This excellent article did the rounds in my department at work today, about the methodological rigour (or lack thereof) in ratings, on which I’ve been meaning to write a post for a while.
I refer almost daily to such demographic information – ratings, audience/circulation, readership and particularly advertising value equivalents – as `the department of made-up numbers’ because, basically, that’s what they are. At best, they are a set of figures which, while deeply flawed, are horizontally and vertically consistent, and well-enough understood that their failings can be accounted for (this approximates a definition of any useful long-term demographic data). At worst, they are the patina of officious statistical rigour over a set of numbers tuned to tell people whatever the media outlet, its owners, or its PR company want people to know – and that means they’re designed to fool. Most often, a given dataset lies in between – in the murky liminal zone where it’s impossible to tell whether it’s the former or the latter or something else entirely without access to the raw data and its provenance, which is nearly always impossible to get, and would entail phenomenal amounts of very specialised, expensive, time-consuming work to make sense of even if you could get it.
Despite these dire problems, demographic data, ratings, audience/circulation and advertising value equivalent data are the mainstay of the media and communications industry’s performance measurement infrastructure, for two simple reasons: First, it gives you nice clear figures to prove your department is doing its job; and second, nothing else does, because media demographics is the art of measuring the unmeasurable. So people who are otherwise cautious and crafty and suspicious just accept the numbers at face value and trust them implicitly because the alternative is no data, and with apologies to the Bard, nothing will come of nothing.
This reliance on demographic figures is highly detrimental to the health of the media industry, because the data can’t be verified, and there exists an inflation imperative. I dislike comparisons to communism as a rule, but there’s a parallel in this sort of reporting in the media/PR/comms industry as it presently is to the problems of productivity reporting seen in the 20s in the USSR and the 50s in China. When both producers and their supposedly independent auditors are ranked according to the quantity – not the quality – of the figures they produce, there inevitably emerges a tendency to inflate those figures.
In the USSR and China, wheat and rice yields were inflated in this way, because the producers would be punished if their yields fell, and the municipal authorities didn’t look too closely at the production figures because they would be punished if their municipality’s yields fell. Central government assumed these figures were correct, and based budgets and food allocations and projections and such upon them, planning more than they could realistically achieve because there was in fact less food than they thought in the granaries.
If we substitute `food’ for `ratings, I think the parallel is pretty clear: the media are relying on bad data to demonstrate that their product has value to advertisers first and journalistic merit second and to boost the egos of their stable of opinion leaders third; internal communications departments use it to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and initiatives; external PR firms use it to prove their worth to client companies; boards of directors rely on it to make decisions about what publicity campaigns to fund, which products to launch, and who to promote. All this is good money thrown after bad – frankly, it’s a miracle it hasn’t all come tumbling down sooner.
On 27 February 1951 the government deployed the army onto the wharves in an attempt to break a union.
My summary of the Waterfront Dispute: the workers took action as part of a pay dispute by refusing to work over Finn, the ports locked them out, the government declared a state of emergency, rolled in the army and put in draconian regulations that, amongst other things, made it illegal to give food to the children of locked out wharfies.
Today I’m thinking of three things
What do we need to do to return power to workers?
I love the description of the political strategy of turning an accusation about an action into a defence from a personal attack.
Over at The Hand Mirror Julie is co-ordinating a pay equity faxathon.
This is a great way to mark International Working Women’s day by telling Tony Ryall that women deserve pay equity, and that National should uncancel the programmes that would have addressed the pay inequality affecting female social workers and school support staff.
So pop on over to The Hand Mirror, download the fax, collect some signatures, and tell National that women are worth it!
I spent my school years growing up in Wanganui, and for the time being I’m back here, taking care of family matters. Having grown up here as a Pākehā with strong connections in Te Ao Māori, I can say with some authority that the region is mostly populated by unreformed Pākehā racists who loathe Māori out of fear bred from profound ignorance. I say mostly – but not entirely; there is an understandably large Māori population, and some more tolerant Pākehā. This fear and loathing is both the cause and the result of the fact that Māori in Wanganui are poorer, less-well educated and more likely to be involved in crime than non-Māori. Not so different from the general mentality of NZ as a whole, but stronger.
The Wanganui District Council yesterday voted against recommending to the NZ Geographic Board that the name be changed to its proper spelling – Whanganui, endorsing a 2006 referendum in which 82% of respondents favoured retaining the spelling. This post comprises two parts: first, an argument as to why retaining the name without the h is an absurd example of the grasping settler mentality; and second, an explication of how this morning’s front-page article on the topic frames the issue as a crisis, and promotes the same sort of fear and ignorance by marginalising and ridiculing the voices and opinions of those favouring the change.
Mayor Michael Laws:
Wanganui is not a Maori name. It has assumed an identity, a heritage, a history and a mana of its own.
