Reimagining Journalism – WORD Christchurch

Relentless and unstoppable digital forces have changed the flows of information in recent years. And there’s no going back. There’s a multiplicity of media sources out are all vying for our precious time: pushing hard news and hard bodies at us through every possible platform.
Arguably, no other sector of the economy has been rattled by such changes as that profession and bastion and truth – journalism!

To discuss this, an extensive panel was formed at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Cate Brett, Simon Wilson, Morgan Godfrey, Duncan Greive and Paula Penfold got together on stage and thrashed it all out. The message seemed to be that such circumstances are a mixed blessing.

Simon Wilson. Image supplied.
Simon Wilson. Image supplied.

Some say “the news has been democratized”, giving everyone with a digital device “a voice”. But then, “everyone” includes your friendly neighbourhood skinhead. Others claim we’re all being exploited by commercial entities, who distract us from real issues by pitching to our carnal desires. Little New Zealand media sources can’t compete with behemoth businesses, resourced to catch a bigger share of public attention.

So, how do wholesome Kiwi journalists and news sources secure capital to compete for space within the saturated market, which is rather dominated by cashed up multinationals? Annoyingly, so many solutions seem to present a paradox – because the most critical and fundamental principle underpinning “The News” is OBJECTIVITY. Therefore, relying on government funding becomes a problem if your scrutinizing the behaviour of government: “biting the hand that feeds you”!

Getting help from unions or trusts was pitched as means to secure funding. But then, that’s also a problem when such entities also have political and ideological positions which journos feel compelled to honour!

And then there is advertising, which also means pandering to cut throat corporatism … These are some of the most important questions of right now. Because a robust and free press is right up there with free and fair elections and the right to vote!

CoverFortunately, an awesome new book has been released, which seeks to address the flux with innovative angles – Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Check it out.

More WORD Christchurch

Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand – an interview with Emma Johnson of Freerange Press

Everyone’s talking about journalism, how it is changing, and where its future lies. We asked Emma Johnson about the upcoming Freerange Press publication Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. This multi-author title includes contributions from Peter Arnett, Brent Edwards, Mihingarangi Forbes, Simon Wilson, Naomi Arnold, Toby Morris, Paula Penfold, Nicky Hager, Morgan Godfery and Beck Eleven. Freerange is crowdfunding to get the book printed, and you can contribute until 2 July. The book will be launched at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival 25 to 28 August.

Don't dream it's over

Emma JohnsonTell me about yourself and your role at Freerange Press.

Freerange Press is a small cooperative, which means that I get to wear many hats, though my main role is that of editor. As I love books, languages, reading and writing, working as the editor is my favourite part of the job. This entails working with people’s words on several levels: the big picture stuff (a cohesive book or well-structured essay that facilitates the reader’s experience) through to the small, finicky details such as apostrophes and the right choice of word. I also project manage the books through to publication, deal with all of the various contributors (from designers through to sponsors), organise events, do media, sales and admin.

CoverWas there a lightbulb moment that led to Don’t dream it’s over?

After the release of our last multi-author book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, Giovanni Tiso (who is one of the other editors for Don’t Dream It’s Over) attended a conference on journalism and came to us with the idea that a similar approach to Once in a Lifetime – where different voices and perspectives are presented on an important topic in a single book – was needed to look at the challenges and opportunities facing journalism. We all agreed!

What do you see as the core purpose of journalism?

For me, journalism’s core purpose is keeping the public informed – through gathering news, the subsequent analysis of that news and bringing important stories or elements of culture into the public sphere. An informed public is essential to an effective democracy and to the notion of consent being attributed to decisions made by those in government.

You’ve got a stellar lineup of contributors – how do you about getting these people on board and managing such a large bunch of writers?

It was a combination of a public call-out and approaching people we really wanted to have on the book. Sarah Illingworth and Giovanni Tiso both work in journalism circles, so they had some really good ideas regarding potential contributors. Barnaby Bennett and myself also brainstormed. Then we explained the project and approached people – many signed on. I think that the number of them indicates the need to examine journalism and the timely nature of the publication.

