Hard News by Russell Brown


How a thing happens

Martyn Bradbury wrote a blog post yesterday about why the campaign to invite major Radio Live advertisers to consider their position in light of Willie and JT's abysmal on-air conduct was a success. In theorising that the advertisers mistook Giovanni Tiso for Whaleoil, Bradbury gets it spectacularly, but tellingly, wrong.

It's titled Why Whaleoil probably helped end Willie & JT and what Radio Live needs to do now and it opens thus:

Old media Radio Live have been damaged by the new media blogs. The power of twitter & Facebook allows a focused roar from the crowd to descend with crushing force on whatever target it decides to destroy.

It’s trial by social media.

I doubt however many of the advertisers contacted by blogger Giovanni Tiso had heard of his unranked blog or had read it much, I imagine what most Coms people heard when contacted was ‘Blogger’ and that immediately sparked a horror set of flashing visions of Cameron Slater slowly torturing their brand for months on end. Genuine disgust at the comments mixed with fear of a social media generated boycott produced a result of spectacular proportions. Kudos to Giovanni, he has lifted the bar for the NZ blogosphere.

In the case of blogs, the bark is only slightly worse than the row after row of razor sharp teethed bites.

It's often this way in Bomber's world, where mixed metaphors do deadly battle and roars descend from crowds to destroy things. It's not surprising that he invokes Whaleoil, who is always vowing adolescent armageddon on whoever has crossed him this week. This, surely, is how the walls will crumble.

Actually, it's not. It was more like this: Giovanni Tiso noted down the names of Radio Live advertisers and wrote to them asking them to consider their position in light of Jackson and Tamihere's awful interview with Amy and their inadequate "apology". He did describe himself as a blogger: specifically, he said "I am the Wellington blogger cited in this New Zealand Herald story ... "

But advertisers didn't tremble and bow to Gio's mighty blogsword. It's far more likely that their public affairs people looked at what was happening and realised that -- and work with me here, I'm going to mix a metaphor myself  -- a line had been crossed and they needed to be on the right side of it. And as each one was gently applauded online by Gio, the incentive for the others grew.

The likes of Karl du Fresne, who feared for free speech, tend to forget that the broadcasters in question talk crap every day of the week and are left to get on with it. But something non-everyday had happened here, and the context for that something was set not by an individual sending emails, but by the whole of the response; the tweets, the columns, the Facebook and blog posts, the discussions -- and the harsh memories the headlines drew from many women who had to read them. It was set by the spotlight  falling on the phrase "rape culture" and etching out exactly what that phrase means.

ANZ, Telecom, Vodafone and the rest didn't act because an angry blogger was bashing on the door, but because it became apparent to people at those companies that they needed to be seen to stand by some basic social norms. As Giovanni tells it in a good post about what happened, he wrote his emails with no great expectation of action:

Unsurprisingly, it was the professional PR people, rather than the blogger, who read the prevailing mood correctly. They operated in a tight feedback loop. First, Freeview got in touch to say that they didn’t sponsor the show as such, but rather placed orders with the station which then chose in which slot to schedule the ads. Would you seek to discriminate in the future and avoid the slot?, I asked them. They said they would get back to me. Then AA Insurance said they would pull the ads from the show. Then Yellow announced they were going to withdraw advertising from the station altogether. I had to read the email twice to make sure I got it right. After that, the bar was set. Freeview wrote back to say they would pull the ads after all. Countdown’s initial polite ‘no thanks’ was turned around in a matter of hours after targeted pressure on social media, especially by theMisogyny Busters group. Everyone else who got in touch (including The Finance Marshall, who rather endearingly asked ‘not be mentioned in blogs’. Hi guys.) did it to say that they would abandon the show or Radio Live. Of the ones that didn’t respond, some I assume contacted the station directly, since the Willie and JT slot will be commercial-free until the end of the week.

But let's not deny Gio the considerable credit he is due. He might have little faith in the virtue of business, but he's a clear enough thinker to know what to do when things start to happen:

The media attention is a privilege, too, and when they call you, you don’t quibble – you do the interviews. Try to muster something useful to say. See if you can help keep the issues in the news a little longer, and explain why it matters. 

The sight of my favourite Marxist intellectual patting the backs of corporations as they took a further step urged upon them by Matthew Hooton -- the two men under the same unlikely yoke! -- and donated $10,000 to Rape Prevention Education was remarkable.

So why, if all these companies could see where the road lay, did Mediaworks get it so wrong? Well, for a start, this happened at a really bad time for Mediaworks. It emerged from receivership last week, and was already dealing with abrupt loss of all Fox programming on its TV channels. It doesn't even have a fully-constituted board yet.  That's not a good environment in which to be decisive.

I'm on the Mediaworks press mailing list and although the company provided several inadequate statements at the request of media, the only official press release on the issue was the one on Monday announcing that Willie and JT would be off air for the rest of the year.

People have been asking whether it's a matter of a lack of women in senior roles. It isn't. The group managing director is Sussan Turner. The CEO of Mediaworks Radio is Belinda Mulgrew. The general manager of Radio Live is Jana Rangooni. The group communications manager, who issues the statements, is Rachel Lorimer.

So what is the problem at Radio Live, and why did not one but three of its flagship shows get it so horribly wrong on the rape story? In part, I think it's in the nature of talkback radio, which often relies on what Paul Holmes' old boss Bill Francis called "edge personalities". Francis's view was that he hired these people in the full knowledge of who they were and it behoved him to front for them when they spilled their guts on the radio. And that's what he would do.

Rangooni didn't do that -- and given that her background is in commercial music radio and not editorial, I suspect she'd find it difficult. Her predecessor Mitch Harris might have fared better -- not because he's male, but because he was unmistakably an editorial figure. Indeed, it seems vaguely insane that Radio Live should apparently be running without strong editorial leadership, not least because the more journalistic shows -- including, for all his sins, Duncan Garner's -- seem to be where its listening growth is.

Willie and JT, on the other hand, were bloody hopeless. In April's radio survey, their ratings halved to 1.4%.

And note this: the rape-club story was broken by Mediaworks, via 3 News. It was also 3 News that broke the staggering news that the police had been lying when they lamented the lack of formal complaints about the rapists. It was 3 News that presented the young complainant explaining clearly and credibly what she had experienced.

Mediaworks had another such source in Amy, who called to share her experience of the young rapists' actions at parties, where, she said, they stayed sober and plied much younger girls with booze to stupefy them. She was calm and articulate and had a very important story to tell. On the purely mercenary level of news journalism, it was a story that could have dominated the day's news agenda for Radio Live.

Unfortunately, when Amy rang, the only people at the end of the line were Dumb and Dumber.

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