Thursday, July 31, 2008

Contact capture

Further to comments I made on Kathryn Ryan’s Radio New
Zealand National program this week, I was impressed by a
letter to the editor of the New Zealand Herald by John
Copping, of Botany Downs, published on July 25. Regarding
the absurd amount of media attention being paid to
whether or not Winston Peters knew about certain
donations to his party, Copping summed up my view pretty
much when he wrote: “What a small-minded, mean country
we are. For days the media and Parliament have been in a
frenzy about a two-bit politician. Meanwhile, 200 freezing
works employees lose their livelihoods in Christchurch…
No one seems to worry why these hardworking men and
women have been dumped, why the meat industry is in dire
straits, or why sheep numbers are dwindling alarmingly.”

This is one example of what I was referring to when I said
the media should be putting their energies into other kinds
of story. Another would be Simon Upton’s Dominion Post
column of July 29 in which he deplored the Government’s
lack of leadership on improving water quality. Major issues
like these do get covered by the media but to nowhere near
the extent of the kind of coverage allotted to whether or not
Winston Peters received donation A or knew about trust B.
Sure, it’s a matter of some interest, but not that much
interest. Though I wouldn’t go so far as Peters himself in
calling the saturation coverage a “media ego-explosion,”
I think Kathryn has a point in suggesting that some media
would love to “get” Peters, and this seems to them the best
shot they’ve had at doing it.

But the likeliest explanation for the amount of coverage the
story has had is simply what I’d call contact capture: stories
out of Auckland and Wellington, arising from well-trodden
beats in political and business circles, are generally likely to
get more airtime and page space than stories requiring
research and investigation in, say, the meatworks industry
or the nation’s river system. A related factor is resource
depletion—shrinking newsrooms, less experienced
reporters, inability or disinclination to venture outside the
comfortable grooves of your usual contacts, soundbite-
suppliers and go-to-guys.

Given these factors, it’s amazing how well our media do in
chasing stories. I’m frequently impressed by the work done
by journalists on papers like the New Zealand Herald and
the Sunday Star-Times; and TVNZ and TV3 have some good
reporters in the field. I just wish they—or should I say their
editors—would devote as much energy to stories of genuine
consequence for this country as they have to this latest
Peters pantomime. Enough already.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As far as the Christchurch story goes, the suspicion is that this was deemed, by the Herald at least, to be a story that no one north of the Bombays would care about. Certainly papers like The Press, the Timaru Herald, Southland Times, Waikato Times and ODT are good at analyzing their rural patch. The real issue, perhaps, is the alarming regional blind spots of the national (ie Auckland-based) media. It's a well-known trend that farmers on the southern fringes of Auckland have abandoned the Herald for the Waikato Times as the Herald tells them nothing about farming. Doesn't tell them much about Auckland either ...