Hard News by Russell Brown



Mum arrives tomorrow to spend Christmas with us, as she has done since my sister died, and as she will do for as long as she's able. Things were a bit touch-and-go this year, but she swears her recently-repaired knee is up to it and won't be bringing her walker. We'll see how it goes.

At any rate, I think the trip to the airport will mark the end of serious work until Christmas, so the big story on global drug law I'd been hoping to get done this year will have to wait until 2016 for the attention it deserves. I think I need a reboot anyway, after signing off another big story – a 5000-worder for Metro on the future of a changing Karangahape Road – last Friday. That's in the summer issue out on Thursday. I hope you enjoy it, because I put a lot of work into it and, as I note in the story, K Road is still in some sense home to me.

It's been enjoyable returning to print feature-writing – and a real treat to be invited to write at such length – but doing 17 interviews for a story is no way to earn a living. Word rates have barely moved in 20 years and, like many of my journalistic colleagues, I'm wondering what else I might be able to do. Suggestions and commissions are welcome.

But early in the new year, there are another 15 episodes of Media Take scheduled on Maori Television and I'll be hosting another Listening Lounge set of talks and interviews at Splore. I'm very pleased to say that will involve the brilliant Sanho Tree, the former military historian who is director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington. The man is a thinker – and a wit.

We'll probaby squeeze in one or two more IRL events at Golden Dawn this summer, thanks to our sponsors at Orcon. That has been the best new thing of 2015 – especially in that it involves working with the talented Esther Macintyre from 95bFM.

It's been very gratifying watching bFM get up and reinvent itself under the management of Hugh Sundae this year, and to have been able to help out here and there. That place, too, is a kind of home.

As is, of course, this place. Sometimes that involves the responsibilities and  frustrations of family life – you're all, on some level, family – but it's also a remarkable and rewarding thing to have been part of for so long. It's 13 years since this website launched, and next year will mark a scarcely-credible 25 years since Hard News was born as a weekly radio rant on 95bFM. So yes, 2016 would appear to be an appropriate time to finally get that Hard News book done. Longtime listeners might be able to guess the likely title.

It's not easy to maintain a website like this for so long, and this year saw the amazing Alastair Thompson begin a new life after Scoop, which will carry on as a cooperative venture while Al and Wendy seek new adventures in Europe. This month, another longtimer, Regan Cunliffe, announced that Throng will be closing. These sites only stay airborne for as long as we can keep furiously pedalling. Today, Amplifier, New Zealand's first digital download store, announced that it is closing down.

But new things happen too. TransportBlog is literally changing the way we all think about about cities – if you haven't read Patrick Reynolds' 2015: Auckland's Watershed Year, you really should (and then maybe try and remember when a newspaper column gave you this much food for thought). At The Spinoff, Duncan Greive's purpose and ambition in publishing and finding a sustainable way to pay for journalism – in his case, signing direct sponsors as a way of getting around the utterly broken online advertising market – is a motivation for me.

It's been pleasing too to see shortform video shuck the dead hand of commercial TV. It seemed fitting that just as Campbell Live was bidding its sad farewell this year, Robbie Nicol and his friends began making the smart satirical commentary of White Man Behind a Desk. We're going to see much more of this as the connection between the internet and the television strengthens – and also increasing demands on the frozen-for-seven-years budget of NZ On Air. But Ben Uffindel of The Civilian got a little money this year to make everyone feel awkward on WatchMe, and The Wireless is stronger by the month. That's all good.

The degree of enterprise required to stay airborne in this new world really bears noting. I met Peter Haynes, producer of the gaming web series AFK at a party last week, and the stuff he does just to keep getting noticed is remarkable. Even when creatives do get NZ On Air digital funding – as the remarkable Roseanne Liang eventually did with Flat 3 and the new Friday Night Bites – that really just means they don't have to ask their friends to work for free.

Sometimes I look back 10 or 15 years and marvel at the way there used to be money. I sometimes wonder who, apart from property speculators, does do well in modern New Zealand, but that's a bit silly.

You'll notice we have had advertisers on Public Address recently. I think I've worked out a better way to sell it: which is to good people, over longer periods of time, for very little money and, if they don't have cash, some return in kind. There's still a ratecard of sorts, but it's utterly irrelevant. It's become more about community in that respect. It was nice to be able to put up Word of the Year prizes this month from Whisky Galore, Peoples Coffee and The Hemp Store, because they're good people. None more so that Dan Howard of The Audio Consultant, who came to us as a Public Address reader and wanted to be part of it. That man is a keeper.

But my most consistent income from Public Address is the voluntary subscriptions system that began last year – just a little money each month from people like you, because you want us to be here. People come and go from the system and I think we're down under $800 monthly again. But we're actually in credit with our web developers now, so I guess I should be thinking about a makeover in 2016. If you're feeling all Christmassy, the subs page is here.

But mostly folks, thanks for coming to Public Address and making it what  it is. Yes, there are occasional bust-ups, but there aren't any other independent sites in New Zealand with our kind of discussion community. I love the fact that we turn readers into writers – and sometimes writers of actual blog posts. And you know what? Our traffic's been really strong lately. And that, again, is down to you, so thanks as ever for coming to the party.

Cheers, everyone.

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