What’s Wrong With Today’s Journalists?

By   /   July 6, 2018  /   35 Comments

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THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG with New Zealand journalists. For the best part of three decades our universities and polytechnics have been churning-out graduates who, at least in theory, should be the best-educated, best-prepared and most ethical journalists this country has ever produced. It must break the hearts of these graduates’ academic mentors to see how little of what they have attempted to inculcate in their charges has taken.

THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG with New Zealand journalists. For the best part of three decades our universities and polytechnics have been churning-out graduates who, at least in theory, should be the best-educated, best-prepared and most ethical journalists this country has ever produced. It must break the hearts of these graduates’ academic mentors to see how little of what they have attempted to inculcate in their charges has taken. With one or two honourable exceptions, the young journalists striding forth from New Zealand’s journalism schools are anything but the crusading heirs of Woodward and Bernstein (Who?) All those guest lectures by Jon Stephenson, John Campbell and Nicky Hager have left hardly a trace.

Ironically, it may be their teachers’ strong focus on the media’s role in capitalist society that is to blame for these newly-minted journalists refusal to take aim at the Beast. One does not need too much in the way of intellectual firepower to grasp that “the system” into which they are emerging (and to which most of them are already heavily indebted) has already won most of the battles that count. Neither does it take a state-of-the-art crap-detector to work out that most of the people openly preaching revolution in the 21st Century are safely ensconced behind the ivory walls of academia and drawing six-figure salaries. Nice work if you can get it!

Also ironical is the thoroughness with which these graduates have deciphered the messages which the system is sending them. Those who gave them the code-breaking skills were doubtless confident that the sheer awfulness of global capitalism’s rules-of-engagement would be more than sufficient to turn them into crusaders for a better world. Instead, the professors’ prize-winning graduates have embraced capitalism’s systemic awfulness with all the amoral intensity of a reality television contestant.

The modern journalist’s catechism goes something like this:  Is capitalism awful? Of course! But we have also learned that it is globally triumphant. That its values are the only values that count. That setting your face against the powers-that-be is about the worst career-move anybody still paying-off a student loan can make. And since we are left with no viable choice except to “join them”, attempting to “beat them” makes no sense at all.

Having drunk this particularly bracing cup of Kool-Aid, however, many of the most talented graduates of our journalism schools are left with an extremely bitter taste in their mouths. The words of their lecturers and professors are not forgotten, but, being ignored, have congealed into lumps of professional Kryptonite. For these super-journalists, too close a proximity to the left-wing ideas they were forced to write essays about at university leaves them feeling weak and vulnerable. No match for the system’s dark defenders – and certainly not like their hand-picked candidates for promotion!

This professional defeatism and collaborationism is detectable in all forms of contemporary journalism, but nowhere is its bite more deadly than in the media’s coverage of politics. It almost seems that, presented with the vast and churning throng of political aspirants, the modern journalist is irresistibly drawn to individuals demonstrating the same willingness to embrace “the real world” as themselves.

These politicians may mouth the platitudes their particular political tribe but they do not do so with the fervour of the true believer. Indeed, whenever they speak there is always just the hint of a cynical smile playing across their lips – a smile which the equally cynical political journalist reads without difficulty. Here is someone who has also signed the Devil’s contract in their own blood. Someone to watch and, whenever possible, promote. (Do that well enough and you can even end up working for them!)

For the true believers, of course, a very different fate awaits. The modern journalist is quite simply appalled by the lack of realism; the incapacity to grasp how the world actually works; that these politicians and the political activists who follow them display. Even worse, their insistence on taking seriously the thoroughly discredited ideas of their student days, is received by these media inquisitors as a kind of moral rebuke. Their response, predictably, is to do everything within their power (and the most successful of these super-journalists wield a great deal of power) to prove that the consistent espousal of ideas critical of the system can only end in failure and disgrace.

The most unforgiveable sin of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and, yes, even Donald Trump, is that all of them have found ways of speaking over the heads of the modern journalist. Even worse, the positive response of ordinary people to their anti-establishment messages, far from signalling failure, constitutes the heart and soul of their success.

