Farewell to Vapidness–and hello to insipidness.

datePosted on 17:27, April 9th, 2010 by Pablo

When I was in NZ in February-March, after a year away from the country, I was alarmed by the deterioration of what passed for news in the MSM. This was a continuation of a long-term trend that I have called the “Australianisation” of NZ news coverage, something that Lew and I talked about when we had lunch during my time in Wellington. But the gross decline over the last year was what disturbed me. Whereas the front pages of the major newspapers and lead segments of the major TV and radio news shows used to contain world and national stories of real import, by the time I arrived back in country in early 2010 even those were occupied by celebrity news, scandal and other so-called “human interest” rubbish that catered to the most purient, salacious aspects of public interest. There is war, famine, corruption, epidemics, natural disasters, corporate sleaze, international intrigue and host of other pressing news on any given day, but what is served up in the NZ media is pablum in which wardrobe malfunctions compete with drunken/drugged socialite antics and sex tapes for headlines. I blame Rupert Murdoch for the lot of it, because like PT Barnum and the Roman Emperors, he realised that by catering to the basest of human instincts and desires, media empires can be built. All you have to do is provide a carnival that diverts mass attention from the realities surrounding them, add a few creature conforts via sweepstakes and sponsor tie-ins and prizes, and voila!–you have both bread and cricuses for the masses. Worse yet, this media approach is something that very conveniently dovetails with the interests of political and corporate elites who would prefer to pursue their interests unencumbered by press or public scrutiny.

Which is why I do not lament the demise of the Sunrise program. Not withstanding the fact that all  “Australianised” morning shows are much puffery with little substance, that particular example was strinkingly moronic. Forget the tired use of yet another blond female to handle the  “soft” stories. Forget the organ grinder monkey act that passed for weather reporting. Forget the blokey rugby/cricket dude and or leggy former netballer who read sports. All of that is par for the course and shared by the risible Breakfast show as well.

No, what set Sunrise apart was the sheer rubbish that it passed off as stories, the sheer inanity of the commentary, and, with few exceptions, the sheer ignorance of the presenters of anything other than their own personae. For Pete sake, they even had a dog as a regular on the show, in an apparent effort to a) appeal to animal lovers; or b) appear more friendly/approchable/likeable. Crikey, it was bad.

Mind you, Breakfast is hardly better. But at least it first segment still contains some real news taken from sources other than its own radio affliliate (although in-house reporting has been cut back dramatically while reliance on newsfeeds from the BBC, CBS, ABC has increased, so perhaps the Mediaworks approach will eventually become the standard at TVNZ). But after 7:20 AM or so, save for the top and bottom of the hour news bulletins, the show deteriorates markedly, and after 8AM it might as well be called Sesame Street for adults. What I find particularly offensive with both of the morning shows on TV is that the content gets dumber as the morning progresses, and judging from the adverts, that is because the producers apparently believe that housewives are the main audience after 8AM, and housewives do not think much when watching a television show. Go figure.

The proof that vapidity has seeped deeply into the public consciousness is provided by the response to the announcement that Sunrise was cancelled. With very few exceptions, be it on talkback radio, newspaper reader comments, blogs or Facebook, most of the reaction pro and con is about the talking heads/presenters and their perceived “chemistry” or lack thereof when compared with the buffoon/giggles act playing over at the competitor during the same time slot.  Barely a word is mentioned about the lack of real substance in the show, or of the sheer idiocy that it passed off as news on a daily basis. Heck, if they needed that brick in human guise known as Rick Giles to increase their ratings, then it is clear that the writing was on the wall.

I fail to understand why a news content-driven morning TV show cannot succeed in NZ. There are successful news radio shows at that time of day, and while the presenter(s) is/are often a  media personality as well, their status is made by their being able to discuss news and current events in something approaching a rational and informed manner (I exclude Michael Laws and Leighton Smith from this category, although neither of them can touch John Banks when it comes to on-air hubris combined with ignorance). So why cannot that happen on TV? Could it be that the TV-watching public are, uh, less intellectually endowed than the radio-listening public? Cannot one be both?

At first it seemed like TV3 might decide to get serious and provide a real alternative to the morning carnival side show at TVNZ. But noooooooo. Sunrise is to be replaced with reruns of Magnum PI, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond and Campbell Live (which has gone from hard-hitting to ethically questionable rabble rousing and scandal mongering).  @#$% Me!

