How the media manipulate, the Drinnan case study


John Drinnan

John Drinnan asked me for an interview…since he and David Fisher seem to think trolling on Twitter is what decent journalists, trained and skilled should spend all day doing you can imagine I was reticent.

He sent through his questions and I and answered them…Here is my reply in full….once you have read that you can go see what John Drinnan did with it…you will note I warned him…publish it all or not at all, and that I would publish it anyway. Apparently there isn’t enough space online to have published in full…seriously that was his answer!

Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 9:07 PM

From: Cam Slater

To: John Drinnan

I won’t post these questions to my blog until you’ve published them. I’ve taken the liberty of providing substantial as opposed to yes/no answers. Wouldn’t be much of an interview without it I guess. I would prefer them to be published in total or not at all. Thanks.

1. Regarding the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story – do you have more evidence against Brown to hand.

At the time I’m responding to your interview, yes. Not sure what the situation will be by the time your readers read my answers. More information keeps coming to me. The timeline spans from before his first marriage, his current one, at work, and various extra marital events in addition to Bevan Chuang. It is still my position he is not fit to be Mayor of Auckland. I knew of Bevan Chuang for a good two months, and even the day before I published I didn’t think it was a story worth publishing. Only when we had the undisputed and now verified affidavit did we make it public. This is why everything I know won’t all come out. Some of it is simply not relevant, because it is indeed just personal. But some of it may become pertinent to the public discussion surrounding Len Brown’s Mayoralty. They say that timing is everything, so one of my options is to see where Brown takes this, and just as it all looks like he’s safe and ready to start kissing babies again, I’ll publish the next story.  

2. Do you believe that you/ the blog have not received enough credit for breaking the original story?

Judging by the fact it has doubled my audience overnight, I don’t worry about critical acclaim from the media, I only worry about people choosing to read Whaleoil out of their own free will. I have instinctively known that there is a demographic that isn’t catered for by traditional media. As the world is moving away from broadcasting and broadsheets to 24/7 access to information via portable technology, the strategy has been to create awareness, then capture that audience and don’t give them a reason to stop reading Whaleoil. People wake up to Whaleoil. People go to bed with Whaleoil. People steal away their employers’ time to sneak in some Whaleoil or catch up during breaks. My only credit is a loyal audience of readers. I am very grateful what I do resonates with them.

3. I would argue many in MSM respect you with breaking story in the first place – and that you have good sources. Yet your blog is often dominated by criticism/ attacks of other media. Why are other media so important to you?

I’m not catering for people that read the Herald, or watch TV news. I’m capturing the audience that have already given up on those sources of “news” and give them what they feel the “main stream media” should be providing to them in the first place. Criticism of other MSM outlets is part preaching to the choir and part sales technique. I’m opening people’s eyes to what passes for reporting and news via traditional outlets, and my criticism invites people to consider a new way of looking at it. Which oddly enough, is the old way to look at it: bluntly, critically and open to discussion. I don’t always get it right, but the readers will tell me within minutes. As a result, the interaction between publisher and reader is like a peer review process where together we arrive at an even better answer. My readers also feel part of the process rather than observers of it and they frequently assist with further research and information. You could call it the incubation of Crowd-Journalism if you like, and Whaleoil is a tool for us to do it.

4. Why are you unhappy that other media opted to follow through on other angles – such as the links to the Palino campaign and Luigi Wewege? Do you believe that other media should not look at these angles?

I’m unhappy in the sense that it has been a huge distraction to my original objective to have Len Brown take responsibility for a history of poor decisions and personal choices spanning several years. Those ‘angles’ you speak of were largely directed at shooting the messengers; at justifying Len Brown’s appalling behaviour by repeated suggestions that those who published the story were somehow either lying, had undisclosed motives or were not trustworthy. And yet quite recently, I heard one of the other media experts claim that even though Cook and I were the worst possible people Bevan Chuang could have engaged, none of the facts are in dispute. The spin is that it was over the top. Too sleazy. And the lies have come in that floated the meme Cook and I shouldn’t have published her identity. Which of course we didn’t. It has been a full week of Brown, Palino and Chuang’s people trying to focus on the messengers that brought them the story. Yet Brown and Chuang don’t dispute and confirm everything we have written as factual. But these stories have a life cycle, and no matter how much they try to spin it – the facts are still standing strong. Mayor Brown is going to have to explain why it is OK to misuse council time, money, resources and influence. His sex life and cheating on his wives is personal. But because he also involved council staff, resources and time, he needs to answer to the public for that.