In the New Zealand context it is the media’s unrelenting harassment and disparagement of Winston Peters that offers the most convincing confirmation of this thesis. The more important question, however, is how the Parliamentary Press Gallery perceives Prime Minister Ardern. Is she a consummate mouther of tribal platitudes, or, a true believer? That she has been able to keep them guessing for so long is, at once, Ardern’s greatest political achievement and the gravest threat to her own and her government’s survival.


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  1. Megan says:

    Journalism in NZ has little respect from me.

    Take the Hamilton Media Club, who invite annually Lisa Lewis a pea brain public figure, who over the years has been promoted by a few misogynistic journalists.

    They are so busy, cultivating symbiotic relationships and compromising the ethics that journalism should uphold.

    And when the likes of the reader, cry foul, they just close ranks and keep churning out clickbait, with little consideration for the readership… beyond the odd dick whacker…

  2. countryboy says:

    Interesting Post @ CT.
    mike hoskings drives a Ferrari? No wonder he’s deviantly sycophantic to the Right and can be seen, in a photograph, smiling like a riche little bitch-man with yankee doodle psycho jonky-stien.
    The now lack of taxes-funded essential infrastructure juxtaposed to high salaries juxtaposed to absurd urban property ‘values’ can only mean one thing… Control.
    We’re under control. And none more so than our journalists who should squeak when the Hawk flies overhead. Flocks of hawks. No fucking squeaking.
    We’re owned by the Banks. If we want to comprehend why our journalists are suppressed down to being soft-toy, lap dogs and not much else of anything really, we need to understand who owns the Banks.
    Because the Banks are coming… Here come the Banks…
    And no one fucks with the Banks Tony. No one fucks with the Banks.

    Die Antwoord
    Ugly Boy.

    • shona says:

      @countryboy Hosking IS NOT A TRAINED JOURNALIST. He went to broadcasting school and was trained as an announcer. Can’t write doesn’t have any research skills and is a media whore/mouth. His wife Kate on the other hand IS a trained journalist AND she CAN write( although what she writes is is right wing)

  3. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Well said, young chap, well said indeed.

    Did I detect the draught of a dark political novel buried in your text? I look forward to seeing it published… 🙂

  4. David Stone says:

    This is at the heart of democracy isn’t it!
    If the proportion of the electorate that has time and inclination to be informed is not just not provided with the important bits of information by the news outlets but deliberately, consistently and concertedly misinformed , then democracy cannot work.
    Under an autocratic tyrannical dictatorship , secured in place by military police and an internal spy network to eliminate dissidents , the source of the people’s oppression is easily identified. The people know what should be done to get rid of their oppression. But this is a crude and unsophisticated system requiring constant vigilance to avert violent termination. A system that has the pretence of democracy, that clandestinely controls the media to misinform the masses , and report only half truths lies and trivia is a far more sophisticated and durable form of dictatorship. The rulers can’t even be clearly identified, and people can’t even agree that they are being misinformed .
    We need those reporters to report. It is the most essential component of out democracy.
    D J S

  5. Isabel J says:

    IMO, genuine investigative journalism went into a rapid decline with the retirement & later death of Pat Booth – journalist par excellence. Since too many years, I think the only true journalist in this country has been/is Melanie Reid – & where is she these days?!

  6. Christine says:

    Have to agree re Winston Peters. It is profoundly irritating to see a girl young enough to be his grand-daughter with zilch life experience and zero knowledge of history vacuously asking, “Is Winston up to his old tricks ?”

    The bottom line is the media is corporate owned, people need to keep their jobs, journalists cater to the expectations of their editors, and Great Expectations was a novel by Dickens, not a modern newsroom reality.

    • phillip ure says:

      peters doen’t help his own case tho’…when he nuts off about ‘fake-meat’.

      (that one has had me chuckling for days..his consternation was clearly so heartfelt..)

      peters railing against the future…ya gotta laff..!

  7. Andrew says:

    Let’s not forget that Woodward and Bernstein were fed the Watergate information on a plate by FBI deep state insiders. They weren’t crusaders, they were ‘useful fools’.

    And if John Campbell and Nicky Hager are your personal references for ethical behaviour, then you need to take a hard look at yourself!

