Thursday, 11 September 2008

My rant over "self-inflicted death"

This morning saw me and my fellow baby journalists attend the SPINZ seminar on the media's role in suicide prevention. Tuckr has a fine post on suicide reporting (he should, it's the speech he gave at the Auckland conference), so I'm going to take it as a given that you know we can't really report suicides very well - no details, be sensitive, don't glamourise it, don't rationalise it, oh heck, my guidelines are on the other side of the bed, so I guess I'll have to wing it.

The forum was useful - some interesting research was raised and I made sure to grab a copy of what the Ministry of Health's trying to do to stop suicide. Unfortunately, in a free and frank forum about a subject that's taboo, everything was sanitised. Prime example: self-inflicted death. Not suicide. Not killing yourself. Not topping yourself. But self-inflicted death. No details. A violent death rather than slashed wrists. A body found in an area; not jumped to his/her death. I don't know how this encourages open discussion about a difficult topic, especially a topic that people are so scared to talk about, let alone report on.

The one word that kept coming to mind as I scribbled down my notes was propaganda. We were constantly told that the MoH didn't want to censor journos; merely ensure they reported correctly and safely. I actually agree with the concept that suicide is nobody else's business, and I'm not overly fussed about the restrictions on reporting, but I do object to the national strategy for suicide prevention having a specific goal dedicated to sanitising media coverage. I don't think it's good for strong reporting of the issues, and I don't think it will lead to anything other than wider censorship.

This wasn't helped by the fact that although the research dismissed a causal link between fictional suicide representations and actual suicide, it was implied that this was an element (I mean the whole basis of the research came from the impact a novel had in encouraging suicide). What's the next activity that requires guidelines?

The way people were speaking, it seemed as though every time suicide was metioned, there was a spate of copycat episodes. I don't mean to make light of the situation, but I couldn't get the final scene of Hedda Gabbler out of my head, and I envisioned an audience getting up after her death, walking out of the theatre and shooting themselves.

I did have a fair amount of time for Paul Thompson (Fairfax's Group Editor) when he wasn't plugging the typical media line "we do our job and we do it well". And he made a fine point in asking for more openness in reporting on suspected suicides. I can't fault his logic; if it's suspected, the hidden code "There were no suspicious circumstances" doesn't quite explain that (and while it pains me to admit my own naivety, I didn't pick up on the code until Jim pointed it out to us earlier this year -sheesh).

I think he was wrong when he claimed we can only write features on suicide every couple of months as there's no appetite for them. I think there's enormous public appetite for stories about suicide and I think people want to be able to speak about it openly. By leaving suicide stories under-reported or left as a token feature every few months, we continue to marginalise it, making it difficult to cover stories about suicide that may actually help reduce suicide rates (causes of suicide, general trends, ways to approach suicidal people). The more education people have about a topic, the greater their capacity for discussing and debating it intelligently. (I'm just trying to balance out my cycnicism with some idealism here.)

Having read back through this post, I can't find any real unifying theme, and I suppose that's because I just needed to vent after the seminar (which seems normal considering the content of the day). I guess I'm just disappointed: I expected some real discussion on what the media can do to make things better, not listen to what the media needs to do to minimise harm.

Whew. Now I've got that out of the system, the critical thought can begin...

Monday, 8 September 2008

It pains me to say this...

I don't think I'll ever forgive her for naming Constable A all those years ago, but Deb Hill Cone was spot on in her column about the evils of TradeMe in today's Herald.

I used to be an avid user (when I had some money to waste on second hand books), but, like Deb, I struggled to buy in to the whole feedback thing. Like Facebook's friend tally, your feedback stars turn into a bragging competition about your online popularity (probably because your real life is slightly less flattering).

The constant pestering for positive feedback - even when neither party is satisfied with the outcome seems somewhat absurd - and I really feel for the old hack:
The whole experience made me feel cross. Is it really so unreasonable to simply
want to buy something without all this other bossy palaver? I am fed up with
companies wanting to have a "relationship" with me. From now on I say no to
loyalty cards, corporate Facebook groups and folksy company newsletters. I have
taken a vow of commercial celibacy.

