Friday, May 6, 2022

Further thoughts on the press gallery

A postscript to yesterday's post about Simon Bridges and the parliamentary press gallery:

If you look at this photo of the gallery, taken last year on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, you'll immediately observe that most of its members are relatively young - too young to have much, if any, personal recollection of the forces and political figures that have shaped the country's recent history. This is bound to limit their understanding of politics and their ability to interpret current events and trends against the backdrop of past experience. Unfortunately that doesn't stop some of them them from boldly pronouncing on the meaning of political events and even professing to know what the country thinks. 

It's also in line with a tendency over the past 20 years or so to manage older journalists out of the industry.  Appointment to the press gallery was once a reflection of seniority. Younger political hacks worked under the tutelage of more experienced hands. But the gallery appears to have been afflicted by a mysterious age-related malaise that wipes journalists out about the time they hit 40. 


Phil said...

It is no surprise that the NZ media reporting on the US Supreme Court draft report on the abortion issue only gives one point of view. I have had to go into US media sites for the other points of view.

David McLoughlin said...

Interesting update (and original post), Karl. Two points from me on it:

1: When I started my (so-far) third stint in the Press Gallery (20 years ago now but of course I was 20 years younger than I am now), I was by nowhere near the only journo there with considerable experience. I was put back into the gallery because of my experience. Barry Soper was there (as he was the first and second times I was in the gallery) but back then, he was not the only journo with great experience. Now he is. He's been there since Muldoon was the Government. The way the PM desperately ignores his challenging questions at media conferences and the Speaker tried to sanction him for being the only gallery member who went out and spoke to the protesters suggests the politicians prefer younger journos who have little memory or experience of what went before the last two or three terms. Jane Patterson of RNZ is probably the next most experienced journo there after Barry; if there are others, my apologies.

2: The page you linked to for the photo has an article written by Jenée Tibshraeny, who identified herself as a gallery reporter. I looked her up and she works for one of the new online outfits, In her article, she makes these very pertinent (to me) observations: ...diversity in the gallery is essential. While most of the offices are now led by women, age and racial diversity are lacking. Ever wondered why we don’t hear more in the news about education? Hardly anyone in the gallery has school-aged children. Most current journos seem to be too young to have children. Having children greatly enriched me as a journalist because being a parent opened many new worlds of knowledge and experience to me, not just the education Jenée cites.

While I don't regard 20 years ago as some "golden age," nonetheless back then and for all my career previously, experience was valued by editors (and probably also by media employers who didn't want their outlets to carry journalism full of errors and risks of defamation; the latter nowadays avoided by avoiding offending those who might sue). I started my career as a young cadet on the NZ Herald and learned good journalism from the many experienced older journos who were always there to help. I didn't get to university till I was well established as a journo and saw how valuable qualifications in such things as history and politics were for me. I never did a university journalism course so I missed out on being indoctrinated that my mission was to fight for the Correct causes and suppress contrary views.

I'm now too experienced (and probably too bolshie) to even get a job in journalism, so I am reluctantly working in Communications, on a good salary, using all my journalistic experience (for good I hope) and often despairing at where journalism is going, but knowing nothing will change its downward slide, which will only benefit our rulers and other sundry overlords.

Today I got an email from Sinead Boucher (she who bought Stuff for $1 and who has described newspapers derisorily as "the print product"). Sinead's letter boasts how Stuff has just achieved being declared a "B Corp" which meant they had been recognised as a good corporate helping to save New Zealand and the planet. There was nothing in her email about journalism, the news, newsgathering or any such thing at all, just a pile of virtue-declaring PR fluff. And down the bottom, this line revealing what she sees as Stuff's role in society: Stuff is a collection of digital-first products and services that connect Kiwi communities to the stuff that matters, the stuff they love and each other. I presume that means she sees Stuff not as a producer of journalism (not mentioned in the email, as I said) but as yet another social media outlet like Facebook or Twitter or something. Jesus wept.

Karl du Fresne said...

Thanks David. The same thought occurred to me when I read Jenee Tibshraeny's piece. Good on her for being perceptive enough to recognise the narrowness of the gallery's demographic profile.

David McLoughlin said...