    • phillip ure says:

      oh no..!..you mean john campbell has a dark side..?

      do tell.!..darling..!

      don’t hold back now..

      don’t be a tease..

      (i reckon he has used his hose during a water-ban – is that it..?

      parking in handicapped spaces..?

      i reckon he’s broken seals when it has clearly mandated that seals not be broken..he seems like that kinda guy..

      what darkness have you uncovered..?

  8. Mike the Lefty says:

    Perhaps we should shelve the term “journalists”?
    When the public think of a journalist they think of a newspaper reporter, or perhaps more commonly now a Stuff news bite scriber.
    But of course you would certainly know Chris that journalism is (or was) a generic term covering not just news reporting but also sub-editing, news photography, reading, presenting, copyholding, broadcasting, etc.
    But the general public don’t know that and the term “journalist” has always carried a generally negative context, not always undeserved, as a heartless busybody who writes one-sided and sometimes ill-informed articles.
    My daughter works for a major company (not media) and her job is to monitor the social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and find out what people are saying about her company and its services, good and bad.
    She also writes media releases and occasionally speeches for her head honchos.
    She could well be described as a “journalist” but when I suggested this to her half-jokingly a while back she reacted with horror. “Me? a journalist? no no no!”
    My point is that people can no longer distinguish the difference between genuine journalists who actually investigate their issues and take the time to do a proper job and those who just take press releases and the work that others have done, add a few opinions of their own, present them as their own and smile smugly as if they have done a good job.
    And that is what they are pressured to do.
    About 30 years I worked for a few months for a community newspaper in my district as a reporter. It didn’t last long because I became very frustrated with the way it operated. A lot of my job consisted of writing editorial to fill gaps in advertising lift outs, but I wasn’t given time to actually research and write anything new, I was told to go back through old copies of “other” newspapers and pinch anything relevant.
    Yes, I was expected to plagiarise other journalists copy! although my journalistic integrity prevented me from putting my by-line on it.
    I suspect that I wasn’t the only person in that position.
    If that happened 30 years ago before the political right got their dirty hands all over the media publishing industry then one can well imagine the pressures that exist now.
    My point is that perhaps we should call a spade a spade. Call the modern generation of “journalists” what most of them actually are: stenographers (a terrible insult in my day) and talking heads.
    Thanks for the great work, Chris.

  9. esoteric pineapples says:

    Noam Chomsky pointed out that young people having high student debts makes them more compliante

  10. Kim dandy says:

    Ha – so true EP!

  11. Aaron says:

    The problem that left wing people with degrees dont’ want to face is that it is the degree itself that makes people complaint and prone to adopting the value system of those above them in the hierarchy.

    For those that care you could try reading a book called Disciplined Minds which dissects the process that turns bright young minds into compliant intellects that willingly adopt the values of their superiors.

    What this means is that adopting the attitudes of their teachers at university is actually the proof that they have learned the main lesson and will then turn around and adopt a completely different set of values once they start working. After all what use are intellectuals and the managerial class if the won’t work for the establishment.

    I’m sure if there were a left wing uprising amongst the populace that installed Hone Harawira as PM most of them would quickly change their values to suit the new zeitgeist – much like Russian intellectuals did after the Russian revolution. Not that I’m calling Hone a Commie mind 🙂

  12. OnceWasTIm says:

    I can just hear a good many of those who profess to be members of the 4th Estate crying “Oh Chris – you old curmudgeon you!”

    Hopefully most on that broad church ‘the Left” are supporting Radio NZ, if only because it’s just about all we’ve got left, but it’s not hard to understand why Martyn B and a few others maintain a healthy cynicism of it.
    The rebranding to ‘RNZ’ could just as easily have been ‘ULN’ (The Urban Liberal Network) with Cheech and Chong, one or two others and grandma clinging on for dear life, maintaining a Matinee Idol, Saturday and Media Watch, and quite probably worrying about their future

    • cleangreen says:

      Yes Tim,

      RNZ is correctly called ‘Natrad’ for obvious reasons.

      Labour need to turn away from RNZ now, and construct their own commercial free balanced channel as they in the last Labour Government did and have another ‘mark two’ TVNZ 7.