The goods news is that, having departed the Land of the Vacuous and Insipid Morning Shows, I do not have to watch this fare. The bad news is that in my current location there is more real news to choose from on radio and TV, but beyond that the situation is not much better. Heck, if you think “American Idol” is bad, then take a look at “Asian Idol” (or any number of other reality show rip-offs).

Best then, that I read a book or a “real” newspaper while having my morning tea.

categoryPosted in Media, Propaganda | printPrint

42 Responses to “Farewell to Vapidness–and hello to insipidness.”

  1. Phil Sage on April 9th, 2010 at 20:17

    I blame Rupert Murdoch for the lot of it,

    That would be the Rupert Murdoch that owns neither the Fairfax stable behind Stuff, The Press Dominion Post, Sunday Star Times nor the Independent owned NZ Herald nor the state owned TVNZ.

    I think you will have to do an awful lot better than that to demonise Rupert Murdoch. The Times and Sunday Times here in UK have excellent investigative reporting.

    I think the reality is that you & Lew must simply be turning into a grumpy old men: “Twere better een moy daay” :^)

  2. Pablo on April 9th, 2010 at 20:38

    Phil:

    It is not ownership that matters. It is the trend set in motion by Murdoch, a trend towards dumbing down news content while at the same time ideologically polarising coverage of substantive issues. He trialed his concept in OZ, “Foxified” it in the US, and away he went along with a host of print and audiovidual imitators. That media business model is now world wide and to my mind pernicious in the extreme (because among other things it results in declining notions of civility such as mentioned in my previous post).

    As for me and Lew being old and grumpy. Lew is neither.

  3. Phil Sage on April 9th, 2010 at 21:04

    As for me and Lew being old and grumpy. Lew is neither.

    LOL. Still chortling 5 minutes later.

    So Murdoch is primarily being deomnised because of Fox. I always felt Fox followed the talk radio shock jock lead and has succeeded because coverage from the broadcast networks has always been insipid, human interest twaddle.

    The Fox talk shows around the US election (The only time I bother watching) were highly combative and robust as opposed to the patrician CNN.

    Murdoch is simply delivering what the market wants. People have a choice to watch or not and Fox has been successful by offering robust entertaining debate.

    With all due respect I would rather have the wider populous engaged with entertaining robust and uncivilised debate on serious issues than a narrow serious and civilised debate among the intellectual elite. The bearpit of the UK parliament is a fine example of the democratic benefit of robust debate.

  4. Pablo on April 9th, 2010 at 21:42

    Phil:

    You have proved my point. What has happened in the NZ media is not bringing in the unwashed masses into “serious debate.” To the contrary. The washed and unwashed now get fed a media diet of mostly “human interest” and (often contrived) reality rubbish, with real, substative issues squeezed out in terms of volume and depth of coverage. Sunrise was an examplar of the syndrome.

    And Murdoch sucks not just because of Fox but because of the very successful media business model he introduced, which in a phrase can be summarised as catering to the lowest common denominator. But he is not alone–MTV (the US-originated channel, not maori TV), is also responsible for lowering the bar on what is watchable. I mean, “Jersey Shore?” C’mon.

    That is where state-owned media has a role to play, that being education and informed opinion/commentary rather than salcious or insipid schlock a la reality and dancing shows and the “news” programs that cover them. Alas, in NZ the idea of TV, in particular, being a vehicle for serious debate and edification of the citizenry appears to have been lost, perhaps forever. The morning and evening talk shows on TVNZ are evidence of that. On the other hand, and to their credit, Maori TV actually deliver quality docos, news and alternative programming that, unlike such as ALT TV, do not resort to naked prostitute newsreaders to bolster their ratings. Funny that.

  5. Philip on April 10th, 2010 at 00:14

    To be fair, if Maori TV had a commercial imperative to make a profit, then I think you would see a very different beast.

  6. Pablo on April 10th, 2010 at 00:18

    Philip:

    Another reason why the Murdoch principle sucks and why state-funded television shouldbe exactly that.

  7. Ag on April 10th, 2010 at 02:06

    Murdoch sells papers because people like trash. Look at the record charts, and it’s the same there.

    I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. If Murdoch could make more money by going highbrow, he would.

  8. DeepRed on April 10th, 2010 at 03:02

    Orwell was right. Keep the public fed with bread and circuses before they get too smart to rebel.

  9. jcuknz on April 10th, 2010 at 08:40

    I’m too busy checking my email to watch any TV in the morning and reading blogs like this :-)
    Wonderful thing the on/off switch.