You’ll go far to find a more convenient statement of revisionist ignorance in NZ identity politics. This forms the sole and entire argument in principle against the name change: it’s been that way for ages, so the word no longer means what it once meant – or more plainly, it’s an old mistake so it’s no longer a mistake. If this were to hold everywhere, then the mis-transliteration or misspelling of any word would necessarily destroy any connection to the original in every case: a patently idiotic idea. The fact is that Wanganui is a Māori word, misspelt by the original transliterators because the local dialect drops the `h’, pronouncing `Whanganui’ and `Wanganui’ practically the same, with a Wa sound, not a Fo sound. It’s not a new word – it’s the old word misspelt but pronounced correctly. This is a critically important example of the damn-fool ignorance I’m talking about: most of those against the change complain that they don’t want to have to pronounce it with a `F’, not realising despite mostly having lived here all their lives that nobody would. Hardly anyone pronounces the name of the river – which name is spelt with the h – as such; just ignorant but wanting-to-be-culturally-sensitive Pākehā, or other Māori wanting to make a point about the superiority of their dialect over the local one.
So, the argument in principle is invalid, and the argument of practicality is equally invalid. Why are people so opposed to the change? Because the local Māori want to exert their rangatiratanga by insisting the name of the settlement on the river be rendered correctly, as a symbolic matter, and the settlers are opposed to any assertion of rangatiratanga for fear that they might lose control over their identity and their community, or become hori-fied, as Dam Native put it. Spelling, pronunciation and other such matters are important symbolic markers of identity and authority, and the river and its surrounds physical manifestations of that. As local iwi say: Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – I am the river, the river is me. That such a central part of their identity may be grasped and mutilated and withheld as if it no longer belonged to them is almost as grave an insult as is possible.
This grasping settler mentality is the fundamental reason why Māori have to endure a decades-long, frightfully expensive and time-consuming judicial process under a foreign system weighted against them, generations after the fact and opposed every step of the way by the crown, business, the media and the settler public, in order to get a fraction of one per cent of the reparations to which they might otherwise be entitled. It’s the same principle which prompted the Iwi/Kiwi ignorance, and the same which recently led to the rhetorical backlash against the vesting of Ka Mate in Ngāti Toa Rangatira, about which I wrote recently. It grasps things of value, and then refuses to return them, or share them, or relinquish any control over them, no matter how slight, and even when such a gesture of goodwill would be the basis for more meaningful and harmonious engagement with the settled outsiders and a route to a more peaceful future, not the opening of the floodgates feared by the settler majority.
The Wanganui Chronicle‘s lead story this morning was headlined `H bombs in crucial vote’, with the `H’ in red lettering, alongside a large photo of Māori protesters (although the secondary story `Protesters on the march’ notes that most protesters were Pākehā). The corresponding story on the Chron‘s website has the same photo, but the more sedate `Council split over ‘H’ in Wanganui’ headline. Message: locally, this is war. For the rest of the country, it’s just another bit of local government trivia. The headline both minimised the importance of this issue as a symbolic matter of rangatiratanga and amplified its importance as a site for dispute between settlers and outsiders. People know they have to fight against it, but don’t know why.
The story lead with the fact that the vote was closer than expected – five councillors (of thirteen, including Laws) would not vote for the existing name. Prominent share of voice was granted to those five councillors, mostly making the arguments above, that the change was the correction of a historical inaccuracy and not `bending to the whims of radicals’, but the highlighting of these five councillors as opposed to the 82% majority in the referendum clearly framed them as the radicals in council – outsiders, out-of-step with their electorate. This was reinforced by three other points: first, one councillor said he was `ashamed’ at the response to the referendum, being as it was based on ignorance, fear and misunderstanding – the message in the context of his decision was that he was ashamed of the electorate, directly at odds with the adjacent `Love this place!’ vox pop of a cute girl talking about why Wanganui is so great, a variation of which is repeated daily on the front page.
Second, other than Laws, only one councillor who voted in favour of the existing spelling was quoted on the matter, saying that she was elected to `represent the views of her community, as expressed during the referendum process’, almost identical wording to that used by Laws, and a strong statement of normative majoritarian orthodoxy.
Third, Laws said, with somewhat wolfish magnanimity, that `it was comforting to see elected officials take an unpopular stance’, echoing other councillors who `acknowledged they could lose votes’ for refusing to endorse the existing name. Not a principled stance; an unpopular one; which represents them, not us. Message: If you’re not with us, you’re against the community, and if you’re against the majority, you’re the enemy by definition.
Against this background, there sometimes seems no hope for race relations in Wanganui, or perhaps even for NZ at large. At ANZAC weekend, I will be attending the launch of a book by Canterbury University scholar John Newton, at Hiruharama up the Whanganui river, which I expect will argue the opposite: that the spirit of goodwill and compromise and understanding exemplified by the relationship between poet James K Baxter and his associates and local Māori during the 1960s and 70s provides a model for NZ race relations, opposed to the majoritarian settler orthodoxy which now dominates.
