Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Centre of media storm can be cruel

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All journalists should feel at least once what it's like to be on the receiving end of what they dish out

Aussie DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig have had their tables turned.  Photo / A Current Affair
Aussie DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig have had their tables turned. Photo / A Current Affair

I was once "the most hated woman in New Zealand". In April 2000. According to the Sunday Star-Times.

Oh gosh, do I really have to dredge up why? As news editor at the National Business Review, I chose to name the policeman who shot a young man called Stephen Wallace in Waitara. Just take it from me, it wasn't a good time.

But as both Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson said, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and as a result I learned first hand what it's like to be at the other end of a story.

Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the Australian DJs who made the royal prank call, are not journalists, but they have the same power. Their furore made me remember that all journalists should at least once experience what it is like to be at the centre of a media storm.

Although they have the power to create this kind of media stampede, most journalists don't know what they are unleashing or what it's like to be the goose at the receiving end.

I certainly didn't, until I got death threats at my house. Afterwards, it makes you stop and think just that one moment longer before ruining someone's life. It doesn't mean you don't run the story, but you just do give an extra moment's examination of your conscience.

Of course, it's quite possible - like the person who controls a high-altitude drone bomber - you couldn't really be a journalist if you stopped to think too much about the effect of what you do; if you looked into the eyes of your target.

No wonder it takes a certain sort of disordered personality to be a journalist. I don't mean to say that like it's a bad thing. For some, it means you can conveniently make an entire career out of payback for being a loser at school.

The tables are turned and now you are the bully and getting paid for it. Who's the sucker, now?

Given the need for a dose of cleansing anger in order to do the job, it's counter-productive to tell journalists to become touchy feely.

"No arguing in the War Room!" And at least journalism gives us nutters something to do.

To paraphrase Malcolm Tucker, in the media you can influence things. Out of the media you're just "another mouthy, shouty mad f***er who people don't want to make eye contact with".

Whatever, all journalists are both a bit psycho and terribly sensitive snowflakes. We're all guilty of dishing it out but not being able to take it. And if we don't exactly fit a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), we certainly exhibit some of the traits.

I just called it having spinny fits. People who suffer from BPD do not have a stable sense of self so they are prone to instability of mood and "splitting" or black and white thinking.

Borderlines (the term refers to the line between psychosis and neurosis) tend to switch between idolising and then demonising people, with no grey areas.

Sound familiar from watching the news? Last week's hero is this week's villain - at present the entire National Cabinet might fit this category.

Being frighteningly suggestible - tell me about a disease and I'm convinced I suffer from it - once I started learning about BPD I wondered whether New Zealand as a whole, our small easily led village of a nation, might have this on a grand scale, like mass psychosis.

You only have to watch the embarrassing footage of journalists interviewing visiting stars on the Hobbit red carpet and fishing for compliments about this country to know we're insecure.

We're hyper-alert to criticism. And like many people, New Zealanders are also extremely labile and impulsive - the things we love today are the things we hate tomorrow.

Another characteristic of BPD - self-harm and substance abuse - is in evidence any Friday night downtown. Still, it's not all bad. We need some randoms, otherwise no one would write the scary stories that need to be written.

Hey, someone has to be the most hated woman in New Zealand. Just bags not my turn.

- NZ Herald

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