  10. MollyByGolly on April 10th, 2010 at 09:41

    Observations and rant about the news accepted but leave American Idol out of it!

    It is what it is and it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a modern day light ent talent show competition with heavy corporate sponsorship from Coke.

    It’s honest. It doesn’t pretend to be the news or current affairs, unlike news at 6, Sunrise, Breakfast, Campbell Live, Close-Up, Sunday et al….

  11. MollyByGolly on April 10th, 2010 at 09:48

    I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. If Murdoch could make more money by going highbrow, he would.

    It isn’t a conspiracy. It is simply the pressure of corporate ownership to maximise profit. How do you do that? By maximising the audience. How do you do that? By interesting and then hooking new audiences such as those only marginally interested in the news. How do you interest them? Soft news, human interest, a dog as co-host…

    It is only when the profit maximising imperative is removed – Maori TV, TV7 for example – that you get programming with any integrity.

    And successive govts in NZ need to shoulder some of the blame for treating TVNZ as a cash cow.

  12. David McLoughlin on April 10th, 2010 at 13:50

    I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. If Murdoch could make more money by going highbrow, he would.

    And Murdoch owns some highbrow papers. He started The Australian in 1964 which is beyond doubt the best newspaper in Australia. He propped it up for years before it turned a profit.

    He also owns The Times of London.

    Of course he also owns The Sun in London and the Herald Sun in Melbourne, two of the worst newspapers on Earth, but they sell their socks off in their markets.

    I’ve never even seen the morning TV shows, let alone Sunrise or the Henry drivel I hear so worshipped at Kiwiblog.

    Aaargh, call me ancient, but as a kid I heard the very first Morning Report on April 1 1975 and have been a Morning Report junkie ever since, even through the years I called it Moaning Retort.

    (The state of the NZ media saddens me greatly as I am by profession a journalist who specialised in serious news and investigative reporting. There is no outlet for my work in NZ any more.)

  13. Tiger Mountain on April 10th, 2010 at 14:49

    RNZ is the last bastion of palatable msm NZ journalism I am afraid Pablo. Certain blogs to their major credit, including this one, Werewolf and others try and hold back the shitslide. Murdoch remains reprehensible due to how he got there/here, his trail remains undignified and vicious, encompassing Wapping etc. Much of the product also remains undignified and vicious.

    The brown nosers above are surely not literally on the payroll but holy hell they would like to be it seems!

  14. Ag on April 10th, 2010 at 15:17

    It is only when the profit maximising imperative is removed – Maori TV, TV7 for example – that you get programming with any integrity.

    Well, are we going to make people watch TV that they don’t want to watch?

    If the public is not informed, then democracy cannot really work. But the public resists being informed and prefers partisan “news”. So democracy doesn’t really work. So much for “spontaneous order”.

    All the jumping through hoops about media conspiracies and the lack of “true” democracy is simply a means for the educated classes to avoid having to admit that democracy doesn’t come anywhere close to what it is commonly supposed to.

    As I have said before, there is going to be zero progress unless our societies have a radical rethink of our democracies.

  15. Pablo on April 10th, 2010 at 15:45

    I am a bit perplexed by the introduction of the term “conspiracy” in this thread. I did not mention any such thing in the post, nor do I believe that one is afoot. What I did refer to is a trend, what I called the “Australianisation” of news, in which hard news is replaced by human interest nonsense etc. Murdoch was the one who most ardently pushed that media business model (even if he keeps a few real news jewels in his empire), which makes him the PT Barnum of the media world. His success spawned immitators and the trend is now all-pervasive to the point that, as several commentators point out, it is only non-commerical media operators who provide informed and intelligent coverage of important news items. More the reason, in my mind, to have state-funded or public broadcasting as well as more community broadcasting such as Stratos.

    Ag is right though, with regard to democracy (which I alluded to in the post): the dumbing down of news makes for a less informed public, which in turns leads to less accountable and more elite-driven (and centred) political policy making.

  16. Ag on April 10th, 2010 at 19:50

    I am a bit perplexed by the introduction of the term “conspiracy” in this thread.

    Sorry Pablo; I think that was my fault. What I meant by conspiracy was the common left wing theory that the likes of Rupert Murdoch either brainwash or fool working class people into supporting conservative policies, or deliberately dumb down news into entertainment in order to allow anti-working class policies to be enacted.

