Friday, December 31, 2021

What that Hipkins press conference tells us about the state of journalism

The government’s media managers play the press like a violin. Just look at how giddily excited reporters got at the novelty of Chris Hipkins conducting a press conference in a nature reserve.

How cute! The Covid-19 Response Minister was on holiday with his family on the Kapiti Coast, so briefed the gaggle of journos in plein air. Even better, he sent his Mum out to apologise for the delay while he rushed home to get a suit.

(Er, a question: why bother to put on a suit when he’s on holiday? Wouldn’t boxer shorts and jandals have been more in keeping with the beachy vibe? And if he really felt it necessary to get dressed up, why didn’t he have a suit on hand, given it was always on the cards that he’d be speaking to the media while on holiday?)

No, this had the unmistakeable appearance of a PR stunt. It was all of a kind with the media’s depiction of this government as laid-back, sweet-as Kiwi. (Think Jacinda Ardern’s folksy night-time address to the nation on Facebook being interrupted by 3-year-old Neve, which played to the carefully crafted Ardern stereotypes and caused The Guardian to wet itself with excitement.)

Oh, and something else I almost forgot to mention about the Hipkins presser: his two young kids emerged right on cue for a heart-warming photo of them cuddling their dad.

Call me a sceptic (a label apparently unfamiliar to the current generation of press gallery reporters, though it’s one that all journalists should wear proudly), but I have a nagging suspicion these things don’t happen by accident. The management of the media is carefully orchestrated – and the thing is, it works every time. The journos cooed with delight at the sight of Hipkins emerging from the trees in white shirt, suit pants and tie.

The characteristically mature – one might almost say cerebral – reaction of the assembled reporters was captured by Katrina Bennett, Wellington Head of News for NZME, who gushed on Twitter: “Nice thing about working at this time of year, is that rather than a horde of political minders at today's Covid presser, @chrishipkins' mum came & apologised to us for her son running late [here Bennett inserted a tears of joy emoji]. She didn't need to, but mums will be mums. Such a treat.” 

The Herald went on to quote Bennett as saying of Hipkins’ mother: “She was so lovely, it was a really nice gesture to come and apologise. Big Mum energy coming down to apologise, mums are the best.”

Good grief. It reads as if written by an over-stimulated teenager. Jason Walls from NewstalkZB took a similarly grown-up line, tweeting over a video of Hipkins emerging from the trees: “I’m so here for these ‘spotting him in the wild’ Bigfoot-esque photos of Chris Hipkins making his way to the press conference today.”

Double good grief. Clearly, the government’s communications advisers don’t need to get up super-early to come up with ways of impressing the media pack. The assembled reporters were so mesmerised by the gimmickry of the occasion that their stories neglected to tell us what Hipkins actually said (which may have been the intention – who knows?).

Stuff’s coverage struck a similarly effusive note, informing readers that after a delay of 10 minutes, “the minister finally appeared at the top of a nearby hill [almost like a biblical vision, one supposes]. Camera crews zeroed in and filmed him gracefully strolling his way down a path as the grass, flowers and trees blew in the breeze.

“It was the intro New Zealanders didn’t realise they needed, and caused great delight online. Memes, gifs and light-hearted quips quickly popped up on Kiwi news feeds, with one journalist saying it appeared Hipkins was speaking from ‘The Shire’.”

Does anyone notice something else about the reportage of the Hipkins press conference, apart from its breathless credulity and awe-struck tone? That’s right, it’s appallingly written. “Gracefully strolling his way down a path as the grass, flowers and trees blew in the breeze” – really?? Surely the unnamed reporter could have said something about the birds too? Oh, that’s right, he/she/they did:  “In the background, birds were chirping, adults were laughing and children could be heard playing on the playground nearby.”

I used to broadly divide journalists into two categories: those who were great at digging up useful information and those who had a facility for stringing words together. Some could do both. We now see acutely depressing daily evidence of reporters who can do neither.

All the puerile silliness outlined above is explained when you see a photograph of the current crop of political reporters. Almost invariably they are young, bright-eyed with idealism, woke, self-absorbed (you can see that from their social media posts) and besotted with the government and the excitement of their proximity to it. They learned their journalism in lecture theatres and never experienced the bracing humility of having their work hurled back at them by an irascible, hard-nosed boss (not all of whom were male, incidentally) and being told it was crap.

Happy New Year, everyone. I wish 2022 held the promise of an improvement in the quality of New Zealand journalism, but I can’t see it happening.



Terry M said...

