ASB Theatre/Aotea Centre
Saturday, March 16 (4.30pm)
For this Auckland Writers Festival event Shayne Currie, editor of The New Zealand Herald was the chair/interviewer – though he never introduced himself. I assume people do that out of modesty, thinking they’re not the important person on stage, but it smacks of arrogance; the idea being that everybody already knows them. Currie was slightly disingenuous too – in his closing coda about how he was a “lean in” kind of guy and exited as the Herald positions itself at the forefront of media and aims to embrace the digital world. The proof that argues against that is Currie himself, his paper and its website.
Thankfully, the guest was Ken Auletta, writer, journalist, broadcaster, media critic at The New Yorker, author of a dozen books, including most recently Googled: The End of the World as we Know It. Nothing disingenuous about Auletta, a calm speaker, fascinating for both his depth of knowledge and the little observational nuggets he dropped within anecdotes. He has interviewed the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and Bill Gates and had witty asides to cover all. His description of Gates as being of the tech world and not blessed with the greatest awareness or social skills featured a story about “the fridge behind his desk” where Gates would reach back for a diet-coke mid-interview and never offer his thirsty interviewee a beverage, never think to offer.
Currie didn’t so much ask questions as raise topics – he appeared to have no real clue as to how to structure what was always going to be a wide-ranging topic. Auletta discussed TV and Twitter, Facebook and the changing role of the journalist within all of this. He touched on the massive upheavals that the music world has faced and described the print media as being, largely, a “lean back” type, meaning all had waited to see what the net was up to – and now it was, essentially too late. Too late certainly to play by any rules other than those dictated from the swirly world of internet-heaven; the cloud.
Netflix and HBO have pioneered ad-free models but how long before there’s advertising as part of a built-in charge? And will a generation raised on fast-forwarding TV ads or watching ad-free copy on streaming sites put up with pay-walls and advertising?
These were the questions – Auletta pretty much had to ask them first then provide answers where he could. He managed the task with good grace and charm and his years of experience.
But he could never do more than survey around the topics and talking points, circling then leaving open.
Strong questions were squeezed in by the audience – mostly around surveillance, and the disestablishment, lack of funding and non-encouragement of bipartisan reporting, of investigative journalism, of tough voices that argue against rather than for and of course Auletta could only serve up food for thought, no proof, no pudding. But a fascinating hour all the same, a conversation that could have continued across several hours with Auletta, and one that hopefully continues for the many in attendance.