Brian Edwards Media

ABSENCE OF “SHOCK” LEAVES KIWI READERS SHOCKED!!!

frontpage-header-the-australian

Taking a break in Queensland can make you dissatisfied with home. It’s the weather mainly – warm, sunny, reliable. And Queenslanders drive at the speed limit with the result that, paradoxically,  you get there faster and with your nerves intact.

And then there are the papers. Or one paper at least. We arrived at our Brisbane hotel on Friday evening and woke the next morning to find the Weekend Australian outside our door.

There is really only one word to describe the Weekend Australian and its weekday siblings – quality. We have no quality newspapers in New Zealand. Our metropolitans are broadsheet in format, but tabloid in content. The experience of reading them is rarely enjoyable, often not even informative.

Lack of regular comparison can make you forget this. Your taste buds become deadened. When I’d finished reading the Weekend Australian from cover to cover, constantly dragging Judy away from her book, to say, “Look at this! Listen to this!” I suddenly realised that I rarely read  anything in the Herald. I scan the headlines, then do the cryptic crossword. It’s a feature of tabloid journalism that the headline tells the whole story. The headline is the story. BISHOP IN GAY ROMP WITH BOUNCER!!! What more do you need to know?

But I savoured The Australian.

The last time I felt like this about a newspaper was when I was an undergraduate at Queens. I had an English girlfriend who was frightfully U and subscribed to the airmail edition of The Observer. To reduce weight  and postage it was printed on rice-paper. Your enjoyment began before you had turned the first delicate page. The newspaper felt beautiful. 

The Australian feels and looks good too. But I know too little about newspaper layout and design to attempt an analysis of why that should be. As a publication it is simply easy on the eye. Contributing to that is the extensive use of high quality, often large colour photographs on virtually every page. Some look almost three dimensional.

The news reporting is intelligent, informed, dispassionate, well written. There is  an absence of sensation, partisan reporting, self-congratulation, headline punning or any other symptom of tabloid journalism. Cleverness is left, as it properly should be, to the cartoonist and satirist. The word that appears most frequently in New Zealand newspapers (and on New Zealand television news) is conspicuous by its absence in The Australian. New Zealanders may find this a little bewildering: ABSENCE OF “SHOCK” LEAVES KIWI READERS SHOCKED

Political analysis is in-depth, discursive, neutral.

The paper’s columnists can write and have something of consequence to say, the sine qua non of opinion pieces one might have thought, but sadly not the case in New Zealand, where hyperbole, rancour and bile are the hallmarks of most.

The “Arts” pages are a joy. Reviewers for The Australian understand that their job is first and foremost to write about the work not about themselves. And they write with flair, insight and enthusiasm. So too the paper’s feature writers and interviewers. All prefer to illuminate rather than annihilate. I could find no Michele Hewitsons in The Australian.

I could go on. But really all I’m trying to say is that after reading The Australian  I feel as one feels after an excellent meal – rewarded, satisfied, replete. I never feel that after reading any New Zealand newspaper. The any is important. The Herald is unfairly singled out in my broadcasting and writing because I live in Auckland. It may nonetheless be our best newspaper.

I began by saying that we have no quality newspapers in New Zealand. The truth of the matter is that we have very little quality journalism. The standard of reporting in both the print and broadcast media in this country is simply appalling, from the tabloid horrors of the three Sunday newspapers to the polytech-level reporting and endemic illiteracy of television news. Were it not for the huge number of categories in our journalism awards, it’s doubtful whether anything at all could merit nomination, let alone winning a prize.

But one can’t afford to be precious. Next year I’m thinking of entering in the Best Blog Written By A Geriatric Protestant Atheist Immigrant From Northern Ireland Category. I expect the competition to be stiff.

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30 Comments:

  1. You are spot on Brian. We are ill served and most don’t even realise it.

    Drop the “Geriatric “and “Northern Ireland” parts and I too would demand a nomination.

    I had rant about the poor quality current affairs being churned out by TVNZ after their Qantas Award success and I had a TVNZ rep (spotted by ip address) ranting back at me within hours – they are obviously still over-resourced!

  2. Come now Bri, yr a bit long in the tooth to be an immigrant by now, accept it matey – yr one of us ha ha!
    And we’re lucky to have you.
    Welcome home, and keep the good work up (and the cranky rants) as the newspapers shrivel on the vine so the online’o’sphere rises to keep the buggers honest.