Have to admit that I didn't read the article, but did click on the Herald to check the headlines. When I saw the great column of sickening photos that was it. Out of there.
Any journalist that allows themselves to be played by the govt spin machine like that obviously has no self respect. In fact it puts them right down there on the same level, and donkey deep in the sewer of propaganda.
And a happy New Year to all and hopefully a snap election.

Ken said...

Thanks Karl. The 'spin' put on by pretty much every bit of mainstream NZ media has made the current fourth estate little more than a multimedia version of 1990's Hello magazine.

Don Franks said...

Well put. Increasingly we are presented the picture of a trendy fairytale government unerringly knowing what's best for the peasants ( although the team of 5 million label has been quietly dropped) Meanwhile, in real life, inequality, poverty and all their attendant ills continue to grow and fester.

hughvane said...

Emetic and/or purgative journalism.

Andy Espersen said...

Spot on, Karl. But good journalism lives on. It is thriving away from the monopolised New Zealand main media and government owned NZ Radio - your own blog is one such great example.

Our main printed media are fast losing readership. The more waffle like this, the more do people turn off them and go elsewhere for their information - and the less income they get from advertising. They must soon all go bust - most of their many papers will be sold for a song to enterprising, able journalists - and we are away again, starting from scratch. We can't do without our local newspapers.

My bet is that if you had found yourself in the same situation in your young days, you would have been in, boots and all, as an independent local newspaper owner.

LNF said...

I didn't see the item
We have a stage managed event with a stage managed Mother, stage managed children (something I find totally unacceptable) and stage managed Minister (who in real life is very quickly forgotten). Why not a stage managed wife as well.? !

Odysseus said...

Yes, these self absorbed, woke little infants were being played and they lapped it up. Hipkins' domestic theatricals provided the perfect distraction from the matter of the Omicron carrying UK DJ who won MIQ lotto three times in 2021 as an "essential worker possessing critical skills" and his or his promoter's possible links to Ardern, who appears to have gone to ground. Expect Neve to be deployed for these infants shortly.

Happy New Year and here's an easy to achieve resolution for anyone still subscribing to a "newspaper". Cancel today and donate your subscription to the Free Speech Union.

Unknown said...

Does anyone expect anything different? We've had 4 years of this syrupy kind sweet journalism from the day the dwarf peters gave the empty suit Ardern her job.

K said...

Another orchestrated media moment by hipkins. Like his open your legs comment. Pathetic but the media lap it up.

pdm said...

Karl - Hipkins not having a suit on hand is so typical of the lack of organisation of the current Cabinet and Government overall.

In the language of the way we grew up in the 60's:

They could not organise a fight in a public bar.

Tinman said...

Karl, although the standard of "journalism" gets worse, pretty much daily it is not a new phenomena.

The decline started in New Zealand after 1981 when the media were able to re-write history re the 1981 Springbok Tour lawlessness, pretending that non-vandals were pro-apartheid when they (we) were simply pro-tour. Most New Zealanders abhorred apartheid, we just disagreed on how to demonstrate that abhorrence.

As an aside there are far more supporters of apartheid in New Zealand now but I still abhor it.

I digress.

Members of The Media were allowed to portray the tour as a win for their side (pure lies as the 1981 elections demonstrated) and the majority of New Zealanders as racist

At the same time, of course, NZ media were constantly portraying Reagan as a clown. Reagan is now regarded by many if not most as the greatest USA President of the 20th century.

Rather than correcting the initially small group of dishonest perpetrators at the start the media, of which you were one, allowed the lies to fester and we now pay the price for that inaction.

I hope Mr Esperson is correct because the whole industry, if it is to survive, needs the complete reset he writes of.

Karl du Fresne said...

That's a deft bit of guilt by association, Tinman.

Richard said...

Just wait until the Govt is voted out in 2023. The squeals of incredulity will be priceless.

Twoticksblue said...

If Hipkins was going into Wellington to get a suit why didn't he just hold this presser in the Beehive theatrette?

Trev1 said...

This from American Climate Scientist Judith Curry's latest blog surveying developments in 2021:

"Further wounds to expertise are coming from within universities and the enforcement of dogma in many disciplines. Many academics have left academia, some involuntarily over such issues. The whiny woke-babies and the insane focus on victimhood, intersectionality, gender and diversity at the expense of traditional academic values has made many universities pretty dysfunctional and even scary places."


"The last few years have seen a massive decline in audience for the mainstream media, for good reasons. In the U.S., there is no longer any pretense of objectivity or real investigation by the mainstream media. A plethora of partisan news outlets has emerged, and investigation occurs randomly and is published on blogs or whatever."

