The deplorables, reading click bait, and trustworthiness

It was that moment of the year when comfort teeters on the divide between hot and cold.

Les and Laurie didn’t often venture out on to the little pub’s wooden deck but today, officially autumnal but generously waving through summer’s diminishing throng of shirt-sleeved stragglers, they’d decided to risk it.

The two old friends sat there in the silence that descends upon the elderly when the sun is warm, the ale is cold, and the view is full of familiar and friendly detail.

"We should sit out here more often", said Les, breaking the mellow silence.

"Nah" Laurie responded. "Most days it’s bloody awful out here. It’s only on the rare, Goldilocks-days of autumn, like this one, that I’m prepared to venture out."

"Met Office is predicting another one tomorrow."

"Good Lord! Do you still listen to the news?"

"Why wouldn’t I?" Les gave Laurie a quizzical look.

"Why wouldn’t I? Because I no longer believe what the media is telling me is true."

"Even the weather forecast?"

"Even the weather forecast. Haven’t you noticed how the whole thing is being sensationalised? I mean, the other day, I heard a forecaster warning that the Met Office might be issuing a heavy rain warning for the West Coast of the South Island. Just imagine that. Rain on the Coast. Stop the bloody presses!"

"I think they call that ‘click-bait’, Laurie. It’s everywhere these days."

"Look, I don’t mind the odd bit of sensationalism. When all is said and done, the media are in the business of getting ads in front of eyeballs. I get that. No, what has turned me away from the mainstream news media is the very strong message that it’s been sending out for the last few years."

"And what message might that be?"

"That the people who own it, the people who run it, and the people who provide its content, really don’t like, or approve of, people like me. What was the quote you once gave me from Lenin? After he purged the Bolshevik Party of all the members who disagreed with him?"

"Fewer, but better."

"Yep! That’s the one! It’s as though the media doesn’t care if it has fewer readers, listeners and viewers, just so long as the ones who stick with them are better than the ones they drive away. The young journalists, in particular, they just aren’t interested in communicating with the, with the, oh, what did Hilary Clinton call them?"

"The ‘Deplorables’."

"Yeah. That’s it. The Deplorables."

"Though it pains me to say it, Laurie, I agree with you. Two things, really, got me going. The first was when the Stuff newspapers apologised for their racist past."

"I’d have thought you would have approved of that."

"Well, part of me did. But another part of me winced. A newspaper is a record of the times in which it is published. The record it leaves may not meet with the approval of tomorrow’s readers, but that’s OK. News stories aren’t written for the future, they’re written for the present. Journalism has been called ‘the first rough draft of history’ — composed of the facts, or, at least, such facts as an honest, diligent and courageous reporter is able to assemble under pressure.

"It’s called a rough draft because it is — or should be — lacking in opinionated analysis. That can come later: from political scientists, historians, economists, and philosophers.

"But, it is not the job of the working journalist. Their job is to tell us what happened — not what we should think about what happened. I just thought that it was professionally indefensible for Stuff to apologise for its past. What can we possibly learn from a past we’ve just dismissed as morally imbecilic?"

"What was the second thing."

"Oh, right, the second thing. The second thing is Radio New Zealand. Its rising level of editorial and journalistic bias is becoming a national embarrassment. The public broadcaster seems determined to make every New Zealander pick a side in the Culture Wars. RNZ is saying good-bye to its most steadfast listeners, and, more in sorrow than in anger, those listeners, now deeply mistrustful of the publicly-owned media institution they have for so long relied upon for accurate, fair, and balanced journalism, are leaving.

"They no longer accept us," Laurie sighed.

"And we no longer trust them."

■ Chris Trotter is an Auckland writer and commentator.