TVNZ sends timely reminder on vital news processes

TVNZ’s updated rethink on how it handles stories – a consequence of Radio New Zealand’s controversy over altered foreign news content – is a timely reminder that good journalism relies not only on trust but on checks and balances.

Every functional newsroom relies on trust: It is both top-down and bottom-up. An editor (or whatever newspeak title you wish to create for the person responsible for the overall editorial output) must trust the heads of each part of the editorial structure and, through them, the cascade of staff down to the most junior. Everyone from that junior up must trust the decision-making and stewardship of those above them.

Very occasionally, that trust is broken by someone who – through malfeasance, poor judgement, or human frailty – goes rogue.

That happened at RNZ in June when inappropriate editing of foreign wire stories was discovered. It led to an independent enquiry and a raft of recommendations for change within the public broadcaster. The RNZ enquiry’s report can be found here

No such breakdown of trust occurred at TVNZ. When the RNZ scandal broke, then chief executive Simon Power ordered a review of his own organisation’s handling of news stories. General Counsel (now interim chief executive) Brent McAnulty found no similar breaches of editorial policy but nonetheless made 11 recommendations to improve processes.

McAnulty’s report preceded the release of RNZ’s independent enquiry and TVNZ has now revisited its findings in light of recommendations in that enquiry. The result is a further series of recommendations by current TVNZ senior counsel Michele Lee that have implications for editorial news handling processes. You can find the updated report here

The update recommends refresher training on upward referral and on disinformation, reviewing software and systems, and re-assessing resourcing levels in the newsroom. Continue reading “TVNZ sends timely reminder on vital news processes”

Generative AI: Be afraid, be very afraid

We humans have always had a bit of a penchant for futile exercises.

The ancient Greeks had a death-defying king rolling a large boulder up a hill for eternity. Much later, the Japanese invented an infuriating game called Whac-a Mole.

Now the media are trying to stay a step ahead of generative artificial intelligence.

Media companies around the world are grappling with editorial guidelines to deal with a digital phenomenon that can be both a tool to enhance their productivity, and an insidious weapon that can be used against them.

Some see it as an existential threat that should be banned outright but, really, artificial intelligence is like firearms and opioids – useful in the right hands but extraordinarily dangerous in the wrong ones. And, like drugs, its legitimate use needs to be carefully prescribed. Continue reading “Generative AI: Be afraid, be very afraid”

Proof our newsrooms need a ‘second pair of eyes’

Own goals by two of our top news organisations last week raised a fundamental question: What has happened to their checking processes?

Both Radio New Zealand and NZME acknowledged serious failures in their internal processes that resulted in embarrassing apologies, corrections, and take-downs.

The episodes in both newsrooms suggest the “second pair of eyes” that traditionally acted as a final check before publication no longer exists or is so over-worked in a resource-starved environment that they are looking elsewhere.

The RNZ situation is the more serious of the two episodes. It relates to the insertion of pro-Russian content into news agency stories about the invasion of Ukraine that were carried on the RNZ website. The original stories were sourced from Reuters and, in at least one case, from the BBC. By last night 16 altered stories had been found, but the audit had only scratched the surface. The apparent perpetrator has disclosed they had been carrying out such edits for the past five years.

Continue reading “Proof our newsrooms need a ‘second pair of eyes’”

Government media strategies: A dating game that may not end well

I am worried.

I am worried that New Zealand’s media ecosystem is about to be adversely affected by Government initiatives that should be closely coordinated but which are each taking their own course.

There may be a grand strategy but, if that is so, the New Zealand public have not seen it.

Instead, we are slowly becoming aware of strands of policy that have different focal points, different timeframes, and different potential impacts. There are cross-currents that mean each of these policies will have consequences for media outside the primary focus.

The situation is made worse by the fact that much of the policy work has dealt with high level concepts that leave the detail until later.

These combined factors are not necessarily a recipe for disaster, but they are certainly from the Unintended Consequences Cookbook. Continue reading “Government media strategies: A dating game that may not end well”