Matt Nippert - sodden hack, Auckland

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

If you stand outside and it rains...

...You get wet. Common sense dictates that you dress for the weather. In the case of journalism, and blogging too, if you put your work out in the public domain, expect criticism. It helps to develop a thick skin, even better, a sense of humour. Thrice in the last month I've had feedback - and it's all negative. Have I struck out?

Before speculating what the recent run of poor weather is doing to peoples sensitivities, it's worth noting this NBR story - and no, I'm not exposing business cheerleading gone mad. The Maxim Wizard letter writing tool appears to have been used inappropriately (imagine that!). Rather than using the Wizard merely to spam editors (about which I've already written), false sender details were entered - those of Peter Dunne, NBR reporter Jock Anderson and John Kerry.

The Police were called, Maxim denied any involvement, and IP numbers are being analysed. What is significant is that the arguments used seem to be similar to others from the Wizard that editors have to sift through when selecting letters to print. The NBR reports:

The forged email purporting to come from Peter Dunne was more sinister, accusing Act leader Rodney Hide of promoting a homosexual agenda and of having an anti-family, fanatical liberal, anti-Maori, racist, and homosexual commentator as his "closest confidant and adviser."
John Kerry, apparently, supports the "enough is enough" campaign, and maintains "homosexuality is a deathstyle, not a lifestyle". (Memo to Bush: it will take more than a gay marriage amendment to the constitution to outflank the Democrats on family values.) Jock Anderson, apparently, insists he is the "greatest journalist in New Zealand". All bollocks, and thus the effort was easily caught. I wonder if anything more subtle (say, from one John Doe) has managed to slip past the editorial net....

I know there's an argument that guns don't kill people, people do. But making guns more widely available means more people will get killed by gunshot. Similarly, making it easier for people to breach editorial policy and assume others' identities means such behaviour will happen more often. Unless Maxim wants to increasingly be associated with publicity of this nature, despite attempts to distance themselves saying the Wizard is only "a community service", they should shut down the site. Moralising over, let's descend to the recent outbreak of bitching, followed by periods of mild condescension.

First up, we have word from on high:

Hi Matt,

I've read your
blog on the new Herald publication, Fuse, with interest. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion and to express it as you see fit. But as you embark on your journalism career, you might like to think about the need to report accurately, which as well as meaning getting things right, also means not leaving things out.

The Gravitas research you refer to listed five positive student perceptions of the Herald and three negative but you covered only the negative.

Here at "granny" we know we've got to do better to appeal to younger readers but sloppy journalism won't get us - or I suggest you - very far.

Yours faithfully,
Shenagh Gleeson
Chief of Staff
Editorial Department
New Zealand Herald

I had thought it was pretty standard journalistic practice to focus on what is newsworthy. Trying to put every piece of information you have available into a story puts the squeeze on space, not to mention the patience of readers. Blogs aren't quite under the same pressure as print, so, to placate Gleeson I'm going to list the six (not five) positive perceptions. But to spare you, gentle readers, I've put them at the bottom of the blog so you can avoid this marketing tripe if you wish.

The topic of student media is building to a crescendo at the moment, with the ASPA awards being held on Friday. Fuse, ostensibly, isn't in this market - but who are they trying to kid? It seems fairly obvious the supplement is aiming for the student advertising dollar, thus competing for the same limited pool of funds.

On the content front, I had intended to do a comparative analysis between the Herald's effort and Salient and Critic, but after three issues of Fuse I can't be bothered - there's simply no competition. As Russell Brown pointed out, Fuse has no campus base and no voice. I'm shocked, and this is no disrepect to the current editor, that the Herald didn't employ someone with student media experience (as an added plus, they'd probably also accept less pay for a better job).

They've also misread distribution - you just can't waltz onto campus and dump material. If that were the case, mass-marketeers would be flooding the place with pamphlets. Talking with AUSA President Kate Sutton, there is significant apprehension about letting Fuse in the door (Craccum survives solely on advertising revenue, thanks to the joy that is VSM). They've been allowed on for their first six issues and next year access will be reconsidered. "If I told a bunch of students to burn them," says Sutton, "they would." (I understand Lucid has been banned from Otago campus because it is also seen as a competitor - not something I think reflects particularly well on Critic.)

And secondly, it must have been a stellar month in the media if I'm already the highest profile purveyor of pap in New Zealand. The most recent issue of Metro, a magazine that reads almost as well as it looks, ran this on their inside back page.

Drivel Corner
"It's often said that life imitates art, but it's not only a one-way street. Dame Judi Dench, playing the humourless spymaster "M" in Goldeneye told a..."
Matt Nippert, New Zealand Listener, July 31 2004.
It's not the best sentence in the world (they're probably thinking of a slightly mixed metaphor), but it wasn't the worst jumble of words I've ever assembled either. Cutting the second sentence which gives meaning to the first (art imitates life sometimes, you see?) added to their case. (Is the recent Listener boost in circulation cause for concern over at ACP? On the same page it is suggested Russell Brown take over the editorial reins at the Listener.)

Any publicity is good publicity, the old battle between infamy and obscurity. I've been wanting to get my name in Metro for ages (not the society pages - the substantive ones), and hell, I have arrived.

Thirdly, and finally, I am an asshole. This email arrived in my inbox on Monday:
Your attempts at being a literary tough guy

Someone sent me
a link to one of your blogs. Here's an excerpt to refresh your memory:

(I'm guessing the only people amused by Media Dog were Anthony Ellison and Jonathan Marshall - and the Beavis and Butthead generation. Anus: Heh heh heh.)

If I really thought that the rectum was a valuable resource for humour, I'd find you and your writing amusing.

cordially yours
Anthony Ellison
Now at least this is funny, Rebecca Williams from Debate could certainly learn a thing or two. To a certain extent all art criticism requires an anal mindset, and my honest opinion of Media Dog was informed by discussions amongst my peer group. I love Ellison's cartoons (in fact he did a stunner for my previously linked Wizard story), and hope it keeps it up. I'd love for him to do a portrait of me, in the style of Assface from Preacher.

If I took all this seriously? I'd view myself as a sloppy, drivelling anus. Not the best self-image in the world, probably leading to stress-related complications like IBS. Since you can't blame the rain for being wet, I'm instead developing callouses.

To conclude, a sop to supposeded sloppiness. Positive perceptions of the Herald (editorial comment by moi in italics):

  • Recognition of the "iconic" status of the newspaper and position as a "kiwi" institution. (So too is Tomato Sauce. According to Watties)
  • Acknowledgement that it is the country's largest paper. (Who'd refuse to acknowledge a fact?)
  • Delivers daily news and information that is "safe" and traditional. (I thought the whole point of being young was to take risks and damn traditions?)
  • Tool for accessing classifieds and other information. (Trade and Exchange anyone?)
  • Up-to-date and offering a worldly connection and a wide variety of content something for everyone [sic]. (With 100+ editorial staff, there's maybe one on your level - if not "the" level.)
  • Easily accessible when required and good value for money. (Just like Winston's slogans, ubiquitous and cheap.)

PS: I like the Herald, I read it every day. What I don't like should be obvious.

PPS: If you drew a Ven Diagram for alcoholics, students and journalists would be pretty big circles. Anyone wanting to see the hideous results when these groups overlap should check out Shakespeare's this Friday, post-ASPA's.

PPPS: And if anyone's wondering where the usually stellar contributions from Michael Appleton have gone, here's something that should tide you over - a lovely guest editorial at his old haunt.