22 May 2014


2:07 pm on 22 May 2014

Nothing is certain except death and taxes. It is an old line, usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but Franklin missed another obvious certainty - opinions.

Everyone has one, and the digital world is providing endless opportunity to air those opinions. Blogging has become a common way to unleash opinions to a potential audience, unimaginably big, or as small as those who can be bothered reading them.

As blogging becomes more established among have-a-go writers, bloggers crave the recognition, influence and acknowledgment of the traditional shapers of public opinion, journalists.

In the past couple of weeks in Russia, Vladimir Putin has obliged bloggers, recognizing their growing power and influence by imposing harsh new rules on them.

The Russian crackdown requires bloggers to register with the government. If a blogger is popular enough to get 3000 or more visits a day, then they will be treated as a fully-fledged media outlet and have to take responsibility for the accuracy of what they put online.

Anonymity is also gone. Bloggers must use their own names, and any breach of the rules risks a $US142,000 fine.

Not surprisingly for an open democracy, New Zealand has taken a different approach to blogging. It places no real restrictions on them and the mainstream media is remarkably accommodating. The Canon Media Awards, once the sole preserve of journalists and associated crafts, now offers a prize for best blog.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown faces a media scrum in Auckland earlier this year. Photo: RNZ / FILE

But are bloggers the same as journalists?

Bloggers have and can do very good work, and sometimes break stories of major significance that any mainstream media organisation would be proud of. Many point to last year's expose of Auckland mayor Len Brown's extra curricula activities as an example.

Where some bloggers fall down is that too often their posts are biased, partisan, ill-informed and fact free. When they do break a story, they sometimes manipulate the truth with unnecessary politically-motivated embellishments or personal attacks. They deprive the audience of the chance to come to their own conclusions, based on all the facts.

By contrast, good journalism sets the bar higher.

It should always be the result of thorough investigation and leg work, the stories accurate, fair and balanced and the content carefully scrutinized, verified, edited and double-checked before going to print or air.

News may well be the first rough draft of history but that is no excuse for getting things woefully wrong or being one-sided.

Editorial independence is vital in establishing trust and credibility with the public about adherence to these standards.

Radio New Zealand News is committed to providing fact over opinion, insight over preconception and analysis over prejudice.

The new series of columns now appearing on the Radio NZ website is designed to provide exactly that.

They are not blogs. They are not simple opinion. They will not be written by just anyone.

They will be informed analysis and commentary on the big stories and important issues of the day. They will be written by Radio New Zealand's best journalists, our political editor, our correspondents, and the editors of our top-rating programmes like Morning Report and Checkpoint.

More than ever in the digital age - where everyone with an opinion has endless power to distribute it - we need commentary that can present the facts without fear or favour, in an unbiased and accurate way.

At Radio New Zealand we will strive to deliver this so our audience can see the wood for the trees in the ever expanding electronic forest.

Read our columns here

Follow Don Rood on Twitter @DonRoodRNZ