Disrespecting the dead

Let me preface this post by saying that I despise New Zealand’s overzealous love of rugby about as much I despise New Zealand’s apparent dislike for Australia and its residents.  These two things alone seem to be driven so much by the media that it appalls me.  Considering Australia is New Zealand’s #1 overseas holiday destination and many Kiwis choose to live there makes the entire premise a farce, but let’s come back to the rugby element.

On Saturday, New Zealand learned that we had lost one of our greatest minds.  Sir Paul Callaghan, the 2011 New Zealander of the Year, held many accolades including being a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.  His list of credentials are as long as they are impressive.  However, despite this, his death and ultimate loss to New Zealand was relegated to the fourth most important news item on both One News and 3 News, something I thought was worth lamenting.

Only 11 days earlier, another Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit member passed away.  His death lead both bulletins.  This of course was Jock Hobbs: former All Black and the man who has been bestowed the honor of saving New Zealand rugby and of securing the 2011 Rugby World Cup hosting rights.

On the day the Jock Hobbs died, both networks deemed the story as being more ‘important’ (i.e. higher up in the bulletin) than news of a major breach of privacy at ACC, the conflict in Syria, the Urewera 4 trial, Asia Air X ending its service to Christchurch, the Ports of Auckland strike and the Chris Cairns libel case.

Compare this to when Sir Paul Callaghan passed away, One News thought the return of a sporting event to Christchurch, the refit of a sports stadium and an incident involving a hot air balloon in which everyone was safe were more important. 3 News had the jailing of a Kiwi duped into smuggling cocaine in Argentina, the cost to rent a house in Auckland and President Obama’s statement about a killed teenager in Florida.

Re-read that list of stories again.  Is it not appalling?  Is it not disrespectful?  Could you go as far as asking if it’s fair, balanced or even reasonable?

I simply cannot understand why the death of such a brilliant New Zealander was not given the same prominence as a sports hero.

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About the author

Regan is one of the co-founders of Throng Media.
If they're on, I'm usually watching Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X Factor, Survivor, House of Cards, Mad Men and the NRL.
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  •  yes, the rugby guy shouldn’t have been 1st.

    • I don’t have a problem with the rugby guy being first, just that the guy who worked in science and had arguably contributed more to the entire planet should also have been 1st

  • Karyn Fisk

    It grieves me that people don’t have enough respect for the huge contribution for the work of scientists, and if you don’t agree that they do much then turn off your TV that you watch rugby on because without science you would have no television to watch it, let alone electricity. It is such a shame that people consider rugby players and actors (who just reading someone else’s words) worthy of such worship over those who shape the world we live in for the better.

  • Nathan

    I think that the Sir Paul Callaghan’s death was more important than Jock Hobbs, but the Death of Jock Hobbs may have been first because it was Breaking News.

  • Brad

    It’s a non-issue

  • Shennies9

    Equal respect for both men, no respect for the manner of reports in media.

  • Trish Anderson

    Thankfully in their new bulletins, Radio NZ National gave Sir Paul the prominence his passing deserved.  Even later in the day when it was no longer ‘breaking news.’ I guess it says something about the audiences of these media.

  • Jump

    Try to be a scientist trying to secure funding and ‘engage’ with the media to drum up interest. Basically in the eyes of the producer, the first question they will asked is ‘can it produce an All Black?’ to my geography based project.

  • Robbo

    You all know the answer to this. Jock Hobbs was known by more Kiwis than Sir Paul – that’s the reason he got a higher billing. As a news item, your average Joe isn’t going to be that interested in the death of someone they’d never heard of before. Personally, I think it not matters a jot. Sir Paul was a great New Zealander, and I don’t care if he was 1st or 10th on the news. And the fact Radio NZ had him first just shows they know their audience, nothing else.

    • Perhaps if they both died on the same day your argument would hold true but we’re talking about two different days and two entirely different sets of headlines.  If news is ordered based on how aware people are of the subject then why don’t they just talk about what Tom Cruise did today?  

      Sir Paul Callaghan leaves behind a true legacy, particularly at Victoria University in Wellington.  One could argue that he has impacted more lives around the globe than Jock Hobbs.  I don’t believe it has anything to do with how well known either of the men were. One was involved in sport, the other, science.

      I’m also pretty sure neither networks sell advertising based on how uniformed their audience is.

      •  True, the news is most peoples main source of information. People didn’t know of him as much as Hobbs because media didn’t speak of him as much as Hobbs.

  • Clinto

    Give it a break Regan. 
    You claim of disrespecting the dead, yet you are quite happy to draw a comparison between an alleged murderer and a New Zealand actor. Really classy. 

    • MySay

       Totally agree.

    • The comparison between Zimmerman and Tui is in looks only and I can only hope that Tui’s career in the US is as successful as he’s hoping it to be and if it is, then when they do get around to turning the story into a movie, if he were to audition for the role then I’d wish him all the best.


      • MySay

         It was still in bad taste.

  • I’m currently reading “The Filter Bubble”  (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10596103-the-filter-bubble) and there’s discussion in the book about personalisation of news and the end of the broadcast era.  With the personalisation of news we are shown the news we are interested in and what the machine *thinks* we are interested in based on our history.  As a result, we get more and more news (and in a wider context, *search results*) which agrees with our worldview, rather than challenges it.  

    I’d love to understand more about what a news bulletin editor uses in 2012 to determine what to include in its bulletins.  