Can you give some examples of journalism and news sites that are dealing well with the evolving media landscape – who is swimming, who is sinking?

I think sites like Pantograph Punch, which has great arts and culture content, and The Spinoff have responded to the challenging times and are both producing great writing, including long reads, by fantastic contributors. I think that mainstream media and traditional outlets are struggling and the quality of their journalism overall has slipped for a number of reasons. As revenue is limited, they have let lots of experienced staff go, which has emptied out the profession (and in turn the journalism that the public has access to), so they turn to clickbait and such to garner attention amidst the noise. There is more content, but less diversity (some genres are really struggling).

What IS the future of the media landscape in New Zealand?

This is the question that book seeks to explore – there are many responses and points of view on this. Many of the contributors have strong ideas about where it needs to go and what it needs to do – the difficulties lie more around the ‘how’, or more specifically, how we pay for it. As a society we need to look at what we value in journalism, and seek to address these challenges.

Can you tell us a bit about your Pledgeme campaign – can people still contribute?

As making books in New Zealand is expensive, and as we wish to pay everyone (at least a little) for their work, we are crowdfunding to help get us over the line with our cash flow for printing. Our target is $11,500 (budget breakdown is included on our campaign page). We have lots of great rewards too. You can contribute until 2 July.

What do you think about libraries?

Libraries are extremely important to our communities – they are reservoirs of knowledge, and the keepers of memories and the ways we express ourselves. Most importantly, they are cultural hubs that are available and open to all,  for free.

What are you reading/watching/listening to?

I have been reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante – such wonderful writing and translations. I have also just finished Silencing Science by Shaun Hendy – one of the great BWB Texts.

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Find out more

Get a taster of the upcoming book Don’t dream it’s over – Read Navigating the waters of Māori broadcasting by Mihingarangi Forbes, published on the Pantograph Punch website.

Hack Attack: WORD Festival Event 12 May 2015

Cover of Hack AttackNick Davies, the author of Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch, was the subject of a Q&A session with Joanna Norris, the editor of The Press, in the chair.

We learned from Joanna Norris’ introduction that George Clooney was making a movie based on the book.

When asked about the difficulty of digging deeply into the phone hacking scandal for several years, Davies answered that he had a very reliable source who had guided him through his investigation for over two years. He said it was clear from the outset how extensive the crimes were, but the difficulty was in proving the truth of the story when up against a powerful corporation headed by a ruthless operator like Rupert Murdoch.

All along through the investigation, paradoxically, the impetus was driven by News Corp. itself because the company’s staff acted stupidly, arrogantly and aggressively. News Corp. kept up relentless attacks on Davies and The Guardian, which spurred Davies and his editor on to follow the story, knowing it must have substance.

Cover of Flat Earth NewsThe ball got rolling when Davies was giving a radio interview about a previous book, Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. His source was listening to the interview and contacted him about the dodgy dealings that were going on at The Sun and News of the World, both Murdoch tabloid newspapers.

When asked if he thought his book had made any difference to the behaviour of the UK press, Davies answered that, unfortunately, it was business as usual. It remained a “journalist’s fantasy” that writing about a bad thing could make it stop. He gave, as an example, The Sun conducting a campaign to undermine Labour in the most recent UK election as proof Murdoch’s power remained unchanged.

Davies disclosed that he had discovered that UK tabloids were “peculiarly ruthless” and the journalists who staffed them were “almost like a parody of themselves”.

It was Davies’ belief that it was the arrival of Princess Diana that triggered this avalanche of celebrity investigative digging and bred an attitude of journalistic cruelty where “nothing is off limits, nothing is private”. But the tabloid journalists’ hypocrisy was astounding. Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks were having an eight-year-long affair while callously exposing the sex lives of public figures.