I can’t work out if it’s a getting-to-know-your-new-Government strategy or a look-we’re-pro-family strategy, but I’m seeing an awful lot of National Party wives and kids right now. This is not an exhaustive list but:
Any thoughts about the strategy?
In my short time blogging I have discovered that posts which mention the Christian Right get some kind of kneejerk reaction: sometimes someone leaps to the defence of the CR despite the lack of attack in the post, sometimes people leap in to attack the lunacy of the CR despite my lack of opening for the attack.
It’s not just blogging either. When I argue for lowering the MMP threshold one of my arguments is that it will allow the CR representation in Parliament, often people’s immediate reaction is that they’re the kind of lunatics the threshold is intended to exclude. When I talk the history of the family values movement in New Zealand with conservative people (which, you’ll have to trust me, I do respectfully and with interest) someone often leaps in to defend the CR and tell me that they’ve been misrepresented and are far more moderate than they have been painted.
What is it about the Christian Right that polarises views and creates an attack-and-defence dynamic so quickly?
I know many at the socially liberal end of the spectrum will say that the CR is prejudiced and tells them what to do. But so do many other political, religious and community groups.
Many in the CR will say that they’re ridiculed for their religious and moral beliefs and they are, to at least some extent, right. Some of their knee jerk defensiveness is a response to that contempt, some is probably out of a sense of moral certainty.
What is it that makes it ok for the socially progressive to sneer at the CR? We would never allow it to be said of GLBTQ communities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities, or women; why do we allow it to be said about this religious minority?
Two innocently political photos:
(via the wonderful Amy Stein)
I have recently been reading about the rhetoric of family values, starting with the assumption that it is simply a dogwhistle for conservative Christians. Yet the more I read about the origin of the phrase in US politics the more I saw analysis saying it was initially a neo-liberal anti-welfare construction. It’s original intent was to aid the transfer of responsibility for poverty from the state to the the poor (Dana Cloud’s article is quite a good read, but there are lots of others out there).
Marion Maddox’ analysis of John Howard’s Australia is very similar; family values provided both a call to arms for the Christian right, and a rhetorical device to soften the fear-inspiring free market:
So, what’s the story in New Zealand, is it also the bridging point of the neo-liberalism and conservative Christianity? The original users of “family values” in recent NZ politics were United Future which was formed from the neoliberal refugees of the fourth Labour government and quickly joined by the evangelical and conservative Christian right.
Nowadays “family values” is most often heard from Family First, an organisation which uses classic anti-welfare rhetoric like:
The Sensible Sentencing Trust, another “family values” organisation holds welfare provision like the DPB responsible for having
So it appears that family values, like private schooling, is a carefully crafted concept providing a common cause for both the neoliberal economic right, and the morally conservative Christian Right.
This morning’s blackout was quite widely observed. My impressions (and ratings) of some of the usual suspects’ efforts are presented below. Overall – I’m a bit underwhelmed.
The point of the action was not about colouring your site black – it was about withholding content. To black your site out and to obliterate all the content on it, demonstrating what might happen in a s92-safe world. Many did, many didn’t.
So, according to my totally unscientific rating scheme, if you didn’t remove the content the best you got is a bare pass. Other than that, it was points on or off for clarity of message, design, and general commitment to the cause. Don’t take this as me being uncharitable – I figure everyone benefits if actions like this are as well-produced as possible.
Public Address – clear, punchy, doesn’t get bogged down in detail, links through to information. A.
Kiwiblog – One post blacked out, ads off, comments off. Given that KB is one of the banner sponsors and organisers of this action, you’d think it was important enough to do properly. Bloody weak. But then some time around 0945, the site redirected to http://creativefreedom.org.nz/blackout-homepage.html, thankfully. B overall.
Scoop [shot] – `404 Page Censored’. Mixed messages, but 404 is the http error meaning `file not found’, and this is what we’re looking at under s92. Requires people to engage (which they might not), but `page censored’ is a strong statement. A.
No Minister – Partisan hackery plus no blackout and all the content still there – only the animated gif. Minor points for leaving up a full explanatory message. Not quite worse than useless, but almost. D-.
Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty – Properly blacked out, Dylan Horrocks cartoon instead of s92 message is a nice touch. B+.
Frogblog – Nice work on the theme, but content remains and the advertised cartoon isn’t actually showing. C-.
Micro Party Watch – Technical fail, but at least done with some humour. D.
I haven’t rated those who didn’t participate – they all just get `F’ for `Fail’. Also, these are just the sites I got around to checking – add others below, if they’re notable.