Archive for August 8th, 2008

Blurry lines lead to turf wars

August 8, 2008

Vernon Small airs some thoughts on the blogging vs journalism issue, and he’s confused. “The advent of blogging, websites and online newsletters, has blurred the line to the point where I can barely see it at times.”

The immediate trigger for Small’s ruminations was the presence at National’s weekend conference of David Farrar — NZ’s best read blogger and organically a key part of National’s media machine, though not a paid part — “sharing the scoff and liquid largesse put on by the party for the media in the room set aside for us.”

We know that Farrar enjoyed the press hospitality, because he blogged about it. The Standard’s Clinton Smith a.k.a. Steve Pierce, on the other hand, was refused press accreditation.

For Small, the key issue seems to be subjectivity (though he avoids this word) and partisanship:

“… several reporters have told me they are uncomfortable having someone so closely aligned with the party – or with any party – seamlessly incorporated into the media, sitting alongside them, and potentially hearing conversations between frontline reporters and their news editors and the like.

“So where should the lines be drawn?

“Is “biased” blogging any different from left or right wing reporting?”

Delightfully naive. One doesn’t have to have taken a course in the politics of the media to know that (1) “objectivity is bullshit” (as Ruth Butterworth put it when I did one such course) and (2) the “mainstream media” props up the capitalist system and the existing power structures every hour of the day, every day of the week.

If you rule bloggers out because they take a partisan stance, then you’d have to refuse press accreditation to Radio America and Faux News, most British papers (tabloid and broadsheet) and … it’s not getting any better. The mainstream media are increasingly mixing opinion with their news, if you haven’t noticed.

Perhaps mindful of this, Small allows that while he finds it “hard to envisage a situation where I would in his role as chair of the press gallery give the nod to [an application for accreditation from a blogger] under our existing rules… that’s not to say there would never be a justified case.”

So, if we jetison the quaint fiction that our news media are unbiased reporters of objective facts, can we distinguish between bloggers and journos?

Some would argue that bloggers just rant. Well, that line’s easily disposed of. Anyone read Granny’s deputy political editor Fran O’Salivatin’ recently?

Oh, you say, the news media hunt out original facts, bloggers just repeat and add some commentary. Hell, let me introduce you to the “wire services”. And remind you of how many journos have been laid off in recent months. It’s not as though some blogs don’t break stories anyway.

So, let a thousand bloggers bloom. Out with the stuffy old-school pretence of professionalism and objectivity and in with transparency and colour. Let the market rule!

Hat-tip:The Hive who tackles this question, but is singularly unconvincing. It seems that capacity to tolerate the grinding vapidity of party conferences is the key feature distinguishing journos from bloggers. I doubt this, and QB provides no evidence that the journos assigned to party conferences enjoy them in any degree.

Update: A good solution to Small’s conundrum from Homepaddock, who writes that, “My answer is some journalists are bloggers, some are not; some blogging is journalism, some is not.” Now, we just need to define when blogging is journalism. I’d say, when something that is “news” is gathered and/or disseminated by the blogger. Now, we just need to define what we mean by “news”…

Levels of health research funding a sick joke

August 8, 2008

Well, it wouldn’t have taken much sleuthing to find out that NZ’s medical reasearch funding is pathetic compared to other developed countries’. But good on the media for running with this story. (The report doesn’t appear on the UA website at the time of typing.)

“New Zealand will have fewer, and lower quality, medical students within a few years if research funding doesn’t increase, the country’s two medical schools believe.

“The country is haemmorhaging health staff, facilities and research, because its health research funding is up to 12 times lower than other countries, they say.”

Yep, that’s a factor of twelve. The report shows NZ’s government funding for health research is equivalent to $10.2 per capita. This compares to around $34.6 per capita in Australia, $54.3 per capita in the UK and $126 per capita in the USA.

I’ve discussed the dire state of university funding in an earlier post. So the problem to which the deputy deans have drawn attention is not unique to one part of the university system. But it illustrates the point well:

“[The primary health research funder] the Health Research Council, … invested $63 million in this year’s recent funding round. This funding has remained at a static level for the past four years despite research costs rising by almost 9% per year. Around 85% of submitted projects do not receive funding.”

It is a tribute to the dedication and ingenuity of NZ’s health researchers that we do as well as we do in this area. But we can’t keep exploiting health and other academics endlessly…

One way that academics compensate for the crappy salaries that they get compared to their private sector counterparts is to substitute intrinsic rewards for the extrinsic shortfalls. The opportunity to research is probably the chief compensation for most academics, with teaching a good second. But we are falling down on the research side.

Where to from here? Well, the Labour-led government made some modest progress, particularly when Cullen was Minister. Frankly, Hodgson is a disappointment. But National looks worse. Traditionally anti-intellectual, the signs from Bill “Loose Lips” English are not good. I despair.

[Postscript: My friend who left last week for a job at a Melbourne uni reports vastly superior research funding in addition to the huge salary increase that he awarded himself by going there.]

Chief suspect in Key rubbish case collared

August 8, 2008

Woof!

Note: At least Granny had the decency to publish this picture in this morning’s paper.