Thursday, 31 May 2012

The media don’t even qualify as medium

Some will see this week’s blog as the ravings of a curmudgeonly old fool and maybe they are. However I suspect many will share my feelings of disquiet over how we are served by our media.

The standards of professionalism in print media have all but vanished. I could and have filled an entire blog with examples of grammatical incompetence and such errors occur daily in almost every newspaper or online news service. My wife recently asked me what they teach at journalism school these days. I was the wrong person to ask; because I have never been there, but it is abundantly evident correct spelling and grammar are not on the menu.

To be fair, many of the errors we see should rightly be blamed upon the sub-editors. They are the ones paid exclusively for the purpose of picking up such errors and correcting them along with ensuring the story is appropriately titled and reads as if it was written by somebody who actually completed their schooling.

It is conceivable our journalists were always this bad and that it is only the sub-editors who have let their standards slide down the gurgler. I always felt outsourcing their role to ‘subbing hubs’ rather than having the work done onsite where the journos who wrote the stories are based was bound to cause problems.

Bad grammar and poor spelling are not the only shortcomings of the print media however. For example where has investigative journalism gone? And worse still, how many times do you get to the end of a story and find the writer has left out one of the key ‘Ws’?

I am probably a real thorn in the arse of some of the newspapers because I notice shit, but I don’t think I’m alone. Far too often I get to the end of a story and have an obvious question about it that was clearly never asked by the reporter.

A minor example is a story that appeared this week in SunDead about a spate of burglaries in Mount Maunganui. We heard how the burglars had been brazen enough to enter properties while the residents were sleeping and nick off with their stuff. One interviewee said, “...they come in while people are home, if the back doors open they will walk in while people are in the house.” When somebody says something like that, you would expect the interviewer to follow up and ask if the doors were left open or unlocked in each of, or most of these burglaries. In which case the solution is pretty bloody self evident and it is not a big heart-wrenching story about poor burglary victims so much as one about a bunch of careless nitwits.  It might be the former but thanks to sloppy reporting we will never know.

We also encounter factual carelessness where sometimes only half the story is given rather like a quote taken out of context and on other occasions the information is just plain wrong and ill-informed.

A recent story in SunDead told us how “Four men accused of murdering Tauranga man Gary Kimura elected trial at their arraignment in the High Court in Rotorua today.” Not like they had any choice! I think the reporter’s crayon must have broken before he or she could get out the words ‘by jury’ or ‘by judge’, but it might be simply that they didn’t understand what was going on in court and are completely ignorant of court proceedings.

A recent headline that breathlessly told us how a bloke had escaped jail on his 10th driving while disqualified conviction turned out to be nothing of the sort. The judge had simply delayed sentencing to get some more reports in.

The Sun isn’t the only culprit whose reporters seem to lack what it takes to be a journalist. Their arch-rival the Waste of Times is not much better. The rest of the APN stable aren’t much better and you won’t see any better performance from Fairfax either.

The malaise that has infected our print media is able to jump species and has also infected broadcast media (or was that the other way around?). In any event it is now par for the course to see spelling mistakes in on-screen captions and you simply cannot rely upon a single fact you are not well versed in through your own experiences.

A recent example was when the Broadcasting Standards Authority fined Don McDonald for bringing a complaint against One News. You might recall Don complained over an item about a young Canadian girl who had discovered a supernova. The item said it was 240 light years from earth, but in fact it was 240,000,000 light years from earth, which I am sure anyone would agree was an inaccurate report. However the BSA seemed to think the facts didn’t matter because it was a feel good story and really about the kid finding the supernova rather than the supernova itself. On that basis I could broadcast an item saying I had built a 4000 metre replica of SkyTower out of Lego when in fact I had only built one 4mm high. But hey what the heck it’s a feel good story and it’s actually about me building the thing. Never mind it is a million times smaller than we told you.

What inspired this piece today was the recent descent of National Radio which usually delivers good programming. Two recent ‘news’ items have got up my nose on this station and one has even prompted me to lay a complaint about breached broadcasting standards.

The first item was on the news during checkpoint where they told us KFC’s Double Down Burger is coming back. Hello? I thought National Radio was a commercial free zone. The return of a disgusting chemical and fat laden excuse for a burger is not news. It is advertising. There are no redeeming social features to the Double Down – not that I’ve ever eaten or seen one, or even wanted to. It is not crucial to the economy; it does not even have a human interest angle. It is just free advertising for a foreign company who should be paying for a slot on commercial radio instead.

However the absolute nadir was reached this morning when Morning Report ran an interview with the parents of the triplets that dies in a fire in the Doha shopping mall. The poor bastards couldn’t get more than two words at a time out between sobs and the whole performance was absolutely awful. I deem that sort of shit ‘churnalism’ with no mitigating aspects at all. I can’t for the life of me imagine what useful purpose it served. It was tacky, tabloid audio voyeurism or auteurism or whatever the audio equivalent is. I don’t know whether the family sought this interview or not, but I don’t believe it makes any difference if they did. Any decent programme producer would have said ‘we ain’t running that’. But then I guess decency is another standard that has gone by the wayside for many. Anyway I logged my complaint, but after Don McDonald’s experience I’m not holding my breath.

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