• Mining, media and personal boundaries

    Panorama of Greymouth, New Zealand.

    Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island. Image via Wikipedia

    You may have seen it trending on Twitter. #PikeRiver. It’s rare an event from little old New Zealand achieves such a feat. We tried it on the night the final of Outrageous Fortune screened. Unfortunately, we never decided what the official term should be, and tweets fractured into #outrageous, #OF, #outrageousfortune and more.

    But this was different. It really is a national tragedy.

    You may have heard about it. You may not. Essentially, 29 men – one as young as 17 on his first day, one who’d finished for the day but decided to log some overtime, men with children and wives and families – were trapped underground following an explosion in the coal mine last Friday. Odds are they died right away, but if not, then the second blast on Wednesday would have. It’s a story that’s gripped the country for over a week, everyone holding their breath to see if by some miracle those men might, like the Chilean miners, emerge alive.

    Someone – a random Tweeter from abroad – jumped into the stream on the day the second “unsurvivable” blast occurred. “Where the fuck is Pike River?” she asked. Oh, the responses she got. She quickly backtracked and voiced her sorrow for the tragedy.

    CNN, the BBC, al Jazeera and many more global outlets ran with the story. The blast at the Pike River coal mine in Greymouth didn’t just take Kiwis, there were Aussies, Scots, South Africans.

    Now I have a question for you. When a disaster like this strikes, what do you want to read about? Do you want to know about the men who died? What they were like? Who did they leave behind? In short, their life stories, in celebration and remembrance?

    If not, what do you want to see the media cover? Do you just want the dry facts? What caused the blast? What inquiries will be held? When the funerals are?

    I won’t ask you whether you think media should back off and leave grieving families alone – I already know the answer. I’m just grateful I’m not one of the journalists on the ground tasked with that painful job. (Because that’s what they’re doing – their job, like it or not.) So let’s not veer off onto that topic. I’m only interested in finding out what kind of coverage you are interested in. If the process of obtaining that information requires inappropriate or intrusive action, well…

    I’m sure your answers will give plenty of food for thought. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this tweet:

    * @fiatracer So many twitter hypocrites attacking media for getting in there, while desperately consuming the news they report. Get over it #pikeriver

    * and this blog post from a journalist who covered the disaster.

    “Covering a story like Greymouth is all about the faces. Those average, normal people being torn apart by fate.

    It could be any of us at any time.

    As a journalist you do your best to cover the event with as much compassion as you can and try to do your little bit to help if you can. To bring a smile, a hug, a kind word.

    When the worst happens your heart breaks for them. Their anguish, their anger, their tears.

    They say you have to remain dispassionate when covering events like Greymouth. You do your best but you’re only human.”

  • By the numbers

    Some interesting numbers in this week’s Sunday paper:

    The latest wage figures in Australia show those across the Tasman earn an average NZ$1574 a week – an increase of 5.9 per cent over the year. In New Zealand, the average wage is $955.

    That is a MASSIVE disparity. And I doubt their cost of living is that much higher. Then again, our media does love those ‘you’d be so much better off in Aussie” stories.

    The “average” Kiwi male is getting older, marrying later or not at all and isn’t thinking about babies until the early 30 mark. He’s 35 years old, earns $681 a week, gets married at 29 and dies at 78.

    The typical Kiwi woman is a little older than him at 37, earns $430 a week, marries at 28 and is likely to have two children.

    Again, a pretty big gap there between the “average” (what a baited word) male and female wages. Seriously, $430 a week? Even after tax, that’s pretty dismal. I assume though, that takes into account all the nonworking and part-time workers, of which there’d be a lot more women than men.

  • Update on the job front

    I start my new (temporary full time) hours this week!

    I also randomly got myself a small contributing gig writing for an online women’s mag (unpaid) and will be doing a little work – mostly from home – compiling newsletters for another magazine.

    I always do this: load myself up with commitments, that is.

    [picapp src=”0286/03689a6d-735b-4932-a9c2-49a884b0e272.jpg?adImageId=6889607&imageId=289439″ width=”230″ height=”350″ /]

    Speaking of which, I was just thinking the other day that the creative industries seem to dominate unpaid work. By that I mean, in how many other fields are you expected to work for free to prove yourself? This Idealog article sums up what it’s like for graduates in the arts and media trying to kickstart a career.

    It’s been a while since I did unpaid work. I’ve done a reasonable amount of voluntary writing. Last year, I landed my first paid writing assignments, and this new gig is my first step back into the world of writing for free. Not that I mind; it’s going to be great experience and it’s an up and coming publication.

