Blogging parasite reporting for duty

Everyone on Twitter’s been savaging poor innocent John Armstrong enough already, but …  well, I had nothing else to sharpen my claws on, so here goes.

John Armstrong’s complaint, basically, is that the “blog-a-tariat” (spot the person who is seriously not comfortable with 21st century netspeak) are mean about him, and don’t understand just how difficult it is having to travel overseas, hob-nob with international hob-nobs, and get to come back to throw your toys out of the cot on a major media website for pay.

I mean, have you pathetic wastrels ever tried to write insightful analysis of what Bronagh Key wore to meet the First Lady when you can’t charge your BlackBerry?  It’s a fucking hard-knock life, that one.

But it’s all just a little ridiculous, for one key reason:  John Armstrong is not having a go at bloggers.  He’s having a go at Gordon Campbell and Bryce Edwards, two well-regarded real-name-using also-doing-it-for-pay (one assumes) major-media-published writers, who happen to kinda blog, if only because Scoop is an online-only publication and all Edwards’ Politics Daily columns get reprinted at Liberation.

John, basically, has jumped on the Josie Pagani/Fran O’Sullivan bandwagon of having a whinge about the evil online commentariat who hate your freedoms … but not quite figured out that that line works a hell of a lot better when you can snark about our silly pseudonyms than when you’re attacking a well-regarded columnist and a politics lecturer.

He compounds the whole thing by doing that absolutely classic mainstream-media-trying-to-work-interwebs thing:  attacking “bloggers” for “not letting the facts get in the way” at the same time as not linking to the posts he is responding to.  Sure, this column was likely originally intended for the print version of the Herald (clearly where its largest audience is … wat?) but it’s just common internet sense to include links – if only to reassure your readers that your whinging has a basis in fact.

Of course, this might lead people to read Gordon Campbell’s post which has so incited John’s ire by saying:

BTW, the informed critical analysis of APEC and its bearing on the TPP process provided by the Canadian media was noticeably absent from the New Zealand coverage.

Then John’s readers might think, “Hmm.  Maybe I’ll look at John’s own reporting from APEC.”  And then they might find this article, which I’m almost tempted to copy-paste in its entirety for humour value.  I won’t, because I’m not Bob McCoskrie, so here’s the piercing, engaged-with-the-big-issues-of-the-day opener:

A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs official locked in her room for 45 minutes; a posse of Kiwi journalists stuck in a lift at the International Press Centre … it must be the Curse of Russky Island.

Wait, now, let’s give John his due, he’s probably just trying to get in an interesting hook to keep the reader’s interest through some dry, in-depth coverage of global political discussions.  Like this:

Strangely, borscht – Russia’s national dish – is off the menu. Authorities were worried visitors would take exception to one of the ingredients, beets, because they are only fed to animals in some countries.

Oh, okay, I’m being mean, clearly this is just a light-hearted wrap-up of events.  Earlier in the scene, John was far more informative.  In his first report, he talked about how Russia doesn’t really give a shit about APEC, or at least I think that’s what he got on to after rambling on about how cool it was that Jenny Shipley totes met Vladimir Putin before he was cool.  In his second, he brings us cutting-edge news about the infrastructural development of Vladivostok.

Hold me the fuck back.

What did APEC achieve?  What were they even meant to talk about?  For the kiddies forced at gunpoint to read the Herald for social studies, what the fuck IS APEC?  John does not tell us.  He was probably too busy being stuck in the awful traffic of Tokyo and trying to find a compatible cellphone charger.

Anyway, it’s not John’s fault that he had nothing of depth to report on (even though he’s just spent half his column saying he totally has reported on issues of depth) because after all:

Adding to journalists’ problems is that Apec meetings are closed. Discovering what really happens requires talking to more than one delegation as every delegation has motives for saying what it is saying to its media contingent,

Which can only make me wonder why the fuck the Herald bothers to send John on these terrible paid overseas trips.  Surely he can copy-paste governmental press releases from NZ?

(Yes, the original does end with a comma.  I don’t know either.)

And if Armstrong had linked to Bryce Edwards’ post on the subject, they might have read this line:

There was a lot build-up and reporting from the APEC meeting in Vladivostok, but nothing much actually seemed to happen. There are only so many ways you can work ‘Pussy Riot’ into a story about trade negotiations

And then they might find this article by John Armstrong, curiously not published on the helpful APEC page, which manages to mention the band’s name twice without actually addressing why John Key would even be discussing an all-girl punk band with the President of Russia.  Oh, context.  You’re delicious but so fattening, we can’t have any or it’ll go straight to our hips.

But the ultimate punchline has to go to some smart cookie on the Herald’s web team.  They filed John’s little cryfest under “Best of Political Analysis.”

