Qantas Awards

May 10th, 2008 at 8:44 am by David Farrar

The lovely folks at the Herald on Sunday invited me to join them at their table for the Qantas Awards in Auckland last night (as I have done a couple of pieces for them), and it was definitely the place to be as they went on to win not just Best Weekly Newspaper but the coveted Best Newspaper.

Earlier in the night briefly popped into some blogger drinks and caught up with some of the old regulars, and met a few new people which was fun. Also failed to recognise Phil U due to his new look :-)

Back to the Qantas, and as I said it was a great night for the Herald on Sunday. On top of the two main newspaper awards, they also won Best General Columnist and Best All Round Columnist (Paul Holmes) and Best Portrait or Object Portfolio Photographer (Janna Dixon).

The Herald on Sunday is less than four years old, and when you start with no subscribers, it is swim or sink, and I think it shows the power of hunger and competition that such a new newspaper has done so well. The Sunday newspapers are almost the only ones which still have direct competition in the print media.

Most people didn’t give speeches, but Paul Holmes gave a hilarious speech which Bill Ralston (one of the MCs along with Mary Lambie) tried to cut short. Paul just retorted “Knock it off Bill or I’ll fucking thump you” which had the desired effect. Ralston and Lambie were both very good as MCs, with Ralston making many jokes at the expense of his former bosses at TVNZ.

The winner of the most significant individual award – the Qantas Fellow to Wolfson College in Cambridge went to Phil Kitchin of the Dominion Post which was indisputably deserved. Kitchin and his editor Tim Pankhurst also got an Outstanding Achievement award for the Louise Nicholas story. Few stories have ever had such an impact on a country, and as Pankhurst pointed out it was their most defamatory story ever – except for the defence of truth – so deciding to run it was pretty ballsy.

Peter Griffin picked up Best Information & Comms Technology Feature Writer and Carroll du Chateau, Best Government, Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Feature Writer. The Herald also had a very good night winning the Best Daily Newspaper with over 25,000 circulation. I understand their major stories on the Electoral Finance Act were submitted as their portfolio.

The best IT Columnist was Jillian Allison-Aitken from the Southland Times. I have to confess I have not read her stuff,so will have to look out for it in future. Colin Espiner was Best Politics Columnist.

Oh yes the best newspaper section went to the ODT for their world focus section. A few people joked they didn’t know the ODT had a world focus section – I have to admit when I lived in Dunedin my memories were that the Oamaru fair day would received twice as much space as the Berlin Wall coming down :-) Obviously things have improved!

The Listener won Best Newsstand Magazine which editor Pamela Stirling appreciated greatly as vindication for her decisions to make changes to The Listener. We know this, because she said so in her acceptance speech!

In the online categories the Herald won best news website, NBR won best single report on a news website and the globally popular Read Write Web won Best Blog. Congrats to No Right Turn for being a finalist.

As I mentioned the Herald on Sunday won Best Newspaper and Best Weekly Newspaper, and NZ Herald Best Large Daily. The Manawatu Standard won Best Small Daily, the Aucklander (West) Best Community Newspaper, and the NZ Herald Best Front Page (for their Democracy Under Attack  story)

The full awards list is here.

Was a very enjoyable night, meeting new people and catching up with others. Having a quiet recovery day today and then off to a play in Auckland tonight.

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Gordon Campbell on The Listener

May 5th, 2008 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell, a former Listener journalist, writes on Scoop about Pamela Stirling’s description of the “old” Listener as “the house journal of the Alliance Party”. I comment on his comments:

It is not the first time the former Listener as ‘house journal of the Alliance Party’ line has been floated by Stirling. Whether this is the intention or not, the effect is to portray her tenure as having more journalistic integrity than her predecessors, and her staff as being more professional than staff in the past.

I don’t see her comments as meaning a lack of integrity or professionalism. I see it as a comment on the lack of diversity of views the Listener used to have. Just as the NBR doesn’t exactly have a lot of articles promoting higher taxes either. A magazine can have an ideological bent but still be ethical and professional – look at the UK newspapers. The problem comes when a publication has an ideological bent but tries and denies it.

The reality is that the Listener was never the sort of doctrinaire publication that the “Alliance house journal” jibe would suggest. Its spirit was liberal, compassionate and contrarian. The voice it had in our national debate was alternative in the best sense, of standing apart from the mainstream and analyzing it critically. It was that contrarian spirit that saw the Listener endorse MMP, and run fair and balanced profiles of Roger Kerr, Lindsay Perigo, Winston Peters and other polarising figures in its pages.

Of course the Listener in the past has had fair and balanced ((c) Fox News) features. But overall it was very predictably leftwing. The test I used to apply to it was whether I could accurately predict the substance of a story based on just knowing the topic off the cover. And 95% of the time I could – it was almost without fail the left liberal view of the world.

This was in marked contrast to say North & South where I could see they were covering a topic, but never really know what sort of position or angle they would take on it, until I had actually read it.

Now I have no problem with any publication (so long as not state funded) having an ideological leaning. But to try and argue that no such leaning existed, does people a disservice.

