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Paul Smith: Hark, the Herald Angel… SHOUTS!!!!!

Hark, the Herald Angel… SHOUTS!!!!!

NZ Media Comment By Paul Smith,nz

When I collected the Herald from my letterbox the other day it was as if the editors thought I might be hard of hearing. The front page headline bellowed at me as I tottered off down the drive, another daft, deaf git:

40 seconds from air disaster. Where I wondered was the screamer, the exclamation mark? But, having been yelled at so to speak, I had to read on, discovering in the process that the aircraft in question was… five miles from disaster. Okay it might, just might have been close - but don't shout.

As an old Herald hand so many things grate about today's editions that I'm frequently tempted to cancel the paper. Things like headlines which once more blare: Blood Feud when we're talking about the fiasco of the District Health Boards and lab-testing.

Or CIVIL WAR when the paper is reporting something as mundane as one school board's apparently bitter election. And then there are other distractions. Above the Herald masthead on the 40 second non-disaster disaster issue, were competing caricatures for one of the paper's sections Time Out. It promoted reviews on… gaming. So much for current affairs? Well yes, but one big hurrah for advertising potential. According to a report from consultants Deloitte, gaming is a $10 billion dollar industry - and that's just in the United States.

But still, sometimes it feels as if the kids from design have taken over from the depleted arsenal of veterans in the newsroom. It's not as if the Herald is locked in competition with other city dailies. It’s been nearly 20 years since the Auckland Star finally fell into the evening paper graveyard. So what’s all this promotion and packaging all about? For a start, today's daily Herald operates in a vastly different environment to the one nearly 30 years ago. In the years since, editorial competition may have diminished, but that could never be said about commercial competition. Auckland for example, now has more commercial radio stations than Sydney. Telly has gone forth and multiplied from one network 30 years ago to five, the same number as in the UK.

All these factors impinge on the Herald and can't be under-estimated. Audited net circulation shows a decline from 201,254 copies in September 2005, to 196,182 in September last year. It's clearly a battle out there, so perhaps readers like me will just have to grind our teeth at the tabloid twaddle on the front page (where once there were seven news stories not two), and concentrate on the good bits. What stops me cancelling the paper altogether is that its coverage still provides a light, however dim, on our community. Never mind the editorials, staunchly promoting as they always have, the Establishment view of just about everything. But opposite this comic relief, is the paper's gem, the Op-Ed page.

It's here where columnists - paid and otherwise - contest and offer views which really enrich the paper. A week ago Op-ed and news dovetailed nicely over the clash between technology and creative content, showing how illegal copying and downloads had slashed the incomes of top artists like singer Bic Runga. In a Op-Ed piece in the same edition, novelist Joan Smith praised the best aspects of the blogosphere - and slammed its less desirable characteristics for 'spawning a culture of 'vulgar personal abuse' . This, she claimed, had also affected the profession of writing.

'…writing is rapidly being transformed in the public mind from a profession to little more than a typed form of speech' she wrote in the London Independent. ' It is already having a disastrous affect on the status and income of professional writers, as we find ourselves under attack for continuing to assert the lasting value of what we do'.

It's difficult to place the ephemera of daily newspapers in the alongside the output of novelists, poets and playwrights, yet there are similarities. Joan Smith's phrase…'the lasting value of what we do' hinted at worries not just about the Herald, but much of today's journalism.


Paul Smith is a journalist, author and founder of the website,,nz .

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