    The PT Barnum comparison is the exact truth in my opinion.

  17. MollyByGolly on April 10th, 2010 at 22:42

    Well, are we going to make people watch TV that they don’t want to watch?.

    Taste is not a given, it is shaped by exposure. If news editors/producers assume the public has a short attention span, or is only interested in drivel, and this is what they deliver, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you have never been exposed to “serious” news then you are unlikely to find it attractive.

  18. MollyByGolly on April 10th, 2010 at 22:49

    What I did refer to is a trend, what I called the “Australianisation” of news, in which hard news is replaced by human interest nonsense etc. Murdoch was the one who most ardently pushed that media business model

    I find the use of “Australianisation” curious – what is so Australian about this? I would call it the “corporatisation” of news myself. Corporate ownership of media is more to blame than any single Australian… I believe the same trend would have happened in NZ with or without Murdoch. A a previous poster notes, Murdoch’s empire is not homogeneous trash. And Murdoch was mostly a hands-off owner of NZ newspapers, when he owned them.

  19. Ag on April 11th, 2010 at 00:19

    Taste is not a given, it is shaped by exposure. If news editors/producers assume the public has a short attention span, or is only interested in drivel, and this is what they deliver, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you have never been exposed to “serious” news then you are unlikely to find it attractive.

    I’ve heard this argument before. Governments all over the world have done all sorts to improve the public taste in such diverse areas as news, literature and musical taste. It has never really worked. In any case, relatively “serious news” is available in New Zealand, but people can’t be bothered.

    If you add to that the postmodern nature of contemporary society, it becomes pointless to insist on serious news, since nothing is “serious” any more. It’s not that people like or believe in drivel. It is that they deny objectivity (a frightening number of people do this in principle, and vastly more in practice). When you insist on maximizing freedom beyond the horizons of rationality, you can’t talk about seriousness any more.

    But the limiting case is, as I have said before, the fact that people simply do not have the time to become competent in evaluating the news.

  20. DeepRed on April 11th, 2010 at 00:28

    Furthermore, the Press Council was formed in an era before the Murdochisation of the media industry. Now that it’s little more than a toothless tiger, maybe a logical step would be for media companies to be scrutinised by the Commerce Commission.

  21. Bruce Hamilton on April 11th, 2010 at 09:42

    Some of the change may be attributed to 21st Century lifestyles, as well as the deliberate changes in target audience demographic.

    Because we are a small nation, we don’t have many viable media segments. We now have media that wants to capture maximum width audience demographic for best advertising revenue, so gossip becomes lowest common denomination for family viewing.

    Consider the magazines that fall out of weekend papers, few substantive articles remain in those, with many associated with retail therapy.

    There’s a perception that people should be learning something all the time to remain part of social interactions at work and play. Media continually pre-announces superficial, brief, news items, eg covering Tiger Woods, to help hold the audience over another commercial break.

    Quietness, pensive reflection, and detailed news discussion are so last century. Visit a public library, grey hair everywhere.

  22. Hugh on April 11th, 2010 at 15:33

    I think the term ‘Australianisation’ is here chiefly to make this trend seem as offensive as possible – to play on the anti-Australian sentiment so common here in New Zealand.

    And really, Pablo, I’m finding your posts pretty samey. So many of them – on crime, on security, on education, and now on the media – are just meditations on perceived societal decline that really are nothing more than ‘it was better in my day’.

  23. David McLoughlin on April 11th, 2010 at 16:13

    I think the term ‘Australianisation’ is here chiefly to make this trend seem as offensive as possible – to play on the anti-Australian sentiment so common here in New Zealand.

    Actually I took that as meaning the Australian takeover of our news media. Very few media outlets are now not owned by Australian companies, ie Fairfax, APN and whoever it is who bought the TV3 empire from the Canadians.

    Murdoch, however, sold out of his minority stake (in INL) years ago.

    Australia still has some good media outlets… the ABC, SBS, The Australian, The Monthly.

    New Zealand only has RNZ.

    Fairfax Australia owns Trade Me, but the revenue from it goes straight to Australia. Had we still had a local media company when Trade Me went on the block (eg INL) that company could have bought it and its revenue stream would have helped a NZ newspaper company rather than an Australian one.

    Personally, I have given up hope for the NZ news media, now its stories are dominated by disgraceful liftings from the vile depths of the right of the blogosphere. The utter garbage about Charles Chauvel on a plane was totally the end of the road for me.