      TVNZ 7 was a commercial-free New Zealand 24-hour news and information channel on Freeview digital television platform It was produced by Television New Zealand, which received Government funding to launch two additional channels.

      The channel went to air just after 10 am on 25 March 2008 with a looped preview reel. The channel was officially launched at noon on 30 March 2008 with a special “kingmaker” political debate held within the Parliament building and featuring most of the elected minor party leaders.
      It featured TVNZ News Now updates every hour from 6 am to 11 pm, with a specialised rolling 10-minute bulletin ‘zone’ between 8 am and 9 am, throughout which six bulletins were aired. TVNZ 7 also featured an hour-long bulletin, TVNZ News at 8, at 8 pm each night. It was hosted on weeknights by Greg Boyed and on weekends by Miriama Kamo.

      While it was originally reported to be a ‘rolling news channel’, similar to Sky News and CNN Headline News, Eric Kearley, head of TVNZ’s Digital Launch team, stated about 70% of the schedule would be “factual variety” programming – a mix of local and overseas documentaries, and programmes that discuss current events and sport, with the remaining 30% being the news updates. A full schedule was released on 28 February 2008.

      The channel was relaunched on 1 March 2011, it was officially announced that TVNZ 7 cease broadcast in June 2012. This was confirmed when Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman stated on behalf of the government that they would not extend further funding for the channel due to low ratings. This was despite viewing figures that suggested half of all households with Freeview at the time were watching TVNZ7 – around 700,000 people – and not the 207,000 claimed by Coleman. In March 2012, Television New Zealand confirmed this decision and announced there would be no eleventh-hour reprieve for TVNZ7.

  13. peterlepaysan says:

    The way of the world.
    Journalists (and related species) are income dependent.
    The income sources set limits to journalistic endeavours/ambitions.

    Editorial decisions are heavily influenced by cash flows and always have been.

    No point in bemoaning the erudition of the journalists, like all good journos on the trail of a “good story”, follow the money.

    No wonder so many wind up as PR spinners.

  14. Janio says:

    I find this opinion piece strange. CT, you are bemoaning the lack of crusading journalists despite their indoctrination at university where they were “forced to write essays about…left wing ideas”. Students are generally presented with a range of competing ideas and even if their teachers are open about which ideas they endorse, students are not like sausages: even when students are filled with the ideas of their teachers, they don’t automatically spit them out.

    If they develop into independent thinkers, as your commentators point out there aren’t many independent forums for them to work in to earn a crust. The Labour paper died 60 years ago. A few small independent left-wing papers don’t pay those who contribute to them. The dailies have columnists who write opinion pieces but rarely would new graduates have this opportunity to change the world. Dita De Boni is an
    exception. As a new graduate from AUT she wrote strongly feminist columns in NZH. Our TV channels don’t produce hard hitting documentaries like they used to. RNZ is the lone mainstream voice for a range of independent views. A few journalists who have gone through AUT have worked there. For example, Shannon Hanui is an important voice in Maori news.

    Left-wing teachers can publish in academic journals. Many of your regular bloggers do this. David Robie produces Pacific Journalism Review. Occasionally one of his students publishes an article in that journal.

    Don’t blame the ‘messengers’/journalists. The fault is that most media in NZ are businesses that operate to make a profit – and not vehicles for independent stories which challenge that ethos.

  15. Danyl Strype says:

    Don’t forget the self-selecting nature of the whole thing. Those who serve their corporatist paymasters most effectively get promoted. Those who challenge the establishment get marginalized, quit in disgust, or never join the profession in the first place.

    If I’d been coming out of high school even a decade before I did, I may well have gone into professional journalism. But by the time I left high school in the mid-90s, student fees and loans were in effect, the ECA had splintered the union movement, and everything in my world seemed to be catching fire. So instead of getting professional, I got political. Instead of following up my high school interest in journalism and media by getting an entry-level job at a newspaper or a radio station, I went into setting up and supporting independent, community-controlled media (a community newspaper, Indymedia, independent media centres, pirate radio stations, hacker spaces, CreativeCommons, blogs etc).