All through the long investigation by The Guardian into the phone hacking scandal, Davies was pilloried in all the right-wing Murdoch newspapers. He observed that no-one threatened him with physical violence to stop investigating, but the Murdoch empire indulges in what Davies called “reputational violence”, trying to ruin people’s reputations.

Towards the end of the session, in response to questions from the audience, Davies gave the view that the internet had broken the model of newspapers across the world and journalists no longer had the funding nor the resources needed to do their jobs properly.

He thought that the Leveson Enquiry was a powerful one, but Lord Justice Leveson’s report had been deliberately smothered by powerful people in the UK.

The audience got the impression that Nick Davies would go on fighting the good fight, but he was weary and cynical as to the extent he could make a change for a better society.

Read our other blog posts about Hack Attack by Nick Davies.

Very very sleazy tabloid hacks. Hack Attack – Nick Davies at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

This is the first booky session I’ve been to with both my Mum and Dad. And a friend. Both had heard about Nick Davies, and didn’t know he was coming to Christchurch for the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. So we were a keen crew, as were the rest of the crowd. Joanna Norris, editor of The Press, was in the chair – she’s great – en pointe at all times, and with rich journalistic knowledge.

Nick is a Guardian journalist. He investigated the phone hacking that was rife in British newspapers:

The story began in 2007 when the Royal Editor of The News of the World was imprisoned for hacking into voicemail messages of staff at Buckingham Palace.

Nick Davies

He was contacted by a insider who had all the information. Once the stories started coming out it grew massive – 200 people were complicit and  5500 victims affected in phone hacking scandal. It went straight into the world of power, but the difficulty was to prove it. The Guardian posted stories, and may have left it there – but it became locked into the story by the aggressive responses of people like Rebekah Brooks, then CEO of News International:

Our credibility was at stake.

Nick gave us a great insight into the murky world of the tabloid hacks – phone tapping, corruption, prostitutes, cocaine, the lot. The bad guy tabloid hacks are “very very sleazy”. Nothing is off limits.  He sees the hounding of Princess Diana by the newspapers as a turning point.

The wall of deference was broken down & everyone was now fair game … Diana’s life was ransacked for stories.

Tabloid newspapers are “peculiarly ruthless” and riddled with “cruelty and hypocrisy”:

What they do is reputational violence.

This works most effectively against the power elite. The rich and powerful see their fellows brought down by scandal, and don’t want it to happen to them.

Nick had quite a good theory as to why it is that our newspapers are relatively “gentlemanly” as opposed to the UK tabloids. New Zealand ‘s difficult geography and sparse population means that we haven’t developed a national newspaper. Our papers are provincial.  But in the UK, 12 to 15 newspapers were all competing in a rich market.

Discussion moved to the recent UK election and the role of the newspapers.

Since 1979 noone has been elected without Rupert Murdoch’s support.

Some newspapers “pumped the electorate full of misinformation”.  Ed Milliband was portrayed as an “unreliable, untrustworthy nutcase”.  Every party “needed a Murdoch man in their office”. Cameron had Coulson, but Milliband had a Murdoch connection too because:

You have to build a bridge to Rupert.

Nick explored more the parlous state of journalism and public relations:

The PR stuff can go in the bin – we decide what is news. … Honesty is the main thing in journalism.

A great discussion – and the issue is of ongoing interest. Read the book, and follow @bynickdavies and keep up with it all.

Search our catalogue for Nick Davies

Cover of Hack Attack  Cover of Flat Earth news

More from the Nick Davies talk

Read Andrew’s post Hack attack by Nick Davies

WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Christchurch plays host to the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. We will be attending sessions, blogging, and tweeting (hashtag #wordchch)

Read our WORD Christchurch blog posts

Nick Davies

Hack attack by Nick Davies

It is nearly time for the WORD Christchurch Autumn season. Come along and hear Nick Davies interviewed by Joanna Norris, editor of The Press and chair of the Media Freedom Committee,  Tuesday 12 May, 8pm at Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Get your tickets now. He is also appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival.

