Lessons from the great flood

It is unlikely that the Mayor of Auckland, Wayne Brown, took any lessons from the city’s devastating floods but the rest of us – and journalists in particular – could learn a thing or two.

Mr Brown’s demeanour will not be improved by a petition calling for his resignation or media columnists effectively seeking the same. He will certainly not be moved by New Zealand Herald columnist Simon Wilson, now a predictable and trenchant critic of the mayor, who correctly observed in the Herald on Sunday: “In a crisis, political leaders are supposed to soak up people’s fears…to help us believe that empathy and compassion and hope will continue to bind us together.”

Wilson’s lofty words may be wasted on the mayor, but they point to another factor that binds us together in times of crisis. It is communication, and it was as wanting as civic leadership on Friday night and into the weekend. Continue reading “Lessons from the great flood”

Vox pops give public opinion a bad name

The first commentary of the year could be devoted to predicting the media’s fortunes over the coming 12 months but that will have to wait. Instead I want to start a campaign to ban vox pops from television, radio, and their print equivalents.

When Jacinda Ardern announced last Thursday she would stand down from her prime ministerial role, reporters ran into the streets, microphone in hand, intent on waylaying hapless pedestrians.

I have no idea how reporters choose their targets in the great vox pop hunt. There is no discernible demographic pattern or attempt to collect representative views. Continue reading “Vox pops give public opinion a bad name”

By Dickens, what a year it has been

Every time I sit down to review the past year, I am drawn to the words of a former reporter on London’s Morning Chronicle.

No matter what the year, the opening lines to one of his better-known pieces of writing seems to resonate: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

And, by Dickens, that sums up the past 12 months.

The New Zealand media’s year has been, to put it far less eloquently than the author of A Tale of Two Cities, one of ups and downs. Of course, media cannot be held entirely responsible for those oscillations. In many respects they are simply mirroring or reacting to what is happening more widely in society and on the global stage. And that world is full of paradoxes – some of the best rises out of the worst. Continue reading “By Dickens, what a year it has been”

The art of turning good news into a train wreck

This is an on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand commentary.

On the one hand, legislation forcing ‘big tech’ to pay for the news they appropriate from New Zealand media is welcome. On the other hand, fence-sitting for the past two years robbed the Ardern Government of an opportunity to give the move true international impact.

The government has had a soft approach to the social media platforms and search engines (save for the Christchurch Call on harmful content) because it relies heavily on them for direct contact with the electorate. The Prime Minister has 1.9 million Facebook followers and 1.7 million on Instagram. She may wish to suggest her 800,000 Twitter followers follow her elsewhere as Elon Musk turns it into a swamp.

The government could – and should – have collaborated with its Australian counterpart at the beginning of last year to pass identical legislation on both sides of the Tasman forcing ‘big tech’ to negotiate deals or face compulsory arbitration. Such a united front would have sent a stronger message to Meta, Alphabet et al than this country could do alone. It would also reinforce a determination to take an international approach to regulating those who believe they are laws unto themselves. Continue reading “The art of turning good news into a train wreck”