    How many of you have done unpaid work experience or internships, and for how long?

  • How to make a video application stand out?

    nakedbus_newbusl_sHere’s how it is: I’m considering applying for this one-off travel assignment.

    The gig involves travelling the whole of NZ with a partner in November, bussing, training, staying in hostels and camps.

    We’d have to blog and tweet regularly, and file vlogs (video blogs) daily. Obviously, do interesting stuff and talk to/meet interesting people along the way.

    Initially I dismissed the idea. I’ve never done any broadcast stuff, have no interest in it, don’t even know how to work a video camera. bungee-jump-thailandCrazy? But I can learn, right?

    It would be such a great way to see the country! If I can come up with a standout application, I’m going to go for it. I’d have a month to spare, technically and so would the boy. T could come along with me, it’d be great experience and if it went well, it would be a huge step careerwise. Why the hell not?

    … Soooo, to apply, I need to make a video application – in the style of how I’d expect to blog along the way – and write a proposal outlining where we’d go, who we’d speak to and what we’d do.

    Ideas? Input? Brilliant suggestions? And NZers, what would you most like to see and do anywhere in the country? I will totally have a reward for anyone who helps me think up a winning application! You know you want to 😀

  • Selling journalism

    Sometimes I feel like nothing but a telemarketer.

    That’s right, I feel like a salesperson pitching crap to people over the phone.

    Is it really so different? You’re calling people, who you’ve most likely never spoken to before. You’re trying to get them to talk to you. To answer your questions. Sometimes they don’t want to, and they’ll do everything in their power to wriggle free. You try and try, you rephrase, you try to sell yourself. Sometimes it just plain doesn’t work.

    You try to coax the magic quote out of them. To get them to elaborate, to keep them talking, keep them listening. If it’s a controversial topic, something they don’t want to discuss, you try to get around that in the way you word your query. And you need the balls to keep asking, to keep hammering away.

    I realised this because today, I dealt with someone who was happy to talk to me. Someone not used to the media, someone genuine, someone whose story I just wanted to hear and who was happy to share it.

    It was just a relief. Such a welcome change from weary, wary people – and don’t get me wrong, I can more than understand WHY many of them are that way – who are afraid to utter a single word on the record, even when it’s totally non controversial, and actually in their interests.

    It made me realise how differently I can, and need to, handle ordinary people. Not business people, not politicians, who we have to hound and harangue constantly, and usually to no avail. People who actually return calls, and emails, and even pick up their phone sometimes. Perhaps even more amazing, today I received immediate responses from one political office. I took the measure of emailing two separate people with the same enquiry, expecting to hear back from neither. But both replied within the hour. I almost felt stupid and amateurish, even though the opposite was true.

  • What I’m reading this week

    The recession bride: how one couple did an $8000 wedding. Not sure about the berry pies in lieu of cake, but I really liked this: Our wedding day will not fit into a nice, neat rose-and-lavender theme. Then again, neither have our lives. Our friends andfamily have shaped us and carried us up to this point. So will it be with our wedding. That’s how I imagine mine would be, anyway.

    Jobless couples: what happens when a partner’s laid off? I guess the one good thing about having flatmates is they keep BF occupied – he doesn’t “bombard me” when I get home, desperate for attention.

    DC Interns beware! : I love me a good snarky blog! Unfortunately this blog, touted on VF, didn’t quite live up to how it was pitched. Current fave snarky blog is still the newsrage over at Editing the Herald.

    A bargain over evolution: Can religion and science reconcile? Apparently so. I bring good news! These two warring groups have more in common than they realize. And, no, it isn’t just that they’re both wrong. It’s that they’re wrong for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection’s creative power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the militantly atheistic. If both groups were to truly accept that power, the landscape might look different…and the two might learn to get along.

    The Women’s Crusade: She used to be beaten and abused by her husband. Then a $65 microfinance loan allowed her to start a successful embroidery business.

  • Kneejerk reactions

    …frustrate me.

    Some tragedy occurs – usually a one off, although not always – and next thing you know, the family, or advocate groups are calling for more regulation/tougher laws/harsher sentencing.

    Whether it’s child restraints and seats, drunk driving, speeding, P, the Kiwi in London who died in a skip, or the plane crash over the Hudson.

    I am so over it! I’m tired of reading the same thing, thrashed to death. At the same time, I know that’s probably what I’m going to end up doing in the near future. It’s a natural, logical followon, and at least those are people who are always happy to talk to media.