I should add that Stuff boasting it is now a B Corp makes it seem to a casual reader that it has been downgraded from an A Corp. I wonder when the flacks there will notice that.

Gary Peters said...

In my younger days I cheerfully admit to being a bit "bolshie" and was more than happy to rail against the establishment.

This current lot of PR polishers for ardern only seem capable of railing aginst National or ACT. Even the most racist points put out by the maori party seem to be continually glossed over.

I truly despair for our future when the young have become serious enablers of the current poor "establishment".

Eamon Sloan said...

In the photo Barry Soper is the only one with his arms folded. I am not a body language expert but is he asking why does he have to be seen with a bunch of newbies and wannabes? The photo was from 2021, and today’s question must be who would want to be seen with Trevor Mallard?

Madame Blavatsky said...

The word "journalist" denotes someone who performs a particular activity. "Journalist" as applied to those in that photo, perhaps with one or two exceptions, has come to denote a particular personal identity. Therefore, apparently, someone is or isn't a journalist based primarily on who their employer is and what drinks and nibbles sessions they are invited to. Better to keep the ideologically sound, unthinking young mediocrities on the payroll and close at hand, rather than risk any free-thinking outsider getting a few curly questions in at a set-piece press conference.

Another issue is the social relationship between "journalists" and politicians. I don't think there should be any relationship at all, outside of asking some questions and then going off to write an article using the answers as a basis. There are plenty of far superior "independent" political analysts who have little or no relationship nor even access to the politicians, and this makes for far better objective critiques. How unbiased and objective can we expect a journalist to be if, for instance, their partner works in the PM's security team or if they were once her flat mate? Not very.

In combination with the politicians and hangers-on, what we have is an incestuous little elitist mutual back-scratching clique who together "do politics" as opposed to objectively reporting on developments, analysing the issues of the day and their future implications, informing the electorate and challenging politicians on their politics.

To quote from the linked article: "It was a celebration of the role journalism plays in our democracy, and a bit of a knees-up - a strength of the gallery!"

The "role (these, apparently hard-partying) journalists play in our democracy" is a subversive one, represents a dereliction of their constitutional role, and is one of the largest impediments to New Zealand getting on the right track.

Karl du Fresne said...

Madame Blavatsky,
Two things.
1. I've heard the rumour that Jacinda Ardern was once a flatmate of a press gallery member but haven’t seen it substantiated and suspect it's an urban myth.
2. I was never a press gallery member, but I doubt that anyone who recalls the legendary gallery parties of the 70s and 80s would describe the present earnest and sober lot as "hard partying".

Chris Morris said...

I used to be an avid Dominion Post reader, even getting home delivery. Now I am just back to Saturdays, which I think is mainly because of the puzzles (I miss your quiz) and seriously looking at dropping it. There is too much opinion written as fact, particularly by the political reporters. They also are unquestionably biased. Even on complex issues, they rarely present both sides of a story or even summarise the history. How we got to where we are now stuff - though I suspect this is because the reporters don't know and can't be bothered finding out. They also take their readers as simpletons who need to be told what to think. It is worrying that one gets more balanced reportage on partisan blogs, especially in the comments.
No doubt they (reporters and news managers alike) are wondering why the opinion polls have them below even politicians in the public's esteem. But will they change? I doubt it. They will just seek more taxpayer funding to continue their existence.

David George said...

This problem with journalism isn't new, just worse. It's well to remember (or recognise) that the shrivelled shell that we read and see is (almost?) never the whole truth, a match for the complexity of reality. They could, at least, try.
Scripting a narrative requires, of necessity or by design, the discarding of much but what to leave out. The inconvenient counter? Perhaps Al Gore's perversely named "An inconvenient truth" is a masterful example: lies, distortions and speculations marketed as the truth.

There's a great essay up on Quillette:
Excerpt: "Narratives—especially those pushed by politicians and partisan media outlets—are a powerful means of influencing perceptions of the society and world in which we live. “Fact-checking, which has long been an integral part of journalism, has been supplemented by a type of ‘narrative-checking,’” warns Hal Conte in Compact magazine. “In some cases, facts have been deliberately removed or altogether omitted for fear that they would undermine broader truths (or noble lies).”

