What’s happend to the gatekeepers?

April 18, 2009

The media used to have gatekeepers.

They were the experienced people who used their intelligence and judgement to decide what was news and what wasn’t.

They knew the difference between what was in the public interest and what the public was interested in.

They knew the fact someone wanted to speak didn’t mean that others had to hear.

They saved people from themselves when a mistaken belief that telling their story would help might have done more harm than good.

It wasn’t censorship, it was discretion and events over the last few days have shown it’s a quality sadly lacking in our media.

What would a visitor to New Zealand have thought had they turned on television for the news on Thursday?

One of our neighbours is having a constitutional crisis, the OECD released a report on our economy, the Prime Minister was in China . . . and the lead item on both channels was a tabloid item about someone who used to work on television who’d admitted assaulting a woman.

 

Trying to find something to listen to while driving to Dunedin yesterday morning I found the issue leading Nine to Noon, and being discussed on NewsTalk ZB & Radio Live.

 

It’s also been given prominent coverage in newspapers and their websites.

 

We’ve got past the mistaken view that some violence can be dismissed as “only” a domestic and is best ignored, but turning the aftermath into a circus is almost as bad.

 

A report on the plea and sentence might have been news, saturation coverage of he-said-she-said isn’t. It’s merely prurience.


George In Charge

April 18, 2009

Saturday’s contribution to poetry month is George in Charge by D.J. Donald, from New Zealand Farm & Station Verse, collected by A.E. Woodhouse and published by Whitcombe & Toombs.

 

George In Charge

 

The farmer swung to the saddle

“Mid the dogs’ unholy row,

‘Now Son you’ll attend to the buyer,

When he comes to see that cow.

Remember that price I’ve told you –

Do you hear? Or I’ll skin you alive!

It’s seven pounds ten you’ll ask for,

 But we’ll come as low as five!’

 

Now George was a simple fellow

But for once his course was clear,

And his permanent grin got wider

As the scheduled hour drew near.

His memory George was stirring

Just to see that it kept alive:

‘It’s seven pound ten we’re asking,

But we’ll come as low as five.’

 

The buyer looked her over,

While his mind resolved a sum;

Then at last he popped the question

And the fateful time was come,

Quoth George in a glow of triumph,

At the bargain he meant to drive,

‘It’s seven pound ten we’re asking,

But we’ll come as low as five!’

 

          – D.J. Donald –


Do you want a sermon with that?

April 18, 2009

A travel company’s blurb on a walking tour of Italy says:

Whilst at your discretion [the company] recommends arriving/departing by train where possible within Europe due to this method of transport’s minimal carbon emissions.

Is that the end of the sermon, or are they going to recommend that we don’t drop rubbish, eat too much, drink immoderately or do any of the other things which might impact on the health of the planet or ourselves?

While one company’s preaching at us, another is making us pay for their penance.

I don’t have a problem with supermarkets, or other businesses, charging customers for plastic bags – there’s a cost to them, someone has to pay, it might as well be the users and if that encourages more people to use reusable bags which in turn reduces rubbish that might be a good thing.

I say might because I don’t know if the total impact of manufacturing and eventually recycling or disposing of reusable bags is actually better for the environment than that of making and recycling or disposing of plastic bags.

But that’s an argument for another time, it’s paying the penance  about which I’m quibbling now.

 Foodstuffs (New Zealand) managing director Tony Carter will only say that it will be making “substantial contributions” to environmental causes, with the majority of the money charged for bags earmarked for this use.

* I’m a little confused by this because it appears customers are being charged extra for something that will be better for the environment and then the company is using the extra money to contribute to “environmental causes”. *

If this is a good policy for bags, why not give the majority of the profits from everything to environmental causes because everything they sell will impact on the environment?

Or, if resusable bags really are so much better for the environment, why not just charge the cost price and let customers choose what to do with the money they save by not having to pay the supermarket extra so they can give it away?

If , however, charging more so supermarkets can donate more is a good thing, why stop there? Why not donate some of the profit from pet food to the SPCA and from anything which doesn’t meet the low fat, low sugar, high fibre prescription for healthy eating to the Cancer Society or Heart Foundation?

Is that any sillier than donating most of the profit from reusable plastic bags to “environemntal causes”?

I don’t have anything against businesses making profits or choosing to give some of those profits to worthy causes, but the idea of charging more than they need to then giving the excess away is a bit too much like a government taking more tax and redistributing it for my liking.

