How good was Newsroom’s journalism?

There is no doubt that Newsroom journalist Melanie Reid extensively investigated the Todd Barclay story that hit the headlines all through yesterday. It has been hailed by many as great journalism, and to an extent that is fair praise.

But I want to raise questions about how the story was published that other media probably won’t say anything about.

The publishing of the story – actually multiple stories – looks like a carefully orchestrated hit.

It will have taken some time to investigate and write up.

It was likely to that they deliberate broke the story on a Tuesday morning, the first day of the week that Parliament sits. Fair enough, they have to decide some time to publish, and that’s when MPs are usually readily available for responses.

They didn’t just publish the whole story. They published the first hit at about 8 am. They held back more details until later in the day. Why? Good journalism? To maximise publicity and website hits? I guess that’s part of the media game these days.

They published two follow up stories late in the afternoon. Why hold those back?

They have promised another story today.  Last night Tim Murphy at Newsroom promised more via Twitter: “There’s at least one more lie to come in the morning.  “.

Is the drip feeding of a story good journalism, or is it trying to catch MPs out in not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

I’ve seen activists describe these tactics for political hit jobs – hold back details in the hope that their targets will compromise themselves.

It is often said (and I saw it yesterday) that it’s not the political ‘crime’ that does the damage, it’s the way it is dealt with by the targets. (Update: Andrew Little was just quoted on RNZ saying this).

The aim is to stir things up with a story and then hope that the target compromises themselves further by lying or reacting badly to try and cover up or minimise their exposure.

Is it good journalism to play this game?

Or, once they have done their good journalistic investigating shouldn’t they just come out with everything they have?

I may have it wrong, but I got the feeling yesterday that Newsroom were not just reporting what they had discovered, they were trying to maximise the impact on the targets of their story.

I got the feeling that they had a dagger blow, but were stabbing for maximum political blood, not just reporting.

The lines can be very blurred between political activism and media.

Most journalists and opponents of the Government will applaud yesterday’s stories as a well researched, well planned and well executed hit.

The media  can be very powerful. They can influence major political outcomes (like US presidential elections and referendums on major changes to the European Union).

Newsroom’s stories will make some difference in our election this year. They could quite feasibly be a significant factor in changing our Government.

Should we just accept that media are as much a part of the political game playing as anyone?

 

How badly compromised is English?

There is no doubt that Prime Minister Bill English has been compromised over yesterday’s revelations about National’s Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay.

English has a lot of history in the Clutha-Southland. He was MP in the electorate since it was formed under MMP in 1996 to 2014 when he decided to go list only, and held the Wallace electorate from 1990 to 1996, which covered part of the same territory.

He probably knows all of the people involved in the electorate dispute. The electorate agent at the centre of the dispute with Barclay, Glenys Dickson, worked for English for 17 years.

Ironically, on Saturday from Tim Murphy Newsroom:  English’s confidence and paranoia over election

English says his team is confident but “a little bit paranoid about the need to get people out to vote” to secure re-election. It is an interesting word to use, raising fears of failure from a position of strength.

What could upend the chess board in the next three months to skew National’s position?

He answers without hesitation: “Look anything could crop up, I mean if you look back on the Kim Dotcom big reveal circus from the last election, well if that is possible, anything is possible.

“But I think through a campaign you need to have faith in the public. The public are quite capable of working out which bits of all the fireworks and circus are relevant to them and which bits aren’t.

“I think the key to our campaigns in the past is an ability to stick to the issues that matter and trust the public not be driven by the critics or by today’s big story.”

I presume Murphy will have known that yesterday’s big story was about to happen. He wrote:

Or there could be failure: Are the polls too good to be true? With MMP and the narrowing that occurs in campaigns, plus doubts over the realism of polling results, it all might come tumbling down for English.

How much of a tumble has English taken? Short term it’s a big blow to his credibility, and last night Tim Murphy at Newsroom promised more “There’s at least one more lie to come in the morning. “.

Today’s Dominion Post sums up yesterday in an editorial: A bad day for the National Party

The spat over an obscure National backbencher has caused serious damage to the reputation of Prime Minister Bill English. It has also raised disturbing questions about the political independence of the police. Finally, it has dealt a fatal blow to the credibility of Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay.

English has for a long time claimed to know little about Barclay’s row with three electorate staff who resigned early last year. The investigation by Newsroom strongly suggested this was wrong, saying that English knew Barclay had secretly recorded his electorate agent Glenys Dickson. This is an offence under the Crimes Act.

English first told journalists yesterday that he could not remember who told him about the secret recording and that it was “still unclear what, if anything, happened”. He also said that an MP recording a staff member wouldn’t be “acceptable behaviour” but that he still had full confidence in Barclay.

But a little later in the day English changed his story and said Barclay himself had told him he made the secret recording.

I’ll cut English some slack on this “change of story”. He had a major issue dumped on him that he had been involved in last year. I think it’s reasonable to give him a few hours to think back over what had happened and what he had done. It’s unreasonable to expect him to remember everything he does precisely and instantly.