  24. Pablo on April 11th, 2010 at 16:17

    Hugh:

    You are welcome to your intepretation, but with no due respect you appear to have some reading comprhension problems. The term “Australianisation” has to do with the origins of this particular media business model, nothing more and nothing less. You have read a bit too much into it.

    As for the “sameness” of my posts being a matter of me repeating that things were “better in my day.” I guess over the course of 80+ posts there might be some overlap, but given the variety of subjects posted on I would hardly characterise them as all being the same. As for the “things were better in my day” line, I am not sure how my writing gives you that impression, especially since on matters of international relations, politics and security there is no room for reminiscing even if I were of such a mindset.

    Plus, “my day” involves a childhood and adolescence spent in Latin America and an adulthood spent living for extended periods in 6 different countries. How can I possibly have a uniform view of supposedly better days given that degree of exposure to cultural, ethnic, social and political diversity? Again, your read is wrong.

    I realise that you like to play at being contrary but this time you are just being unpleasant and disagreeable.

  25. Hugh on April 11th, 2010 at 18:04

    That’s funny, I didn’t realise I liked to play at being contrary. But seen as you’re willing to grant yourself an insight into my psyche that I apparently can’t achieve into yours, despite the fact that I’ve read far more of your writing than you mine… I think it’s time to practice some disengagement.

  26. Psycho Milt on April 11th, 2010 at 19:35

    Personally, I have given up hope for the NZ news media, now its stories are dominated by disgraceful liftings from the vile depths of the right of the blogosphere. The utter garbage about Charles Chauvel on a plane was totally the end of the road for me.

    Amen. If anyone in the media involved in that story can still look at themselves in the mirror, they presumably lost all semblence of self-respect somewhere back among the other non-stories they took from right-wing blogs.

  27. Psycho Milt on April 11th, 2010 at 19:44

    As to “it were different in my day,” well I do recall emailing TV3 back in 1997 to point out that Princess Diana had been dead for days and maybe they could return to devoting part of the evening news to actual news stories, and getting a reply back that essentially said “Tough luck pal, ratings are up.” In that context, the shameful wallowing in Michael Jackson’s death didn’t come as any surprise.

    That said, it has definitely deteriorated the last few years. The Diana circus was a one-off back in 1997 – now, celebrity gossip is a significant proportion of every 3 News bulletin. And it would be very interesting to do a comparison of what Campbell Live is covering compared to what the host was putting his time into 10 years ago. Bottom line – I think Pablo’s right.

  28. MollyByGolly on April 11th, 2010 at 20:14

    But the limiting case is, as I have said before, the fact that people simply do not have the time to become competent in evaluating the news.

    Ag – this is why it is all the more important that the news that exists is accurate and made to high standards: aiming for objectivity, balance, trying to find the truth, checking sources, time for research etc.

    The term “Australianisation” has to do with the origins of this particular media business model, nothing more and nothing less.

    Pabs – not sure that it is helpful, though, because it doesn’t describe the nature of the problem. Murdoch may (did he?) have invented tabloid press but it has been adopted far and wide, for reasons that have nothing to do with its Australian-ness. And everything to do with commercial pressures.

    New technology makes the problem worse because audiences are fragmenting but the MSM have business models based on large scale. How to retain that scale? They’re hoping going down-market will work for them…

  29. Pablo on April 11th, 2010 at 20:42

    MBG:

    The term “Australianisation” may be infelicitous for the reasons you mention (its wide spread emulation outside the country of origin, etc.), although in the NZ context it also refers to what David McLoughlin has mentioned above about matters of media ownership. My use simply refers to the origins of that particular media business model, which probably is better refered to as “tabloidisation” rather than “Australianisation.” I intended no denigration of the Ozzies in making that characterisation.

    That having been said I should recognise that a recent month long sojourn in OZ, in both South and West Australia, reaffirmed in my mind that they are the world champions in vacuous morning TV. Take NZ morning TV, multiply the idiot factor by 10, and you get an idea of how bad that it is–all in a country that as others have mentioned, also produces serious quality print, radio and TV news coverage. In fact, it made me think that OZ is a dichotomous society, with a relatively small policy and corporate elite ruling relatively unhindered while the masses lap up the pap served by the commercial media outlets…sort of like NZ, eh?

  30. Lew on April 11th, 2010 at 21:33

    Coming late to this discussion as I’ve had a weekend of domesticity — and blessedly free from the sort of things I spend my weeks doing.

