LudditeJourno is dead, long live LudditeJourno

I’m no longer a “student journo”.  In fact, I’m no longer trying to be a journalist at all, and have just taken a post managing a project aimed at preventing sexual violence by developing young people’s skills in negotiating ethical sexual relationships.

Exciting – but for the two people who are regular readers, I want to explain the shift since I started blogging to write about journalism and the media.

Critiquing the media is almost too easy, which is why the blogosphere is often such an entertaining read, but I was very fortunate this year to write for community paper the Hutt News and editor Simon Edwards. 

Simon won the NZ Order of Merit for services to journalism last year (before we culturally cringed our way back to the English class system), and under him the Hutt News has won Community Newspaper of the Year awards in Qantas and Community Association competitions.  He’s won journalist awards, and he runs a paper which aims to serve the Hutt community well by running news stories about all the people who live there.

He was an inspiration for me while I was studying, and I feel very fortunate to have worked there and learned from him.

But there are no jobs in Fairfax-run community newspapers.  In fact, they are firing staff or losing them through natural attrition, and then failing to hire new staff, which looks awfully like deliberate disintegration.

Luckily for me then, you might think, I was offered the opportunity of interning at the Dominion Post in January.  I’ve blogged about this before with some lies of omission.  This time – post any desire to work in the field, and with the consent of my Whitireia tutor – I’m going to be a bit more honest.

I wrote this to the Dominion Post Chief Reporter Haydon Dewes before I started my internship:

Hi Haydon, 

Jim Tucker just passed me your email – just wanting to check in re: my internship with the Dominion Post starting on 12th January. 

 

What time would you like us to arrive on the Monday?  Anything we need to know about coming in? 

 

I’ve been having a think about story ideas, and will get back to you about this closer to the time, but one I wanted to run past you now at Jim’s suggestion is the Parihaka Peace Festival.  It’s on 9, 10, 11 Jan – and full of story opportunities – could do a colour piece, piece about the event’s growing popularity, piece about the history – anything you think might be of interest?   

 

Looking forward to starting. 

 

Thanks,

Sandra Dickson
Whitireia Journalism School
 

 

My reply, commendably within the same day, ran like this (my emphasis):

 

Hi Sandra,

9am on Monday is fine. Just report to reception downstairs and someone will come and grab you.

Keep thinking about news story ideas and issues-based stories that you can work up.

I’m not terribly interested in the Parihaka festival – unless there is a hard news angle from it i.e. riot/police raids etc.

Regards,Haydon

So a festival attended by about ten thousand people, on land with a fascinating history of peaceful resistance to colonisation – so fascinating Te Whiti o Rongomai is acknowledged internationally as a leader on the scale of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi – well, that kind of a festival is only of interest to a national newspaper in Aotearoa if there is a police raid or riot.

 

 Mmm.  Trust the media.

 

Unfortunately for me, while the internship at the Dominion Post could hardly get any worse, it did not get any better.  I listened to one journalist question a child over the telephone before he talked to their parents about their uncle who had been arrested.  From his voice, the child was about 12.  Afterwards, he was congratulated on “getting the dirt” by another journalist.

 

 I listened to another journalist call a friend and tell them the media knew she was having a sexual relationship, and it was about to hit the papers, and would she talk to him about it, because otherwise someone she “wouldn’t be able to trust” would do the story.  She gave him no joy that day anyway.

 

 I finished my internship disgusted, and full of self-doubt about choosing to even try mainstream media.

 

 The Dominion Post seemed to feel just as satisfied with me, judging from my internship report.  I guess we were not a match made in heaven 🙂

 

 Hence my change in career.  But I’m keeping the blog name.  And the enquiring mind.

 

My last piece of journalism is now up at Newswire.  It features some really quite remarkable claims from Matthew Hooton about last year’s elections and the influence of particularly right-wing bloggers.  And yep, I have even the most sensational of those quotes on tape.