    If everyone who shares my values has self-selected out of the journalism profession, that also means we’ve left it in … other hands. Just like if everyone who shares my values becomes an anarchist, and refuses to run for office and support anyone who does, that helps to leave the legislature and local bodies in … other hands. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I feel good about walking the talk, but I have no idea how to resolve that paradox

  16. Nick J says:

    Thank God for the web. A place where you can find contradictory opinion, real eye witness reports etc….oh it’s all misinformation from alt Right nutters, yeah right!
    Journalists are paid, their mortgage is subservient to their employers opinion…so I’m slightly unbelieving in their independence. Oh, the pretty redhead auto q reading dancer, is she believable? Suppose that depends on who writes the auto q.

  17. JustMe says:

    I look at todays’ journalists and find them to be wont in areas of journalistic approach. There is one particular ‘journo’ who stands(or sits)in front of a camera with a sweaty faced look and constantly has a go at the current government whilst bestowing unnecessary and unwarranted ‘praise’ upon the previous National government. It’s like he and his wife(also a journo)thinks the sun shines out of the National Party rectum. And they both mouth(they being the main stayers and addressed as the mouthpiece of the NZ National Party)what is told to them by their National masters word for word.
    Perhaps they are Wannabe National MPs(God forbid that ever happening as he once had a go in a fit of temper tantrum because a woman accidentally hit his car in Parnell)and MUST therefore write up articles of pure stupidity.
    These two are the poor quality of journalists that NZ and especially the NZ media do not need to muddy the credibility(if there is any left)of the media service in this country.
    Be assured I am by no means a journalist though a couple of years ago Stuff approached me to write up some articles for them in regards to the government of the day. I replied back to them that I want to see how the ‘new’ Bill English government went along before making a decision. In other words I procrastinated i.e putting it off time and again as I couldn’t really sit down and focus entirely on writing a full article.
    I am probably what one calls a ‘sit on the fenceline’ sort of wannabe journalist. But it’s where I am comfortable at being. I will criticise this current government when is necessary.
    But I also see the obvious fact that within 9 years ie. from 2008 through to late 2017; the calibre of NZ journalist has taken itself to a new low due to a successful witch-hunt by Key & co who just hated journalists who deeply questioned or criticised them! The past National government wanted those in the NZ media to echo the words they said as they expected the NZ public to naively and meekly accept what the unquestioning and biased towards National journalists told the.
    Hopefully the NZ public are waking up from a long sleep that we should never ever take what Mike Hosking, Katie Hawkesby, John Roughan, Barry Soper, etc,etc,etc and all the others that are in the National Party pocket tell us as the Gospel according to John Key, Bill English and their ilk tell us.

    • David Stone says:

      Surely Journalists should all be “sit on the fence” journalists , If not they are biased . Reporting the facts without prejudice is what we want.
      D J S

  18. Francesca says:

    Lets face it, the breakdown in credible journalism is an epidemic, and in my opinion mirrors the breakdown in trust of societal institutions the world over
    The Wiltshire poisonings are a classic case study
    First of all, the fix is in :The Russians did it!
    Any further facts must over ride the previous facts to fit the narrative
    The public are endlessly amnesiac it is hoped
    When we first heard about novichok it was said to be 10x more lethal than VX .if it didn’t kill immediately,the victims would suffer an agonising drawn out death
    When disappointingly the Skripals lived, we heard they didnt die because the novichok had been degraded on the door knob by weather conditions
    Now, to explain the Amesbury incident we are told it is extraordinarily persistent in the environment.
    The same Guardian article tells us best advice is to wash clothes and swab handbags etc with baby wipes if there is suspected contact
    So which is it ?
    Here for ever , or subject to hydrolysing and evaporation ?
    Novichoks organophosphate cousin VX has a persistence of between 10 days and 3 weeks tops
    Sarin degrades rapidly
    And Novichok? …apparently its here for the duration
    Similarly, I hear on RNZ that there was a chlorine attack on Douma ( no sarin as claimed by the white helmets, but don’t let that inconvenient fact mess with your minds)
    No less august an organisation than the OPCW tells us so .
    Except it does no such thing
    Chlorinated substances were found in 2 sites in Douma
    It’d be pretty surprising if they weren’t , considering chlorine is used universally as urban water purification
    In its interim report
    OPCW does not declare a chlorine gas attack, there is further work to be done
    That we vacuously repeat the deliberately misleading and may I say downright lying of the BBC points to our total lack of sovereignty


    Listening to Guyon the other morning handing Amy Adams a propaganda platform to attack Kiwibuild was pretty depressing
    They have certainly become emboldened.
    Like Countryboy says, there’s Hawks circling overhead…. not a squeak from the media

  19. Sanctuary says:

    “…For the best part of three decades our universities and polytechnics have been churning-out graduates…”

    There is the problem right there. Class and over-specialisation.