  3. I agree with Brian, but for somewhat different reasons.

    It is a criticism that can be levelled at more than just NZ reportage. It is (at least in my mind) a defect in most of the best-known international media, The Australian included. Among the better that I have come across in recent times would be Huffington Post, but that “approval” must be muted by the fact that I do not as yet have a good handle on their range or reliability.

    About 3 years back there were in essence fewer than 10 individual “owners” (as in “controlling interests”) of the major “western” media outlets. Despite protestations to the contrary, the influence of those few on the dissemination of news and informed comment to the masses must be limiting. Cut in the use of Reuters and AP and the range of sources and hence limits of critical analysis from the media gets very restricted.

    Brian, it is not just NZ media. It is international.

    And as for TVNZ getting their knickers knotted about the coverage of the media awards is a real HOOT!! Their turn to broadcast; they turn it down; TV3 picks up the coverage; TVNZ wins the tincans. Hilarious!! Best soap comedy in years!

    • I agree with Brian, but for somewhat different reasons.

      OK, but the simple truth is that The Australian is a vastly superior publication to any metropolitan newspaper in New Zealand. And, yes, Australia has five times the population of New Zealand and, yes, The Australian is a national newspaper, but we’re seeing production values and journalistic standards there that simply put us to shame.

  4. Oh, as an aside BE…

    The photo that headed your item. Were they the issues of Australian provided by your hotel? ;)

    • We’d love to say ‘yes’ and claim we’d been holidaying for decades. But alas, no. Historical front pages from The Australian website, we’re afraid.

  5. “…and journalistic standards there that simply put us to shame…”

    Are you suggesting that none of our print journalists, such as: Tapu Misa, Garth George, Paul Holmes, Michael laws, Finlay Macdonald, Michael Laws, Brian Rudman, Michelle Hewitson, Audrey Young, Kerre Woodham et al – can measure up to those writers at ‘The Australian’?

    • Are you suggesting that none of our print journalists, such as: Tapu Misa, Garth George, Paul Holmes, Michael laws, Finlay Macdonald, Michael Laws, Brian Rudman, Michelle Hewitson, Audrey Young, Kerre Woodham et al – can measure up to those writers at ‘The Australian’?

      Not all of them, Catalina Y. Of the people you name, I regard Tapu Misa and Finlay Macdonald as providing thoughtful and intelligent commentary. As to some of the others: I’ve described Garth George’s work as “mindless harumphing”; Michael Laws’ columns strike me as the ravings of a disburbed mind; while Michele Hewitson’s interviews are all about Michele and how cleverly unpleasant she can be. I suggest you have a look at The Australian. Then come back to me and say whether you think all or any of the people you’ve named are in the same league.

  6. Another well placed nail Brian. I always get the same feeling reading the Melbourne Age.

    Journalism quality is a definite issue, but I think we should also blame the newspaper industry management in this country. They set the environment the journos have to work in.

    It now seems certain letting our newspapers be sold to the overseas empires was a big mistake for NZ (could we have really stopped that? Can’t see how.), and the companies involved should never have let accountants run their businesses.

    It’s very telling the only independent newspaper left in this country is not losing subscribers like the others are (according to Media Watch), and has a loyal and supportive community of readers. They also have a much loved online version. http://www.odt.co.nz/

    Incidently, I just spotted an article about the whole future of newspapers debate on The Critic web site, of all places. Interesting to see the book publishers trying to avoid the mistakes of the music industry. Worth a read. http://www.critic.co.nz/about/features/232

    • Another well placed nail Brian. I always get the same feeling reading the Melbourne Age.

      Thanks Greg. I’m conscious of having possibly done a disservice to The Press and the ODT. I see them only occasionally. I lived in Christchurch when I first came to New Zealand and had a high opinion of The Press. I’m less sure about the ODT. I’ve been travelling around the country recently for one of our clients and can’t say that the ODT impressed itself on my consciouness. Small communities tend to be supportive of their newspapers. That is not in itself evidence of quality. In any event, neither of these papers can hold a candle to The Australian. But then neither has The Australian’s circulation or budget. The Herald and the DomPost, on the other hand, should be able to compete in terms of quality.

  7. Brian, I have it on good authority that the contracting company now responsible for most of the subbing and production of many of NZ and Australia’s newspapers is significantly more generously staffed in Australia than it is in New Zealand.

    I have not visited either production facility, but I have it from those who have (and who have worked in them) that those working in the NZ operation have little, if any, time to devote to anything other than cutting to fit and coming up with a headline, while there is time aplenty for proper thought and subbing at the Aus operation.