So clearly the decline of the universities and the media in New Zealand is part of a wider phenomenon. But how did it come about so rapidly and in such a concerted fashion? I think I'm on the verge of becoming a conspiracy theorist.

And how can we turn it around? Perhaps that's the big question for 2022?

swordfish said...

Traditional Journalistic norms have been so swiftly thrown out the window.

Can't abide this putrid stream of Woke propaganda lines & partisan cheerleading ... as a long-term social democrat, I just don't see Wokedom as in any way Left-leaning ... much more a new form of elitist politics ... essentially a Vanity Project for a particularly smug [& covertly self-interested] segment of Upper-Middle professionals.

Unknown said...

Thanks Karl. Recently discovered your site. Good to hear Sean p. will be hosting you. A voice of reason, intelligence and aroha. Look forward to reading more in the future. Kia kaha

Unknown said...

...or "a p*** up in a brewery"! Love 'it'... whilst not deflecting from the aforementioned, astute criticisms

Karl du Fresne said...

You appear to know more about Sean Plunket's new online radio station ( than I do. Sean told me about his plan a few months ago and I told him I applaud what he's doing, because it promises to help correct a serious imbalance in the media. I certainly wouldn't rule out going on his show, but no commitments have been entered into.

Simon Cohen said...

Tinman, Reagan is not regarded by most as the greatest American President of the 20th century.
In the list compiled [by vote] by America's presidential historians the top three by a very large margin are the two Roosevelts and Truman.
Just because you say something doesn't make it so.

Birdman said...

For an interesting take on US politics and the US media this is a podcast from The Spectator with Freddie Sayers and Douglas Murray - well worth the 40 minutes.

We have the serious problem of a lack of diverse opinion in our MSM that is exacerbated by being a small market that is not worth the big players getting into. This was emphasised for me by Anna Fifield (the DimPost editor) saying at a lunch that our media was in great shape and fortunate, purely because we don't have any Murdoch owned media here. Whatever you think of Murdoch owned papers or other media outlets (he just happens to own Oz's best The Australian), that an editor believing not having to compete with a different opinion is "good" is the epitome of a dunce journalist - her record of tanking circulation figures on her watch speaks volumes for her success as a leader in NZ's media world.

Ian P said...

We urgently need the media equivalent of the original Radio Hauraki breakaway. No doubt a huge commitment, but their following would be significant I believe. Maybe this is where Shaun Plunket steps in?

Andy Espersen said...

Trev1 wonders : “But how did it come about so rapidly and in such a concerted fashion?”.

My theory is that this is made possible, perhaps even inevitable, because of the very recent appearance of the phenomenon of instant mass communication. In the good old days mob-behaviour, lynch-moods, mass-delusions, etc. could only ever occur on a very local scale – probably limited to where the influence of one powerful individual could reach.

But not so today.

Unknown said...

Finally. I thought it was just me. Thank you for really putting all this nonsense into perspective

Unknown said...

I was riding my bike home through Chch today taking a route I took when I was working. I always disliked the area. I think I know why because I read about design elements and a primary one is unity (whereas too much unity is monotony).
I thought of something I read (may have been Roger Scruton on Beauty) on the way our culture changed and Duchamps urinal was exhibit A. Elite culture flows downwards and it looks as though Bob the Builder took that idea up.

Likewise with journalism they seem to believe some ideas shouldn't be heard. That is based on Jacques Derrida.

Edward Main said...

Sorry all... I apologize, I did not read the article.

My New Years resolution is to avoid reading state sponsored
propaganda facilitation articles

Long live independent critical thought

Hilary Taylor said...

Steered clear, yech.

Your reference to the PM's fireside chat-style...same thing. There was even a clip right before Xmas of her in what looked like a dressing gown...hello?! I cannot for the life of me understand how that is appealing to just want to run away screaming, ha. is her forte...this mateyness, and there is an audience, clearly.
It's the one thing I cant WAIT to see the back of, as we will 'eve-an-shwallee', as Farty Towels' Manuel would've said.

Tepee said...

I spent 3 months in New Zealand in the early part of 2021 (yes I managed to break into the Hermit State) and became increasingly horrified by the lack of quality of television and newspaper output. TV news, in particular, was trite and shallow. Ardern was time and again given the easiest of rides by obsequious and lame journalists. News coverage was weak, content dubious and coverage of NZ and global politics (when it infrequently popped up) highly partisan. The Herald and Stuff were slightly better, but only at the margin. This, along with a host of other issues, left me feeling pretty depressed about the road New Zealand was heading down. I was actually pleased to leave, something I thought I would never say about my homeland. I have followed from afar since and can only conclude that matters have got worse, much worse.