Cracker by Damian Christie


What Would Charlotte Do?

Wow. So it was three years ago I wrote this piece about finally getting on board with Twitter. 

A couple of weeks later I announced that I still really didn’t get it and was getting back off that dull suburban train... 

…and a week after that I had to refute claims from a few idiot bloggers claiming the previous decision had been somehow a victory for them. 

Well, having waited three years just to ensure they weren’t right about me losing my (self-employed job) for calling a spade a spade (or in the case of Michael Laws, something else entirely), I finally thought it safe to emerge from my cavern high on the Afghan/Pakistan border and once again jump aboard the Twitter train and see if the ride had improved any.

 Maybe Twitter had become a bit more mainstream in the interim, had settled down from those Wild West days of 2009. Maybe more people were actually saying, you know, stuff, rather than "HI IS ANYONE HERE". Or maybe I’d finally worked out what I wanted to use it for. Because finally I saw a point to it. Everyone has different reasons for using Twitter of course (some have none, but don’t let that stop them), so here’s mine:

When TVNZ 7 came to an end, I decided it was time to do a bit of social media housekeeping. My facebook account, which has always had a fairly sizeable list of acquaintances, had got a bit out of control. It now contained hundreds of people I’d never met before. Back Benches viewers I think, for the most part. All perfectly nice I’m sure, but it meant I could no longer narrowcast a message like “who wants a beer after work?” without being taken up on my offer by some 18 year old kid in Whangarei whose profile pic is him shaking hands with Roger Douglas  and smiling like it was the BEST DAY EVER.

So I started culling those folk from Facebook, and planned to migrate them over to Twitter, so I'd have one narrowcast social media, one vaguely broadcast. One conversation, one lecture, if you will, albeit with a brief Q+A session at the end.

In the three years I’d been off Twitter, about 1000 people had started following my dormant account (proof that people don’t really give a toss what you’ve got to say half the time), so it was well underway. I originally linked my Twitter feed to update my Facebook status, but I think that just made too many people angry. 

So now I tweet. And how. I’m hooked. Being vaguely unemployed has helped: Nothing like tweeting in yer 'gown. So why am I enjoying it this time when I wasn’t before?

One, I’m following more interesting people, or (less judgementally) people who are saying things I’m more interested in hearing. Two, I’ve found a tone and a reason to tweet – it’s a micro-blog, a status update you think the world might want to hear. Or at least that tiny portion of the world who follows @damianchristie.

And there’s the tricky bit. I’ve worked out there are different relationships on twitter. There are people who are way famous and will probably never talk back to you. And you feel like a dick tweeting them knowing everyone can see you do it, but occasionally you think @rickygervais REALLY needs to know what you’ve got to say. Ricky Gervais has more than three million followers and has tweeted some 2600 odd thoughts.

There are people who are just, you know, people. People that no-one other than their actual, real life friends, have heard of. And they might have 50 followers, and have tweeted some 20,000 thoughts. Mostly, in my experience, many of those will be responses to tweets from people like Ricky Gervais, who aren’t listening.

The other day my number of tweets surpassed my number of followers, which are both around the 1500 mark. It was significant, because until that point I was on the Ricky Gervais side of the line (it's a big side okay, with plenty of people on it), and now I’m on the side of the line with that guy with 50 followers whose name escapes me (an equally big side). I paused for a few minutes, and then carried on. I mean, what are you going to do.

So there are the Ricky Gervais people, and the unknown tweeter guys. Then there are the people who can be described as your peers. People you know in real life, or near enough to it.

It's these people I have long back and forth conversations with, critiquing, arguing, explaining, clarifying and occasionally apologizing to. Because let’s be clear: Twitter is a fucked place to have an argument. As with most of the internet, it’s easy to misconstrue tone, but even more so because in order to fit your thought into 140 characters you’ve removed the words, punctuation etc that help make everything we say each day less ambiguous. Also, I think there’s something that just makes people want to pick fights and talk at cross purposes, even if they’re probably 99% the same. Mind you, chimpanzees and humans are 99% the same, and you know, I can spot that 1% difference on a good night.

