Random Play by Graham Reid

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Alt.Nation: Word . . . Up

A senior lecturer in journalism at Kakamoana University, and the Head Apologist for NCEA (English) have both given support to prime minister Helen Clark’s criticism of the media.

In an address to the Press Gallery last week Ms Clark suggested journalists should not be taking the most interesting parts of an interview and placing them at the top of a story.

A senior lecturer in journalism, media studies and shiatsu massage at Kakamoana University in Northland said that the prime minister’s statement had considerable merit and journalists would be wise to think about it.

“When we look at the state of journalism today we see that writers and editors seem keen to hook in readers to a story,” said Dr Peter Hirini-Johnstone.

“This is all very well, but a point of difference between print journalism and other forms such as the internet or television could be that rather than simply go for gold, it could run interviews with people like the prime minister verbatim so readers could make up their own minds as to what is important and what is not.

“People like the prime minister and the Very Reverend Dr Michael Cullen have a lot of very interesting things to say, and it does them and the public a disservice if their flow of ideas is misrepresented or interrupted.

“Look at how often Dr Cullen just drops an idea -- like taxing mortgages -- and it gets misrepresented, like it was a bad thing. I for one would like to have read the complete transcript of what he said as he was getting into the car and speeding off.”

Dr Hirini-Johnstone denied his comments were motivated by his recent interest in seeking the Kakamoana seat for Labour in the next election, or that a research grant application for his book “Media, And The Minority Who Read” had just been lodged with a funding body in Wellington.

“These things are not relevant at all and in fact this is just a fine example of what I have been saying. If people could see a complete transcript of this conversation,” he told an ANN reporter, “they would see that I spent a good 10 or 12 minutes prior to this discussing other things such as the Treaty, my recipe for braised beef, and my wife’s sciatica problems.

“But will you read that anywhere in this report? I doubt it. What you’ll see is just the relevant issue picked out and bannered. This decontextualises what I was saying, and is also disrespectful to my wife and her on-going health issues -- which you may not think are important, but most definitely are to us.”

Further support for the prime minister’s suggestion came from Dr Gillian Wellsford, Chief Apologist for NCEA (English) who said she saw this as a wider literacy issue.

“What we have seen in the past three decades is the growth of Short Concentration Span And Attention-Learning Related Deficit Syndrome among the general population.

“A key feature of SCSAALRDS is people just wanting to get core information quickly without having to work for it. As a result we have had to design exams which involve multiple choice rather than the more demanding essays of, say, the 1960s.

“The post-television-video game generation, which is in fact almost everyone these days, just wants to get its hands on facts -- and to a great extend journalists are pandering to that. All too often we see journalists filtering out vast amounts of nonsense spoken by politicians and only giving their readers the important information.

“And what kind of society does that create? I’d suggest a society that thinks politicians speak in a pithy and coherent way, and make salient points, albeit in soundbite form.

“Yet anyone who has listened to these people blather on and on knows otherwise.

“I believe we would have a more informed and even more deeply cynical electorate if newspapers and television ran interviews with politicians in their entirety.

“It is my belief that if this had happened to someone like Winston Peters -- or even the Archbishop and Grand Poobah Elect Brian Tamaki -- right at the start of their careers they would have hung themselves out to dry years ago and we wouldn’t have to be bothered with them now.

“Anyway, that’s just my opinion and I don’t speak for the NCEA examiners on this point. They are having trouble enough just getting the multiple choice things right. Know what I mean?”

A spokesman for the Press Gallery later observed that it was standard practice in what is known as “journalism” to put interesting and important information at the start of a story but the prime minister’s criticisms had been listened to seriously.

“In the Press Gallery,” said Ms Diana Warner, “we have some of the finest, most keenly intelligent and subservient journalists in the country, if not the world, and so we will be considering her comments carefully -- before laughing loudly and contemptuously.”

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