    Journalists nowadays are largely drawn from a group that by definition are complacent winners of the economic status quo – the middle class. They go the degree factories that our tertiary institutions have become to get a degree that offers core skills like analysis, information gathering & writing along with a heavy emphasis on purely technical training like web design, video editing etc.

    They are “educated” with a pay-to-graduate program that is utterly shorn of anything other than purely procedural learning and demonstrations of baseline technical competence.

    We churn out unimaginative graduates who are ignorant of context, unfamiliar with alternative world views and ideologies, and loaded down with a whole pile of middle class lifestyle expectations. All they want to do is get a steady job, a portfolio of writing under their belt that will segue them into private sector comms, PR and marketing roles.

    Ideally, no one should be able to graduate with a specialist degree until they complete an undergraduate arts degree in a “core” topic like history, philosophy, politics, civics, etc – similar to the USA, where typically a degree program is five to seven years.

  20. Francesca says:

    I see the BBC has now amended its lying headline to “Chlorine MAY have been used in Douma”
    How fast will RNZ retract if at all ?
    The Independent stands by its incorrect headline and the Guardian has nothing to say.
    Does NZ still stand by its endorsement of the White Helmets?

  21. Janio says:

    Occasionally someone writing here names a good journalist, who is critical & investigative. Despite obvious constraints what about Simon Collins a feature writer for NZH who left for a while to start an independent paper in Wellington? Returned when the paper collapsed. Writes amazing stuff about poverty, health, unions etc and is on the picket line when the journalists are in dispute with their bosses.

    • Christine says:

      Janio you are quite right about Simon Collins, the demise of City Voice left a big vacuum in Wellington- as well as local fledgling journos losing an excellent mentor.

  22. Janio says:

    Some misinformation being offered up in these conversations. Sanctuary should go online to see the content of some of these media degrees. At AUT they offer a range of papers, beginning in the first year with a choice of subjects typical of an arts degree like Politics, Sociology, Anthropology, NZ literature…Post graduate students theses are assessed by overseas academics who rate them highly. Nothing like the skimpy education you describe.

  23. Martin says:

    Do as you are told. Write what we want. don’t rock the boat.

    that’s what’s wrong. They are paid. kept. Compliant.

    That is what neo liberalism has given us.
    Nothing will change unless we do.

  24. R.P Mcmurphy says:

    whats wrong with todays journalists? just about everything. they cant write they cant spell and they dont know what a story is. when we have dimwits like heka duplicity alien writing column after column about what winston peters did before she was born and praying he will do it again now hsut for her then it is clear that these so called journalists are pampered juveniles, with a john pilger complex and thinking they are the next best thing to jimmy olsen. Furthermore the greasiest little right wingers get shoulder tapped for the best jobs before they even finish the course. need I go on?

  25. Jum says:

    We can compare journalism to farming. There are journalists and there are pr churners. There are farmers and there are factory owners. Yet they all call themselves journalists or farmers.

    Journalists worth the title seek the truth whether it hurts their favourites or not. More importantly, it may hurt their career prospects to write the truth but they do so anyway. Why become society’s conscience if they can’t face risk given, as media, they have so much power to control the message? Same responsibility applies to newspapers that can tell the difference between fact and fiction and don’t mix ’em up into faction.
    Real Farmers personally care for the animals that produce our food and the health of consumers in raising these living creatures and don’t cage them or robotise them or take away their access to open range.

    Pr churners will lie and mislead to advance their personal careers; factory owners are counting their profits and sending their workers into poverty and their ACTUAL food producers into hell.

    Huge difference. When is government going to out those greedy individuals that hurt our society, especially those without a voice?

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