 

UPDATE:  If it’s unclear above, and I gather it was for some readers, none of my tutors read this blog before I posted it.  The content is my responsibility, no one else’s.  Some might call it freedom of the press.

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22 thoughts on “LudditeJourno is dead, long live LudditeJourno

  1. Nice work mate,

    You stick up for what you believe in that’s rad. reading this post reminded me of why I gave up the course, the slow death of a once honourable idustry. I lived with famous journos and met heaps. they are mostly self obsesed. Im working now at a not for profit org improving the life and care of brain injured and affected people, and it is way more righteous.

    good luck, jono Mckeown

  2. Wow…I’m so out of the loop. Sorry I missed all this. Firstly a giant CONGRATULATIONS on getting the internship. I’m so sorry it turned out to be so disappointing. I know from experience that some journalists have real integrity with regard to interviewing and stories in general, but sadly I guess there are many more who do not. I hope you’ll continue to write – and to submit pieces to papers sometimes – as I think your stuff is really good. Finally, your new job sounds incredible and I have no doubt you will be amazing at it. So and even bigger CONGRATULATIONS for that, and of course for continuing to demand honesty, integrity and change.

  3. Your new job does sound fantastic, and I look forward to reading your writing in the future. It was great to have that chat with you on the phone about blogging. All the best.

  4. You are probably very sensible to not go for a journalistic carear becuase as I see it the media is disintergrating and the blog taking over. So you need an income to fund your writing. Having worked in several Newsrooms during my carear I’m frankly glad I am of an age that I can be retired, and am, the past nineteen years :-).

  5. Unfortunately expecting the DomPost to give a damn about anything that doesn’t disgust you or bleed over the page is a little outside the bounds of possibility. NZ media are commercial and thats it. The only exception is RNZ News which still takes things seriously and doesn’t have to play the commercial game. All the best with your new job !
    Geoff

  6. AS an ex journalist my view on your concerns about the rejection of your Parihaka idea was that you did not demonstrate a good understanding of the DP nor did you pitch the story to the right person.

    Firstly the chief reporter is in charge of the main news pages – mostly section A. He rightly said he was not interested in soft features but would be if there was a ‘hard’ news angle.

    Secondly I’d ask ‘what was the relevance of the story’? It might have seemed interesting to you but the DP is becoming increasingly focused on its core region close to Wellington. Parihaka festival is a long way from Wellington and I’d suggest the interests of most DP readers.

    SO I think you are being a bit unfair on the DP – it made perfectly valid and unremarkable editorial decisions in the case you cite. Perhaps your inexperience was as much a contributor to your feelings of let down?

    • Hey Insider, take your point about delineations within the paper re: “hard” and “soft” news. But these are of course constructs – not objective “facts”.
      The DP attempts to be a national paper in many respects – and certainly talks about itself as covering the lower North Island, which includes Taranaki. And also frequently covers – in their “news” pages – community events which far fewer people attend than Parihaka – such as family days at the Trentham Races, for one example.
      What I found most disappointing about the Parihaka editorial decision was that they were interested if criminal activity was going on. And in fact, they did publish a story, while I was there, poached from the local Taranaki paper about one Maori youth worker who was quoted as saying lots of people at Parihaka were taking drugs.
      So in fact, Parihaka did become news in Wellington despite the points you make.
      But there’s no doubting my inexperience 🙂

  7. New reader and found all you have to say very interesting, and disappointing but commercial reality as well and as long as you continue blogging you do have have the freedom of the press just in a new media that more and more people are coming too. Enjoy your new job but dont give up the blogging you have something to say!
    Cheers Hutt Valley Man at http://www.HuttNZ.co.nz

  8. Pingback: Luddite Journo journo no more « Homepaddock

  9. It’s sad, but perfectly understandable. 30 years ago when I started as a journalist, it was a great job and it was well paid.

    That’s all changed. I wouldn’t recommend it as a career to anyone — my kids certainly aren’t interested, they’ve seen what I been through.

