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Book review: Reimagining Journalism in NZ

Book review: Don’t dream it’s over: reimagining journalism in a Aotearoa New Zealand.
Edited by Emma Johnson, Giovanni Tiso, Sarah Illingworth and Barnaby Bennett.
Freerange Press - 365 page

I’m lucky to be old enough to remember when the Glasgow Media Group wrote Bad News and More Bad News in the 1970s. Even then there were trenchant criticisms to be laid at the door of those who shaped journalism and chose, consciously or not, who to include and who to marginalise, whose viewpoints mattered and how their perspectives were presented. That was at a time and in a country where media of all kinds was well supported and funded and there were few looming crises but the authors still reflected that “The news is not a neutral product. For television news is a cultural artefact; it is a sequence of socially manufactured messages, which carry many of the culturally dominant assumptions of our society.

The analysis that is possible now that both published and broadcast media are under extreme stress because of the funding crisis and a market failure are necessarily more extreme. Even before these crises hit, interviews had been reduced to soundbites and serious analysis to ‘infotainment’. These Don’t dream it’s over essays are a mix of spotting the Phoenix’ of new models and new journalism emerging from the flames, wings not entirely robust and trajectory unsure. They offer the kind of trenchant critique that is the only fitting response to the prescriptive and rhetorical coverage of the political scene.

An example of the former is Naomi Arnold’s article brand news: testing our appetite for sponsored journalism. Naomi starts in the US looking at theblaze.com a news service including articles about the gun industry sponsored by a firearms training outfit and brings the lessons from there to the cosier setting of thespinoff.com. She interviews journalists and commentators along the way who have contradictory views on advertorial and sponsored content and the problems this may or may not cause for independent journalism. Morgan Godfrey’s article “Against Political Commentary” is an example of the latter. He has fun when he uses the very techniques adopted by the pundits to draw us in to his perspective and his argument. In between these there is much to explore from many well-known names in New Zealand journalism.

There are 35 mostly short pieces which can be dipped into and there are numerous reasons for buying this book. The story of the publishing company alone is enough to make you want to shell out. Freerange press is a brave cooperative whose origins 10 years ago coincided with the point at which publishing hard copy book publishing was thought to be a waning industry. The second reason is that based on past efforts such as the expert and highly informative Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, there is every reason to have confidence in a high-quality product with an articulate and diverse set of perspectives. Thirdly Freerange’s production values include beautiful paper printing, graphics and quality of layout and readability that owes much (I presume) to the editors and designers experience in the online world. This is a set of ideas that deserves to inform thinking and direction of New Zealand’s journalism in the years to come.

For those keen to read the book, the official launch is in Christchurch on Sunday 28th with Auckland and Wellington launches in early September. You can purchase direct from the publisher or scoop publishing is offering a special deal by which you can get a copy of the book as a reward for becoming a Member of the Scoop Foundation. This option will help support the Scoop Foundation in its attempt to solve many of the problems outlined in this book by reimagining journalism in New Zealand.

Support Scoop and get your copy of the book here.

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