Hard News by Russell Brown

153

Dear Prudence

I'm not as scandalised by Bill English's speech this week about fiscal restraint as some others are, if only because it's a pleasant change to see the government advancing a theory that amounts to something beyond saying what people want to hear or doing justice to last year's soundbites.

It is certainly true that it would be a long-term benefit if New Zealand can emerge from the present crisis with government debt still relatively low. The Budget Alastair Darling has just brought down in Britain involves a truly alarming level of borrowing. On the other hand lies the IMF's view that all governments need to engage in immediate fiscal stimulus to ameliorate the worst global recession since the 1930s.

But I think that fiscal prudence cuts both ways, and that National's proposed tax cuts must now be emphatically off the agenda. And if that's to be the case, the inequitable tax cuts that have already been granted look like a rather broken policy.

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John Drinnan displays the passion for accuracy and attention to detail we've all come to expect in identifying me as "Russell Brown of Hard Copy" this morning. But hey, cut the guy some slack: I've only been doing Hard News for more than 17 years.

His beef is with myself, David Farrar and Alastair Thompson of Scoop appearing in amusingly Photoshopped form in the Powershop Pioneers ads on our respective sites: Al and I as Che Guevara and DPF as Uncle Sam.

Drinnan frets that this blurs the line between advertising and editorial. I was happy to discuss it with him yesterday (when another journalist is clearly scratching for a lead, it's only decent to help). Powershop is a Meridian Energy venture that aims to create a competitive retail market for electricity, managed by individual consumers via the internet. I've been quite keen for them to pitch to our audience since I got a briefing on it last year.

In the event, the campaign was sold for us by Scoop Media, which also sells Kiwiblog. I didn't have any role in developing it, but I said yes when it was presented, and not just because the of the money (only about $700 after commissions), but also because it's rare to get a campaign that's not just us getting the crumbs from the table of the big publishers, with exactly the same ad creative as them.

Hopefully there'll be more of that to come (although I think the humorous portrait idea has now officially been done), via Ffunnell, a new advertising network of independent publishers in which we'll have a stake, along with Throng, Scoop, Kiwiblog, Geekzone and the Made From New Zealand founders.

Does the present campaign constitute an endorsement? It would be fair to say it connotes a degree of approval, in that I wouldn't do it if the product sucked. Ironically, the only editorial space I've given it until today is a paragraph last week explaining how the promotion works.

As I explained to Drinnan, being transparent with the audience is important to me, as is the integrity of the conversational part (meaning that if a "Powershop Pioneer" publicly relates a bad experience, that stands, and the client sucks it up and tries to do better).

You can read the forum here. One thing that's evident to me is that it's difficult for new customers to immediately start discussing their experience (and, if necessary, get advice), because after sign-up you can't buy electricity until the end of your existing billing period.

Oddly enough, our new account went live yesterday, and we bought a couple of weeks' worth of 100% renewable electricity at what seemed a competitive price. The actual worth of the platform will, I suspect, only become evident over time, but it is certainly very easy to use.

In the meantime, I do have to wonder whether Drinnan really needed to point out twice that one of my other gigs is "taxpayer funded" (this time last year the issue was that I was a government lackey). I try not to take it personally, because it's clearly more to do with Drinnan's relationship with TVNZ than it is with me. I was running a small business for years before our TV show started and the brand is nearly two decades old. Still, there are boundaries. I certainly wouldn't have transformed my website in a corporate sponsor's colours like the Herald did for Vodafone last week. But I suppose things are different for the mainstream media.

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Speaking of commerce, you probably don't like "energy" drinks anyway, but PA reader Mrs Skin has been in touch to point out to me that there's an extra reason not to like Rockstar Energy Drinks. The parent company is co-founded by America hate-radio meathead Michael Savage, whose freakish bigotry extends to vile spewing about both gay folk, and autistic children and their parents. You may wish to buy your caffeine and sugar concoctions elsewhere.

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Damian Christie interviewed Steve Coogan! It's on Public Address Radio, which airs from 5pm tomorrow on Radio Live, and it'll be here on the podcast by Monday. Damian and I also spoke to New Zealand International Comedy Festival director Kylie Aitchison, and there'll be plenty of comedy goodness on the radio show over the next month.

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The latest edition of Media7 is online now. The first panel -- Ranginui Walker, Ken Mair and Willie Jackson -- discusses the reporting of maoriissues; and the second -- Dame Cath Tizard, TV3's head of programming Kelly Martin and OMD media strategist Andrew Reinholds -- asks why so little TV is aimed at older viewers.

Dame Cath rang me this morning to share a story. After the show, a young woman approached her to say how much she'd enjoyed her contribution: "You really are," she told Mrs Tizard, "New Zealand's own Dame Edna."

Cath thought that was funny.

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Anyway, that might do for now. You might be interested that that the first snip from the Basement Jaxx comeback album is on the wires. It's not your standard tune. Any chance of the Jaxx being back for next year's Big Day Out?

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