Editorial spin, disagrees?!

The Editor’s reply (ODT 23.1.13):
Russell Garbutt: Thanks for your comments but we don’t agree with them.


From: Russell and Bev Garbutt
Sent: Tuesday, 22 January 2013 10:46 a.m.
To: ‘editor@odt.co.nz’
Subject: Letter for publication

[Contact details deleted. -Eds]

The Editor
Otago Daily Times

Dear Sir

Your editorial on the urgent need for an austerity budget for Dunedin is too little too late.

For years now at Council Plan consultation meetings also attended by your reporters, the financial stupidity of the Council’s decisions have been graphically pointed out by a long line of submitters. The practice of Council owned companies being forced to borrow to pay dividends which you now describe as being “worse than poor” was emphasised by a large number of submitters, but largely ignored by the ODT for many years.

While ultimately all of the spending decisions made by the Council are those of the Councillors – many clearly out of their depth – the weight of public opinion assisted by informed and investigative stories by the City’s only daily paper, has no small part to play in what has happened in this town over recent years. It is hard to see why the ODT has failed to meet its obligations or role in this regard. Many believe that it is because the ODT is a strong supporter of the stadium which has caused a major part of this debt, and of its proponents and major user.

While the ODT has adopted a position of supporting the new rugby stadium, even now that the full costs of the stadium are more or less known, your position is that you appear to be supporting the establishment of a significant fund to subsidise the use of the stadium – despite your reluctant acknowledgement that while the fund will cost the ratepayers dearly, there is no believable data that shows any tangible benefit.

I look forward to the ODT being part of the process in holding those that have made the decisions that have put Dunedin into these astronomical levels of debt responsible and accountable – but I’m not holding my breath.

Russell Garbutt

Read Russell’s comments in reply here.

Related Post and Comments:
22.1.13 ‘Liability Cull’ and council chasten for election year

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under Business, DCC, DCHL, DVL, DVML, Economics, Media, Name, ORFU, People, Politics, Project management, Property, Site, Sport, Stadiums, Town planning, Urban design

19 responses to “Editorial spin, disagrees?!

  1. Peter

    I can’t see any reason not to publish, in the interests of full and frank debate, but it is indicative of the sensitivity of the ODT to their major part in covering up for vested interests and not reporting on their negative role in the development of this city.
    The paper has its good points which I enjoy but, where it counts, the reporting of local council affairs is pedestrian….at best. Worse adjectives could apply. They just report what was said, not all of it, but rarely ask the penetrating and challenging questions. Bev has noticed how Chris Morris, in particular, will get stuck in with hard questions which might ideally, for the ODT, trip her up, but doesn’t seem to do the same for the likes of Farry, Edgar, Brown etc. She expects hard questioning, to tease things out, but the same treatment is not meted out to the ‘high and mighty’. I realise some of these people have got a reputation for being nasty, when challenged, but good reporting and strong character can overcome this. It happens elsewhere.
    The ODT needs fresh blood from the outside and promotion on merit, instead of loyalty, seniority and mediocrity. I can’t see this happening though.
    The ODT has always been part of the problem, not the solution, to the financial malaise that affects this city. An occasional ‘holier than thou’ editorial on financial prudence doesn’t cut it.

  2. amanda

    Thank you Russell. The hypocrisy of the ODT editor pontificating about ‘austerity’ is, sadly, not surprising. In fact the ODT is an important reason why the city is in the financial debacle it is; white collar crime is of no interest to those at the ODT, but benefit fraud? You betcha! They are all over that and Do Not Approve. But informing voters about ‘business geniuses’ and councillors fiscal incompetence? Not important. Saint Farry and councillors Noone and mates responsible for the city’s debt are not held to any sort of accountability.

    • Elizabeth

      I find it fascinating that while ODT(=Murray, =Julian) does not agree with Russell’s comments, it ‘could’ agree with those of its reporters, subeditors, editorial team and most contributors, enough of them to make a daily newspaper. Alice in Wonderland, anyone? Mean what you say, say what you mean?