5.You appear to have a deep seated dislike for the New Zealand Herald- why is that?

Only for certain people at the Herald. Some of them have been actively trying to discredit me for some time when they should really have been getting on with their jobs. I can stand the criticism just fine, but I don’t appreciate the lies. The effect has been that it provides a motivation now. One of my readers reminded me of Gandhi saying “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. I think we’re getting close to the part where we will have a fight. I’m actively coming for the NZ Herald’s audience now. Some of your readers have been wondering why they are still bothering to get the paper. Perhaps Whaleoil is what they’ve been looking for. And the same goes for TV viewers and Fairfax readers. Some of those aren’t satisfied and I’m looking to provide them with a new home.

6.Do you ever think you/ the Whaleoil blog have been too aggressive in your criticism of individuals? Or is this simply a part of the branding for your website?

Undoubtedly. Just like the NZ Herald publishes retractions and apologies, I’ve also made mistakes. However, because the Whaleoil medium is electronic, and the feedback through my audience instantaneous, the cycle of mistake, admission and correction often happens within the hour. Facts are facts. But opinions are mine, and people can agree or disagree. They can like my style or be appalled by it. But as many people have found: even when they don’t like me or agree with much that I publish, they can’t help but come back to read more. Whaleoil publishes original content and opinion you simply can not find anywhere else, and that’s proving quite addictive to an increasing audience.

7. Apart from yourself and Stephen Cook who do you respect in New Zealand media?

Rather than name names and add fuel to a fire, I prefer to generalise by saying that anyone who still has a spine to stand up and do what they think is right, even though this flies against their commercial or corporate interests are easy to respect. Often doing the right thing is hard, especially when you are in a minority. I respect people who set themselves some standards and aren’t going to walk away from them. I realise this isn’t easy within the commercial realities. Would a cub reporter with the information that there is major fraud inside the newspaper ever get to publish the story? Probably not. This is where Whaleoil is raw and in your face. We can go back to when the Fourth Estate wasn’t owned by or beholden to the companies that funded their future, and we can criticise Prime Ministers, police, judges, lawyers and anyone else if the facts stack up.

8. Is Whale Oil Beef Hooked a commercial concern.

Not yet in the sense that it doesn’t generate any income for me to live of, let alone run as a profitable company. But I’ve been working to a plan that may see Whaleoil turn into my full time income instead of a hobby that defrays costs through advertising and the odd sponsorship deal. I heard a media strategist talking to Duncan Garner a few days ago saying that printed newspapers are on the way out in two to three years. Garner thinks 5. I think Whaleoil is perfectly positioned to cater for this emerging audience that no longer feels at home in front of a TV or flicking pages of a newspaper. In that sense, I think Whaleoil has a lot of potential to become a commercial operator in the near future. As Whaleoil doesn’t need expensive buildings to house staff, printing or distribution facilities, the cost structure is in our favour in any competition for eyeballs. Some years from now I see Whaleoil as a media company, employing staff. But we’re not quite there yet.

9. Do you/the website have any commercial relationship with Simon Lusk.

The blog, no. Simon and I have worked together over the years as projects presented themselves. Simon is one of hundreds of people I am in contact with regularly and semi regularly that may contribute ideas or material for the blog. We believe in similar things, that ratbags be held to account and that politicians are careful with public monies. That said no money changes hands for the privilege, we enjoy each others company and sharing of ideas.

10. Why do you appear to have a much more measured approach to issues appearing on mainstream media (TV) in contrast to phlegmatic approach on the blog?

Do you talk the same way to your mother as you do to your colleagues after work on a Friday afternoon? Of course not. I adjust the way I communicate to my audience. And the Whaleoil audience likes it straight up, hold the ice and the slice. But that simply wouldn’t translate to a personal conversation or a TV appearance. I employ a different ‘voice’ depending on the medium and the audience. You do the same thing. And as Whaleoil readers will note, I haven’t used my “Whaleoil voice” answering this interview either.

11. Away from media/blogging/politics – what makes a good day for you?

If people like to find out who Cam Slater really is, they should Google Whaleoil and come have a look. We post 30 articles a day, of which only a proportion are about politics. I regularly post pieces about my own life and experiences. About living with depression, fighting insurance companies in court, or the death of my mother. It is honest and raw. If you are interested in what makes me tick, then Whaleoil is probably going to be the best place to find out. These couple of lines here wouldn’t do it justice.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.