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The Rumble in the Jungle

By Janet Wilson September 18th, 2012

There’s been a rumble in the journalistic school-yard recently that’s taken up more column and blogging space than it deserves. It started last Saturday with John Armstrong’s weekly column, “Bloggers don’t let the facts get in the way,” a rare rant from the Herald’s chief political commentator, against two “bloggers” ( Scoop’s Gordon Campbell and “former Alliance staffer and now Otago University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards”) who, in fact, are slightly more than your average bedroom-bound geek penning diatribe.

Armstrong was responding to their criticism that Kiwi journalists did little analysis of key Apec issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“Get off our backs,” Armstrong virtually yelled, “Stop behaving like a pair of tut-tutting old dowagers gossiping in the salons. In short, stop making blinkered, cheap-shot accusations of the kind you made this week.”

Cue; stage left and right the Old(er) and New(er) members of the commentariat, lining up for the verbal equivalent of a bare-knuckled bash.

The Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan, never one to step back from a bit of push n’ shove, took to Facebook to denounce Edwards. “What started out as a useful round-up on NZ politics has morphed into a pinko slant on political news issues, published by NZ Herald and NBR,” she huffed. Other MSM journos sided with Armstrong, while Cameron Slater, ever the opportunist, campaigned to start his own political round-up that he claimed, ahem, to “provide more balance.” Yeah right.

Then, the bloggers waded in with equal fury.  Mike Smith at The Standard and Danyl Mclauchlan from “The Dim-Post”, not to forget Russell Brown on Public Address and, even though he’s paid by TVNZ these days, young fogey Damian Christie flew into print, again on Public Address, with “Bloggers: Pr*cks, Ars*holes,B*st*rds and C*nts”.  All denounced Armstrong, with Christie informing Armstrong that ‘having a bitch about bloggers criticizing your work is like a dinosaur sitting in a swamp whinging about the oncoming meteorite.”

For their part, both Campbell and Bryce’s response to Amstrong’s on-slaught was completely polarized.

Campbell, sounding like a hurt little schoolboy, blogged with a line-by-line refutation of Armstrong’s rant.  Talk about feeding the flames and creating more heat than light.

Edwards’s response was interesting. To date, he has inventoried the fight in his political round-up twice, noting that “Armstrong’s column does raise some important points about the relationship between the mainstream media and new media. For instance, how does online political commentary complement the work of political journalists, or is it simply parasitical?” He then diplomatically said that he was not accusing the press gallery reporters at APEC of being lazy.

The point is this; outside the Beltway nobody cares about the Old and New Media, much less the dust-up they appear to be having. Today all of us are commentators with the ability to stand on multiple soap-boxes and warble to our hearts content.

If journalism is going to remain relevant it needs to be more disciplined than this.

In the middle of the inconsequential this week, the losers were those who still wish to be informed and don’t care where good information comes from.

The winners were the politicians.




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