This flatly contradicted Barclay’s claim that the recording did not exist. By saying this, English has destroyed the credibility of the young MP who succeeded him as MP for Southland.

English’s credibility has also taken a battering.

But English has also cast great doubt on his own credibility. His claim that he couldn’t recall who told him about the secret recording was unconvincing when he made it. To change his tune so quickly afterwards after supposedly checking a statement he had made to the police was simply absurd.

I don’t think this was absurd, far too much is being made of this aspect of the story.

A leaked police report showed English sent a message to Davie on February 21 last year, saying Barclay had left a dictaphone running in the office and that a settlement with Dickson was larger than normal because of the privacy breach.

This strongly suggests English was aware that the secret taping was illegal, despite his later vagueness about whether anything had happened at all.

Politicians are often deliberately vague about things they don’t want revealed, or to give them time to check things and think things through.

But still English, National and probably their election campaign are all compromised by this.

English had close connections to the electorate, he was involved in the dispute, he was involved in police investigation. And he tried to push it under a rug, hoping it would fade away.

This was before he became Prime Minister. I can imagine that John Key thought that English could deal with it adequately.

English either deliberately took a risk that it wouldn’t come back to bite him and National, or he misjudged things.

He must have known that Barclay had at least misled his electorate and the public, possibly to the extent of lying multiple times.

It wasn’t until yesterday that English disputed and refuted Barclay’s denials, repeated yesterday morning.

Now English has to try to deal with the fallout. It’s just a matter of how damaged he and National are by this.

It will take a while for polls to give us a hint how compromised English and National are. Yesterday’s big story is also likely to be today’s big, and it will fester on, especially if Barclay doesn’t resign and take some of the heat off English.

It may or may not turn out to be a pivotal moment in English’s aspirations to lead National election win, but it is likely to be a factor in the outcome. Winston Peters will be ecstatic.

It could fade away and be overshadowed by other big stories but for now it is a serious problem for English. He at least has to deal with it better.

Newsroom launches with smashing egg story

Newsroom launched yesterday. They are promising big new things as far as journalism goes but have a lot of media experience behind them. Their About:

Newsroom is an independent, New Zealand-based news and current affairs site. We deliver in-depth storytelling for thinking audiences with an interest in the people, progress, and democracy of Aotearoa. Our team of experienced, award-winning journalists produces quality written and video stories that set the national news agenda and inform intelligent conversations at every level of New Zealand life.

The independence of our journalism is supported by our partners in the corporate and tertiary education sectors, as well as by private donations from New Zealanders. To add your support to our independent voice, make a donation using the Press Patron platform link at the top of this page.

The kicked off with a range of stories, but the one that made the most impact was a revelation that battery eggs were being sold as free range eggs. Following their publication the Serious Fraud Office announced they were investigating.

Millions of caged eggs sold as free range in NZ

Those free range eggs you bought at Countdown may not have been free range at all.

A Newsroom investigation has revealed that millions of free range eggs sold at Countdown before this year were likely to have been laid by caged hens.

They were packaged as Palace Poultry brand free range eggs laid at a South Auckland farm, but Newsroom’s Morgan Tait and Melanie Reid reveal a large quantity are from caged egg suppliers.

If these allegations are true it is a major scandal of deceit that is very embarrassing and for egg suppliers as well as for Countdown. Many customers are likely to feel ripped off and deceived.

They followed up yesterday with SFO investigating Palace Poultry eggs

The Serious Fraud Office has confirmed it is investigating claims that Palace Poultry sold caged eggs as free range.

Countdown supermarkets have today removed all of the brand’s eggs from its shelves after a Newsroom investigation revealed that Palace Poultry was buying caged eggs from an egg wholesaler and using them to bolster its own supply of free range eggs.

The SFO previously “refused to confirm or deny” if it was involved, but today a spokeswoman confirmed it was investigating.

And more today: Countdown to audit all free range egg suppliers

Countdown says it will now audit all its free range egg suppliers following the caged egg scandal.

The supermarket chain removed Palace Poultry brand eggs from its shelves on Monday after a Newsroom investigation revealed that millions of those eggs were caged and not free range.

The audit will be carried out by Quality Assure and is expected to take several weeks. It will include Countdown’s own labels as well as other brands.

Brands caught up in the scandal are, Woodland, Farmer Brown and Countdown’s own brand, Select. Palace Poultry sourced and packaged eggs for these brands, as well as its own, but ceased providing eggs for Select in 2014.

Spokesman for Countdown, James Walker, said “We want to know what’s happening here and we want to know now. All our egg suppliers will be audited by a third party.”

Countdown says it will now audit all its free range egg suppliers following the caged egg scandal.

The supermarket chain removed Palace Poultry brand eggs from its shelves on Monday after a Newsroom investigation revealed that millions of those eggs were caged and not free range.