What annoys me about Twitter – apart from the needless arguments with the other chimps? The fact there’s no easy way to split off a conversation with a peer or group thereof (the Direct Message function is crap, and limited). If I’m tweeting back and forth to @CMRanapia, well guess what, 1499 other people at my end just have to sit through that. I don’t wish that on people, but I don’t see an alternative.

Then there are some people also seem to make something of an art out of affixing a loud-hailer to what surely would be better off done by txt. “Did you put the washing on” or “what time are you going to the gym” are surely statements suited for another medium. But that's just me. Right now, someone out there is probably reading this and going "dude, I don't give a toss about your thoughts on Twitter". Everyone is someone else's "what time are you going to the gym".

And you know what? Your Twitter Account, Your Rules, Your Life. And that’s what I’m coming to terms with. If you don’t like what’s happening on your Twitter feed, don’t blame the people you’re following, blame yourself. You chose to follow each and every one of them. And insulting someone you follow, but who doesn’t you, is to me a bit like yelling at the mean Simon Cowell on the telly. Kinda sad.

Of course, unlike that example, on Twitter, the Simon Cowell does hear you. They can (and largely will and should) ignore you, or they can respond. Unless it’s truly for sport, I think the latter is unwise. When I’m faced with that situation, I think “What Would Charlotte Do?” and then do the opposite. Engaging, retweeting, absorbing all that bile, well clearly it doesn’t do you any good. Sorry Charlotte, you need to put the Twitter down and step away.

 So I’m changing the channel, or at least fiddling with the fine tuning. Yes Alyssa Milano, I had a crush on you when I was ten and you were in Who's The Boss, but there’s nothing about the state of your son’s chest cough that I need to know. Don’t stop tweeting about him, I’m sure some of your two million-plus followers care more than me, and I have a feeling you’ll be fine without my patronage. I'm just fine tuning.

 I’m enjoying listening in on conversations between various NZ comedians (@Rose_Matafeo and her man @guywilliamsguy are particularly droll favourites), assorted media types, the oddly addictive @PebblesHooper and just a few random people with a nice turn of phrase – I wish I could find more of the latter. I’m loving adding my two cents to the Sunday night flurry of commentary over New Zealand’s Got Talent (#NZGT), or following a breaking political story with a bunch of tweeting bloggers. Because when it works, it’s a beautiful constantly moving feast. And one day, if the stars align, and I say precisely the right thing at exactly the right time, @britneyspears might just give me that RT.

EDIT: My pal Glenn (@radiowammo) has just explained to me that only people who follow both myself and @CMRanapia are able to see our conversation. If that's true (which I'm sure it is), it's marginally better I guess but now I have to draw Venn diagrams trying to work out the intersection of people following me and everyone else I follow. It's going to be a long night...


PS.  Yes, 'tis great Back Benches is returning to Prime next year, can’t wait.  In the interim (and possibly beyond, who knows), I’m very pleased to announce I’ll be doing a bit of reporting for ONE News at 6pm. One or two days a week, general reportage, but once I get up to speed hopefully a few stories I have a bit of specialist knowledge about. My first shift was today, and I got to watch E! TV for three hours in preparation for an item on the Emmy’s – probably exactly what half of you assume most MSM journos do every day…

Also, I know you’ve probably all read it already, but shit Keith Ng’s most recent blog is a great illustration of my previous post about John Armstrong’s whinging. I’m charitable enough to genuinely believe the Herald on Sunday set out to try and find something meaningful behind the National Standards data. You may disagree, but regardless, unfortunately, they didn’t seem to have any statisticologists of Mr Ng’s calibre to explain where they might be going round. I think he’s got a job already, I assume he has, but god damn some media outlet could benefit from that dude being paid to work a calculator for them. 