  • I’m no political commentator – I’m gonna keep this short.I was really pleased to see the Herald feature a couple who were being penalised due to the stupid Work and Income rules about benefits for couples. And then today the shit hit the fan when it was revealed he was a landlord with three properties, dismantling the image of him as a regular honest bloke just trying to get by.

    Labour really have not treated this well at all, calling for universal benefits. They should have known National would pick up on the angle of “partners of six figure earners taking advantage of the system” and run with it. They should have discussed some sort of limit, which they’ve done now – far too late.

    You know what I think of the welfare rules for couples. I can honestly say that day, finding myself standing in front of the old lady at WINZ reception crying because I was frankly at the end of my rope, and didn’t know what the hell else to do because our country had failed us, was quite possibly the lowest point in my life. Being told that working and studying disqualified T from any assistance – didn’t matter if I quit my job, or dropped out. That I was expected to be able to support two people on less than one fulltime minimum wage. Dismissing the thought of applying for him as a single, because not only would that be lying, it would be damn hard to manage given our shared bank account. Considering the possibility of having to break our lease and millions of subsequent hassles, on top of a full, third year class schedule.

    Seriously, the paper could have found tons more deserving people who DON’T own multiple houses to feature. Just check out the TradeMe message boards. There are always stressed, worried people in there wondering if they will be able to get any assistance with their partner working. (One of the reasons I stopped visiting the employment board). Not people with high earning spouses. Just ordinary people on low to middle incomes trying to get by amid rising food, utility and petrol costs.

    Even if Burgess’ rental properties are mortgaged, he still has more options than some other people. I’m not saying it’s easy for him, or that owning property should disqualify him, or means he should be rolling in it or anything. Home ownership is expensive. But ideologically he certainly is not a good illustration for this debate, as we’ve already seen in the backlash. Poor guy.

  • Jaded

    This isn’t a post I particularly want to write, but it’s one I need to write.

    I’m not really even sure how to phrase it, but here goes.

    I’m having doubts. I’m just feeling really disillusioned.

    I love writing. I like writing so much, I don’t even need to see my name in print – I don’t care if I get a byline.

    But it’s so not a good way to make a living. Like Penelope Trunk’s said, if you can find another way to get by than by writing, you should take it.

    So many of us went into journalism full of hopes and idealism. But once you learn more about the machine, it’s pretty near impossible to retain that.

    News is so mundane. Things get blown out of proportion. There are PR/comm types who stonewall you and irate, often irrational readers who abuse you. There are actually people who talk media-speak – who speak in soundbites and try to make every sentence quotable.

    I know there’s bureaucracy in any job. I know there are commercial concerns and I know there will always be people who you can never fully satisfy. People whose perceptions are so out there, people who are determined to infer things that aren’t there. I don’t just mean nitpicking, I mean straight up crazies. I know accountability is part of having any job, and as much as I fear screwing up and getting the facts wrong or misquoting, I would rather do that than be crunching numbers and potentially making errors which could spell catastrophe for a company’s bottom line. (Did I mention I went through a bunch of my old crap and found my old Stats workbook and exercises? I looked through them and actually recoiled. Then I threw it out. Not that stats has anything to do with, say, accounting, but maths is maths to me…)

    People may look down on those who work in community news. But you know what, I enjoyed doing human interest stories. I enjoyed working with real people, with genuine, honest, humble and down to earth Kiwis.

    I don’t really know where this is going… I just needed to get some stuff off my chest. And just lastly, if anyone out there is struggling with shorthand….freaking A, you’re not alone! It’s bloody impossible to keep up. I’m so not at the stage where I can do it without thinking – it requires concentration, which slows me down and makes it faster to use abbreviated longhand. Bring on second semester!

  • Should political journos vote?

    Should political journalists vote?

    TVNZ politics reporter Guyon Espiner doesn’t.

    And I guess I can see why. I understand they need to maintain their objectivity as much as they can. And simply not voting is one way to do that.

    I just find it hard to swallow – these are some of the most politically aware and informed people in the COUNTRY. And everyone has the right to vote (and you might say RESPONSIBILITY to vote). Shouldn’t they cast a vote? It seems a waste not to, considering how many people out there simply rock up to the booth,  tick a box more or less at random, and carry on happy as Larry.

    (And here’s a random link to a really interesting informal survey on Kiwiblog on how some MPs rate various media outlets. Really, it’s fascinating! National go pretty much the other way from everyone else.)