Bob Jones on useless pimping media

Bob Jones is still a national treasure. In his column at NBR he hooks into Fairfax and the NZ Herald:

I once wrote an article speculating about what would happen if there was no news and reached the conclusion that on well-established form, reporters would simply invent it.

Bob, mate, they already do and have done for decades.

Believe it or not, that actually arose in early January.  For three days, nothing significant happened; no murders no interesting courtroom dramas, the politicians were on holiday, no mad murdering Muslim episodes, just nothing. Sure we had an amazing last day at the Basin against Bangladesh but that was sports page territory and you can’t fill the paper with it.  So some journos set to and made up the news.   

The New Zealand Herald opened the batting soliciting a hardly unique, fat thirtyish Maori who claimed he was receiving $150 daily begging in Henderson.  They enjoyed a nice three-day run out of that, citing predictable angry comments from Hendersonites and others about these bums, and to keep up the momentum, introduced a fictitious story about organised Maori begging syndicates.

A happy cap on all of this “reporting” was the Maori bloke’s whinging that following the publicity, he was now receiving nothing.  Then, just as it was petering out, I received a call from a radio station facing the same non-news dilemma, who’d joined in on the Herald’s begging news creativity.  They sought my comments on the grounds I had once written a Herald article calling for it to be illegal.

Being concerned about the issue, I pre-recorded about 20 minutes and forgot about it, whereupon that evening learnt there was a hullabaloo because of my radio remarks.  I checked the Heraldwebsite to find it had horned in on my radio interview with a report headed, “Sir Bob calls the homeless a disgrace to humanity.”

Manufactured outrage is what I call it.

Following its inaccurate heading, it now enjoyed a nice run at my expense, quoting diverse parties slamming me for my heartlessness toward the homeless,  notwithstanding the fact I hadn’t mentioned the subject, the topic being begging.

The next morning I banged off a letter to Shayne [Currie] who promptly had the heading changed, including an apology to me.

Helps to have millions to get changes like that. When I’ve complained I’ve either been ignored or received abusive replies. They figure I won’t sue them, that may change soon enough. They know Bob Jones will sue them, hence the changes.

In the interim its website poll clocked up circa 40,000 responses, most unsurprisingly backing my call for a begging ban.  Then I received a call from a Dominion Post reporter.  Facing the same non-news dilemma, they tagged onto the Herald’s creativity.

In an initially puzzling call the reporter oddly asked if I stood by my remarks, then told me he totally agreed with my call for a ban so now, as I realised the next day, having tokenly spoken to me, the Dom-Post got a trot out of it, passing off my original radio interview as if it had been with them.

The Dom-Post quoted a nutter claiming begging was solely attributable to my personally pocketing all of the country’s money, then, with still nothing happening news-wise and shamelessly ignoring the fact that they had actually solicited my views, followed up with an editorial reproduced in Fairfax provincial papers, not condemning my banning call but criticising me as a rich man for commenting on such matters. It’s bloody unbelievable.

The following day the Dom-Post ran a story all of this had induced, quoting the Porirua mayor, backed by the Police, demanding a ban on begging in the city and outlining numerous shocking beggar incidences.

Then they blundered (from their warped perspective) and ran a website poll.  When it quickly raced up to 90% support for a ban they removed it and substituted an article published in their provincials by a Richard Swainson who conceded my points but ripped into me for my shallow approach in not mentioning mental illness.  Well, Richard, you’re wrong.  In fact, I went on at length about studies done on Edinburgh beggars showing most suffered from mental illness.  The radio station chose to delete it.  They’re reporters, remember, and “in depth” stuff ain’t their bag.

Bob has an unswerving ability to know what the public thinks, and the media have the same ability in reverse.

Late last year I received an approach on behalf of the masochistic syndicate having a crack at buying Fairfax’s New Zealand publications, asking whether, if they succeeded, would I take the Dominion-Post off their hands for the pathetically low sum of $20 million.  Before pointing out I wasn’t interested in sunset industries (the Dom-Post’s current crashing circulation gives it only three or four more years, something as a newspaper addict I regret), I expounded with passion explaining why I’d rather be dead than have to employ reporters.  Mind you, forking out $20 million for the pleasure of sacking some of them is worth considering was it not for the fact that may soon be their fate anyway. I say “may” as theAustralian reports the Fairfax board is considering scrubbing their daily papers and replacing them with a high-quality Saturday issue containing mainly overseas contributors.

That’s some deal. He should do it.

 

The late Sir Robert Muldoon used to go on to me with genuine puzzlement, why the two activities we most expected integrity from, namely academia and the print media, were, in fact, the most dishonest.

I suspect a prime reason is poor management.  Over the past 50 years that I’ve written newspaper columns I’ve have known numerous editors and never met one I didn’t like.  But with one probable exception, astonishingly, I’ve never met one who actually read their newspaper.  Frequently over drinks or lunch, I’d mention something in their paper only to always find they were unaware of it.

The probable exception was now-retired Whangarei editor Graeme Barrow but he wasn’t a typical journo. Rather Graeme was a lawyer who, like so many in that profession, opted for a mid-life career change.  I simply can’t imagine him not reading his paper in its entirety.

There are of course many superb print journalists but, increasingly, most are over 50 and facing retirement.  I love newspapers with a passion, don’t wish their demise and believe they mostly do an excellent job. But I wish they’d apply more quality control with their content.

The media are still carrying on with their shenanigans, they, with a straight face, accuse others of “fake news” when they themselves run it all the time. Witness the current activities of Fairfax and the NZ Herald over the democratically elected president of the United States. Each days brings a fresh outrage, with media thinking this next story, if they just hype it a bit more, will bring the undoing of the President. Instead they are bringing about, as Bob notes, their own demise.

 

-NBR

 


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