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The NZ Gossip Industry Is Dead

An article in a recent Sunday magazine argues that the decline of the New Zealand gossip industry is a loss for journalism. Abigail Johnson says good riddance.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” So opens the editorial of a recent Sunday rag in an attempt to bring some Orwellian weight to the Gossip is Good argument. Whether George Orwell ever wrote these words has never actually been corroborated, but hey, it sounds about right. What follows is a four-page eulogy, lamenting the death of print-gossip in New Zealand, and pining for the scandalmongers of the 1980s. Cool.

Assuming Orwell did make the ‘definition of journalism’ quip, I wonder if he had ‘socialite is denied entry to nightclub’ in mind as the high-water mark? Maybe, maybe not.

A quote that can be corroborated is this one: “New Zealand is small, nasty and vindictive […] (in) a time when I needed nurturing, I came back to New Zealand for refuge and I got savaged.” That was Charlotte Dawson, a long-time target of NZ’s gossip industry. She killed herself in 2014. To argue gossip has no impact on mental health is to ignore Dawson’s death. And her life.

The Boomer wank-fest article purports capital G – Gossip! was a way of speaking truth to power – a strain of journalism that embarrassed the shameless and exposed the rich-and-terrible. It was the voice of the people, they claim, the voice of women and gay men. To borrow an 80’s gossip-rag idiom, what tosh.

Gossip, by nature, appeals to the baser instincts of humanity. The urge to tear people down, particularly female people, has never been noble. It has long been referred to in this country as Tall Poppy Syndrome, and exists only to make ourselves feel better by contrast. There is certainly virtue in speaking truth to power, but I don’t think ‘who’s shagging who’ journalism can be defined as such.

"To argue gossip has no impact on mental health is to ignore Dawson’s death. And her life."

The tabloid-print industry is dead, and it's Millennials who killed it. We’re an industry-killing generation, as the Boomers oft remind us, and we should wear the badge with pride. Sure, the Kate Middleton-adorned rags that decorate the Pak n’ Save counter are still there, but I don’t know anyone my age who buys them.

This is not to say we aren’t destructively star-obsessed. Like climate change and a stuffed housing market, celebrity-worship is a disease that we’ve inherited from our recent forebears. We’ve simply cut out the tut-tutting middleman – when we’re curious about a celeb, we go straight to their Instagram Story.

A rumour abounds that NZ doesn’t have any stars, but, for a country smaller than most US states, we punch well above our weight. We produce excellent films, sublime musicians and we even have a thriving national soap. We have YouTube stars, shit, we even have a member of Taylor Swift’s squad. We’re overflowing with celebrities, but we’re also in incredibly close proximity to them. In a country where you can catch your favourite Shorty star shopping at Sylvia Park, a real gossip industry is simply not sustainable. Everyone knows everyone.

Cast your mind back to mid-2015, when Mediaworks launched Scout – the Rachel Glucina-helmed gossip site intended to act as NZ’s answer to TMZ. Their infamous opening story involved Mike Hosking, a vacuum and a creepy pap. The site was overwhelmingly derided by most of the country’s public figures, and more importantly, attracted little to no interest from the public. It was dead before Christmas 2016.

I like to think this means we have evolved. Maybe we learnt something from Dawson’s death? (I know that’s an optimistic take). Or perhaps gossip died because Millennial Kiwis are different from Boomer Kiwis; by and large we are more tolerant and progressive in our politics. Or maybe we just don’t care.

Whatever it is, the print-gossip industry is indeed dead in this country. And I’m in no hurry to revive it.

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