Brands caught up in the scandal are, Woodland, Farmer Brown and Countdown’s own brand, Select. Palace Poultry sourced and packaged eggs for these brands, as well as its own, but ceased providing eggs for Select in 2014.

And Video: Caged eggs sold in supermarkets as free range

This is a big and very promising start for Newsroom. It is good to have an alternative news source.

 

Premature announcement – Newsroom

Tim Murphy and Mark Jennings had already  indicated they were working on a new media venture, but now more details have emerged so they have gone with a premature announcement.

StopPress: ‘Well, that’s one way to announce your arrival’

Newsroom, a new independent and high quality news and current affairs website we are launching soon, made its public debut yesterday via the grand and important forum of the website of the New Zealand Commerce Commission.

News of the venture that Mark Jennings, ex head of news and current affairs at TV3, and I are forming was included in documents lodged with the Commission by the two applicants for #StuffMe, Fairfax and NZME, to support their argument that their merger won’t harm plurality of journalistic voices.

To use the old tabloid ‘screamer’ headline: ‘It’s Official!’

Newsroom.co.nz is our planned site and brand. We’ve gathered some top editors, digital journalists and video experts and we have what we think is a sustainable and high-appeal answer to filling a gap in the journalism market for Real News. Internally, we’re calling our content target the ‘Things that Matter’.

It will use fresh digital and social media approaches – will be optimised for mobile consumers – and be classy, calm and contemporary. Newsroom will feature video news and current affairs prominently and cleverly.

It will be targeted at an audience that in broad terms we’ve defined as New Zealanders who care. News hounds. People who vote. People aware of the needs of good journalism in a democracy like ours.

There have been many calls for better journalism in contrast to the tabloidisation of the ‘mainstream media’, which in a reaction to diving advertising revenue have moved towards trivial clickbait based headlines.

Time will tell whether there is a market for it.

Our plan is actually two plans: a direct specialist news service for paying subscribers called Newsroom Pro, and an open public site for quality journalism called Newsroom.co.nz which will be funded by four to five revenue streams including corporate sponsors as founding supporters.

So it will partly be free, partly subscription. Fair enough. But how many people are prepared to pay for more and better news?

There are already subscription news and political commentary services available, such as NBR, Politik and Trans Tasman. So far I have resisted paying for any of them. For me there’s just not enough extra to justify the cost.

We are working with the outstanding journalist and digital news activist Bernard Hickey to add his separately successful Hivenews.co.nz daily feed of economics and political news to the Newsroom Pro offering. Then we will add three or four more experienced journalists and additional subject areas to provide a comprehensive paid content offering.

Newsroom Pro will cover Economics and trade, Politics and policy, Environment and Sustainability, Energy and Technology when it is launched in February when the business and political world returns to work.

Newsroom aims to fill an unmet need for an independent, scalable and substantial provider of news and analysis on the things that matter to New Zealanders.

The subscription service is one half of that plan. Those who are prepared to pay for the private benefit of expert news will also be supporting the other half, the public good of an open, free and general interest news website.

Our focus will be on news.

I think that there is more of a lack of in depth investigation.

We will be rigorous in weeding out fake news.

As any reputable news outlet should be – it’s good to know they won’t make stuff up  or repeat overseas crap but it shouldn’t have to be said, it should just be.

New Zealanders want quality, real news and analysis. It need not and will not be dull. Experienced and high-profile journalists will work to put things in context, but in an appealing, interpretative style.

Some New Zealanders. Enough to want to pay for it? The big question.

We identified 33 subject areas we believe the major media players have been forced to withdraw from covering in any detail or depth because of the cuts to staffing and capability forced on them by digital disruption taking away their advertising dollars and readers.

We’ve narrowed that to about nine to ten main areas of things that matter – subjects we think New Zealanders want to see examined fairly and calmly and in depth.

We will work with the peerless international news agency, the Associated Press, and other partners to bring global issues that matter to a New Zealand audience.

Newsroom.co.nz’s journalism will be independent – politically non-partisan, not part of the big four of Fairfax, NZME, Mediaworks or TVNZ, and with editorial independence resting solely with the co-editors.  We’ll have an advisory board to keep us to our task.

Our audience work has helped us define who we think will read and watch us. We aim to serve those aged 25 plus (and not stopping in their mid 50s) who care enough to vote, read, debate and share serious views and news.

Odd to specify an age range and virtually rule out young people who are leading the transformation of how we view news.

“Who care enough to vote, read, debate and share serious views and news” – a shrinking market?

We’re an alternative.  Focused on news.

We want to add to all of their work by creating a sustainable twin-pillar model for quality and independent New Zealand news. And to provide them some competition along the way.

But we’re going to give it a go in the quality news market.  There has been wonderful, unprompted, support from people way beyond the journalism or media bubble who think there is a need…. and want Newsroom to succeed.

Good to see them have a go. I wish them well and hope they succeed. When I see how much they charge for a subscription – will they aim for mass market or go elite/expensive? – I’ll consider supporting Newsroom with my money.