    Which suggests that this issue goes much more deeply and has a lot to do with precisely what NZ media employees are prepared to put up with – and what their Aussie counterparts simply won’t bother turning up to work for.

    It is, I believe, something of a cultural issue, not just a media one.

    • Brian, I have it on good authority that the contracting company now responsible for most of the subbing and production of many of NZ and Australia’s newspapers is significantly more generously staffed in Australia than it is in New Zealand.

      That’s a really interesting observation. Another problem, which we have first-hand experience of, it that the television networks are unwilling to invest in staff training. We’ve done a lot of training in the past of TVNZ,TV3 and Maori Television reporter and presenters. The interesting thing was how thrilled those reporters and presenters were to get on-camera and voice production training. It’s possible that someone else is doing the training now, but if they are, the results aren’t evident.

  8. I am in Oz from time to time and The Australian is my choice of newspaper. I certainly agree that it is a high quality publication.

    I still think you are a bit harsh on NZ newspapers (but far too kind on the Herald). The Press I think is a pretty good newspaper and I would not dismiss the Dompost. The rest of the dailies are mainly ‘parish pump’ rags that to be honest are neither one thing nor the other. I agree totally regarding the Sunday newspapers that by and large are the most appalling tripe.

    Was it you who when comparing NZ and UK said that in NZ the driving was competitive and the converstation cooperative (the opposite to the UK)? That may be the answer to local journalistic standards.

    As regards TV journalism I would have agreed with you until I had access to TVNZ 7 which actually makes an atttempt to deliver news in something other than soundbites.

    The final point is that we do not have a true tabloid press in NZ in the sense of the Sun/Mirror etc.

    I would also question why someone of your undoubted taste and refinement would want to take a holiday in Queeensland – a tabloid state if there ever was one.

    • I am in Oz from time to time and The Australian is my choice of newspaper. I certainly agree that it is a high quality publication.

      I think you’re righ that we haven’t got a true tabloid publication in New Zealand. Truth and the Sunday News come closest. But no real, downmarket scandal sheets like the Sun/Mirror.

      I disagree with you about Queensland. Our view of the state before we went there was of boorish right-wing morons. We haven’t found that at all. Almost all the Queenslanders we’ve met have been helpful, charming and friendly. While we were there, Brisbane was celebrating its 150th anniversary. There was more “culture” than you could hope to absorb. Lovely place, lovely people.

  9. Could you satisfy my curiosity? Am I correct in attributing the quote to you? “In NZ the driving is competitive and the conversation cooperative; in the UK the driving is cooperative and the conversation competitive.”

    I frequently quote it when encountering Kiwis who are averse to robust debate. I think it sums up NZ very neatly.

    • Could you satisfy my curiosity?

      Not me, I’m afraid, Ben. However, when I first came to New Zealand I had to learn that robust disagreement was considered rudeness. We Irish will fight to the death in an argument but remain good friends at the end of it. In the mid sixties that was difficult here. Things have changed, however, and most Kiwis enjoy a good donnybrook.

  10. Brian

    I also love the Australian.

    It is owned by News Corporation and established by Rupert Murdoch to show his commitment to quality journalism

    I’m just not sure that The Australian has ever made a profit or been expected to.

    That might remove some of the pressures on news judgments and treatments for stories.

    • Brian I also love the Australian.

      No doubt, John. And if we removed those pressures from TVNZ, we might have more professional news.

  11. Hi Brian.
    Your comments on the Australian are fair and the Melbourne Age and SMH are both excellent papers but you dont have to scratch the surface too far,especially in Queensland to find real rubbish.The local rags in much of Queensland are awful-they still devote pages to wedding photos would you believe? I dont remember even the worst provincial papers in NZ still doing that.I feel you are too harsh on our papers given the size of the population .I find the Weekend herald always a good read as is the Dom-Post . The Press is ok if you dont mind re-reading what was in the other papers a day before.I guess our papers would be better if the mean owners paid decent money so the better journos dont have to jump to the darkside of PR to earn a decent living>

    • Hi Brian. Your comments on the Australian are fair and the Melbourne Age and SMH are both excellent papers but you dont have to scratch the surface too far,especially in Queensland to find real rubbish.

      Quite right, Robert. Plenty of tabloid crap in Australia too. But at least they have some quality newpapers. The Weekend Herald is probably its best effort of the week. But most of the good writing in the Herald is to be found in the cable pages of the World section. The Herald does at least have a lot of overseas news and comment.

  12. “Then come back to me and say whether you think all or any of the people you’ve named are in the same league’.