Bloggers: Pr*cks, Ars*holes, B*st*rds and C*nts

I’d like to pitch in a few thoughts about the John Armstrong vs the Two Bloggers column.  I don’t generally read much of what Armstrong writes; Gordon Campbell’s response to Armstrong’s column would be the first time I’ve read Campbell’s blog; although I do often use Bryce Edwards' work to catch up with the day’s politics on those occasions when I’ve been head down in an edit or some such. I find it, as Russell is fond of saying, “useful”.

Which is to say this is not about that, at least not the specifics. I don’t know or care if Campbell has been regularly making snide asides about Armstrong, whether one of them schtupped (I’ve never written that before, and not sure how to spell it) someone important to the other, or whether Armstrong was just tired and grumpy and/or needed something to write about. But I’d like to say a few things about the more generalised “bloggers vs the establishment” meme.

When Public Address began back in 2002, there weren’t many blogs in NZ. Not ones you’d want to read anyway, not ones about politics and stuff. I didn’t know about blogs when Russell asked me to start one.  And for at least five or six years after that, much of my time was spent explaining to people what one was.

I remember a newspaper column I had in the Herald on Sunday when it started in 2004 – “Blogger” was my description. It wasn’t my idea, and always seemed a bit odd, like I was being defined by one medium I worked in, at the expense of all the others. Surely it would’ve been just as apt, albeit redundant, to call me “Columnist”. And despite Public Address having won at least one or two Netguide Internet Awards by the stage, and me proudly telling Mum all about it, the day that first paper came out she called to ask, “what’s a Blogger”?

When I started working for Sunday at TVNZ in 2005, people there would ask the same question – reporters, sensing it was something mysterious, new and hip, would suggest doing a story about blogs. I was the subject of a number of articles around that time, talking about the medium. No-one seemed that interested in what the bloggers were saying, just where and how we were saying it. The idea one might actually use blogs as part of one's research was unthinkable. These people weren’t even professionals.

I don’t think a huge amount has changed in 2012. There are more blogs, yes. I don’t generally have to explain to any media what they are. But the idea that blogs are at best, an annoyance, and at worst a mess of half-arsed angry ill-thought-out feral opinion, still holds with many of the media establishment. Using a blog as a source, even just an idea for a story (and admitting it), would be like quoting Wikipedia in an essay or taking medical advice from sue6918 on Answers.Com.

The blogs don’t help of course. There are the rabid ones, the ones who will repeat a story even after it’s been pointed out to them that it’s not actually accurate, simply because it does their cause some good. There are the ones that sneer and dismiss the entire media establishment as either a vast left/right wing conspiracy, or totally and utterly in the pocket of our Government owners (that one’s for TVNZ)… it’s hard to even see the term “MSM” these days as being anything but pejorative, in the same way as a former political editor at TVNZ was unable to say the word “blogger” without his contempt being obvious.

And yes, despite being unresourced, unfunded, and often lacking in any journalism training, the bloggers have one thing many paid journalists lack – time. They have time to pick through your articles line by line and look for errors, or areas where you’d been a bit casual with the facts. Bastards. They have time to go back through the political past and dig up references you didn’t have the time to find while sweating on that bus in Russia. Pricks. They can quote extensively, write prolifically, update constantly and adjust accordingly, while your article in the paper of record sits there mocking you with the glaring omission you now realise it contains. Arseholes. They can just sit back and say “you coulda done better” or “I would have done it like this”. C**ts.

Yeah, life was a lot easier when the only way a person could criticise your work was to take pen to paper and write a letter to the editor, hope it got past the gatekeepers without being subbed beyond recognition. You even got a right of reply then if you wanted it – the Last Word. It’s fucking tough being John Armstrong in the 21st Century, let me tell you. I’m surprised it took you this long to snap. I know those work trips are more work than trips, I’ve been there. I still don’t know any journalist on the way up who wouldn’t give their right arm to jump on that plane to Vladivostok, even knowing exactly how difficult it was. You’ve got the access, the bloggers don’t. Having a bitch about bloggers criticising your work is like a dinosaur sitting in a swamp whinging about the oncoming meteorite. Much as you might want to, you can’t stop it. It ain’t going away. Time to adapt.


