Bring back the Great Wall that once protected the news

It is time to bring back the Great Wall. No, not the one that protected China’s emperor from nomadic hordes on the Eurasian Steppe, nor the one that kept civilising Romans safe from the dreadful Picts: I’m talking about the one that separates news from advertising.

I can sympathise with media organisations scratching for revenue while their traditional business model is showing durability akin to the wall that once cut Berlin in half. However, that search for earnings carries considerable risk when it threatens the traditional barrier between journalism and commercial interests. It’s all about trust and I will return to that.

I have never liked advertisements that look like news stories but have bowed to the inevitable so long as they carried a clear label that they are just that – advertisements. And that label must be obvious to anyone who sees or hears it. I prefer ADVERTISEMENT top and centre, but I accept PAID CONTENT in the same place.

What you won’t hear me calling it is ‘native advertising’. There is nothing native about it. ‘Native’ means indigenous and ‘native advertising’ is a bad example of colonisation. It is the phase used by advertising executives in polite conversation to justify the format, but it never appears on what they produce. Their current preferred label appears to be (in lower case or sotto voce) ‘partnering with….’ although ‘sponsored content’ may be a publisher’s preference. Too often, however, the label is the last thing you see, if you notice it at all. ‘Job done”, says the advertising executive, because the content and the brand are imprinted before the provenance.

I find this sort of advertising at best irritating and at worst misleading. However, I suppose I have reluctantly learnt to live with it.

What I have not accepted – and will not accept – is the use of bona fide journalists to purvey this sort of content. I do not care whether their bosses have some form of conscience-salving agreement over ‘editorial control’: It crosses a line that I do not believe should be crossed. Continue reading “Bring back the Great Wall that once protected the news”

The danger in thinking it is safer to keep your mouth shut

At my age, I am entitled – and eminently qualified – to read a magazine called The Oldie. No-one disputes my right, as it is an easy way to dismiss me as no longer relevant.

These days there is an awful lot of dismissing. It ranges from ignoring news that does not fit a particular world view to ruining the careers of gifted academics who believed it was their role to speak out.

I’ve written before about being dismissed on a variety of charges, most of them beyond my control (Old white man guilty on three of four counts).

Dismissing, in its varying stages of severity and consequence, is another way of saying we have forgotten how to tolerate our fellow human beings.

In the September issue of The Oldie British historian A.N. Wilson (pictured above celebrating his admission to the ranks of septuagenarians, and otherwise known as the Oldie Man of Letters) devotes his column to “The strange death of toleration” and numerous examples of how “over the last generation, free speech has taken a battering”.

His column was prompted by a mind-numbingly stupid act by the 331-year-old Coutts Private Bank, which cancelled Brexit politician Nigel Farage’s account because of his polarising political views. I don’t particularly like Mr Farage or the way he goes about his politics, but I certainly wouldn’t see that as grounds to tear up his savings bank book.

However, the author of The Victorians and numerous biographies including those of Adolph Hitler and John Betjeman was much more concerned about the treatment of the Reverent Richard Fothergill (a real person) who, on a building society’s feedback page, objected to the promotion of trans and gay ideology which conflicted with his religious beliefs. Boof…his account was closed because the building society practiced “zero tolerance”. Continue reading “The danger in thinking it is safer to keep your mouth shut”

Radio and television will follow Marconi and Baird to the grave

This country needs to be at a watershed when NZ on Air asks Where are the audiences? in 2025.

The trends in its latest biennial report, released last week, suggest that by the time it next surveys New Zealand audiences we will have reached a point where traditional institutional concepts of media are no longer sustainable.

Between now and 2025 we need a fundamental rethink of media business models, organisation, and regulation. And the thinking will have to have been translated into action if we are to avoid systemic failures.

The Where are the audiences? survey has been monitoring media use since 2014, mapping trends that have seen the rise of competing digital services and the steady decline of traditional broadcasting. You can access the 2023 report here.

Along the way there have been numerous crossover points but the latest survey notes what may be the most significant crossover in the nine year history of the research. For the first time, broadcast television no longer commands the majority of viewers in prime time between 6 pm and 10.30 pm. Also for the first time, New Zealanders overall are spending more time using digital media than traditional media. Continue reading “Radio and television will follow Marconi and Baird to the grave”

New Sky Box leaves a trail of frustration and a broken promise

New Zealand Herald sports columnist Chris Rattue called the new Sky Box “an absolute dog” but I think that is highly disrespectful to our canine companions. I’ll dispense with the metaphors and simply call it what it is: A complete disaster.

In short, the box is a product still in development and it should never have been released until its manifold software and design shortcomings had been fixed.

If Sky had labelled the box a beta version, customers would have been able to make informed choices on whether to take on the new equipment now or to wait for the ‘gold’ release version. That didn’t happen.

The warning signs were there: It was promised, then pushed out, promised, then pushed out. Finally, it was released when the delays were starting to raise questions in the marketplace.

A month before its release, The Spinoff’s Rec Room editor, Chris Schutz, was given a box to trial and his verdict after two weeks was that “it still doesn’t feel ready for release”.

Yet, in April it was released, accompanied by a statement from Sky chief executive Sophie Moloney that it was “so great to have our cool boxes in customers’ homes”. She added: “It’s been quite the journey with a few challenging obstacles along the way.”

If she thought the obstacles had been cleared away, she could not have been more wrong. The bugs and operational shortcoming of the new Sky Box were soon obvious to anyone – me included – silly enough to opt for the new kit. Continue reading “New Sky Box leaves a trail of frustration and a broken promise”