  • Lou

    So what if it didn’t lead? You have a five-second attention span? You’re not telling the full story here Regan. Sometimes the story order is irrelevant – you have a chance further down the bulletin to explain things in more depth, when viewers are more engaged. Maybe even do longer stories. All you seem to care about is the order – it’s a shallow analysis.

    • By whose definition are viewers more engaged further down the bulletin?  If this were to be the case, why bother having any stories of value at the top of the news hour at all?  Seems like poor logic to me.

      What I care about is consistency and priority around what is actually news worthy.

      • Lou

        It’s how I watch. The lead bulletin might be an attention grabber but it’s not necessarily the most information-heavy. By whose definition is the lead story the most engaging, Regan? Again… why do you just care about order rather than content? I think it’s a valid question. And again, I think without addressing this that your analysis is kneejerk, and shallow.

        • Why do you suggest that order and content must be two mutually exclusive things?

          You were the one that introduced the element of how engaging a story is.  Personally, I think it’s irrelevant.  The bulletins aren’t called One Engagement and 3 Engagement.

          Considering we’ve been producing these news commentaries for a few years now, I’d hardly call this a kneejerk response or shallow.  

          • Lou

            I told you – that’s how I watch, and I bet I’m not alone. I absorb more later information later in the bulletin. You’ve been doing this for years, and this is the first time you’ve considered this? You don’t list story duration either – JUST the order? Yes, I do believe that’s a shallow analysis. And you don’t think it’s relevant if a story is engaging? Well that’s fine, stick to your guns that story order is the only factor to analyse, and reigns supreme. It’s just that it’s not a scientific analysis. A little ironic, really!

          • Can we go back to the original point of this post?  We’re talking about 1 story.  In this instance it is about order.  

            I’m happy for you to question how we critique things overall but in this instance I think you’re missing the point.

            Order plays a hugely important role but as you suggest, it’s not the only element that should determine newsworthiness.  

            I’ve questioned how a sport hero’s death can lead both news bulletins and yet the death of a leading scientist who had an arguably bigger impact on the world did not. 

            This is still something you haven’t addressed. 

          • Lou

            Someone else has made the point already Regan – Jock Hobbs was much better known to NZers. He’s an attention-grabber, a headline that capitalises on a familiar name, and draws the viewer in to the bulletin. Wheras a story about Sir Paul Callaghan is an opportunity to learn about the man, and his work – an introduction, for many. This distinction in the general popularity of the two men happened well before their respective deaths I’m afraid Regan. That’s why suddenly dwelling on the order of their demise stories is a kneejerk. As well as being shallow, for the reasons outlined – story order is not the only factor. That’s why there’s more than one story! ;o) Also, please don’t be disingenuous – you list story order for other nights too. Story order critiquing appears to be a raison d’etre, and without further context, I’m calling this approach out as being shallow, that’s all.

          • You seem to be suggesting that Sir Paul Callaghan had very little recognition, with news of his death being the first time viewers would have heard of him.  Naive much?

            Any distinction in popularity comes back to my original point about sports heroes being given preference over those who actual make a difference to the way we live.  If you want to accuse anything of being shallow, perhaps you need to take aim at that.

          • Lou

            I don’t think it’s naiive to admit that Sir Paul Callaghan had less widespread recognition than Jock Hobbs.
            Wait – are you saying that he did, or that he didn’t? You’re actually contradicting yourself now.

          • I don’t think it’s naiive to admit that Sir Paul Callaghan had less widespread recognition than Jock Hobbs.

            No, but you said 

            … an introduction, for many.

            Perhaps if the news networks had never reported on Sir Paul Callaghan, his achievements, his statements, his work or more recently, his illness, then it may be deemed an introduction but we’re not talking about an individual who has flown under the radar.  

          • Lou

            I don’t really know how I am supposed to prove to you that many news viewers would not have heard of Callaghan before his death. You really are in denial. You are also missing the point, in spectacular fashion. Just to prove that story order is not the only factor,  the current TVNZ news site’s top story is 20% shorter in duration than the average length of the following four stories. I wonder if you’ll modify your shallow appraisal method from now on, but probably not… because you are clearly resisting scrutiny, or critical awareness from get in the way of your story.

          • As I’ve already stated, I agree that story order isn’t the only factor.  And I agree that the amount of time dedicated to a story is also important. However, there is a perception around what leads the bulletin as being the biggest story of the day.  When you take into account the actual news value and importanceof the stories that preceded Sir Paul Callaghan’s death, it is very difficult to justify them as more important. One News lead with an item that 3 News delivered after Sir Paul’s story so even the networks order things based on their own definitions.In this instance I believe they both got it wrong.  Many others agree.  You don’t.  That’s fine. Move on.

          • MySay

            I just wanted to see how skinny this text could get

          • Rick

            I think you are wrong on this one, Regan.  The news is not about what is most important, but what is most interesting to most viewers.  Most viewers will have known the name Jock Hobbs, many more than knew Sir Paul.  This is hardly unique to New Zealand, it happens around the world.  News producers will select stories they feel will interest their audience and keep them tuned to the programme.  While Sir Paul’s contributions were major, they were not as interesting to the average New Zealander as Jock’s.  That doesn’t make him or his achievements any less important, and I think the coverage of his death bears that out.

          • The news is not about what is most important, but what is most interesting to most viewers.

            And herein lies the entire problem with news and the whole point of our commentary…

  • Lynley

    Very good points, thank you for promoting the discussion