    I wouldn’t have thought this was a particularly contentious post — that Sunrise was fluffy trivia was no great secret; its demise was long predicted (its launch opposite Breakfast was widely described as “bold”, which in such a timeslot is industry code for “foolhardy”) — and the general state of the media in NZ is the subject of frequent consensus on all sides of the ideological spectrum (allowing for some specific disagreements over certain media outlets and people).

    The loss of Sunrise, as Pablo says, is no great loss to NZ’s collective awareness or general media literacy. It didn’t displace any genuine news or current affairs, since nothing with any real substance would survive in that timeslot anyhow — and it’s being replaced with decades-old sitcom reruns, to nobody’s great shock.

    But it is an apposite demonstration of the barriers which exist to entry in these sorts of markets: even when copying the format and tone and style of the show against which you’re going head to head, you’ll struggle: how much more so if you’re game enough to try something different. The major broadcast news and current affairs formats have been set essentially in stone for decades. Breaking from them spells ruin in terms of mass-market ratings, so they don’t get broken from. Essentially, the media give people what they want — and what people already know they want is what’s safest to give them. The media have a role in defining what people want — driving demand, as well as simply supplying demand — but in an establishment culture in which the axiomatic “what makes a person sit up and say gee whiz” is by definition news, it’s altogether too risky a proposition to fulfill that role. And it’s often futile to try to force quality upon an audience. As in politics, you can’t gain genuine converts by coercion, you need to do it by persuasion. Persuasion is hard. Some abstract notion of quality divorced from “what people want to see, hear and read” doesn’t yield ratings — as demonstrated by Marcus Lush’s poor ratings performance despite his putting on a far more thoughtful and diverse show each morning than Mike Hosking and Newstalk ZB’s tired old formula, which rates — as it always has — exceptionally well.*

    The problem is with the commercial media model, but it needn’t be so. It is fundamentally a problem with “broad”cast — I mean the term not as “radio and TV” but in terms of mass-appeal media, including print. In a media ecology as small and immature as NZ has, there is little space for niche-market or narrowcast media on any sort of socially useful scale. One of Pablo’s observations during the conversation he referred to was that, in Latin America, the reality TV is far, far more exploitative and gonzo than what we have here, and the same for other media formats — but by the same token, there is space within the market for genuine in-depth hard news and current affairs programming as well. He remarked that he would gladly accept many hours of circuses in exchange for a few of genuine quality, as would I. Screen all the American Idol and Sunrise and Today Tonight (we don’t get it here — but it makes Close Up look positively cerebral) you like — as long as there’s some Panorama, Hardtalk and Insight for balance.

    This is roughly what happens in most large and reasonably mature media markets, where newsmakers and content producers can afford to cater to a relatively small segment of the population. So in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada (to list our Anglo-world comparators) there are both execrable and excellent papers and programmes of a far lower standard and of a far higher standard than what we have here. But in a small and immature market, not to mention a relatively poor market, this sort of diversity and market segmentation is a luxury. Broadcast has to be broad, and that means it’s rarely too far from a dull shade of grey. It’s hideously inefficient to narrowcast by broadcast mechanisms: to buy spectrum and use it to talk to a few thousand people is simply unsustainable; likewise to employ a staff of journalists and engage a printer to produce papers for you. An old media lecturer of mine reckoned that a decent metropolitan daily paper needs a catchment of about a million adults to remain independently viable. I don’t know what the equivalent for a TV or radio news and current affairs department, but I reckon it woudl be in the same general ballpark. That’s why we see so much cross-subsidisation, outright copying and corporate-outsourced-corner-cutting chicanery in our media outlets: we can’t support them any other way.

    New technology won’t necessarily make it worse, but it’s not a magic bullet, either. The emergence of narrowcast will add some diversity; as it is already doing even in those media markets which are strongly segmented. Blogs and social media by which user-created content is shared are generally forms of narrowcasting, and their impact is beginning to be seen (though I remain of the view that their importance is much exaggerated). More importantly, the internet and other delivery mechanisms will give established media producers more opportunities to narrowcast at lower cost and greater efficiency, and to audiences not so heavily restricted by geography and schedules. But the fundamental problem of a small and immature media ecology remains.

    L

    * Bearing in mind that The Radio Network is part-owned by APN News & Media.

