Free school meals. Racial spending-priority stereotypes. Pushing the envelope. And general outrage.
Al Nisbet’s cartoon appeared in The Marlborough Express, a daily paper at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, May 30th to much controversy and discussion. In his defence, editor Steve Mason said he had discussed the toon with senior members of staff.
He said: “We all agreed it was fairly close to the line, but there are times on important issues where you do need to push the boundaries a little bit, the main objective obviously being to stimulate discussion on a really important issue.” Which it has kind of done.
Subequator is wondering how many senior members of staff, and if it was the full complement then what happens when it’s not? Editorial jobs are being haemorrhaged across the industry and the Express is no exception.
The publishing of this cartoon most probably had absolutely nothing to do with staffing levels. But staffing levels are a concern across the newspaper sector – mainly it’s newspaper sector bosses concerned that their staffing levels are too high – and we have to ask: How long before serious errors appear on a regular basis? Errors of judgment, errors of spelling … With fewer and fewer people checking material and offering opinions for those juicy newsroom debates (“Should we or shouldn’t we?”) the decision-making pool becomes far more concentrated.
In that concentrated pool lie two dangers, at odds with each other: the danger that editorial decisions will become less moderate, enraging more people (to what effect?); and the danger that editorial decisions will become horridly safe, always erring on the side of complete caution. Neither is the thing that newspapers and other media outlets should be doing.