Conte argues that the main reason for this is “a self-conception among many reporters that they must protect the core truths of ‘democracy’—understood to mean not just electoral norms, but also a broad range of liberal ideological commitments.” And so, “it follows that facts and stories that contradict this set of commitments amount to anti-democratic ‘misinformation’” that may be legitimately silenced. Furthermore, each myopic narrative creates the need for an equally myopic and unbalanced counter-narrative, while the nuances of a messier reality are neglected in the middle.

“The soul of wit may become the very body of untruth,” wrote Aldous Huxley in the 1958 foreword to Brave New World Revisited. “However elegant and memorable, brevity can never, in the nature of things, do justice to all the facts of a complex situation.” Huxley wasn’t entirely opposed to brevity, noting that “omission and simplification help us understand.” But, he added, “they help us, in many cases, to understand the wrong thing; for our comprehension may be only of the abbreviator’s neatly formulated notions, not of the vast ramifying reality from which these notions have been so arbitrarily abstracted.”

Huxley was sympathetic to the conundrum everyone faces in tackling complexity—“life is short,” he acknowledged, “and information endless,” so people must simplify or they will simply never have enough time to grapple with anything. “Abbreviation is a necessary evil and the abbreviator’s business is to make the best of a job which, though intrinsically bad, is still better than nothing.” Nevertheless, we must be careful not to simplify to the point of falsification, or we will end up with “the dangerous quarter-truths and half-truths which have always been the current coin of thoughts.”

David George said...

I often get the feeling that we, the people, are regarded as complete fools. That may be true to some extent but we have this instinct, reinforced by our daily encounters with reality, that there's two sides to every story. Perhaps the collapse of faith in the media is a direct consequence.

“We know they are lying, they know they are lying, they know we know they are lying, we know they know we know they are lying, but they are still lying.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Karl du Fresne said...

In his comments about the misleading allure of brevity, Huxley appears to have anticipated Twitter by 60 years.

Hilary Taylor said...

My ageing Dad gave away TV but he was still reading the Press, the Listener, all manner of books & RadioNZ was on all hours...I often wonder what he'd make of how RNZ has evolved, not to mention the Press. As I now age I've abandoned tv news, still subscribe to the Listener & the digital Press but, with regard to the latter, I've developed a skim-read style and the list of columns I just ignore is quite long. Can't easily tolerate most of the young female tv news journos..part of the reason we've given up on the 6oclock bulletin. On the other hand I 'consume' more online current affairs than ever before...substacks, podcasts, video clips. Do we reach an age where we get past the younger news set, as you outline Karl? A bit of that perhaps. But it's certainly not the whole story. The B-Corp thing made us giggle...we'd settle for making the Press a 'better place' and leaving the country for another day! Its grade A bulldust.

Anonymous said...

It's nothing to do with managing older people out. It's a reflection of the industry in general. Comm's and PR pays significantly more than journalism, and the increasing demands on reporters (including the 24/7 news cycle and multi-media demands) means it's very hard work that is relatively poorly rewarded.

So, after a few years on the job reporters shift to the less demanding and better paid world of comms. Look in any major government department comms unit and I guarantee you'll find some seasoned ex-reporters at the keyboards.

It's about pay and conditions, not some woke conspiracy to skew the media workforce. FFS!

Karl du Fresne said...

Much of what you say is true, particularly the bit about the availability of much better salaries working in govt comms (which is where a lot of my former colleagues ended up), but I could steer you toward a number of ex-journalists, some quite senior, who would testify that it was made clear they were no longer wanted and had no future in the business.
The woke conspiracy is your own term. I didn't use it. And don't "FFS" me unless you're prepared to identify yourself.

rouppe said...

I believe there is a similar malaise in the government sector.

The daughter of a friend of mine is a policy advisor in MSD. She is about 25. She has absolutely no idea about real life, and never experienced any hardship having grown up in a moderately well off family.

They are everywhere

LNF said...

Totally unrelated but please post a copy of your letter to the Editor Dompost today. It is so true
Very similar to a reported comment by Macron to students - "you are not responsible for the past, you are responsible for the future"

K said...

Soper looks bemused.