    I see what you mean. I went to The Arts section and read some reviews. The use of English language; intelligent critiquing, coupled with a flowing verbal rhythm certainly conveys the impression that the level of writing is more cerebral and, hence, insightful. NZ’s never had a luminary such as a Robert Hughes.

  13. After spending my first twenty years in the UK where it was not unusual to spend hours and hours around the table after a good meal vigorously, debating topical issues NZ was a bit of a shock. You get plenty of opinions on what happened 20-30 years ago under Muldoon, Douglas, Richardson et al which seems to be a safe place to go without dinner invitations drying up. But for goodness do not point out that their changes are now embedded and have generally broad support and we are largely better off for most of them. Just stick with what terrible people they were and ask for more gravy.
    I dont think NZers are really that interested in “stuff” and you generally see their eyes glaze over, shame really but well reflected in our newspapers.

  14. “The local rags in much of Queensland are awful-they still devote pages to wedding photos would you believe? I dont remember even the worst provincial papers in NZ still doing that.”

    Robert:
    Why not? If it’s local news, then do it!
    News is that which is interesting and important to people.
    I started in journalism in the era when local newspapers did that — the wedding photos, the school days, the animal shows, and so on.
    People loved seeing themselves in print, and they loved seeing photos of their kids and their kids’ pets in print, too.

    I look at most of the country’s newspapers every day for a job I do. In my general opinion the provincial papers provide the best editorial writing, day in, day out.
    They’re readable, they try to illuminate, they explain, provide context, they come to an opinion. I don’t always agree with them, but that’s life.
    I think they do an outstanding job when they tackle subjects outside their usual ‘parish’.
    So, while their overseas owners gut newsrooms of reporters, centralise functions in ‘hubs’, and so on, their leader-writers seriously try to do their job.

    Back to Australian ‘rags’, though. I read recently how a group of laid-off journalists from one of those papers (might have been Gympie; I liked Gympie) set up an on-line alternative. They cover their local news, right down to the school meetings, down to who has been overseas recently (our newspapers used to do that), the council meetings … very, very local.
    Last year The New York Times related how a couple of down-on-their-luck hacks had bought a down-on-its-luck suburban weekly that they transformed into a community powerhouse simply by getting out and covering the district. Interestingly, the advertising followed the news coverage.
    When I was working in the Far North nearly 40 years ago there were two community newspapers, in Kaitaia and Kaikohe. I was up there a few weeks ago: from memory there are now eight. All covering that which is interesting and important to their local readers.

    • I look at most of the country’s newspapers every day for a job I do. In my general opinion the provincial papers provide the best editorial writing, day in, day out.

      I don’t disagree with this at all. Nothing wrong with parish pump journalism which is often of high quality. We often advise clients not to be dismissive of local papers, including the suburban giveaways. Frequently these papers are more tenacious seekers of the truth and crusaders than the metropolitan press. Ignore them at your peril.

  15. BE,

    As a Christchurch boy who worked on its surviving daily paper in the early 1980s, then spent 24 years in the UK mostly working as a sub-editor on The Independent, the News of the World, and The Sun, and now on that well-known Melbourne tabloid but still hankering to HOLD The Times daily…I do agree. The Australian is excellent. Nothing else in Aust/NZ comes close.

    I find it interesting when I do return to NZ how my non-journalist friends bemoan the lack of quality in their nearest newspaper.

    Good article, thanks.

  16. The worst of it all though Brian, is being PART of it here in New Zealand. Once you’re caught up in the news gathering processes and “churnalism” of our mainstream media, there is no escape, simply because there are no alternatives. For journalists wanting to break from that mould is nigh-on impossible in NZ; there is nowhere to turn as all outlets are essentially the same. I think it is the most disheartening time ever to be a journalist in New Zealand, with TV driven purely by ratings, while newspaper staff and budgets have been slashed.
    Wouldn’t it be great if only one channel did a news bulletin at night for example – and all the best journalists worked on that bulletin. They wouldn’t have to tear each other to pieces to tell half a story – they could have time to investigate it properly. But a dream.

  17. Other than Radio New Zealand, Kiwis have no experience of public service broadcasting.

    Wrong: there is TVNZ7 and to some extent Maori TV.

    • Other than Radio New Zealand, Kiwis have no experience of public service broadcasting. Wrong: there is TVNZ7 and to some extent Maori TV.

      Correct, but state funding of TVNZ is not permanently guaranteed. Maori TV, as you say, has some advertising. In both cases the lack of advertising results in better programmes.

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