Audience wanted for lively TV discussion


Lifting my head above the parapet briefly to let you know about something I think a number of you might be interested in.  My recent absence here is for no other reason is that I've been in maximum hay-making mode while the public service broadcasting sun that is TVNZ 7 is shining. As observant viewers will realise, that's about another three weeks, and there's still hay what needs harvesting, both for me, in a taking care of my little nuclear family over the winter months sense, and for you, in that there's some great TV in the next few weeks.  Bang rather than a whimper, as it should be.

I finished shooting the last pieces for Hindsight today - 39 episodes in 18 months, and I think we've pretty much rinsed that idea, so while it's always sad to end a great project, I don't feel it's gone before its time. 

Back Benches has another 3 shows left, and in a somewhat odd twist, as many of you will know, the Backbencher Tavern suffered a substantial fire on Thursday morning. It'll recover, but not in time for those last three shows, which to be honest, feels f***ing weird. We were looking forward to farewelling the show in its original setting, now we're at the Speights Alehouse up the road.  Which will be great, but it's weird nonetheless.

ANYWAY.  The thing I really wanted to tell you about is part of TVNZ 7's last hurrah, a series of five shows around the concept "The Big Idea". Ideas that have the potential to transform New Zealand as we know it.  I'm producing it, former US correspondent Tim Wilson is fronting it, and we've got five shows brimming with great talent, all filmed in front of a studio audience at the upstairs schmancy bit of the Cloud at Queens Wharf in Auckland City. And we'd love you to be there.

The shows, in order of filming, are:

Sunday 17 June:  
100% Solar by 2020: As the pressure on existing energy sources grows, should we look to an abundant resource virtually untapped, right on our rooftops?

Monday 18 June:  
Predator-Free New Zealand: An idea proposed by Sir Paul Callaghan. What if we made a concerted effort to eliminate every opossum, rat and mustelid not just from outlying islands, but from the entire country?

Monday 18 June:  
Teach the World to Farm: With looming world food shortages, do New Zealand's technologies and expertise put it in a unique position to teach the world to feed itself?

Tuesday 19 June: 
Population 15 Million: Should New Zealand stop being a 'town in a country' and increase the population - i.e. 15 million people in the next 50 years?

Tuesday 19 June: 
Selling New Zealand: Do we want to sell ourselves as more than a pretty place where Lord Of The Rings was filmed? What should our unique selling proposition be to take us into the future? And what does 'brand New Zealand' really mean?

We've got some heavyweight panellists, some of the best and brightest, and each show should be interesting, informative and entertaining. Just what we aim for on TVNZ 7.   

If you'd like to come to any of the filmings - they're done "as live", so will only take half an hour, and naturally there's a few drinks before or afterwards, depending on the session, so you can chat about the ideas further.

You're welcome to come to one, two, or the whole shebang, whatever takes your fancy. First in, best dressed.

Just register via this page here (not to me via publicaddress please):

And if you can't make it, the shows will be broadcast on TVNZ 7 starting the following Monday.  But do come.

After all the dust settles from TVNZ 7, I'll be back more regularly. I've got stories to tell.  A trip to China and Singapore (you can see a bit of the former in my final Hindsight episode on June 26th), tales from the suburbs, and musings on life in general.  I'm looking forward to having a bit more time to do this sort of thing, even if the reason why I'll have more time aint great.  Silver linings etc.  


Are you Ready to Laugh?

The end of the golden weather this morning seems timely. It’s been great, day after day basking in the warmth under blue skies, like the Summer we never got. But it had to end sometime, and what better way to deal with the rain than by gathering with friends for the NZ International Comedy Festival.

I love May. Every year my Beloved and I gorge ourselves on the best of international and local comedic talent – and anyone who still thinks it’s clever to question whether the latter exists can get their coat now – often four or more shows a week, back to back shows on some nights. I have friends who go ga-ga for the Film Festival, taking days off work to catch the matinee screenings of the latest independent Belgian doco; others stuff themselves with culture at the Arts Festival; and while I’ll happily pick at both, it’s the chance of laughs that get me out the door.

