Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Blogging backlash

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The blogosphere has tested the relationship between the mainstream media and new media. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The blogosphere has tested the relationship between the mainstream media and new media. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Leading political journalist John Armstrong has penned a strongly worded critique of two other political commentators (Gordon Campbell and myself) in his Weekend Herald column, Blogging parasites don't let the facts get in the way. Armstrong takes issue with my Tuesday Political round-up: Shearer hits right note and Campbell's column, On APEC, and its significance for the TPP talks. Armstrong's critique is worth reading in full - but it boils down to 1) a strong response to suggestions by Campbell - and amplified by myself - that the reporting from last week's APEC summit was less than useful, and 2) a vigorous critique of online political commentary (or at least that of my own and Campbell's).

Public interest in Armstrong's critique has probably been fairly limited - this particular column's focus is purely 'beltway' - but there's been a significant response amongst other journalists and bloggers. Online, a number of journalists and commentators have sided with Armstrong - including Guyon Espiner, Deborah Coddington and Fran O'Sullivan. Armstrong has also received endorsement from some bloggers - most notably Cameron Slater (Armstrong on bloggers), who is considering starting his own rival 'political roundup' that would aim to provide 'more balance' - see: Should I do a daily politics column?.



On the Herald website, the comment responses to Armstrong's column are well worth reading - an interesting debate takes place, although the comments are overwhelmingly negative towards his argument. Several bloggers have also challenged the critique. Mike Smith at The Standard outlines why Armstrong's latest column is significant - see: Messenger shoot-out. While Danyl Mclauchlan has some sympathy for Armstrong's complaint about the working conditions of political journalists, he also labels his critique as a 'tantrum' - see: Quote of the day, Eloi vs Morlocks edition.

The Ideologically Impure blogsite is scathing, saying that 'John, basically, has jumped on the Josie Pagani/Fran O'Sullivan bandwagon of having a whinge about the evil online commentariat who hate your freedoms' - see: Blogging parasite reporting for duty.

Armstrong's column does raise some important points about the relationship between the mainstream media and new media. For instance, does online political commentary complement the work of political journalists, or is it simply parasitical? And how should the mainstream journalists and media respond to the challenge - and sometimes criticism - of those in new media? Although the establishment of online paywalls - as Armstrong advocates - may be inevitable, it's not entirely clear that this is the answer to the complex relationship between the two types of media. So much has changed - the technology, the consumption patterns, the availability of information that is the raw material of the media, consumer expectations and much more. I'm an optimist about the developments in new media and think the positives will far outweigh the negatives in the long term, but finding sustainable and workable solutions has, and will continue to, create tension and pain.

A number of issues about myself have been raised by first, John Armstrong's column, and then many of the responses in the blogosphere and Twittersphere, and so it's worth commenting briefly on these.

Armstrong is correct to describe me as a 'former Alliance staffer'. I worked in Parliament on a part-time basis in 2001 for about eight months. I was not a member of the Alliance. That experience gave me a useful insight into parliamentary politics from the inside.

My daily political roundup is not only an attempt to aggregate the most interesting and important items about New Zealand politics, but also to analyse and contextualize them. I do not claim to do this from any sort of neutral or objective stance, and I would argue that this would be impossible for anyone to do. But I do make my analysis from a non-partisan position. In fact, like Colin James, I do not vote for any particular party at elections.

I would also like to say categorically that I was not accusing the press gallery reporters at APEC of being lazy (interviewing your typewriter/keyboard/ laptop is often shorthand for this - but this is not what I meant). In fact I think the opposite is true and may well be why reporting these type of events is increasingly problematic. A few months ago I linked to, and discussed, Duncan Garner's revelations about how difficult it was for political journalists to meet the rapacious demands of a news cycle that is now a matter of hours rather than days and demands comment, analysis as well as straight reportage. I can well imagine the difficulties of meeting numerous deadlines while travelling half-way round the world, particularly if you are effectively limited to one subject where hard news turns out to be in short supply. The deadlines still have to be met and copy submitted regardless.

I regard John Armstrong as New Zealand's top political journalist, his latest column notwithstanding. I believe he has generally got the 'wrong end of the stick' in his reaction to my commentary last week. I'm genuinely surprised by his vigorous critique of my work. In fact, I met him for coffee twice last month for amicable discussions about political journalism and commentary. I asked for feedback on my political roundup and specifically whether there was ever any ill-feeling in his office towards what I am doing. He replied that it was quite the opposite, and that he was a fan of the political roundup and found it 'incredibly useful'. I believe I have given Armstrong's political commentary the prominence it is due since my daily roundup began. No doubt our interpretation and view of politics differs at times, but the reference to 'bile and invective' leaves me at a loss to explain.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

Last week's apparent unity in Maoridom over water may turn out to be illusory - not only are splits are already occurring, its becoming clear that there was less unanimity than was first reported at the hui. Tracy Watkins reports on the fact that the Iwi Leaders Group is reasserting itself and its right to continue to negotiate with the Government - see: Muddied waters in wake of hui. And Audrey Young provides a useful explanation of the different forces at play in Government's water-rights dilemma becomes a tale of two hui.

Should the Government nationalise New Zealand's natural resources - including the wind and sunlight? This is the proposal put in Fran O'Sullivan's speech she's written for the Prime Minister - see: Who owns what: for an answer, start here.

We should take iwi claims of wind ownership very seriously argues Matthew Hooton in Wind claim not hot air.

The Government is just going through the motions with its consultation with Maori over assets sales according to Jane Clifton in this week's Listener column, Asset sales still on National's agenda?. She says, however, that 'the Government's biggest consolation, arguably its biggest asset, is the Opposition's inability to look even faintly as though it's ready to take over'. And Clifton reports on David Shearer's fabled 'Diddler on the Roof' and the attempt by Shearer's Twitter detractors to track him down and 'give him redress'.

John Key is continuing to back his Minister, John Banks, with the latest defence being that there are a 'range of different views' about whether Banks has lied about his political donations - see Kate Chapman's Key fends off calls to sack Banks. Meanwhile, Epsom voters are apparently less enthusiastic about defending their MP - see Kelsey Fletcher's Embarrassed Epsom won't pick Banks again.

Given the current reputation of both John Banks and his Act Party, does New Zealand need a new party to right of National? Those that think so - especially the existing Libertarianz - are meeting next month to decide upon the 'name, branding and policies of a new national and local level political party' - see: Liberty Conference 2012 - Towards a True Liberal Bloc in Parliament. However, such a liberal party might have competition from another proposed party concentrating on ethnicity issues and the Treaty - see Darren Greenwood's Ansell eyes 'Treatygate' party for 2014.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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