  31. Pablo on April 11th, 2010 at 22:16

    Dang Lew, you pretty much put the issue to rest. Thanks for that (and Hugh, are you reading what Lew just wrote? How does that accord with your claim that I was indulging the “things were better in the good ole days” line. My impression is that you just got schooled so yes, it is best for you to disengage until you can adequately tackle the argument as given without being snippy).

  32. JD on April 11th, 2010 at 23:02

    It’s not ‘australianisation’ which is ruining the media but ‘feminisation’ through an increasing number of female journalists in our newsrooms who are simply writing about what they consider to be news most notably the antics of callow celebrities. Just open up any women’s magazine to mainline the unadulterated crap and you’ll see it’s simply a stronger version.

  33. David McLoughlin on April 12th, 2010 at 00:05

    It’s not ‘australianisation’ which is ruining the media but ‘feminisation’ through an increasing number of female journalists in our newsrooms who are simply writing about what they consider to be news most notably the antics of callow celebrities.

    I made an MA level, fully researched presentation on this some years ago to a Skeptics Society conference. The full text is here:

    http://poneke.wordpress.com/2008/04/20/skepsoc/

  34. Lew on April 12th, 2010 at 08:26

    Pablo, the point wasn’t to school anyone or put the debate to rest so much as bring an industry analysis into the discussion. There are plenty of other factors as well, most of which can happily coincide with my read. The only one which really can’t is the “political conspiracy” argument that the media are shills for their (corporate or socialist, depending on what kind of crank you’re talking with) masters. That’s a lazy explanation mostly made by people to make excuses for their own side’s inability to use the media to their advantage.

    JD, this sounds to me like a variant of the “femocrat dykeocracy” arguments so prevalent during the latter stages of the Clark government, coming hand-in-hand with assertions that boys were failing at school because female teachers don’t understand science or mathematics, and other such Victorian ideas. As with most things, I think the reality’s a bit more complicated than that.

    Rather than women being more inclined to report celebrity news, one point is that women are more inclined to read it. There are complicated reasons for this, which I’ll not go too far into, but much of it comes down to the fact that women were a niche media market until a relatively short while ago, and a separate media ecology emerged in parallel to the “mainstream” male-dominated ecology of business, crime, politics and sport to cater to them). In many ways they still are a niche market. The fact that there’s a readymade audience for this content, and the fact that the content is plentiful and cheap and easy to produce means the drive to produce it is coming from (male) editorial and production managers looking to cross-subsidise “real” news, rather than (female) newsgatherers and reporters themselves, most of whom would much rather work on serious stories. Further, it’s only really within the past generation that women have been fully accepted in newsrooms, if they even are today — and many of those who are cut their teeth in the lifestyle, gossip and celebrity pages because that’s the only place they were permitted to work, so that’s what they know. A good interview with Sharyn Steel on this topic here.

    Add to which, many of the worst offenders in the phenomenon you describe are men — Messrs Henry and Garner spring most readily to mind.

    L

  35. Ag on April 12th, 2010 at 08:50

    This is roughly what happens in most large and reasonably mature media markets, where newsmakers and content producers can afford to cater to a relatively small segment of the population. So in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada (to list our Anglo-world comparators) there are both execrable and excellent papers and programmes of a far lower standard and of a far higher standard than what we have here.

    Well, speaking of Canada, with which I have some familiarity it is not that great (although I am probably a bit out of date, as it is a while since I lived there). The free to air private broadcasters serve up nothing but dreck.

    The only stuff that is better than we get here is put on by public broadcasting. For example, the CBC is a pretty decent public broadcaster that does a much better job of news and reportage than TVNZ does. They even make sure that the national sport is on live free to air every weekend during the NHL season, unlike us (and the NHL is far more expensive than rugby). Other than that, where I lived there was TVO which was the Ontario public broadcasting channel (very much like PBS in the states). The CBC is a bit like TVNZ (NZBC) back in the day when it was a serious public broadcaster.

    And that’s the rub. NZ used to have decent news broadcasts back before the neoliberal mania started (watching some old ones on Youtube is somewhat of a revelation).

    I wouldn’t put the difference down to size of the country. Of course Canada has about 9-10 times the population of NZ, but the CBC has to run two networks, because of Quebec (Radio Canada), and there’s a fair amount of regional stuff because Canada is so huge.

    To me it appeared that Canadians simply cared more about public broadcasting, because it was a powerful way to differentiate Canada from the US (and the major US TV stations are available on basic cable in Canada, unlike NZ, in which most people don’t watch Australian stations).