In my experience, we at the Listener tended to have a healthy skepticism towards everyone – including Labour when in power in the 80s ( the Listener invented the term ‘Rogernomics’ and it wasn’t meant as flattery) National in the 90s, and Labour again early this decade. Consistently, the Listener bit the hand of power, and would then explain in 2,500 reasoned words why it felt the need to do so.

It is true that the Listener has railed against every Government from the 1980s onwards – but almost always for not being left wing enough. I don’t recall any articles complaining about the killing off of choice in accident compensation, or complaining about making union membership compulsory for employees who want a collective contract. Just being critical of both National and Labour Governments does not mean you are not free of ideological slant.

What the Listener used to stand for was intellectual depth, critical analysis of the left and the right, good arts pages and Bradford’s Hollywood. It was a great ragbag of a read. Again, I beg to differ with Stirling – the current Listener seems anything but diverse. It exhibits instead an increasingly narrow fixation on the lifestyle choices and social anxieties of a baby boomer elite. Someone recently suggested to me that a typical Listener cover story nowadays would run something along the lines of “Is Your House Making You Fat?”

Here Campbell is on stronger grounds. I do find the Listener pretty trite at times, but this tendency pre-dates Stirling to be fair. Around seven or eight years ago I decided to keep getting the Listener mainly for its columnists, having gone off their features as often superficial. Sadly it is not only the Listener going this way – Metro and North & South are now pale shadows of their former glory.

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Climate Change Censorship

April 18th, 2008 at 10:40 am by David Farrar

A lot has been written about the Listener’s dumping of “Ecologic” columnist Dave Hansford and whether it was linked to a complaint by Bryan Leyland – a prominent sceptic.

John Drinnan covers it in the Herald.

But Listener editor Pamela Stirling is insisting that the two events are unconnected and that she is losing a staffer because of budget cuts.

Wellington freelance journalist Dave Hansford has been the ecological columnist since November.

He has had differences of opinion with Stirling during much of that time and on occasion was asked to changed the tone of the column.

Hansford would not be the only staffer who has had differences of opinion with the Editor.

Stirling says Hansford was only ever hired as a short-term position for two months and the column was now being written by a staffer.

But it’s clear that Stirling’s approach to the eco-column – like her approach to the Listener – has been a lot more right of centre than the line of the old days.

Stirling took over in 2004 and she says that for a long time the Listener had been the house journal of the Alliance Party.

Stirling says the magazine is more centrist and allows everyone to express a view.

It was indeed the Alliance house journal. not that I had a problem with that – if enough people want to buy the Listener as a left wing magazine, good on them. And if enough want to buy it as a centrist magazine also good on them.

Poneke blogs on the issue also. Likewise Russell Brown. And the issue was first raised on the very good Hot Topic blog.

Meanwhile in Australia they have the opposite issue with Earth Day. The Melbourne Age is known to be a very left wing paper. I doubt more than 5% of their journalists vote Liberal/National. But even they have protested about the editor forcing them to write supportive material for Earth Day. Read this story in The Australian:

In a statement accompanying the resolution, staff said the Earth Hour partnership placed basic journalistic principles in jeopardy: “Reporters were pressured not to write negative stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers.”

Andrew Bolt points out:

In a statement of protest last week, 235 Age journalists confirmed that their coverage of last month’s Earth Hour had been, in effect, propaganda.

“Reporters were pressured not to write ‘negative’ stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers,” they said. 

That confession came after the ABC’s Media Watch released an embarrassing email sent by the green group WWF to Age editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan under the creepy header Re: Any last requests?.

In it, WWF staffer Fiona Poletti replied she indeed had more requests, and told Jaspan to run three more puff pieces for Earth Hour, a stunt in which readers were told to help save the planet from global warming by turning off lights for an hour.

Here’s one: “We would love the fashion story to get a good run. This has been given to Orietta and is about the fashion industry’s unified support for Earth Hour.”

WWF ordered, Jaspan obeyed. The Age dutifully ran that story, under the headline: “Fashionistas no dummies when it comes to be switching off.”

WWF’s request for a second story on businesses backing Earth Hour? Also obeyed. On cities around the world joining in? Obeyed. In each case Jaspan had journalists writing, albeit unwittingly, to a green group’s script.

Bolt also observes:

The joke is most Age journalists are so green they don’t need to be pushed to preach this gospel. But their bosses’ prodding changes everything.

What a reporter may freely write as news becomes propaganda if he or she is not free to report all the relevant facts. So all Age journalists writing about Earth Hour, or global warming, must for now be considered propagandists.

Too harsh? Then consider: after all that pushing of the green line by Age bosses, which staff writer would dare write that global warming in fact may have stalled, with oceans cooling and the planet not heating since 1998? Indeed, none has.

Which Age staffer would dare write that Earth Hour actually saved so little in greenhouse gases that just eight cars will make good those emissions in a year? Again, none has.

And finally Bolt uses his own situation as an example of how editorial independence should be preserved:

Responsible newspapers at least try to ensure their staff know they are still free to dissent and report inconvenient truths, which is why I’m still here, writing as I do, even after our boss Rupert Murdoch last year said it was time to “give the planet the benefit of the doubt” with global warming.

Yep, that is how it should be.

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