Hill Cone on NZ journalism

Missed this yesterday as I’m normally not interested in her therapy group sessions and glimpses of personal life, but she actually had the guts to call out some of her colleagues yesterday for … well, you read

As a young female journalist I was probably sadly before my time in shamelessly trying to schmooze my way to notoriety of any kind like an overpainted attention-seeking goose. Back then, how I would have loved to have been in Andrea Vance’s position, the famous Fairfax journalist who brought down a Cabinet minister. How glorious to be feted for your special powers of turning a powerful man to mush, leading him to say he “made errors of judgment” while in your thrall.

Whether their relationship was romantic or not scarcely seems to matter. Although it does seem disingenuous for Vance to now play the victim. Whatever the background, Vance still exhibited a degree of influence – for that week anyway she was more powerful than any politician – that made her the envy of her colleagues.

Especially those who are a little too dangerously in love with the romantic image of their profession – they are the noble crusader, the Katharine Hepburn wisecracker, the reincarnation of Martha Gellhorn. Even if these days being a female reporter is more like being an “It” girl than a hack.

You have to be good at putting on the different personas that are expected of you, whether that be vampish, coquettish or as “enchantingly nasty” as Rita Skeeter. Most often young female journalists still seem to be cast in these starring roles by older tweedy men. It is in the classic tradition of Pygmalion – anyone remember Maddie in House of Cards?

I wonder how many female reporters in the parliamentary Press Gallery have unresolved “daddy issues”. (Oh I know they will all deny this strenuously, they are tough, independent and staunch. I’d have said the same, too.) I just can’t help thinking it would be progress if female journalists were writing their own parts rather than continuing to play the role of temptress to male politicians.

Personally, I can’t think of anything I’d less like to do these days. I’m not quite Germaine Greer, who in her 50s decided gardening was better than casual sex, but at 45, perhaps not far off.

Female reporters are like prima ballerinas or elite gymnasts; with a few notable exceptions (Kim Hill, Fran O’Sullivan, Susan Wood) for most of us our career is over and our waistlines are expanding by the time we’re 30. But the tweedy old men can blithely carry on with a new retinue of young proteges.

These days the female journalist I most admire does not resemble Andrea Vance with her high-profile “scoops”. Janet Malcolm (aged 70-something) is most famous for her quote: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”

Malcolm has what Slate writer Alice Gregory calls “terrifying neutrality – like a teacher who is capable of handling even her most despised pupils no differently than the ones she secretly adores”. But I can’t imagine Malcolm flirting on Twitter or wearing disco pants.

It’s all rather come about because of a number of factors all coming together like an imperfect storm.  New Zealand hasn’t had an effective opposition since 2008.  Pressure on the media means less time for investigative work, so the empty space is filled with cheap ‘opinion’ by various ‘names’, and of course the rise and rise of social media stars who would simply not have the audience nor the feedback loop they so crave.

Media is odd this way, in the sense that most other endeavours is sheeted home to the team.  Individual stand-out performances are highlighted, but in the end, the World Cup is won by the All Blacks, not Richie McCaw.

In media, these days the scoops are credited against individuals, rather than an effective and rapacious newsroom.

Tradition and current practice mix in the most incongruent way, where journalists at all levels of skill are clearly by-lined, sometimes with photos, and can be followed and interacted with as both individuals and professionals on Twitter, Facebook and other online venues.   At the same time, the “Editorial”, remains uncredited, and you don’t always know who wrote it.

When called on their activities, they are quick to tell you that all their interactions are personal, and not professional.  But it doesn’t take a genius to see this is hardly true or consistent.  The same journos that scoffed at Key saying he wasn’t speaking as a Prime Minister work social media contacts as journalists, but when they get a little criticism, we are to assume they are speaking personally and off the clock.

All this is a developing situation, and it will be fascinating to see where it goes over the next few years.

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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. 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 who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

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