I applaud the stand Deb's taking, but somehow, I don't think I can cut myself off from the TradeMe juggernaut. It ain't easy finding cheap digs or work, and this baby journo ain't nearly good enough at networking to join Ms Hill Cone in her valiant stand.

(She also gives a good serve to Vodafone.)

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Let us be diverse and without prejudice

There has been a bit of commentary about the Diversity Forum held by MSD last week. I've obviously heard a fair amount about it as one of the NewsWire babies who listened to Arlene Morgan speak about diversity in the newsroom, and I have to admit to being somewhat pleased by Deb Coddington's column in the HoS today. Her back-handed contrition, however (some objectors are better than others), continues to play into the same old divisive stereotypes that compel the need for forums like the diversity one and for offices like the Race Relations Conciliator.

Karl du Fresne admirably defends his distaste for meddling in the affairs of "free speech" - yet the crux of his argument is market driven and summed up nicely with:

The main thing about the controversy over the Clydesdale paper, however, was
that it demonstrated that a free and open society, if left to function properly,
tends to be self-correcting.
Self-correcting implies that every citizen, nay, every reader, is equal in intelligence and experience and able to disseminate a piece of information with the same veracity as the next one. That's the kind of idealistic twaddle you'd expect from a socialist like meself, not a curmudgeon like Mr du Fresne.

Which leads me on to prejudice (I know - this is a long one). The inimitable Jim Tucker plugged our push for diversity here, here, and here, but it was his latest post on his reading prejudices that ties in nicely with my fear for the fragmentation of voices in the media. One of the winners of the Excellence in Reporting Diversity Awards was Justin Latif, a chap who doesn't think his stories are diverse - they just are. This is all well and good, but as Jim points out:

We all, I suspect, choose our information sources according to deep-seated
biases created over lifetimes.
Which leads me to believe that as our media sources converge under the umbrellas of the major players, minority voices will be ignored in favour of the mainstream market (a continuation of a current theme), and our minorities will create their own media (much like we're already seeing in our local Asian communities).

While this isn't new, the growth of Asian media is a worrying trend - if we (read white, middle-class males) can't reach out and gather news like Justin, we're going to be holding the shortest straw when the interweb finally destroys flagship news outlets and the fragmentation of news sources is so diverse as to make it impossible to have any kind of "authoritative news".

This might not necessarily be a bad thing, but it does play to Jim's prejudices - we'll only read news and commentary that re-affirms our own experiences and ideologies. I don't see me being the token whitey in a newsroom as a bad thing, but I do see the creation of niche media that doesn't challenge its own assertions as one step closer to endgame. Here's hoping someone can allay my fears - as yet, no-one's managed the task.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Nats likely to be furious over having to pay for Crosby Textor

The boys at The Standard will be well-chuffed with Yoda's column in the Herald on Saturday - after a sharp campaign of explaining away the evils of Crosby/Textor, John Armstrong became the first to indulge them when he wrote:
However, selling "Brand Key" as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise fetid political atmosphere was hardly credible if National was going to team up with Peters once the election was over.

July was definitely the cruellest month to Jonkey, with 15 posts tagged to the brandkey moniker (13 in the first fortnight). A good place to start for research's sake is here.

With a solid strike-rate like that, I'm certain C/T will be keeping an eye our liberal lads, and who knows where that could lead?

Is that DPF I hear, reminiscing over yesteryear?

Sanity has returned

EXCLUSIVE: I popped into my local New World last week and was relieved to see Investigate Magazine back at the back of the magazine stand and the NBR down to the midrange level. That was a close call (although Pulp is now on the front row next to Time, but, y'know, beggars can't be choosers).

UPDATE: I spoke too soon - after popping down to NW this evening, it appears as though the NBR has sold out and Ian's rag has moved up to mid-rack status. Oh how I wish I could find a conspiracy theory that fits.