The TL;DR version?  John Armstrong basically tries to denigrate Gordon Campbell and Bryce Edwards by referring to them as mere bloggers, throws his toys out of the cot and demands we tell him he’s a good little journalist.  He’s not.  He has the immense privilege of getting his opinion published for money in one of the major newspapers of our country, he gets paid to hang out with our elected leaders, and for all that he can’t fucking hack a little statement-of-the-obvious about how NZ media in general report on international politics.

Boo fucking hoo.


H/T Jackal for id’ing and linking to the two key posts by Campbell and Edwards

ETA: For more commentary, rather more sympathetic to Armstrong, see Dim Post


  1. Giovanni

    Awesome, as usual. My main question to Mr Amstrong is about that tantalising last sentence:

    “It is the ultimate parasitical relationship. And it will not change until the media start charging for use of their material.”

    What’s he suggesting here? That his publisher should charge bloggers for quoting articles in the New Zealand Herald? For linking to articles in the New Zealand Herald? For mentioning facts reported by the New Zealand Herald? For the right to criticise articles published in the New Zealand Herald? And if it’s any of the above (I don’t what else could be charged for, other than the content itself – but that would make no difference to bloggers), does he realise that such moves would require a complete overhaul of our copyright laws first?

    Such a puzzling, puzling article.

    • QoT

      I have to assume that what he means is that the NZ Herald should take its toys and go home, i.e. install a paywall and make us plebs cough up for the privilege of their amazingly original content which isn’t available anywhere else at all.

      It’s stupid, but it’s far less stupid than the other options, as you’ve outlined.

      (I also wonder if there’s a bit of a smokescreen going on here and one explicit aim is to make the Herald stop running Bryce Edwards’ columns, which must hit a sore spot for people like Armstrong and O’Sullivan what with its linking to other media sources AND us awful pseudonymous bloggers.)

      • Giovanni

        I go back to my point though: charging for content won’t alter the parasitical relationship one bit. Bloggers will still be free to link and quote and take cheap shots at – or, in standard English, critique – the likes of John Armstrong. Besides, they already tried the paywall, and it failed. They could try the hybrid model, with a capped number of free articles, but if so I think Armstrong may want to be careful what he wishes for. His regular column reads too much like a blog, and he has few insights to offer arising of his actual reporting that one couldn’t glean by following politics through blogs, social media, Scoop, parties’ websites and Parliament TV. Why would anyone waste a free token on his column? Especial with so many colleagues of similar ilk (Clifton, Trotter, Geddis) who don’t charge.

        If on the other hand the aim was to kick Bryce Edwards out the Herald website, surely he and O’Sullivan would have been better advised to lobby the editor quietly and directly? I can see how what Bryce does is embarrassing to them (and btw the line about how National might not like the column is fantastically Orwellian). You could even make a case as you allude to that he hurts the brand, should they decide to fence it off and create a greater separation between the august columnists and the plebeian bloggers. But there have to be smarter, more gracious ways of waging that particular campaign.

        • QoT

          None of it makes any sense, really. And a paywall of any construction would be ridiculous for the Herald – as you say, what can anyone get from there that they can’t find through multiple other channels?

          So .. I’m left with tired and emotional. And someone on the online editorial team having it in for him, to explain how such a juvenile whine-tasting got live.

        • Giovanni

          That’s an interesting one – the paywall for the whole site instead of the commentary only, I mean. At the moment I read the Herald a lot, for news. Were the site content paywalled, I would stop visiting it since I could get the news for free on Stuff or – if they follow suit – on the websites of RNZ, TVOne, TV3, which will never go pay. So that makes no sense. They could fence the content of the paper proper, but again is that so valuable outside of the commentary? They syndicate a lot of it from overseas papers, so all the world news I could get somewhere else. For local basic reporting – outside of Auckland – they have too much free to air competition. Which again pretty much leaves the commentary, with the problems outlined above. If they indeed go for a token system, I’d save mine for Tapu Misa and Toby Manhire and live a happy life. Good luck finding somebody who will pay to read Shelley Bridgeman, Bob Jones or Deborah Hill Cone. Or John bloody Roughan.

          • QoT

            I feel certain Bridgeman and Hill Cone would stay alive, based on how many people might, say, end up with spare tokens at the end of the week and feel like a giggle / snort / sense of awe at the ultimate pointlessness.

  2. Dan

    I love the fact (and this is one of those silly little observations) that the blog button stock photo is clearly using a Mac keyboard. I could be projecting a bit here but the take home message is clearly that all bloggers must be pretentious Mac users.

    • QoT

      Well spotted! You have to wonder if you did a survey of generic computer-y stock images how it’d break down between obviously-Mac and obviously-PC.

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