The best place to start each year is the Five Star Comedy Preview. It’s the day before the Gala (which is today), and features a hand-picked selection of the best international talent. Each performs for about 10 minutes, which as the name suggests, is a great preview. Some acts you can’t wait to see their solo show, others you think 10 minutes was great but enough, and then there’s the odd one you’re happy it was short, although they’re pretty rare.

So I was excited to head along to last night’s preview at Sky City Theatre (yes, I felt dirty sitting in the belly of the beast). Enough preamble, here’s my thoughts on the 8 artists.

Must See: Milton Jones. English. Classic droll delivery of one liners, perfectly timed, no hurry to get through a sentence. Hilarious. Best joke of the night was an off-the-cuff jibe (at/with, I’m not sure) a couple of the previous acts who had both told the same story.

Definitely worth a look: Chris Martin (UK), Brendon Burns (Australia). Both top-class comedians with great, original, observational and not-so-observational humour.

Would like to see more: Craig Campbell (Canada). I generally love Canadian comedians and their often bogan humour – Glenn Wool, who has come the last couple of years, is a great example of that  and Craig Campbell, with his bushy beard, long hair and crazy eyes looks like he could be too. And while there were plenty of hints that he is hilarious, last night he took the unusual step of using his entire 10 minutes to re-tell a story that the night’s host, Dan Willis (UK), had just told us. It involved the two of them being mugged overseas, it was a good anecdote, and Campbell certainly added and enriched its telling, but with so little time from each comic, I personally didn’t need two different journeys towards the same punchline – although I dare say any comedians in the audience would’ve loved it (cf the film The Aristrocrats).

Undecided: Bill Dawes (USA). I’m happy to hear offensive humour on any topic. Any topic. There are pretty much no ‘no-go zones’ for me, as long as it's funny and/or clever. Brendon Burns’ Michael Barrymore material is a good example of this. But Bill Dawes’ off-hand remark about not seeing the black folk in the audience until they smiled… let’s just say that delivered by a white guy with an American accent, it definitely challenged. And followed up with lots of jokes about exactly how gay Les Mills gym was, I’m not sure if he’s on the right side of ironic for me, even if I still laughed in places that weren't overtly racist or homophobic.

Not my thing: Stuart Taylor (South Africa), Dead Cat Bounce (Ireland). Stuart Taylor, just didn’t really find him that funny, although I do have a sort of visceral reaction to the South African accent, to be fair. Dead Cat Bounce are an Irish comedy-rock trio. Very talented musicians, they could probably spend more time working on the comedy than the guitar solos. Although NZ has set the bar pretty high when it comes to musical comedy. As the final act of the night, with an audience as warmed-up as they were ever going to get, it still fell a little flat.  But judge for yourself, here’s a song they performed last night, “Kayaking”.  

A couple of flat points aside, overall it was still a fantastic preview of the weeks to come. This is the first May with a wee-one at home, so I’ll have to choose a little more carefully than in the past, but I’ll still get my fix. There are dozens of acts other than these eight of course (Jason Byrne also comes highly recommended) and a swathe of local talent (The Boy with Tape on his Face, if you haven’t seen him before, is a must-see). Do it.

[EDIT: I just remembered that the first song Dead Cat Bounce performed, a macabre take on 'Old Macdonald', was actually quite funny. So that's one out of three.]


End of Days

Usually I would be quite excited to let you know about a new series of my looking-back-to-look-forward show Hindsight (starting tonight, 9.05pm, on TVNZ 7 with repeats Wednesday morning and a couple of times on Sunday I believe), and I am this time too, but it’s definitely tinged with sadness. As with at least two new series starting on TVNZ 7 this week (Wallace Chapman’s The New Old, and Hearts in Crafts with Tamsin Cooper and Justin Newcombe) the show has been timed so that the final episode of the series plays on the final week of the channel.  It’s an intentional strategy – to end with a bang rather than a whimper – new New Zealand content right up until the end.

