When I was a journalism student back in the days of typewriters and afternoon newspapers, Phil Gifford was among the guest lecturers wheeled in to tell us tales from the front line.

As well as being a news reporter, feature writer and humorist (in the guise of Loosehead Len), the multi-talented Gifford was also the Auckland Star's rock music critic.

He recalled reviewing a concert by Joe Cocker, then one of the hottest acts in the business. Cocker was also one of the biggest lushes in the business, and the concert was a shambles. The next day Gifford came across Cocker in his hotel lobby, reading Gifford's scathing review with tears streaming down his cheeks.

Gifford's point wasn't that you should never be mean in print because you might hurt someone's feelings; it was that when you criticise - and praise - for a living, it's easy - and convenient - to assume your targets don't take it personally.

I had a vaguely similar experience as movie critic for the Auckland Sun. Infuriated by what he regarded as my flippant reviews, the boss of Amalgamated Theatres wrote to the editor accusing me of being contemptuous of mainstream films: "From the safety of his free seat he continues to rubbish most of the commercial films he views. It has become apparent to us that he is writing for a very select group of people, and not the majority of Sun readers." Enough was enough. There would be no more free tickets, preview invitations, movie kits or - unkindest cut of all - "weekly advice".

I wasn't contemptuous of mainstream movies; quite the contrary. I simply believed there were good and bad commercial movies, just as there were good and bad art movies, and it was my job to differentiate between them. Secondly, whether or not I was doing the right thing by the Sun's readers was not his concern.

Thirdly, his mention of free seats was a red herring, albeit a revealing one: the implication was that free tickets obliged me to write favourable reviews.

(The man from Amalgamated had the last laugh: four days after he withdrew my privileges, the Sun went down with all hands and my brief career as a film critic was over.)

Beneath the self-interest masquerading as indignation on behalf of all those low-brows I'd supposedly insulted, he had a point of sorts: as a general rule it's easier - and more fun - to criticise than praise.

But we shouldn't be too quick to sympathise when the media is mean to celebrities. If celebrities choose to sell their baby pictures to one media outlet, they shouldn't be surprised to get the paparazzi treatment from rival outlets when they take their kiddies to the playground.

Nevertheless, it's hard to shake the feeling that gratuitous sneers roll rather too easily off many a media keyboard these days. Take this comment on today's Under 19 Cricket World Cup final from the sport on TV section in last week's Sunday Star-Times: "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking they're a pack of teenagers we'll probably never hear of again, so why go to the trouble of learning their names."

What did these youngsters do to deserve such a put-down - apart from being good enough and dedicated enough to represent their countries?

Then there's the ignorance. This summer two 19-year-olds have scored test centuries on debut: Adrian Barath of the West Indies and Umar Akmal of Pakistan. Both took part in the 2008 Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia.

And the 2008 player of the tournament award was won by a chap called Tim Southee.