Nick Davies

Cover of Hack AttackHack attack: How the Truth Caught up With Rupert Murdoch by Nick Davies is a work of investigative journalism at its best. Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who had subsequently worked as David Cameron’s head spin doctor, was sentenced in July 2014 to eighteen months in prison for overseeing the phone hacking of celebrities and ordinary folk who were unwittingly caught up in news events.

Nick Davies had said he felt some small sympathy for Coulson, that is until he recalled the chilling lack of compassion shown by Coulson to a plea by David Blunkett, the blind Home Secretary in the then government, to respect his privacy. During his trial, Coulson had shunted home all the blame for hacking Blunkett’s voicemails to his former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, but the court didn’t buy his protestations of innocence.

The temptation of newspaper-selling headlines was much stronger for Coulson than any moral reservations he may have entertained about the damage the story would wreak in the lives of David Blunkett, a senior Labour cabinet minister, and Kimberley Fortier, publisher of the Spectator, a high-profile English magazine.

Davies writes in Hack Attack, his book about the UK phone-hacking scandal

I remember all the others who suffered the same fate, left behind like roadkill as Coulson roared off into his gilded future.

In the headlong rush to fulfil the dictates of the ruthless, Aussie media baron, Rupert Murdoch, Andy Coulson and his boss, Rebekah Brooks, displayed a heartlessness that almost beggared belief.

In their prurient tabloids, the News of the World and the Sun, Brooks, Coulson and the reporters who worked for them hypocritically exposed the affairs of people in the public eye while carrying on in like fashion in their own private lives.

In fact, Hack Attack reveals a degree of amorality and immorality that goes far beyond anything the newspapers’ victims could be accused of. Davies reveals that the senior figures at News of the World like Coulson, news-desk editor, Greg Miskiw, and chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, carried on their rampant espionage and dirty dealing unchecked and undiscovered for decades.

Hack Attack is an important book for any readers interested in the landscape of the 21st century global media. Despite the fact that the modern thriller looms large on our bookshelves and television sets; Hack Attack proves yet again that old adage: truth is stranger than fiction. Police corruption and cover-ups, dirty politics, and the relentless global steamroller that rolled over hundreds of lives to satisfy Rupert Murdoch’s ruthless acquisition of power – you wouldn’t read about it. Or would you?

WORD Christchurch recommends

Budding journalists at the South Learning Centre

Journalism students at South Learning Centre are celebrating their hard work and pressured deadlines with some stunning results. The Canterbury Oracle, The Papercut and The South Library Bulletin newspapers are super pieces of work.

The In The News programme ran for 8 weeks in Term 4 of 2013 and involved students investigating the composition of a newspaper, suitable and varied content, the reality of advertisements and the pressure to produce articles and final publications under the duress of deadlines.

Students visited The Press to interview the chief editor, advertisement officer and experience the day-to-day running of Christchurch’s busiest newspaper.

In the News is an example of the interesting programmes our learning centres offer  to schools. They also run a great variety of after school and holiday programmes.

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Ben Naparstek and Doogie Howser

PhotoIt’s okay to make the comparison above, because I am merely quoting chair Guy Somerset’s introductory remarks about the wunderkid of interviewing, Ben Naparstek.  He himself gets very tired of all the focus being on his age (he’s 24), but truth told it really is astonishing that he has managed to do so much in such a short time, and so incredibly well (particularly given that it has taken me 187 years to even do my first interview).

Beginning his journalistic and interviewing career at the tender age of 15, and with hundreds of interviews with dazzlingly famous people since then, Ben is now the editor of the Australian magazine The Monthly.  He is well-spoken, erudite, and solemnly serene.

He’s here talking about his recently released book, Ben Naparstek: In Conversation, a collection of 40 interviews with, as the blurb says, “the famous, the difficult, and the sometimes downright elusive”.  Many of the names he’s talking about are unfamiliar to me, particularly the names of other journalists and editors, but there are many nodding heads in the room, and I figure it’s just me being uneducated, and clearly not widely-read. Perhaps because of this, I find myself strangely mesmerised by Guy Somerset’s rather daring stripe-y socks,  and I resolve to ask Richard if he has fared better with the names.

