Covering the net-beat for the dailies – The Guardian – lessons for NZ media & the left?

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EVER SINCE MY VERY YOUNG DAYS in the 1950s listening to Night Beat on NZ radio, I have had a fairly romantic idea of investigative journalists.  Night Beat was a bit of radio-noir, covering the fictional investigations of a “hard-boiled”, streetwise reporter for a US daily paper.

Each story began:

Hi, this is Randy Stone. I cover the night beat for the Chicago Star. My stories start in many different ways. This one began…

Such reporting always had a masculine edge, some of which still remains in news, current events, and political journalism today. The shifts towards digital media, with its webs of interconnected relationships, have opened up more possibilities for women, but there is still a way to go.

The Guardian’s new chief editor – lessons for NZ media & the left

The appointment of Katharine Viner as The Guardian’s first ever female chief editor raises important issues of the changing nature of news media in the digital age.

Katharine Viner The Guardian
Katharine Viner. Photo: The Guardian

Related to this are challenges for (left wing) politics, gender equality and global-local dynamics. Within this tangle, there are important indications for the NZ media (mainstream and alternative).

The Guardian is known to be a left leaning, liberal daily paper, yet has never before had a female chief editor.  The range of UK papers contrast with the lack of diversity in the political leanings of NZ’s dailies, which are largely conservative, and hover around the middle ground of the political spectrum. The New Zealand Herald, has long been regarded as leaning to the centre right.  The Otago Daily Times is the only exiting daily newspaper with a track record of supporting some left wing causes.

Along with NZ’s smallness of scale, is its openness to foreign influence, with most of our mainstream media companies now being owned by right leaning transnational media corporates.Some NZ dailies have female chief editors, but this is more on a par with small local newspapers in the UK, some of which also have female chief editors.

Many in NZ feel the left is under-represented in our mainstream media.  Part of the solution to this, is to strengthen the base through developing relationships with alternative overseas media organisations and initiatives. At the same time there needs to be more sustainable and secure support for challenging and diverse news and current events content by, about and for New Zealanders.

The Guardian: internationalisation, investigative journalism & digitisation

TheGuardianThe Guardian PR has foregrounded the gender aspect of Viner’s appointment along with her track record with digital media and in extending The Guardian’s reach beyond the UK.  Michael Wolff of USA Today claims that Viner’s appointment is part of a staff backlash against the retiring Editor (Alan Rusbridger’s) support for the Guardian’s role in obtaining and publishing the Edward Snowden documents

Wolff claims that Viner’s appointment is a shift away from critical 4th estate journalism that holds those with political power to account. He argues it is a move towards a softer, more culturally focused approach by The Guardian.  Seeming to contradict this, Henry Mace of the Financial Times has claimed that Viner is more leftwing than Rusbridger.

Few commentators comment on how events prior to Wikleaks and Snowden’s revelations had impacted on The Guardian.  For instance, it began picking up a significant online US readership after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq.  The US mainstream media tended to follow George Bush Jnr’s prescription, to be with his “war on terror” rather than against the power of the US elites. Many US people were looking for alternative takes on the events.

Later in 2009 The Guardian broke stories about the News of the World phone hacking scandal, which exposed political influences and unethical practices within Murdoch papers. Investigative journalist Nick Davies had a crucial role in this, and the later wikileaks stories, as explained by Rusbridger in Newsweek:

Every so often—perhaps once every 18 months—the veteran Guardian writer Nick Davies comes into my office, shuts the door with a conspiratorial backward glance, and proceeds to tell me something hair-raising.

The Murdoch hacking revelations lead to the Leveson Inquiry, and its rather inadequate outcome, as well as to some setbacks for Rupert Murdoch.  His News Corp still has a strong foothold in the Australian media. He has recently returned his attention to NZ media, taking a 14.9% shares in Sydney-based APN which owns NZ Herald.

The Guardian comes from a different position.  It was established in the 1820s when liberal values were gaining traction. This was well before the rise to prominence of the labour movement, working class solidarity and politics, and the Labour Party.  The Guardian remains fairly liberal rather than being a voice for working class politics particularly.

Katharine Viner’s pitch

In her pitch for the editorship of The Guardian, Viner promoted herself as being for this radical tradition,

… holding power to account; defending liberties; exposing injustice.

as well as for a focus on breaking news stories, international expansion, and strengthening The Guardian’s use of digital platforms. Whatever the backroom struggles, there is no doubt that Viner does have credentials in areas that need to be at the forefront of progressive and financially sustainable news media, now and in the future.

Viner began her work for newspapers covering women’s and lifestyle topics.  She was appointed to head the of the paper’s online expansion into Australia and the US.  This also opened opportunities for Australian, and to a lesser extent NZ journalists, writing from a local perspective on local issues, but written for an international audience. (Toby Manhire of NZ Herald, article in Guardian.com.)

Lessons for NZ media: strengthening the local (left) & international collaborations.

Evening Report, Episode 1, Nicky Hager.
Evening Report, Episode 1, Nicky Hager.

There are other models indicating that NZ-overseas collaborations could work to strengthen NZ journalism, and particularly NZ progressive journalism, in a context where news media are struggling to survive financially.  One outstanding example is the collaboration between Glenn Greenwald and his online news site The Intercept, and NZ news organisations and journalists, providing New Zealand angles on the Snowden papers.  Internationally respected investigative journalist Nicky Hager is playing a significant role in this.  He brings to it a deep understanding of NZ society and politics.

Towards gender equality

These are the kinds of collaborative initiatives that the NZ media and the left should be learning from.  The one area that NZ (and other countries) could improve on here, is that our most renowned investigative journalists (especially with regard to current affairs, politics and international relations) are male. This is part of a long masculine legacy, but it is not clear why it hasn’t shifted more with our changing society. It is worth investigating.

Related articles/videos on Evening Report:

My article on the importance to democracy of Radio NZ and public service broadcasting.

Selwyn Manning’s interview with Nicky Hager on Snowden revelations

Selwyn Manning’s interview with Paul Buchanan on GCSB’s targeted ops.

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Carolyn is committed to economic and social justice. She has researched and taught in film, TV and media studies, sociology and gender studies. Carolyn is actively interested in local history, and its impact on the present and future. Carolyn currently works part time as a research librarian in Auckland Libraries, which is part of Auckland Council. The views, analysis, and opinions she expresses on this site are her own, and not those of Auckland Council.

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