Brian Edwards Media

The tacky side of journalism.

A few minutes ago I was phoned by a young Fairfax journalist. She told me that an Auckland broadcaster had  been diagnosed with melanoma and had taken leave from her job. Would I like to comment as a close friend?

Comment?  On what, for god’s sake? The prevalence of melanoma, the latest research I’ve read on the subject – or the unfairness of one’s friends getting sick? Ah, has to be the third one, doesn’t it?

This type of lazy journalism gets right up my nose. Ring around for horrified/tear-stained/saccharine utterances from anyone close to the victim/sufferer and feed those morsels into an overblown story. The ‘close friend’, of course, is supposed to let slip all sorts of titbits of indiscreet information about the victim/sufferer and talk about his/her sterling qualities – it beats doing research any day.

I hate this tabloid trashiness. Whatever happened to the simple announcement that allowed a person to retain a little privacy and dignity?  If you’re sick, surely that’s the least you deserve.

I’m saddened and worried for the broadcaster. As it happens, I know her well and have worked with her, but I could hardly be described as a close friend.

So, could I give the young journo contact details for someone who is a close friend?

Yes, I could.  And no, I didn’t!


  1. Good on you, sir.

    A few years ago, I got a call from a young woman who said she was doing a thesis on New Zealand music in the ‘60s and 70s.

    I’m a sucker for people trying get an education. (And yes, I was probably flattered that she was interested in my views. Let’s face it, nobody else was.)

    Her questions started out quite broadly. But then she homed in on an artist that was said to be having problems with drugs – among other things.

    ‘Any interesting stories?’ the caller asked.

    ‘Lots,’ I said. ‘But I don’t know you well enough to share them.’

    A few days later, there was a ‘thin’ article in the paper. I recognised the byline as the caller who was ‘doing a thesis’. And halfway down the column it was suggested that I was ‘a close friend’ who ‘knew the details but didn’t want to talk’.

    No, I wasn’t. No, I didn’t. And no, I didn’t.

    I think I know how you feel.

  2. With all due respect Jack, the
    story you have shared bears no resemblence to Judy Callingham’s story. In her account, the young journalist introduced herself up-front as being from the media. We have not been told in any way that she was overly pushy – from Judy’s account it sounds as if she was just doing her job. She probably didn’t particularly enjoy calling Judy for comment on such a sensitive matter, but the nature of modern journalism is such that readers want to hear condolences of friends and family in such a situation. And I’d bet, as a reader, you would be far more likely to read such an article than one with just bare facts.

    Judy, in what way is it not research to call friends for a tribute to what kind of person the woman is? What kind of research would you have preferred this girl to do? And surely, in your past as a journalist, you have been put in the situation where you have been expected to make such a call – so many stories would remain unwritten if no journalist ever did.

    JC: What do these ‘tributes’ ever add to a report? And have you ever heard one of these ‘tributes’ where someone said: ‘He was a total mongrel and he deserved everything he got!’ The stories that would remain unwritten are likely best left that way.
    And, for the record, no – I never made such a call, and nor was I ever asked to by my editors. If you want to see how I believe these stories should be handled, check out the story on Stuff.

  3. My apologies, Ms Callingham. I didn’t pay enough attention to the detail. I assumed Dr Edwards had posted the comment.

    But, Lilypad, I’m not sure that I agree with you. I still think this smacks of lazy, trashy journalism.

  4. “the nature of modern journalism is such…”

    Oh, well that’s all right. Journalists and editors are helpless in the face of nature. They only ever respond to demand and never have a hand in creating it.

    Bullshit and weasel words, dear Lilypad. What is the nature of modern journalism, if not the aggregate of the nature of modern journalists?

  5. Talking of overused words, TV3 tonight had footage of Auckland residents sweeping out water from their basement after flooding.
    No one died, not a lot of property damage happened and no one was made homeless – unlike the floods in Queensland where I spent my recent holiday.
    TV3 captioned the Aucklanders as “flood victims.”
    It feels as if every fourth story on the news now features “victims.” Is this use of the word to over-dramatise an event and create the TV channel desired emotional response from the viewer?
    It seems to cheapen the rare time when a news event occurs and there are people displaced and really suffering.

  6. They’re young, female, callow and not that bright, with absymal interviewing skills, and there are seemingly hundreds of them – because there’s a new one on tv EVERY night, doing a live piece to camera somewhere on location.
    Where the hell do they all come from? Presumably the media/journalism schools, and presumably this endless tide of one-off new faces are the about-to-be graduates doing the final test in their course (similar to music graduands doing their final concert performance). Amateurism and immatureism: a deadly combination, especially on the tv screen.

  7. Some responsibility for this needs to be taken by the editor and senior journalists who should be guiding this journalist to a professional approach.Although Im not in full agreement with Lily pad ,it is a valid point.What if the friend she contacted was able to provide an insiteful address to the situation.

    JC: Certainly the editorial staff – and the culture of the publication – has the ultimate responsibility for journalistic standards and conduct.
    However, what sort of ‘insightful address’ could be provided by a friend of someone diagnosed with cancer is quite beyond me.

  8. JC,
    Nice piece.

    The problem is kids. The modern news room is full of them. Nice, bright, naive, full of themselves and fundamentally stupid. With great hair and ambition.

    It’s not their fault. The experienced journos have been laid off, bullied out, or have left because they’re frustrated by a diseased business model.

    In the old days, some crusty old nicotine stained bastard would’ve put these kids in their place on an hourly basis. They would’ve become seasoned, good journos if they could hack the pace.

    These days, many newsrooms are run by people not much older or experienced than these kids…why? Because they’re cheap, and ambitious journos who show some talent…not good, experienced journos who’ve learnt on the job and have a wide life experience. Many modern “senior” staffers are not up to guiding the modern newsroom – they’re just about as lost as the newbies.

    The whole industry is buggered.

    Gee, that was a bit negative…sorry.

  9. Here’s the story:

    No byline.