want wealth–the producer’s wealth.

You will have to take the jump to find the source of this quote.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mr Eekes’ remarks: The governor-general; patriotism and class war

October 11, 2010

My occassional correspondent,  J W Eekes Esq. sent this missive as a comment on the Henrygate thread. It speaks to the heart of the debate about “Kiwi-ness” with a vigor born of class-consciousness. I thought it well worth elevating.

Many thanks sir. Please regale us with more of your pithy observations.

The problem of the Governor-General

J W Eekes [guest post]

The real problem with the Governor-General isn’t his size or ethnicity. The problem is his membership in the self-serving, bipartisan cohort of judges and lawyers who consider themselves born to rule this country and have done so for decades.

Ruling classes throughout the Anglosphere co-opt whoever and whatever they can to legitimise their hold on power and give the impression of inclusiveness in what is in fact always an elite club governed by inviolable customs and shibboleths.

Satyanand’s ethnicity might be a problem for Henry and his supporters. It’s not for the establishment who long ago accepted him and elevated him to office. What matters to them is membership in the ruling class of our very own good ol’ boys and gals. If anything, Satyanand’s South Asian origin served to make him Helen Clark’s top choice even though it aroused suspicions of tokenism.

The only genius of the ruling class is its ability to pay lip service to lofty terms like meritocracy and public service, while exploiting the vast majority of people and convincing them that jandals, Richie McCaw and the quarter-acre section mean Godzone is something more than a lame concept invented by repressed depressives who clearly never lived or visited anywhere else.

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 »


With rich friends like these, who needs enemies?

May 23, 2010

We need the wealthy and the talented more than they need us. Their skills are international, their enterprise is universal. They can make more money, live better lifestyles and generally advance their family’s prospects better in countries more developed than our own. Australia, North America, the UK and even the new Asia. [Michael Laws, 23 May 2010]

What’s wrong with this statement? This wasn’t really going to be a post-budget post, but in a way it is. It has to be because this budget has been celebrated in some circles as somehow “fair” in terms of tax redistributions and certainly as being “good for business”. The implication there is that what’s good for business and business owners is good for all of us. In fact, that’s not the case. The budget favours the wealthy and as Michael Laws argues, so it should, because we must be grateful for any crumbs that drop from the top table.

But, how do the rich get that way? Is it really because of their talent? Am I, and are we, as Laws suggests, just envious of their elegant ways and clever business acumen? Or are these tall poppies actually gold-plated jerks in need of chopping down?

Do we really need wealthy people like Mark Bryers — a thief, liar and luxury rooter? Read the rest of this entry »


Yankee stay home!

April 13, 2010

New Zealand is world famous in New Zealand for its long-standing policy of refusing to host visits from American naval vessels. Now the conservative John Key government wants to reverse this position and re-open New Zealand ports to US gunboat diplomacy.

American sailors have not been able to visit strip clubs and brothels in New Zealand since the late 1980s and to be honest, no one really misses them [except maybe Steve Crow].

Read the rest of this entry »


Mr Trotter’s on to something

March 25, 2010

I’ve been to Galbraith’s Ale House in Mt Eden road a few times to sup with Mr Trotter and his pals of a Friday evening. We’ve had some pleasant times and one or two beastly disagreements, but I think Chris is right in his recent assessments of the ACT-led National government.

Mr Trotter has an elegant and literary blog called Bowalley Road, named after a laneway in rural Otago, and from time to time it makes wise and interesting reading.

In a recent piece comparing the actions of the Key government with those of a previous National regime, Chris makes the following point:

National’s backwoodsmen may see nothing wrong with “kicking the bodies of public servants” and ruthlessly reaffirming the policy objectives of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, but those few wise heads that still remain in the National Party would do well to remind these backwoods Bourbons that the voters have firmly rejected them.

The Prime Minister’s winning smile cannot forever be relied upon to distract voters’ attention from the mounting casualties of National’s noxious nostalgia. [Plus ça change]
What Chris is describing here is the sheer brutality of the National party’s political agenda today. Perhaps even more chilling is the way in which the Auckland super city is being foist upon us without, it seems, any discussion or recourse:

If “Rogernomics” represented the triumph of private over public interests in economic matters, “Rogerpolitics” stands for the elevation of private over public decision-making in the political sphere.

When that happens, our entire system of responsible government will fall under its shadow, and the future of democracy itself will be imperilled. [Rogerpolitics]

Let’s not forget that the whole super city push is being led by ACT’s poison dwarf “Dr Jerkall”. ACT is not yet a Fascist organisation, but its individualistic and libertarian rhetoric is  damaging to the social good and ultimately a gateway drug to the Brownshirts.

The question is what to do about it?

One of the Key things is to begin joining the dots:

  1. Attacks on higher education
  2. Attacks on school teachers and education
  3. Attacks on welfare and social security beneficiaries
  4. More jails and more jailers
  5. Maintaining a low wage economy
  6. Less money for public service broadcasting
  7. Ditching the TVNZ Charter obligations
  8. Privatising Auckland City governance
  9. Opening up the national estate to strip mining
  10. A higher profile for “our” SAS boys in Afghanistan

This is just off the top of my head. I’m sure you can add many more to this list.

Any opposition that fights on single issues against this juggernaut government is doomed to defeat. Only a consistent application of the principles of a genuine united front can offer any hope.

Or as Winston says in 1984: “If there’s any hope at all, it lies with the Proles.”


Human rights – [dis]honoured in the breach

March 25, 2010

You’ve gotta love that  worm and cuddly, short and brutish Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett. A “Westie”, a single mum and a battler, who through hard graft and sheer rat cunning, has made it to John Key’s illustrious front bench.

“Bruiser” Bennett has once again demonstrated  she’s made of sterner stuff than most with her “damn the torpedoes” approach to welfare reform. When informed by the Attorney General that sections of the Orwellian-themed Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill breach the Bill of Rights Act, her Churchillian response was a two-fisted “Idongivafuck”

The Attorney-General is required to draw Parliament’s attention to breaches but Governments are not obliged to act on them and routinely ignore breaches. [Some welfare reforms breach rights]

Bennett believes (or so she’s obliged to say) that the discrimination on the grounds of gender, marital status and family status is fair enough and that plenty of Kiwis will support her:

“I think that is a discrimination that most New Zealanders will see as being fair and reasonable.”

Where does it stop? Some New Zealanders might think discrimination against Gays is “fair and reasonable”, or against Polynesians, Koreans, Indians or Chinese. Read the rest of this entry »