    But journalism skills can still be put to good use elsewhere, so the training wasn’t a waste of time.

  10. Sandra, while I take your point at the glib and gauche response by the chief reporter to your story idea, I am with insider on this one.

    I’m not sure why you would expect the chief reporter to agree to send an untested intern to a 3-day event that might yield little for the DomPost in the way of news (as opposed to features).

    In every newsroom, interns start out on ‘the shipping news’ or whatever is the mundane equivalent, not the feature assignments that are expensive – travel, accommodation, time out of the office. This is the reality of life in the newsroom.

    It’s great that you did suggest a story straight off the bat – that sort of thing impresses chief reporters – but it’s part of newsroom life for your idea to be rejected, modified, given to someone else, especially if you’re an intern! You just have to develop a thicker skin and keep suggesting ideas….

    It does seem to me a pity after all the training and obvious passion you have rejected journalism and won’t have the chance to develop your skills in a newsroom. More than ever we need well-trained passionate journalists.

    There are (a few) other workplace options – did you try knocking on the door of RNZ?

  11. Hey Ozzie,
    whoops, few misunderstandings here.
    I was already going to Parihaka, so wasn’t expecting anyone to send me there.
    And both Paul (the other intern) and I had been explicitly asked to come up with story ideas.
    As I’ve said above in other comments, I do understand the distinction between features and news – but I maintain a news story could have been written about Parihaka – 10 thousand people go there, and the DomPo regularly covers community events much less popular.
    The issue about the rejection of the Parihaka idea, for me, is the linkage to it only being of interest if there was a criminal connection.
    So the thicker skin thing – I’m good with that, really – and had been negotiating those kind of issues all year while I wrote for the Hutt News and our student website newswire.
    RNZ probably would have been my ideal journalistic job, particularly since Terry Brown, a complete inspiration and long-term radio journalist, trained us at Whitireia. But unfortunately there were no jobs there when I finished studying. And equally unfortunately, I did feel “burnt” by the internship experience.
    Fortunately for me, there are still other fields of work out there that I did feel excited by – though I’m with you on the need for well-trained passionate journalists.

  12. Unlike some other commenters here, I’m not willing to give the news editor the benefit of the doubt. And that’s because the pages of the DP and Granny are littered with crime, arrests, celebrities, and drugs. If it bleeds it leads, has certainly always been the case, but there appears to be very little interest in other news angles.

    On LJ’s account, there was no question about the human interest elements of the event, none about how it might fit other frames and produce interesting copy. It was crime or no story.

    The Dominion Post is a rubbish tabloid, not fit for toilet paper. The comparison between that and my now local paper in Australia (which has a similar circulation) is a gulf.

  13. If you’re keen to understand the media then it pays to read Galtung and Ruge’s news values. This research is almost 50 years old and still going strong. What bleeds always leads ….there is nothing new there.

    If you want ‘nice’ stories, try the Fiji media!

  14. Just a couple of points to make re comments regarding your rejected pitch.
    Insider is completely wrong in suggesting that the CR is the wrong person to pitch to – he is (I know this because I worked at the paper for two years), in fact reporters at the Dompost often work on features and backgrounders which either run in the main A section on a weekend or occasionally get used by other sections, in fact pitching to other section heads would, quite rightly, not make you too popular with the CR.
    In fact the Dompost regularly runs soft stories of highly questionable news value.

    Secondly as to whether the story was valid, it may have been, it may have not been. For me the point is not that it was rejected but why.
    “hard news angle from it i.e. riot/police raids”
    What Dewes is saying here is that unless there was violence or criminal activity he isn’t interested.
    There could have been a really good news angle there, but but just looking for scandal it was missed.
    I could write a list as long as my arm of decent stories binned during my time there because they didn’t involve crime or scandal.
    This highlights the increasing tabloid mentality which runs throughout the paper and editorial management, which despite the change in editor is unlikely to change.

  15. Pingback: Incident at Waitangi – on sinking boats… | Tūrangawaewae

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