I do, however, manage to take away a few gems for future thought – that the ethics of interviewer-interviewee relationships are immutable; that fact-checking is vital; that interviews should never be ‘friendly’, but always focused on delivering the outcome; and that the purpose of an interview is never to impress the interviewee with your own knowledge, wit, social ability or fashion sense (just as well, really, from my point of view!).

Music’s greatest rivalries decided

The Winner!!
The Winner!!

I just can’t help myself, why pursue the lofty heights of sophisticated, enlightened and compelling argument when the lowest common denominator is out there? With my hand on my heart I admit, yes, I would rather read NW than the New Yorker and, no doubts about it, I would rather know who won Rear of the Year than the Nobel Peace Prize or a Pulitzer. I’m an intellectual slug and Rock and roll cage match: Music’s greatest rivalries, decided is my kinda read. Which isn’t to suggest that this is a book for thickies, it is just than I am irresistibly drawn to the trashier chapters, bring on Britney Spears vs Christina Aguilera, “no ta” to The Rolling Stones vs The Velvet Underground or Parliament vs Funkadelic.

These essays by a variety of music journos are unashamedly personal and thus inevitably irrational, illogical and often frustrating but oh so very entertaining. They are also, if the individual referee of each bout is on your wave-length, satisfying and self-validating. I’ve waited a very long time to see u2 called “a bunch of preening posers”. It is good to know I am not alone.

Spoiler alert…back to Brit and Christina, if you don’t want to know go and bury your head in some Dostoyevsky. We are in the cage and in the too tight, bejewelled bra top we have Britney, in the hideous, diirrty chaps we have Christina. Let the fight commence. Sara Barron is the ref for this match and it is Britney all the way: unstable, unpredictable, an only average singer, two ex-husbands, trailer trash kids, weight gain, weight loss, and mental health issues, she is everything we want in a modern day diva. Britney is the real deal, a true 21st century train wreck. She leaps across the cage and in one tritely choreographed move rips Christina’s cornrowed head right off. Britney the winner.

Want to know the outcome toRadiohead vs Coldplay, Trent Reznor vs Marilyn Manson, Nirvana vs Metallica? Read the book…..

Fisk’s energy inspiring

This event was absolutely abuzz with people – several hundred piled into the Limes Room to hear Robert Fisk. They were not disappointed.

Among the revelations at the session was the fact that some years ago, librarians helped him “smuggle” the contents of the Sunday Express newspaper library of the 1920s to 40s – under cover of darkness – into his possession.

I managed to track him down afterwards. It wasn’t hard – he was the popular fellow signing books – to tell me the whole tale. Continue reading

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

What can I say about this one as he needs no introduction and he was the star attraction of the Festival with booked out sessions. In the chair was editor of The Press, Andrew Holden. He began with the old adage that “truth is the first casualty of war” which Fisk said ain’t necessarily so. It doesn’t have to be and he feels lucky enough to to work for a newspaper (The Independent) that allows him to tell the real story. He feels that a lot of journalists, especially in America, have a symbiotic relationship with power (watch Fox News and you’ll see that writ large!)

On a lighter note, he talked about his early years in journalism on a paper in Newcastle-on-Tyne. There he learned that cliches rule the day and then and how police were always “spreading their net” and “stepping up” a hunt and so on. Lots of laughter at some of this but I wonder how many journos in the audience hadn’t gone off to a “horror smash” and isn’t every public holiday weekend an excuse for “horror” on the roads and isn’t someone always “shocked” and aren’t all small children “toddlers.”

He was asked whether his writing style had changed over the years and whether his views had changed. He said his writing had become angrier and described the aftermath of a massacre in Palestine. Was he blinded by his anger?

Continue reading