I use reusable bags, at least I do when I remember to take them, and being charged for the plastic ones will almost certainly help me remember them more often.

I don’t have a problem with the user-pays-save-the-planet policy, it’s turning it into a mission I question.

Businesses should do what’s best for them and, like all of us, minimise their negative impact on the environment while they’re doing it.

But they can keep the sermons and if they choose to pay a penance, they need to understand they’re not doing us any favours by charging us more to let them do it.

Lou Taylor at No Minister  reckons retailing is a bloodsport and:

The retailers who survive are the ones who can evolve with the times, control their overheads and are prepared to accept lower profits from time to time.

They might also be the ones that forget the sermons and don’t expect us to pay their penance.

P.S. Apropos of reusable bags, Liberty Scott shows the Greens don’t get the idea of choice.

* I was confused, this policy applies to plastic bags not resuable ones.

UPDATE: The Visible Hand in Economics posts on industry based solution vs regulation

UPDATE 2: Poneke has made a welcome return and posts on a related matter: indulgences we can do without.


Britain’s got manipulation – Updated

April 18, 2009

Britain’s Got Talent introduced Paul Potts to the world and it’s done the same for Susan Boyle.

Who’s Susan Boyle? Straight Furrow (and we’ll pass over why a farming paper is covering this at all) described her as a frumpy middle-aged woman who astonished judges on a television talent quest.

But did she astonish them?

There’s no doubt that their faces went from unimpressed to wowed as they got over her appearance and were captivated by her voice. But did they really not know how well she could sing before the show was filmed?

After all she had to audition to get that far so isn’t it possible the judges might have heard a wee whisper that her voice was stunning and maybe even have been encouraged to appear especially underwhelmed by her initial appearance to contrast with their excitement once she started singing?

Even if the judges hadn’t been prepared, putting her on the show without any grooming or wardrobe preparation suggests the producers wanted her to look that way so the contrast between her appearance and her voice would have maximum impact.

And it did.

Not only was she a hit on the show, YouTube has taken her to the world where it’s been watched by tens of millions of people. Boyle’s now the favourite to win the show with its 1000,000 pound prize and she’s already in discussion with a recording company.

Doors are opening to a new life so much better than the old one which has been anything but charmed.

Boyle is 47, unemployed, perpetually single and lives alone with her cat, Pebbles, in Bathgate, West Lothian – a town apparently dubbed “a dump” by Britain’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan. Boyle’s sunny (if gauche) demeanour masks a sad life: the youngest of nine, she was deprived of oxygen at birth, which led to learning difficulties and, as a result, a childhood marred by bullying. Forty years later, it was her mother – whom she lived with and cared for – who wanted her to audition for the ITV talent show. But she died in 2007, leaving Boyle suffering from depression and anxiety.

Then she got the audition:

Simon Cowell was at his sneering best. . .  Girls in the audience sniggered and there was a snort of barely concealed derision from Morgan.

Everyone concluded that this podgy woman with a frumpy frock, a wiry hairdo and heavy brows fell into the comedy-audition category. They settled into their seats for a good laugh, knowing she would massacre the song from, as she put it, “Les Miserabs”. But then Susan Boyle started to sing.

And . . . there followed one of those transcendent moments that make TV history. Boyle’s voice rose pure and clear over the huge Glasgow theatre. Before even the first refrain, the sniggers had turned to applause.

It’s like a real-life Cinderella story with every chance she will live happily ever after and I hope she does.

But I do have some reservations about the way the whole thing was manipulated. I watched the YouTube clip with a grin and listened with tears in my eyes. Then I watched again and I wondered, what would have happened if she hadn’t had an extraordinary voice?

The sniggers turned to cheers when she started singing but if she hadn’t sung so beautifully would they have turned to boos and instead of the outpouring of warmth would there have been scorn because the woman with ordinary looks also had an ordinary voice?

Even now, her appearance is part of the story because appearances count – and not just for women because Paul Potts straightened his teeth after he won an earlier competition.

But there is something about the way it was done with Susan, the feeling that there was a deliberate attempt to encourage the sneers at her appearance that leaves me feeling that we’ve all been manipulated.

It was very good television but it wasn’t good behaviour.

UPDATE: Whaleoil has a similar view

UPDATE 2: Julie posts on the Susan Boyle phenomenon at  The Hand Mirror with a link to what if Susan Boyle couldn’t sing? by Dennis Palumbo at The Huffinton Post.

Also at THP Andy Borowitz  posts on the issue.


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