Hard News by Russell Brown


In other news, the sky is falling

Yesterday's Herald on Sunday editorial paid Public Address a compliment - declaring that this site and Kiwiblog are "worthwhile reads, maintained by a dedicated group of talented writers and thinkers" - and then proceeded to get it completely wrong.

After delivering its compliment, the editorial - under the lurid headline 'Big Blogger is watching - and spewing inarticulate filth ' - continues:

But most bloggers - and we're talking 95 per cent - are fly by night, gutless wonders who prefer to spit venom under inarticulate pseudonyms …

These bloggers, operating under their own misguided belief of self-freedom rarely research any offerings and have little knowledge of defamation laws and other publishing restrictions. Journalists, broadcasters, columnists and politicians are common targets - and this week we've seen the boundaries stretched intolerably far.

Apart from being inelegantly written, this is silly. "Most" bloggers are not "gutless wonders" or any other kind of monster. They're writing about their cats or something.

The topic of the editorial is, of course, the Child Youth and Family watch website, which is hosted by Blogger, and naturally uses the Blogger syntax, but arguably isn't a blog in the conventional sense. I don't think it's terribly useful for the HoS to write off the content of the site as "the incoherent ramblings and personal attacks of the disaffected". Some of the accounts are quite well written and perhaps some of the people providing them have genuine cause for complaint.

The problem, of course, is that people can feel genuinely aggrieved by a CYF intervention yet have no perspective on their own conduct in the matter. They may not be the most reliable witnesses. They may in fact be crazy people.

But what really counts out this site - and it's the reason I won't link to it - is the publisher's open invitation for readers to submit "name and shame" stories about individual CYF employees, and "welcoming" home addresses, photographs, car registration details and the like. It's hard to see this as anything other than an appeal for vigilantism, and it's reprehensible - especially when it comes from someone who is taking advantage of Blogger's anonymity.

This nasty tone is precisely what has made the CYF watch site news - it is unusual - but the HoS sees it as evidence of a wider pattern: "Online abuse is now rampant in all parts of New Zealand society," the editorial shrieks.

Is it? Really? It would take a bit more than some vague references to Bebo and rate-your-boss sites to make that case.

The editorial winds up with some un-journalistic lip-smacking at the prospect of bloggers having their asses sued, and an attack on the "extraordinarily hopeless" Google (as the owner of Blogger, although anyone who didn't already know that might be mystified by the reference, and it's possible that the author doesn't know either) for not immediately yanking the site's account on receipt of a complaint.

Google is not obliged to do so under US law, and would be going down a pretty scary road if it banned every blog that was the subject of complaint. I rather doubt that the HoS would welcome such curbs on itself.

You'll note I haven't linked to the HoS editorial either. That's because it's not online. And perhaps that in itself is a mercy.

Ironically, the editorial appears above a column by Ms Coddington, who accused one or more of the Public Address team of being "insane bloggers". Mediawatch ran a good report on the controversy that provoked the insult: the response to Codders' dodgy Asian Angst story for North and South. The audio is here.

Elsewhere, Rolling Stone is suggesting that Al Gore may yet enter the US presidential race. That would be good.

The Independent has a story from Davos claiming that US government policy (and especially foreign policy) is driving capital away from US markets.

Delusion is now such a vivid characteristic of the Bush cult that a Pajamas Media columnist - an actual journalist - can refer to Bush in the wake of his State of the Union speech as a "great American orator". And no, he wasn't being ironic. (Hat tip: the excellent Instapundit watch blog, Instaputz.)

This is cool: AmericaBlog's John Aravosis ran both Bush's SOTU address and Democrat Jim Webb's response through some software that generates a tag cloud based on frequency. Very interesting …

And finally, I'm delighted to see that Mystery Girl is touring the Lemonheads, the Clean and the Slits in March. It looks like a good month for gigs.

PS: A journalist friend is coming back from the UK for his first NZ holiday in years, and is wondering about Wi-Fi coverage during his trip, and particularly in Christchurch and elsewhere in the South Island. Any advice for him?

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