    In general, Canada seems to have been able to resist the neoliberal onslaught better than NZ, and the relative health of public broadcasting is one aspect of that.

  36. Bruce Hamilton on April 12th, 2010 at 08:52

    ” Some abstract notion of quality divorced from “what people want to see, hear and read” doesn’t yield ratings — as demonstrated by Marcus Lush’s poor ratings performance despite his putting on a far more thoughtful and diverse show each morning than Mike Hosking and Newstalk ZB’s tired old formula, which rates — as it always has — exceptionally well.”

    Audience inertia may be significant. Many listeners to Fox Radio ( aka Newstalk ZB ) are from Paul Holmes era, and remain loyal because they find the whole day’s programmes superior to alternatives.

    Radio Live’s broadcasting of TV3 news from 6-7pm is insulting to the potential audience.

    It’s my perception people don’t change radio stations at home as frequently as they do TV channels in the evening, but I could well be wrong. They certainly change stations in cars, but that’s more convenient and necessary because of signal strength issues.

    Campbell Live’s output has turned to custard quicker than genuine Edmonds powder since Carol Hirschfield left to join to Maori TV.

  37. JD on April 12th, 2010 at 13:05

    JD, this sounds to me like a variant of the “femocrat dykeocracy” arguments so prevalent during the latter stages of the Clark government, coming hand-in-hand with assertions that boys were failing at school because female teachers don’t understand science or mathematics, and other such Victorian ideas. As with most things, I think the reality’s a bit more complicated than that.

    Sounds like you don’t understand my argument.

  38. Lew on April 12th, 2010 at 13:16

    JD,

    Perhaps so, but in my defence, whenever an argument begins with the assertion that “feminisation” is “ruining” some hallowed institution, the rest of it tends to read like the disgruntled mutterings of an elderly bachelor down at the TAB, having backed the wrong horse in #7 at Addington, and grasping about for a convenient hook to hang the blame upon.

    Perhaps, by way of expanding on your argument, you could address my reasonably substantive rebuttal instead of just the initial reaction.

    L

  39. Lew on April 12th, 2010 at 13:32

    Ag, yeah, there are other things in play. But we retain a reasonably strong affection for public-service broadcasting here, though somewhat eroded from what it once was. I agree that the best way to overcome the limitations I referred to above — that is, to produce the peaks (if not the troughs) and the narrowcast content and form, public service broadcasting is necessary. In other words, if it doesn’t happen organically as a consequence of the normal functioning of the media ecology, then it must be synthesised.

    Bruce, I was going to refer to the decline of Campbell Live since Hirschfeld’s departure, but that’s not a gendered matter since her replacement, Kim Hurring, is a woman also.

    It’s very clear that a lot of ZB’s popularity is a matter of inertia and minimal (and very well-tested) change — such as the fact that Hosking replacing Holmes was announced more than a year in advance, so as not to scare the horses.

    There’s also a range of other factors; ZB is a localised show, whereas RadioLIVE is nationwide; ZB’s audience is much older and the market alignment is different; ZB competes with NatRad, Concert and Rhema as much as it does with RadioLIVE, which competes with commercial music radio; ZB’s production and presentations standards are somewhat more … shall we say, ideologically consistent, such that you can go a whole day without hearing a single thing you (dis)agree with. RadioLIVE, on the other hand, encompasses Lush’s quirky sort of common-sense provincial liberalism, followed by Laws’ ranting populism, followed by the Brown Brothers, who are frequently all over the shop, followed by Maggie Barry of all people. Then there’s the Nutters Club and PublicAddress Radio and Finlay Macdonald’s weekend shows. It’s diverse. It’s an oddball station and I think that’s quite valuable, much as I disagree with most of it — but it is also rather more challenging than your average elderly talkback-listener probably wants. Bless.

    L

  40. JD on April 12th, 2010 at 17:42

    Perhaps, by way of expanding on your argument, you could address my reasonably substantive rebuttal instead of just the initial reaction.

    No, I think my argument is so powerful it doesn’t need explaining.

  41. Ag on April 12th, 2010 at 18:02

    In other words, if it doesn’t happen organically as a consequence of the normal functioning of the media ecology, then it must be synthesised.

    I guess TVNZ 7 does some of this, although the channel hardly fulfils its potential. NZ could really do with something like PBS.

    Having said that, Concert FM is pretty decent.

  42. Lew on April 12th, 2010 at 18:42

    JD, well played.

    L

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