  3. Hype O'Thermia

    Peter, you’re so right about the “no hard questions” reporting. The number of times I’ve read an article based entirely on what the source of the story wants publicised, and wondered “why didn’t the journo ask where they got this or that assertion from”! It will bring hundreds of extra students to OU. People are staying away in droves because there is no 5star accommodation. There will be 100s of jobs created….. and so on. Not even afterwards does the ODT go back and say, you said ________, it didn’t happen, please explain.

  4. Peter

    Yes, Hype, and another one is ‘we don’t report on rumours’, but if the rumour is against people they hate and want to discredit there is no problem at all. Any journalist worth their salt will try to verify ‘rumours’ by asking hard questions and judge for themselves whether they are worth investigating further.
    They also like to report on things to do with the stadium that might happen….a la Rolling Stones Concert. Not a surprise really.

  5. Anonymous

    That newspaper reports in the interests of its readers in the same way this council works for its constituents. While one works quietly for the government the other is desperate for cash. Both have their noses in the public trough but some big piggies are fed better than their others.

  6. Pedant

    Anyone remember a certain mayoral candidate a couple of elections ago? Within days of announcing his intention to run, the ODT gently reminded readers of possible sexual harassment charges against him. I’m pretty sure they never followed this story up later. Just a little reminder who is in charge here.
    It’s like a free paper, but with more puns.

  7. Hype O'Thermia

    Actually when you think about it it’s so funny it deserves a wider readership – “Thanks for your comments but we don’t agree with them” so we won’t publish your letter to the editor! No, not the Pareora Baptists’ cyclostyled “Community Catch-Up”, nor even the “Fendalton Fortnightly”.
    Has it already been sent to the Listener for their “Life in New Zealand” column? Russell, anyone?

    • Elizabeth

      This post and associated comments are running second to the Home page, very popular – Thursday, all up a surprise, an incredibly busy day for views :)

  8. Russell Garbutt

    When you think about it, why is the ODT so scared of being criticised for not offering informed and investigative stories into local issues? Vested interests?

  9. Robert Hamlin

    I am personally surprised that McPravda have not printed it. As we all know they abridge letters and publish them without asking a by your leave from the writer under whose name they appear, and as we all know too, they don’t like people knowing what bits they have chosen not to print (editorial confidentiality remember). Abridging is a wonderful tool as you only take stuff out, but if the reader doesn’t know what’s been taken out (editorial confidentiality remember) the meaning of the letter and the perceived stance of the submitter can be entirely changed.

    Here is a version of Russell’s letter that has been subject to editorially confidential abridging. Stuff has only been cut out of it.

    Dear Sir

    Your editorial on the urgent need for an austerity budget for Dunedin.

    At Council Plan consultation meetings attended by your reporters for many years, the weight of public opinion assisted by informed and investigative stories by the City’s only daily paper, has no small part to play in what has happened in this town. The ODT has met its obligations in this regard.

    Many believe that it is because the ODT is a strong supporter of the new rugby stadium. Your position is that you appear to be supporting the establishment of a significant fund to subsidise the use of the stadium. There is believable data that shows tangible benefit.

    I look forward to the ODT being part of the process in the decisions that a.r.e. responsible and accountable.

    Russell Garbutt [abridged]

    This would be quite funny if its implications for the welfare of this community and its capacity to apply its will to the democratic process were not so very serious. This is even more so in a Dunedin where it appears that public silence on an issue (either by choice or by having the public’s comments in the media abridged partially or in their entirety) is taken to indicate community support for whatever scheme is being proposed by the well connected and fully unabridged. The will of the ‘silent majority’ has often been cited in the last few years by the pro-stadium mob to support their position.

    There are other examples. Public response reported via McPravda to Farry’s honour last year was 100% in support (one positive letter to the Editor in the print version). I wonder if this reflected the actual tone of the comments received both in the Editor’s office and via the brief opportunity offered by the website? Some may remember that the comment facility was hurriedly disabled a couple of hours after the article was posted. Had the submitted comments that I alone am aware of been posted it would have modified reported public reaction to the gonging of this individual profoundly. Did we really, as a community, all agree 100% to this formal endorsement of this individual’s activities? – Because that is the impression given by McPravda – Dangerous stuff.

