Wednesday, July 4, 2012

May the Fourth Estate Be With You

The state of our media in New Zealand gets quite a pasting within some areas, and for good reason because it's a little bit shit. It tells us what is happening (if there are attention grabbing pictures or video to accompany it), with the mandatory explosions, people sobbing, gorillas cuddling kittens etc, but fails to give us the requisite context and background to make any real sense of why it's happening. Dammit, sometimes I want to know why the gorilla is cuddling Mr Boots, and how many kittens they went through to get that simply adorable shot.

There's no surprises why this is happened. Journalism is business. It's about revenue generation in a time where getting peoples attention is harder and harder. While you're reading this for free you could instead have nipped out and bought a newspaper. My god, you killed print journalism. You bastard.

Before railing against the journalists though don't forget they're required to churn out x number of stories a day, and when you've got those restraints around you, and you're under resourced because regional stations have been shut down and the fax machine was traded in for wine, you just don't have the luxury of time to be reflective. There are more people working in public relations than journalism, and if someone hands over pre-prepared pr release it must be pretty tempting to just slip it into the pile, unless you want to speed dial the requisite 'experts' who come up with wildly differing accounts, no narrative is given, and bang, you've got a story and a public that is not necessarily any the wiser.

Another point is that unless you're Paul's Henry and Holmes, or were the Mother of Our Nation (cue: Angel's singing) the pay scale for ground floor journalists are pathetic. We're talking 30k pathetic1. We shouldn't berate them, we should sponsor them.

One of the reasons that people were so upset about the death of publicly funded TVNZ 7 was because it could mean news where the focus could be on delivering just that, instead of profit. Less sensationalist murder trials and celebrity gossip and more depth and analysis. Treating the viewer as if they were an adult instead of an attention deficit deprived child who needs items that are there to appeal to emotions instead of intellect. Questioning politicians about their policies and their reasons for them, instead of most of our political news being dedicated to scandals and whether they're Nice People (sometimes I wonder how interested some of our political commentators are in politics. Not very, or they think we're not, is the conclusion I've come to).

The private model where news is sponsored by business and where it's dumbed down so far that sports, human interest, weather and ads are the sheer bulk of the hour, is not doing us any favours. If we're not informed (and we're not) democracy is just a popularity contest where we get to select our three-year mini dictator of choice.

The Fourth Estate has become the 3 1/4 Housing Development.


2. There is good media to be found: Backbenchers, Media 7, Native Affairs...but it's not exactly mainstream.

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