For Hindsight at least, this probably would have been the last series regardless what happened to TVNZ 7.  I have now produced 39 episodes, each looking at its own aspect of New Zealand society, and while we could probably all sit here and come up with new episodes, one thing I’ve come to realise over the past couple of years is that while the TVNZ archive is a vast resource, it’s surprisingly shallow. For each topic, even a big one, such as tonight’s look at Police, there might be a pile of potential footage, but once you’ve taken out the mute items (there used to be separate reels for vision and sound, the latter often seem to have been disposed or perhaps recycled), the items that are nothing but a long boring interview with a former Minister, the items that appear to be some esoteric 70s experiment in documentary making that doesn’t stand the test of time, any given topic seems to reduce to a few good items, if you’re lucky. There are potentially many more where both reels were lost, it’s hard to say.

Which can be frustrating. Like many people I’ve spoken to, I tend to imagine old archive – if I can dream up a story that simply must have gone to air, then it must have happened. I wanted, for instance, to do an episode on ‘Boom and Bust’, but struggled to find a suitably early piece saying how well New Zealand was doing, or anything good on the hard times of the 90s and would you believe it, even a decent item on the Yuppie Years was tough. It turns out we don’t often know what’s happening to us until after it’s happened – it’s easy enough to find other shows looking back at a trend, but doing a retrospective show using equally retrospective items doesn’t work – I need source.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with what wasn’t. What I’ve got over the next 13 weeks I’m really happy with. Great archive on gangs, housing, protest, overseas conflict, sex education, fashion, homosexuality, farming, jumping the ditch, railways, buy NZ made and children. We’ve called in some heavyweights for the interviews – tonight’s Police episode starts as we mean to carry on, with Chester Borrows MP (a former policeman with great stories) and Police Commissioner Peter Marshall. But the best thing as always is the archive, and in tonight’s episode the Traffic Cops sitting around the control room in 1977 bragging about how fast they’ve gone in a chase situation, and what a turn on it is. I love it, and I hope you do too. The launch party for Hindsight series one was the night it was announced TVNZ 7 was closing down, so I’ve always known this was a for-a-limited-time kinda deal, but it’s been a pleasure and a privilege.

On a positive note, I’ve got a new archive-based project starting next month on TVNZ Heartland (Sky Channel 17), This Week in TV History.  A 2 ½ minute package each week, containing short snippets of, well the name says it all.  But there’s always a viewer request element – think ‘I Like That One 2’ – and I’d love to get the ball rolling with some requests via this blog for old footage you’d love to see again. Just don’t be surprised if the film has gone missing, or if it never existed.

TWITVH (I’m trying that out, hoping it will catch on) premieres on Saturday May 5th, and is repeated frequently throughout the week on TVNZ Heartland.

Winners of the Grimes CDs – George Darroch because he apparently loves Grimes and for the great Bobby Womack track I hadn’t heard; Richard Stewart for recommending we Buy Kiwi Made; and Jos just for posting twice. Get in touch with your postal addresses, if you don’t need the CD let me know. Jackson P you were close with the Best Coast – they’re great – they have a brand new single off a forthcoming album:

Just after I wrote that last post about new music, the new album from The Shins turned up in my mailbox. I’d heard the single and was excited to hear the album. I’m glad I left it in my car stereo for a couple of weeks before writing about it, because quite honestly, on first listen I was a little unsure about the full album – it had an almost brittle clarity to it, in the sense of it being quite pop-ish, quite white… I could make out the lyrics, like I don’t know, somewhere between Lloyd Cole and Cold War Kids, maybe later Manic Street Preachers?

Whatever. I left it in the stereo, and now it’s not coming out. In a good way.

Also in my in tray, the new Black Seeds album, Dust and Dirt. I’ve never been a huge Black Seeds fan, but this I like. It seems to be in a more minor key than earlier offerings, which is good for me at least, although the single, Pippy Pip, is probably the most traditional 'Black Seeds' offering on the album, and therefore not especially representative:


More CDs to give away soon – go set your PVRs for Hindsight tonight.