    • Elizabeth

      I see the ODT as playing a cat and mouse game. I have some measure of Julian’s humour and bombast, and consider Murray a bit of a muddler and a stirrer, who liked and drank with Shim-wrath. Rather small town, the newspaper’s possibly better than nothing, as a reveal on old boy cronyism and small-mindedness, with a steadily falling circulation (latest NZABC stats). Plus it has some good local stories, some smart news items borrowed from NZ Herald through APNZ, and features from the Guardian and The Observer in Monday’s World Focus. What else? ODT Online for what it is, entertainment. Most of my news comes from Twitter, as it happens locally and globally, from members of the public, and journalists.

    • Elizabeth

      The one positive letter ODT published on Farry’s honour was written by a family member, a cousin. The same individual wrote a letter supporting the proposed waterfront hotel soon after the May launch of the proposal at the stadium in 2012. Farry, of course, was interviewed – talking drivel – as a supporter and proponent of the ‘dated’ penile projection. He was never an arbiter of taste.

  10. Russell Garbutt

    In terms of the relevance of the ODT can I suggest that you conduct an interesting exercise that will need two copies of say, today’s issue of the ODT.

    Lay copy one of the paper out and cut out every story on odd numbered pages that is written by ODT reporters. Discard any APNZ or otherwise sourced material. Discard any paid-for material including advertisements, births deaths etc.

    Do the same for the second copy of the paper with the even numbered pages.

    Put the cut-out pieces together and see how many pages you get – this is the real output of the paper generated by ODT staff. Yes, you need some staff to choose which overseas pieces get printed, but the exercise is revealing.

    Remember as well, that any newspaper or TV or Radio news bulletin has had a selection process attached to it. Someone, somewhere is choosing which news you will read, hear, or see. That is why TV One viewers get to see large numbers of Auckland local news stories posing as National items and why stories from the far-flung regions don’t get a look in.

    But what is most interesting to me is that the scandals that have ocurred over recent years in Dunedin have largely gone unreported by the ODT insofar as their true investigative work. The full story of the DIA/pokies/ORFU is largely untold within the ODT, the private funding of the stadium misrepresentation was fleetingly and cursorily examined, and the nonsense going on with Delta is more widely reported elsewhere. I don’t believe that the ODT can hold its head up very high at all when the issue of true independence is examined.

    Yes, investigative journalism can be expensive, but it can hardly be said that the owners are living hand to mouth can it?

  11. Hype O'Thermia

    When a paper becomes too bland it stops being a “must see” let alone a “must subscribe”. I would have no quibbles with the quantity of staff-written articles if the quality were better, if they were more often revealing something new, including sides of the information other than that presented by council, politicians and businesses. Journalists, ask some bloody questions, why dontcha. I don’t mean patsy questions, I mean the ones the other person wasn’t expecting, ones that reveal aspects that weren’t handed to you on a plate. Bear in mind the other media. There’s a limit to how many half-baked provincial reporters can move into high-paid jobs in PR so don’t rely on that when your present job vanishes along with the Otago Daily Meh..

  12. Peter

    I’m all for the media showing ‘bias’ where it is clear they are dealing with crooks, liars and charlatans and they see it as their job to expose and ‘get them’. When they use the weak excuse of showing ‘balance’-to allow the other side to basically obfuscate- the media become compromised and, in effect, complicit with their wrongdoing.

  13. Anonymous

    There is a wee Stuff National piece about Dunedin. It seems genuine, since there’s none of the usual hogwash you get with agents of the Spook Department, DIC (*), Chamber of Commerce and Farry’s Soldiers. Comments thus far are quite reasonable too.

    Stuff used to be a good mixture of news to entertainment but it too seems to have fallen off the horse and decided not to get back on.


    * Dunedin Information Centre. I’ve only just noticed fancy raised glass insets along the top of its windows with the letters DIC. How much did all of them cost? My guess – hundreds each. And as wasteful as those personalised plates on parking warden motorbikes.

  14. Hype O'Thermia

    Is it currently in Princes St next to the art gallery? Because that building used to be the DIC, the smartest department store, a fraction posher than Auntie Barnetts.

  15. Anonymous

    Ha. That’s a funny (and low cost) coincidence. Dick’s Sauce on me then.

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